Dojo: Yellow Springs Aikido
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Join Date: Jan 2002
I'm not anonymous, but I have nothing to add to this debate, so I should fit right in (am enjoying it, by the way).
I was thinking about the same succession planning problem, and it's actually bigger than just this one incident. Many of the heads of the bigger organizations are getting pretty old,or so I'm led to believe, and in the next 10 or 20 years most of the Japanese shihan may be dead. (If there are those who aren't that old, forgive me, but the problem is still there, just further down the pike). In addition, any one or several of these top guys could die suddenly, of either natural or unnatural causes---what if the top two are on the same, wrong airline flight? If there's no succession plan, the loss of the leader will lead to maneuvering, competition, and some level of struggle for the top leadership position.
The winners will be happy; the losers may be so unhappy that they decide to leave and found new organizations. These may become affiliated with the Aikikai if the parting is more or less amicable, or they may not, as seems to be the case here. Either way, the current stratification of organized aikido is doomed to a "flattening" effect, whereby the big, intermediary organizations will get smaller, and new, smaller organizations will affiliate themselves directly with the Aikikai, or not, as it suits them or as conditions permit.
This may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing--it all depends on what motivates whomever thinks about it. From the standpoint of the business angle of aikido, if there are collections of fees, dues, etc. by the bigger organizations, they'll be the losers. The Aikikai may actually benefit by collecting these fees more directly, so maybe they see themselves as winners. Anyway, the point is there's going to be an effect, good or bad is a highly subjective judgement.
Succession is something that takes planning, long term and short term. Whether the catastrophe of a loss at the top happens suddenly or expectedly,you need an heir apparent if you want an orderly transition to new leadership. An heir apparent needs to be recognized as being just that by the large majority of the 2nd and 3rd tier leadership, as well as the bulk of the membership. He/she gets that by being clearly ranked above all other contenders, having been so for a substantial period, and having been doing work so close to and so critical to the lost leader that it's clear what his intention was. It's also critical that it be clear to everyone that for the sake of continuity and success, this person is the best to immediately pick up the ball and run with it.
I'm not Japanese, nor do I pretend to understand Japanese cultural sensitivities. From what I think I observe, though, the promotion of aikido teachers with a view to establishing a ranking that facilitates orderly succession isn't presently in the picture. It may also be that ranking people in this way is too competitive for aikido--doing things this way would make it very competitive, make no mistake. The politics may get worse, people will bump up against ceilings in their ability to progress in rank, there are whole hosts of issues here.
If I was an "aikido leader", which I'm not and am not ever likely to be, I would spend some time thinking about what I wanted aikido to look like in 10 or 20 years. Should it be very flat, with bunches of independents, or should there be "style" groupings, or does it matter? What are the business consequences? How will the relationships be affected if we leave things as they are? How would they be affected if we started planning successions and promoting on that basis? Which is more desireable, as determined by those with very long, first hand experience with the founder, and long experience in the essence of what is, and what should be, aiki?
10 and 20 years from now, there will be aikido, there will be an aikikai, and there will be "organizations". What that all looks like can just happen, in which case we all just live with what we end up with, or leaders can shape the future. The latter may also not be "aiki", and so undesireable. Either way, what we end up with ought to be the result of a conscious choice, even if that choice is to leave the evolution to chance.
That, where I come from, is the duty leaders owe to those who follow.
a nickel on the grass . . .