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Old 02-09-2007, 08:09 AM   #69
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Dobson and Arikawa Sensei

Peter A Goldsbury wrote:
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
Thanks so much for taking the time, Peter. I am aware that these issues are open to debate. As I have told my students, they are my guinea pigs... I am fifty five and what I am trying to do is an experiment. I will only have time to try it once so if I am wrong, well apologies in advance to my students...

The one thing that gives me hope is that, at the level at which they currently are, which would be Shodan through Yondan, each of them is far more aware of what it is that they need to be working on than I was at that point in my training. If they train hard and stay with it, they will be better than I am. But that's a big "if". Only time will tell...

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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