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11-18-2005, 04:51 PM
Discuss the article, "Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training" by George S. Ledyard here.

Article URL: http://www.aikiweb.com/columns/gledyard/2005_11.html

Rupert Atkinson
11-22-2005, 01:10 AM
Years ago there was a fellow at another dojo at which I taught regularly. The fellow had been at he school since its inception, had managed to get his Shodan by virtue of the fact that he had been at the dojo so long. But when it really came down to it, he didn't really train. He was always "injured", had a "job related conflict", a "class" that he was taking, always some reason he couldn't make it to class that day. I'd come to do a weekend seminar and he'd show up for the potluck but not be able to make any of the actual classes because of .... His teacher and I, after many years of observing this pattern, started to joke that this fellow had been pretending to do Aikido longer than anyone else we knew.

A different slant:
When I was in Japan I trained in a university dojo (exchange student) and I remember one female student who always came to watch but rarely, if ever, trained. I assumed she must be the girlfriend of one of the other members or something but one day, I asked about her. Apparently, she used to train but got injured as a first year. She was now a fourth year and had attended almost every class, watching. Why? Because she was a member of the club. She always seemed quite jovial about it and she did join in a few times but was very careful. Once you join the club, you are a member and that's it, and if you don't have class, you have to turn up for training.

Duarh
11-22-2005, 02:22 AM
A very nice article. I think the phenomena being described are present in many activities outside aikido as well. I'm a student of physics myself, and in this context I often observe a tendency to idolize the great physicists of the past, with the implication that the speaker cannot possibly aspire to such heights himself. This allows one to become a member of the comfortable "middle class" of physicists - all one has to do is follow the curriculum as set, progress from college to grad school to one's PhD (black belt equivalent in this context, I guess), and one will then become a genuine respected physicist. I do my best to remind myself not to take this attitude, neither in physics nor in aikido. To worship at the feet of those who have come before and to see them as almost greater than human (as with O-Sensei in aikido and, say, Einstein in physics) is very much counterproductive. It merely provides one with an excuse for weaknesses and shortcomings. The remarkable thing about individuals like Einstein and O-Sensei is not that they were super-human, but exactly that they were human and still achieved as much as they did. That they could do it should be viewed as evidence that others may do as much and go farther as well.

RobertFortune
11-22-2005, 11:21 AM
A different slant:
When I was in Japan I trained in a university dojo (exchange student) and I remember one female student who always came to watch but rarely, if ever, trained. I assumed she must be the girlfriend of one of the other members or something but one day, I asked about her. Apparently, she used to train but got injured as a first year. She was now a fourth year and had attended almost every class, watching. Why? Because she was a member of the club. She always seemed quite jovial about it and she did join in a few times but was very careful. Once you join the club, you are a member and that's it, and if you don't have class, you have to turn up for training.

Curiosity compels me to ask who people study the art of Aikido for, themselves or someone other than themself? :confused:

RobertFortune
11-22-2005, 11:47 AM
Aloha,

Having taken the time to read Mr. Ledyard's article I have a comment or two about my thoughts of it. I wondered where he as the top "Kahuna" (a Hawaiian word meaning "expert" used as usual in a joking way as if such [Hawaiian] people were little more than silly - nice one Mr. Ledyard) was as this new social atmosphere was unfolding in *his* dojo? MIA?

Aikido *is* clearly intended to be more than the study of the physical mechanics which anyone through repetition can learn easily enough. Want to learn how to knock people out or simply kick a**? Start doing it as best as you can and keep at it long enough and in time you'll improve. Is that Aikido? I don't so, but hey who am I to say what it is to you? Peace, Justice & Love.

Aloha,

-Robert

George S. Ledyard
11-22-2005, 12:20 PM
Aloha,

Having taken the time to read Mr. Ledyard's article I have a comment or two about my thoughts of it. I wondered where he as the top "Kahuna" (a Hawaiian word meaning "expert" used as usual in a joking way as if such [Hawaiian] people were little more than silly - nice one Mr. Ledyard) was as this new social atmosphere was unfolding in *his* dojo? MIA?

Aikido *is* clearly intended to be more than the study of the physical mechanics which anyone through repetition can learn easily enough. Want to learn how to knock people out or simply kick a**? Start doing it as best as you can and keep at it long enough and in time you'll improve. Is that Aikido? I don't so, but hey who am I to say what it is to you? Peace, Justice & Love.

Aloha,

-Robert

Robert,
Where I have been is where I have always been. On the mat five to seven days a week for the seventeen years my dojo has been open. All the patterns I have talked about I see in potential with my own students and I try as best I can to head them in a better direction. If you think I am interested in just kicking ass then you have absolutely no idea what I do in my Aikido or what I teach. Reaching that conclusion from what I read means you have no idea what I was getting at.Or perhaps what I wrote pushes some buttons... it was certainly designed to do that.

Should you think that this all represents some aberrant thinking on my part, I can assure you that when you get a group of senior folks together and they talk about Aikido this type of conversation comes up all the time. I simply wanted to throw it out for wider dissemination.

As for making the leap that I am somehow treating the Hawaiian people / culture disrepectfully... well, please... All sorts of words have come into English usage from other languages, Yiddish being the most notable. When I call someone a putz I am in no way disrepecting the Jewish people, simply the fellow to whom I am directing the term.

RobertFortune
11-22-2005, 01:30 PM
Robert,
Where I have been is where I have always been. On the mat five to seven days a week for the seventeen years my dojo has been open.
-----

I stand by my statement that simply memorizing the physical mechanics for me is *not* Aikido. Certainly *it is* a significant and essential *part* of the study of Aikido, but me...well I'm greedy. I want it all.

GL>
All the patterns I have talked about I see in potential with my own students and I try as best I can to head them in a better direction. If you think I am interested in just kicking ass then you have absolutely no idea what I do in my Aikido or what I teach. Reaching that conclusion from what I read means you have no idea what I was getting at.Or perhaps what I wrote pushes some buttons... it was certainly designed to do that.
-----

Yes I was fully aware that my post would likely have that "effect" on you but after giving it some (careful) thought and consideration, I decided to post my message. Beep! Beep! [Hey! That button lights up when it's pressed! Co-ol!]

I am indeed bit lost in your sentence "Reaching that conclusion from what I read.." Should "read" actually have been "wrote" or did you mean what you "read" in *my* message? So yes, at that point I do indeed "have no idea what" you were "getting at".

GL>
Should you think that this all represents some aberrant thinking on my part, I can assure you that when you get a group of senior folks together and they talk about Aikido this type of conversation comes up all the time. I simply wanted to throw it out for wider dissemination.
-----

Exactly! And I am disseminating it. I am more often than I care(d) to be a believer that the word "Senior" is all too often over-rated. Neither age nor time or even experience(s) is a guarantee of superior quality or any quality at all, other than garbage'.

GL>
As for making the leap that I am somehow treating the Hawaiian people / culture disrepectfully... well, please...
-----

As one of the few free true Native Hawaiians I consider it my right (and duty) to decide who and what offends me and my ancestors.

GL>
All sorts of words have come into English usage from other languages, Yiddish being the most notable. When I call someone a putz I am in no way disrepecting the Jewish people, simply the fellow to whom I am directing the term.

A little education can go a long way. Yiddish is *not* Jewish. Yiddish is *in fact* a mixture of Hebrew, German and a hodgepodge of other words and phrases from other (European) languages. Hebrew is the Jewish language, not Yiddish, Mr. Ledyard. Peace, Justice & Love.

Aloha,

-Robert A. Fortune

Andy
11-22-2005, 03:20 PM
who am I to say what <Aikido> is to you?
"I myself do *not* practice Aikido" (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showpost.php?p=122357&postcount=1) -- Robert Fortune, November 11 2005

Good article George. Keep it up.

Don
11-22-2005, 03:56 PM
Sounds like Mr. Fortune is speaking from a position of extreme experiental ignorance. Me thinks you have lost all credibility, Robert. Excellent article Ledyard sensei. Another one to download and take to the dojo.

Ron Tisdale
11-22-2005, 04:05 PM
As one of the few free true Native Hawaiians I consider it my right (and duty) to decide who and what offends me and my ancestors.

Right now, your ancestors think you are making a horse's ass of yourself...

:( Ron

tarik
11-22-2005, 04:17 PM
Exactly! And I am disseminating it. I am more often than I care(d) to be a believer that the word "Senior" is all too often over-rated. Neither age nor time or even experience(s) is a guarantee of superior quality or any quality at all, other than garbage'.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

I find my experiences in aikido, while not nearly as extensive as Mr Ledyards, mirror his observations.

It is certainly true that one cannot always know why someone does or does not get on the mat, or why they push themselves or even why they show up, but there are patterns and Mr. Ledyards observations describe some of those patterns very well indeed.

Nice article. Thank you for writing it.

RobertFortune
11-22-2005, 10:25 PM
"I myself do *not* practice Aikido" (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showpost.php?p=122357&postcount=1) -- Robert Fortune, November 11 2005Good article George. Keep it up.


And I learn quick Mr. Russo. And as I have been learning I realize there is much in Aikido which I already know, and quite a bit more that isn't in Aikido or if it is, it hasn't survived the translation from Japanese into (US) English.

*I* make the effort to understand things beyond going to a gym and working out on others. A wild ape can do that naturally. If you or anyone else here cares to disagree with me I'll be more than happy to watch you go into a cage with that wild ape and we'll see who's the better of the two of you Mr. Russo. My money's on the ape.

It's plainly obvious to me that Mr. Ledyard is basically winging it (at least in that article and moreso in his reply to me). Whether this is Mr. Ledyard's SOP I can't say, but it all there in black and white print for anyone to read this thread and decide for themselves.

For the sake of agreeing that you boys deserve a peaceful safe place to play in, I'll be right enough to stay out of this little safe place you've set up for yourselves to play in. Have fun budo-boys!

-Robert

Michael Hackett
11-23-2005, 12:47 AM
Yet another great lesson from George Ledyard Sensei! He writes a thoughtful and thought-provoking column and suffers an ad hominem attack for his effort. Although he clearly has the wit, the experience and the skill to respond directly, he simply rises above the fray and ignores the foolishness. Well done, Sensei.

tedehara
11-23-2005, 03:35 AM
These forum are for discussion, not someplace to jump all over someone who has an honest opinion or comment. The fact that people defended this article shows it touched a common viewpoint, but that is not the only point of view available.

There were several examples in the article that I felt were irrelevant to my personal situation. There were additional examples that seemed to me could be done a different way. The fact that the article encouraged people to define their aikido goals is admirable.

However this is not a Win-Win situation. Most people will not become martial arts legends. The majority of US students will not even get a black belt. Devoting seven to five days per week for years of training is a luxury few will have. Moving to Japan or another area to study Aikido is even more remote for most of us.

Perhaps the only thing we can do is to develop ourselves during the short time we have for training. We can do that within one day or forty+ years of training. We can also encourage others to develop themselves. Even though individuals will turn out differently, they will be better people for it. Perhaps that was the idea all along.

Ron Tisdale
11-23-2005, 08:55 AM
:)

The problem is, my ancestors had nothing at all to do with that debacle. They were too busy trying to live in this foriegn country as human beings, while being seen by many other americans of the time as animals. Which would not excuse me for:

a) Coming on an aikido board with no experience in aikido and speaking rudely to a respected participant with many years of experience.

b) Pushing a Politically Correct agenda over the innocent use of a loan word from another culture.

c) Identifying myself as a SWM, then claiming to be a 'native Hawaiian'...

The fact is, you come off a little looney so far. You aren't helping yourself yet...just digging the hole deeper.

Best,
Ron

Another American *expert* on Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture. If you knew an iota of what I know you'ld know for a fact who are the fools here. Yeah Ron, I know all about it. How tough your ancestors were. Had to resort to germ warfare to kill over 1 million of our men, women and CHILDREN! Impressive! Truly impressive. Care to thank us for the Book of Genesis Ronny? ;) HA!

Aloha,

-Robert

"Nothing's worse than ignorance." - George Harrison "Brainwashed"

SeiserL
11-23-2005, 09:05 AM
IMHo, whatever tool we use, seeing through our own self-delusions for some samll glimpse of clarity is not just the goal, but the journey itself. Enjoy it and don't take yourself too seriousely or too personally.

Nice article Sensei, I have always enjoyed your thoughts and our conversations.

John Boswell
11-23-2005, 09:40 AM
Getting back to the matter at hand...

Ledyard Sensei,

I do have a question with regards to direction one takes in training. Personally, I'm 35 years old and have been at my training for almost 4 years now. My body has not been, is not and will most likely never be in "great" shaped. My knees are very poor and with a history of arthritis, I have no doubt in my mind that my knee work could never come close to Ikeda Shihan's level.

Am I setting a limit for myself? Yes
Do I aspire to be a master in aikido? No.
Does that make me a part-time and slacker student ???

To aspire to the level of master is all fine and good. Yes, we should have goals... come to class ready to train... work with a beginners mind and be willing to learn and accept another's teachings. But realistically, I don't ever see myself (personally) surpassing my current instructor. Should I ever match his current ability, I'll be very happy!

But does not striving to become more than that make me less of a student than one who strives to match Ikeda Sensei's ability?

This is not an attack on you or your article. I'm struggling to understand where my place in your world would be.

A student "going through the motions"...

or

A Student of Aikido

...or something else?

Just trying to figure out my place in the world.

Pauliina Lievonen
11-23-2005, 10:26 AM
Does that make me a part-time and slacker student ???
I wouldn't equate part-time student with slacker. But I think it's kind of feeling that makes people react angrily to a position like Ledyard sensei's.

I think it's about how you present yourself to yourself, and to the world. It would be ridiculous for me to start acting like I was a seriously dangerous fighter for example. Or a doctor, or a ballet dancer, or anything else that I'm not.

It's painful to think that other people might be better than me. But in the end, if someone trains 5-6-7 days a week, several hours a day - isn't that a sacrifice that deserves recognition? I'm not prepared to put quite that much time into aikido training - why should I pretend to be an equally serious student of the art? It doesn't make me a slacker - it makes me an amateur, which is what I am. I'm not training to become a professional aikidoka, I already have a job!

Still, sometimes there's the little voice in my head that says that I really would like to be that serious, train that much, be able to take that many breakfalls etc etc. and that I'd really like to be treated as if I was...but in the end, fact is that I'm not prepared to put more time into it than I already do. It's my choice, and I can't demand a different outcome than what I've chosen for.

Now during the time in the dojo, I try to train as seriously as I can, I try to really be there, not half somewhere else. I think about what I do, I read about it. It's a more serious hobby than anything else that I do in my free time, but it's still not the only thing, or the main thing, that I do in my life. If I would pretend that it was, I'd be kidding myself. Which is what the column was talking about, I think.

I'd say I'm possibly a branch...sometimes a twig. :) You get to say for yourself what your place is in the big picture.

kvaak
Pauliina

John Boswell
11-23-2005, 10:51 AM
Still, sometimes there's the little voice in my head that says that I really would like to be that serious, train that much, be able to take that many breakfalls etc etc. and that I'd really like to be treated as if I was...but in the end, fact is that I'm not prepared to put more time into it than I already do. It's my choice, and I can't demand a different outcome than what I've chosen for.

See? That's me. And I'm not accusing Ledyard Sensei of degrading students who CAN only train two or three times a week. Now, for those students that do train as much (or as little?) as we do... and think of themselves as being big, bad black belts or something... well, they're just kididng themselves. And I hope this article will get their attention!

If Aikido has taught me anything, it would be humiltiy. Seeing men in their 70's throwing people around like ragdolls tends to wake you up and make you realize... there are bigger fish.

Personally, I've never doubted the existence of bigger fish. ;)

Ron Tisdale
11-23-2005, 10:55 AM
To pay a little serious attention to these questions:

Aloha,

Having taken the time to read Mr. Ledyard's article I have a comment or two about my thoughts of it. I wondered where he as the top "Kahuna" was as this new social atmosphere was unfolding in *his* dojo? MIA?

I think the point of his article is that it is not up to the teacher to ask and answer these questions...it is up to the student. I'm going through some of these very issues myself right now, I have gone through them before, and will probably go through them again in the future. The fact is, as I age, as I get engaged in my career, as I get engaged in the aging of my parents, these questions come up more and more often. I don't look to my teacher to solve these problems for me. I have to do the work myself. I have to make time for my training, I have to decide whether to be a leaf, trunk, or root. I have to make these decisions bear fruit in my actions. The teacher can make the environment by setting the tone, creating a good place to train, supporting me in my choices. But I have to make the choices. It's the same for any other *adult* activity that I know.

Aikido *is* clearly intended to be more than the study of the physical mechanics which anyone through repetition can learn easily enough. Want to learn how to knock people out or simply kick a**? Start doing it as best as you can and keep at it long enough and in time you'll improve. Is that Aikido? I don't so, but hey who am I to say what it is to you? Peace, Justice & Love.

