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Old 01-19-2008, 08:12 PM   #31
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 5

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
George, and Ron,

Looking at your contributions to this thread, I have an interesting question to ask you both.

Compare the first generation of O Sensei's deshi with the second and third generations (though I admit there is a problem of where exactly you make the break).

(1) The first generation includes Inoue, Tomiki, Shirata, Mochizuki, Shioda: the mainstays of the Kobukan and its satellites in Takeda and Osaka. I think K Ueshiba, Tohei and K Abbe also come in somewhere here.

(2) Then you have a second generation, that includes people like Okumura, Saito, K Osawa, Arikawa, Yamaguchi, Tada and probably Noro, with other people wandering around on the periphery like H Kobayashi, Nakazono and perhaps Hikitsuchi.

(3) Finally, you have the third generation of shihans, probably beginning with Tamura, which also includes Isoyama, Yamada, Tohei (in Chicago), Chiba, Kanai, Sugano, Saotome, Asai, Kurita, all of whom chose to live overseas, together with all the other people (like Fujita, my own 8th dan teacher) who never left Japan.

My question really is: where did the rot start? Some people point the finger at Kisshomaru, but forget that the third generation were basically trained by him, as much as by O Sensei. Chiba Sensei's articles are quite instructive here. His obituary of Saito Sensei needs to be compared with his obituary of Kisshomaru Doshu.

The next few episodes of my columns deal with Kisshomaru Ueshiba, so I look forward to your thoughts on this issue with great interest.

Best wishes to you both,

I don't really feel like it's a matter of "rot" really... It's more complex than that. Various people do an excellent job with pieces of what O-Sensei presented. Some few seem to have understood well what he presented at a certain time but did not seem to evolve alongside the Founder as he changed. Those who trained at the beginning did not get taught what those who trained at the end got, those who trained at the end didn't get taught what was presented at the beginning.

In many ways the development of Aikido is not unlike the development of early Christianity. You have a group of "disciples" who did train directly with the Founder. Apparently they were told different things at different times but there are certain threads that seem to carry through all of their narratives.

But the "gospel" of Aikido spreads like wild fire... far faster than anyone anticipated. Soon most of the folks spreading the "gospel" never actually trained with the Founder. In fact most never trained for any length of time with one of his disciples.

What writings there are, are not really the Founder's but were written by the disciples. There seems to have been quite a bit of editing to make the presentation palatable to the wider audience. It is difficult to be sure exactly what the Founder himself said.

Fairly quickly you find drastically different interpretations of the teachings both philosophically and technically. There is a "Pope" sitting on the "throne of Peter" but quite a large number of folks do not submit to his authority. Different groups exist, each believing strongly that they understood the "real" meaning of the art as transmitted to their particular disciple. You even have, heresy of heresies, people who maintain that none of the disciples really understood but they, through the direct experience of their own practices, have been able to do so.

There was a time when this would have resulted in a crusade resulting in a purge of the heretics... But there can be no Council of Nicea for Aikido, no Athanasius, or Irenaeus for Aikido. This is the day of the internet and each instructor, perhaps even each practitioner will share in the debate and exchange between the "bishops" and decide for himself or herself.

I see Aikido as having experienced a schism which broke it into roughly four groups:

1) There are those for whom the art is pretty simply about self defense or physical technique. There is little if any interest in the spiritual teachings of the Founder, just an interest in developing his skill set. There is no believe that his spiritual beliefs actually contributed to his skill set. The techniques of the art ARE THE ART. Effectiveness is really the sole measure of worth. These people often find themselves looking outside the art for more input... they generally tend to be unconcerned with Orthodoxy, just practicality. These are the materialists within the Aikido camp. They tend to disdain the energetic type techniques in favor of more physical, power oriented technique. While these folks respect the great skill the Founder displayed, they do not elevate him to some special status relative to his spiritual vision. Often they view the Founder as incredibly talented but a bit loopy.

2) There are those for whom the "message" is paramount. O-Sensei pointed out the way for us and it is our purpose to keep moving along that path. This, despite the fact that much of his "message" was a highly edited presentation of his teachings put together by his disciples. For these folks, technique is subordinate to the message. In other words, the message is not revealed through the practice but rather the practice is shaped by the message. There is an almost total lack of concern in the martial effectiveness of technique, in fact too much focus on effectiveness is seen as a failure to see the higher principles of the art. Physical technique is really a way to manifest ones spiritual understanding in ones body and by extension in the social world. It is also a way to show others how "spiritual" one is. These folks show a marked disdain for technique that is too physical and prefer to do more energetic type work on the mat. These are the folks who prefer the spirit to the body. They tend to elevate the Founder to a sort of semi-divine status because of his spiritual insights but seem to believe that attaining his martial skill is unnecessary.

3) The third and final group believes that the Founder's intention was clearly that the art would be a spiritual practice but that the means of gaining understanding was THROUGH practicing the physical techniques of the art. The principles which operate in the art require the practitioner to change in such a way that spiritual truth will become evident in the techniques themselves. There is no material / spiritual dichotomy here. One cannot exist without the other. So technique which works goes hand in hand with the development of an understanding of the spiritual / trans-formative purpose of the art. Great technical skill cannot exist without deep spiritual understanding. This group seems to value O-Sensei's skill as well as his "vision".

