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Old 02-09-2007, 04:49 AM   #66
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
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Re: Dobson and Arikawa Sensei

Hello George,

Since you addressed your post to me, I think I need to reply. I have added a few comments at the end of each paragraph. Peter Ralls has pretty well summed up what I think about Arikawa Sensei's classes.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
Hi Peter,
One is tempted to see a direct connection between this attitude and his observation of a lack of quality in the demonstrations he saw. This way of looking at Aikido teaching is very "elitist" in my own opinion. That wasn't really an issue in the old days with O-Sensei because the uchi deshi as a group formed the "elite"..
PAG. I think the temptation should be resisted. I think Arikawa Sensei had extremely high standards as to what constituted good aikido and saw clearly when these standards were not met. So I think he tried to show the best aikido of which he was capable for as long as he could. I was once struck by Yamaguchi Sensei telling me that he planned to give up practising aikido, for he could no longer train in the way he wanted to (like Arikawa Sensei, he was a secret cancer sufferer). But I do not think it is elitist to have high standards and then, separately, to have a certain way of teaching. I suppose that if I really wanted to learn the best aikido possible to me at this time, I would leave Hiroshima and go and live close to Hiroshi Tada--and then learn from him, in whatever way he chose to teach me. I suppose I am being elitist here. Of course, I cannot do this, since I have a job here, and so I have to be satisfied with the teacher I have.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
But now, Aikido has been encouraged to grow into a world wide endeavor. There are tens of thousands of people in the States who give up their precious time and hard earned money to train in this art. There simply is no way for them to all get consistent and frequent exposure to a Shihan level teacher. This "figure it out for yourself" attitude favors exclusively the folks who are "visual learners". Most of the people out there will not be able to take ukemi from a Shihan level teacher more than a very few times in a year, many simply will not at all. So even the "tactile learners" are stuck if they don't have a chance to put their hands on someone at a high level..
PAG. Well, I don't think you can blame Arikawa Sensei for this. Aikido in America has grown to what it is now, thanks to the efforts of the folks interviewed in Aikido in America and their Japanese teachers: Koichi Tohei, Yoshimitsu Yamada, Akira Tohei, Mitsunari Kanai, Mitsugi Saotome and Kazuo Chiba. What you have here is people being sent abroad, or, rather being given an offer they cannot refuse, and intially replicating the circumstances in which they themseves trained. They were given no preparation because the Aikikai were not in a position to give such preparation. As it is, I would think they had a pretty sharp learning curve. But I think American aikidoists should call their own Japanese teachers to account and ask: (1) what steps have you taken to make sure that what you teach is available to every single member of your organization; (2) what steps have you taken to ensure that the quality instruction that you give now will still be available when you are no longer around.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
Frankly, attending a seminar in which you will never be called up for ukemi and at which the teacher will only demonstrate and not give explanation makes that seminar about as useful as learning from a video for most of the attendees..
PAG. I disagree. I do not like attending large seminars, but I attended one given by Doshu in Tokyo. I was not called on to take uke, Doshu gave the minimum of explanation and much of this was lost in translation. However, I practised with several people, whom I knew, but had never practised with before. I have regularly questioned the value of large seminars but each time I have been overruled, with the reason that large seminars have some value.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
And the "cognitive types" are simply left out in the cold. I have many students who require an understanding in their minds of what they are trying to do before they can get their bodies to actually do it. Everything for them is a matter of understanding preceding doing. Training can EVENTUALLY get them into their bodies and out of their heads to a greater degree but they have to stay which means they have to feel like they are getting some encouragement and making some headway..
PAG. I am not sure that the dichotomy between the two types is so marked. For example, I have seen two ways of teaching ukemi here in Japan.
One way is favored by the students here and has the very minimum of expanation. Students make return journeys up and down the dojo and the kambu and sempai are there to explain and correct at an individual level. However, there is no set model, but a lot of peer pressure, and students end up being able to take very good ukemi by the end of the first semester.
The other way is favored by my colleagues in my dojo. Here, there is a specific model: a very clear and specific way of holding your hands and turning your head. The model is shown, with explanation given as necessary, but excessive deviation from the model is not permitted. I am not yet convinced that the second method is better than the first, but it is preferable to the kind of training that goes on in the other city dojos of which I have experience.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
I was trained under the minimal explanation model. To the extent that I have actually started to be able to do what my teachers are doing, it was largely do to the exposure I had to teachers like Kuroda, Angier, Ushiro, Threadgill, etc who had very systematic ways of describing the princples at work in their waza. I was able to take these explanations and figure out what my own teacher had been showing us all these years..
PAG. So was I. I had a large number of teachers in my time and each one became my 'teacher'. Each had a different take on kihon-waza and each had his own preferred oyou-waza. You have had Saotome Sensei, but I wonder whether you ever gently forced him to explain what he had been showing you, for the sake of the 'cognitivists'.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
I just can't accept that the vast majority of practitioners should be condemned to doing Aikido-lite while a very few get to the point at which they can actually do their Aikido with some real understanding of "aiki". Even with the best instruction in the world, it still takes a huge amount of work to get the principles into ones body and mind to the point at which they feel natural on some level. Most people will not make the effort to get that far. But for the ones that are putting out the effort, we owe them the best instruction we can give..
