In aikido the situation is much more unclear because the professional training courses aren't there really. It's easy to start training at a dojo and imagine that what one's doing is the same as what the seniors did when they started, because where else could they have learned this? Especially if the seniors themselves are effectively amateurs as well, which seems to be the case in some dojo. I mean, I could start a dojo now and be a bad example to a new generation, and who would know any better?
yes, this is precisely it! My wife comes out of a music background in which it is much more clear. Top teachers don't even train lower level people, they do "master classes". You basically get invited or apply and get accepted to the "master classes". Lower level folks who are serious but not quite at the level to take part actually pay to watch the "master classes". I REALLY wish there was something like that here. There are Instructor Level seminars but usually they are Nidan or Sandan and up. While a considerable improvement over general admission training, because the Dan Ranking system has been so mangled, it doesn't mean what it should mean any more.
If you went back to Hombu Dojo back in the day, it was quite clear who the professionals were and who everyone else was. The uchi deshi got training that was not given the general membership, trained more frequently, had teaching responsibilities, and generally spent 6 - 8 hours a day on the mat either teaching or training. They had private classes with O-Sensei, did their own private training, were provided with opportunities to work with senior teachers of arts other than Aikido, all the while the general membership did their one class a day.
For a long time Hombu used the titles Shihan to designate these folks. Finally, there were simply too many foreigners who had trained for decades and were serious teachers themselves, so they extended the title to outsiders, but they still do not consider them equal to "Hombu" Shihan. Nevertheless, that title is the only designation, outside of Dan Rank that tells you much about the person's qualifications as a teacher. Right now it is still a very exclusive group and one is fairly well assured of some level of expertise. But, over time, I worry that it will end up like the Dan Ranks in which people just get kicked upstairs by virtue of hanging with it for years and years. There are folks you see getting promoted solely on time in grade whose Aikido hasn't changed one iota in 20 years.
And everyone expects this... People expect to be promoted for time in grade. In the ASU we typically don't test after 3rd Dan although a few teachers do test for 4th Dan. So after 4th Dan, it's simply time in grade... The Japanese tend to promote people "with their class" so to speak. It is not typical, in martial arts, or in a corporation, to fast track a whiz kid. It is very hard to move up past your sempai. So, if there is a lot of dead wood amongst the sempai, it doesn't matter if you are the "second coming of the Founder" you will get promoted when your peers do.
Take this and compound the issue by the fact that, since Aikido was so young in the US, in fact the martial arts were young, it became common place for lower Dan ranks to open dojos. So we got used to the idea of Nidans and Sandans running schools. My peers and I had dojos when we were San Dans... So, the fact is, most folks training in Aikido have not experienced training under a really qualified Shihan level teacher for any length of time. Most folks get this exposure a few times a year, at most, at seminars and camps.
All of this combines to create a situation in which people don't necessarily even know what truly high level Aikido is. If they do know, they tend to think it is this special thing that their Shihan does that the rest of us mere mortals can't even aspire to. The teachers at the dojos where these folks train can't do what their Shihan does, so how could they teach it? People actually get in the habot of not getting it. Time after time they attend a seminar with their Shihan and go home none the wiser. There is no one back at their dojo who can function at that level nor are they willing / able to training hard enough or frequently enough to work it out on their own. So they end up with this disconnected view of Aikido in which there is the Aikido done by the "special" folks... and then there is what everyone else does.
This would be fine if it were consciously recognized. But ordinary folks don't sign up for Aikido-lite lessons, they put a fair amount of time, money and effort in to their training and want to feel like they are doing Aikido. And over time they want recognition for this. They want those Dan ranks, they want to teach classes at their dojo and be "instructors". I have known a large number of folks over the years who either quit Aikido or left their dojos because they didn't feel validated by being promoted, being asked to be on the teaching schedule, or even, taking ukemi from the teacher when he or she was demonstrating.
The system can be fixed, in my opinion. But like any therapy, the patient has to admit there is a problem before he can get better. Everyone is capable of doing Aikido that is far more sophisticated than what they are doing. Aiki can be done by anyone. It just has to be taught properly.
If I had my way, and I don't expect to, so this is purely hypothetical... Every Aikido organization in the country which "in theory" oversees the Aikido done under its auspices, should have a certification process like the Systema folks do. You want to be listed on the website as an official member dojo? Fine... But in order to keep up that certification, you have to actually show up at the training conducted by Vladimir and Michael, attend seminars with the senior instructors, etc No one sees you , you are off the list. Initially this is a yearly process. later, when people know you are really serious, you won't be off the list just because you had a year when you couldn't train much for some reason. But that's for the seniors who have already shown they are willing to do the work. Everyone else has to show up EVERY year. So, it would be impossible to have a teacher who doesn't get out, who no one has seen in decades at a seminar or camp. There should be similar requirements at every member dojo for anyone teaching class. No one teaching a class at a member dojo should be able to teach without qualifying. By qualifying, I mean getting out and attending camp every year, hitting at least two or three seminars with the Shihan or other senior teachers. No one should be teaching anywhere in the organization who isn't participating in the training offered by the organization.
