Re: The Limiting Factor in a Student's Training
Hi George Sensei,
I've been thinking about your initial post and I have two responses, one personal and the other general.
On the personal front, I began my training in Iowa City, IA back in the late 80s. At the time the dojo at the University of Iowa was the only game in town. There were a few other tiny dojos in the state, but the nearest top instructor was Akira Tohei Shihan in Chicago. I was a graduate student in chemistry at the time so I didn't know the entire martial arts scene well, but I don't think there were any top flight people in any art in town - just a bunch of university clubs and some storefront tae kwon do and karate dojos. We went to seminars as much as we could (several a year) as did our instructors - we were all doing our best with the resources available.
Now, many years later, Tara and I run a small dojo in Pittsburgh not because we want to be aikido teachers, but because without this dojo, we couldn't train. If we can encourage some folks to come along on our journey, well so much the better. And who knows, we might connect with somebody who will end up an 8th dan someday (wouldn't that be nice). We are very serious about our aikido, however all our training has been around education and careers, which leads to my general observation.
In the professional world (academic chemistry) that I know well, those who rise to the absolute top make huge sacrifices to get there. They have no hobbies, few outside interests, and and often family and friends are distinctly secondary. That drive, that singular focus, gets them to the top of their profession. They are rewarded with professional respect and a permanent, well paying job with benefits. Some end up wealthy through patents and start-up companies.
Our society rewards people with that sort of drive handsomely in the medical world, law, business, etc. The best aikidoists I know have this kind of drive and have, while young, trained in the dojo hours and hours per day (Mary Heiny certainly did!). That leads to a level of mastery that most of the rest of us cannot hope to attain. And what is their reward? Like artists and musicians it seems like the result is lousy pay, a constant struggle to run a dojo, poor access to health care, and no retirement plan. To find students who can surpass the best teachers we have to attract people with the drive to get there who are either trust fund kids or regular folks willing to accept the lifestyle. That seems a hard challenge in our fast pasted consumer oriented world.
I'm afraid that I don't have any solutions (not at the late hour I am typing this anyway) but that is the crux of the problem as I see it.
PS I do agree with your second post (and the other folks who commented) that there is a huge difference between just showing up at the dojo and training with maximum focus. Personally I only get a few hours a week on the mat, so I try to improve something, anything, each time I'm there. I may never reach or surpass the level of understanding Mary Heiny Sensei has, but that's the road ahead and I'm going down it just as well as I can.