Aloha,

-Robert
Funny, I've been training in aikido fairly regularly for about 10 years now, and I *still* am not completely sure of all of what it is and what it isn't. If I ever figure it all out, I'll be sure to post it.

Best,
Ron

George S. Ledyard
11-23-2005, 10:56 AM
These forum are for discussion, not someplace to jump all over someone who has an honest opinion or comment. The fact that people defended this article shows it touched a common viewpoint, but that is not the only point of view available.

There were several examples in the article that I felt were irrelevant to my personal situation. There were additional examples that seemed to me could be done a different way. The fact that the article encouraged people to define their aikido goals is admirable.

However this is not a Win-Win situation. Most people will not become martial arts legends. The majority of US students will not even get a black belt. Devoting seven to five days per week for years of training is a luxury few will have. Moving to Japan or another area to study Aikido is even more remote for most of us.

Perhaps the only thing we can do is to develop ourselves during the short time we have for training. We can do that within one day or forty+ years of training. We can also encourage others to develop themselves. Even though individuals will turn out differently, they will be better people for it. Perhaps that was the idea all along.

Hi Ted,
There isn't anything you've said here that I disagree with. My whole point is that people need to be clear about what they are doing and how much commitment they can or are willing to make.

When people see themselves as being more serious than they really are a dissonance gets set up which forces them to find ways of demeaning or discounting people who are more serious than they are. There are whole styles of Aikido which have done this... they need to put other approaches down because they can't allow themselves to see that there might be some better stuff out there.

In a Budo sense it was never the things that you don't know that will kill you. It's the things that you don't know you don't know. If Aikido is about raising ones awareness or consciousness which I think it was intended to be, that has to include being honest with oneself about what one is doing.

Aikido has levels upon levels. Much of the art at the beginning has to do with physical movement and kinetic energy. Many folks will not train enough to really get very expert at this level. Yet the Aikido that O-Sensei created went way beyond this. The level at which aiki starts to operate is the level at which the partner's mind and body are effected by how you move and how you project your attention.

Takeda Sensei and O-Sensei (and other martial arts greats) attained a level of refinement in their practice at which much of what went on was psychic in nature. They viewed being able to sense another's intention as being critical step in going past mere physical technique. Yet very little Aikido which I observe is being done in such a way that anyone will develop that type of skill regardless of how long or how frequently they train.

The fact that in any art only a very few get to the top level is an historical fact and it is true for all martial styles. The difference I see is that the classical styles of Japanese martial art have attempted to maintain their integrity over five hundred years. Any student who joins a ryuha has access to the very same training which every other student does. Some will take advantage of that training and get to the point at which they attain a teaching license and most won't. But it was strictly a matter of how hard they trained and whatever their innate talent for the art was. The art never gets changed for the students, rather, the students change according to the art.

Aikido is completely different. Since the moment O-Sensei's first students started teaching the art has been changing according to the experiences of each and their own personalities. Some forms of Aikido are different enough from each other that they are really different arts just as Aikido is different from Daito Ryu. But the people who created the different styles of Aikido were mostly pre-war deshi who were lifetime martial artists of great skill and depth.

When Aikido (and the other Japanese martial arts) spread after the war, the transmission was largely done by people who were not themselves Shihan level teachers. When I started Aikido the senior Americans in the art were 4th Dan. Most of us started running our own dojos at nidan and sandan simply because there wasn't anyone senior to us. That is still true today. Most dojos out there are not run by someone at sixth dan or higher. Most are run by folks at 3rd or 4th dan.

Because of the dramatic growth in the numbers of people training there has been a consistent trend towards a) simplification of the art, b) removal of the martially oriented components of the practice, and c) removal of the Shinto oriented aspects of the practice (which is very much a removal of O-Sensei from his own art). Whereas the number of opportunities these days to train at a seminar with a top level teacher is far greater than it was when I started Aikido, in terms of the percentage, a smaller percentage of the total number of practitioners are training under a Shihan level instructor than was true when Aikido was first introduced to the US.

This has led to an immense gap in sophistication between different places one might train. Many people are putting in many hours of hard training, expending much time and effort, but the place where they are training will simply not produce anyone who gets to the top level of skill because of the way they train or the lack of sophistication of the person teaching. This no slight on the person teaching... if one is a sandan or yondan one can do an admirable job teaching folks the basics but how could one possibly take ones students up to a level which one hasn't yet reached oneself? This is just common sense.

The issue becomes lack of awareness of what the highest levels of Aikido even represent. I have been fantastically fortunate to have been able to train with many of the finest teachers out there. The Aiki Expos exposed me to even more, some who don't even do Aikido. When you experience what these people can do and when in your own training you start to get a glimpse of what it is yourself, there's no way you can be satisfied with Aikido-lite.

I travel a lot to teach and train and what I see out there is a group of folks who are hungry for better training. They get so excited and enthusiastic when you can show them ways to take their training up to another level. I think the current system of teaching is failing a large group of people out there. They need more and better direction.

But I also see quite a lot of people who are quite satisfied with what they are doing in their dojos. As I outlined in my article, at some point the who raison detre for the existence of their dojo unconsciously changed from promoting the growth of the people within the dojo and their skill in the art of Aikido to fostering a close community of like minded people who enjoy sharing an activity. While that is a fine thing in an of itself, it isn't Aikido as I believe O-Sensei envisioned it. It may be what his son and grandson have seen as the positive outcome of spreading the art around the world but I am sure that this is not what O-Sensei, or the uchi deshi to whom I have been exposed, envisioned.

I think that people have been drawn to Aikido because of it's promise of personal growth. It's aspect as Budo can help people lose their fear, their feeling of disempowerment. It's spiritual side can teach people a better way of relating both to others and to themselves. It's energetic side offers insights into areas which traditional cultures have had access for milennia but which are disappearing from the modern, materialistically oriented world.

Unlike the situation with the Koryu which I described earlier in which the ryu attempt to remain unchanged and whole over time and the students change to fit the ryu as best they can, Aikido is in a situation in which the art is being changed to fit the people. When that happens you can find that so much knowledge gets lost that even people who wish to train to a high level and are willing to make the sacrifices entailed can't get there because the training they are getting simply won't take them there regardless of how hard they work.

That's why I stress the issue of being really straight with oneself about ones training goals are. Is O-Sensei our model or some unattainable figure head shrouded in mystery? One can say the same of Tohei Sensei... will how most people in Ki Society are training ever produce another Tohei? If we are truly looking at our teachers as our models then we need to take a look at precisely how they achieved what they have. If we aspire to be better than our teachers then we need to design our training to do that.

I am so passionate about this because I love this art so much. I am just hitting the point in my training in which I can now do things which I thought were pretty much "magic" thirty years ago when I started. I feel like I am just getting to the "goodies" and it is so exciting, so much fun I can't contain myself. When I see so many people settling for so much less I can't help but say "No, don't settle! There's so much more..."

I am so far beyond what I saw as my initial goals were for my training... When I started I thought it would be the ultimate if I could just be as good as the Yudansha who had helped Saotome Sensei open the DC dojo back in 1976. They were all Shodans. As I have learned more I have continually sought out the people who could show me what the next level is. What I know about the "next level" is stuff I had no idea of when I started. When I teach I see my goal as exposing the serious students who want to go the distance what the next level can be for them. But more importantly I try to get people to recognize that comparatively speaking I am just beginning to see what is out there for one who trains. The "real goodies" are ahead of all of us. To the folks who are making the effort I say "Don't settle for less." and for the folks who don't want to make the effort nothing needs to be said. They get what they get.

Aikido desperately needs people to focus on how to develop training which could potentially produce another O-Sensei, another Tohei, and Yamaguchi, etc In large measure this isn't happening today. Some of this is due to simple ignorance and some of it seems purposeful, as if someone decided that the general public wasn't capable of understanding the "real" stuff so they are dumbing down the art to fit their perception of the practitioners. I do not believe that this is necessary. It kills the art and it basically deprives the practitioners of experiencing for themselves the truths which O-Sensei described for all of us which drew us to the art in the first place.

When people say that they don't have time to train they are really saying that Aikido simply isn't their first, second or even third priority. They are saying that other things are more important and they don't wish to re-prioritize. That's fine. There is nothing wrong with that. But you don't change the training to make it more accessible to those folks. The training is what it is and the people who do the art will get out of it what their efforts put in. Making the "box" smaller and smaller so that the folks doing the art can feel like they are making progress towards something is doing the people involved and the art itself a disservice. The "goodies" as I call them are accessible to everyone, they just need to train in a way that is designed to give them this knowledge.

6th Kyu For Life
11-25-2005, 05:13 PM
Let me take a contrary position:

I often hear people advise students not to worry about setting goals, not to compare themselves to anyone else, just to train day by day with good commitment and everything will take care of itself. I couldn't disagree more strongly! If one has any aspirations to attain a certain level of skill in an art like Aikido one must make sure that the training one is receiving and the effort one is putting in will lead one eventually to that level of skill.I often hear people advise students not to worry about setting goals, not to compare themselves to anyone else, just to train day by day with good commitment and everything will take care of itself. I couldn't disagree more strongly! If one has any aspirations to attain a certain level of skill in an art like Aikido one must make sure that the training one is receiving and the effort one is putting in will lead one eventually to that level of skill.

In my (limited) experience with Aikido, I've found that the more and more I get involved, the more my goals begin to taper off. Therefore, I believe that the highest echelon of Aikido practice is practice without goals, practice that is nothing more than practice. This terminology is derived from my study of religion, but can be directly applied to aikido.
When I first began Aikido, it was basically on a lark. A good friend at my job here on campus taught a (for credit) class, and basically, time became free in my schedule and I signed up. I never even had the experience of "wow, that is so cool... I really really want to do that." I don't even remember my first class. But now, I've taken that friend's place, and Aikido is basically eating my life alive (and I love it!) I made no conscious decision, just happened.
It seems that there is no way to control the path that Aikido takes you on. You'd just better be ready to hold on tight for the ride. Aikido naturally becomes part of your life through constant practice, that's how it works, there's nothing you need to do to integrate it into your life, except practice, practice, practice. If you're doing aikido with the intention to become the best, you'll only be focused on how to attain your goals in Aikido, rather than on Aikido. On the mat, Aikido is always there, regardless of how you practice. In other words, all practice is good practice; the first-day student is doing Aikido just as much as the 6th dan.
However, I understand that it is very important for some people to practice with a goal in mind. There's nothing wrong with the desire to be better than you are. Training in this way is good, but I think the best way to train is to truly "lose yourself on the mat." The tree of aikido feeds itself. Becoming the root is not your decision, it naturally happens as a product of training.
Furthermore, if you make some decision to make aikido an important part of your life, you're neglecting the fact that whether you like it or not, your life will change. Aikido may be the most important thing in your life when you make that decision, but what about a year from now? What about ten? What are the odds that your life can support an aikido career indefinitely? So if you want to be a root, be a root, but don't get too attached to your root-ness. Maybe someday it will fade too. So stop worrying about your rank, your place in the aikido hierarchy, or your future as the next Steven Seagal/Saotome Shihan sent by the gods to bring aikido to the masses. Leave that crap, your shoes, and your ego at the edge of the mat and just train.
I'm done, open the floodgates.

Peace,
Tom Newhall

George S. Ledyard
11-25-2005, 06:54 PM
Let me take a contrary position:



In my (limited) experience with Aikido, I've found that the more and more I get involved, the more my goals begin to taper off. Therefore, I believe that the highest echelon of Aikido practice is practice without goals, practice that is nothing more than practice. This terminology is derived from my study of religion, but can be directly applied to aikido.
When I first began Aikido, it was basically on a lark. A good friend at my job here on campus taught a (for credit) class, and basically, time became free in my schedule and I signed up. I never even had the experience of "wow, that is so cool... I really really want to do that." I don't even remember my first class. But now, I've taken that friend's place, and Aikido is basically eating my life alive (and I love it!) I made no conscious decision, just happened.
It seems that there is no way to control the path that Aikido takes you on. You'd just better be ready to hold on tight for the ride. Aikido naturally becomes part of your life through constant practice, that's how it works, there's nothing you need to do to integrate it into your life, except practice, practice, practice. If you're doing aikido with the intention to become the best, you'll only be focused on how to attain your goals in Aikido, rather than on Aikido. On the mat, Aikido is always there, regardless of how you practice. In other words, all practice is good practice; the first-day student is doing Aikido just as much as the 6th dan.
However, I understand that it is very important for some people to practice with a goal in mind. There's nothing wrong with the desire to be better than you are. Training in this way is good, but I think the best way to train is to truly "lose yourself on the mat." The tree of aikido feeds itself. Becoming the root is not your decision, it naturally happens as a product of training.
Furthermore, if you make some decision to make aikido an important part of your life, you're neglecting the fact that whether you like it or not, your life will change. Aikido may be the most important thing in your life when you make that decision, but what about a year from now? What about ten? What are the odds that your life can support an aikido career indefinitely? So if you want to be a root, be a root, but don't get too attached to your root-ness. Maybe someday it will fade too. So stop worrying about your rank, your place in the aikido hierarchy, or your future as the next Steven Seagal/Saotome Shihan sent by the gods to bring aikido to the masses. Leave that crap, your shoes, and your ego at the edge of the mat and just train.
I'm done, open the floodgates.

Peace,
Tom Newhall

Hi Tom,
Lots of Soto Zen in this... and sure on the cosmic levl its true but on the mundane level it's not going to cut it. It's not all the same... one peron's shihonage isn't the same as another's. One person's skill isn't the same as another. Their value as human beings may be the same but their accomplishment in the doing of the art and their understanding of the art are not.

One of the issues with the application of Zen-like philosophy to our understanding of Zen or anything else is that it most often ignores the basic foundation of what makes that system of transmission work... namely, the Roshi, the Master who oversees your training. All of that stuff about the identity of Zazen and Enlightenment is True in the big sense but it doesn't in any way mean that anyone who sits down to do zazen is a Roshi. It takes twenty years of hard work to REALLY begin doing that. And there are countless pitfalls and distractions which can take one off the Path and it is the job of the Teacher to keep that from happening.

The whole idea of training without goals, being unconcerned with rank, not worrying about ideas of progress, etc is fundamentally based on the idea that one is training with a master level instructor whom you can trust enough to set aside all of your own desires, prejudices, and aspirations and allow the Teacher to direct your training. There are very few Teachers of that level available in Aikido. Most people don't get to train with them. So, if it's all the same to you, then it doesn't matter. But this is not the road to mastery.

Training without goals, training with no concern for progress is simply a recipe for mediocrity and dilletantism. This is the basic misinterpretation of Zen which the Beat Generation figures made... They all loved the idea that we are all Buddhas essentially, in the Cosmic sense. But that lead people to think it was all cool, all the same and it didn't matter. In an Cosmic sense one could say any 6th Kyu is a Buddha. True! And I am a Buddha who is an Aikido Teacher. Also , true. Cosmically we are equal... in fact Cosmically we are the same in that we are both part of the unified Great Mind. But in terms of Aikido, I am a Buddha who can do iriminage and that 6TH kyu is a Buddha who can't. Thinking that tons of repetitions done in whatever manner will yield the goods is essentially the fifty million monkeys typing approach to Shakespeare. One might get it but 49 million plus were typing gibbersh. And every one of those Monkeys was a Buddha.

NagaBaba
11-25-2005, 10:27 PM
Aikido desperately needs people to focus on how to develop training which could potentially produce another O-Sensei, another Tohei, and Yamaguchi, etc In large measure this isn't happening today.
I don't think that aikido needs such "products". It would be contrary to O sensei way of being. Don't forget, that today’s popularity of aikido is an idea of first Doshu, not Founder himself.
J.Kano sensei developed a system of very efficient teaching large body of students. He did it in accordance with his goals. O sensei never ever thought in such categories.

Founder understood very well, that aikido is a tool for very intimate relation between Kami and a human being. Such things by its nature are addressed to very limited audience, and today those interested in it will find a true transmission from Founder. The others, who prefer to stay on purely technical level and learn technical tricks, will learn it too. That is a law of natural selection.

Also, our expectations and judgment is quite different from the view of people 50 years ago. On technical level, there are many new different ideas (MMA, FMA,..etc). Even today’s sports of combat are very different then 50 years ago (ex boxing or wrestling). Today not very many ppl are impressed by traditional teaching system as they see very impressive results of modern, backed up with science and technology, training methodology.

George S. Ledyard
11-26-2005, 12:21 AM
I don't think that aikido needs such "products". It would be contrary to O sensei way of being. Don't forget, that today’s popularity of aikido is an idea of first Doshu, not Founder himself.
J.Kano sensei developed a system of very efficient teaching large body of students. He did it in accordance with his goals. O sensei never ever thought in such categories.

