Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
I think a lot the "discomfort" that folks often feel is simply symptomatic of the fact that Aikido finds itself is a period of intense and rapid change. There are people out there who have 30, 40 , even more years in the art. Many have invested their time in mastering and later in their careers, representing or championing, a certain style or the Aikido of a particular teacher.
For many of the most senior folks, their position in the Aikido hierarchy is dependent on their on-going relationship with a given teacher. For instance, one of my good friends was a student of a certain teacher and a member of one of the major organizations. He chose at one point to leave his teacher and therefore his organization. He went from being a teacher who traveled internationally, instructing at events sponsored by his organization to teaching almost exclusively at his own dojo, independent but isolated.
Back in the day, there was very little information available about what other styles of Aikido looked like, almost no information about arts like Daito Ryu, no videos at all, no internet, etc. A small group of folks traveled to Japan and did multiple martial arts... some of these folks, teachers like Ellis Amdur or Larry Bieri were Aikido folks and a few of them have continued with at least some connection to the art throughout the years. So, if you were lucky enough to actually know one of these teachers and could train with them... you would get a take on Aikido that was quite different than you might otherwise have encountered.
Stan Pranin's three Aiki Expos for many people represented a radical shift in perspective. A whole group of very senior Aikido practitioners got to see and train with a number of other Aikido teachers from styles they might not have ever seen. In addition, they got what for many was their first exposure to a number of aikijutsu teachers from styles related to the roots of our modern day Aikido.
Couple all of that with the explosion of the internet, exchange of views on web forums, digital video, YouTube, etc and you have a level of awareness of other martial arts and other ways of doing things within Aikido that simply was impossible before. Now, combine that with the fact that you now find teachers who have been working hard on various arts or kinds of training for many decades and have attained a very high degree of mastery of what they do. These teachers are now traveling around and people have access to instruction coming from teachers with a very high level of mastery who are native speakers of the language and perhaps have different paradigms operating for what a teacher actually does than the Japanese model many of us grew up in.
The old pioneers of Aikido are retiring or passing away. Their students have to look out into the near future and ask themselves what their place in that future will be? For many folks, they have spent most of their adult lives achieving a level of expertise in a particular style of Aikido. All of a sudden, the whole notion of styles is shifting. Folks are less interested in any particular style or approach and are more inclined to pursue an eclectic approach to their training, understanding that no single teacher has it all, either technically or in his or her ability to teach what they know. This has profound implications for traditional notions of the teacher / student relationship and transmission of the styles of Aikido from specific teachers.
This can make things very uncomfortable. I have friends who trained for 25 - 30 years under a teacher, reaching a very high level of competence on his way of manifesting the art. Then, in a very short period of time, that teacher went and changed his Aikido from top to bottom. All of a sudden, these folks who were very senior and experienced in one way of doing things are now relative beginners at another. This is extremely hard for most folks.
Change is a very difficult thing to manage. Most folks don't like change. Change means an uncertain future... where will all this change take us? Most folks take the "box" approach to their training. Aikido is a "box" which they attempt to fill over time. Defining this "box" in a very limited way, as in some particular style or teacher's specific way of doing things, makes people feel very secure. It also makes them feel as if Mastery, defined by eventually filling the "box" is attainable.
What's happening now is a combination of seeing any number of teachers doing things in their Aikido that makes it clear that there is no "box" in Aikido and folks with an understanding of how "aiki" really works who are showing us that many of us were busy filling the wrong "box" entirely. For the junior folks in the art, this may be a bit confusing but it isn't terribly threatening. They don't have much of a stake in any particular approach. But for folks who have been in the art for many years, who are now teachers in their own right, and especially for these folks, have actually been quite happy with what they've been doing this change can make these folks very uncomfortable.
The solution to this that most folks take is to simply not pay any attention to what is happening outside their dojos or their organizations. But this is getting increasingly difficult to do. Their students are on the internet, they are reading the threads on Aikiweb, etc. In many cases they are going off to one or more of the seemingly infinite numbers of seminars being offered and coming back to their dojos with new ideas that challenge the assumptions operating there. I know a number of teachers who have lost students because the students started to ask for more than their own dojos were offering. They felt they had to leave in order to grow their Aikido. This is often a painful thing for both student and teacher.
My point here is that change is a process. It never happens all at once. Even when it seems to be rapid, it really is a complex mix of folks who are the cutting edge innovators, the radicals, the inventors, along with the folks who will simply follow along with whatever the current trends are, all mixed in with the folks who seriously resist change, who are the conservatives, the traditionalists, etc. Typically, the innovators look at everyone else and wonder why the hell they don't just get on board? The value of the changes taking place is self evident to them. Yet, to the Conservatives, even the need for change is not apparent. The art is fine as it is, doesn't need to be changed, and all these new fangled ideas about what it should and should not be are missing the real point.
Well, change is happening... like it or not, it is happening. Managing that process is something all of us who are in positions of influence in the art must do. We can be aggressive about how we go about the process, which is likely to cause the folks who are uncomfortable with change at all to hunker down and resist even more, or we can proceed to pursue our own Aikido in the hopes that the value of what we are doing should be self evident and folks will simply change at their own comfort levels.
I understand the issues going on here on a very personal level. I have trained under Saotome Sensei or over 35 years. I am a senior instructor in the ASU, teach at our events, visit many of the member dojos to teach, etc. But I have always cross trained, was at all three of the Aiki Expos, have been profoundly affected by teachers like Kuroda, Ushiro, Angier, Amdur, Vasiliev, Popkin and Harden Senseis. My Aikido today isn't anything like what it was ten years ago... simply in another dimension. Yet I constantly see students who, rather than really understand how and why something works, would rather be told how to do "what Sensei did on the video" i.e. the "small box" approach. A number of times over the years, I changed my direction and focus as I encountered new things to investigate. Each time I lost a few people who didn’t want to change. They were happy doing what we had been doing.
Fortunately for me, my own teachers not only do not interfere with this process, they actively support it. Ikeda Sensei himself made connections at the Aiki Expos that inspired him to change his Aikido entirely, a process that continues even now. Saotome Sensei has repeatedly gone on record saying that he is proud of the fact that his own students do not look anything like him. He actively supports the different directions his seniors have taken, even when he doesn’t quite understand them himself. I think he really is interested in where the process is taking them. So it has been relatively easy for me, if not my students, to pursue my own path within this art. Many other folks are not so lucky.
When you look at the forums, you are pretty much by definition looking at folks who are not just "hiding out" and ignoring what's happening around them. They wouldn't be ion the internet if that's what they wanted to do. But we can still see how one person's ideas about things can push the bounds a bit as to what another person wishes to absorb. Folks are clearly "stretching". I am watching as folks with very clear ideas about things are learning to deal with points of view that are different. I am watching as folks who normally take the "It's all good" approach get pushed towards better defining their thoughts about what Aikido really is. You can see right here how uncomfortable this process of change and exchange really is. But on another level, this is where it’s all happening. The folks who are willing to come up on the net on Aikiweb and hang in there with each other are the very folks engaged in defining what Aikido is and where it is headed in the future. For every person who posts, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who never post anything. The discussions are influential in ways that are hard to appreciate.
So, we go forward. I think it is important to be mindful of where we came from and how, as Takahashi Sensei always says" we are standing on the shoulders of giants." But at the same time, in our own training, as individuals on the Path, we are always at sea level, each day at a new starting point. In that sense the only issue is, are we standing still, or are we moving forward? And for each person that "forward" will be different.
Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 01-31-2012 at 12:38 PM.