Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Re: The Founder's Teaching Ability
I think we might change the question from teaching "ability" to teaching "methodology". The methodology clearly changed over the years as the subject matter changed.
The 30's deshi were doing Daito Ryu originally. The material was different, it was still forms based early on. As O-Sensei moved in what he called Aiki Budo, this started to change a bit, but not that much. I have talked to folks who trained under '30s deshi and also have a Daito Ryu background and the all comment on the fact that what they were taught as "Aikido" was very Daito Ryu - like.
Even when you get to Saito Sensei, you find him walking around with O-Sensei's book from the pre-war period saying "See, I didn't change a thing." and Saito really was the last deshi to be systematically taught technique by the Founder.
By the time you get to Saotome Sensei's day, it was quite different. Saotome Sensei always said that he could remember three times in fifteen years in which O-Sensei talked in class about "how" to do a technique. Now, this reflects in the extremely wide range of interpretation and actually ability in the post war deshi.
Now, there are various interpretations of why this happened. My own personal take on this is that O-Sensei was simply teaching what he thought was important. He had trained several generations of teachers by this point. I simply don't think he felt he needed to be teaching technique, which any number of his senior students could do. What he thought of as his mission was to pass on the spiritual / philosophical underpinnings that underlay the technique. I think O-Sensei felt that this was the are that he could do that perhaps none of his students could quite do as well. So, his interest was in passing on the spiritual while his students more or less were interested in technique, by all accounts.
If you wanted to sum up the gist of any number of interviews available with the post war deshi, one thing you find over and over is a statement to the effect that "We were all young and stupid... all we paid attention to was technique. Now we wish we had paid more attention when O-Sensei taught." So, now you see many of the deshi hitting that same stage of their lives in which they are less technique oriented and more thoughtful about what they do. I recently attended a wonderful seminar with Okimura Sensei in which he commented, after taking for some time, that there seemed to be a time when teachers of Aikido became "professors" i.e. they felt the need to "profess". He said this with much humor, but he wasn't in the least apologetic about it. I think that in his mind, what he was telling us was just as important as any technical information he could impart.
This system only works when you have some sort of technical hierarchy of teachers. It's fine for the big guy to get all ethereal and wax philosophical as long as somebody else is around to teach people where to put their feet. So, it's not lack of teaching "ability" that was what caused some problems with the transmission, it was his disinterest in focusing on technical details.
So, then we have to ask why he was disinterested? Once again there are all sorts of opinions and interpretations about his whole period. O-Sensei's oft quoted statement that "No one is doing my Aikido" is brought out any number of times. Lately, one of the interpretations has been that his was an example of O-Sensei expressing his frustrations with the students not very sophisticated understanding of aiki and internal power principles. Personally, I see no evidence that this is what he meant. I am not saying that it wasn't true. There's huge range in what the deshi seemed to have been able to pick up in this area. But, doesn't it seem that, if this were the Founder's big complaint in the 1960's just before his death, that the deshi couldn't to technique the way he wanted, that he would have focused on that when he taught?
It's not like he was being told what to teach... he could do anything he wanted. he was the Founder, the Big Kahuna, he could talk for an hour and the deshi would sit there, knees screaming and never move. His complete lack of focus on "how to" but rather on "why" and "what's it mean" would say loud and clear that this was what he thought most important. He gave the deshi complete freedom to develop their own Aikido manifestation of form and physical principle and he kept trying to get them to see the connection between their Aikido and the larger universal picture. It's pretty much all he talked about. If he was at all concerned that his deshi couldn't do the five man push on the jo demo, he probably would have taught them the skills. You think? If he belived that a crucial element in Aikido was being able to blow a guy across the room when he pushed on the Founder's leg, well, it seems to me that he would have focused on that until his students got it. But he clearly did not. In the thrties he did, and after the war he didn't.
Who thinks that O-Sensei didn't notice that there was a qualitative difference (not better or worse but clearly different) between the post war deshi and Mochizuki, Shioda, Tomiki, and Shirata? Could you really maintain that he sat there bemoaning the fact that his post war students didn't have all the same skills his earlier students had had then did nothing to fix it? He simply showed no interest whatever in that issue. What I am saying is that, would he have been happy if his post war students had had an even deeper understanding of his waza than they did? I am sure he would have been happy with that. Every teacher wants his students to be better, to be as good as they can be. But, I would have to say that I don't know a single teacher, not have I ever met one, who didn't, at least with his or her "personal" students, focus on what they thought was MOST IMPORTANT for their students to understand. The idea that O-Sensei spent all his time teaching one thing and then lamented the fact that his students weren't any good at something else defies credibility. As far as I can tell he taught the deshi exactly what he thought was most important and then lamented the fact that most of them weren't, by their own accounts, listening.
So, making judgements about his ability to teach technique when he wasn't trying to teach technique is a bit silly. Clearly, back in the day, he knew how to teach technique when he wanted. He just wasn't interested... he had other folks who could do that, to his satisfaction I think. Perhaps the criticism might really be that he wasn't as good a salesman as he could have been in that he wasn't able to reach as much of his audience as he wished for. Or we could just say that a teacher can't teach without good students and his students, due to simple human nature, kept being distracted by what they could see and feel and didn't pay attention very closely to what they didn't understand. That's a failure oif the students as much as a failure of the teacher...
Anyway, I think this a question that hasn't usually been framed in the right terms.