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Old 10-27-2010, 05:43 PM   #59
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Is two Days a week enough?

Basia Halliop wrote: View Post

I.e., I'm not convinced that the mere existence of 'hobbyists' threatens the quality of the higher levels or threatens the future of the art. If there aren't a certain number of people training very intensely and getting to a very high quality (note I didn't say a certain percentage -- 1 'future master' and 10 'hobbyists' vs 1 'future master' and 1 'hobbyist' is still 1 future master - you haven't gained any masters by getting rid of those hobbyists), THAT is a problem, but you don't create professionals by removing hobbyists or putting external pressure on them to train more than they're really interested in -- you create professionals by creating professionals.
It isn't that the "existence" of the hobbyists threatens the art. It is the fact that they far and away predominate in a system that is increasingly set up only to train them. In other words, the demographic on Aikido (and other traditional martial arts as well) is not very good right now. The young males, who used to supply the bulk of the new students for all the martial arts, do not want to do more traditional training, they want to fight. They want to do what they see on Prime Time Cable each night.

All across the country and around the world adult membership in many dojos is down. The membership at my own dojo is at a fifteen year low. So if you look at that fact you see that two things are happening. One, is that the average age of the dojos around is rising steadily and two, the proportion of women in these dojos is rising. While having more women in the dojo isn't an issue, at least for me, having the average age rise is. If someone is going to really be good at this, there is a stage of training one needs to go through that is very intense and physical. You need to do this when you are young because your body can't handle that level of physicality later in life. So when you have a dojo where the youngest folks are already in their thirties, there is no way you ca train folks with that intensity. This is a problem in my own dojo. My students can't experience the intensity of the training I went through because they are too old already to be able to not be injured all the time.

When folks only train twice a week, the conditioning that comes with daily training just isn't there. So if they try to train really hard, they tend to get injured more because their bodies aren't strong and flexible enough to handle it. So the intensity of the training gets adjusted downwards to allow the bulk of the students to train without getting too beat up. Couple that with the need to tone it down for older bodies and the training becomes even more toned down.

So, the question is, not whether the hobbyists represent a problem... because they don't. It's that when the art is tailored for their needs, where do the really serious folks train. Look around at most dojos and ask yourself if you honestly believe that there is anyone at that dojo who looks like he or she will be better than the teacher. Ask whether that dojo could turn out another Mary Heiny Sensei if someone was there with that capacity and drive.

Most dojos I see will not turn out anyone better than the teacher. If anyone who really wanted to train more intensely and more frequently than the dominant dojo paradigm allows for, pressure would be brought to bear and they would either toe the line or they would leave. I have seen this happen a number of times. I have seen folks leave a dojo and even quit Aikido after they were forced out because they were hurting people, being too rough. My take on it was that they really wanted to train hard and the folks in the dojo couldn't take it when they did.

So, as Paulina has stated, what really needs to happen is that there are dojos at which instructor level training takes place and dojos where it doesn't. The hobbyist wouldn't even consider training at the dojo that is committed to turning out instructor level students and folks who wanted to be instructors wouldn't train at the dojos devoted to the hobbyists. This is essentially what the ushi deshi program at Hombu is about... They get the higher level training, train with more intensity, train more frequently, do classes that are not offered to the public, and everyone else just does the homogenized stuff reserved for the hobbyists.

Most dojos here wouldn't put up with a two tiered standard like that. Everyone feels like they are doing their best and should be validated for that. They have little patience for some interloper who comes in and surges past them i rank and gets o the teaching roster when they've been at the dojo half the time... They simply will not admit that this person my be more serious than they are, is training harder, and should be put ahead of them.

If there were some standard for delineating dojos in to hobbyist dojos and instructor training dojos, and the rank one could attain aty a hobbyist dojo was limited to San Dan, say... then it wouldn't be a problem. If we started to look at things the way they do in Japan, which is that 6th Dan is really an instructor and normally someone under 6th Dan wouldn't be expected to have his own dojo... that 4th and 5th Dans might teach at their home dojos or run a community center intro class but normally wouldn't open his or her own place until much later in their training... Then we couple that with the assurance that anyone who does have a 6th Dan went through many years of instructor level training with other people at that level and we might have the start of a solution.

Right now, instructors are simply the most talented and committed students who come out of the very same dojos populated with the hobbyists. I would maintain that, short of having a real uchi deshi system as in Japan, the normal dojo doesn't do an adequate job of preparing future teachers and a dojo that was really geared to do that well, wouldn't be someplace that a hobbyist would survive any more than the average person at Hombu dojo could do the training the deshi get.

