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aikishihan 09-20-2010 11:17 PM

When Systems Falter
 
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In most martial arts systems, like Aikido, the students' training is usually under the controlling direction of a master teacher or certificated instructor. As such, they are usually required to remain committed and loyal to that system, its values, and its leadership without question. This would preclude any or all interplay with other martial arts systems, however deemed valid.

The direct students of the Founder appear to have had a wide range of personal martial arts backgrounds, from predominantly Aikido related, to having mastery or in depth knowledge of several martial arts systems prior to placing themselves under the direct tutelage of Morihei Ueshiba. Even then, it was not uncommon for many of these students to avail themselves of additional knowledge and involvement with philosophical, religious and martial training influences while remaining students of Aikikai and the Ueshiba Iemoto system.

Most notable, perhaps, were the devotees of Nakamura Tempu, and his teachings and influence. I am struck by the possibility that his famed "Shin Shin Toitsu Do" may have origins in common with Koichi Tohei's subsequent "Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido" philosophy and organization. My apologies if this is essentially incorrect.

As many of these very same students continued to grow and develop in knowledge, skill, and proficiency, they naturally developed greater faith in their own prowess, in being able to develop their own styles within the Aikikai system, and in certain rare cases, go on to create their very own system, using many of the lessons learned from the Founder's system as building blocks for their very own technical and organizational foundations. Still others appear to have quietly developed their own privately practiced styles and interpretations of what they assimilated, but chose to remain within the Aikikai system itself.

Of those certain key direct students who went on to distinguish themselves in actually creating their own foundation of knowledge and skill, they did so, not in competition with the Founder's art, but, in part, to honor it by expanding its meaning and utility for themselves and for others. This ability to forge beyond what was taught may represent the all too rare quality that both the Founder and the late Doshu constantly encouraged their students to dare to cultivate.

Minoru Mochizuki Sensei and Shoji Nishio Sensei are two prime examples of such geniuses who achieved admirable success, one by breaking away from the original model, and the other choosing to remain, together with his unique style, within the greater embrace of the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai system.

Perhaps this phenomenon is not uncommon, as we observe similar results in the evolutionary forces of our planet, and the dynamic construction and destruction we observe in the cosmos. Even more, we should even consider factoring in such natural deviations and changes due simply to the fact that the ingredients of change, and its potential for change, will always be there.

When one reviews the amazing and seemingly drastic changes brought about by technology, volatile national and international priorities, and the impact such changes have and continue to make on our planet's biosystems, how can one reasonably expect that human interaction will be less dynamic and chaotic within man made organizations and interactions. Change is often accompanied by chaos, extinction and loss. It is also accompanied by new scenarios, realignment of forces and improved human agendas, with new landscapes on which inexorable changes will occur again and again over time. Perhaps, it is simply the "nature of the beast" that we must accept, and to incorporate.

For myself, it is not the fact that changes must and do occur that causes me pain. It is the fact that the unyielding resistance to natural changes, and the unreasonable expectations and notions of "entitlement" cause so much unnecessary strife, senseless confusion, and avoidable harm to innocents and perpetrators alike. We often appear to consider nature, and it course of events, to be anathema to human values, and do our best to ignore, detain or otherwise change the reality it represents. Change is inexorable, and we must learn to deal more effectively with its demands, its dangers, and its valuable opportunities.

This is how I see the state of the union of Aikido today. For this to change for the better, much honest and open minded dialogue is required by as many interested and invested parties as possible. What must result is not any compromise on principles, values or hard won positions of rightful leadership. Rather, real, and probably painful compromises must be made on styles of leadership, enhanced levels of mutual respect, and willingness to listen to the points and arguments of each other, not to acquiesce, but to understand, effect suitable compromises to, and to incorporate for mutual benefit and growth.

There is no wish or vision for a completely united Aikido entity or organization in my mind. Human beings over millenniums have proven the folly of such attempts to overcome basic human desires, perceived needs and ambitions.

I do envision separate organizations with philosophical, intellectual, and technical characteristics of their own, finding common ground on matters of style, an enhanced appreciation from the public at large of our mutually historic mission, and to provide mutual benefits on a case by case basis.

