Join Date: May 2003
Terry Dobson's Training History
History's a funny thing. On the one hand, some are claiming that the post-war Aikikai misrepresented Ueshiba Morihei's role and that post-war aikido was largely the creation of a group of senior shihan under the clear leadership of Ueshiba Kisshomaru. In a sense, there is an allegation here of a level of dishonesty. Yet at the same time, when it comes to post-war resident students of the Aikikai, they are no-longer "uchi-deshi." Why? Because that same individual, who some choose to not "trust" in some respects trust him now. Ueshiba Kisshomaru is quoted, on one occasion, of said they weren't "uchi-deshi," so that makes it so, and therefore, their careers are open to being debunked as trivial compared to a "real" uchi-deshi.
There is no doubt that the pre-war Kobukan was a far different place than the post-war Aikikai. But there is no doubt whatsoever - truly - that the live-in students of the Aikikai were uchi-deshi. For goodness sakes, all the word means is "inside student." They were so referred to by others. And they were not all "apprentice teachers." The proof is Terry Dobson (who Osensei ORDERED be admitted to the Aikikai as an uchi-deshi over the objections of the cabal who allegedly controlled the old man - really, think of this. Terry was, at that time, a psychologically disturbed guy, almost out of control emotionally, and a foreigner to boot, and Ueshiba simply said "I want him in here." And so he was - in - "uchi"
Truly, with the exception of Tohei Koichi, who offered him the continental United States (as his cat's paw - something Terry wisely turned down), no one was preparing Terry Dobson to be an Aikikai teacher. Yet, he was regarded very differently than other foreigners. Here's some examples"
1. He, alone, I believe, among non-Japanese, was called to Ueshiba's death-bed. Osensei's last words to him, which Terry believed contained his mandate to transmit aikido in the way that he did, were "onegai shimasu."
2. When Doshu came to America in an attempt to heal a rift between the California group (which Terry was advising, in what was regarded by some as an adversarial role), Doshu entered the dojo and all the "uchi-deshi" ran up and knelt, bowing. Terry, because he was on the "opposing side," felt it was improper to join the group. This was regarded by some as a mortal insult. That the other non-Japanese teachers were not in the group was irrelevant. Terry was different to ALL the Japanese. One could hate him, regard him as an inconvenience, whatever, but he was part of a select group. They couldn't escape that.
3. The uchi-deshi travelled with O-sensei. Interestingly, even when he was in Iwama, he'd get lonely and call up Tokyo and asked for one of the deshi to come up and keep him company (I can't remember which shihan reminesced on this one). I think this is significant - if Saito wasn't around, Osensei was apparently largely alone, as the other Iwama students were locals, and they had homes to go back to and families to care for. Iwama was not a commune!
4. When I lived at the Kuwamori dojo (and was referred to as "our uchi-deshi," Terry came to Japan. The dojo head, Kuwamori Yasunori, had never heard of him. Yet when he heard that he was an uchi-deshi, he a sixth dan, asked Terry - then demanded that Terry - a 4th dan (politics) - teach the class. And when the class heard he had been an uchi-deshi, no one batted an eye.
The uchi-deshi trained together, ate together, and just like the pre-war students, were drafted to carry Osensei's bags. Terry and Chiba Kazuo are two I recall right off the bat who described their duties to wake in the middle of the night whenever the old man stirred. This was part of training, and was exactly, by the way, what Ueshiba did with Takeda Sokaku. The men who lived IN the dojo actually regard the soto-deshi, like Yamada Yoshimitsu, as - not being less, per se - but having missed out on a vital, essential experience.
To be clear, I think that Ueshiba Kisshomaru WAS highlighting a real difference in organizational attitude and role towards the uchi-deshi compared to prewar, but this quibbling in various threads that the Tokyo uchi-deshi were "not really" so is truly splitting hairs. (By the way, Kobayashi sensei referred to HIS live-in students as uchi-deshi, as I recall).
Now, the reason I really posted this. Relevant to this debate is how much time some of the post-war disciples spent with Ueshiba. I've seen something similar in discussions about how many training hours Ueshiba had with Takeda Sokaku! In both cases, this is to either discount the student or discount the teacher! For me, the most interesting riddle is Feng Zhi Qiang, a titan of Chen t'ai chi (sort of the Saito sensei of the art). In his own story, he says he studied six years with Chen Fake. But detractors say he only studied two (and me - I think - how could he get so incredibly good and powerful with just two years training - maybe he expanded the years to be modest!!!!)
The point I'm really making is that there is a qualitative question here that is more important than the quantitative. When I started aikido, I started asking Terry about other teachers, whom he'd met during travels with Osensei to Osaka - Tanaka Bansen, Kobayashi Hirokazu, ABe Seiseki,and Hikitsuchi Michio in Shingu, to name just four. Terry said, "I didn't notice them. All I saw was Osensei." He literally couldn't recall them - these 8th dan giants. To be sure, he had stories about Saito-sensei, Yamaguchi-sensei, Osawa sensei and Tohei sensei, and all the uchi-deshi, but they were, to him, big brothers, or if "larger," uncles. Were I to have asked Terry how many days Ueshiba was out of Tokyo, I don't think he could have answered. All his stories were about classes with Osensei, or taking ukemi for him, or traveling with him, doing farming chores at Iwama, etc. Does the reader get what I'm saying? Terry (and by implication others like him) may have taken classes from the senior shihan, but they were stand-ins - not replacements, but place-holders. They were still studying with Osensei. He was, to them, of such pervasive influence, that the days he was gone, were not days they "didn't study with him." They were studying with him - with him not there. In other words, when Arikawa sensei had Terry do a shihonage in practice, in his mind it was Osensei's shihonage he was doing. (Some of the deshii were surely different - but I think Chiba, Dobson and Saotome, to name three, were subjectively Osensei's students - don't know enough about the others to speculate).
There is less "lying" going on that some might assume. Subjective truth is where one places one's mind. I have dreamt about one of my teachers at least three times a week for the last 23 years since I've left Japan. I get lessons from him, arguments, criticism and approval. Sometimes I practice with him, and sometimes I'm in combat with him. I've actually seen him one time in that time period. As far as I'm concerned, I have 36 years of direct instruction from him.Everything I've learned since is filtered through that lens, of how he'd react, if what I'm doing is stronger that what he taught, or a fundamental deviation, which would be a betrayal
This last account may read strange to some of you. But that's because you are not uchi-deshi.
Last edited by Ellis Amdur : 12-05-2011 at 03:35 AM.