Founder understood very well, that aikido is a tool for very intimate relation between Kami and a human being. Such things by its nature are addressed to very limited audience, and today those interested in it will find a true transmission from Founder. The others, who prefer to stay on purely technical level and learn technical tricks, will learn it too. That is a law of natural selection.

Also, our expectations and judgment is quite different from the view of people 50 years ago. On technical level, there are many new different ideas (MMA, FMA,..etc). Even today’s sports of combat are very different then 50 years ago (ex boxing or wrestling). Today not very many ppl are impressed by traditional teaching system as they see very impressive results of modern, backed up with science and technology, training methodology.

I understand what you are saying... I know you and I see things from a different angle much of the time but I respect your point of view because you are serious about your training. Obviously, there are many possible approaches. I champion the approach which speaks to me. Other people will have different approaches for instance, much of the spiritual orientation which drew me to Aikido had to do with O-Sensei's way of relating to the world. It speaks to me. If that were absent from Aikido, which is the direction which some of the Aikido leadership is choosing for the art, I probably wouldn't be doing Aikido. There are styles of Aikido in which the spiritual / philosophical side as expressed by O-Sensei is not there but the martial side is alive and vibrant. The appeals to some people and that is wonderful.

The place where I part company company is with the folks who want to turn Aikido into some sort of least common denominator aerobic dance. Aikido is in danger of becoming a practice which is neither good spiritual practice nor good martial arts. I was taught the art was both and that you couldn't separate the two but I think that if you have an art which is solid in one area or the other you at least have a practice which is beneficial and an art that can endure over time. If you have neither you might as well just go to the gym and get in shape that way.

George S. Ledyard
11-30-2005, 02:23 AM
Getting back to the matter at hand...

Ledyard Sensei,

I do have a question with regards to direction one takes in training. Personally, I'm 35 years old and have been at my training for almost 4 years now. My body has not been, is not and will most likely never be in "great" shaped. My knees are very poor and with a history of arthritis, I have no doubt in my mind that my knee work could never come close to Ikeda Shihan's level.

Am I setting a limit for myself? Yes
Do I aspire to be a master in aikido? No.
Does that make me a part-time and slacker student ???

To aspire to the level of master is all fine and good. Yes, we should have goals... come to class ready to train... work with a beginners mind and be willing to learn and accept another's teachings. But realistically, I don't ever see myself (personally) surpassing my current instructor. Should I ever match his current ability, I'll be very happy!

But does not striving to become more than that make me less of a student than one who strives to match Ikeda Sensei's ability?

This is not an attack on you or your article. I'm struggling to understand where my place in your world would be.

A student "going through the motions"...

or

A Student of Aikido

...or something else?

Just trying to figure out my place in the world.

Hi John,
As far as I can see, you have done exactly what I advise people to do, namely be clear about what your commitment is. If you are fully present and train hard on those occasions when you can train then you aren't "going through the motions".

Not everyone wants to train for "mastery" whatever that is... Aikido can still be an amazing for anyone if they put something of themselves into it. The more of yourself you put in, the more you get out. If you are happy doing what you are doing, then that's great! Every dojo needs to have people like yourself training and contributing. You are certainly not "less of a student". At the same time you may not be training as seriously as some other hypothetical student.

One student might be on the mat three times a week and hit several seminars a year, another might train seven days a week, train in the lunch time class, do another martial art like iaido or jodo on the side, hit seminars frequently and attend summer camp every year. The correct things to do as a serious student when confronted with a more serious student is to train with him as much as possible and soak up what he knows whenever one can. But in many dojos this won't happen. That serious student (who perhaps has read his Aikido history, is training as hard as he can, with his additional knowledge gained by extra training) will often find himself at third or second kyu giving the Shodans (who haven't read much of anything about the art, don't hit many seminars, don't know a thing about other martial arts) a hard time. Often times it will be the case that the more serious student will find things get so uncomfortable at this dojo that he will be forced to leave. The dojo will have blown the oportunity to collectively benefit from the fact thay had a MORE serious student there. Belive me, I have seen this happen.

If people read what I wrote carefully I simply said that you have to be clear about what your goals are so you can structure your training accordingly. If your model is Ikeda Sensei and you want to reach his level then you have to train like he trained. If you don't aspire to be as good as he is then you don't have to train like he did. It's just a simple statement.

My main purpose in writing these things is to tell people "Don't settle for less than you are capable of." A large number of people could be far better than they are if they simply trained with greater intensity. I'm not talking about making a greater commitment of time, it's not about having Aikido take over your life... it's about taking full advantage of the time you are putting in. Many folks are just going through the motions in that they put very little of themselves on the line when they train. They may even be training relatively frequently but they keep their practice very safe and user friendly, never going out towards their limits (which are usually far past where they think they are). Much of the interesting knowledge that is contained in Aikido cannot be accessed this way.

It's basically simple. Are people really getting out of their training what they say they want out of it? If so they should continue doing exactly what they are doing. If they aren't, in all honesty, getting out of the practice what they feel they want, then they need to adjust what they're doing. No value judment here, just clarity.

senshincenter
11-30-2005, 07:06 PM
I think this has been said already, said many ways and many times. However, I think it was said in a way that we can again act as if the content of the article is relevant only to some abstract Other -- not us, not everyone that trains in this great art of ours. Here is another way of looking at the same thing (in my opinion)…

I think we have to realize that there is a great difference between being the best, doing our best, and doing all that one needs to do in order to achieve one's desired-for ends. What is most problematic is that we often see what we are doing as the best we can do and thus also as the best (period). We want so badly to not have the best we can do seen as merely the choice we have made for ourselves. We also want the best we can do to suffice in all ways and/or at least in the way we claim to be pointing (which we subsume under the rubric of "the best way to be pointing"). We so easily forget, for some reason, that our best, whatever that may be, simply may not be good enough. We do not want to see, via any kind of personal insight or via any kind of contrast, that we are by all perspectives indeed only a hobbyist, a part-time budoka, or a practitioner that is just going through the motions. We want some way to see what we are doing, what we have chosen to do, as both all we can do and all that is necessary to NOT be a hobbyist, a part-timer, a person just going through the motions, etc.

When we are reminded of how much more we can do, of how much more there is to do, through things like the article or by coming into contact with great teachers and with great practitioners, the thing to do is not to redefine "best" (such that we become "good enough" and thus by default part of the "best"). Nor should we seek to paint ourselves as being a practitioner with the best of intentions but who is forced into a life where we cannot manifest our best intentions -- where can become the "best we can be," and thus, through the modern fetishization of effort, somehow become "good enough" or some other ego-satisfying spin on "best." Most of all, we should not dismiss all these chances for self-honesty under the obvious slogan of, "Well, I don't want to be the best" -- or its many offshoots ("I don't want to be better than my teacher." "I don't want to be as good as my teacher." "I just do Aikido for me." "I don't think it's relevant to compare myself to others or to anything outside of me in Aikido." Etc.) If all of these slogans were genuinely felt, we would be satisfied with being a dabbler, a hobbyist, a person who can never explore the totality or the depths of the art -- but we are not -- and this tells us something about these slogans and why and how we are using them. Let's be honest.

The first time I came across this analogy (i.e.. roots, branches, leaves, etc.), I heard it through Chiba Sensei. It made a lot of sense at first. However, over the years, it has come to make little sense outside of making us dabblers feel a part of something that we can never be a part of. Does that make sense? It is like it is a polite way of allowing us folks that won't reprioritize our lives to feel akin or in union with those that have. We say, "Well, I'm not the roots, but hey, I'm still a tree -- just like you are." I think very few of us say this to ourselves in order to come out in a favorable way when comparing ourselves to others, but we often say this to ourselves when we are trying to justify all that we have yet to do by that which we are willing to do. I think we should all be roots -- we should all seek to be roots. I mean, perhaps we can understand what the leaves of a fighting art might be, but what the heck are the leaves of a spiritual cultivation? We should all do the best we can to be roots. However, to do this, we have to learn to do the best we can while we continually strive to do more of what is required. Do what you can do, accept where you are, while nevertheless tirelessly working to do more, to become more. Sometimes, or maybe it is ALWAYS, in order to do this, we do have to recognize that we have not all been that committed in our training -- that we are indeed just going through the motions, just dabbling.

In another thread, George mentioned something about the average aikidoka not training as much as the average high school athlete. I've often thought of this myself, only I tended to use the average community co-ed softball league player in the comparison. I noticed that the average softball league player probably practices as many hours and/or more than the average aikidoka. Yet, the average softball player seems to be able to perceive their level of commitment differently. I noticed that they have no problem accurately recognizing their level of commitment and where it fits in with all the other levels of commitment concerning the sport of baseball. I wonder why this is -- it has always struck me as odd (just as odd that someone can easily commit as much time to a recreational/pastime sport as another person finds it difficult to commit more toward something that is suppose to transform them for forever and/or reconcile the world). What do you all think? Why can a softball player who has a couple practices a week and a game on the weekend have no problem saying, "Oh yeah, it's just fun for me, I'm no expert, not even close, etc., I don't pretend to be good at it, etc.," (or something akin to that), while the average aikidoka, whose activity seems so much more profoundly deep than the sport of baseball, can do as much or even less and not be able to say something similar?

Charlie
12-01-2005, 01:42 AM
Why can a softball player who has a couple practices a week and a game on the weekend have no problem saying, "Oh yeah, it's just fun for me, I'm no expert, not even close, etc., I don't pretend to be good at it, etc.," (or something akin to that), while the average aikidoka, whose activity seems so much more profoundly deep than the sport of baseball, can do as much or even less and not be able to say something similar?

Excellent question....

Josh Reyer
12-01-2005, 07:54 AM
Why can a softball player who has a couple practices a week and a game on the weekend have no problem saying, "Oh yeah, it's just fun for me, I'm no expert, not even close, etc., I don't pretend to be good at it, etc.," (or something akin to that), while the average aikidoka, whose activity seems so much more profoundly deep than the sport of baseball, can do as much or even less and not be able to say something similar?

I'm not sure that's true, though. For one, I don't know that the "average aikidoka" generally considers themself an expert. Certainly the overwhelming number of people on these forums, for example, are quick to say, at least, "I'm not an expert," "I'm still learning," etc. Conversely, as a baseball fan, I've certainly come across softball players who have inflated perceptions of how much insight their fast-pitch game gives them.

My question is, why should we expect aikido not to follow a normal binomial distribution when it comes to commitment/talent/etc?

jss
12-01-2005, 08:25 AM
I'm not sure that's true, though. For one, I don't know that the "average aikidoka" generally considers themself an expert. Certainly the overwhelming number of people on these forums, for example, are quick to say, at least, "I'm not an expert," "I'm still learning," etc.
I think it's a two sides of the same coin-thingy.
When aikidoka talk about the martial, spiritual, etc. goals of aikido, they basically talk about O-sensei: he was enlightened and could kick erveryone's ass! And by doing so, they imply they will get there or at least get very close someday.
However, very few people commit as much of their time to aikido as O-sensei did. So when they fail to live up to the myth of O-sensei, martially or spiritually, they say "I'm still learning." (Of course, everybody should always be learning, but a sixth kyu who fails to do ikkyo, is not still learning, he is learning, period. I believe very few aikidoka can rightfully claim to still be learning, we're just learning like that sixth kyu.)
So what most aikido should be saying is: If you do a lot of aikido, day in day out, with the right mindset, you can (are supposed to) reap great martial, spiritual, etc. benefits. But I'm just a hobbyist, I'm never gonna get really good at it. It's a whole lot of fun, though!

My question is, why should we expect aikido not to follow a normal binomial distribution when it comes to commitment/talent/etc?
It has to have such a distribution, unless we go koryu and let only the very committed participate.

Jorge Garcia
12-01-2005, 09:02 AM
Robert Fortune wrote," As one of the few free true Native Hawaiians I consider it my right (and duty) to decide who and what offends me and my ancestors."

Right now, your ancestors think you are making a horse's ass of yourself...

:( Ron

This was funny. I laughed for three minutes straight! Thanks, I needed that. I'm ready to go to work now.

ian
12-01-2005, 10:02 AM
I agreed with the article and like the tree metaphore. However the article still tends to suggest that there are better parts to the tree than others. I feel I have learnt an enormous amount through my short time in teaching; and partly it has made me more ruthless in my approach to aikido i.e. I tend to focus on those students who I believe will persevere and sincerely inquire into aikido, and whilst I focus the training on them, those who only have a superficial interest learn a few techniques and add to the diversity of the dojo. This is because I sincerely want to improve myself, and I also want to ensure that the nuggett of high quality aikido that exists beyond the techniques is passed on to future generations - I eventually want my students to be better than me! We do not want aikido to end up like many of the early karate schools whereby an instructor is mainly there for money and status and the students are just stepping through set techniques, the style of which is determined by the affiliation.

P.S. Ron - your comment also cracked me up! :)

senshincenter
12-01-2005, 10:26 AM
I'm not sure that's true, though. For one, I don't know that the "average aikidoka" generally considers themself an expert. Certainly the overwhelming number of people on these forums, for example, are quick to say, at least, "I'm not an expert," "I'm still learning," etc. Conversely, as a baseball fan, I've certainly come across softball players who have inflated perceptions of how much insight their fast-pitch game gives them.

My question is, why should we expect aikido not to follow a normal binomial distribution when it comes to commitment/talent/etc?

Yes, I guess even I was being too "open" with what I was saying. I agree, not many aikidoka, even among those that are, would ever say that they are an expert. Also, I imagine there are such league players as you suggested. But can we not still ask, "Why does someone in Aikido that has only committed what in other endeavors is easily acknowledged as 'dabbling' need that level of commitment to be seen as something else, as something on par with true investment?" Or, "Why do softball players in a co-ed league not feel compelled to ask major league players, 'I do practice twice a week and have a game on the weekend, am I a real ball player?'" I think we can do this with anything - take guitar: "Hey, Mr. Van Halen, I pick up the guitar here and there, am I being real when I say I 'study' guitar?" Take Zen: "Roshi, I see that zazen is important, I do it for about 20 minutes, once a week, won't I reach awakening through this or am I wasting my time?" Etc.

Of course, the answer is obviously "yes and no" to each of these questions but that answer is completely based on the logic of "some committed time is better than no committed time." I'm not sure how much we want to satisfy our egos on that one - which is why we most often try not to be too aware of how this logic is supporting us while we go ahead and make full use of it - concentrating on the "yes" of "yes and no". However, I'm not trying to answer these questions. I'm asking about how come they are asked so often in Aikido. Why isn't it obvious to us when we are dabbling? Moreover, if we are dabbling, if we are choosing to do that, or even if we are choosing to see ourselves as someone that can only dabble (supposedly due to life circumstances), why can we not be fine with our decision, such that again we do not have to ask, "Am I dabbling?" Or, at the least, why, if we feel compelled to ask the question of another, why when we are dabbling do we not want to hear that truth from the person we are asking to provide that truth - why when we are dabbling and when we ask another person if we are dabbling are we incapable of hearing, "Yes, you are dabbling." In the example about fast pitch "pros" - sure, I bet they are there, but when he or she is with friends and is commenting like a "pro" on the game they are all watching on the television, one can say, "Geesh, come on, you don't know what you're talking about - you're a local league player commenting on a person that has dedicated his life to the game," and have that come off as humor and not as an attempt to demoralize someone else. In Aikido, if you tell something like that to someone like that - you are basically telling them that they might as well quit or even that they are worthless. They don't hear: "Hey, keep doing what you are doing; you are undoubtedly going to gain some stuff; you are enjoying it; but be real about what you are doing and about what you are not doing." Why?

My feeling is that the lack of competition and the addition of "spiritual" discourse makes all of this very difficult for the average dabbling aikidoka to swallow. When you put these two things (i.e. no competition and spiritual discourse) into a system or an activity, everything says everything about you at the same time that anything is allowed to be everything. Thus, when you tell someone they are dabbling, when you point it out to them, etc., you are not just saying they are dabbling - you are saying they are a dabbler. You are also denying their "right" to not have their dabbling be part of that anything that can be everything. Hence, you cannot help but to affront with such accuracy in description.

senshincenter
12-01-2005, 10:35 AM
I agreed with the article and like the tree metaphore. However the article still tends to suggest that there are better parts to the tree than others. I feel I have learnt an enormous amount through my short time in teaching; and partly it has made me more ruthless in my approach to aikido i.e. I tend to focus on those students who I believe will persevere and sincerely inquire into aikido, and whilst I focus the training on them, those who only have a superficial interest learn a few techniques and add to the diversity of the dojo. This is because I sincerely want to improve myself, and I also want to ensure that the nuggett of high quality aikido that exists beyond the techniques is passed on to future generations - I eventually want my students to be better than me! We do not want aikido to end up like many of the early karate schools whereby an instructor is mainly there for money and status and the students are just stepping through set techniques, the style of which is determined by the affiliation.