It is my opinion that many of the early deshi from the thirties would have fallen within the first group (Mochizuki, Tomiki, Shioda) while the rest would have fallen in the third group (Inoue, Shirata, Abbe). I can't off hand think of any who would seem to have fallen into the 2nd group.

The same could be said for the second and third generation disciples. Most would probably consider themselves to have been within the 3rd grouping however I would place some of them a bit more in group 1 than group 3. I'm not so familiar with how each of these teachers trained or what they thought so I won't try to categorize each of them.

The development of a substantial number of folks in group 2 really doesn't start until after O-Sensei's death. Much of this group exists in foreign countries where there hasn't been enough high level technical instruction as compared to the number of active practitioners. O-Sensei's written words as sparse as they were have been selectively translated and put out to a world wide audience. The phenomenal growth of the art has more to do with the presentation of these ideas as being central to the practice than perhaps it was in Japan where discussion of the philosophical / spiritual aspects of the art seems to be much less common.

Aikido is practiced by a million people world wide, most of whom have never encountered a highly skilled practitioner of the 1st, 2nd or even 3rd generation of disciples with any frequency. At best they may, if they are lucky, train with a direct student of one of these disciples. This leads to a new situation in which one could say that the majority of the folks practicing have no real idea what high level skill really is. Nor do they have more than the foggiest notion about the spiritual ideas put forth by the Founder regarding his art. This leads to the development of a substantial group of folks in group 2. The way in which Aikido is presented leads to the art picking up a huge following of folks who, if they weren't doing Aikido, wouldn't be doing martial arts at all.

So this brings me to the Post O-Sensei era. His son Kisshomaru is now Doshu. As the Nidai Doshu he looks at what Aikido has been, and he has a good solid picture of that from direct, personal experience, and he looks at the face of change in Japan and around the world and he sees that he will be forced to re-interpret the art for modern consumption. I believe he saw this as necessary for the survival of the art ( as mentioned by Peter) But I do believe the K Ueshiba was firmly in the 3rd group as far as how he saw the art. I think he quite realistically saw that the modern environment for the art would involve mass transmission of the physical and spiritual principles of the art. He decides, quite rightly I think, that it will be impossible and perhaps even inappropriate, to attempt to pass on the entire body of work his father had presented over the course of over 50 years of teaching and redeveloping his art to the broad masses.

Since he did, I believe, fall into the camp of folks who felt that the spiritual insights of the art derived directly from an understanding of the principles revealed through the physical practice of the art he set about creating a presentation of those physical techniques and principles which could be understood and appreciated by modern people, people with few, if any, ties to the traditional world of his Father, the Founder. So the art gets simplified and the focus is adjusted for people living in the modern, post war world. There is increasingly less emphasis on understanding weapons work, there is virtually no emphasis on the applied side of the art. Just as in physics there is a bias on the part of the theoretical folks towards the applied folks, we start to see a sort of "spiritual" aikido evolving which rather prides itself on it's lack of concern for application. This really opens the door for the creation of group 2 in that it is just a small step from technique using correct principles but with no focus on practicality to technique using incorrect principles. With a complete lack of concern for whether technique works or not, we start to see Aikido being practiced and spread by people who don't actually know the difference.

Different teachers reacted to this development in their own manners. Saito Sensei assigned himself the role of preserving the technical side of the art as it existed at a particular moment in time right after the war. He adjusted his teaching methodology a bit over the years but he changed very little of the technique. He was famous for systematizing, preserving, and spreading weapons work at a time when the "orthodox" presentation of the art was virtually devoid of these elements.

Nishio saw the loss of the martial side of Aikido as a tragedy and started his own style albeit within the umbrella of Hombu Dojo. It placed the emphasis heavily on understanding technique from a very broad standpoint placing a strong emphasis on his unique presentation of the relationship between weapons and empty hand, between martial arts like karate and aikido. It was his paramount concern that people practicing the highly stylized art being championed at the Honbu Dojo, should also understand what was really contained within those techniques.

Hikitsuchi Sensei, never part of the main stream as he was way out in the country I Shingu and was quite isolated from the goings on at the Hombu Dojo, carried on a very traditional brand of practice which emphasized the martial / spiritual balance of O-Sensei's teachings. He also overtly maintained the Shinto structure to the spiritual concepts underlying the practice. Perhaps because of this, he never turned out enough students that he has had a major influence on Japanese Aikido. But he did have a substantial influence on American Aikido. Two of the most senior female practitioners of American Aikido were trained at Shingu, Mary Heiny Sensei and Linda Holiday Sensei. His student Clint George Sensei has done the most perhaps, in trying to preserve the balance between the martial and the spiritual that Shingu was able to keep going long after it changed at the headquarters.

