Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
I just had a very nice exchange with one of my on-line friends and she motivated me to clarify my views a bit. I know I seem very hard ass and judgmental on this stuff. I want to say that I pretty much am addressing my posts to folks who are teachers, who instruct others, or who aspire to do so.
I do not wish to give the impression that the regular folks out there are not valued or important, in fact crucial to Aikido. There are plenty of folks here who do not train more than a couple times a week or even less, but they think about Aikido all the time. Aikido informs every activity they do. They genuinely love the art and will talk about it with any one who will listen for as long as they will do so. Look at all the time and effort people put in on the forums...
The average practitioner is the backbone of the art. Without them there would be no professional teachers, there would be few dedicated dojo spaces, there would be few, if any, seminars out there. There would be no videos or no books because the market would just be too small. There will always be someone who is more talented, more serious, more everything than the average person. That's why we call it the average...
At my own dojo my students are just like the people here... they train as hard as they can, as frequently as they can. The fact that this is different from what I did when I was younger is neither here nor there. They are my students and I have to teach to that reality. So I don't waste time worrying about it not being how I would like but rather how to do the best with what is. And I am happy with that.
Where I am a real hard ass, and unapologetic is when it comes to the folks who are teachers. I have no patience for well meaning mediocrities who set up dojos and then become the limiting factor in the training of their students. I am definitely not kind when it comes to the hobbyist teacher. It's not just that a teacher takes the student's money, for that can be replaced, it's that the student gives the teacher his or her most prized possession, their time. Every minute a student spends in a dojo is a minute they didn't spend elsewhere and is a unit of time they can never get back.
Opening up a dojo is a huge responsibility, a massive obligation. You have a responsibility to represent your art, your teacher, and to deliver the goods to your students. Not "as best you can" which is an excuse that folks use to justify mediocrity, but simply deliver the goods. If you can't deliver the goods, don't teach. Simple as that.
I encounter teachers who will tell me, "well, I'm not really very good at Sensei's Kumitachi..." well, the question is why not and what are you doing about it? If you know you aren't up to par on something it is your responsibility to teach to others as part of their preparation for yudansha testing, why aren't you torturing yourself over that fact every night. Why haven't you trotted yourself off to the dojo of one of the teachers who could help you with it, why haven't you asked them to your dojo to teach the kumitachi, grabbed that guest instructor before, in between and after regular classes and pestered him to show you more? Screw going to lunch... why aren't you fixing this problem? It is your duty as a teacher to become instructor level at the material. Not just good enough to pass the damned Nidan test on which the kumitachi appear. You have an obligation to take your understanding far past what the average student requires. Otherwise you will be the limiting factor in the training of any student who is above average potential.
As far as I am concerned that is virtually fraudulent behavior. You've set yourself up as a teacher but you actually can't do your job. And passing off the responsibility to one of the other instructors isn't the answer. I see that all the time. The teacher who isn't interested, doesn't want to do the work, feels guilty about the fact that some aspect of his or her Aikido is sub standard but simply passes off the responsibility to a junior instructor as if that takes away the problem. The teacher is the model for the students. If the teacher has a lackadaisical attitude, then the students will have the same. The teacher must model the attitude of never being satisfied, always striving, going after what is needed to better and to teach better.
So, while I am totally supportive of any and all folks doing Aikido as serious student or hobbyists, I feel no obligation to baby anyone who sets himself up as a teacher. Do your jobs. If you don't want to, go back to training and close your dojo. No training is better for your students than poor training.
And so, when I am talking about time requirements etc to move up in grade, I am really addressing the next and future generations of students who will end up teaching. Start off expecting less of yourself than you are capable of and you will end up that way. And your students will be worse.
If this were a competitive art, things would take care of themselves. You can't fool yourself about how good you are when there is competition. You aren't any good, you lose. You have twenty years of experience and still suck, a three year junior beats you up. Not in Aikido... You can teach, you can stay the same for twenty years and not get any better. You can rationalize your defects by saying it's not about fighting anyway. You train your ukes to take the ukemi that makes your stuff look good and you don't leave your dojo to train else where because the folks out there are jerks (i.e. they don't fall down for you). I see teachers like this all the time.
And when did the problem start? Way back when they were white belts and they told themselves that what they were willing to do would be enough. That just passing the test was enough. Just getting through the weapons work well enough to not fail was enough. That training twice a week, because that was all that would fit into the schedule, was enough. And then twenty years later we have a teacher who is the product of years of wishful thinking and just barely enough.
So when it seems like I am too strict it is only to try and get people thinking about what Really is enough? And I mean to be the kind of black belt that would be an ideal in your mind, to be the kind of dojo instructor that you would be proud to be, to be the kind of master of the art which a dojo head should be, how much is enough for that? When most folks ask how much is enough they are asking how much is the bare minimum required... Anyone who has the least aspiration towards mastery of the art, especially towards teaching the art, even if it's only at someone else's dojo, needs to be asking what it takes to be excellent. It's not how little you can get by with, it's what it takes to do your job and do it well.
The average practitioner is not responsible to anyone but himself for his level of commitment and how far he or she wishes to go in the art. It is the job of those of us who have made training our lives to pass on everything we can to these folks. It will be their effort and commitment that determines what they take from that instruction. But everyone deserves our efforts and no one is a waste of time, if they at least try when they are there.
Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 10-28-2010 at 03:19 PM.