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Home > Columns > Peter Goldsbury > April, 2006 - An Aikido Journey: Part 7

An Aikido Journey: Part 7 by Peter Goldsbury

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In this installment I shall once more discuss aikido 'politics'. The emphasis, however, changes from local and national 'politics' to the international variety. I shall first focus on European aikido and save international aikido and the I.A.F. for Part 8.

One consequence of the trips around the country to attend weekend seminars with my instructor was that I became known outside my own dojo and eventually became the secretary of the national organization. This involved organizing occasional meetings of dojo or area representatives, organizing the training seminars for visiting instructors and, most important, organizing the annual summer school. To organize this last event an organization was necessary on a national scale, for it was far beyond the resources of any individual dojo and it would have been uneconomic to invite a visiting shihan from Japan to conduct a week's intensive training for just a few local dojos.

During this period, I also visited aikido organizations outside the U.K. and also attended meetings of larger aikido organizations in Europe. This is an aspect of aikido 'politics' that someone used to U.S. practice might find unusual, even difficult to understand. For a start, the U.S. is a very large country and so international aikido 'politics', especially in the United States Aikido Federation (U.S.A.F.) itself, is all but non-existent. There is some relationship with aikido practitioners in Canada, but the U.S.A.F. is not part of any larger continental grouping. Whether it should be grouped with Mexico in a North American grouping was at one time a major political issue, but this has now cooled somewhat. European perceptions are rather different, as people in the U.K. organization found out. The British have a love-hate relationship with the European continent and were not well known for their attendance at training seminars held in Europe. There was a resident Japanese shihan in the U.K., so trips to Europe were nothing more than a few toes dipped in a large pond. The Europeans, for their part, thought that British aikido was rather insular and felt that British participation in a larger continental grouping would be a more tangible demonstration of the 'harmony' thought to be implicit in the name of the art. The British felt that this was an unwelcome extension of the concept's meaning.

The British national organization was minimal and not particularly efficient, in the sense that there was nothing much beyond a network of satellite groups of dojos, clustered around a particular senior instructor, and minimalist, in the sense that no additional organization was thought to be necessary. Occasionally a newsletter was produced and meetings were held when the chief instructor visited a particular dojo in a satellite group. However, during my time as general secretary we did give some attention to the question of whether, and how, to become a legally constituted body. One important factor was that Kanetsuka Minoru Sensei was professional. In other words, his income was derived from aikido, but the fees paid by members of the Ryushinkan Dojo in London were not sufficient and he supplemented this income with the weekend seminars and also with shiatsu. Thus it was necessary to provide a more structured and reliable source of income and this meant that we had to consider the question of a formal, legally binding relationship between the organization and the chief instructor, or Technical Director, as he was called. This proved extremely difficult. To become a limited liability company under U.K. law meant that the shareholders (the dojos) could dismiss the directors (the management committee, which was fine) and especially the Technical Director. This last point was resisted, on the grounds that such a relationship undermined the traditional vertically structured relationship between Master & Disciple, which was thought to be the fundamental relationship on which that of dojo instructor & dojo member was based. When I left the U.K. in 1980, this still had not been resolved satisfactorily and it was left to my successor to deal with.

The need to become a legal body was also underlined by the moves being made by the British government at the time to 'regulate' the martial arts. The dojo waiver that is such a common feature of training here in Japan is not binding in English law and so a person can sign a waiver releasing an instructor or dojo member from responsibility in case of injury -- and still bring a court action against that instructor or member. Coupled with the ever-present phenomenon of grand masters, sokes, and self-promoted 10th dans with obscure, or downright false, lineage and credentials, the possibility of court action resulting from serious injury during aikido training revealed the need for some sort of insurance and also for some guarantee of quality that can be provided by an organization tied to a larger whole, especially if this larger whole involved the national or local government and the Aikikai Hombu, which was considered to be the 'Mother House' of aikido.

