Ignatius Teo wrote:
Call me "old school", but.... I would go so far as to say that stealing technique is actually part of the teaching/learning paradigm itself. In order to steal, one is required to first exercise superior observation, listening and intuition skills. These basic skills are part and parcel of learning to learn a martial art. Without these basic skills, one is invariably consigned to martial mediocrity.
Old School refers to a training environment in which a very small and select group of people trained under the Founder. They got to put their hands on him multiple times daily. They could see his technique, they could feel his technique. They directly experienced the intuitive aspect of the interaction between themselves and the Founder.
Even under those conditions, how many folks "got it"? Every single former uchi deshi I have talked to said that they only got a portion of what O-sensei knew. One can see an incredibly wide range of ability amongst the folks who were directly trained under this system.
Sure, this system turned out a Saotome Sensei. But Sensei is an intuitive genius. He had the ability to learn effectively in this manner. Most people in American Aikido have not and will never train under a Shihan level instructor. They might see someone at that level once or twice a year. Unless they are quite senior they will probably never have a chance to take ukemi and "feel" the technique more than once or twice if they are lucky. Certainly, most people are not incredibly talented; they are, by definition, average.
No matter how you teach, there will always be the one who rises higher than the others. It will be the one who has the athletic ability, the appropriate learning style, the "Will" to go the distance. It will be the one who is willing to make the sacrifices required.
My concern is for everyone else. Aikido has been allowed, really encouraged, to grow. The powers that be are more inclined to simplify the art to fit this mass of practitioners than they are to develop a training system that would have any chance at all of turning out another Saotome Sensei or Nishio Sensei much less any of the giants who trained in the thirties who we regard as the almost legendary Aikido teachers.
I think that it is quite revealing that the teachers who began their Aikido in the days when it was still Aikido and then Aiki Budo, all developed very systematic training systems. Shirata Sensei did, Mochizuki Sensei did, Tomiki and Shioda Senseis did.
When I talk about this issue of "stealing" the technique, I know directly what I am talking about. I have trained with Saotome Sensei for thirty years. He teaches pretty much as he learned. He demonstrates but he doesn't explain. In recent years he has attempted to break down what he is doing but he still has no vocabulary to describe it. He looks out at everyone and sees that they aren't getting a particular thing and he stops them and shows them again. Perhaps slowly, perhaps more simply but he shows them. He learned this stuff intuitively and I do not think he even thinks of what he does in a way that breaks things down into component pieces. He sees the technique holistically, I think.
This was how I was trained. I have been largely unaware, until recently, of just how much I learned on a deep intuitive level from my teacher. But I have to say that I couldn't figure out what Sensei was doing without help. I had a training opportunity that very few have had or will ever have and I couldn't "get it" without the exposure I had to other teachers, many of whom were not even Aikido teachers. Angier Sensei, Kuroda Sensei, Ushiro Sensei, Tom Read Sensei all contributed to the breakthroughs I had concerning what my own teacher had been doing. I had my hands on Sensei every day for five years. I have had prolonged and repeated exposure to him for thirty years and I still needed help getting it.
Perhaps I am a slower learner than most but I don't think so. I am pretty good on both the visual and the tactile learning styles. But I still required the conceptual framework combined with the extremely finely broken down body mechanics exercises that these teachers gave me before I understood what sensei was doing. So if I have had that much trouble, given all the incredible advantages I have had in my training, what are the average folks doing?
If you are going to have thirty or forty thousand people doing Aikido in the US, without a better training system than we've had, the vast majority are condemned to doing Aikido-lite. If you look at how most folks are training, they will never, no matter how long they train in the manner they are, get to the point at which they are doing anything like what O-Sensei and the great uchi deshi were doing.
When I say a better training system I do not mean the simplified and dumbed down Aikido that is being created to give to the masses. I am talking about a systematic way to describe and teach what is going on in really high level technique. Of course, at that point it is up to the practitioners to make the effort to get there. But at least the requisite instruction is there for those who choose to make the effort.
I am absolutely convinced that, whereas most people will never train intensively enough to get to Shihan level, everyone in Aikido is capable of mastering the principles at work in what they do, at least at some level. Everyone is capable of doing Aikido with some understanding of Aiki. People just need to train smarter. To do that they need to understand exactly what they are trying to do. Then the ones who practice the hardest will be the best.
If we are going to pass on an Aikido that has anything at all to do with what O-Sensei created, we need Aikido teachers, not just Aikido demonstrators. I do not accept that the masses out there are around simply to support the small group at the top who are taking their training to a high level. Sure I require the support of many people to be able to do what I do, my own students in my dojo and the many folks who invite me to teach at their schools. But it is my job to deliver the goods when I teach. It is my job to pass on the best Aikido I can to the largest number of folks who I possibly can. They do not exist just to support me. I exist to teach them. Making them guess for decades at a time what I am doing does not fulfill that mission. That's not teaching.