I'm a painter and teacher by profession. Six years ago I took part in the establishment of an innovative schoolconcept that radically and completely challenged the status quo. In a nutshell, we turned the classical vertical schoolstructure into a horizontal structure.
The project was met with great opposition, jealousy and outrage. At the same time it made possible what seemed impossible: We got young people to become more self-motivated, more self-aware and more considerate then most of their junior peers that habituated the vertical schoolstructures. We crossed and widened boundaries and opened doors long thought shut. We didn't set out, out of a desire to altar or reform the status quo, but we did hope that some might find value in what we did. Not by the concept itself, but by showing whatever merit we could bring forth. And though it has been and still is an extremely bumpy road, we sure as hell did produce outstanding results.
Within the aikido community, Dan is a nobody. He holds no high ranking (far as I'm aware of) in the sense of being able to use that as the type of title that is so commonly regarded as THE recognition of ones abilities or achievements. Hierarchically speaking, he is not a shihan of sorts. Training with him in that sense, is like training with one of the boys except for the fact, it's not. If we where to measure things both on a technical and teaching ability scale, Dan might well outrank many a Shihan. A bold statement perhaps, but, as Dan pointed out himself (perhaps too many times now so let's finish this ones and for all) he IS teaching shihans. Not one, not two, but several. Shihans and other very high ranking budo (not just aikido) people who feel themselves drawn to whatever it is he possesses and they too want to acquire.
Let's ponder on that a little. For what are the ramifications of this fact? Shihans training with a nobody? That's quite uncommon isn't it? What did they find lacking in the first place? And what compelled them to rely on the guidance of a nobody? Is it a comfortable place for them to reside? For with the exception of Bill Gleason, no mention of this is made public or shouted out loud. Why not?
A lot of talk and speculation has been devoted to the supposed skills of Dan Harden. He is as guilty for lighting the spark of fascination regarding his point of views on the topic of IP/Aiki (and the controversy hat surrounds it) himself, as are the parties that have debated the topic and at times even his person. There seems to be a mixture of fascination and skepticism, of disbelief and outrage, of desire and doubt, when it comes to IP/Aiki. Nonetheless, at the heart of spreading the word out, amongst others stands Dan. I'm still not quite sure if he can actually see how others may perceive his posts. Especially when reading the sentiments of those who've met him, and the need they felt to convey that he is a very nice and approachable person in person. And he is. That, amongst many other things.
An average seminar day with Dan Harden:
How comfortable would you feel if you went to a seminar without wearing your much treasured keiko gi and or hakama? How would you feel when there is no ritual, no sign that class started, or physical placing that sets apart the teacher from the students? How would you feel if the person teaching allows you to put your hands all over him (all over? Yes, all over!) so he could make you actually feel what he is doing whilst telling you what he's doing and how you should do it yourself? How would you feel if that person could convincingly replicate most of the same feats the founder of this art was known for? How would you feel if that person not needed to show off but sincerely enjoyed the marvel of it himself but was also willing to teach you to do it yourself? How would you feel that even though he outclassed all attending, he was curious to receive feedback on how he was conveying his knowledge? "Did it make sense? What about questions?" Would you feel comfortable missing out on the distance that many a Shihan have assumed? Placing themselves safely on some distant shore.
I think the budo world at large underestimates the ramifications of the events that are currently taking place. I think it is unprecedented, unheard off and maybe even almost unequaled.
Though only time will tell, Dan will not be doing this seminar format thing till Kingdom come. Those with the urge to continue debating him online out of a need to validate or invalidate his skill will miss out. Besides, I agree with Dan's sentiment that it's not about him but about the work. It helps, of course, and there is no escaping the fact that it is his person that is making this possible. I am not saying nor suggesting that Dan is some God-like figure nor that he is ‘the only one.' He is a very down to earth person who just happened to have the good fortune, perseverance, intelligence and innate talent and desire to both acquire IP/Aiki and also teach it the way he does.
Without question, he could make a small fortune if he where to commercially approach it. We are lucky he isn't.
Personally, I feel privileged to have had exposure to his teachings. I actually don't want to encourage more people to start attending his seminars for quite frankly, that would mean less time for me. Let us also not forget Dan's students who are missing out on their teacher on a regular basis due to the demands and growing desire stemming mostly from the aikido community. Time is scarce. But may the prospect of Dan having ever more little time become fact, I would feel saddened not by missing out on Dan as one who is teaching a tremendously valuable treasure, I would miss out on a friend. Luckily I don't foresee that happening all to soon.
The non-believers and skeptics need not worry. This post wasn't for you anyway. I have no desire to convert or argue. I'd rather train and exchange info with my fellow IP/Aiki trainees.
All I have left to say to Dan is: Goede Genade!