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Old 02-20-2009, 06:50 PM   #40
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Underqualified Sensei

Dan O'Day wrote: View Post

I believe the term "hobbyists" might belittle the sincere efforts of one who elects to train but chooses not to elect to, for instance, leave their wife and children and go off to Japan to train for three years or to even train at home more than they already can, or choose to.
When I use the term, I do not mean it to be "belittling". There can be very serious hobbyists. People have a knee jerk reaction to thinking that they are being told they aren't serious. This is one of the reasons that we have trouble recognizing teachers of a higher skill level. But the plain fact is that the person who did go to Japan might very well have been more serious about his training than the ones who did not. The person who trains seven days a week is probably more serious than the person who train twice. The one who stays after every class to keep practicing, who is always after the seniors to show him more, who reads every book on the subject that is published, etc is more serious than the one who goes straight home after every class, never goes to outside seminars, might not even attend the extra events at his own dojo...

It's just a fact that the majority of the people training will never make enough of a commitment to their training to reach a very high level. That's why there are so few real master instructors out there. But everyone wants acknowledgment for whatever level of effort they make. That's why testing standards are so problematical. The minimum time in grade standards set up for our organization were based on the idea that the student was attending class 4 times per week. That was considered to be a sort of average expectation. So 3 months in grade might have related to 16 days of class attendance. But these days it is hard to find folks who want to train like we use to. I hear this from virtually all my friends who run dojos.

A "serious" student at my dojo is training 3 times a week and most only train twice on an average. So that same time in grade means something very different now. Three months in grade might mean only 8 - 12 classes compared to that 16 we used to use as a benchmark.

When I started Aikido in DC with Saotome Sensei in the 70's, and it was also true when I trained under Mary Heiny Sensei in the early 80's, the so-called serious folks in the dojo trained 5 or 6 times a week, not including the fact that we hit seminars on the weekends. We used to hit every seminar within ten hours of driving from Seattle (of course there were far fewer seminars in those days and we often HAD to drive to get the training).

So the plain fact is that the students I see now are generally not as serious as we were. It's just a fact. They have real careers, not the jobs we used simply to support our training. They are generally married (or have partners) and most have families. Most of us were single and no one had kids. I am not saying that most students of Aikido SHOULD train more or harder than they do. Most seem to work out what fits for them. But everybody still wants that Black Belt when they've been around for four or five years. They still want to get promoted after time in grade because they all want to be validated as being "serious". No one wants to think of himself as not serious. A teacher that flunks a student who has been around for a while risks losing that student. I've lost students because they perceived that my expectations were greater than they wished to commit to.

Anyway, if one is a hobbyist, then be a good hobbyist. If one wants to be a Shihan, you had better understand that entails far more effort, time, sacrifice, and hardship than what the hobbyist will put in. Most of the top teachers I know don't have much in the way of lives outside their training... I am not recommending that for everyone. If you are serious about having a good balanced life, that is fantastic. Most of us don't have that. But don't get bent out of shape when someone states the obvious, that Aikido is just one part of the interests you are pursuing whereas there are others who have pursued their training with a quite single minded focus.

I used to play tennis every day. I was quite the serious hobbyist. But I never would have thought to question that fact that I was a casual player as opposed to serious competitors and folks who were actually professionals. But with competition one has trouble maintaining that one is better than one actually is because you have to win matches to back it up. In Aikido we don't have that. So folks can easily delude themselves about their skill and the amount of effort required to better that skill.

Saotome Sensei is occasionally moved to deliver lectures at summer camp. "Some of you I have seen every year for ten years... Each year your training is no different! What meaning does that have?" Now, some of the issue is the lack of good methodology for helping people get better. But much of the problem is that many of the folks he is talking to are not serious enough about their training to make the effort required to make the next jump. To get better in this art, each step requires more effort than the last, not less. Most folks stall out at the level at which their commitment has gone as far as it is going.

So when we talk about Aikido do we lower our standards so that more of the folks out there training can feel that they are serious? Or do we keep talking about the greats like the Founder, like Shioda, like Yamaguchi etc. and use them as what we are shooting for? Perhaps that might entail a realization that one won't ever be willing to train as those teachers did. Then fine, be happy with what you are willing to do and do it as well as you can. It's you folks out there who feel that way who keep Aikido alive, support the professionals, keep the dojo doors open. It's not us; we can't do much of anything without you.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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