View Single Post
Old 01-18-2006, 12:11 PM   #1
senshincenter's Avatar
Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 1,471
Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Dear Mr. Valadez:

I'm a spanish aikido practitioner who occasionally reads the aikiweb forums.

I have found your posts insightful even in the rare occasions when i don't share your points of view about some subjects. Sometimes i think i don't really understand you because my poor english skills added to your writing style (only joking about your writing style).

I've also started to read some of your writings in your webpage, and also found them very interesting, but one of these writings in particular is giving me trouble.

Enough trouble that I was thinking to start a thread about it in the aikiweb forums, but thinking twice about it, concluded it coud be better to approach you via PM and share with you my concerns.

I'm talking about this:"Arriving"

I feel there are deep thoughts in this dialogue, like in your other writings, and i'm putting myself to do more than scratching the surface of them.

I'm not asking you to explain the philosophy of your writings because i'm sure you have more interesting things to do and, more important, because is a thing that i feel i have to do by myself.

However, i think the "Arrival" is, at least in its surface, misleading to prospective students. Quoting an Aikido instructor whose writings i also have found as insighful as yours:

A martial arts school should have a good set of roots. The instructor should be able to say where he or she studied. It should be possible to ask his or her instructor or organization for a reference. There are instructors that have caused problems for an organization and transferred to another organization or teach freelance to hide from their past.
Now, there is my question:

Don't you think "Arriving" can be misinterpreted by some people, and this misinterpretation can drive someone under an unethical instructor?

Thanks for your time.


(name omitted)
(Name Omitted),

Please feel free to call me Dave. Thank you very much for taking the time to write. You can also always reach me through my private email - Additionally, you should feel free to start any thread in relation on our writings, videos, etc., whenever you'd like - I think that is perfectly fine, so no worries there please. And, by the way, your English is certainly very good - so I'm sure it is my writing style that is at fault when it comes to ease of understanding.

I agree with you - at least to some degree. For me - I think one of the main points of the exchange is not so much that one cannot ask these questions or that an instructor should never have to answer them, etc. Rather the point is that a student, any student, should not (in this case) believe that he or she will gain any more insight into an instructor's skill (to perform and to teach) by hearing of his/her "credentials" than by watching and/or doing class. In short, the exchange, in a way, is a critique against the idea that paperwork makes the aikidoka, the teacher, or the dojo.

If you will allow me to note a few things from the exchange...

I think it is important to read that the prospective student has given witness to the fact that what he/she saw was some of the best Aikido he/she has ever seen. Additionally, it is important to note that the sensei asks him/her if his/her question is in regards to being able to learn within the dojo - to which the deshi answers "yes."

In summary, you have a person supposing that he cannot learn from some of the best Aikido he/she has ever seen until he/she gains the false guarantees of institutional paperwork. In a way, the instructor is saying, "You should not feel that institutional documentation should be the center of your training." The instructor is not really saying, "I will not tell you of such things, so you should not ask of such things." The latter is very different from the former.

Therefore, it is not so much that the sensei does not want to speak of these things. After all, he/she suggests that they are not only there but that they would indeed impress the deshi (now knowing what kind of deshi he/she is dealing with). It is more that the sensei is trying to bring the student to what is actually real about training - the sensei/deshi relationship in and of itself. This is why the teacher tells the deshi that such questions are fair to ask - fair enough for any teacher. However, this is why he says that such questions may not be very fair to the (i.e. this particular) deshi asking them. The implication is that they are not fair here to this deshi that is trying to be so careful with his/her decision to train.

Nevertheless, the deshi continues onward, repeating the logic that he/she cannot commit to a teacher regardless of what he/she has seen first hand -- but only through what others have said should be there second-hand. He/she asks, "Should not all sound decisions be based upon all relevant information?" At this point, the teacher focuses in on the words "relevant information," and he/she understands them in terms of committing to one's training and/or to one's sensei/deshi relationship. The sensei then gives the only real qualities that should support a deshi's level of commitment, the only attributes that are truly relevant to a sensei/deshi relation. He/she says, "You have watched class and determined that there is quality in what you have seen. You are looking for a place to train. Please feel free to train here as long as those two things remain relevant." What is it the teacher is saying to this deshi, this deshi that is so caught up in the institution that he/she cannot even believe what he/she is seeing with his/her own eyes, this deshi that needs some sort of cultural fiction to tell him/her what to believe? The teacher tells him/her, to really commit to a sensei/deshi relationship, all you need is a desire to commit and a sense that you are committing to something of quality.

I think, in my opinion, this exchanges points to something that is very troubling in Aikido today. I am not sure how ready the world of Aikido is to see this or to hear this. However, it is my feeling that for Aikido to progress, and/or even to meet its often-stated ideals, aikidoka will have to get back to what is real in the art and in the practice. For me, that means that one will have to, in many ways, and for many reasons, seek to gain some distance from the fictions that today support the art. In my opinion, the supposed guarantee of institutional paperwork is one of those fictions we should look to distance ourselves from. What is real does not require such "guarantees." Thus, we should be very "skeptical" of those things or of those persons that feel they need such things.

Additionally, I think it is might ease some of the pains that come from going from what is not real to what is real if one remembers that this takes place in a dojo where any deshi is free to enter a trail period -- a month long trial period, one free obligation and total commitment. Our dojo believes that to enter a dojo is no light matter. We believe this so much that we allow potential members to learn all they can learn about the dojo with no obligation to the dojo -- they are to get on the mat and train, come to our gatherings, have long discussions with me as dojocho, raise issues and questions at the end of class, participate in our email list, etc. There is no need for dues, no need for a gi or any other piece of equipment (all will be provided), no need to following etiquette strictly, no need to meet the two day a week minimum training requirement, no need to fulfill the intended training schedule protocol, etc. The only thing a potential member should do during this trial month period is to get to know the dojo as much as possible -- to determine if the dojo can actually meet his/her needs and/or desires (however accurately or inaccurately these things are known). For us, this is much more "safe," "cautionary," and worthy of the weight of the decision being made than simply saying, "Look newbie, here are my papers. As you can read, you should obviously be training here." Additionally, one might be eased by remembering that this is taking place where any deshi can freely read the history of the instructor in question on the dojo website and/or hear it from other deshi who have already committed to the dojo -- even hear it from the instructor himself when the issue is raised under different conditions.

As for giving folks the wrong impressionů I'm not sure any writer can take credit for the interpretation of his/her reader. However, I will try to remain mindful of such things.

Again, many thanks,
ps. I will go ahead and post this as a thread as a sign of good faith and appreciation toward you for having raised these issues. I'll leave it to you to go public or remain anonymous -- either way is fine with me.

Writing in question:

David M. Valadez
Visit our web site for articles and videos. Senshin Center - A Place for Traditional Martial Arts in Santa Barbara.
  Reply With Quote