The environment I envision is one where open communication, freedom to form or to amicably dissolve relationships or partnerships exist, and the highest levels of Respect, Trust and Friendships are the prioritized and mutually formed goals of all who willingly join together and participate. What I envision then, is not a consolidation of co-operative energy, but one of collaborative synergy, with the input from many, even of seemingly disparate entities, towards achieving greater understanding of the Founder's purpose, while admitting and accepting of our innate differences. We can agree to disagree on certain issues, while finding common ground on the most important ones.

This form of dynamic and progressive co-existence within the boundaries of Aiki principles and practice, are what I recall being taught by the Founder and the late Doshu. This is an activity I would willingly join and support.
Francis Takahashi was born in 1943, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Francis began his Aikido journey in 1953, simultaneously with the introduction of Aikido to Hawaii by Koichi Tohei, a representative sent from Aikikai Foundation in Tokyo, Japan. This event was sponsored by the Hawaii Nishi System of Health Engineering, with Noriyasu Kagesa as president. Mr. Kagesa was Francis's grandfather, and was a life long supporter of Mr. Tohei, and of Aikido. In 1961, the Founder visited Hawaii to help commemorate the opening of the new dojo in Honolulu. This was the first, and only time Francis had the opportunity to train with the Founder. In 1963, Francis was inducted into the U.S. Army, and was stationed for two years in Chicago, Illinois. He was the second instructor for the fledgling Chicago Aikido Club, succeeding his childhood friend, Chester Sasaki, who had graduated from the University of Illinois, and was entering the Air Force. Francis is currently ranked 7th dan Aikikai, and enjoys a direct affiliation with Aikikai Foundation for the recommending and granting of dan ranks via his organization, Aikikai Associates West Coast. Francis is the current dojo-cho of Aikido Academy in Alhambra, California.

Nafis Zahir 09-21-2010 01:57 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Excellent article Sensei! I agree with you 100%! Chiba Sensei once said at a seminar, that we should never get stuck doing things the same way. We should always look for a better way. I found that to be a very interesting and strong statement coming from someone who had been doing Aikido for so long. But that statement always stuck with me and this article gives that statement an even deeper meaning for me. My search continues.....

crbateman 09-21-2010 02:38 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Excellent article, Sensei. I hope that others will be willing to meet you halfway. People do tend to strenuously protect their own ideals and individuality, but there is no harm, threat or shame in listening to that of others, in the spirit of cooperation. I think an open mind is a growing mind, and to that there is no down side.

niall 09-21-2010 02:42 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Thanks for that thought-provoking article, Takahashi Sensei. The chaos/fragmentation started many years ago. As you say it was natural and perhaps inevitable.

When karate organizations couldn't agree on a unified approach taekwondo filled the vacuum and became an olympic sport.

And judo which is extremely homogeneous but is less Japan-centric has national federations (in Japan the All-Japan Judo Federation) and then the International Judo Federation.

So - practically - should we have umbrella organizations? Or harmonization or mutual recognition of grades?

In the end most of us just want to do aikido without having to care about the politics. And as you said it should come down to respect.

AsimHanif 09-21-2010 07:34 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Thank you Sensei once again for your thought provoking comments.
-Asim

R.A. Robertson 09-24-2010 11:12 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Francis,

Very wisely considered and nicely stated.

I used to be horrified by the politics and schisms in the aikido world. Eventually I realized that aikido is indeed the way of nature, and in nature things grow by division. Cells divide, trees branch, seeds and offspring are produced and go their own way.

Yet, almost paradoxically, through division there is often accretion. Divided cells may form tissue, organs, bodies. Lonely seeds grow into trees, and enough trees make a forest.

So it is with human relationships and society.

Finally, with respect to your vision of an organization based on "collaborative synergy," I'd like to suggest that you take a look at Aiki-Extensions if you have not already done so.

Warm salutations to you in this International Aiki Week of Peace.

Ross

aikishihan 09-24-2010 11:49 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Hello Ross,

You are truly one of my valued brothers in Aiki!

