There are incredible assertions made about who could do what in Daito-ryu and in aikido, and, for the most part, few on this forum have felt any of the people they are discussing. One may aver, however, that we have objective
evidence: all the films on YouTube! What more do we need to make categorical assertions about their skills and their combative abilities?
The truth is that if we had films of Takeda Sokaku, we would not actually come to a consensus that he was as brilliant as so many claim. Some would claim that he was a fraud, others that he had dive-bunny uke, and still others that he burned incandescent, like a super-nova of internal power, coruscating among the blue dwarfs in the rest of the aiki-firmament. I must confess that I've seen films of some whom others call great, and I cannot, for the life of me, see what all the fuss is about. I've seen films of others or met them in person, and they are people of whom I stand in awe, yet others dismiss them outright.
So objective proof is not objective after all, is it?
Perhaps subjective truth has its place.
What I would like to propose is a kind of archive, one, as much as is possible in this anarchic environment, remains under my "control." Each column will start as follows, at least in the beginning. I will introduce a prominent figure in aikido with whom I studied. I will have a few words to say about the circumstances of my contact, and then I'll describe what it was like to take ukemi from them. This will, of necessity, include personal opinion of what happened, but the goal is "subjective objectivity," another word for which is phenomenology.
Here's where it may get difficult. The only people "allowed" to post after my introductory post about a teacher are others who have had DIRECT experience of taking ukemi from the same teacher, and these posters must hold themselves to the same standard of phenomenology. We don't have to agree: we merely have to make an attempt to be truthful. Furthermore, each poster is required to only post their experience.
There should be no debate with another poster's account of taking ukemi from the same teacher. How about if we trust the reader(s) to evaluate these accounts on their own merits, rather than insisting, in demagoguery and polemic, that people must vicariously feel what you felt, or must believe your ideology about aikido or a specific teacher. In essence, there are three ground rules:
- Simply post direct experience of taking ukemi for a teacher.
- No back and forth with other posters, disputing their experience, or trying to prove why yours is more real.
- If, for any reason, you find something to praise or condemn in a description of taking ukemi from a teacher or wish to amplify your insights and perceptions, do so elsewhere. Start a thread about that subject in the appropriate section of Aikiweb.
The potential problem with this is the neighborhood -- and the neighbors. If someone describes their experience of a teacher as being, for example somewhat dependent on a colluding uke to make his or her performance possible, or "coarse grained," using muscle and collision to effect the technique, I have no doubt, this being Aikiweb, that someone will have to post an objection, in sweaty high dudgeon. I can envision the same sorry round of:
- How dare you insult my precious teacher!
- Aiki is love and the way you write isn't loving or, taking a more cosmic perspective, everything is love, so your hatefulness is actually loving whether you know it or not, you little bundle of aiki-love, you
- Internal strength doesn't exist, and if it does, Osensei never used it. In fact, Osensei never used the term "aiki!"
- The guy you just described doesn't use aiki, so even writing about him is a complete waste of our time.
- How dare you insult me! (You weren't even mentioned, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone).
- Rather than wasting time with that guy, you should train with so-and-so, who is a GOD in human flesh. When he touches you, you will feel the same tingle running up your leg that Chris Mathews used to feel about President Obama before the thrill was gone.
- The statements here are a danger to na´ve people who will, after they read it, have their hopes of salvation shattered, will follow the wrong path, or possibly, explode, festooning their keyboard in gobbets of steaming flesh
- You are a member of sensei's organization and you aren't allowed to think those thoughts
- I just want to say that even though I'm not supposed to post, I want to share how good it is what people are doing, and I'm posting because I want you to know about my support. In aiki.
WOULD YOU ALL JUST SHUT UP!!!!
Whew. I'm sorry. I got a little emotional. I would simply like, for once, on this lovely and precious resource, that something good and true is not curdled like a fine glass of milk into which, sooner or later, someone just has to squeeze their lemon.
Consider Peter Goldsbury's columns. They, as works of research and he, as a man, show so much class and erudition that people treat them with respect. I would like to be part of something that, collectively
, is treated the same way; thereby, for some time, even decades, the aikido community will have a resource in which people can, for example, look up and read what it was like to grab Tada Hiroshi or Kuroiwa Yoshio, all these wonderful teachers who are now gone, or whom you will perhaps have no chance to meet. There were giants on the earth in earlier days -- perhaps we can, at least, get a felt sense of what it was like to work directly with them through people's memories.
I must have taken ukemi for about fifteen or twenty of the greats, on somewhat of a regular basis for several years. As this is my column: I'll start with these people. If I have enough energy and time, I may offer start more than one thread a month. These accomplished, I will go on to other shihan, whom I haven't personally met. I will write to people whom I know studied with a teacher and whom I respect, and will ask them to get the ball rolling. Please don't send me an account about you and X sensei, before I start that column, because I don't want to care for tender egos if I don't think that teacher is someone I want to archive yet, or I don't think your description is a good way to start. (You can post later, to be sure, but maybe I'd like to set the scene in another way than you would like). On the other hand, I may do a shout-out at the end of a column, because I don't know anyone with the experience of a teacher I'm interested in. In that case, I'll ask you to send some accounts directly, and I'll post the one that, in my opinion, best suits as an introduction. Keep your copies, if you send me something, and you can post it yourself afterwards. I will not archive the ones I do not post, in such cases, as they will not be relevant to my responsibilities. Anyway, if you are in a hurry, there is all of Aikiweb to start your own threads.
If something troubles you about what someone wrote -- or thrills you, intrigues you, whatever -- once again, use the Aikiweb forums to start your own discussion on that subject, and include, if you like, my iniquity or scintillating character or anyone else's. I can imagine those reading this thinking, "What a control freak." Yep. But on the other hand, you've got all of Aikiweb to play in. You've got every building in the city to paint on, from graffiti scribbles to the finest of art. Can you just leave my one wall alone? That said, if anyone does have thoughts about the ideas for this upcoming column, that's what this month -- and this one alone -- is for.
I asked Jun if this could be moderated, by myself or by him, but he pointed out that what makes Aikiweb both ridiculous and
sublime is its organic nature, that the only moderation should be concerning real transgression, as Jun, the owner defines it. He rules with a light hand, but rule he does, and as the king of this small domain, that is his right.
So, let us moderate ourselves. I think we can, collectively, establish an island of a particular order, like a Bach fugue, an interlude of formal rigor, in a club that usually plays everything from hardcore punk to bluegrass. On the other hand, if you, the graffiti writers, can't stand the open space and just have to scribble here, I'm simply going to ask Jun to take my column down. I do not want to participate in such rancid back-and-forth anymore.
We'll get started next month. I chose to lay down hard-core rules in a tone of whimsy. The whimsy was to amuse myself; the rules are serious. I will, however, be writing my accounts with various teachers in matter-of-fact descriptions. You too. We'll start with . . . .
Ellis Amdur is a licensed instructor (shihan) in two koryu: Araki-ryu Torite Kogusoku and Toda-ha Buko-ryu Naginatajutsu. His martial arts career is approximately forty years -- in addition to koryu, he has trained in a number of other combative arts, including muay thai, judo, xingyi and aikido.
A recognized expert in classical and modern Japanese martial traditions, he has authored three books and one instructional DVD on this subject. The most recent is his just released Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei's Power.
Information regarding his publications on martial arts, as well as other books on crisis intervention can be accessed at his website: www.edgework.info