Peter A Goldsbury wrote:
I also was somewhat surprised by Mr Ledyard's assertion that the best aikido in the world was being practised outside Japan.
I would not want to commit myself so far. I suppose that to amass the evidence to make such an assertion, one would have to do a world tour and also visit all the main centres in Japan.
In Japan there are a large nunber of centres, so to speak, run by people who were direct disciples of the Founder and/or his immediate disciples. I am thinking of the large federation in the Tohoku district, trained by Rinjiro Shirata & Morihiro Saito and their senior students. There is Iwama, run by Hiroshi Isoyama and senior students of M Saito Shihan. There are Osaka and Shingu in Wakayama. There is Kyushu, where K Sunadomari and M Suganuma practise and train able students. And there is still a large accumulation of expertise in the Kanto area, centred on Tokyo. This is just the Aikikai.
The Aiki Expo might be a good basis on which to judge the quality of aikido in the USA. I do not know. The All-Japan Demonstration is not really a good basis for judging the level of aikido in Japan and the the demonstrations & training given at the recent IAF Congresses are not a good basis for judging the level of aikido outside Japan.
There are a number of people who were direct disciples of the Founder and of Kisshomaru Doshu. Many of these deshi chose to live and teach aikido outside Japan. Of course, anyone who wishes to judge the quality of aikido outside Japan will point to these shihans, their training methods and the senior students they have trained.
However, many of these deshi chose to remain in Japan and teach abroad for shorter lengths of time. Take Tada Hiroshi Shihan, for example. He lived in Italy for some years and established the Aikikai of Italy. He returned to Japan and established his home dojo near Tokyo, but taught regular classes at the Hombu for many years. Arikawa Sensei did the same, but never lived abroad.
Compare these shihans with a shihan like Chiba Sensei, for example. Chiba Sensei was unique in returning to Japan because he felt the training in the Aikikai Hombu was not up to scratch. Note this was when Kisshomaru Doshu and Kisaburo Osawa were still active and Yamaguchi, Tada, Arikawa still conducted their evening classes, as they had been doing for decades.
So I think that a such a judgment is rather premature and we need to wait a few more generations. As it stands we would need to praise those immediate disciples of the Founder for teaching students overseas so well and condemn the very same people for teaching students in Japan so badly.
I myself planned to discuss this same issue in a future column. When I do so, I will have Mr Ledyard's comments in mind.
Of course, I am well aware that Mr Ledyard is not the only one to express worries about the quality of aikido being practised and taught in Japan (= at the Aikikai Hombu). I am less and less sure that events like the All-Japan Demonstration are a good basis for such a worry.
I will admit that when I say "the best" I don't really mean that in an absolute sense as in the difference between "first place" and "second place" but as more of an overview.
As Peter Rehse stated there are certainly great teachers still active in Japan... Yourself amongst them, ceratinly! I have friends who are students of some very fine teachers there and return regularly to train. I have also been impressed by many of the instructors who have appeared at the Expo as well. I agree that the All Japan Aikido Demo shouldn't be considered representative of the state of the art in Japan (at least one hopes not).
The teachers like Saotome Sensei and Chiba Sensei who came to the states early on, have held nothing back from their students, making a concerted effort to pass on as much as they possibly could of what they had learned from O-Sensei and their other teachers (obviously with varying degrees of success). I have noted a tendency amongst many Japanese instructors (and some over here as well) to simplify the training. They seem unconcerned with whether they pass on all of what they know and in some cases, actually refuse to teach caertain aspects of the art which they themselves were taught. I had a friend show up at one of my own seminars who wanted to do more self defense oriented application of technique. This fellow is the senior student of a prominent Japanese Sensei here in North America but his teacher won't teach this aspect of the art to his student. He seems to be content to allow the knowledge to go to the grave with him... thereby forcing his student who wants to be conversant in this area to go elsewhere for the knowledge. I certainly feel that this is what has happened at the Aikikai Honbu Dojo.
An additional factor is that the Aikikai Honbu dojo has systematically sent many of its best instructors out to run their own dojos. It is my understanding that this was to make way for younger deshi to work into teaching spots... but it also serves to remove that tremendous depth of teaching at the heart of the organization. One would expect that the home dojo of an organization would be the place at which one would see the most dynamic and exciting Aikido. This is not, in my opinon, the case.
I think Aikido faces the same challenge faced by many of the traditional arts of Japan... namely that the majority of the most senior, most talented students are foreigners. They are the ones who have been serious enought to leave their homes to study the art, perhaps travelling to Japan from other countries to study. It is hard to find many Japanese students who take their training as seriously.
Ellis Amdur Sensei is the senior student of Toda Ha Buko Ryu Naginata. Phil Relnick Sensei is senior to all but a very small number of Japanese practitioners of Katori Shinto Ryu Kenjutsu. There are even a few legitimate "sokes" amongst the foreigners (like Angier Sensei of the Yanagi Ryu).
Each of the Japanese teachers who left Japan early on to spread Aikido around the world has created a group of senior students who are in many ways better trained than their counterparts in Japan. Not always but often I think.
So while it may be an inaccurate exageration to say that the best Aikido is being done ouside of Japan, I do think that the number of places at which you could get the most complete, high quality training is greater here than in the art's homeland at this point. I defintely think that it is not necessary to go to Japan to train except as a way to become familiar with the culture in general.