Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"
I agree with Peter about the context. I am not sure how often these kinds of questions come up worldwide - though others in this thread have suggested that it should be widespread. I think why it came up for us (though it doesn't seem to anymore) is because our context is centered on independence - and that we are neighbored by three other Aikido schools that one could suggest are very much into federation alliance. For me, independence is part of a training ethic -- if one will allow, it serves a purpose much like hermitage might (in some ways) in some monastic systems. Independence is part of a practical "asceticism" that one undertakes to discover what one cannot discover when holding (or being held by) institutional support.
Therefore, it is a strange combination in our case when someone comes in and that person is very used to being held by institutional support. You got a person that might not have asked those questions (such as they might not do were they to walk into the dojo of a competing federation) coming into a place where they make virtually no sense. It is sort of like when a beginner first learns the breakfall. When they walk, they have to fall a little bit every step, only they never reach for the ground with their hands. They know where the ground is -- it is under their alternate foot. However, when they are doing the breakfall, though their foot is on the ground, they feel inclined to reach for the ground with their hands nevertheless. In other words, they feel the loss of the support (institutional support) they were used to having, and so they reach for it. They reach for it because they are now in a place where it is no longer present.
It is also very similar when someone wants to know my rank -- I say, "I have no rank." In the same way, one can imagine, we get a certain type of deshi via these choices I have made -- we get deshi that are more able to endure what this type of practical asceticism requires. In other words, ask yourself, you experienced aikidoka, "Whom would you rather train with -- the deshi that wants to know rank, is inspired by rank, feels rank is meaningful, etc., or the deshi that makes a choice to train knowing that in the end they too will have no rank?" For some of us the answer is obvious. It is the same way for me in valuing things like a month long trial period over paperwork.
We are not out to be restrictive -- we are not a koryu. Moreover, I deeply believe in the widespread dissemination of Aikido. However, we seek to assist students in helping them enter into the dojo in a certain way -- one way and not another. That one way is of course adaptable, but it nevertheless stands in contrast to "anyway." As a result, we risk "losing" students (like Charles does) in manners thought insane, thought to be financially irresponsible, and even immoral by other federation-based Aikido dojo. For us, for me, this makes sense. If we were not looked at in this way by the bulk of federation practitioners, we would not be doing our own practical asceticism.
We have just moved into our new location. It is very nice and it has given us now many more training hours (as one can see on our website). More people are discovering us. Yesterday a prospective student came by to join up. After answering his questions -- which did not include questions of paperwork, lineage, etc. -- I asked him if he had seen the other Aikido schools yet (this though I'm sure some of them would look at our understanding of Aikido and state we are not doing Aikido, and this though one of the schools has in the past sought to "attack" us via the ranting of a spousal abuser). He said they are never there -- but he had tried. I gave him the most likely hours of training for them and said he should be sure to check them out in person if he could. I told him to do the same for other martial arts he might be interested in -- though he said he felt he wanted to do Aikido. I told him this was part of making a sound decision -- since training is not a thing that one should undertake in an ill informed manner -- "How informed you are by first-hand experience is how seriously you can make your decision." At the same time I told him our protocol of the two day a week training minimum, and how we encourage that folks train as much as they can, etc. I told him of our month long trial period and that we would even provide him with a gi to use during that time, etc.
Later, I relayed all of this in a conversation to another deshi. She asked, "Why didn't you just let him sign up right then and there?" My answer: "Because we'd be doing him a disservice and it would not just be the disservice of not helping him to be informed. The true disservice of just signing someone up is the disservice of expecting them to possess a capacity for commitment but offering them no means to cultivate commitment. It is the disservice of expecting him to train seriously but of not providing an avenue for him to act seriously. Moreover, in providing this disservice to him, the dojo does a disservice to itself." What I have found is that folks get this, if you give then a chance - even newbies. They do not walk away insulted or feeling unwanted when we do not hurry up to have them sign away their first-born. They either return to the dojo more in possession of what they actually want from their training (since no one consciously begins training only to not take it seriously), or they return to say they cannot undertake the training at this time. In this way, it is a win-win situation for both the potential member and the dojo.
I mention this because this is my own personal opinion on how one should approach a dojo and/or a new teacher. It is not in keeping with what is becoming in vogue on these boards. I personally never approached one of my past teachers by asking for their credentials -- like Peter. What I was interested in was never to be found on paper (hence, why we as a dojo are like we are, I guess). For me, a large part of becoming a deshi means practicing faith. Practicing faith cannot be done if one wants to know where the ground is every time they are about to take a step. (Chiba Sensei often mentioned that Zen analogy of stepping off the top of a 1000-foot pole.) For me, spiritually speaking, it would be more "damaging" to rob oneself of the chance to cultivate and practice faith (and self-reliance) than to risk spending a few hours, days, or weeks with some loser who can't help you and might even hurt you. This is not to say that I feel these questions that folks might like to ask nowadays are wrong -- personally, I just feel they aren't worth what they are costing. There are other ways, more real ways, of gaining the sense of security one supposedly wants from such questions -- ways that don't have one robbing him/herself of a chance to practice more faith in one's life. In my opinion, one should practice those ways -- they are the ways one finds through the door of self-reliance.