Dojo: Aikido Center of Los Angeles
Location: Los Angeles
Join Date: Apr 2002
A good friend who has a dojo not too far from me wrote me the following letter yesterday. They came from an oppressive, war-torn country where they were not even permitted to bow to O'Sensei's photo in practice. They have struggled so much with so little and now finally they have made it to this country where they can practice Aikido freely as they like in this land of opportunity. . . . . .
10-30-03: Dear Sensei, I wish this letter will find you in good health and your work is still fruitful in many ways for those who are walking on the Path. On this cloudy morning, I am sitting here and try to review my Aikido in the last several years since i started to establish the Dojo .......and somehow i feel kind of depressed and not so hopeful when I look far in the future.
As you know, we all aim to cultivate Aikido and the old cultural values for our next generations to look up and more or less they can live by. But so often, we feel like our work is treated badly and sadly somehow by the students these days. I often see students come and go as they please, dash in the Dojo and dash out just like a McDonald. It is so different between now and my old days when even rain or shine, dawn or dark I put my gi on my little bike and rode to dojo and there I saw alot of Aikido friends practicing on half of the mat since the other half was filled with rain water (the roof of the dojo had plenty of holes on it).
At night, we had to sew holes on our old gi since we were so poor and the gi is too old and usually got torn up during practice and we could not afford the new one or ask parents to buy for us since that request would be a burden for family's finance. It is so different today, when everything is there and ready to grasp .....but no hand reach out ....students are treated much better today with all of the democracy and courtesy from teachers, students are more well-built than we were before with all the nutritions, students can dress better with Aikido gi in good condition, they can buy almost any books about Aikido to read to enhance their knowledge, students can practice in a decent dojo with lights and at least there is no holes on the roof that the rain water can fall through ......but there is something else that most of them don't have .....how could i say this ? Spirits ? Aspirations ? Something that they could make their practice alive in every thoughts and breaths. Something that could make them come to practice days or nights, rain or shine.
I have some students that have good potential, well behavior, and they absorb Aikido pretty good, after all our efforts to teach and correct their techniques and etiquette every details at our best knowledg . Suddenly the parents pulled them home with reasons such as : My son is so busy at school now, my son has to play piano twice a week ..etc....and they simply left Dojo no matter how hard we try to explain or try to work out a schedule for them, or reduce their tuition. They just left, sometimes those things make me hate teaching so much, sometimes i just want to retire and ride a bike with my gi on it to a certain dojo and there I will be a lowly student under a Sensei like the old days, what I learn, what I value, what I appreciate will always be mine and I will keep them to my heart and soul until I bring them down to dirt. Or even somehow I just want to teach with an attitude " Ignore them, who wants something, try to get it " but as you know, we are human and we have to struggle to do our best when we learn or we teach .....I thought the way of Aikido should be calmness in our minds and bring peace to our souls but sometimes walking on this Path our minds are full of strugglings. . . . .
My reply: I really understand your feelings completely and I wish I can say that it gets better as you continue to struggle in your Aikido and keeping your dojo going but I must admit, from my own experience, even after many decades and years, the struggle still remains the same. I experience what you experience in my dojo every day. People are always coming and going and it seems that people do not have the same patience, perserverence and committment as they did years ago. I know in your home country, these are highly valued and treasured ideals of a human being. However, in this society today, it seems that it is all about "me, me, me!" and it is so hard to reconcile and accept this. Coming from a country where it was so difficult to a country where we seem to have "everything," no - "too much of everything," only seems to bring on a different set of problems. I can understand this. . .
I hope you don't mind that I publish your very beautiful and touching letter here so others can read and learn. I know that there are many veterans of Aikido and teachers who feel exactly as you do,and I am sure that they would want to reach out to you and support your feelings, just as I do. Please know that you are not alone by any means. I also print your letter here to hopefully help the new, younger generation of Aikidoists to know how some of us feel in our hearts.
Japanese today do not talk about their wartime experiences too much but one day Doshu began to relate to me some of his experiences during such difficult times. He recalled that the army had taken many young students away in the draft and he never saw any of them ever return home. Only a very few survived and returned to Hombu Dojo after the war. He said that Tokyo was burned and bombed out and there were hardly any walls and no roof. Not many students around at all, each time he took ukemi, he could see the stars in the sky through the openings in the ceiling. Always hungry with not enough food, they continued to practice everyday whether students came or not. When it rained, he said the mats were covered with water and when it snowed, the ice on the mats cut into their skin. He said it was so difficult and hard in those days but they continued to keep up the dojo no matter what. O'Sensei had retired to the countryside during this time so 2nd Doshu kept up everything by himself and a few students. When you see Hombu Dojo today, you can hardly believe that such a time ever existed at all. Although it is so tough for you, I hope that you can be so "proud" that you suffer the same hardships and difficulties that 2nd Doshu and the great masters of that age did many years ago.
I am getting old and tired too, it is still a struggle each day in the dojo but somehow, I feel so grateful and blessed to have a few students around me practicing very hard and doing very well. Whenever I feel down, I think about what O'Sensei and 2nd Doshu and many, many others went through before us. . . . Please keep up your struggle and endure all hardships, I have great faith in you. . . . . In the old days, the proper attitude for a teacher in our art such as ours is, "if they come, they come; if they go they go." Whenever you need to vent your thoughts or let off some steam, write to me anytime. . . . . .Always and faithfully, and many thanks,