Then, once you have made participation mandatory at all levels of teaching, there should be instructor level training offered every year that is targeted and level appropriate for the instructors. As far as I am concerned, at least 60 - 70 % of the seminars and camps offered by the Shihan and seniors in an organization should be instructor training. Frankly, other than for inspirational reasons, there is no benefit to having a Shodan training under Saotome Sensei. It is a waste of Sensei's time and the poor Shodan spends most of his time mystified. The Shihan should be mostly teaching the 4th - 6th Dans. The Rokudans should be teaching the lower yudansha instructors. Only people who are actively teaching a class or classes at a dojo should be able to attend the instructor training events. There should only be a few general, all level, seminars, perhaps taught by the Rokudans at local area dojos.
Once there is a more stringent process for transmitting skills to the instructors, then it's time to fix the testing process.
A) people need to fail tests.
(I don't want to get into a discussion of what organizations do what and who does not. So I will not discuss specifics here. People can decide for themselves if what I am saying applies in their situation). As things stand now, there is often no set standard for what constitutes passing a certain level of test. I have seen San Dan tests that were no better than another persons' Shodan test. I have seen people miserably fail on an important portion of a test and pass anyway. This needs to stop.
B) Teachers need to be held accountable for their students performance.
Saotome Sensei has always said that when a student does not do well on a test, it is not the student's fault, it is the teacher's fault. As far as I am concerned, when a test takes place that is substandard, the teacher should hear about it. Imagine what would happen if once or twice one of he Shihan chewed out an instructor in front of the whole group for a bad test by one of his students... I guarantee that it would only have to happen once or twice before the word had gone all around the country to every dojo out there and no one would be sending mediocre students to test any more.
As far as I am concerned, teachers who want promotion should be evaluated on the performance of their students. Any teacher whose students consistently fail or are mediocre, doesn't get promoted. Teachers who consistently turn out superior students get promoted faster. Eventually, and this might take twenty years, you would have the best teachers at the top of the organization. Scarp this whole time in grade thing and look at performance. This takes care of the idea of not testing at the higher ranks. I don't have a problem with not testing after 4th Dan. But, for folks running dojos, there should be a standard based on evaluating their success in transmitting the skills of the art.
C) Students after a certain rank, need to be required to make additional commitment to their training if they want to be promoted.
After 4th Kyu, students who wish to be promoted should have a minimum number of hours on the mat per week set as a standard. I would say three times a week if one wishes to be promoted. Now, no one can tell someone else how often to train... But it is certainly more than fair to require a certain level of commitment for someone who wants something back, like rank. Three times a week and a certain number of seminars or no testing. I would also allow folks who are training more to test more quickly. Once again , in an attempt to get the people training the hardest up to the top of the dojo hierarchy. So, if they can put the time in on the training and meet the required standard of performance on a given test, that's what is required. To keep people from simply trying to get rank by testing as quickly as possible, there can be a significant "time in grade before testing again" provision if someone fails a test. That way, everyone will be careful to be fully prepared when they test.
Also, I would use (as I currently do) Doran Sensei's system of having each student who wishes to test assigned a "trainer" who has done that test before. The "Trainer" has to sign off on the student and say he or she is ready for the test. If that student doesn't do well on the test, the "trainer" hears about it. Doran Sensei told me he finds that the students are harder on each other than he would be and he doesn't have to be the "bad guy".
The point of this whole effort is to raise the quality of Aikido as a whole by effecting the pieces. Set up a systematic method of transmission from the top down, set up performance standards for the membership, especially the teachers, and set more stringent commitment standards for the general membership that have to be met for promotion. Folks can train any way they like. Nothing whatever has to change for people if they don't want it to. But they cannot expect to move up in rank if they don't meet a standard. They can't teach at all if they don't meet a standard. They can't be a certified dojo within an organization if the teacher doesn't meet a standard. And teaching experience gets counted in with other factors when promotions are considered for the most senior folks, not just time in grade.
I think that twenty years of this would result in fewer people doing the art at a much higher level. There would be fewer dojos with more members. Those dojos would be better dojos with better instructors and higher level training. And the very top teachers would be able to pass on what they have learned to the folks below them in the line of transmission. Will this happen? Probably not... but there is no reason aside fro lack of will that it couldn't. I think an attempt to move things in this direction would result in huge resistance on the part of the general population of average folks and average teachers because it would require more effort. The folks whose dojos couldn't be financially tenable with fewer students would resist it. The teachers with spouses who don't like the time they already spend on the art would resist it. The folks who feel that they couldn't afford more financial commitment would resist it. And so on. That's why it is so hard to make positive change in any society. There is a vested interest in how things are and change requires more time, effort, and money. So I am not holding my breath. But it's what I would do if I had a say, which I don't.