So much of what you eloquently share with us through your thoughtful articles, consistently resonates with the message of choosing Peace, and of international brotherhood, as exemplified in organizations like Aiki Extensions.

Together, we in the world of Aiki, and of the Founder's Aikido, can take heart in the fact that good people do think and discuss great ideas. Eventually, our collective world will become what we think about most of the time. So, if Peace is what we envision, so shall it be as long as we consistently and perseveringly keep the faith.

Wouldn't it be grand when we no longer need an International Aiki Week of Peace to remind us of what is so precious and beautiful.

SeiserL 09-27-2010 04:21 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Well said Sensei. Compliments and appreciation.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Besides looking for the individual separation and validation of our differences, it is wise to stay mindful of our connectedness and sameness.
As you illustrate, differences and conflict is natural, but at the end of the day we all win or we all lose.
Perhaps its not that systems falter but that peole forget.
As always, gratitude for all you offer.

aikishihan 09-27-2010 05:55 PM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Greetings, Seiser Sensei,

Yet another Big Brother in Aiki! You rock!!

One reason for this piece was not for either wistful or wishful thinking, recalling the "good times" of the early days of Aikido in America. It seemed to me appropriate to accept all that has transpired, and to learn from the lessons glaringly obvious, but also poignantly appropriate for us to treasure and to keep.

As George Santayana was reported to state, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Perhaps someone can retrieve the actual wording, but the message remains loud and clear.

There are many important facts, events and memories to share, and yet, perhaps the most interesting of all is that the notion of hope is alive and well for the future of Aikido.

Despite the grumblings and ill natured postings that occasionally dot the Aiki Web landscape, the majority of posts cannot but demonstrate the swell of optimism and faith in the Principles of Aiki, and in the immense and undeniably significant value of the Founder's gift to us today.

Let us keep our hearts, minds and options open to the promise of the future, and strive together with folk most akin to our ways of thinking and growing in the Aikido of our choosing.

George S. Ledyard 09-30-2010 06:23 PM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Quote:

This is how I see the state of the union of Aikido today. For this to change for the better, much honest and open minded dialogue is required by as many interested and invested parties as possible. What must result is not any compromise on principles, values or hard won positions of rightful leadership. Rather, real, and probably painful compromises must be made on styles of leadership, enhanced levels of mutual respect, and willingness to listen to the points and arguments of each other, not to acquiesce, but to understand, effect suitable compromises to, and to incorporate for mutual benefit and growth.

There is no wish or vision for a completely united Aikido entity or organization in my mind. Human beings over millenniums have proven the folly of such attempts to overcome basic human desires, perceived needs and ambitions.

I do envision separate organizations with philosophical, intellectual, and technical characteristics of their own, finding common ground on matters of style, an enhanced appreciation from the public at large of our mutually historic mission, and to provide mutual benefits on a case by case basis.

The environment I envision is one where open communication, freedom to form or to amicably dissolve relationships or partnerships exist, and the highest levels of Respect, Trust and Friendships are the prioritized and mutually formed goals of all who willingly join together and participate. What I envision then, is not a consolidation of co-operative energy, but one of collaborative synergy, with the input from many, even of seemingly disparate entities, towards achieving greater understanding of the Founder's purpose, while admitting and accepting of our innate differences. We can agree to disagree on certain issues, while finding common ground on the most important ones.
Hello My Good Friend,

I will pay "Devil's Advocate" here. While inclusiveness, mutual acceptance, etc. are generally agreed to be positive values, I think that there is also the a problem when things get too "I'm ok, you're ok." One of the things that has gotten Aikido into trouble in the post war period as the tendency to take the art and homogenize it for large scale, public consumption. A decision was made at the top, not to pursue various elements which were foundational to the Aikido of the Founder in order to make the art teachable to a mass audience around Japan and around the world.

Despite O-Sensei's admonishments that Aikido had no style, styles developed, approaches hardened into dogma, turfs developed and needed to be defended, and so on. While I am in total agreement that we need to let go of much of this baggage from the past, I also worry about too much acceptance, too much "it's all good" in our approach to this art.