P.S. Ron - your comment also cracked me up! :)


I have to sort of put myself in this line as well. For example, at our dojo, while all are welcome to train and to train at whatever level they are opting for, one cannot even qualify for certain ranks without "x" amount of days per week - e.g. three days a week gets you no higher than fourth or third kyu recognition; shodan requires daily practice; etc. Guess what? Everyone is fine with that at our dojo - we got folks that train twice a week, three times a week, five times a week, daily, etc. Everyone is where everyone is at and everyone is fine with that. I think this is because everything is so out in the open - nothing has to be so hidden or so guarded.

cck
12-01-2005, 12:17 PM
David wrote:
"Why isn't it obvious to us when we are dabbling? Moreover, if we are dabbling, if we are choosing to do that, or even if we are choosing to see ourselves as someone that can only dabble (supposedly due to life circumstances), why can we not be fine with our decision, such that again we do not have to ask, 'Am I dabbling?'.... e.g. three days a week gets you no higher than fourth or third kyu recognition; shodan requires daily practice; etc."

So it is a time commitment, then? Not a commitment necessarily per se - I mean in the relative sense, what people give up in order to come train with you? Or do you allow for individual exceptions?
Now, David, where do you meet all these students who are not aware of their own limitations? Granted, I've only been a member of three dojos, but I would not call many of my fellow students conceited, self-aggrandizing, or just delusional; there are some, but only very few (incl. one sensei) - not enough to claim "the average aikidoka". I do not see many trying to be something they obviously are not. We do tend to be a slightly older bunch (30 and up, many parents), perhaps that has something to do with it? There were years when I did want to be something other than me, and it's been such a relief to come out on the other side of that to find out I'm really quite happy.
I am a confirmed, happy dabbler. I attend class 1 - 5 times per week at noon, as work permits. It's true, I feel like I get to go play - I do not study O'sensei's teachings, I do not engage in long discussions on philosophy and would never pretend to be able to enlighten an outsider. We don't talk a lot about ki in class, but we do talk about energy, acknowledgment, flow, awareness etc. I go to class as much as possible because I love it and would not be the same without it. I don't spend a lot of time reflecting why - the feeling and the simple knowledge is enough. Even if we assume that it is just a mental construct to keep me happy with my current level of investment, it does nonetheless keep me happy and coming back and participating and striving to improve. I will acknowledge that aikido does change me (and by extension, affects others through my relationship with them), but it is not something I pursue on an active, conscious, intellectual basis; I simply go back for more. I've tried many other sports - the only comparable feeling to what aikido does I had while kayaking off the coast of my hometown on the odd sunny day - completely absorbed by the moment and touched in an indescribable way. Other than that, those moments arise in my "civilian" life. I do think of aikido as something other than sports, but that does not seem to get in the way of my dabbling.
I am a root when it comes to parenting, though, and I think I can only really be one kind of root. Aikido is not it and never will be as long as I have a family. Important decisions are defined as those impacting my family - including the time I choose to spend on aikido.
I can see the problem in presenting yourself as "a serious student of aikido" if indeed you are not when measured against others who have achieved so much more. But is there absolutely no argument for achieving within your limitations? Can you not take your practice seriously within the priorities you've set for yourself? Even if real commitment can only be measured in the sacrifices you're willing to make, is that not also relative from person to person? Must this be labeled a mental construct to pretend that we're serious - so that we can take our dabbling efforts seriously and defend spending $100/mth on something we will never master at current speed?
For the organization and continuation of aikido, yes, it is necessary to have people who will make aikido their life. But only a very small minority will be able to and have the inclination to do that. For all the rest of us, there are various levels of dabbling. And I really do think a majority of us is quite happy with that.

senshincenter
12-01-2005, 01:33 PM
Hi Camilla,

As always, great questions and a most worthy post. Thank you.

Yes, I would say time is relative here. In short, we can’t say that time spent on the mat is the most important thing at the same time that we show a reluctance toward signifying the presence or absence of time that is spent doing that thing. However, more is involved here than just hours. Time committed to something is also demonstrative of a great many other things – things that show what I consider more mature levels of practice. These things are what are being recognized by the measuring of time. For example, time spent on the mat necessitates that one’s dojo life and one’s non-dojo life find a harmony with each other. To find harmony between these two things one will have to actually embody the union that needs to exist between the two – that union is necessary for the higher levels of the art to be practiced. Thus, a distinction has to be made between a person that has no job, no external commitment, no life, etc., and thus trains daily and a person that has a job, a spouse, children, etc., and trains daily. In the former case, training may very well be a matter of convenience. In the latter case, training is a matter of insight and of practical application; a matter of seeing training as life and life as training. In the initial stages of this distinction, it is the difference between us finding time for our training and us making time for our training. If we figure it out, we can move from dabbling to true practice. If we do not, even if we are the former person, come marriage, a new career, some children, and ZAP! No more daily practice – but the same old way of relating to our practice via convenience still remains.

I will have to ask for leeway concerning the “average aikidoka.” Of course, I have done no study to determine who or what such a person might be (hugely assuming that such a study could even exist and/or achieve such an end). Thus, I am sure someone somewhere can always come up with experiencing another – evenly completely opposite – average aikidoka. This is just my experience – which undoubtedly has a lot to do with who I am, how I train, and who I train with. However, before I let go of the term, I think I should point out that I am referring to the more subtle aspects of such a perspective. Like I said before, I do not think that a bunch of folks who are not experts are out there saying they are experts. I too have never met a decent amount of folks that do such a thing, such that such a thing could be though of as a mark of the average aikidoka. Perhaps, I’ve met one or two that have ACTED like that – in Japan – but if you pushed them to say “I am an expert,” they will never go that far. As I said, I don’t think any will. Too much culture in Aikido that works against that type of gross demonstration of what we are talking about (e.g. shoshin, etc.)

The examples of delusion that I am thinking about, and that I think the article is writing about, are the more subtle ways in which we maintain our habitual responses via the self-deception that is mandated by an attachment to the small self. In other words, I think we are not referring to the obvious braggart, etc., but, rather, the article is asking us to look at the very process by which we represent ourselves to ourselves. In other words, this is not just a humility question; it is an ontological one. If we are human, we are subject to these questions and to these issues. As humans that practice Aikido, we are thus going to want to understand these questions and these issues via the way we use the art to represent ourselves to ourselves. Thus, in a way, I am not referring to the “average aikidoka” but rather to every aikidoka (i.e. every human that uses Aikido to represent themselves to themselves).

That said, I think while we may want to see the self-aggrandizing practitioner as relevant to this discussion, we really want to focus in how we are ourselves misrepresent ourselves to ourselves, and thus also how we end up misrepresenting the art (since we are using that to represent ourselves to ourselves) for the sake of satisfying the small self (the ego: our fears, our pride, our ignorance). In other words, the article is not the usual call of “Aikido is only for serious practioners!” The article is really a call for self-reflection – period.

Perhaps an example of what subtle things I’m talking about might help – though it won’t address the really subtle things (which are even more important)…

--- A deshi of mine is very committed to her training. Lately, she has been making great progress – at all levels of training. She has nearly developed a capacity for daily training (with a spouse, career, two kids, etc.). She’s found a way to balance her training according to our schedule – having lecture, zazen, weapons, striking, ground fighting, spontaneous training, etc., be a part of her weekly routine. Since there is a day or two where she cannot train due to current scheduling issues that require more time to reconcile, she has opted to train multiple times a day (morning and evening) on certain days. She’s perhaps around 5 feet tall, maybe 100 lbs., and nearly 40 (she’s 39 now). We managed to impart in her the importance of being conscientious in one’s training and in being proactive in one’s healing when it comes to dealing with injuries, etc. – which is something one must be able to address (and address over a long haul) when one is training daily. Currently, she is suffering from a nagging shoulder injury and a nagging neck injury (which may or may not be related). Knowing she had trained in Yoga and with weights in the past, I asked her how that is going now. She said: No more weights; doing some Yoga. “How much Yoga?” She said: “Not that much.” “How much is not that much – once a week?” She said: No, more than that – maybe two or three times a week?” “How long each time?” She said: “About ten minutes.”

REAL ANSWER: No/none – no Yoga; No weights: No conditioning outside of mat time.

REAL PROBLEM: Aiming oneself toward the higher levels of training while not preparing the body for the long haul of such an endeavor.

REAL SOLUTION: As a woman, and one small in stature, now coming up on 40, take note of the tolls one is asking of one’s body and what all is necessary to address those tolls - such that one can pay them and still continue to train, to progress.

REAL PROACTIVE PRACTICE: Work more to condition one’s body for what one is asking it to do, or lower one’s expectations to address the current state of one’s body. Failure to do one or the other will make one prime for quitting one’s training altogether.

Besides, Camilla, I'd have to say that you are quite unique - not to sure you represent the "average" aikidoka. :-) Anyone can see that there is a level of self-honesty in your posts that is not at all that common. ;-)

As always, thanks for sharing,
d

Berney Fulcher
12-01-2005, 03:10 PM
David, I really had to ask myself why your time policy bothered me. I think it's because it seems to take the goals out of Aikido. If you practice for 20 years as a 4th kyu 3 days a week, are you *really* still a 4th kyu? Is it really necessary to practice 7 days a week, AND put in the gym time as you say to support that, to advance to the higher levels? (Whatever the higher levels are...) Do you let that 20 year 4th kyu practice reversals, etc, etc? Or are they still effectively learning basic technique? Maybe I'm just belt oriented no matter what I have been telling myself...

senshincenter
12-01-2005, 05:28 PM
Hi Berney,

Well please let me say up front that I do not think that everyone should be doing what we are doing. I do not see our way as a universal tp be imposed. I realize we are doing something different and that it is not for everyone – that not everyone is doing it. For example, as one can read, I have a different view from two very well respected teachers. They say there are trees, with roots, and leaves, and branches. I say we should all work to be roots – as best we can. If everyone were doing what we are doing, I would not be an independent dojo. I would be somewhere else, training in some federation, etc. Our way is our own way.

I also have to say, even within our own dojo, the policy is meant to “rub” folks. It’s meant to rub folks so that they can see how or why they are being rubbed by such a thing. This offers a point of reflection. Through such reflection, the policy is designed to work in conjunction with other policies/positions to take one through a concern for rank to having no concern for rank. In a way, as you noted, the policy is supposed to take out the goals of Aikido, but more specifically, it is supposed to help purify us of any goals that might be materialistic in nature. Thus, for example, we seek to travel through rank to no rank – just like we travel through form to no-form. Let us not forget, today, as an Independent, I have no rank. Today, currently, with this policy well in place, we have only three kinds of students: the kind that continually works to demonstrate more commitment to the art – with no concern for rank; the kind that are fine with where they are at – with no concern for rank; and the kind that are “sandbagging” it a bit because they don’t want to do the training that occurs at the higher levels (i.e. levels that can take advantage of more commitment to the art) – with more “repulsion” than attraction for the next rank.

It was about a one year ago that we had one member that found it difficult to train on a consistent/regular basis, to proactively heal his body as necessary (he came to us totally damaged from another dojo), and to understand how the dojo’s policies represented reality more accurately than his own subjective perceptions. To my discredit as a teacher, he quit. (I’ve learned a lot from him – which others have benefited from.) He was nowhere near receiving his next rank according to our policies. He returned to his own dojo – he now has a black belt. So everything is different – depending upon where you go. Thus, I cannot really answer your question on whether a 20 year practice of 3 days a week is like a one or two year practice of 3 days a week. It depends on each person – that is obvious. In our dojo, however, it often works out so that I can answer, “yes” to your question. Moreover, in our dojo, the one or two year practice of three days a week is more times than not the practice that is more filled with potential (at every level) – more capable of learning more about this infinitely expanding art of ours.

Again, in our dojo, noting that we have different “higher” levels than the next place, if you ask me: “Is it really necessary to practice 7 days a week, AND put in the gym time as you say to support that, to advance to the higher levels?”

Answer: Yes.

“Do you let that 20 year 4th kyu practice reversals, etc, etc? Or are they still effectively learning basic technique?”

Answer: They would be – can’t say for sure yet since we don’t have any 20 year 4th kyu – essentially still practicing basic technique – Shu level training; Kihon Waza; Idealized Training Environments. I.E. A 20 year old practiced body that only trains three days a week, with no gym time (i.e. resistance training, aerobic training, flexibility training, etc.) can practice Kaeshi Waza within a Shu level training environment, but would be greatly dissevered by attempting such training at more spontaneous levels. Kaeshi Waza at Shu level training is still basic technique for me.



Thanks Berney – good questions. You got me thinking. Much appreciation.

dmv

Janet Rosen
12-01-2005, 06:05 PM
I really dug into the column deeply, reread it a few times. A lot of really wonderful stuff to keep coming back to.
The essence I come away with is the combo of be clear about what it is you are doing (eg motives, level of commitment) and do not delude yourself about what you are doing or what results you can expect from what it is you are doing.
Having said that, I respectfully disagree w/ David Valadez lumping together of "a hobbyist, a part-timer, a person just going through the motions, etc."
As a middle aged married person w/ a damaged body, a family, and work obligations, I will NEVER be more than a part timer, and yeah despite how integral I feel aikido is in my life, "hobbyist" fits too---and those categorizations are just fine w/ me.
But I have to object to equating this with "just going through the motions." Doesn't matter how often or how well I am at a particular activity for it to be something with which I am fully present, as mindful and engaged and committed as possible as anybody else in the moment.
I realize, David, that you may have meant an implied "or" , not "and", but as written it does lump em together and I don't think they belong together.

Charles Hill
12-01-2005, 06:51 PM
Hi,

Great article and a great discussion. I generally print out and carry around online articles and posts that really make me think and question my practice and thinking. This article was added to my big pile of George Ledyard articles.

First, a negative comment. I think that both Mr. Ledyard and David downplay the value of the "leaves" by the use of words such as "slacker" and "dabbling." Completely understandable from the standpoint of people trying to become "roots," but I wonder how this underlying belief effects the dojo structure.

Now with that slight comment out of my system, I have some questions for Mr. Ledyard or anyone with an opinion.

When do you think a student should begin to consciously consider at what level of commitment they intend to practice at? Of course this might change through the years, but when would it be good for the student to start considering it?

How should an instructor bring up the idea? Should he/she make the idea known in front of a class? To individual students? Maybe write it up and put into a newsletter?

Does a student even need to make a conscious commitment? Isn`t it obvious by the hours and effort they put in? My students are predominately Japanese. By saying something, I am sure that they are going to take it as "you all have to start training more seriously."

Thank you for the article,
Charles

Charles Hill
12-01-2005, 06:57 PM
Just comment on David`s rank system. I find it one of the more exciting ideas I have heard of in terms of dojo policy. Such a system is going to make rank a much more accurate representation of ability. When my sister in law took her driving test, the tester told her that he was going to pass her but asked her to promise him that she would never drive. She has had a license and a perfect driving record for years but can`t drive and never has. Reminds me of a lot of yudansha I know.

Charles

senshincenter
12-01-2005, 07:17 PM
I really dug into the column deeply, reread it a few times. A lot of really wonderful stuff to keep coming back to.
The essence I come away with is the combo of be clear about what it is you are doing (eg motives, level of commitment) and do not delude yourself about what you are doing or what results you can expect from what it is you are doing.
Having said that, I respectfully disagree w/ David Valadez lumping together of "a hobbyist, a part-timer, a person just going through the motions, etc."
As a middle aged married person w/ a damaged body, a family, and work obligations, I will NEVER be more than a part timer, and yeah despite how integral I feel aikido is in my life, "hobbyist" fits too---and those categorizations are just fine w/ me.
But I have to object to equating this with "just going through the motions." Doesn't matter how often or how well I am at a particular activity for it to be something with which I am fully present, as mindful and engaged and committed as possible as anybody else in the moment.
I realize, David, that you may have meant an implied "or" , not "and", but as written it does lump em together and I don't think they belong together.


Hi Janet - good point - I agree. It never hurts to have things made clear. So thanks for bringing this up. You are right, in my head I was thinking "or" not "and" - I was just trying to refer to any of those terms we say to ourselves or say aloud concerning others that are the various ways we try to denote "lighter" forms of commitment. Moreover, I was only interested in those phrases for the sake of raising the ontological issues I went on to discuss. I too would never lump dabbling, being a hobbyist, etc., with just going through the motions. One can show up every day and just be going through the motions - so I would I wouldn't even lump that in with my example of three days a week, etc. "Going through the motions" is a whole other kind of non-commitment. It's only related in that sense - not really anything more in my opinion.

thanks,
david

senshincenter
12-01-2005, 07:35 PM
Hi Charles,

I'm not sure I meant to downplay the value of "leaves." I'm not even sure what they are - as I said before. I don't think I was commenting on their value, only the need in us to give them value, or, more particularly, the need to give them a certain type of value.

