Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Rank-Aikido (pun intended)
It is sort of amazing how much energy we all have to put into partitioning off our teachers/seniors in order to talk about this, especially since we all know that we have fully participated in this phenomenon at one level or another.
I think we have to take what Charles is sharing as something we have either experienced ourselves and/or that we have internalized at some level coming up through the ranks. I am not sure it is necessary to not have to talk about these things. We just have to understand them from the right point of view. In particular, I think whatever examples come up along the way, ones people would like to share, it is important to note that Rank Aikido is not just "faking it" and/or "trying to make our teachers look good." We have to move beyond that in order to note that we are really looking at how we give different responses within the same situation (i.e. how we act one way for a senpai and another way for a kohai) depending upon various institutional fictions/constructs (e.g. rank, title, authority, etc.).
If we do that, we can then also look at the very common solution we have all come up with (i.e. to officially or unofficially find a few intimates we can be more honest with in our training). We can then question if this is actually a solution or not -- determining whether it is costing more than it is delivering and/or whether it is stopping us from realizing more important aspects of the art. In other words, we can ask ourselves if our solution is part of the problem or not.
I think this is important, because if you really step back and look at things, one is probably going to see that it is these groups, groups that are formed all over the world, groups that were probably utilized by the very shihan we are learning from now when they were deshi, that it is these groups that actually carry the true weight of the art -- that it is not, for example, the great lineages and/or the sensei/deshi relationships we all like to refer to. That is to say, the art that is supposed to reconcile the world, that is supposed to unify things, is surviving through the years by practicing huge amounts of exclusion and partition. It is like the art has to sell its soul in order to get into Heaven.
I am beginning to wonder if these groups -- whether they are just friends that get together and/or whether they are uchideshi or kenshusei -- are not just a habitual response to our propensity to be taken in by the institution and all of its fictions. I wonder if these groups are not just a survival tactics. We should note: The thing with survival tactics is that they are so reactionary in nature, and thus they are more often part of the problem than any real kind of solution.
Again, the bigger questions are these: Why do we as aikidoka accept the lack of honesty, choosing instead to have institutional fictions (i.e. rank) determine our decisions (which I should point out is exactly who we are - we are our actions)? Why in an art so key on penetrating the absolute (whether that be of our selves, of the Universe, or of martial practicality) do we practice such idolatry with these institutional fictions? (Idolatry being absolute intimacy with something that it not absolute.) Alternatively, why do we as aikidoka, whose art includes notions of union, of togetherness, of Love, and of reconciliation, etc., see the acceptance of a lack of intimacy and the practice of exclusion/partition (which is the flip side of the groups we form) as viable solutions to this problem? Why can we not see that our solutions are simply the habitual reactions of dissolution and alienation (i.e. utilizing again our incapacity to practice intimacy in our lives)?
The martial shortcomings of bouncing back and forth between dishonest practice and practicing only with a few folks is obvious. However, it is the same spiritually speaking -- in my opinion. What kind of spiritual development can come from choosing between the practice of dishonesty and the idolatry of institutional fictions, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the acceptance of dissolution and alienation? I would say, none, or, perhaps, only a very shallow one.
I think Ian is on to something here with identifying the other side of this - that we often are incapable of expressing criticism constructively - which I will take as saying: "We often cannot separate our judgment of others from our will to power, from our ego trappings." I would say this is indeed true, and this does go hand-in-hand with being unable to accept criticism constructively. Giving constructive criticism is one of the things that friends most often learn how to do with each other - that's probably why we can have these types of groups as a "solution" to Rank Aikido without this issue coming up (at least not too much). I would like to use this point to elaborate more upon the issue of intimacy and how it could be cultivated within a dojo as a possibly better way of addressing the phenomenon of Rank Aikido.
When I refer to intimacy, I am not proposing that we try and exactly duplicate what we have going on in these small groups of ours. These groups are much too organic and as a result could never really be reproduced at any kind of institutional level. However, we can use them as a guide of sorts -- all the while being mindful of the various factors that must also be present in order to satisfy the larger issues of Budo/Aikido practice. Additionally, I am not proposing that we all just hug each other more, etc. That's not exactly what I am referring to whey I use the word "intimacy." I am using the dictionary entries of "being indicative of one's deepest nature" and/or "referring to what is essential; innermost to our person."
As I said before, competition in part allows us to do this without actually having intimacy (in the normal sense of the word) be present. If we look at how competition does this, it achieves this by setting up some parameters that are well known by both parties ahead of time. These parameters are a kind of ritual by which behavior, but then so too the interpretative models for understanding behavior, are determined. What could be used, and what we have been playing with at our dojo, is to set up some parameters that govern the nage/uke dynamic, and the various levels of training, so that these things come to each participant in a way similar to how rules are presented in competition. This is pretty much what happens when we establish these groups -- only everything goes unsaid, which is why it only works for intimates and not for everyone. In other words: Find out what makes these groups tick; Establish those things as parameters for the uke/nage dynamic and the various types of training that we do in the dojo overall; Monitor them and adapt them according to how they may effect the whole of the Budo experience; And then get everyone to abide by them as if they are "rules" meant to govern one's training.
Either way, one has to be creative, more creative than just finding a few folks to go to town with, and definitely more creative than just trying to Rank Aikido harder.