View Full Version : Who's your Teacher?

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05-18-2004, 08:23 AM
Lately I've been asked the question "who was/is my teacher?" As opposed to "who have I studied with?" In all honesty, I have trouble with this because I don't want to offend anyone inadvertantly.
My very first aikido instructor was Irving Faust (Aikikai). Although I only studied with him for about 8 months, I feel he laid the foundation for what is my aikido. So I definitely consider him one of my former teachers. Later I studied at a dojo where the chief instructor (8th Dan Aikikai) was hardly there. He is a great person and on those few occasions that I was able to spend time with him, I had many of those "eureka" moments but just about all of my training was conducted by a 6 Dan who also taught there. Although I consider that 6 Dan another of my former instructors, am I incorrect as far as etiquette goes not to consider that chief instructor one of my former instructors? His name is on some of my rank certs.
Also, I trained in a different Aikido system for a year (due to logistics). I loved the people, learned some good (different interpretations) things, and tested several times however in my mind I don't consider the instructor (3 Dan) there my teacher in a formal sense.
Are there rules governing this? Again, I don't want to insult anyone. I was reading about Mr. Pranin's delimna with Tohei Sensei way back when and was prompted to get clarification on this. I did karate for many years before aikido and the rules in karate are very clear on this.
Alot of times I read instructors bios and they have a list of instructors a mile long. Sometimes I know that is solely for marketing.
Any feedback will be much appreciated. Thank you.

Fred Little
05-18-2004, 08:44 AM
When asked this question, given its inherent lack of clarity, I have generally posed a question in return:

Are you asking the name of the instructor/s with whom I have worked most closely, or the name of the shihan in the organization with which I am affiliated?

That usually clarifies matters enough to move the conversation along.

Hope this helps,

Fred Little

John Boswell
05-18-2004, 09:44 AM

It would be my position to just tell it like it is. First, do like Fred said and clarify... but when they actually do want your training history, tell it like you just told us: I trained with X for a year, Y for a while, Shihan Z a couple of classes and still working on aikido.

Don't make it complicated... and don't make it into something that it's not. That's your intention... keep going! ;)

George S. Ledyard
05-18-2004, 10:26 AM
This is an interesting question because there are levels of meaning here. There can be a number of answers the asker of the question is lookin for...

If you are of relatively high rank, perhaps 4th Dan or above, you most likely have a Teacher with whom you are closely associated. Determining who that is would be the purpose of the question. However, in this day and age, things get a lot more complex. Many folks have broken off from their teacher and are unaffiliated or have re-affiliated wit another group or organization.

Mary Heiny Sensei would be an example of someone unaffiliated. Originally, she was a student of Hikitsuchi Sensei in Shingu (although she trained extensively with other teachers at the Aikikai Honbu Dojo in Tokyo as well). If you asked her who her teacher is she would probably tell you that hse had trained with Hikitsuchi Sensei but wouldn't go into more detail other than to say she is now unaffiliated.

Someone who isn't senior enough to go his own way with credibility will often re-affiliate. Toyoda Sensei's AAA Organization had a large number of people who had originally been students of other teachers. I always found that when one asked someone who their teacher was, if they responeded that they were under Toyoda Sensei, you always wanted to find out if they were originally his student or they had joined up later. This has to do with the intentio of the question. Most folks ask the question to get an idea of what your Aikido might be like. Saying who you are currently affiliated with rather than the person you spent fifteen or twenty years under doesn't answer that question well at all.

Then there are the folks that have a teacher who is not very senior. If someone askes you who your teacher is and you reply with Sensei so and so and he isn't senior enough to be known at all, the questioner doesn't often feel he found out what he wanted. He will often ask who your teacher trained with in order to get clarification. Aikido is such a small world that, unlike karate, it's hard to pretend that you are really senior when you aren't. So if the questioner doesn't get to a name he recognizes fairly quickly, he will make his own judgments about what your training may have been like (or he will simply suspend judegment).

Then you get to the group of folks who don't have a "Teacher". Perhaps they train in a dojo which is a satellite dojo of a lrage organization in which some senior person has been asked to oversee your program. The folks you train with are your instructors, your testing may well be overseen by this senior person, your rank may be certified by a Teacher at the home dojo whom you never even see...

When these folks are asked who their Teacher is, they have to reply that they train with a number of instructors who are within a certain organization. This can be the case even if you train at the Aikikai Headquarters Dojo. There are a large number of teachers there and it is quite possible to train extensively without having anyone of them be described as "Your Teacher". So you'd reply that you train at the Honbu Dojo and that you've trained extensively with Senseis X,Y and Z.

