Peter A Goldsbury
Have you seen the two recent movies made by Clint Eastwood on the Battle of Iwojima? One depicts the American side and the other depicts the Japanese side. I have used the second in one of my classes and have studied the reactions of the 120 Japanese students who took my class (two of whom are ardent members of the local Ki Aikido club).
Apart from these two (who have been heavily brainwashed on the importance of KI over any kind of effectiveness), my students have virtually no concept of the value of fighting to defend principles and have even less clue of the value of martial arts, which they equate with prewar militarism that is no longer relevant to them.
The English version of the Aikikai website has this entry under ‘Organization'. (I should add that the content of the same heading of the Japanese-language section of the website is quite different.)
Aikido is a new Japanese martial art created during the 1920s by Morihei Ueshiba, an expert who reached the highest level of mastery in the classical Japanese martial arts. Officially recognized by the Japanese government in 1940, the Aikikai Foundation (Aikido World Headquarters) is the parent organization for the development and popularization of Aikido throughout the world. Under the leadership of Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu, instructors are teaching Aikido according to the ideals of the Founder (Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei) to students in Japan and throughout the world.
Since contemporary values stress respect for human life, Aikido is a highly relevant form of the Japanese martial arts. Aikido is popular not just in Japan but throughout the world because people accept and agree with the underlying philosophy of Aikido. Instructors from the Aikido World Headquarters are dispatched to countries throughout North and South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Transcending boundaries of race and nationality, Aikido is practiced and loved by over 1.2 million people in more than fifty countries around the world.
As travel, work, and study abroad have now become commonplace, Aikido is spreading internationally because it can be viewed as a "product of a shared cultural heritage," culture not bound to any one nation or people-a legacy which can contribute to peace and prosperity. Seen as such, expectations for Aikido's role in the coming century are great.
It is very difficult for me to make public comments about this website because my own name appears in the Japanese version. However, I am struck by the awkward combination of (1) a ‘shared cultural heritage' and (2) the ‘dispatch of Hombu instructors throughout the world'. There are no non-Japanese instructors in the Hombu and there is no mention of the work of the non-Hombu instructors around the world. I know myself that there is no thought of what a "culture not bound to any one nation or people" actually entails. All the research I have encountered points in the opposite direction—to culture espousing a set of values that can be expressed in national(ist) terms, which is eminently true of Japan. All my Japanese graduate students regard culture in its deepest sense as essentially bound up with the concept of nation and nationhood.
Whereas Kisshomaru Doshu wanted to spread aikido around the world as 'good' Japanese culture and always regarded aikido as quintessentially Japanese (see the last part of my column), as did Morihei Ueshiba, the author of the English statement above has fudged the issue and suggested that aikido is no longer fully Japanese. What he means is that the 'shared cultural heritage' is shared because people all over the world practice a Japanese martial art.
Yes Peter, I have seen the Eastwood films... I thought the concept of doing two films about the same event from the opposite points of view was brilliant.
Japan finds itself in a very difficult position. Not only the martial arts, but many of their other cultural arts from paper dolls, traditional crafts, tea ceremony, you name it, are finding that many, if not most, of their senior students are foreigners. When they are interested in doing them, the native Japanese tend to look at these arts as "hobbies". The foreign students are people who packed up everything and moved ten thousand miles to live and study these arts in Japan. The Japanese have had to deal with the phenomenon of foreigners in many cases having a better understanding of certain aspects their traditional cultural heritage than they do.
I think that the classical martial arts have handled this far better than they have in Aikido... The classical arts have accepted foreign students and brought them into the traditional structure. Ellis Amdur and Phil Relnick Senseis are good friends. Each has certification in a couple of classical styles as well as Dan ranks in other arts. They have recognized seniority in their styles. I think that because they have been accepted in this way they are, in some ways, at least as traditional as the Japanese practitioners of their arts. In other words, by really investing authority in these teachers their Japanese teachers ensured that they have functioned from within to preserve the styles as passed on over generations.
Aikido is quite different... It's quite apparent that the powers that be at headquarters still see the art radiating outward from a central source, that this source is Japanese, and the center of that source is the Ueshiba family. Unlike the Yoshinkan Aikido folks who have invested pretty heavily in their foreign teachers (they have actually had teachers, Robert Mustard for example, who have actually functioned as instructors at their headquarters dojo. The Aikikai on the other hand, doesn't even list their foreign Shihan on their website. When Doran and Nadeau Senseis asked their management committee about this during a visit to Japan, they were told that when people are traveling, they are looking for Japanese teachers to train with. So much for their 7th dans and Shihan papers...
I think that the Aikikai is missing the boat completely... If they were to bestow real authority and recognition to the most experienced of the foreign teachers, they would find that it would cement their relationships in a way that would never be broken. As Lyndon Johnson said of hwy he asked Hubert Humphrey to be his VP "It's better to have him on the inside pissing out, than on the outside pissing in". But they consistently place even their most accomplished foreign teachers in a secondary position.
I have been teaching Aikido full time since 1986. I teach seminars all over the US and Canada. The chance that I would ever teach a class at the headquarters dojo is about zero. the fact is that the headquarters folks do not view my experience and my rank as equal to that of the instructors they have home grown. I don't see that as changing in the future... Consequently, I don't feel the attachment to the Aikikai that my friends from the classical arts feel for their home dojos where they are acknowledged teachers.
If these guys had their acts together, they would have a class at Hombu taught by foreign teachers who they would bring in for a month or so at a time. The exchange would be valuable for them in that they might actually get a sense of what is happening overseas. It would certainly do wonders for nurturing a connection with the headquarters dojo amongst the foreign Aikido communities.
Can you imagine? Not just the idea that the foreign folks should return to the source for training.... but that they might, after many decades of practice and teaching, have something of valuable to offer back... what a concept!
There is now a generation of overseas teachers who have been teaching for 20 to 40 years. Aikido is hitting the point at which these teachers have to ask themselves what they need from Hombu Dojo. It certainly isn't instruction from teachers who are their juniors in age and experience. By failing to truly invest in the foreign teachers, they risk losing all influence over the course Aikido takes. There are already more people, in absolute numbers, in both France and the US who do Aikido than there are in Japan. Headquarters needs to ask itself what it thinks we need from them. It might not like the answers it comes up with.