Kevin Leavitt wrote:
But what happens when we are teaching the wrong things? (George Ledyard talks about this above, when discussing Shodans and the like teaching classes, with little or no guidance and development).
The real problem is the popularity of the art. Everyone wants to train. If they move somewhere there is no Aikido, they start a dojo. It doesn't matter what their level is... they open a place so that they can continue to train.
Ostensibly they belong to an organization which is happy to have another school, happy to have more members. I have never heard of anyone saying, no, you are not ready yet, go train with someone else until you are ready. It's always, go ahead and start your own place. You can go to these dinky little towns and there will be a Federation dojo and an ASU dojo or perhaps a Ki Society dojo. The important thing is the connection to the organization... There's absolutely no way some Sensei from another organization would tell a student to come train with me rather than open his own place.
So we have thousands of dojos out there. They are run by well-meaning folks who genuinely love the art. Their students know less than they do so it seems fine. But pretty soon the lack of development on the part of the teacher begins to hold back the students. He doesn't say in his Yellow Page ad, train with me, I can take you up to 1st kyu but then you'll have to move somewhere else... He's a Sensei. He is the authority.
But he can't actually do what his teacher is doing... so how does he square that? What he does is say "Saotome Sensei is amazing". His teacher is an uchi deshi, is especially talented, had special attention from the Founder etc. I can't do what he does because there is no one else who can do what he does. This is how he lives with himself. It's not that he doesn't know what he should know to be able to teach, it's that Sensei is special and none of us can aspire to his level. So it's ok that we don't get it because we are mere mortals.
Affording some kind of mystical status to ones teacher is the biggest excuse for not progressing that there is. There was a time when you didn't open a dojo without attaining a certain rank. That rank actually meant something. This is not true any more. Anyone can teach. It's totally "caveat emptor" out there.
These dojos and teachers are not going away. There is no authority that will say, "You need to close up, you have no idea what you are doing." It's a free country. If there are students, they are free to train with someone who is incompetent if they wish. So the only solution I can see is for the folks who genuinely do have some idea what they are doing to get out there and establish mentoring relationships with these folks and bring them along.
The Shihan have all been over here for thirty years or more. They have trained their deshi, the ones that they see as their "direct students". Just being a member of an organization that has a Shihan presiding doesn't make you that Shihan's student in his mind. You are just a member. You can progress or not and that Shihan will not lose one iota of sleep over it. What needs to happen is that a network of relationships between the mid and low level instructors and the few senior teachers get established. They must mentor these folks out in the hinterlands.
At the same time, these seniors need to be training and progressing on their own. They need to get out and experience what is out there. Every Rokudan should be seeking out new experiences for his training. The moment they stop progressing, the whole system is doomed. They are the only resouce for the folks underneath them. if they don't get better, the art will not get better, in fact it will degenerate.
The kiss of death is the idea that the seniors are supposed to represent some organization or style. They start to see looking beyond as some sort of disloyalty. That is complete BS. The folks who have that attitude will be left behind by those who don't cripple themselves by tying themselves to some model that is supposed to be written in stone and unchanging.
At the same time, they have to stay within the organizations as they progress because the organizations are the mechanism by which the experience of the few will be passed to the many. I am talking about total subversion of the system. As seniors we need to bring into our own groups what they will never receive from within. Otherwise we are all prisoner to the limitations of our own teachers.
This requires people who are willing to go outside their comfort levels and try things at which they are not expert. They must be willing to weather the displeasure of teachers and seniors who will be threatened by their new knowledege. They must develop themselves to the point at which their skill simply is unquestionable. If they can demonstrate this skill there will be those from within their group who will not content themselves unless they too can get it. Others will reject what they see no matter how good it is because it will be "different". But the ones who go after it will progress and the ones who don't will not.
I am talking about the death of styles here... Get rid of any notion of styles. It's about getting better at Aikido. Anything which will help you get better, to understand more should be part of your program. Anything which doesn't should be discarded. Since each teacher will have a different set of experiences it will make sense to train widely. Perhaps, although this is a bit much to hope for, the teachers themselves will look to each other for new ideas.
I am of the opinion that the system as it stands is largely failing the students. Those who have made it have done so almost despite the system rather than because of it.
People need to seek out the teachers who can and will show them what they need to know. If a teacher isn't doing this, find other people to train with. To paraphrase an old anti-war slogun from my youth, "What if they gave a seminar and nobody came." Don't keep supporting teachers that do not deliver. There are folks out there who know what you want to know. Do not accept leadership which limits you. Find and support those teachers who deliver the goods and the will suppport you.