Re: Article: The Elusive Aiki by Lynn Seiser
I liked your article but I have to say that, in this regard I come down more on the side of the Mike Sigmans out there. Most of us have been left to figure things out on our own. Very few people doing Aikido have much, if any, idea about what they are trying to do. They see their teachers year after year, marvel at the incredible skill these teachers have, and then proceed to practice in a way that will NEVER result in the same type of skill.
Aikido has become (maybe it always was) an incredibly elitist enterprize. There is a huge pyramid of folks practicing yet only a small group at the very top of the pyramid are actually doing Aikido with any understanding of Aiki.
I have trained with people like Ushiro Sensei, Kuroda Sensei, Angier Sensei, Toby Threadgill Sensei etc and have experienced the benefits of an organized and lucid teaching methodology. It was my experience training with these non-Aikido teachers which took my own Aikido up to the point at which, although I am certainly not as proficient as my own teachers, my technique is now working for the sam reasons that theirs does. I understand now what I am shooting for and simply have to keep refining things. I absolutely believe that I could have gotten to this point many years, if not decades earlier if the Aikido teaching methodology was better developed.
This whole "steal the technique" thing we have in Aikido makes me crazy. I have trained in various koryu and am familiar with the training of more than I have done myself. Things are not made purposely obscure in these arts. They have an organized, step by step teaching methodology. You don't go to the next step until you have mastered the previous steps. Teachers are not purposely obscure but actually explain what is going on. I realize that one great advantage these art have is that very few people do them. So the transmission is VERY personal.
But we have inherited an art that has been allowed and even encouraged to grow to vast numbers. I think it is the responsibility of the senior practitioners to develop a systematic analysis of what constitutes the highest level of Aikido skill and to find ways of imparting that knowledge to the wider community. I teach all over the country and I see people hungry for direction in their training, The vast majority of people out there have never trained under a Shihan level instructor for any length of time. Most have never even taken ukemi from someone like that more than a few times in their whole careers.
There are thousands of practitioners out there, putting in tens of thousands of hours and many thousands of dollars into their traning and they are being short changed. Now one cares whether they get it or not. They are left to flounder around and when, occasionally, one of them rises to some level of skill despite the lack of effective teaching methodology, then he or she is admitted to the elite club of folks that the people at the very top of the pyramid constitute. It is the function of the mass of practitioners to support the folks at the very top of the pyramid; noone worries whether these folks "get it", in fact it's pretty much assumed that most will not.
This stuff is teachable. Period. Now it is a fact that, no single person I know has mastered all of the elements that would constitute what O-Sensei had for skill. But collectively, I think that information is out there. There are folks who do have the various pieces. But what is needed is for these folks to a) organize what they know into a step by step process for passing on that knowledge to others and b) to give access to the wider Aikido community. Then the very top Aikido instructors need to pull these elements together in a coherent way. We all need to be training with each other, getting the widest possible exposure. This currently doesn't happen. Stan Pranin can bring some of the finest practitioners of Aiki in the world to an Expo and whole segments of main stream American Aikido simply chose not to participate. That attitude is the death of Aikido's future if it continues.
We have camps and seminars coming out our ears in Aikido. But what I see is most folks attending these events and coming away at the end with nothing more than the knowledge that the teacher is more skilled than they are (which they probabaly knew going in). They do not leave the seminar with any kind of idea of how to direct their training that the next year they will be any closer to understanding what the teacher was doing. This is just plain wrong as far as I am concerened.
Much of what passes for "teaching" in Aikido is really just a form of performance art. It isn't teaching at all. I think this is wrong and it borders on being unethical. As professional instructors we ask people to pay us substantial amounts of money, give us their precious spare time, etc and then we turn around and do nothing more than show them how cool we are for a weekend. That is unacceptable and I think that the students of Aikido need to start demanding more from their teachers. If you don't walk away from a seminar with some concrete things to wrk on, don't train with that teacher again and find someone who can TEACH. If you attend an event in which the teacher demonstrates and then sits on the side and watches the clock until the next technique, do not train with that person again. Demand something better. If you don't feel that you have gained something tangible EVERY time you train with someone, find someone better to train with.
You might have a limited access to dojos at which you can train. Ok, you're stuck with what's available unless you are willing to move. But the folks your dojo brings in for seminars, the folks you choose to travel to train with are under your control. Support the teachers you get the juice from and do not support the ones who can't or won't pass on what they do.
It is not necessary that most Aikido folks are doing Aikido-lite while the "real" stuff is going to the elite folks at the top. It is possible for everyone training to do Aikido using the same principles which the senior teachers do. They might not get as proficient, people will always make verying degrees of commitment to their training, but they will all be working on the same set of skills. This isn't even close to being the case at this point.
Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 01-11-2007 at 09:21 AM.