There is such a thing as bad Aikido... some of it being done by people with large numbers after their names, as we saw at the Aiki Expos. There are whole styles of Aikido in which there is virtually no "aiki". There is a movement afoot to regain some of what was lost after O-Sensei passed. Right now this is largely focused on the technical side but I am hoping that there eventually be the same energy put into the spiritual side of the art.

While I think that each of us should always deal with his or her fellows from the standpoint of respect, I don't think this can mean ignoring the fact that there is a difference between good budo and bad budo. Inevitably, like minded folks will be sharing their skills and ideas while others reject those same ideas and approaches.

I don't think that Aikido has much of a chance to correct some of its systemic problems unless people are discriminating. Without a clear idea what isn't very good, how can we design a system that produces excellence? So, I am think that, in my opinion, we are due for a period in which there is more distinction and separation rather than less. I would like to see this be more focused on real issues of quality than personality and organization, much less arbitrary than it has been, but I don't see the art going forward having any coherent direction. Rather, I see folks increasingly going their own ways and then forming very loose, non-hierarchical associations of folks of like mind.

As I have said before, I see Aikido going forward and becoming almost two separate arts which will have only superficial resemblance to each other. I don't see continued growth for the centralized, all knowledge emanates from the home office in Japan approach. Once the uchi deshi have passed away, as they are rapidly doing, I don't see any personalities who will command the kind of blind obedience which they felt they were entitled to and were, in many cases, given.

While I am all for getting along with everyone, there's a lot of Aikido out there that simply isn't very good. As an increasing number of practitioners, at all levels, start to make some positive changes in their own Aikido I think it will only make the differences more glaring, not bring things together. We can't stand around and pretend that one approach is fine while another, which is exactly the opposite, is fine as well. One of the approaches isn't fine.

I don't really know how one bridges this gap. Perhaps, with enough cross fertilization coming from events like the Bridge seminars organized by Ikeda Sensei or the Friendship seminars Aikiweb has put on, or that you and my friends have participated in , the differences will become blurred because we have done such a good job sharing. But having attended all three Aiki Expos and seen how it changed certain people's Aikido from top to bottom while others, who saw the very same things we did, changed nothing about what they did, I am not optimistic on this score.

Anyway, you are a great spreader of positive Karma and I hope you are right about how we might interact. The old systems have not done well by us, I think, maybe we can do better... we'll see.

TFox 10-04-2010 01:36 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Recognizing Ledyard Sensei's concern about the quality of aikido, I would also be very concerned about any committee empowered to select organizations for membership or exclusion based on their alleged quality.
We are still seeing organizations of high quality denied recognition due to the opposition of influential individuals for reasons known only to themselves.
In the years ahead, it would be good to see an umbrella organization develop in the U.S. that allowed the issue of recognition for organizations to be insulated somewhat from individual power struggles.
If, however, the U.S. organization is taken over by a faction that defines "quality" in terms of hard or soft, internal training or form, weapons this or weapons that, and that faction tries to exclude the others, have we advanced?
It's the age-old problem of politics, and there's no clear solution.
To play the devil's advocate to Ledyard Sensei, would we better served by forcing the aiki-less or aiki-dance organizations to join separate organizations from self-proclaimed aiki-budo dojos, or should they be encouraged to stay and join cross-training seminars instead?
Some will see nothing, and change nothing. But others will see something, and try to transform. Not a bad outcome.
I've also seen seminars where the "hard" men learned nothing -- charging at each other and getting an intense aerobic workout, but missing most or all of the fine points the senseis were trying to get people to focus on; sticking together and testing each others' strength and not bothering to train with lesser beings who had only just started to train in that style, but some of whom seemed to be on the path to understanding more about it.
Obviously, some kind of quality checks need to be in place. But I would argue that we need to err on the side of inclusion.

Peter Goldsbury 10-04-2010 08:18 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Hello Mr Fox,

Both Mr Takahashi and Mr Ledyard are members of the Aikikai and I assume from your post that you also are a member of the Aikikai. Is this correct?