The whole analogy is suspect to me actually. For example, the fact that you got two sensei using it, two sensei from totally different sides of the Aikido spectrum, etc. - my guess is that this analogy has some history to it. From the looks of it I would place my bet on it having some sort of Confucian origin with new spins given to it in Neo-Confucianism, the Nativistic movement, and then even inside of the WWII political propaganda. It smells of getting the masses to support the elite by telling them how important they are to the overall structure of something. For me, that goes contrary to a practice that is attempting to reconcile the world and to understand everyone and everything as One. That's why I start my own practice and the practice of my deshi from the position that we are all here to be roots. We do this in our own way, at our own pace, but we are all attempting to head in the same direction. It's all about orientation and movement for me.


If I may try to answer your other questions:

- a person should be aware of their level of commitment from day one. It should always be allowed to change - even daily. One just has to be aware of it - accepting of it as they are always striving to make more commitment.

- as for how one should bring this up... That's extremely complicated. In general, it has to be brought up in a way that it maintains high degrees of honesty while not losing its positive sense. This is a difficult balance to achieve for an instructor. The two things that go the furtherest in achieving this balance is that this topic is brought up as part of a whole system that is in place to foster both self-reflection and reconciliation; the other thing is that the instructor never separates him/herself from this system of self-reflection and reconciliation. This not only means that the instructor is also practicing self-reflection and reconciliation (or at least attempting to) this also means that the teacher must serve the student in his/her own practice of self-reflection and reconciliation. As a small example, this has me bringing my aforementioned student into the gym with me or even on the yoga mat, etc., to help guide her and motivate her into finding a more holistic balance for her training and the rest of her life, etc. - at the least.

Good questions - hope I grasped them correctly.

Thanks,
dmv

George S. Ledyard
12-01-2005, 08:31 PM
For me, that goes contrary to a practice that is attempting to reconcile the world and to understand everyone and everything as One. That's why I start my own practice and the practice of my deshi from the position that we are all here to be roots. We do this in our own way, at our own pace, but we are all attempting to head in the same direction. It's all about orientation and movement for me.
dmv

Exactly!
This is precisely my own attitude. When I started, Saotome Sensei flat out stated that he was training future instructors. the training I got held nothing back, in fact quite the opposite... He threw everything at us but the kitchen sink and it has taken quite a number of years to digest. But the Aikido I was shown from the start was the full meal deal.

I am trying to do the same thing with my own students and to those folks I encounter during seminars, and camps when I teach. My whole purpose for writing my article is to get people thinking. Everything I am saying applies to all of us at every level. We've all seen 8th Dans whose technique stopped changing 25 years ago. There are plenty of 6th Dans who stopped looking for anything new decades ago. They are no more following the model of the Founder than the 6th kyu who is coasting in his training.

What I am trying to say is... there is more out there than you are aware of and that you are more capable of "getting it" than you know. The "dumbing down" of Aikido isn't necessary. Its just that people need to be clear about what they are trying to do and structure their training accordingly.

A number of times in these postings the phrase " high level, wahtever that is..." has come up.I know that there is something of a range of opinion as to what constitues "high level"... This constitutes a kind of problem in my mind. Many folks in Aikido have an idea about what is great Aikido based on very limited exposure. This was why Stan Pranin invited all those fabulous non-Aikido teachers to the Expo in the hopes that the Aikido community would take notice. Angier Sensei, Vladimir Vasiliyev, Kenji Ushiro Sensei, Kuroda Sensei all set a standard far higher than what much of the Aikido world is setting for themselves. There was alot more "aiki" in their technique than in much of the Aikido that is being done these days.

I know my article pushed some buttons... People need to understand the larger picture of who I am writing for. Obviously, I can't sit here and criticize styles or teachers. So I write an article and throw out the concepts in the hope that people will take note. Mnay of the folks that I am "obliquely" referring to are not the newbies or the mid-level heads of small dojos all over the country. There are plenty of "big guys" to whom I am referring but people wil have to read what I write and then look around and decide for themselves.

When we are talking about an art in which there is so much uncertainty of what really constitutes "mastery" or "high level", then we are certainly going to have a problem getting to a state of clarity about what we want out of our training and how we should train and with whom to get to those goals.

RebeccaM
12-01-2005, 09:02 PM
I found this article extremely interesting. It resonated with me at a variety of levels and made me give my own training a hard look.

People lie to themselves. They do it all the time. Some do it more than others, but most, if not everyone, involved in this thread has been guilty of it. Ledyard Sensei's article addresses the lies in aikido, but the problem goes well beyond that. I've seen it happen among climbers, I've seen it in karateka, I saw it all over the place among volunteer EMTs when I rode ambulances. I saw it in some of my students when I was a chemistry TA, especially among pre-meds but also among the science majors. One of my ex-boyfriends tried to build his life around the lies he told himself. That's like building a house of vapor, and when the cold wind came he was left with nothing. He hadn't even tried to sample things beyond his lies, to find out what it truly is that he's good at and wants to do. I have a sister who is similarily lost, though I think she'll find her way in time. I see it in my fellow grad students as well. We lie about our motivations, we lie about our skill, we lie about our goals, we lie about our commitment and so on. One of my labmates is working hard that week if he puts in 35 hours but to hear him talk he's in the lab all the time. It's almost as if the people who talk the most are the ones who do the least. Maybe the talking is to reinforce the lies. Maybe it's rooted in insecurity about what others expect of us or what we expect of ourselves.

The blame for the lies a person tells themself never lies with their teacher. It's not the teacher's job to keep you honest. Give you a wake-up call maybe, but your commitment and your honesty come from within. A teacher can show you knowledge and guide you towards it, but he or she can't hand it to you on a plate and say "eat up". Talk is cheap. Learning is hard. Maybe that's another place the lies come from.

Theres something else being touched on here that I can't resist sounding off on. In any endeavour, you're going to hit a point where to reach the next level you're going to have to make sacrifice. The step from fifth to fourth kyu is easy. The step from shodan to nidan is not so easy. To break into and climb up through the yudansha ranks you have to put a huge amount of time and effort into your training, both on and off the mat. The same goes for getting a degree of any kind, and the more advanced the degree the more time and energy it takes. I use this example because it comes out of my own life. I got out of high school with a shodan. I am now half way through my third year of a doctoral program in biochemistry. It wasn't hard to get in - I had a freakishly long research record when i got out of college. I'm doing very well in grad school. I've passed my qualifiers. I somehow landed on one profile paper that came out in late 2004 and I've got a couple more papers(that I actually deserve to have my name on) in the hopper for early next year. As far as progress goes, I'm in roughly the same place the fourth year students are in. But this success did not come without a huge cost. I don't have much of a life. There's things, like volunteering, I used to love to do but don't have time for. I can't climb anywhere near as much as I'd like. My snowboarding skills are stagnant. I've let playing the viola slide off the edge. And because of choices I made in my pursuit of science, from where I went to college to what I decided to do with my free time in college to where I decied to go to grad school to how much time I dedicate to my labwork I didn't get my nidan until a couple weeks ago. In that space of time my brother acquired his shodan and nidan, and my dad got his nidan and sandan. Thing is, with both science and aikido, I'd hit the point where I had to choose where my energy would go. And, much as I love aikido, I love science more. So I made the choice. My aikido has suffered for it. Maybe one day I'll change my mind. But right now I don't want to.

George S. Ledyard
12-02-2005, 01:40 AM
I found this article extremely interesting. It resonated with me at a variety of levels and made me give my own training a hard look.

People lie to themselves. They do it all the time. Some do it more than others, but most, if not everyone, involved in this thread has been guilty of it. Ledyard Sensei's article addresses the lies in aikido, but the problem goes well beyond that. I've seen it happen among climbers, I've seen it in karateka, I saw it all over the place among volunteer EMTs when I rode ambulances. I saw it in some of my students when I was a chemistry TA, especially among pre-meds but also among the science majors. One of my ex-boyfriends tried to build his life around the lies he told himself. That's like building a house of vapor, and when the cold wind came he was left with nothing. He hadn't even tried to sample things beyond his lies, to find out what it truly is that he's good at and wants to do. I have a sister who is similarily lost, though I think she'll find her way in time. I see it in my fellow grad students as well. We lie about our motivations, we lie about our skill, we lie about our goals, we lie about our commitment and so on. One of my labmates is working hard that week if he puts in 35 hours but to hear him talk he's in the lab all the time. It's almost as if the people who talk the most are the ones who do the least. Maybe the talking is to reinforce the lies. Maybe it's rooted in insecurity about what others expect of us or what we expect of ourselves.

The blame for the lies a person tells themself never lies with their teacher. It's not the teacher's job to keep you honest. Give you a wake-up call maybe, but your commitment and your honesty come from within. A teacher can show you knowledge and guide you towards it, but he or she can't hand it to you on a plate and say "eat up". Talk is cheap. Learning is hard. Maybe that's another place the lies come from.

Theres something else being touched on here that I can't resist sounding off on. In any endeavour, you're going to hit a point where to reach the next level you're going to have to make sacrifice. The step from fifth to fourth kyu is easy. The step from shodan to nidan is not so easy. To break into and climb up through the yudansha ranks you have to put a huge amount of time and effort into your training, both on and off the mat. The same goes for getting a degree of any kind, and the more advanced the degree the more time and energy it takes. I use this example because it comes out of my own life. I got out of high school with a shodan. I am now half way through my third year of a doctoral program in biochemistry. It wasn't hard to get in - I had a freakishly long research record when i got out of college. I'm doing very well in grad school. I've passed my qualifiers. I somehow landed on one profile paper that came out in late 2004 and I've got a couple more papers(that I actually deserve to have my name on) in the hopper for early next year. As far as progress goes, I'm in roughly the same place the fourth year students are in. But this success did not come without a huge cost. I don't have much of a life. There's things, like volunteering, I used to love to do but don't have time for. I can't climb anywhere near as much as I'd like. My snowboarding skills are stagnant. I've let playing the viola slide off the edge. And because of choices I made in my pursuit of science, from where I went to college to what I decided to do with my free time in college to where I decied to go to grad school to how much time I dedicate to my labwork I didn't get my nidan until a couple weeks ago. In that space of time my brother acquired his shodan and nidan, and my dad got his nidan and sandan. Thing is, with both science and aikido, I'd hit the point where I had to choose where my energy would go. And, much as I love aikido, I love science more. So I made the choice. My aikido has suffered for it. Maybe one day I'll change my mind. But right now I don't want to.

Thanks for talking about your own experience because it relates exactly to what I have been trying to get across. Everything is about trade offs. Very few people have the talent to do multiple things really well, at least not simultaneously... so we decide how to spend our time and energy. If we put that time into one thing we don't have it to spend on something else. The fact that you could even do grad school and still train hard enough to get your Nidan is a major achievement all by itself. Congratulations!

It's not about some objective standard that everyone is supposed to meet. For some people apsects of the art come easily and for others those same aspects come hard. Who is doing the hard training? The one who comes in and picks the stuff up relatively easily? Or the one who comes in and fights to gain his understanding night after night? Whose knowledge will be deeper when it is finally attained?

You could have some young Aikido fanatic who has no partner, no kids, a job which is designed to do nothing but support his training, who trains every day. While his technical progress will certainly be rapid simply due to more practice, is he really putting as much of himself into his training as you are? You've managed to work towards your graduate degree and still train and train seriously enough to get your Nidan! With all of your responsibilities it would be far harder for you to keep your training going than the person who has nothing interfering with his commitment. You are clearly a serious student of Aikido. It's just that your ultimate goal is to be a scientist who does Aikido. If your goal was to be an Aikido Shihan, then i'd say your priorities would need to change but it seems that you are quite clear about what you are doing. Aikido fits into the space left after you do what you have set out to do. In my book that is still being a serious student.

One of Saotome Sensei's first students in Florida in the early seventies was a guy who was the first member of his family to attend college. Although he was very serious about his Aikido he hit the crossroads point where he had to decide what to do, either go to medical school or become a professional Aikido teacher. He and Sensei together decided that it was really his Path to become a doctor. Not only did he do this but he became a heart surgeon! He was known amongst his peers as the "Zen Surgeon" because he treated surgery like a form of randori in which he basically went in to a meditative state while he worked. He could do an operation in a time hours shorter than his collegues because he never stopped moving, never got distracted by anything. I talked to him about how he did this and he credited his Aikido training for this ability. He quite consciously treated his surgery as a form of randori. So despite the fact that he hasn't been on the mat much over the years, whose practice went deeeper, my friend doing surgery randori or some fellow perfecting his Nikkyo? One isn't better than the other. Both have trained seriously when they were training. One has taken the Path of Mastery of the Art of Aikido itself, while the other took the principles of the art as he had learned them from his brief but very intense practice and applied them to attain mastery of a different art.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig talks about conducting a college class in which he set the class to defining what was meant by "Quality". Of course the whole thing made the class crazy and ended up putting Pirsig completely off the deep end. But on some level I am trying to spark the same discussion... What is a "quality" practice? What is "quality" Aikido? What is a "quality" teacher? Each person has to come up with his own answer, and unlike in Zen when your answer isn't on target, there is no whack with a stick or ringing of a bell to tell you that you're missing the mark. Only your own continuous work will give you the "right" answer and that answer will not be anyone else's answer, just your own.

6th Kyu For Life
12-04-2005, 02:58 AM
So, I guess I need some advice on this whole clarity issue.

Basically, in the context of this article, it seems like I am at the point in my own life and Aikido training where I can say "Yes, this is my life's work" or "this can take me far, but I don't know how far." I know that's incredibly bombastic to say, but please bear with me. I'm nearing the end of my college career, the better part of my life lays ahead of me. I've fallen in love with Aikido, to the point where it is the most important part of my life right now. A part time job and the virtue of college loans pay for my training. My major is East Asian Studies, emphasizing Japanese language and religion. It is prime time to make Aikido my life, but I just can't do it, I just won't do it.

If I look at my life four years ago, when I was still in high school, I probably could have said the same thing about photography. I could have gone to art school, and become a photographer, but why didn't I do that? I have no idea, I guess I lost interest or something. The last time I shot a picture was actually at the last Aikido seminar we hosted. So who's to say that Aikido won't be the same? I'm as dedicated to Aikido as I was to photography, if not more so. But I'm starting to see that the reasons I continue to do Aikido today are not the same as the reasons I did Aikido a year ago. How can I possibly say that in a year from now, I'll be this dedicated to Aikido? How can I make a commitment for my whole life when I have no idea what my whole life will entail? Aikido is the most important thing at this point in my life, but what about when I find a wife, or when I have a child, or when I am asked to move to a city without Aikido? Is it even possible to be comitted to Aikido to the point where Aikido is truly the most important thing? Or am I deluded into thinking that my idea of commitment to training is something more than dilettantism? Am I just pretending to be a root when I'm really a leaf?

So what are my goals? Monday: Go to class. Tuesday: go to Class. Next week: test. Next month: Train elswhere. Next year: Continue to build up the Dojo. Graduation: Make it to the top of a pyramid? Go to live in Japan? Somewhere down the line: Become "amazing?" I'm not able to find clarity, because there is no clarity in the future for me. The odds of me doing Aikido until I reach "shihan-level skill" are practically 0. I'm not about to make the mistake of putting some silly martial art in front of an entire lifetime of unknown possibilities. Does that mean I don't have clarity in my training? Should I put off all hope of making Aikido my path in life, because I'm not willing to be locked in to some goal thirty or fourty years in the making?

Maybe somewhere in these legnthy dissertation lies my answer, but I feel like I may be asking the wrong people. All these post are way over my head; it's pretty obvious that everyone here has spent much more time thinking about Aikido than I have. You're also probably all past the "Oh, crap, what's next" stage in your life, and have some kind of stability in your career and training. So, if I were to ask this advice of myself, I'd just say what I said in my earlier post. That is "just keep training." It's ok that you don't have an answer to this question now; at least you're thinking about it, so stop worrying and go to class (you're late again).

If four years of therapy, two years of Aikido, and Zen meditation aren't helping me understand clarity, hell, maybe some internet friends will.

Peace,
Tom Newhall

senshincenter
12-04-2005, 07:11 PM
I think that this kind of self-reflection is exactly what the article is trying to address. It is this kind of reflection that gives us our chance at clarity – regardless of our level of commitment. So, in my opinion, I think this is right up there with what Camilla, Janet, and others have shared. I don’t see delusion here, I see clarity.