PAG. Yes, you have stated this before. One could argue that it is a mistake to offer aikido to a very large number of potential practitioners without also making sure that the facilities to enable them to go beyond aikido-lite are already in place. We can see that this mistake has been made in many places (Russia comes to mind as a good example), but this is partly hindsight. I think the second Doshu was faced with a number of choices after the war, but he did not have the means to weigh the consequences of these choices. He chose to make aikido a 'general' art, available to everybody, but the structure available to him was the pre-war model: a local dojo run by a shihan who 'shows' the art to as many people who have the resources to be shown.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
When someone with the skill and experience like Arikawa passes away without having passed on what he knows to the next generation, it is lost. it will never be replaced. People may figure out new things for themselves but they will never really understand what went before. I think that prevents Aikido from building on a strong foundation. It means that every generation has to build its own foundation all over again. We should be able to build on what has gone before and add our own experience to it. This can't happen if there is not a systematic transmission..
PAG. Well yes. But how do you persuade the likes of Arikawa Sensei to be aware of this? And there is a systematic transmission. It is centered on Doshu and his successors. You might not like it, but it is there. The Aikikai Hombu under the present Doshu is quite an efficient, well-oiled organization. Perhaps like a Toyota car factory... And Doshu goes around Japan and the world giving very similar demonstrations and classes. One could think that he is marketing a product, but there are always many, many consumers. I think there are major differences between a Doshu class at a large seminar and the kind of class that Arikawa Sensei used to teach here in Hiroshima.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
I remember Saotome Sensei lighting into a student who had made the grave error in judgment of referring to an certain not very accomplished Aikido instructor as an "Aikido Master". This is a big button with him and one that is best avoided. But the fact is that Aikido has grown to the point at which most of the folks practicing only have minimal exposure to folks who have any real degree of mastery. Without a systematic transmission, Aikido keeps growing the way it has but we get to the point at which folks really do not have any sense of what real mastery is and what a teacher with real mastery looks and feels like. They simply do not know..
PAG. Yes, but I think you need to deal with this in the States and with Saotome Sensei himself. It is a fact that in the next 50 years there will be no one left who learned from O Sensei himself. But this cannot be avoided.
We have the same problem in Hiroshima. The average age of A-Bomb survivors is now 77, so the City is now building up a massive video archive of 'A-Bomb testimony'. Rather like the interviews that Stan Pranin conducted with O Sensei's deshi. But the model, the frame of the operation, is first hand description of what it was actually like to live through the atomic bombing and you cannot change this to any other medium. By relying on 'katari-be', as they are called, Hiroshima City has chosen an 'elitist' way of preserving the memory of the atomic bombing, because there are very few who actually experienced the event and if you want to hear about it directly, you need to find the surviving victims and get them to talk.
In some sense this is a 'heroic' way of looking at the atomic bombing, through the eyes of the those who lived through it and did not give up.
Similarly, Arikawa Sensei represents the 'heroic' age of aikido. He lived with the Founder and learned from him directly, but HE did it and his experiences cannot be duplicated or reduced to a set of techniques.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
Even worse, even if they do know, they simply feel as if that level of understanding is somehow "special"; reserved for some elite group of folks. Then they give up. They might still go through the motions of training but they do not really believe that they can get to the point where they can do what their teachers can do..
PAG. I disagree, again. This might be true for some, but not necessarily for everybody. For example, I know that I will never be as good as the people who have taught me and this is because my life has unfolded in a certain way. I made choices and then had the consequences. I am prepared to believe that someone like Tada Sensei has a special level of understanding because, in addition to the gifts he was born with, he put in the hours and trained relentlessly. I have never been able to do this. But this does not mean that I am simply going to go through the motions of training, or give up because I can never reach Tada's level. One of the reasons why I was so attracted to aikido is that it is so personal. It takes you for what you are and then polishes it. Like grace, it builds on nature: it does not destroy it. I think you create too broad a gap between the shihans like Saotome and Arikawa and the rest of us.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
I explain when I teach. I try to isolate the principles which make this stuff work and that's what I pass on. I have found that when I go around and conduct seminars the folks out there are quite excited to actually have someone explain what they have been trying (often for some time) to do. It's like rain in the dessert, all of a sudden there is life. Folks get excited about their practice again because now they can see that they can really make some progress. I believe that as Aikido teachers, it is our job to do this.
PAG. Yes, George, but I have experienced this from shihans like Chiba and Saito. I have never forgotten such experiences like training with Chiba Sensei in his own house in Hatake, just the two of us, of Arikawa Sensei in a local coffee shop showing & explaining about shomen uchi attacks, of Saito Sensei showing me how to hold the head in katen-nage, and of struggling to take the best ukemi of which I was capable for Yamaguchi.

And I suspect that you are famous as a teacher in the US because you are first and foremost George Ledyard and only secondarily for the brilliant methodology you use.

Best wishes and apologies for the very long post.

P A Goldsbury
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Hiroshima, Japan
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