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Home > Columns > Peter Goldsbury > February, 2006 - An Aikido Journey: Part 6

An Aikido Journey: Part 6 by Peter Goldsbury


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As I progressed with training in the Ryushinkan Dojo, I experienced a phenomenon that I had seen before: that the administrative tasks in the dojo were usually given to the most committed students (meaning, students who attended class very frequently), who were also thought to have some flair for administration. Thus, some time after I had become 'established' as a regular member, practicing very often, I became the dojo secretary, keeping track of who came and, most important, the payment of dues. In some sense, these duties were quite minimal, for the dojo was fairly small and, of course, I did not mind doing it: I was happy to have been asked.

Nevertheless, being dojo secretary did bring home to me that the dojo was more than simply the sum total of a collection of individuals centered round the instructor. Of course, the dojo was built around the personality of the chief instructor and his teaching activities. However, a chief instructor needs students and--if it is a large general dojo and not simply the extension of the instructor's own training space--he also needs senior students to share the responsibilities of teaching. This group of senior students is usually, but not always, part of the inner core of students who attend virtually every class. Then there are the rank and file members, who come and train as often as they like or the other parts of their life allow. Thus I understood the Ryushinkan Dojo as an organism with concentric layers, with Kanetsuka Sensei at the center, with the regular members making an inner core adjacent to the center, and with less regular members closer to the periphery.

In my very first dojo at Sussex University, this 'onion' was very small, with only two layers: the instructor; and the six students who were the members. I was introduced to aikido by a friend and so had no preconceptions about what to expect. As my training progressed and I moved from dojo to dojo, it was always the dojo that was the primary focus and not the instructor who taught there. True, the instructor was always a highly prominent feature, but always featured as the leader of the dojo or organization. Thus, successively, I joined the Budokwai, the Aikikai of Great Britain (A.G.B.), the New England Aikikai, and then Ryushinkan. Only in the case of the A.G.B. did I join the dojo because of the chief instructor (K Chiba) who taught there. However, I never had the time to become a 'core' member and get to know Chiba Sensei well.

Many years later, when I came to Japan and learned more about the history of aikido, I discovered that Morihei Ueshiba had gone much further than simply creating an organization. He had transformed his Kobukan Dojo into a zaidan houjin (legal entity, commonly translated as 'tax-free foundation') with a director of General Affairs who was a martial arts expert & politician, but seemed to have had the most minimal connections with Ueshiba's aikido. He no doubt did this because of moves by the government of Japan to organize the martial arts into an effective instrument for aiding the war effort, with the consequence that organizations that did not join in would be penalized in some way. In 1942, when the art that Ueshiba had created became generally known as aikido, the legal registration was changed from Kobukai to Aikikai. This name remained when the organization was subsequently re-registered after the war ended and formally approved by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

Thus, my training at Ryushinkan Dojo coincided with my introduction to aikido 'politics' and before going any further, it will be as well to give some explanation by what I understand by this term. I equate 'politics' with the practices relating to a dojo considered as an organization, and by extension, relating to groups of dojo organized into larger wholes. Understood as such, I think the term is neutral. As an organization, a dojo has a certain structure and the members are part of that structure--or not, depending on what they think of the structure. Thus, 'politics' is an inevitable component of aikido because it is essentially a social activity. By means of training one can hone one's body/mind to be a superbly adapted instrument for whatever purpose, but in aikido this purpose inevitably includes others, as partners in the dojo, or potential assailants, or partners in the quest for world peace.

In forums such as this people generally eschew aikido 'politics', which usually translates as (1) a distaste for any interference by organizational issues with training time and (2) an unacceptable connection with ego. The essential and acceptable connection of ego with one's own personal aikido training is sometimes explored in places such as this website, but the point is often stressed that 'politics' goes with 'ego' and that both are considered a 'bad thing'.

Horizons Widened (I)
Aikido 'Politics': The National Organization

The Ryushinkan Dojo was not independent. It was part of an organization that was formally recognized by the Aikikai. When I first became aware of the organization, it was known as the Aikikai of Great Britain (A.G.B.). The name followed a general pattern established by the Aikikai Hombu in Japan. As I stated above, Aikikai was the name for the legal entity formed by the Hombu Dojo with Doshu as the Head. However, as aikido spread around Japan, other organizations were created with the same name and this indicated both personal links with the Doshu and also structural links, in the form of a Hombu-approved teaching and examining structure, with dan ranks awarded by the Doshu. Thus, my present dojo organization is Zaidan Houjin Aikikai Hiroshima Kenshibu (Aikikai Foundation Hiroshima Prefecture Branch).

Why was there a need for such an organization nationwide? In Japan, it was not so much a need as the development of a process of growth. In the 1930s, Morihei Ueshiba had traveled around the country teaching and, consequent on his association with Onisaburo Deguchi, had established the Budo Senyoukai as an adjunct to Omoto-kyo. This was abandoned after the Second Omoto Incident in 1935, but the nationwide association of master & disciples continued up till 1942. After the war, efforts to restart aikido training centered not only on regular training at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo (training in Iwama had never been interrupted), but on the re-establishment of a nationwide network. It is interesting to look at Aikido, written by Morihei and Kisshomaru Ueshiba and published in 1957 (not to be confused with the English work with the same title, published in 1975). At the end of the book there is a list of Aikikai branch dojos--with instructors, as of Showa 39 (1964). There are some illustrious names on the list, including Mochizuki, Sugino and Sunadomari.

Outside Japan, aikido organizations were created by Japanese instructors, who had either traveled abroad of their own accord or had been requested to reside abroad and teach aikido. These teachers created their own networks of dojos, linked by bonds of personal allegiance of Student to Sensei. In Europe these networks of personal links were usually co-terminus with national boundaries, but in the USA, given its vast size, this was not the case and when I trained in Boston, Kanai Sensei rarely traveled outside a small area in the eastern US and Canada. In Britain, the A.G.B. was led by K Chiba, who had gone to reside in England at the request of British aikido students who wanted a Japanese instructor from the Hombu. Chiba Sensei trained a whole group of students and these formed a national network of dojos, united by a common approach to training and a common idea of why they were training. (Of course, this national network was not the only aikido organization in the UK. Other groups had had a connection with the Hombu before K Chiba arrived and there were also groups completely outside the Hombu umbrella.)

In the UK, I became aware of the dynamics of the national organization by participating in the weekend seminars taught by M. Kanetsuka. Kanetsuka Sensei usually drove his car (which was usually a rather fraught experience for the passengers) or traveled by train, but I used to travel by the University College London minibus, with as many passengers and their luggage as it could 'reasonably' hold. These journeys were also sometimes quite fraught, since, as a student at the college who had passed the required college driving test, I alone was licensed to drive the minibus and if anyone else had driven it--and had had an accident, there would have been no insurance coverage. I have vivid memories of picking up the minibus on Friday afternoon, training on Friday evening, attending the 'obligatory' zazen on Saturday morning, then driving 200 miles to the seminar, training for 3 hours, meeting the participants for a party on Saturday evening, training for 6 more hours and then driving back to London (with one or two hair-raising near misses on the expressway), delivering everyone safe and sound outside the dojo--or other locations, and finally delivering the minibus safe and sound to the university on Monday. Nevertheless, it was a very rewarding experience to travel around the country on weekend seminars and meet & talk to other students. The seminars afforded glimpses of the wider world of aikido, similar to that I had experienced in Boston USA: it was different because it was not the closed world of our daily training; it was similar because it was reassuringly Aikikai and also directed by our own instructor.


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