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Old 12-04-2011, 09:58 AM   #74
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Saotome Sensei's Training History

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Hello Cliff,

Like Janet, I have no horse in this race. I have met Saotome Shihan only once, at the funeral of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and we spoke for a few minutes.

However, I do not believe that to discuss the training history of an eminent shihan is ipso facto a personal attack. It is the way it is done that matters. After all, it is very important for aikido in general that the training history of Morihei Ueshiba, and also of his son Kisshomaru, is as clear as possible.

Like George, I spent some years training at the hands of teachers who stated that they were uchi-deshi of the Founder. However, I moved to Japan and have spent many more years training at the hands of other teachers, who also claimed to be uchi-deshi of the Founder--and yet others who made no such claims, but what they stated was quite different. Such that when I had a chance to ask Kisshomaru Ueshiba about the matter, I did so. I was sufficiently surprised by his answer to discuss the matter later with yet another teacher, S Arikawa, who confirmed what Kisshomaru had stated, but also added that Kisshomaru understood the term uchi-deshi in a rather more exclusive sense than it has been given nowadays, especially in aikido.

To my mind, Kisshomaru's insistance that the Founder had no postwar uchi-deshi and that he himself had no uchi-deshi, was never intended as a slight to postwar students like Saotome Shihan. It was a mark of respect to his own father, in whose footsteps he had to follow as Doshu. Kisshomaru did his utmost not to create a parallel training organization that would have the effect of competing with Morihei Ueshiba's. So it is quite true that the postwar students did indeed believe--and correctly so--that they were students primarily of Morihei Ueshiba. This is true even though M Ueshiba spent much of his time traveling round Japan. It is very clear from his biography that Kisshomaru believed that the training regime in Tokyo had the full support of Morihei Ueshiba. He looked after students like Messrs Saotome, Chiba and Kanai, who trained in Tokyo, at the hands of K Osawa, S Yamaguchi and H Tada--and Kisshomaru himself, when they were not accompanying Morihei U on his travels, or who took ukemi for Morihei U when he taught in Tokyo.

Now some people might regard hands-on training with M Ueshiba in the prewar Kobukan and hands-on training with M Ueshiba in Iwama and Tokyo as essentially the same: what differences there were, were primarily differences of degree. Even in the Kobukan years, Ueshiba was traveling and so training in his absence would be led by the uchi-deshi. For Kisshomaru, on the other hand, the prewar uchi-deshi relationship was different in quality, with the main focus squarely on Morihei Ueshiba himself.

Best wishes,

P Goldsbury
I think folks have a lot of difficulty with the somewhat fluid nature of communications with the Japanese. Saotome Sensei is on record as having stated that there could never be a real uchi deshi system in the United States. His feeling is that the American temperament is quite different than the Japanese. He feels that any American who would be willing to put his own sense of self identity aside to do what the Japanese deshi routinely did, wouldn't actually be the kind of person a teacher would want to invest in. What he thinks of as an uchi deshi in the normal Japanese context would be a sycophantic, groupie in our context. So he said a "real" uchi deshi system just wouldn't work here.

At the very same time, on any number of occasions, Sensei has introduced me as an uchi deshi. He introduced me to tha Nidai Doshu that way... It was quite clear to everyone that I had never lived with Sensei under the same roof, and was technically what would have been referred to as a "soto deshi". Sensei has several students who did at some point spend time living in the same residence... they could more correctly be considered uchi deshi but none ever functioned in their relationship to Sensei in a way that he would have considered a Japanese style uchi deshi relationship. Yet here he was calling me an "uchi deshi". Since I was quite aware of how Sensei thought about what a real uchi deshi was and was not and I think his listener understood the context as well, it was clear that what Sensei really meant was that I was a close personal student, nothing more than that. Sensei does not seem to have any trouble at all moving fluidly between his belief that there can be no American uchi deshi and then an instant later referring to one of his early students as an uchi deshi. One should never get too invested in these things because the meaning at the time is contextual, not fixed. Probably the best way I can think of to get a lecture about what a real uchi deshi is and is not would be to go around telling everyone I was an uchi deshi of Saotome Sensei. He can call me that when he chooses but it isn't something that would have the same meaning or implication if I started using it. I understand how me has meant it on those occasions when he has done so, when I describe my relationship to him, I use English terms that are less ambiguous.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside