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Old 01-20-2012, 12:11 PM   #5
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

Christopher Li wrote: View Post
I was going to say, the other thing that it will require is a number of people willing to cut the cord and willing to get cut off (not that you actually lose anything) if necessary.


Hi Chris,
I guess that's the point, really. I think folks need to think about what they've been receiving from their organizations and compare that to what their expectations could and should have been.

Do these organizations exist to make the Aikido of its members better or do they exist simply as a support for a given teacher? Do they do some good or are they simply structured to perpetuate themselves?

What do we even expect of an organization? To my way of thinking organizations might fulfill any number of legitimate functions... An international organization might provide a sense of tradition... connection with the Founder through his family or a teacher who trained under the Founder. A functional organization might establish and maintain standards, certify teachers, etc. An organization might provide financial support for a Shihan, allowing him or her to focus primarily on the art. An organization should provide a sense of community identity amongst the members and create various events for the membership to have access to their Shihan and other senior teachers.

Each of these things is a perfectly legitimate function for an organization. But there must be a balance. I object to the hierarchical, pyramid model in which everything seems to flow upwards and little flows down... the model in which the broad base of the membership seems to exist solely for the support of a very small group of senior teachers at the top. A functional organization should not only provide support for its top teachers but should also be consciously structured to optimize the transmission of their skills to the broadest possible segment of the membership. I think it is a baseline expectation that the folks at the top actively care whether the folks at the bottom get better. This should be the number one focus of an organization, in my opinion.

While a connection back to Japan and the Ueshiba family is nice... it also should be a two way street. While the folks at Aikikai headquarters pay lip service to the fact that there are very senior non-Japanese teachers overseas, in reality they still believe that Aikido flows outwards from Japan. Their Shihan are the "real" Shihan. While this is not true of some other Aikido organizations, for instance the Yoshinkan organization, to my knowledge the Aikikai headquarters has never had any of it foreign Shihan teach back in Japan. There is little or no acknowledgement that some of these teachers are the eauls or even superior to many of the hombu instructors now on the teaching roster.

In former times this was natural. The uchi deshi at hombu were very senior and offered superior technique and experience. But now, the foreign Shihan are often either peers or senior to the instructors at headquarters. The headquarters teachers have nothing on the foreign Shihan in terms of ability or experience. Yet there is almost no recognition of this. So, one is forced to ask, what do we need headquarters for? If all this money flows to Japan but the only thing you get from it is some paperwork with ranks and titles which the Japanese themselves don't take seriously, then do we really need that connection? If it's only a one way and there doesn't seem to be any real concern for a true two way relationship, then why not dispense with it and invest that money in our own Aikido community? Does my rank really mean any more simply because it has the signature of someone in Japan who has never met me, has never seen my Aikido, and could care less? I don't think so.

Rank means something when it comes from a teacher that has respect. That's what grants the rank legitimacy, not because it comes from an organization. Mary Heiny Sensei grants her own ranks. Does anyone question her right to do so? She is the senior woman in American Aikido... few would say that a certificate from Japan would make her ranks more legitimate than her own signature. If Heiny Sensei's ranks show a concern for quality, then they will be seen as legitimate. If she compromises on quality, her ranks won't mean much. She has a personal stake in maintaining her credibility and authority. Does a huge organization do this better than an individual teacher? To my mind no, so there better be other benefits to membership.

The functional organization should provide material support for a top teacher to survive. But in return, the members should be able to point to a whole host of things the organization does for them. Meaningful certification and ranking of instructors, ethics oversight, group rates for things like health and liability insurance, communication networks between teachers and members, events designed to connect teachers with students, any number of things. When students start asking "what are we getting out of this?" the organization isn't doing its job. When you go to an event with a top teacher and he is just going through the motions, when there's little or no effort to actually teach, then things are broken. If you are a member of an organization, you shouldn't have to think hard about what you are getting out of it. It should be readily apparent. Too often it is not apparent to anyone. I know of one Shihan who will cancel an appearance at the last minute and still demand that the host dojo pay his fee even though he didn't actually teach the seminar... And people actually do pay up, just so they don't lose their association with that teacher. That's an organization that is out of control.

Becoming a teacher is a responsibility. In my mind, setting up shop as a teacher means that you now have a moral commitment to your students to continually progress, that you never become the limiting factor in their training. You absolutely must deliver the goods to the best of your ability. How much more so for a senior teacher who sets up an organization? Too often organizations are created to provide support for a given teacher with little or no sense that this teacher is taking on a huge responsibility to his members. If the guy at the top of an organization isn't spending every minute of his waking hours trying to figure out how to help his or her members improve their Aikido, then the system is broken.

When you are at the top of the pyramid, you have a huge base of support. There has to be some sense of responsibility that goes with that, not just the sense of entitlement that often exists. That's what I think really needs to go, and will start to largely disappear in the next generation of Aikido leaders. The folks in Japan feel "entitled" simply because they are related to the Founder or trained with him. Overseas people really bought into that... they have often put up with the most dysfunctional behavior on the parts of their teachers simply because they trained with the Founder.

My generation does not and will not have that. When Saotome sensei passes on, no one is going to care that I trained with him. Unless I can deliver the goods as a teacher in my own right, no one is going to invest anything in me. For my generation there is no real "entitlement"... it's going to have to be a two way street. I have good friends who have already started their own organizations. Their main effort in this is to not duplicate the dysfunction of what they came out of. That will be the norm in the future. You want to teach, you had better deliver. If you try to set up an organization, the members had better feel like you are doing something for them or they will bolt. It won't matter how long you've trained, it won't matter how long you were in Japan. It won't matter who your teacher was. There will be lots of alternatives for the average student and he or she will be able to vote with their feet if they don't feel cared for. I think this is all to the good. The folks who think they are simply "entitled" will fall by the wayside. The folks who care and have the talent will have the support of the community.

I think we are headed for a far more functional future that we've had in many ways. With the death of thee traditionally structured organizations I think networking will be more the norm. I see a lot of mutual support and exchange going on between teachers and their smaller less centralized organizations. I think the idea of "styles" of Aikido will also gradually disappear. People will simply have too much exposure to many different approaches to feel limited to one. Aikido is on its way to becoming a far more eclectic mix of elements and the overall quality of the art will increase for this reason. I am very optimistic for the future. I can see people already doing what I am talking about right now today. Going forward, their efforts will be the norm.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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