View Single Post
Old 01-07-2008, 03:20 PM   #20
George S. Ledyard
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,620
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 5

Thanks Peter! This is fascinating material.

I think that what you see with Aikido is an evolution from "style", as in ryu, to "approach", as in a personal take on the art. If you look at the main teachers from the 30's, their training was far more systematic than what came later. Initially they were all doing a "style" i.e. Daito Ryu. Their certificates were Daito Ryu certificates. In that sense there was a far more agreed upon central core technically with the various students like Shirata, Mochizuki, Tomiki, and Shioda (not to mention Inoue) adding elements from their own training in other arts so that each had a particular individual approach. But, even as they differed I would say they had more in common than the teachers of later years.

Each one of these teachers started his own "style" in order to preserve and propagate what he had learned. You can look at each of these styles and readily see what is similar and what is different. In each case an effort was made to create a system for passing on those teachings, although in every case adjustments were made in the curriculum to allow the art to be taught broadly and not just to a small group of deshi.

Clearly, this was an important development for the survival of what we might call "classical" practice. Of the teachers mentioned, the only one that did not go off on his own and start what we would recognize as a separate "style" was Shirata Sensei. Consequently, his line is by far the most obscure. It never had an organization to expand its teachings; it stayed personal with him.

Once you get to Post War Aikido, you basically have different teachers who exist under one umbrella, following their own paths. I think that this has had grave implications for the "transmission" of the art. You have teachers who trained a life time under the Founder passing away with literally no one trained to keep their hard won knowledge alive. Only Saito and Tohei Senseis set up their own large organizational structures to put forth their takes on the art.

I think the whole approach of training at Honbu Dojo under multiple teachers tended to make less likely the direct transmission from a certain teacher to a certain student. Of course, certain people decided on a particular teacher and simply followed him. Endo Sensei told us that at a certain point he simply ceased training with anyone other than Yamaguchi Sensei because he wanted specifically what Yamaguchi was offering. But the smorgasborg offered at the home dojo allowed people to train with many teachers while not necessarily being seen as a "deshi" of a particular one. So some teachers at the Honbu Dojo taught their whole careers without formalizing any "transmission" to any of the students who passed through their classes.

The current development of the art is very much as you mentioned... There is a Honbu Dojo way of doing things. The teachers who teach there adhere to that format for the most part. The current Doshu seems more interested than in the past in formalizing this instruction. Yet, many of those very same teachers do something quite a bit different at their own dojos and those of the students with whom they are associated.

I think people have a natural desire for structure. You can see how folks have naturally tried to create structure, even when there isn't one. Saito Sensei's Iwama Ryu was the direct result of Saito Sensei's desire to develop a "transmission" for what he had been taught. But as it developed it ran directly up against the desire of the Ueshiba family to be the hub from which their version of the "transmission" would proceed around the world.

But if you look at the success the Iwama Ryu had in propagating itself, I think it becomes clear that a formalized structure i.e. something like a "style" is the best way to keep the knowledge of a particular teacher alive.

My own teacher, Saotome Sensei, is adamant that Aikido has no "style". He has taught us in much the same way he was taught. He has steadfastly refused to spell out technical details, has only generally called our attention to various principles at work. This has resulted in much the same situation you had with the Founder. No one has "mastered" anything close to what this man knows. Only a very few have any real idea what he is doing. None of us look like each other because its been left up to each of us to develop our own understanding. When Sensei passes, it's gone. His knowledge and experience will never be duplicated. We each will carry a part of it and in some cases will add something of our own to it. But much of what he has will simply be lost.

I don't know what the answer is... If the art is to be taught widely to the "masses" so to speak, then the Aikikai approach to simplifying and modernizing the curriculum would seem inevitable. But then the real question becomes "where does the depth come from"? In the old days, the teachers had tremendous depth. Even if their students created larger organizations and simplified curriculum for the members, there was still the opportunity for the gifted, serious student to get access to that greater depth if they wanted to make the commitment.

What I see now is that the teachers of the future are being trained to teach the modern curriculum. They will not have the same depth as the previous generation of teachers. When that happens it will become increasingly difficult for anyone, regardless of talent or desire, to rediscover what has been lost. I think we may see the time when people will be looking for input from the older styles which have done a better job of keeping a certain transmission. I see an increasing demand for the small number of people who have kept alive the Mochizuki line, the Shirata line, the Hikitsuchi line; people who have focused on the teachings of one teacher and attempted to preserve the depth of that teaching. The rest of Aikido will require an infusion of that knowledge to reverse the "dumbing down" of the art as a whole.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
  Reply With Quote