However, this last post made me think of something – on commitment. The way I see it, commitment stands in contrast to convenience. For better or for worse, often times we can act like we are in a state of commitment when in fact we are only functioning at the sake of convenience. Thus, it is important to be able to distinguish the differences between these two things.

One of the major differences is that commitment is not related to knowing the future. It does not come to us via assurances that we are doing the right thing – now and for all times. Nor does it come to us under the promise of things never changing, nor of us never changing. These are the things of convenience. Convenience requires that conditions be in a constant state of fair-weather – whether this is of our surroundings or of us. Commitment on the other hand is what we practice precisely because things do change, because we change, because things can never be known in total, and because the weather cannot always be fair.

Commitment is a kind of act of faith – it is a holding true in the face of come what may. Commitment is a type of vow we make to remain steadfast by adapting to the unknown as it makes itself manifest, to things as they change, and most importantly to remain steadfast in light of our own impulses, emotions, desires, etc., that may often drive us to no longer remain steadfast. If our training is today viable solely because our dojo is near us, the training hours are fitting with our schedule, we love Aikido, Aikido is fun, the people are great, we don’t have a job, we can afford the training, we have no kids, we are not married, we are not in school, we are progressing happily, etc., then, a priori, our practice is not based in commitment – it is based more on convenience and on the things of convenience.

In order to continue to mature in our commitment, we need to forge ahead without the need for assurances that everything will be alright – that everything will be supportive of our training. To have commitment is to make the vow (at least to oneself) to be thus and then to go on to do the work of commitment in the face of whatever may come. This is undoubtedly difficult – which is one reason why the practice of commitment is universally held as a spiritual practice across the globe and history (i.e. it is not a natural state of being – it is a cultivated state of being). However, difficult as it may be, the practice of commitment is never more complicated than this. In my experience, if we are wise, we will be able to find great comfort and great aid (when we need it – and we always do sooner or later) in the simplicity that marks this most sacred practice of the human body/mind.

dmv

Esaemann
12-05-2005, 10:43 AM
George,
Just wanted to share my thoughts on your article. I appreciate when someone tells me that I made them think and possibly changed something in their life, and it seems that this is what you were trying to get across.

Sounds like I'm part of the trunk. I've been training twice a week for the past year, and three times/week for 3 years prior to that. I've quit and turned down jobs so that I can continue to train in those 2 afternoon classes. So I'm pretty much a regular. Needless to say, aikido training is pretty important to me. However, I'm not a root (as you define it) nor do I desire to be. At least not now, though things change throughout life. Obtaining shodan would be a good goal for me, but am not too concerned with rank. I may be able to attend more when my son (now 2) hopefully gets into aikido. Right now I'm happy to be training and still getting corrected and improving techniques from sensei.

My dedication is more toward Tai Chi. I've been practicing a form for about 8 years, but gotten more serious (doing Tui Shou and a more regular class) the past year. This forced me to give up one aikido class each week. There are two main reasons. I'm able to, and it is extremely important for development, to practice on my own. I've found this is more difficult in aikido (except weapons). Since I can practice at home, this means less time away from family. The bigger reason is that for me its easier to relax, because this is the primary focus. It's also better for me to reach my goal of Agatsu. I'm not saying any way is better than another, in general, but only for each individual.

Someone told me on my recent aikido test that I looked very rooted and relaxed/sunken chest. I believe that my aikido is getting deeper through my Tai Chi, but I don't have the delusion that aikido is my main ... training.

Aikido has been very good to me, and I would hope to be able to give back in some way. I might have a chance to do that as my Tuesday sensei has asked me and another noon regular to teach if she's gone once or twice a year.

One nice thing is that one of the head Sensei whose class I attend once a week, has some Tai Chi and has a very calm and relaxed teaching method. I still enjoy the more vigorous teaching of my other instructor.

Anyway, thanks to you and other instructors for not rejecting students like me who are not roots for the art. You are not wasting your time.

Dan Rubin
12-05-2005, 06:34 PM
The essence I come away with is the combo of be clear about what it is you are doing (eg motives, level of commitment) and do not delude yourself about what you are doing or what results you can expect from what it is you are doing.

I think that George is saying more than that. I think he is saying that it is vitally important to the martial art of aikido that some students devote themselves to becoming the future masters, and that in order to become masters, they must train today like the masters used to train. If I understand George correctly, he believes that (a) there are some students out there who are fooling themselves by dreaming of becoming masters (annoying, but not really a problem), and (b) there are some students out there who have the potential to become masters, but don't know how to go about it, to the detriment of the future of the art (a real problem).

I think that aikido's success is partly to blame. Back in the day, anyone who wanted to study O Sensei's art had to study with O Sensei. Today, however, anyone who wants to study O Sensei's art can use AikiWeb's dojo search to find a dojo nearby. Moreover, back in the day, everyone who wanted to study O Sensei's art already had a public school or university background in judo or kendo. Today, potential students don't, and so are unable to judge the quality of their local dojo. By the time they have the necessary experience, they may have been thrown off the shihan track.

Olympic champions typically start their sport at the local level, but as they grow older they transfer to a more demanding school (perhaps a university). Eventually, their coach recognizes their potential and pushes them toward the few coaches who are even more demanding, who are perfectionists.

I have a question: If today someone in his or her twenties would like to become a master of aikido, what should that person do? It would seem to me that devoting himself to training and seminars would not be enough. He or she must uproot, if need be, and travel as far as necessary to join a dojo where he can practice constantly with a current master, and there devote himself to training and seminars. And this devotion should be with the understanding that even such students may not make it to the big leagues, because of insufficient talent or injuries or fate.

Is this what the person must do? And how would we get the message to that person? Are internet forums enough, or must a local teacher take his most talented student aside and urge him or her to move on?

Dan

Dan Rubin
12-06-2005, 02:56 PM
This has led to an immense gap in sophistication between different places one might train. Many people are putting in many hours of hard training, expending much time and effort, but the place where they are training will simply not produce anyone who gets to the top level of skill because of the way they train or the lack of sophistication of the person teaching. This no slight on the person teaching... if one is a sandan or yondan one can do an admirable job teaching folks the basics but how could one possibly take ones students up to a level which one hasn't yet reached oneself? This is just common sense.

The issue becomes lack of awareness of what the highest levels of Aikido even represent.with that.

My apologies to George Ledyard. He had already answered my questions in that previous post :blush:. In fact, it was probably his answer that popped the question into my mind (I often come up with my best questions that way :) ).

As someone who, for so many reasons, will never be a shihan, I guess that I'm kind of fascinated with the idea of someone, today, devoting himself or herself to becoming one. I wonder if O Sensei's uchideshi dreamed of becoming the next O Sensei. When O Sensei sent a student abroad to teach, did other students think, "I hope that he picks me next?" And when they did leave the nest, did their separation from O Sensei hold them back, or was the separation overcome by the opportunity to develop their own aikido?

Dan

Erick Mead
12-21-2005, 01:12 PM
But on some level I am trying to spark the same discussion... What is a "quality" practice? What is "quality" Aikido? What is a "quality" teacher? Each person has to come up with his own answer, and unlike in Zen when your answer isn't on target, there is no whack with a stick or ringing of a bell to tell you that you're missing the mark. Only your own continuous work will give you the "right" answer and that answer will not be anyone else's answer, just your own.
I think that this kind of self-reflection is exactly what the article is trying to address. ... Commitment is a kind of act of faith -- it is a holding true in the face of come what may. Commitment ... adapting to the unknown as it makes itself manifest, to things as they change, and most importantly to remain steadfast in light of our own impulses, emotions, desires, etc., that may often drive us to no longer remain steadfast.

Both George Ledyard and David Valadez make excellent observations about subjectivity, clarity and commitment to good practice. But admitted that commitment is inherently personal, it still begs a serious question. If the essence of good practice is so highly personal, what is it that makes Aikido so broadly interesting across so many cultures?

There is an objective aspect of present-day world culture that distinguishes it from earlier ages, and also distinguishes Aikido from earlier martial arts.
This "quality" has been described as "post-modern" (A phrase I despise, but for which no ready substitute exists.) The structural sense of this pattern has been summed up in an utterly different context in the phrase "personal is political," implying the loss or continually diminishing significance of fomerly observed boundary conditions. This cultural fact is fundamentally disturbing to anyone who has relied or attempts to rely too strongly upon those formerly agreed social boundaries for their comfort and security.

This suggests an approach to the issues raised here.

Koryu, (and Ledyard Sensei may feel free to unleash his shinai on my head to correct anything I should overstate), relied upon a two stage method of transmitting knowledge, 1) kata or forms, the specific set-piece techniques that contained the schematic of the arts fundamentals, and 2) the principles that describe how tactical movements, offensive and defensive, fit together dynamically, often innacurately described as "secret techniques."

Many martial arts have followed the implication of the first part, and made a limited set of techniques into sport for fitness and physical improvement, or as minimally practical self-protection in certain defined circumstances.

Aikidoka who have trained for any significant length of time have a good sense that aikido does not fit either of these descriptions. Aikido is about doing something else.

Aikido is an art that is primarily about the second part of the old koryu teaching program, which by its nature is undefined, and open-ended. Aikido is, as far as I can determine, nearly unique in its emphasis in this regard. It is this focus that distinguishes it from many earlier arts. This attention to the "process" elements of conflict makes aikido particularly suited to the post-modern mind, for any culture in today's world, which I believe explains its broad appeal and success.

There are a number of personal repsonses to this aspect of present day culture, not all of them good. The same thing underlies the very real concern of disconnection and distraction. The "browsing" attitude is one such common postmodern tendency. It is that sense of lacking commitment, or at least lacking a real understanding of one's own level of commitment that Sensei Ledyard addresses. The related but opposite pathology is also present in morbid overindulgences -- an image of a boy in front of a XBox, GameBoy, [insert electronic time-expending device here] for the sixth straight hour pops to mind. Both of these attitudes negatively affect aikido training

"Process" is the philosophical rubric of our age. It underlies our understanding of physical reality (quantum mechanics), economic reality (market principles) and of moral reality (process theology, or for those who criticize its excesses, situational ethics).

Aikido is process philosophy in a combat setting. Combat by its nature does not observe predefined boundary conditions. Thus the ancient budo prefigures an understanding that is now commonly held, although in equal parts both adored and severely disliked by many people. O-Sensei clearly understood the art in this sense, even without any obvious or direct participation in the intellectual currents around the world that underlie process philosophy.

What is this process in Aikido? Simple, really: when attacking, attack; when not attacking, seek to attack. It is what we do when our last effort is either successful or fails that defines Aikido.
Commitment in this sense underlies the sensibility of budo: techniques do not end in any set-piece pattern: they simply evolve into other techniques/counters.

Zanshin -- translated as the "unrelenting mind" -- is the attitude described.

With it, I am convinced there is nothing that will not become ever more clear with time and practice to any student, regardless of their quality of "instruction." Without it, even the most simple things will seem deeply mysterious and frustrating, no matter the quality of instructor.
Techniques limit, and intentionally so. Limitation cuts the lesson into small enough bites to digest. My considered opinion is that truly gifted teachers learn how to shift the limits between "techniques" to help students start to see the process dynamic.

Reaching the level to be able to see this and having instructors that are capable of imparting more of it is what I perceive this discussion to be about. That is invaluable.

We need not sit and weep in lament for our misfortune for their immediate lack, however. Given the arc of my own peripatetic aikido training, I have not always been able to rely on the external components of learning to move forward. Even bad teachers (and mine have not been, I hasten to add) have good things to teach if one is prepared to learn.

Learning aiki means following where uke/nage leads. The process leads directly where it must go if it is followed, even if the destination is not initially known. It is indispensable to have an honest, commited, observant uke -- an honest, committed, observant nage. With a solid grounding in body movement, they are their own best instructors. The key is following uke/nage to find the next attack/counter attack, noting what happened, and remembering it.

Uke/Nage should be there to whack me when he or she can. A good sharp atemi is the best tonic or corrective I have yet found. The best remedy against a tendency of distraction is an imminent impact.

For post-modern minds, the personal is also the political, or as someone once told me, "Every aikido technique is implied in tenchinage." Exploring the unnumbered expressions of what that implies is what I train to do.

Cordially,
Erick Mead

MM
12-22-2005, 07:32 AM
This has led to an immense gap in sophistication between different places one might train. Many people are putting in many hours of hard training, expending much time and effort, but the place where they are training will simply not produce anyone who gets to the top level of skill because of the way they train or the lack of sophistication of the person teaching. This no slight on the person teaching... if one is a sandan or yondan one can do an admirable job teaching folks the basics but how could one possibly take ones students up to a level which one hasn't yet reached oneself? This is just common sense.


I just started reading this thread, so I apologize for the lateness of my comments. I do have one question about the above paragraph, especially the next to last sentence. And it isn't that I disagree or agree because I'm still trying to get a grasp on the whole concept myself.

Anyway, how do you explain coaches of sports? If a coach hasn't reached a level themselves, how do you explain how players can be exceptional, surpassing their coaches abilities? Take the Olympic athletes for example. I'm sure that some of them progressed far more than their coaches abilities. Or the saying to stand on the shoulders of one's teacher?



The issue becomes lack of awareness of what the highest levels of Aikido even represent. I have been fantastically fortunate to have been able to train with many of the finest teachers out there. The Aiki Expos exposed me to even more, some who don't even do Aikido. When you experience what these people can do and when in your own training you start to get a glimpse of what it is yourself, there's no way you can be satisfied with Aikido-lite.


Oh, and in that I agree completely. :)


I travel a lot to teach and train and what I see out there is a group of folks who are hungry for better training. They get so excited and enthusiastic when you can show them ways to take their training up to another level. I think the current system of teaching is failing a large group of people out there. They need more and better direction.


I'm not sure it's a large group. I agree that there is a group out there. Take the average organization (ex. ASU). In it, there will be very few Yondan and above. A little more nidan and sandans. And probably quite a bit more shodans. However, there will be a good bit more mudansha. It doesn't take a shihan to bring the mudansha up to an appropriate level, or up to another level. And you'll typically find that most dojos out there have at least a shodan, but more likely a nidan or sandan running them. So, really, when we talk about the current system of teaching failing, I think we're talking about those of nidan or higher rank, which IMO isn't a large group of people. But your thoughts on this are most welcome.




I am so passionate about this because I love this art so much. I am just hitting the point in my training in which I can now do things which I thought were pretty much "magic" thirty years ago when I started. I feel like I am just getting to the "goodies" and it is so exciting, so much fun I can't contain myself. When I see so many people settling for so much less I can't help but say "No, don't settle! There's so much more..."


Which goes back to your previous point. Once you've been exposed to some of this, you can never, ever be satisfied with "Aikido-lite". Love that word, by the way. Reminds me of software bundles where you get a "shareware" or "demo" or "not fully functional" version. It's just a glimpse of what the full package can do.


Aikido desperately needs people to focus on how to develop training which could potentially produce another O-Sensei, another Tohei, and Yamaguchi, etc In large measure this isn't happening today.


How do you know this? Granted, my world of Aikido is small. I haven't had access to any of the famous shihans. For me, the only thing I have is questions. :)

Thanks,
Mark

MM
12-22-2005, 07:42 AM
What do you all think? Why can a softball player who has a couple practices a week and a game on the weekend have no problem saying, "Oh yeah, it's just fun for me, I'm no expert, not even close, etc., I don't pretend to be good at it, etc.," (or something akin to that), while the average aikidoka, whose activity seems so much more profoundly deep than the sport of baseball, can do as much or even less and not be able to say something similar?

I think it's an individual issue. I know people who train in aikido who say things like, Yeah, I like Aikido, but it isn't my whole world. I don't pretend to know everything and I know I'm not great at it.

They're comfortable in the level of training that they have chosen and aren't deluding themselves about it.

Mark

MM
12-22-2005, 08:13 AM
The whole analogy is suspect to me actually. For example, the fact that you got two sensei using it, two sensei from totally different sides of the Aikido spectrum, etc. - my guess is that this analogy has some history to it. From the looks of it I would place my bet on it having some sort of Confucian origin with new spins given to it in Neo-Confucianism, the Nativistic movement, and then even inside of the WWII political propaganda. It smells of getting the masses to support the elite by telling them how important they are to the overall structure of something. For me, that goes contrary to a practice that is attempting to reconcile the world and to understand everyone and everything as One. That's why I start my own practice and the practice of my deshi from the position that we are all here to be roots. We do this in our own way, at our own pace, but we are all attempting to head in the same direction. It's all about orientation and movement for me.
dmv

Ah, but you have a school that is teaching only to be a root. :) So, for you, there are no leaves and no branches. I'm not saying this is bad, just that you won't get any students who *want* to be a leaf or a branch.

