View Single Post
Old 10-28-2009, 03:10 PM   #12
George S. Ledyard
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Russ Qureshi wrote: View Post
Hello George Sensei,

Change is always hard, eh. You know I come from a relatively traditional organization :-) but I do enjoy quite a bit of autonomy. I think dealing with these changes comes down to "who you are". One cannot deny truth once seen (and expect to be happy anyway). If you are confident with "who you are" then you will find a way to encompass the change and work it into your present training paradigm.....just gotta remember that things are the way they are supposed to be (from a subjective experience POV).

I personally feel a great deal of gratitude to my teacher and the head of our organization. Magnificent human beings that, in many respects, I wish to model my own behaviour to/around. That being said, I would not let my association with them, or the "giri" I owe them, to create an obstacle to advancing my understanding of aikido. I understand that this may create some tension or misunderstanding at some point...but...I also have great hope and confidence that the organization (and my teacher's minds:-) are large enough to accept these changes.

Last thoughts.....are IT skills really anything new? I think Saotome, Ikeda & Suganuma Sensei's all have copious amounts of IT (it). As you say they don't have a structured way of imparting those skills and may even choose not to if they had a method. I think that percieved lack of openess is simply the conditioning they have undergone....Despite this lack of will/ability to impart these skills I think (I truly hope) they would encourage us to persue a deeper understanding of "aiki" and bring that to our practise.

A bit stream of conciousness.....sorry.


Hi Russ,
Most of us would die happy if we were as good at Aikido as teachers like Saotome, Ikeda or Suganuma Senseis. What occasions much of my thinking on the matter is not, unlike many of the folks from outside the art, a perception that these teachers do not posses "the goods" in sufficient quantity with sufficient quality to be worthy of emulation.

But when I look at these teachers, I ask myself who, if anyone, amongst their students has developed the skills that they have? The number of people in these organizations numbers in the thousands. Each teacher has created students at the Shihan level. Yet, when it really comes down to it, do ANY of their students look like they will be anywhere near as good as their teachers?

It's the transmission that's broken. Now, perhaps nothing has really changed i this regard. In the old days, a very small number of people trained and a very small number of people acquired anytyhing like the skills of their teachers like O-Sensei, Takeda, Sagawa, Shioda, Shirata, etc

It is quite possible that, while many thousands more people are training in the art, the number of people who actually reach a higher level of skill is still what it was, VERY small.

Now that seems to me to make little sense. Normally, in the world of sports and other activities, the quality of the top people gets better and better as more people engage in the activity. The US now turns out world class soccer players where no one from the US was professional caliber when I was young. As fencing has grown in popularity, we have seen Americans taking Gold in events which we previously couldn't even qualify for.

Yet, in Aikido what do we see? An array of old men who trained with the Founder, whose skills are vastly superior to anyone under them, with perhaps one or two exceptions. In the cases in which we see a teacher who has actually produced a number of people at his own level of skill, it isn't because he has lifted them up to some great height but more that he simply wasn't that sophisticated to begin with. There was a very wide range in capability between the various uchi deshi, even those who trained with the Founder at precisely the same time.

Now there are certainly some Aikido teachers who have chugged merrily along for years turning out consistently wonderful students. Chuck Clark Sensei comes immediately to mind. However, because of the way politics works in the martial arts (especially the Japanese arts), it is actually easier for an Aikido student to develop a relationship with a teacher of another art than it is for him to be able to train seriously with an Aikido teacher other than his own. So there simply isn't that much interchange between Aikido groups and styles.

So we find ourselves in this situation of looking to people from outside the art to give us better explanations of what our own teachers have been doing than they themselves can give. Now, I know for a fact that they are aware of this... In the past few years I have seen both Ikeda Sensei and Saotome Sensei radically alter the way they are teaching. I often look at the younger students, struggling with something just demonstrated, and I shake my head.. "That's 100 times the explanation I ever got... I took ten years and many seminars with all sorts of teachers to figure that out. Now Sensei just showed you..."

So things are changing. But whether it's enough, I don't know. Aikido in general seems to have a set of common training methodologies which make little sense to me at this point.

For instance, one of the things that makes Aikido what it is, is movement. No other art has the kind of movement this art has. It is elegant, it is beautiful. It is also virtually impossible to learn about real center to center connection through movement.

One of the things you start to learn in Internal training is how to generate kuzushi without needing to make these large movements. It seems to me that Aikido, which starts large and then tries to move towards the small (or maybe not) is doing things backwards. I think that the beginning of training should focus exclusively on developing the body skills involved in really understanding about "joining". How does the body receive incoming energy? Where does power get generated? Doing the conditioning exercises which train these body skills.

Once you understand how connection really works, you can then choose to apply it while moving. I love the large circular movements of the art. No other art has anything that looks or feels like our flowing ushiro practice. Yet very few people can do those movements from a state of real connection. For most people, these large movements are a series of connect / disconnect events full of openings and dependent on ukes trained to run around nage in circles for no apparent reason.

So I think that, to get more people up to the level of our teachers, we are going to have to innovate on the training. A critical element of this ability to innovate is, quite frankly, distance. George's Law of Innovation in Aikido says that there is an inverse relationship between the proximity to ones teacher and the level of innovation taking place at your dojo.

If you have had a great teacher for decades, if you haven't done so already, move as far from him as possible and start figuring things out for yourself. You will almost certainly not do so training with that teacher for another decade or so, in his own dojo.

Another thing I'd recommend to most folks... don't advertise what you are doing. A wonderful piece of advice given me many years ago by one of my mentors was "Sensei doesn't need to know." Personally, I am a huge advocate of change, cross training, etc and I have a teacher who has always been very supportive about training with a variety of teachers in many styles. So I am always up on the web telling people what I am doing, encouraging them to do likewise. But I wouldn't recommend being that visible to most folks. Get this training and go home and work on it. You don't need some sniveling toadie going back to your teacher quoting what you said about your Daito Ryu experiences or your Systema work on the Internet (and believe me they will, even if they are continents away). Does your teacher, hundreds of miles away need to know that on Tuesdays you are working on this weird stuff you got from Mike or Dan? Probably not. He's most likely happier not knowing. Then, when you see him the next time, he will most likely go, "Ah, you are starting to get what I've been trying to show you all these years! Good." Letting him think it's because he finally got through to your duncelike self will not hurt your relationship at all, whereas saying "Yes, I found someone who could teach it, finally" will not put you on the fast road to promotion.

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