Though run by Jun Akiyama in the US, Aikiweb is a vast international forum, encompassing all the flavors of aikido, from aiki-budo to korindo. So I would not want to come here and discuss organizational issues without being very sure of whom I was discussing them with. Aikido as practised in the US is one flavor, as rich and varied as wine from the Napa Valley, but very American nonetheless. There are other flavors and these varieties also relate to the cultural values of the countries / cultures where aikido is practised. And these flavors also intersect with the type of aikido organizations in each particular country / culture (from dictatorial to democratic).

Since you live in Thailand, I am sure you know this, but your references to issues of recognition in the US, especially recognition being withheld, and the desirability of an umbrella organization suggest to me that you are thinking of Aikikai recognition in the US. Of course, I assume that you are also aware of the same issues in Thailand. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Of course, there are systems and systems and the differences reflect cultural differences. In his article Francis discusses aikido as a system, but I think there is a serious ambiguity here. Francis moves straight from aikido, considered as a system, to the Aikikai, considered as an iemoto system, centered on Ueshiba. This is a major step and is unwarranted without further argument.

So why do systems falter? I suppose it is because they are composed of individuals, but the delicate balance of individual versus system is so fine that organizations tend to go one way or the other: to favor the individuals themselves, or the system they are a part of. I think there are serious cultural issues here.

The received opinion about Morihei Ueshiba is that he did not think in detail about systems at all, although he saw the need for them in a vague kind of way. So, in 1940 he allowed his dojo to become a tax-free foundation. He did this because he was a good Japanese, anxious to support the war effort. He also did this in 1942, when he acquiesced in the government / Butotukai decision to give aikido an official name (the war effort, again), though he escaped the organizational consequences by moving to Iwama. His son Kisshomaru resurrected the foundation in 1948, being persuaded by the businessmen who had supported O Sensei before the war that this was the best way to ensure the postwar growth of aikido. All the present Aikikai deshi presently living overseas joined the Aikikai after this date--and it is important to realize that they were deshi of the organization, not of any particular teacher.

I think seminars are a red herring, by the way, and have very little relationship to the dynamics of aikido dojos or organizations, considered as opportunities for the enhancement of restriction of opportunities for individual aikido training. I have also given seminars where I have seen that the 'hard' men consciously decided to learn nothing. And their students who did succumb to the attractions of a visiting teacher were firmly brought back inside their cages. Of course some teachers were happy to allow their students to check out other teachers and dojos, but the unspoken condition was that they would return, or else sever their connection completely.

Best wishes,

PAG

TFox 10-14-2010 05:37 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Hello Mr. Goldsbury,
I'm sorry for the late reply. An earlier attempt was deleted when I apparently ran over some time limit and had to log in again.
My comments were in regard to the discussion, which I also assumed to concern possible developments among senior Aikikai members and their organizations in the U.S. However, I think the lack of reference to that context was deliberate and appropriate, and I would like to continue on that safer path.
If you will allow me, I will restrict my remarks to the subject at hand. I'm not of a rank or inclination to influence recognition in any country.
On reconsideration of Takahashi Sensei's comments, I don't believe that a single umbrella organization should be created in the U.S. or elsewhere, or that he would back such an unwieldy and potentially monopolistic organization.
I now think that he was calling for the several existing umbrella organizations to respect one another's decisions, allowing sub-groups of dojos to leave any organization and to join any organization without interference or rancor.
This is an eminently better solution, but it calls for people to forgive one another.
If the leaders of a sub-group can't get along harmoniously with members of one organization, and the quality of that sub-group's aikido is sufficient for it to join another organization, then the original organization's senior leaders should graciously accept the proposal to restore harmony, regardless of their resentment.
Upon reflection, that is what I think Takahashi Sensei is calling for, and I hope that he and the other leaders are able to bring it about.
Perhaps he was also calling for the extension of that acceptance to some of the groups whose styles are currently outside of Aikikai, and if so I would -- in many cases -- support that as well.
It's alot to ask for, but as we move onto the next generation of leaders in the Americas, there will already be too much diversity for style purists to prevail.
In summary, I think perhaps it would be not an umbrella organization, but an unfixed number of diverse, mutually respectful umbrella organizations that could possibly insulate recognition from personality conflicts and turf wars.
Then perhaps those organizations to focus internally on the quality that Ledyard Sensei is concerned about.
Best regards,
Tom