Horizons Widened (2):
European Aikido 'Politics'

When I returned from the USA in 1975 and resumed training, the organization to which I returned had changed its name. It was no longer the Aikikai of Great Britain (A.G.B.), but the British Aikido Federation (B.A.F.). The name change was consequent on the creation of the International Aikido Federation (I.A.F.) and the Aikikai requested all the organizations affiliated with it to switch from XXX Aikikai to XXX Aikido Federation. I suspect that the reason for this was to bring overseas practice into line with that in Japan. Here in Japan the legal foundation was the Aikikai, as I have explained earlier, but there was an extensive and growing network of groups of dojos. These were local, especially based on prefectures or regions in Japan such as Kanto or Kansai, or based on national and/or local government networks, keiretsu groups of companies, or the Japanese armed forces. Thus my very first aikido teacher had a close association with a dojo centred on the Mitsubishi group of companies. The second Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, also had a close association with this dojo.

The ostensible reason for the creation of the I.A.F. was to unite all aikido groups affiliated to the Aikikai. As a reason this has impeccable credentials, even though it goes against virtually the entire history of the martial arts in Japan. However, the actual impetus came from a group of aikido practitioners in Europe, whose interest in aikido stemmed from their earlier or concomitant training in judo. It is well known that all the students of Morihei Ueshiba at the Kobukan practiced other martial arts and judo had become very well established by the time the first aikido deshi traveled to Europe. It is not surprising, then, that some of these first deshi were accomplished in judo and taught aikido to selected individuals alongside their judo classes. What is surprising, however, is the fact that judo outside Japan was growing increasingly competitive was not seen as a danger.

The growing interest in aikido in Europe led to requests to the Aikikai Hombu for resident teachers who were primarily aikidoka, but the first such deshi to reside in Europe established his network of aikido dojos firmly under the umbrella of judo. Perhaps it was easier to make a good start and become relatively well established by doing this, but this arrangement contained the seeds of the discord that was to tear European aikido apart in the 1980s. Readers in the U.S. might best make sense of this situation by imaging the present U.S.A.F. created under the aegis of a nationwide network of flourishing judo organizations with increasingly powerful representation on international bodies like the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.).

A cultural association of European aikido had been created and the members of this association, which later became the European Aikido Federation or E.A.F., informed the Aikikai Hombu of their plans for a similar organization, but worldwide. A meeting was held in Spain in 1975, but by some deft negotiating spadework, the Aikikai ensured that the inaugural Congress of the new I.A.F. was actually held in Japan one year later.

As the general secretary of the national organization, I attended a meeting of the E.A.F. in 1978. I was rather stunned by this meeting, for it led me to reconsider why I was actually practicing the art. The meeting, a general congress of the federation, was organized by France and held in Nice and was attended not just by national delegates, but by most of the Japanese shihan living in Europe. It was at this meeting that I first perceived a major truth about postwar aikido: that the Aikikai Hombu has allowed, almost encouraged, the spread of aikido outside Japan, but that the Japanese shihan dispatched were not equipped, either by the Aikikai or by their culture in general, to approach other cultures from a position of equality.

The major issue at the meeting concerned the degree of autonomy to be given by the Aikikai Hombu to a continental European grouping, especially concerning the crucial questions of teaching, examining and grading. The U.S. has had its shihankai for many years, so this question has never been a real issue. In Europe the argument was that the Aikikai Hombu was too far away to be aware of local conditions and so needed to grant a larger measure of autonomy than would be necessary in Japan.

The congress was interesting in many respects. First, it revealed a significant split among the Japanese shihan. For practical purposes, some acquiesced in the original idea to spread aikido in Europe under the general aegis of judo, but others were resolutely opposed to it, on the grounds that the two arts were fundamentally different. Secondly, in addition to these fundamental differences, the congress revealed additional -- and very wide differences of opinion about how an aikido organization, especially an international aikido organization, should actually work. The British favoured a minimalist approach, with a nationally based organizational framework that was only just sufficient to do the job, but others wanted a more elaborate, continental-based organization. I think these differences reflected wider political differences among E.U. member states (Britain had not joined the E.U. at this time).

These differences came to a head between 1978 and 1980. One organization in Holland wished to start a new aikido organization free from the judo umbrella and this caused a major split on three levels: among the member organizations of the E.A.F; among the members of the directing committee of the E.A.F; and among the Japanese shihans resident in Europe. The practical effect of the split was the de facto creation of two groups, which still remain at the present time. The effects of this split will be explored in the next installment, concerning international aikido 'politics'.

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