As for the tree analogy, since I work in the computer field, I look at it this way. I can administer Windows servers. I am not a root level type of person for administration. There are thing in Windows administration that I can not do (example Microsoft Clustering) and I'm just perfectly happy with that realization. I'm probably a branch in the analogy. And happy with that. I have no desire to be a root. As was stated, my priorities are there and being a root-type administrator for Windows just isn't that high. I know it, I accept it, and I never lose sleep over it. :)

Now, I just overlap that analogy to aikido to help me understand other people's priorities and how they fit in the tree analogy. Me, I want to be a root in aikido and after seeing some of the amazing things, I don't know how others could not want to be a root. We should all strive to be a root. But then I remember Windows administration and it helps me to understand how other people can be perfectly happy with being a leaf or branch. :)

Mark

MM
12-22-2005, 08:38 AM
A number of times in these postings the phrase " high level, wahtever that is..." has come up.I know that there is something of a range of opinion as to what constitues "high level"... This constitutes a kind of problem in my mind. Many folks in Aikido have an idea about what is great Aikido based on very limited exposure. This was why Stan Pranin invited all those fabulous non-Aikido teachers to the Expo in the hopes that the Aikido community would take notice. Angier Sensei, Vladimir Vasiliyev, Kenji Ushiro Sensei, Kuroda Sensei all set a standard far higher than what much of the Aikido world is setting for themselves. There was alot more "aiki" in their technique than in much of the Aikido that is being done these days.


Off-topic. The aiki Expo poses one significant problem. One gets to the Expo and gets to experience some amazing things. But when one gets back to the home dojo and there isn't anyone around to keep up with what one's seen/learned/experienced, then what does one do? How does one keep progressing to the next level?

Mark

MM
12-22-2005, 09:08 AM
I have a question: If today someone in his or her twenties would like to become a master of aikido, what should that person do? It would seem to me that devoting himself to training and seminars would not be enough. He or she must uproot, if need be, and travel as far as necessary to join a dojo where he can practice constantly with a current master, and there devote himself to training and seminars. And this devotion should be with the understanding that even such students may not make it to the big leagues, because of insufficient talent or injuries or fate.


Let me put this in a personal context. When I was about 10 or 11, I knew that I wanted to study Aikido. I knew it deep down. At a time when I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew that I wanted to study Aikido. The closest Aikido dojo was 35 miles away. Half a world away for an 11 year old. No amount of pleading would get my parents to take me there. So, I consoled myself to finding anything on the subject: books, magazines, articles, etc. Remember, at this time, there was no Internet.

Even through High School, I had no chance to go. We were poor and the car (if you could call it that) was either used to take my mother to work or was being worked on because it was broken.

I went to college in a place called Bottineau, ND. I found a Hapkido person and learned a little from him. Still no aikido.

I went into the military at one point and was stationed in OKC, OK. I found an aikido dojo. The sensei was Steve Duncan. The wait was most definitely worth it. I was about 23 years old. The Air Force kept me away 6 months out of every year, but I still trained when I could. Eventually, Duncan sensei awarded me my Shodan and that was one of the best highlights of my Aikido career.

I'm nearing 40 now and my training has been sporadic at times, but my love of Aikido has never died. I keep seeing the "magic" of higher level Aikido and it continually drives me forward. I think about what it would be like if I had started when I was 11, but I realize that no matter what rank I'd be, I'd still have my love of Aikido and I'd still find the "magic" of higher levels and I'd still be progressing forward.

Does it matter that I started later in life? Not to me. I've kept the love and desire alive through times when there was no chance at training at a dojo, when there were times of training at a different martial art, and through times when there was multiple dojo training opportunities. Aikido is my life. I'm progressing at the pace I set and I'm content with that (don't confuse that for being content in my practice. I still look to be challenged and am challenged continually). And I'm finally at a point financially where I can attend seminars.

My advice would be to tell the student to love what they are doing in Aikido and keep that desire burning. And if you're looking to be a "Master", then you're missing the whole point of Aikido, IMO. However, if one finds that one loves a certain style of Aikido, then, yes, you can say, hey, why don't you move to this city and study under this Shihan of that style? Because the underlying principle would be to learn more of what one loves, not to become a Master at Aikido. :)

Mark

George S. Ledyard
12-22-2005, 11:51 AM
And if you're looking to be a "Master", then you're missing the whole point of Aikido, IMO.

Mark
The whole "Master" term is a loaded one these days with so many self-styled "Masters" all over the place. A better phrase would be to attain "mastery" of ones art.

If ones goal is to attain "mastery" of ones art I not only do not think that this misses the whole point, but rather, it is the whole point.

Aikido, as the Founder envisoned it, is a Michi, a Path. It is a form of Budo. It isn't a form of entertainment though it can be entertaining, it isn't about fighting, although it can be used for self defense, it isn't about improving your social life, although it may be the center of your social life.

The Aikido Path is about realization... concerning the nature of the universe and the nature of ourselves. These realizations arise out of reaching a certain level of "mastery" of the art. As one attains this "mastery" of the art, one should also attain "mastery" of ones self. Masakatsu Agatsu - True Victory is Self Victory. This is why the art was created.... not to give a bunch of folks all over the world a cool hobby. Certainly, there are many things one learns about oneself, simply from the doing of the art at any level. But the depth of that knowledge is directly proportional to the amount of effort one puts in to ones training.

Every student will not be a teacher, not every teacher will get to the highest levels of "mastery". But every student should be practicing "as if" some level of "mastery" were possible.

Aikido, as it has evolved today, is a very elitist affair. An extremely small group of practitioners has attained some level of "mastery" of the art. Tens of thousands of people are out there doing the art, teaching the art, spending their time and money on the art, yet they have little or no hope of attaining anything better than the most elemental understanding of the art into which they have poured so much of their time and effort.

Many people, having read my articles, think I am an "elitist". In fact, it's quite the opposite. I want everyone to do better Aikido. It is quite possible to have students do much better Aikido.... it simply requires that teachers teach much better Aikido. To do this, the teachers must be pushing themselves to be better. This is a responsibility that goes with taking on the role of teacher.

The spread of Aikido around the world has lead to thousands of dojos opening run by people who took on the role of teacher simply because no one around had trained longer than they had. The almost complete demise of the dan system actually having anything to do with some depth of skill in the art (rather than survival time) has led to a situation in which most Aikido practitioners haven't even seen someone who understands the art at a high level.

There must be a concerted effort to raise the technical level of the teachers of the art who are the means of the "transmission" from one generation to the next. We don't need more dojos and dojo heads. The focus which has been on growth for the art should be shifted to raising the level of the skill of those already in the art. If those who are teaching the art have depth of knowledge, then the growth of the art takes care of itself.

If the technical focus of the art is improved, the practitioners can actually start to experience those elements of Aikido which provide the kinds of spiritual insights which O-Sensei envisioned. I don't think this should be reserved for a small group at the top while everyone else does something else. Every practitioner of Aikido can attain at least some real depth if the art is taught better, practiced better, and the teachers of the art demand of themselves that they get better. There is way too much complacency in Aikido. If one is content with where he's at, he's not growing as he should and growth is the whole point of doing something like Aikido.

MM
12-22-2005, 12:38 PM
The whole "Master" term is a loaded one these days with so many self-styled "Masters" all over the place. A better phrase would be to attain "mastery" of ones art.

If ones goal is to attain "mastery" of ones art I not only do not think that this misses the whole point, but rather, it is the whole point.


This was my point, yes. :) That to learn because you love it in the end translates to gaining mastery of the art. But, to train because you want to be a "master", well ... I doubt you'll ever attain mastery of Aikido.

Thanks,
Mark

Mark Uttech
12-22-2005, 12:41 PM
An excellent post George, on one point, I think I differ a bit, and that is the sense of contentment. Contentment with one's practice is not wrong. Practicing is polishing, and there is always the next surprise insight. It is almost a ritual in my dojo, that whenever a surprise appears, the entire class stops and bows to the shomen. It was not a ritual I taught, or that anyone taught: it was a natural ritual that appeared one day when a bokken hit the overhead light, but it didn't shatter.
In gassho

senshincenter
12-22-2005, 12:57 PM
A small thing really...

Are we just playing with words here - "master" and "mastery." I bring this up because I wonder if the wordplay is part of what folks use to not be roots (i.e. use against themselves, use against their teacher's requirements, etc.). e.g. "Being a master is impossible, why shoot for it?"

The funny part is this: Who is ready to say "mastery" is any more possible than being a master?

There's so much false humility (i.e. self-serving submission) in these ways of understanding that Aikido practice is a living process. One has to wonder what all is being protected in our will to see both being a master and attaining mastery as impossible.

I'm reminded of something I read, where a writer-friend of Merton's asked him what he wanted from all his faith, etc. Merton went on with all the usual stuff - it's about living the practice, etc. etc. And his friend finally stops him and asks him, "Aren't you trying to be a saint? If so, why the difficulty in saying it?" Merton, being an honest man, saw that his resistance to saying out loud what most opt to never say was more connected to his fears of pursuing his practice more deeply than it was to any kind of insight pertaining what the holy or sainthood might be. I would suggest we are often seeing the same thing here in regards to Aikido and being a master. Let us remember, most of the masters we know today, never said that being a master was impossible - most of them clearly say (in one version or another), "I wanted to be the best." In other words, when one is the best, and one says, "There is always more to learn - complete mastery is not possible," that is not the same thing as saying "There is always more to learn - complete master is not possible," when one is using that to keep going with their aikido-lite.

thinking out loud,
dmv

senshincenter
12-22-2005, 03:45 PM
This is way long - so please skip it if you aren't into it. Normally, this would be posted on our web site, but we are pressed by holiday travels, etc., so I'm going to opt to paste it here in full rather than just providing a hyperlink to it. Hope no one is insulted too badly - if so, please forgive.

The following came up on our dojo email list - which we use to promote discussion and/or further self-refection, etc. The piece is pretty self explanatory. For me, there is some overlap with what we ended up talking about and what one can see in this thread and in George's article. Thought some folks might find it interesting. Since it was mentioned - anyone is welcome to join our email list - just send me an email with your email addess. thanks,
dmv

"Wisdom, Humility, and Self-doubt"

A while back, I sent out the following quote by Thomas Merton:

"The fruitfulness of our life depends in large measure on our ability to doubt our own words and to question the value of our own work. The man who completely trusts his own estimate of himself is doomed to (spiritual) sterility. All he asks of any act he performs is that it is his act. If it is performed by him, it must be good (so he thinks). All words spoken by him must be infallible (so he believes). The car he has just bought is the best for its price, for no other reason than that he is the one who has bought it. He seeks no other fruit than this, and therefore he generally gets no other. If we believe ourselves in part, we may be right about ourselves. If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong."

I also included my own personal take on the quote when I sent it out. I wrote:

“For me the quote speaks about something that seems to come up quite often in the cultivation of the spirit. Often, in seeking spiritual maturity, we are told to practice various acts of self-reflection, of contemplation. However, at such times, many of us see this only as a request to ask ourselves what we are thinking and/or what we are feeling, etc. We wrongly see our own thoughts and our own feelings as answers and not as the questions that they truly are. There is no real depth to our self-investigations and so change or transformation of the self is hardly ever possible or achieved. We do not dig deeper to see why and how we are thinking or feeling, or why or how we are thinking "x" and not "y," etc. Moreover, we do not ever reflect at deep enough level to be able to determine if we should even be thinking or feeling what we are thinking or feeling. In my opinion, all of this comes from an attachment to self, which is also a lack of faith in the greater aspect of which we are only a part of (be that God, or Nature, or the Universe, or the Truth - etc. - you pick the word). It is a type of egocentrism that pushes God, etc., out of the center of our existence and pushes our small self - with all of our ego failings - to the center of all things, all times, and all people, etc. The source of this egocentrism is a misplaced faith in one’s sense of self - it is a kind of self-worshipping, which is a kind of idolatry. Spiritual maturity, or the practice of wisdom and compassion, is not found in positing the self as a golden statue to be worshipped - there is no insight in an idolatry of the small self. Spiritual maturity is first, last, and always, found in a kind of self-doubt. This is because spiritual maturity can only be born in humility. If we have faith in that which is greater than ourselves, we will solve this paradox, since the paradox of becoming wise by doubting the self is only one that exists for the self-idolater.”

Since that time, I have received two replies that were quite alike in nature. Both raised some very good issues and made some very important requests for further clarity. I will provide one of them below. It read:

“The connection between self-doubt/self-reflection and spiritual maturity (i.e. practicing wisdom and compassion) is clear. However, does such practice necessarily require a self-doubt that abnegates one's own significance?

In Judaism, one is supposed to be self-reflective at times, but one is never supposed to check one's own thoughts at the door; one is always expected to remain conscious, questioning, and to never abandon a sense of oneself (even when trembling before God). This process necessarily involves one's ego, but is expected to bring one in conformity with God's law and is not generally thought to be a process that displaces God.

Merton's quote describes a movement towards self-reflection. It clearly indicates one must not idolize oneself. However, it does not seem to describe a particularly rigorous standard for self-reflection. How deep must the humility that you describe actually go? What, concretely does an avoidance of self-idolatry mean?”


First, I would like to say that what Merton describes is not something particular to the Catholic faith – which he was a part of. He is speaking of a problem of our humanity (i.e. conscious and subconscious ego attachment) and of the only way of addressing that problem (i.e. the cultivation of humility and selflessness). He has targeted in on something that is central to all spiritual paths. To understand this, we must be sure to motivate ourselves beyond doctrinal issues – this is a universal of humankind. This is why we see the same thing being said in many other spiritual traditions. In specific relation to Budo and/or to Aikido, this is why we see the same thing being said in the Buddhist tradition, particular in Zen, Confucian thought, Taoist philosophy, Judaic and Christian mystic traditions, Omoto-kyo, and why we see it in the thinking and writing of Osensei (the founder of Aikido). For example, we can see this idea clearly when Osensei writes:

“Before God we must give up our ego, freeing our mind of all thoughts and endeavor to be able to execute divine deeds by calming our spirit and returning to God.”

Before proceeding onward, I would like to offer up a common example, as a non-doctrinal reference point – an example of how we often (especially early on in our training) doom ourselves to spiritual sterility by completely trusting our own estimate of ourselves. In this example, I would like to tie this response to one of the more practical matters of spiritual maturity as it pertains to our training. Namely, I would like to talk about the way we come to training confident that we are doing all we can in regards to our day-to-day practice. Perhaps this is not clear or not clearly experienced as an ego attachment, nor may it be clear that it is solved solely through tools like self-doubt and thus ultimately through humility. Nevertheless, it is an ego-attachment, and it is the most commonly experienced. This type of ego attachment is often more visible through the type of resistance that often is adjoined to it. Therefore, let us begin speaking on it via the more common types of resistance that are usually present and much more noticeable.

Again, so that the reader is clear on what we are talking about here, with the lack of self-doubt you often have a resistance toward training in general and in specific toward training more. This often comes with a feeling that one has no time, that one could not possibly re-prioritize life differently, that one’s current schedule is not being appreciated, that the things that you value are not being universally valued by all, etc. If we have ever felt any of these types of resistances, and we all do when we first begin (and for a great many years), then we are lacking the self-doubt that Merton, and so many others, are speaking of. We are stuck generating a spiritual sterility that is the product of our incapacity to doubt ourselves – to doubt that we are doing all we can; to doubt that we have no time; to doubt that we cannot re-prioritize our lives; to doubt that our schedule is not being appreciated and valued, etc. Rather, we are stuck presenting ourselves in a way that makes us resistant to the very reason for practicing the living Way – we are making ourselves resistant to transformation. All of our energy goes into not seeing ourselves critically – truthfully. All of our energy goes into feeling that to doubt ourselves is to destroy our Self. This is how a delusion of the spirit works. Delusions of the spirit must always be justifiable, and they can be thus only with or through the most ultimate of things. Hence, we are forced to see the world in “black and white,” and we are sure to always place ourselves on the positive side of that dichotomy. We are left then only with questions like, “If I doubt myself, will I not negate myself into oblivion?” “If I forfeit X, will I not die or disappear altogether?” “If I sacrifice Y, will I not in the end have sacrificed everything?” Our ego makes us experience the world in this way. It makes us feel, especially when it comes to its own identity; that we must choose only between the status quo and total despair.

As a teacher, I come to assist students with reconciling these delusions in students, or I lose students to the great mass of mediocrity and of quitters. I call them delusions because the plain and simple fact is that all of us can always do more than we are doing. This is true because there are no limits to the depths of the self, and thus there are no limits to how we may practice self-reflection, contemplation, and/or how we may cultivate spiritual maturity. This is a fact we cannot deny. In truth, we can measure the depth of our practice by how well we have reconciled the whole of our lives with this fact - that we can always do more. The only boundaries that come to us in regards to spiritual development are the ones we set by ourselves, the ones we set out of fear, pride, or ignorance (all three being products of ego-attachment). Some students come to reconcile these matters quickly and fully; some come to make such reconciliation a life-long process that is in constant need of attention; or they quit. There are really no other options than this when it comes to Budo. In our practice, we must find a way to bravely face the infinity of spiritual practice and our distance from it.

