Ted Ehara wrote:
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.
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.