There is absolutely no problem with the hobbyist. It's that the hobbyists represent the pool out of which the instructors emerge. So the next thing you know, those hobbyists are teaching at the dojo. Then they move up the ranks but still remain hobbyist / instructors. Then perhaps they have a falling out with their teacher, or leave their organization, or their teacher simply retires and now they have their own dojo! Still being the hobbyist / instructor and they now train other folks. When that is the situation with the majority of dojos, the standard inevitably gets lowered. Folks have said that it shouldn't matter how often folks train, that they should simply be required to meet a given standard to get rank. But the fact of the matter is that the standard will be adjusted to fit the dominant training paradigm in order that folks can succeed. So, inevitably the standard will become what the average person training twice a week can do and succeed. Teachers want their students to be able to pass their tests. Shihan want their members happy. None is going to set a standard that can only be met by a minority of folks training.

When I come up with the three day minimum standard for promotion past 3rd kyu, it isn't arbitrary. It is my considered assessment that this is what almost anyone needs to master at an acceptable level, all the things we are responsible for knowing. Saotome Sensei has two sword forms, single sword forms, two sets of jo forms, an array of sword techniques which are derived from old koryu sword work. He has kihon waza, he has martial application. One is expected to be able to manifest a technique large or small and make adjustments as needed. I have never seen anyone be able to do all of this at an acceptable level of skill who wasn't training at least three times a week.

So, I simply state that expectation in our requirements. People who don't wish to train that much don't need to test. But we don't pretend that some lower level of commitment is enough because it isn't. At three times a week, which is what most of my serious students are doing, I can barely pass on the required curriculum. I simply can't pass on all that was given to me by my teacher, or pass on more than a piece of what I have been given by the other teachers I have trained with over the years.

I feel that I have managed to shorten the learning curve by developing much better teaching technique and explanation than I had available. My teachers didn't explain much of anything back then. So, I do believe I have several students who will be better than I am by the time they have train ed as long as I have now. But they won't know what I know because they aren't training enough to master all of it. There are whole blocks of stuff that Saotome Sensei did with us that I simply have never gone over with my students.

So, no two days is not enough. It is not enough to know what a Yudansha should, in my opinion only, know. It certainly isn't enough for someone to move up the Dan ranks and be competent. I don't wish to rain on anyone's parade... I know people love Aikido, that folks put themselves into their training in all sorts of different ways, that they have to balance their Aikido with all sorts of other concerns... it hasn't been any different for those of us who chose to make different choices. We all have the same 24 hour day. So we have to choose what we spend the time on. There is nothing wrong with choosing to spend most of your time on other things than Aikido. Makes sense to me... I have many times thought how completely crazy it has been to have devoted my entire adult life to pursuit of this arcane stuff.

My point is that people make what they see as the greatest commitment they can make and then they have the expectation that it will be good enough. They still want to be black belts, they eventually would like to teach class. They want their Sensei to recognize them, they want to be validated. So the standard will never be set as an absolute that people either meet or not. Rather it will continue to be adjusted to meet the commitment that folks are willing to make. As the gentleman said, no one should be excluded from getting a back belt because they can't train more than twice a week. Well, that totally illustrates my point. I would ask, as others have, why not? Is getting a black belt a "right"? Is it something you feel you've paid for after a certain amount of dues paying?

Well, I do exclude people from black belt rank because they don't train more than twice a week. I do because when a student has a black belt from me, he represents me and the dojo, just as I represent Saotome Sensei. I am not going to attach my name to someone as his or her teacher who will not "represent" adequately. People judge what you do as a teacher by the quality of your students. When someone gives you a black belt, they have accepted you into their line of transmission.No teacher who has the least concern for his professional reputation wishes to attach his or her name to someone who isn't competent. So that student who wants a black belt from me, under the authority given me by Saotome Sensei, is incurring an obligation. It is not a right to have rank but a privileged and it is earned. One of the things you have to do at my school to earn it, is to train with a consistent frequency that will realistically allow for mastery of the required curriculum at an acceptable (to me) level.

If folks feel like this is elitist or exclusionary, I suppose it is. I am an elitist in that I want Aikido to be far better than it has been. For that to happen people need to recognize what it really takes to be decent. Not the best, just decent. If folks do not wish or cannot give it enough commitment to be that good, I am fine with them not doing it at all.

While I am an elitist about what I think the standard should be, I also totally believe that everyone can do Aikido with "aiki". There is absolutely no reason that even a relative beginner can't do technique that works for the same reasons that Saotome Sensei's technique works. It is explainable, teachable, and anyone with average ability can start doing it. Making it your default setting to the point at which you can manifest the principles freely while under a lot of stress, as in a martial confrontation is very difficult. But understanding the principles of aiki and using them i ones Aikido is the normal practice setting is not difficult. It just requires better instruction than what has been typical. So in that sense, I am not an elitist at all. Because I actually believe that even the hobbyist can do Aikido with "aiki". I also believe that anyone who wishes to make the level of commitment we have been talking about can be quite competent in the art. Maybe not a Shihan level practitioner but certainly solid.

But for this to happen people have to stop believing that things are fine the way they are, which in my mind they are not, and they need to be willing to make the greater commitment to make the change. I don't expect that to happen, as I said before. I fully expect people to tell me I am wrong and the way they train or the standard they use at their dojo is all fine. What I am saying is required is definitely about going past the average person's comfort zone.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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