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Old 12-05-2011, 10:23 AM   #10
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Terry Dobson's Training History

Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
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.

Ellis Amdur
That's the best description I have ever seen of how I perceive Saotome Sensei's (and the other uchi deshi I have talked to) relationship to the Founder to have been. In many ways it describes my own relationship with my teacher. I may have been in his dojo from 1976 to 1981 but everything I have done in my training since that time was simply to try to expand my understanding of what I understand Saotome Sensei to be doing.

It is interesting... When I first moved to Seattle in '81 for career reasons, I was so worried that I had left DC and Sensei too early. I felt that the students who had stayed behind had an "advantage" over me and I would "fall behind". So, I trained with anyone I thought could offer me something, Ellis, Bruce Bookman, Mary Heiny, etc

Later on, when I would return to DC for seminars or camps, I started to realize that in many ways, leaving DC was the best thing that could have happened to me. It forced me to really go after my own training. For many who were in the dojo on a daily basis, practice remained an imitation of someone else's Aikido. They'd go to class every night, and Sensei would do these amazing things, and they would do their level best to duplicate that. Then they'd go home and say "Great class tonight!". They didn't necessarily dream about it all night or torture themselves over "not getting it" the night before... Sensei would be there again the next night.

For me, anything I got from Sensei after I left was a special "gift". For instance he created his kumitachi after I left the dojo. So, I never learned them when I was at the dojo but afterwards when I returned for training. I then had to return to Seattle, take them apart, put them back together, practice them, analyze them, and then repeat the process. No one was there to do his for me. When I returned to DC again, I was surprised to find only a very few of the most motivated had been doing anything similar. Most simply came to class, did whatever Sensei showed that night, and went home again.

My point on this is that I can just see how some Aikido researcher in the future would say that George Ledyard was really only with Saotome for five years... and compare me to some guy who had been at the DC dojo continuously until Sensei left for Florida later on. Numerically it might make sense but it simply wouldn't in any way reflect the reality. I remember Sensei saying on many occasions "I am not your entertainment". Now I understand what he meant. For many folks, nightly training with Saotome Sensei was "entertainment", an interesting thing to do, good exercise, etc But they never took it past the "imitation" of Sensei's Aikido to making it truly their own. And that was what Sensei was really waiting for. On the other hand, because I was far away... I valued every instant I had with Sensei after I left. Once videos were available, I had every one, I worked off them, I worked off my notes, I was far "hungrier" in some sense than many of the folks that were there with their dose of Sensei every day. I think many did not appreciate what they really had until Sensei moved to Florida and the no longer had him there.

I think that one of the things that gets forgotten or was never really discussed in the first place, was the extent to which the various uchi deshi did their own work, trying to master what they had been taught. Saotome Sensei would talk about constantly having questions for O-Sensei, which the old man found amusing from the young kid on some level but never refused to answer. But his answer would be to grab a bokken, do something once, say, "there you go" and walk off. Then Sensei would take that one thing and tear it apart. I have friends who were at Hombu back in the day who remember seeing Sensei coming out of a private practice room with blood streaming off his head from working on sword takeaways. In other words, a moment with O-Sensei could occasion many hours of practice. How could one possibly quantify that?

One of the things that has seemed to frame these discussions over the past couple of years is the issue of internal power training in the pre-war as opposed to the past war Aikido. Often the implication was that O-Sensei's Aikido could be defined as his mastery of internal power. While I do not dispute that these skills were central to his somewhat legendary reputation, these skills were in no way the sum of his Aikido. What the Founder taught was vastly greater than what can be defined as internal power skills. There is much of what he taught after the war that represented an evolution in his thinking about things. This is evident in the fact that most of the pre-war deshi went off and did their own thing after the war. The Aikido (or Aikibudo) that they had been taught was morphing and they didn't wish to go along. What they wanted was O-Sensei at 50 not O-Sensei at 70 something.

I think it is a huge mistake to make the IP issue the defining criterion for judging the art and its practitioners. I am the first one to say, by all means we should get as much experience as we can in the area. But it isn't the benchmark that defines the art. It is a piece, albeit an important one, of a much larger whole. The post war deshi received a "direct transmission" of principle, technique, philosophical / spiritual framework, etc every instant they were with the Founder. The most mundane task was turned into a lesson for the deshi by the Founder. These "lessons" were often an instant of teaching with a lifelong impact and they were highly individual, taking place in some random moment between the Founder and a student. Many of our discussions fail to incorporate any understanding of this.

Ellis's exposition here is a wonderful, and surprisingly sympathetic expression of this I think.. thanks so much to Ellis for this.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 12-05-2011 at 10:26 AM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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