Teachers like Saotome Sensei, Chiba Sensei, and Tamura took their individual takes on the art overseas and each put out an Aikido quite at variance with the direction being taken back in Tokyo. They preserved, even expanded the use of weapons in the practice. They constantly reminded their students that O-Sensei was the source for their technique and the inspiration for their practice. As the Founder seemed to increasingly be seen as an anachronism in the Aikido at headquarters, he was an ever present force in the presentation these teachers made of what the art was and would be.

So what do we have now? We are on the brink of the great change. Within only a few more years, there will be no more teachers left who trained directly under the Founder. Given that the senior foreign teachers are also largely of that same generation, we are facing a complete change of guard, a wholesale passing of the responsibility for the transmission of the art to a generation that never knew O-Sensei, perhaps, never even trained with any of the first or second generation teachers.

There seems to be an increasing understanding of just what has been lost in getting the art to the place it is. The place of solo practice (of some not well defined as yet sort), skill in weapons, especially the sword, knowledge of older combat applications of technique, even a deep understanding of what constitutes "aiki" (as contrasted with the largely physical technique being done in most Aikido) are all problem areas. The generation of Aikido teachers who could have passed on this knowledge is fast disappearing.

But I find myself hopeful. I see people from other arts, for various reasons, being willing to share what they know with Aikido people. Many of the teachers who have spent their lives acquiring what, for want of a better term, I will call classical knowledge, are finding that the majority of the folks who are interested in what they have to offer are the Aikido folks. It worries me that the folks who seem most inclined to take advantage of these opportunities are not to a large extent the next generation of teachers but rather the folks in the next tier down. If they are not careful we might see a generation of Aikido teachers who have waited thirty years for their "turn" at the helm finding they are steering an empty boat. I see a large number of folks at the mid dan levels getting out and finding ways to augment their training. I see a certain frustration with many of the seniors who toed the official line and did what was asked but now show glaring holes in their knowledge and stagnation in their own practice.

But at least there are places a dedicated Aikido person can go to find some of the knowledge that has passed out of our art. The Aiki Expos will, I believe, eventually be seen as truly pivotal events in American Aikido. The folks who went and really took advantage of the wealth that was laid on the table at these three events came away changed on a really deep level. My own Aikido has been changing at an exponential pace since the first Expo. I know other senior teachers who are in that same place. Even a teacher like Ikeda Sensei, came away from the Expos having made connections with teachers who have changed his Aikido completely.

It is not just a matter of developing a better and more systematic method for the transmission of our art. Aikido is in need of an infusion of knowledge from outside the art. Folks are training with people like Dan Hardin, Mike Sigman, Akuzawa, and the Systema folks developing various methods of solo training. These teachers are all doing adaptations of their training specifically for Aikido folks or are at least welcoming Aikido folks at their events.

There are teachers like Howard Popkin Sensei, a student of Okamoto Sensei who is bringing Okamoto Sensei over from Japan and holding "open" seminars. You can't find a clearer, more concise presentation of "aiki" principles than what these folks give. Popkin Sensei is young and will clearly be around for a long time and he is more than willing to share his knowledge with the Aikido community.

Ushiro Kenji Sensei continues to influence the Aikido community; he's appearing once again as a guest instructor at the Rocky Mountain Summer Camp which Ikeda Sensei hosts in Colorado.

What is needed most is teachers who have been well trained by the uchi deshi, who have digested much of the best which Aikido has had to offer, to take advantage of the fact that, for the first time in history, there is a cross style, cross cultural exchange going on. They have the solid foundation to take these various strands of knowledge and weave them back into Aikido. They have the position of authority it will take to pass this knowledge to the wider community. This certainly requires a shift in the old paradigm… perhaps they won't meet the challenge. But if they don't, I see a generation of future teachers coming along who aren't waiting to be told it's ok to doctor their Aikido. I think that teachers who are stuck in old ways of thinking about the art will find themselves marginalized.

With all of this happening, it's difficult to envision what the role will be for the current Doshu and the Honbu Dojo, I understand that they see the need to develop a more systematic method for passing on the techniques of the art and perhaps standardizing what the basic techniques of the art actually are. But the focus on training teachers specifically to teach this standardized but also simplified curriculum may result in a fairly uninspiring set of instructors when contrasted with a group of folks who have been far wider reaching in their training. I foresee a day, not too far in the future, when it will be a challenge for the Honbu Dojo and the Doshu to maintain their view of being the center from which Aikido flows out to the various groups and individuals around the world. You can already see European teachers like Tissier, Nevelius, and Ostoff Senseis coming here to teach. American teachers are traveling to Europe and South America… I think this will only increase. Much of this will simply bypass Japan and I don't know if they are prepared for that. It will be an interesting time I think.

One of the things I would very much like to see is for the various students who have been training in Japan with teachers who have been off the beaten track to get out and teach. I have no idea if any foreigners trained with Inoue Sensei (now passed away) but I think there would be an interest here in seeing what direction they took their aiki budo. I have to believe that there are folks around who trained with non-mainstream teachers who have been trained very differently than the current generation of instructors at Honbu. I'd love to see what they have been doing. As far as I am concerned, the more exchange, the better.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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