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Old 03-05-2013, 01:10 AM   #11
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
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Re: Interview with Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan: The Free Mind

Joshua Landin wrote: View Post
Here is a link to the original interview (in French)
Thank you.

I see the interviewer was Leo Tamaki, so it probably works as well in French as it does in English. I think the views expressed are clearly controversial, but this does not really surprise me.

Yamada Shihan (I will call him Shihan in this post, since it is his job title) has the dilemma of having to live with a situation which he did not create, which he does not like, but which he can do nothing about. All he can do is be like Marcel Proust and dwell fondly on how things used to be in the ‘golden age’. He is one of a group of haken shihans (a term that slides over the issue of whether they were sent abroad or volunteered to go) who are in a state of shock and wonder, ‘Whatever has happened to the Aikikai? It seems quite different from the times when we were deshi.’ (Uchi or soto left unspecified).

The origins of the dilemma have been sketched many times – and in positive and negative terms.

A man of great charisma attracts disciples because of this charisma and because of their inchoate desire to obtain what he possesses, something that they cannot define exactly, either then or in the future, but which is eminently worth possessing. The man with charisma is seemingly unconcerned with organizational matters, but consciously or unconsciously creates an art, something with its own internal structure and which is different and separate from its creator, but which is tied to the creator in a very close way. The disciples practice the art under the personal direction of the creator, but inevitably become part of a group, a very loosely defined organization. The creator dies and the disciples then have the problem of practicing the art and maintaining the group / organization as closely as possible to what it was like when the creator was active. They do this in order that the creator’s art does not die with the creator.

Rightly or wrongly, the creator has designated his son as his successor and the latter acquires the title of ‘head of the art’, but which is now called a ‘way’ and invested with important qualities. The successor can never have the same charisma as the creator, so the art itself becomes invested with the qualities that the creator possessed and the successor practices the art and maintains the group for the sake of the art/way. The members of the group change and the nature of the organization itself changes, but always under the control of the head and always ostensibly for the sake of the art/way.

The practice of going into seclusion for the sake of training in a ‘way’, unencumbered by the demands of the world, has a long history, but it is also possible – but much more difficult, to pursue similar training in the world while remaining unencumbered by its demands. For various reasons the successor head keeps the art very firmly in the world and actively goes out to attract new members. Whereas before, entry into the group was very difficult and restricted to those the creator accepted, now training in the art is open to all. Of course, for this to happen the art has to change, radically, for the type and level of training has to be adapted to become more of a product, like a program in which you enter at the beginning and emerge later on with a grade of achievement, with something like a hakama and/or black belt. Textbooks and DVDs are available for those who need them, produced by established and recognized teachers, who have teaching titles like shihan.

But the changes are always under the control of the head and always ostensibly for the sake of the art. Eventually the art acquires an evolutionary history: a controlled narrative of the creator’s life and the steps leading to his creation of the art.

The Japanese term for this type of pyramid structure is iemoto and the problems with this structure are not new. As I stated earlier, one can see such a structure in positive or negative terms. It is cumbersome, it is slow to change, the reluctance to define the art in clear terms means that there is no clear criterion for discerning quality or a clear way of maintaining quality, and the art becomes a family business: the head of the way is invested with responsibilities that he might not be competent to fulfill.

So one can see the dilemma. The art is eminently worth maintaining, even developing, and this is the value of the iemoto system. But if the iemoto himself or the system does not convey the genuine charisma of the creator of the art, or an acceptable substitute, a situation is created that becomes more difficult to accept, the more one penetrates the depths of the art.


P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
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