TFox 10-14-2010 07:47 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
P.S. In response to your request to identify my affiliations, I am an American expatriate ranked by the Aikikai hombu. Because I am not a member of any of U.S. organization, I am relatively free to comment, and because I might one day return to the U.S., I have a personal interest in how the next generation of leaders there work things out.
Tom

Peter Goldsbury 10-15-2010 08:23 PM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Mr Fox,

Many thanks for your responses. What caught my attention in your original mail was the mention of recognition and I am still uncertain as to what precisely you mean by this term. I assumed you meant recognition by some organization, such as the Aikikai, and this is what prompted me to ask you if this was what you did mean. I am sorry if I gave you the impression that I was invading your privacy, for this was not my intention.

I myself trained in the USA in the mid 1970s. I was a lowly white belt and not privy to the discussions that led to the creation of the IAF and the establishment of a system for Aikikai Recognition. I do, however, remember the matter of Tohei Sensei being discussed in the dojo (the New England Aikikai). This would have been in 1974.

Best wishes,

PAG

Quote:

Tom Fox wrote: (Post 265609)
Recognizing Ledyard Sensei's concern about the quality of aikido, I would also be very concerned about any committee empowered to select organizations for membership or exclusion based on their alleged quality.
We are still seeing organizations of high quality denied recognition due to the opposition of influential individuals for reasons known only to themselves.
In the years ahead, it would be good to see an umbrella organization develop in the U.S. that allowed the issue of recognition for organizations to be insulated somewhat from individual power struggles.


aikishihan 10-18-2010 12:06 AM

Re: When Systems Falter
 
Thank you George, for illuminating certain points of discussion we would do well to have on Aikido’s past, present and future situations and challenges.

Yes, I do believe that the late Doshu intentionally tried to steer standard Aikido training away from the more sanguine and martial aspects of the Founder’s creation, to perhaps a more “user friendly” mode where safety, and the mutual enjoyment of the training process was paramount. Perhaps too, he may have been responsible for not including formal weapons training, with the notable exception of Morihiro Saito Sensei’s Sunday classes.

I do believe that Nidai Doshu’s intentions were both honorable and sensible, even as were the ideas and influences of Koichi Tohei Sensei, Shihan Bucho of Aikikai Hombu in those early years prior to his departure in 1974.

The subsequent result is what we appear to have today, a homogeneous mix with minor style differences, yet loosely defined by the Doshu’s example and wishes. This major de-emphasis, in both intensity and martial integrity as primary training objectives, may have been the genesis of what you refer to as “bad aikido”, although I would dearly love to read your further thoughts on this phenomenon, and its overall impact on the development of the Aikido of today.

The systemic problems you allude to should not necessarily be laid at the doorstep of Doshu’s policies, or to an overall lack of vision on the part of the major Japanese Shihan for the integrity of the training goals they pursued, nor of the climate of public acceptance for more modified and “user friendly” styles of training that may actually have been instrumental for the rapid growth of aikido membership, and of its world wide popularity.

If there indeed has been an unfortunate trend towards “bad aikido”, shouldn’t any blame or responsibility be shared by those key instructors who should have demanded more from themselves, from their students, and have been more honest and attentive in paying humble respect to the criticisms that have sounded for decades over the lack of quality and questionable efficacy of Aikido as a respected and genuine martial art form?

Shouldn’t there have been established and more consistent oversight from Aikikai Foundation over their “product”, and over their major teaching representatives in Japan, and throughout the Aikido world, especially when it became abundantly evident that most of this criticism was either ignored or totally dismissed as irrelevant. The major excuse given was that such unwarranted criticism was due to the “ignorant misunderstanding” of those who truly did not appreciate or understand the true nature of Aikido and its true purpose of universal harmony, and of love within the universe.

Really, isn’t it ultimately our aggregate accountability that such challenges to the integrity of Aikido then, and today, have gone unheeded, unanswered and not taken seriously enough by the vast majority of Aikikai affiliated teachers, and by the Aikikai Foundation itself? Did we fail to launch?