As a teacher, trying to fulfill my role, two things – two interrelated things - always strike me. I am struck by how off the mark such a delusion truly is (i.e. how much the fact that we can always do more is denied), and I am struck by how powerful such a delusion truly is – by how much it governs not only what a student can and cannot do but also what he/she will and/or will not attempt to do. (Of course, this is no different for teachers either – remember we are talking about a human condition here.) Underneath, when adopting the view of the teacher, there lies the great punch line: I am here as teacher, but also as a student of the art myself, most times doing more than others, yet I am always aware that I could be doing more (much more), aware that I am not doing enough.

However, when we are in the midst of these kinds of delusions, when we are blinded by our own ego attachment or by our own incapacity to doubt ourselves, when we are stuck placing ourselves at the center of all judgment, we cannot see what is around us. Alternately, if we can see what is around us, it is viewed only in a way that it offers no clarity toward ourselves – we do not gain the benefits of observing the contrast of another. Hence, for example, often, deshi that feel that they are doing all they can in regards to their training, do not see what I am doing in truth, nor do they see how I feel about that as well. In other words, being unable to practice self-doubt is not only connected to a blindness of ourselves, it is also connected to a blindness of others.

I remember when I was a young man – between 16 years old and 18 years old – I got my first “wake up” call regarding these kinds of issues. At that time, I was training in both Speed Skating (inline) and Cycling. I was about to enter into the more senior divisions – which traditionally had the more prominent athletes (ages 18 to 27). At 16, I did not yet have to compete against these athletes. However, my times were looked at next to theirs because in many cases my times were equal or better. Regardless of those times, when I became 18 and actually had to start racing against these men, my actual performance did not equal my expected potential. Quickly I learned that a whole lot goes into winning in the senior division – much more than just having a fast time. For example, one needs race strategy and one needs an overall greater endurance, one that allows an athlete to remain efficient throughout the three to five days of some of the larger events. One also requires the kind of endurance that allows one to deal with the ins and outs of races that do not go quite as planned.

During my first year competing in the senior division, all I did was complain. I was still in my last year of high school. Most of the stars of the sport had graduated from high school and had postponed college for the sake of better dedicating themselves to training and to winning. For me, I was doing all I could do, and that was what I was supposed to do – so I believed. However, it was not good enough – obviously. Somehow, through my ego, I made it “their” entire fault. I said, “Well, if I wasn’t doing anything all day either, I could train all day too - and then I’d really blow them all away.” In that self-serving delusion, I took so much for granted. I took for granted all that they were doing and all that they had to suffer in order to do it. My ego had made it seem that it was just so easy to train all day long. That it was only a matter of time scheduling – requiring nothing of commitment, discipline, faith, etc. For me, my training suffered not because I lacked what they had (e.g. commitment, discipline, faith, etc.), but because they were afforded what I was not (i.e. time to train).

Well, I graduated high school. My mom allowed me to postpone college for two years to pursue my sports. With the day free, I set out a schedule that had me training the 8 hours a day that the other more prominent athletes were doing. What happened? I could not do it – not even close. Why? Because what they were doing was not a matter of afforded time. It was a matter of character – of having cultivated things like discipline, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, psychological and emotional endurance, etc. Fortunately, because I was not a totally lost soul, I was eventually able to realize this – able to admit this to myself. I was also able to realize that the little I was doing before was not a matter of having no time afforded – it too was a character issue (i.e. a lack of certain virtues). I was not training more than I was when I was in high school because I did not have more time. I was not training more than I was in high school because I did not have the character to make use of all the time I did have – period. The same ego that would not allow me to see what all the others were doing, of how and why, was the same ego that had me thinking that I could do no more than I was – that I should not have to do more than I was. This same ego would not allow me to self-doubt. This incapacity at self-doubt would not allow me to self-reflect accurately. Without self-reflection, I could not transform myself from the high-school kid with a bunch of excuses to a man with a capacity for following the Way, for following a living practice.

Today, when I look at my teachers, the ones I can respect, I see men that have done and/or are doing more than I. Yet, I do not blame them for that, nor do I see my practice as doing the best I can. I see my practice as a thing that I can always improve upon – a thing I can always dedicate more of myself to. Thus, I am not doing what I should be doing. Rather, I am continually striving to be doing more of what I should be doing. This is how I come to my training today. On the other hand, when we are trapped by our ego, and when we hear of all we can be doing, or of others that are doing more than us but that are saying that they are not doing enough, etc., we bounce back and forth between despair and being over-zealous. This works as follows: A teacher tells us we can always do more, and then we feel like we are not doing enough and that we will never be able to do enough – and then we quit. Alternately, a teacher tells us we can always do more, and then we feel like we are not doing enough, and then we go on to sacrifice the whole of our lives, abandoning the more mature states of harmony and integration, for the supposed sake of doing more. Then we quit when the effects of lacking harmony and integration come and hit us in the face.

Equally, a teacher explains we should be doing all we can, that we should accept what we are doing, as we strive to do more, and then our ego has us using the first part of that phrase to ignore the second part of that phrase. This we do even though it is obvious at nearly every level that the phrase is nothing more than an attempt to reject the status quo without rejecting the true self that underlies it. A man or woman that understands this phrase fully will always be more capable of the practicing the living Way than the man or woman that only hears, “You must accept where you are at (so there is no need to do more than you are doing or to be more than you are being).” For the man or woman that is plagued by ego-attachment the phrase presents an unsolvable paradox. They are plagued into paralysis by trying to ask and answer, “How do I change without rejecting myself?” It is like this with what Merton is telling us as well. Hence, why I wrote: “If we have faith in that which is greater than ourselves, we will solve this paradox, since the paradox of becoming wise by doubting the self is only one that exists for the self-idolater.”

For the man or woman that is truly practicing the living Way, there is no unsolvable mystery to understanding how one practices self-doubt without abandoning the Self. For Merton, and for others, what one is doubting is not the Self that one thinks he/she is saving by not self-doubting. For Merton, and for others, what one saves by not self-doubting is only the ego – which is not the Self but only that which refuses to be questioned. The ego that is protected by not self-doubting is nothing more than our fear, our pride, and our ignorance as these things are aggregated into our sense of material identity – which cannot ever be anything but false. This is why Merton writes:

“If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong."

Within any viable spiritual tradition, there will always be a relationship between awareness or wisdom and one’s capacity to practice humility, selflessness, and/or to gain distance from one’s own ego/material identity. This is why, especially initially, self-doubt is so important to one’s ongoing practice. Self-doubt is not a rejection of Self. It is a suspension of our ego’s habitual reactions, a devaluing of our material desires, a calming of our emotional fears. Moreover, in these things, it is actually a verification of Self, of our True Self.

This is very much in line with Judaic thought – particularly within the Kabbalic tradition. For those that are not familiar with this tradition, Kabbalah is a religious mystical system of Judaism. Kabbalah is a doctrine of esoteric knowledge concerning God, God's creation of the universe and the laws of nature, and the path by which adult religious Jews can learn these secrets. It is considered part of the Jewish Oral Law. In this tradition, there is an equivalency taught to exist between wisdom and humility. The two virtues are understood to exist in complete co-dependency. Talmudic commentators explain this to mean that a person cannot attain one without the other. Alternately, things like self-gratification and self-praise – things that take our habits, our desires, and our fears as ending points - are considered the subtle roots of sin (i.e. a turning from wisdom). These commentators go on to teach that wisdom requires humility as humility requires self-criticism. According to this tradition, we are to regularly reflect upon our behavior with a critical eye. It is through that critical eye – through the means that we manage to distance ourselves from the trappings of our own ego – that we guard against lapsing into complacency and self-justifications – what Merton would call “spiritual sterility.”

Of course, when we hear the call for self-doubt, for self-criticism, we are able to understand it intellectually. However, because we are more attached to our ego than we are to our practice, we are plagued by images of despair, of depression, of no self-worth, etc., and we thus will not put our faith into practice. Instead, we want some sort of guarantee that these age-old techniques will again work for us in exactly the way they are being described. We want to know that we will be okay before we proceed. Thus, we want things before they happen – we do not want to be dependent upon our faith. We want the wisdom, then we will risk the humility; we want the humility, then we will risk the self-doubt. We are stuck in this material reality even at the level of our identity and hence we remain dominated by our small self – by our fear, our pride, and by our ignorance. We want to fly, but we do not want to let go of the ground. Rather, we want flying to become a matter of remaining on the ground; we want to progress, to mature, and to transform ourselves by remaining exactly how we are. This is how the ego maintains its dominance over us, and this is why self-doubt is such a powerful tool of the spirit. Self-doubt allows us to look deeply enough to see the oxymoronic nature of our spiritual immaturity.

When you look to ancient teachings, are ego trappings are challenged even more. Merton’s caveat seems mellow by comparison. For example, in Judaic-Christian thought, with an almost mathematical co-dependency existing between wisdom and humility, the only way to total wisdom then is through total humility. This would mean that one could only be fully of the Way by fully abandoning the ego. Self-doubt, self-criticism, etc., must therefore have no limitations set upon them. They must remain the tools of the trade that they are and we must not be afraid to use them. The justification for this use is that only the small self is in danger from such tools. Alternately, the true Self, that which is of God, of Nature, of the Universe (again, you pick the word), experiences self-doubt and self-criticism only in positive terms. This occurs because humility is cultivated through such actions – humility is what allows us to realize wisdom (e.g. That all is One; That all is God; etc.) This is indeed echoed in the following verse from the Pirkei Avos – a section of the Mishna. One can also note how closely the following quote is echoed in the one by Osensei provided above. In the Pirkei Avos it reads:

“Give to him what is His, because you and what is yours are His!”

The Pirkei Avos does not read, “Give part of yourself, the rest of you is for you and not of Him.” In the same way, Osensei did not write, “Before God we must give up part of our ego, freeing our mind of some thoughts and endeavor to be able to execute divine deeds by calming part of our spirit and returning to God in part.” In other words, what do the sages say when you ask them, “How much self-doubt?” They answer, “All that you can.” In summary, self-doubt/self-criticism, as prescribed above, is not an end in itself. It is a spiritual means toward wisdom and compassion. The purpose of self-doubt/self-criticism is to dissolve the ego rather than strengthen it. Self-doubt/self-criticism thus remains a vital part of self-reflection – a tool we all recognize as a valid element in cultivating the spirit. However, self-reflection is only productive in proportion to our ability to dissolve our ego (through things like self-doubt/self-criticism). Here is the clincher: Those who seek to practice self-reflection without an equal amount of self-doubt will only end up increasing the spiritually neurotic tendencies of their small self. As wisdom is co-dependent with humility, self-reflection is co-dependent with self-doubt. Hence, quoting again, why Merton writes: “If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong.”

dmv

Erick Mead
12-22-2005, 04:34 PM
I do not wish to be master of anything. But I keep practicing and somebody keeps bugging me to teach stuff.

Doubtless, I teach far less well than almost anyone. If this is falsely modest, fine -- I teach better than the most accomplished person anywhere at any time. Both statements are a lie, or are true, or whatever. Choose what you prefer.

A sage -- now that is something to aspire to ... ;)

Master = Magister = Teacher. The word really means nothing more. The question is whether there is anything being taught that is worth learning.

Being the best, though -- that does not necessarily mean anything, especially depending upon one's company. A truly accomplished swordsman was once asked if he had ever been beaten. He replied "Bested, yes; beaten, never."

I am often the most accomplished martial artist in classes I teach. This means exceedingly little, I assure you.

(Oops! False modesty indicator flashing again. Meant to say "god-king of the universe." Sorry. Won't happen again. Really -- terribly sorry.)

Luck is better than talent. Ask all the dead soldiers. Success doesn't teach very well. Ask all the one-shot wonders. Why? Because the irreducible component of success is luck, and it is a part of every success.

Only a survived failure teaches reliably; repetitive, ever more refined failure teaches best. For this reason alone there has always been, and always will be, a fundamental disconnect between material measures of success and real learning. That is another reason why overly commercializing what we do is a mistake.

Aikido is a rigorous exploration of those opportunities for failure in a a mode that ecourages survival. We should pay attention to those who fail most of all, because they are doing real learning although they find it too frustrating to realize it.

On the image of the leaves, branches and roots.
The mightiest oak was once a seedling, every seedling, an acorn.

The problem with the "be a root" metaphor as a model of aspiration, is that it tends to devalue the barely sprung seedlings. All too easily, new shoots get mowed down in today's eagerly leveling world. Acorns rarely sprout twice. Too much concern about their roots, and a whole forest may be lost just to get at the weeds.

Why make it worse? Wild growth is first and foremost growth -- prune later. We don't want "gelded trees" (My favorite phrase from the film "Rob Roy," and who thought I'd ever get to use it? Yippee!)
Good trees will overtop weeds in due course.

Being committed to the art for the art's sake misses the point. Aikido does not exist for the art's sake but for the sake of real, live, breathing people, most of whom do not initially know much about what they are getting into. It is meant as much for them as for the most talented and devoted among us.

Aikido would be a boon to the world if, before the age of sixty, everyone could be taught proper ukemi, and nothing else.

Back to gardening now ...

Cordially,
Erick Mead

billybob
12-22-2005, 08:15 PM
Sensi Ledyard Sir,

I would like to ask a question:

When the next OSensei appears, how will you recognize him or her?

David

DH
12-24-2005, 07:45 AM
Dave that was great
I think the hardest thing a man comes to grips with is the recognition of the greatness of mankind and his place within it. It speaks to the potentials within us all, next comes the responsibiltiy of it.
Most walk away from it. Our reasons are myriad; fear, disinterest in the challenge, preoccupation with the mundane things of life, lack of vision and an organized life, and the killer...the real deal, no foolin killer.....
lack of belief in their own potential.

Merry Christmas
Dan

DH
12-24-2005, 08:34 AM
George
I've read the article, Great stuff. Very clear and definable, yet look at what it has brought out in the reader here. Honestly I cannot think of a single thing I disagree with. I would add a few things specifically great toward your summation though.
When you admonish the reader/student to do this or that I think you're missing a dynamic. Most students(people for that matter these days) don't have the wherewithal in their own lives (accurately reflected in your article early on) to...
a. Organize themselves in such a way to progress
b. perceive Aikido as a definable set of goals of improvements
c. participate in definable system with challenges that do not reflect cooperation (recognized again with the fellow who has a black belt in attendance and readership)
d. Stay when frustrated, work through issues and eal with repeated failure.

I think the goals of an organization are the responsibility of the leaders of same. No one should advance until a definable set of standards have been laid out and met. FWIW these standards could include training elsewhere and a return. I have routinely insisted my guys go train in other places. I have even, on occasion, forced them to and brought them myself! I have brought men to Aikido classes who had nothing but disdain for it and wound up having a blast.
Standards could also include a student mandate; that after say- 6 months- the delivery of an essay of personal goals. Overall, it is clear that many do these arts for social interaction, imagined personal empowerment without challenge, real personal empowerment with challenge and physical health. After an essay about their personal goals the teacher can decide how to help them achieve it or ask them to leave if they are in fact not copasetic to the goals of the teacher or organization. I have done this. I have seen it done in front of me.
A set of standardized challenges of actual skills should be mandatory so that no one progresses due to attendance. I would toss that guy out, I have done this to people at least half a dozen times. My standard reply is "please don't bother wasting ….MY..time. It is apparently clear you don't mind wasting yours." I think their type is such a common mindset I have a name for it --Excellence by affiliation.

I think on the whole teachers accept things they do not really want to be involved in, and students with personal issues. All in hopes of building an organization. The real question is ..why? In the end they are usually as disappointed as the student with the results. Last, add to this miasma that we are talking about a supposed span of some 8 years or so of their lives…people change in those years.

So, we can set lofty goals
Being willing to kick people out, being willing to be small, being willing to demand excellence toward your own goals. All a start toward that path.

And now comes the flip side-
Reality
We all know and see that relationships form, student bonds happen, with students being an advocate for others students
Teacher/student bonds happen with the teacher just liking the guy and dealing with his shortcomings. Teacher/student issues happen-Sometimes the most talented are also the most difficult to teach.
The teacher -hoping for better holds on to a student- the student falters and then gets better in stages
Great students leave or just simply move for various reasons
Few stay the course
And so on.

So what do we get?
Pretty much what we --have- in these arts. Everybody all over the place with all manner of issues and varying skill sets with frustrated teachers AND students.
I call it life.

Merry Christmas
Dan