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Home > Columns > Peter Goldsbury > May, 2006 - An Aikido Journey: Part 8

An Aikido Journey: Part 8 by Peter Goldsbury

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Horizons Widened (3):
International Aikido 'Politics'

When I returned from the U.S.A. in 1975 and resumed training in the U.K., steps were being taken to create the International Aikido Federation (I.A.F.). In the U.S., there were active preparations for this major change, but these were unknown to me at the time and made absolutely no difference to our daily training in the Boston Dojo. In the U.K. the only sign of this change was the change of name I referred to earlier: the Aikikai of Great Britain (A.G.B.) had become the British Aikido Federation (B.A.F.), but here, too, the creation of a new international federation had absolutely no effect on our daily training. I mention this to raise the general question: What effect, if any, should an aikido organization, especially a large international organization, have on one's daily training regimen? I will return to this question later, but I suspect that similar questions were asked about the creation of the U.S.A.F. The ability to hold large joint training courses with visiting shihans was limited in the U.S. by the sheer size of the country, with the result that everyone pretty well kept to their own territory and trained within their shihan's sphere of influence. In 1975 this meant Yoshimitsu Yamada in New York, Mitsunari Kanai in Boston and Akira Tohei in Chicago. The only time I saw Yamada Sensei and Tohei Sensei were during visits by people like Doshu. What would an organization like the U.S.A.F., or the I.A.F., add to the sum total of our aikido practice and happiness?

As I stated earlier, the ostensible reason for the creation of the I.A.F. was to unite all aikido groups affiliated to the Aikikai. However, this reason was really a tatemae, performed in the best Japanese manner, but which can also be interpreted as honne: the expression of a pious hope and an attempt, resorted to in haste, to make the best of an difficult situation. This difficult situation was that the Aikikai were responding to a European initiative that was neither fully understood nor completely accepted. A 'cultural association' of aikido had been created in Europe. The governing members of this association, which later became the European Aikido Federation (or E.A.F.), came from aikido sections of large martial arts organizations in France and Spain, where aikido enjoyed something of a Cinderella relationship with judo. The governing members informed the Aikikai Hombu of their plans for a similar organization to the E.A.F., but one that was worldwide. An initial 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.

These international developments passed us by in the UK. As I stated earlier, when I returned from the U.S. and became involved with the British federation, the main task was to continue the development of a viable minimalist organization that would satisfy the need to look after our resident shihan and to meet for training courses and a summer school. Apart from keeping good contact with the Hombu, which we did via our Technical Adviser, K. Chiba, little need was seen to develop any links with aikido organizations in Europe. Of course, this insular attitude did not go down particularly well with some European organizations and I realized this when I attended the E.A.F. meetings up until 1980. At these meetings the emphasis was firmly placed on 'European' aikido and I was reminded (jokingly, but with underlying seriousness) that the British were lacking in this respect. However, there was little actual content to the concept of 'European Aikido', other than that it was aikido practiced in Europe, which was merely the postwar idea of a European community grafted on to aikido.

The E.A.F. had actually split into two opposing groups, defined broadly in accordance with the role of judo in the national aikido organization. On one side were ranged two large and powerful federations in France and Spain, plus the other half of the Netherlands, which were sections of larger martial arts federations. On the other side were ranged the organizations independent of judo, notably Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, one half of the Netherlands, and the UK. (Sweden was also present here and was a notable exception, the aikido organization being the largely independent member of a larger budo federation.) Some indication of what was thought to be stake here can be gained from the fact that in 1980, when some of the European delegates from the 'non-judo' organizations assembled in Paris for a congress of the E.A.F., in the presence of all the high-ranking yudansha from the Aikikai Hombu, threats were made that the congress would be stopped by the French police. The reason given was that the E.A.F. had been created in France and was therefore subject to French law. Thus, the breakaway group was apparently an illegal gathering. The police did not actually show up and the meeting passed without incident.

The shadow cast by these two de facto groups in Europe, each claiming to be the E.A.F., hung heavily over the 3rd I.A.F. Congress, which met in Paris in 1980. The official reports of the 3rd I.A.F. Congress suggested that it was very successful in carrying out the I.A.F. mission of unity. However, if this was the case, the official congress was very different from the one that I myself attended as the delegate of the B.A.F. The first major item on the agenda of any congress is the official roll-call of delegates and observers, including those delegates with the power to vote on behalf of their organizations. The Congress never actually got beyond this item because the delegates of one organization in Europe stood up and demanded to know why they had no vote. They had paid their affiliation fees and these had not been returned. No one seemed to be able to answer their objections and the repeated response of the General Secretary, that they were not I.A.F. members and that their affiliation fees would be refunded, went unheeded. There were other moments of high drama, as when someone picked up a chair to throw across the assembly hall at a delegate who refused to stop talking and resume his seat. Delegates who were not from the E.A.F. sat in a state of utter bewilderment, no doubt wondering why they had expended so much time and money in attending such an extraordinary congress. Since no one had thought to brief them beforehand about what to expect, they could be forgiven for wondering what on earth was going on.

The 3rd IAF Congress in Paris is an example of what happens when aikido 'politics' goes wrong, but it is less easy to see exactly what went wrong. In addition, the correction of the errors is even more difficult. I think the good faith of none of the delegates from both sides of the divide who attended the Paris Congress can be called into question. Many of them had been training for years under very distinguished instructors and had a clear idea of what aikido training and what an aikido organization should be like, this no doubt based on the training they had done and the relationships they had developed with their instructors. What was lacking was a good and reliable structure for conflict resolution outside the dojo, especially cross-cultural conflict resolution.

Stanley Pranin, of Aikido Journal, mentioned once in one of his editorials that the Aikikai Hombu, unlike the I.A.F., functions, so smoothly because it is run entirely by the Japanese. I do not think Mr. Pranin was being discriminatory here against foreigners. He was simply stating the plain fact that the Japanese are very good at running Japanese martial arts organizations because they all share in the same culture; and their cultural 'antenna' are exquisitely honed to make very similar distinctions between tatemae and honne. As I myself have found by experience, it takes a foreigner many years of residence to learn the subtleties involved here and I have the advantage of having learned these subtleties the hard way in a large university. I think that anyone who lives in Japan for any length of time has to deal with these subtleties.

It has been stated that organizations have to do with power, authority and control, possibly money (though this is less obvious with some aikido organizations). This is possibly true, but if true, it was also true of the Kobukan, the organization headed by Morihei Ueshiba, and some would say that the power and control is less obvious there. What I am suggesting is that the above statement is too general and takes little account of important cultural differences. This, of course, requires more discussion.

The experience of the 3rd I.A.F. Congress in Paris was a major shock and made me ask myself why I continued to practice aikido. Finding the answer was not a simple matter at this point in time, since in March 1980, six months before the Paris Congress took place, I had already moved to Japan. One reason for making this move was to practice aikido in the country of origin, but this is another story...

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