I think Ryan has some really good points, and probably the least of which is sexual misconduct. It's going to exist in isolated pockets, but it doesn't speak for the overall martial arts community or the aikido community. I've been in many dojos in the US and Europe, and trained with thousands of people from all over the world. In my experience, I've actually seen women within aikido being treated more on an equal footing. I personally think women in aikido are - as a whole - better than men at really getting into the essence of things.
I think something that Ryan brings up in his letter, that's not only more important, but is also more of an umbrella for a lot of the other issues, are the points about cults and the points about teachers. I have seen way too many times teachers holding back students - and this was usually a combination of the teacher and the organization they're within. I've seen too many dojos get people to volunteer. I've seen community car washes and bake sales that were "for the dojo," when what really happened is the money went into the pocket of the sensei/dojo-cho to supplement what they couldn't cover from what is essentially their martial arts business.
: A true leader creates other leaders. He desires not to dominate those around him, but to uplift them. Not to uplift them for his own benefit, his own aggrandizement, but because it is the right thing to do. A real leader doesn't want disciples. A real leader hopes for friends who respect him for being adecent human being above all. After all, what other reason is there to follow someone?
There is not a single thing about martial arts or aikido that's any more special that any other type of activity in which someone learns a skill: knitting, cooking, music, woodworking, kite flying, bicycling, rollerblading, snowboarding, writing, baseball, surfing, bowling, sailing, basketball, skating.... All of those activities require skill, and skill tends to increase with the amount of time invested. Aikido is no different. But in none of those other activities does anyone have to sign up for a particular school or organization or teacher, and expect to have to remain loyal or pledge some sort of allegiance - and only have the opportunity to practice at the school in a formalized class setting.
I'd like to compile a list of relevant questions for martial arts teachers. And I'd also like others - students, family, friends, communities - to look at these types of questions as well. I think that cultish behavior - whether towards the art itself or the personality of the teacher/s - is more prevalent in martial arts than in almost any other type of activity. And I think a lot of these points get to the heart of questionable behavior in and around dojos, and as to why there seems to be a milieu of expected entitlement within martial arts. I'll throw out a few:
If you're a martial arts teacher:
• What makes what you do more special than someone who has developed musical skills or years of cooking experience?
• How much of what you do and teach is relevant in your current society?
• Do you refine your teaching methods, do you examine what you do - freely?
• Are you 100% free to teach, and examine, and run things the way you want? If you're a martial arts teacher; are you 100% free to grade your students? And if you have a network of teacher/students of your own, are those people 100% free to grade their own students?
• Do you think that what you do and what your students do is actually any more dangerous than other highly-physically-challenging activity, such as surfing, bicycling, rock climbing, hiking?
• Is what you do of any more importance to your community than any other business or service, and can you manage to run your business without enlisting volunteers and donations? If not, why is that what you do is so special that your community has to supplement your activities?
• How much do you realize that your students are
• Given that a student is enthusiastic, participates regularly, what is the time frame that you, as a teacher, would need to train that student to shodan level?
• If you can't train a student to shodan level inside of 2 years; why?
• Could you train a dedicated student to sandan level in 5 years? If not; why?