Dojo: Aikido Port Townsend
Location: Port Townsend, Wa.
Join Date: Jul 2003
I agree with Ledyard Sensei that gender issues are huge in martial arts, and take exception to the idea that to acknowledge this is necessarily to pander to extraneous or distracting details. Issues of age, speed, strength, reach, peripheral vision, tactics, strategy, conditioned response (good and bad), psychology, cultural perceptions, and geometry are also huge in martial arts, and any remotely useful, coherent martial art will take all of those factors, and more, into account, making provisions and allowances for them in the greater context of the art. Gender issues might not seem as relevant as some of the above items, but even leaving aside the matter of social and personal imbalance for the moment, let's look at two other aspects, one technical and one spiritual.
On the technical side, a woman of the same height and weight as a man will usually have a lower CG, less upper body strength, and have other differences due to body structure; she will do the technique differently, sometimes a lot differently. If you are interested in "transmission" of the art, you will need to address how it can be expressed by women practitioners. In the same way, of course, you will need to make acknowledgement of, and adjustments for, people who are very tall, very short, short-fingered, etc. Is that pandering? Is that "imposing an ideology" on others?
On the spiritual side, several posters have talked about how they were just interested in teaching what Osensei taught. And they seem to imply that all he taught was technique. As I understand it, however, he thought he was teaching "a way to reconcile the world", with the technical stuff being an adjunct to the central, spiritual message. If you try to separate the two, you tend to get arguments like some of the ones above, with lovely little snipes like "McDojo" aimed at anyone who stands up for something besides technical proficiency. Actually, I have the impression that Osensei maintained his technique was so powerful because, not in spite of, his attention to spiritual, ethical, and moral matters.
Back in the 60's, when I was first studying Aikido, some of my radical college friends were fond of spouting ridiculous, meant-to-be-stirring slogans. One of my favorites was, "It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." Right. A wise old friend, on hearing this, calmly pointed out, "Actually, it's better to live on your feet."
In the current discussion, we seem to be splitting into two camps, with technical pitted against spiritual. Perhaps this is inevitable at times, in an art that, in my view, seeks to reconcile the world. The difficult truth, as is its wont, lies somewhere between.
I have been in dojos whose brand of Aikido could best be described as interpretive dance, but without the martial applicability. And I've been in dojos that were so preposterone-driven that I felt lucky to escape intact. I don't think that either type was doing Aikido. Most dojo's that I have practiced in addressed, as a given, the difficult paradox of a martial art that purports to be about peace. The gender aspect currently under discussion is, I think, essential to achieving peace. In saying this, I utterly understand that many people feel otherwise. Just an opinion.