Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Culture of Martial Mediocrity?
Thanks for replying and thanks for forcing me to be more specific here. Also -- if you got some spare time, etc., please let me hear your view on the clips in the other thread on Shiho-nage. I am always very interested in your take on things. I find it always insightful and thus worth hearing.
As for this topic, certainly, I do not want to say that what is learned or taught at seminars is of no value. My usage of the word "trick" was polemical. My point regarding such things as they relate to a culture of mediocrity is that they are part of a larger system that attaches greater value to them than they deserve. This is particularly true, in my opinion, as it pertains to a capacity to employ Aiki under spontaneous situations that are combative in nature. It is this latter place where Larry's reflections are the most relative -- hence why I bothered to make the connection. After all, it is because we attach such wrongly placed value upon such matters that some of us tend to negate the art as a whole whenever these things fail -- which is very likely to occur under spontaneous conditions. This is one way that we can connect what is going on with seminars to what I was trying to state in my first post.
Here is how I see it:
The capacity to employ Aiki under spontaneous conditions requires things like timing, spatial awareness, sensitivity, etc. These things in turn require a body/mind that is cultivated to be able to produce such things and/or to maintain such things under any condition. This means that we are looking at a body/mind that is physically fit, well coordinated, can manifest relatively high degrees of non-attachment, and has reconciled to an equally high degree the subject/object dichotomy, etc. All of these things require at least two aspects: Wisdom and the Passing of Time. In other words, you need to know how to cultivate these things, and you must allow the time required to pass so that you can actually harvest these things.
If we look at the person that has made the mistake of faulting the tactic of Aiki and thus opted to train in other things that appear to be "easier" or "more practical," what is it we are looking at? We are looking at a person that is plagued by Ignorance and Impatience. These things are the very opposite of what is required to achieve a level of excellence and/or to be able to employ Aiki under spontaneous conditions. Now, let us ask, which side do seminars belong to?
Obviously, Wisdom is contained at seminars -- it is present there. However, there is no capacity for a maturing process to take place. I would say that this is true even when we have seminars that are weeks in length. Why? Because the kind of time we are looking at for harvesting has in my experience been something more akin to ten years in length. However, everything about the seminar is about making the most of the little time you have. This is particularly true if it is a good seminar. As a result, however, those things that are most in need of a maturing process and thus most relative to the spontaneous application of Aiki are seldom addressed. Rather, what is addressed tends to be more related to things you can pick up right on the spot and/or things that you can take home with you and continue working with on your own in order to grasp fuller understandings. In short, if you will allow me an analogy, there is a kind of "fast food" and/or "take out" orientation to seminars, and as a result, ingredients and cooking processes that are more relative to fine gourmet dining are being left out and eventually devalued.
To the point: Seminars today tend to focus upon technical and/or architectural matters. I would say this is accurate whether we are talking about how to do Ikkyo, how to do Tai-no-Henko, how to blend with this given partner, how to generate Kuzushi, or what have you. To be sure, as we are becoming a more educated public, at least here in the States, we are also starting to see seminars deal with other things of the intellect (e.g. history, philosophy, interpersonal communication, etc.). However, seminars do not focus upon, for example, reconciling the subject/object dichotomy or non-attachment because these things cannot be addressed by their format at any level. Yet, it is these things and other things like them (that I mentioned above) that are the most relevant to the spontaneous application of Aiki and thus to achieving excellence in the art and not following prey to the "easy" route of looking outside of the art for ways of justifying one's lack of depth. A over-valuing of technical matters is supporting all of this, in my opinion. Consequently, there is a devaluing of having one truly be spontaneous with Aiki under combative conditions. This is so much the case that today most deshi assume that their seminar leaders can rightly perform Aiki at spontaneous/combative levels simply because they have appeared to be wise technically. (This is a point Larry also brought up.) By extension, most of us today feel that our lack of spontaneity with the art is due to our lack of finer and finer technical detail. In this way, the cycle feeds itself. We have misunderstood and overvalued technical matters; we go to seminars; we assume technical proficiency (under controlled conditions) equates to or leads to spontaneity, ad infinitum. In the middle of all that, depending upon our character, Aikido sucks and/or Aikido "kicks ass" (or Aikido is not about martial effectiveness).
No one is teaching mediocre technical details at seminars (at least not in my experience). Things become prone to mediocrity because the excellence that is being taught there is being over-estimated in its capacity to cultivate the spontaneous application of Aiki. A culture of mediocrity is generated when we stop defining excellence in the art overall as the capacity to employ Aiki spontaneously and instead settle for technical excellence under controlled conditions as the apex of Aikido.
Here sort of an example from my life:
Once I was at a camp that had one of the highest ranking U.S. teachers instructing. In his first class we were doing Ikkyo. I got to be Uke for him. It was amazing. The weight of his technique was truly incredible -- truly crippling. The power was awe-inspiring. Later, he did some multiple attacker classes -- more free-style. Oh man! What a difference. Though successful in most folks' eyes, he was the prime example of a fettered mind. He was plagued by hesitation, attachment, indecisiveness, etc. This kind of disparity can only exist because there is a culture supporting it -- in my opinion.
Hope that makes more sense, if not, please feel free to grill me. :-)