There is plenty of accountability to go around. As an established and known category within the martial arts world, we are perhaps way too fractured to respond adequately or cohesively. There is far too much of a disconnect with any acceptable sense of shared core Aiki values we can all agree upon, historically, philosophically or organizationally. Any realistically workable solution must be undoubtedly found in the return to our daily training forums to improve our craft, enhance our standards, categorically raise our insipid expectations, and our skill levels. Further, we may very need to overhaul our arcane and laughable grading practices and the pathetic compromises we have unwittingly made in respect to the essential commitment to raising the quality and integrity of our art form.

It must start at the individual dojo level, include joining together with like minded dojos, and affiliate with anyone who declare themselves serious and dedicated to improving their quality of training. How long will it take? Who knows, who cares, and who’s counting? Correct training is a life long journey, an unconditional commitment, and one we must pursue one day at a time.

As to your concern that “a lot of aikido out there __ simply isn’t very good”, it is really none of our concern. Others will do what they choose to do, and it is none of our business. We are not in any position to pass judgment, nor are we in any position to effectively demand or enforce wholesale changes. We simply need to take care of our own affairs, our own students, and our own training.

Proper application of reigi, sonkei and nasake, are what is needed more and more today. Allowing ourselves to be guided by proper rules of etiquette, we can rebuild respect for others, respect for our art and respect for ourselves. By being kind and compassionate to those we may criticize or censure, we may earn similar regard from others for our own transgressions and miscues. I do believe that this is the way for a return to “good aikido”, not universally, but with one dojo, one association and one democratic confederation at a time.

You appear to lament the passing of the original “uchi deshi”, direct disciples of the Founder. Why? Isn’t death a natural consequence inevitably following birth and a life lived well, or well, lived? After all, the sum of the good and valuable that was in them has already been transferred in turn to their respective direct students, and it is now their turn to find it within themselves to carry forth such traditions and legacies if they so choose. Our energies should be focused on making sure that they do just that, before death takes them in turn some day. I admit that, in a weak moment, I rather lament that some of these pioneer shihans may actually be overstaying their welcome, and that their well meaning but misguided loyal students are ignoring their own responsibilities to take on the mantle of much needed leadership for today’s challenges, as well as for the sake of the welfare of their students of tomorrow.

George, both of us, along with many of our esteemed peers in Aiki, can truly appreciate the awesome significance, the eery timeliness, and the undeniably huge impact of Stan Pranin’s paradigm shifting Aiki Expos. These phenomenal events have in turn, helped to spawn Bridge Friendship Seminars, conducted by Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei, the Dutch Aikido Bridge in Amsterdam and, most recently, the AI Friendship Seminar hosted by Greg O Connor Sensei and his Aikido Centers of New Jersey organization. I was privileged to be a participant at this precedent setting event, which brought three continents together, with major teachers from Chile, France, Holland, the United States and Venezuela. This event has effectively broken the ice, paving the way for even more of these kinds of exchanges across continental, organizational and political divides, and which will thankfully become commonplace in the months and years to come.

If you will permit me, as a kind of side bar, it also marked the emergence of major Aikido teachers who were previously constrained by a restrictive association with a major Japanese Shihan appointed by the Aikikai Foundation back in the day when non Japanese leadership was not even considered to either be possible or feasible. How far we have come, and how much further do we need to go in our efforts to make the Founder’s “Silver Bridge” prophecy of international friendship through the mutual practice of aikido come true.

I do not see this development as any indictment or overt criticism of the many decades of superb and immeasurable aikido leadership we enjoyed. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that the time for change is upon us, with its attendant surprises, disruptions and conflicts of will , loyalty and agenda. It is only a natural consequence, one we will surely survive and benefit from.

Not all systems that falter, fail.

The only failure I forsee is that of denying the natural progression and emergence of a genuine student into rightfully becoming a quality teacher and ultimately a genuine leader of others. When we actually manage to oversee and facilitate enough of these success stories, we may very well achieve a system that we can all live with harmoniously, in true friendship, that will not falter.


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