So, in the end it really comes down to whether or not there is a person to whom you feel you owe a degree of loyalty beyond what you owe anyone else and whether that person feels like it is his responsibility to oversee your training and help you move along in your ranking etc. If so you have Teacher and that's your response. If there isn't anyone who fits that bill but rather a bunch of folks you feel grateful to for their teaching atht isn't the same as "having a Teacher" which suggests a certain relationship.

It sounds as ig this is the position in which you find yourself. So I would simply reply with the names of the two or perhaps three people who have given you the most help and mention within what organization this is all taking pace and leave it at that. The questioner will now know what he wanted to know I think.

05-18-2004, 10:27 AM
Sorry guys. I will try to clarify and it may be that I'm talking about two different situations.
Typically I think the question is asked like this: Who have you trained under?
Although I have been in Instructor A's dojo, I really worked with Instructor B but instructor A has tested me and signed my certs.
The other situation is more delicate: You trained at a dojo where you and the instructor are very close in expertise although they hold higher rank than you.
What is the criteria for recognizing someone as your teacher in the formal sense? Maybe you both see the situation differently. In my case, I may be totally off base for not recognizing someone as my teacher and would want to correct that. Where do you draw the line between teacher and training partner or teacher and chief instructor of the dojo? I've been to seminars taught by Yamada Sensei but I would not consider him my teacher. Suppose I attended 10 Yamada seminars a year, does that change things???
Hope that helps.

05-18-2004, 10:31 AM
Just had another thought:
I guess I'm trying to determine if there is such a thing as teacher in title or position versus teacher in practicality? Practicality meaning having a great or substantial influence on my aikido training over an extended and consistent period of time.

05-18-2004, 10:51 AM
Ledyard Sensei, I knew I could get this out of you! I think I may have been trying to be too PC and as a result muffled my question. You hit ALL the scenarios I was thinking about. The intention of the question is not always in the words that are asked. Some teachers have influenced me with their words and others with their actions. Those are the names that come to mind the quickest when asked.
So I'm guessing there are no right or wrong answers. I notice that when this question is asked in many interviews of Japanese Shihan they normally give a very abstract answer unless they have trained exclusively with someone. I'm thinking they too don't want to offend anyone.
Thank you. That helps.

05-18-2004, 10:59 AM
To me, a teacher or sensei is someone you spend direct time training under. Attending 10 seminars with a shihan would not in my mind qualify that person as being your teacher unless you have established a teaching relationship with him or her. That is, you directly affliate with that teacher and obtain rank advancement. I only identify people I have taken seminars with simply as such. Unless I am part of their organization or attend a whole lot of seminars they wouldn't know me by sight.

George S. Ledyard
05-18-2004, 11:01 AM
I've been to seminars taught by Yamada Sensei but I would not consider him my teacher. Suppose I attended 10 Yamada seminars a year, does that change things???
Hope that helps.
Ah, this happens quite a bit. Someone does some seminars and then they magically become this Teacher's student. I have heard of this with Angier Sensei, Dan Inosanto, and others, so it's not just Aikido.

It doesn't matter how many seminars you go to with that teacher until there is a MUTUAL relationship in which the teacher feels he has a responsibility to guide your training. Clint George Sensei told me of a fellow who bills himself as a student of Hikitsuchi Sensei. When this fellow wrote a letter to Hikitsuchi Sensei his response was "who?". The fellow had trained at Shingu for a short while and had decided, in his own mind, that this was his teacher! If you suspect the Teacher in question might have trouble remembering your name, you are not his student in the way that this question is asked. You can be as grateful as you want to this teacher for whatever instruction you received but don't bill yourself as his student.

Just because you train at someone's dojo doesn't make you their student. I am a student of Saotome Sensei. When I moved to Seattle Sensei told me to train with Mary Heiny Sensei. So then I was a student of Saotome Sensei training at Mary Heiny Sensei's dojo. When Mary wanted to promote me to Sandan, I got Saotome Sensei's permission before I accepted. I have trained so much with Ikeda Sensei at this point that I will usually mention him as "one of my main teachers" but that is different in meaning to what is meant when I say Saotome Sensei is my teacher.

It sounds to me as if you don't have anyone who fits this bill. That's fine, just tell people who the main instructors are whom you've trained with and leave it at that. If you have to think about whether someone qualifies as "your Teacher", they aren't.

05-18-2004, 11:17 AM
Yes, George and John. I agree but wondered if I was being arrogant or ungrateful. I have never felt like I was anyones student in particular, in the true sense of a teacher/student on-going relationship.
I now feel that I do have a "mutual relationship" with a teacher in that we have made a verbal committment to each other. Of course time will tell but when I say this person is my teacher (although it is a recent development) I feel I am stating my intention to train under his guidance and put forth his take on aikido.
Thank you both again as you can probably tell this has been troubling me.

05-18-2004, 06:57 PM
What George said.

The question Have you found your teacher yet? is very apt. When you have you will know.