Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Re: Focus and Aikido Training
I hope you are well. As usual, I read you latest column with great interest. I am still researching and writing my own column and so I regret that it will not appear until sometime in the autumn. However, your present column summarized many issues crucial to aikido as it is currently practiced, issues which will take much longer for me to cover in my own columns, so I hope you will forgive me for submitting an extended meditation on some items in the column. I have quoted you as FT and identified my own comments/questions as PAG.
FT: I believe that it is way past time for the current roster of shihans, senseis and the vast body of Aikido faithful worldwide, to begin to seriously consider and include the mental and psychological dimensions and definitions of the Founder's original Aikido to our regular training programs.
PAG: One important question. Are you basing this opinion on the AikiWeb forum, or on your own experience? In addition, how do you suggest we do this? My own (very personal) response has been / is to go back and study the whole spectrum of aikido from the very beginning, regardless of the opinions given in AikiWeb and other forums. This study certainly includes the "mental and psychological dimensions and definitions of the Founder's original Aikido", but this is placed in a contemporary context (which somewhat changes its significance). The study also includes the ways in which this has been changed by the earlier generation of shihans as it was passed on to the "current roster of shihans, senseis and the vast body of Aikido faithful worldwide."
FT: No, we may not reach any kind of consensus or general agreement any time soon.
PAG: Do you regard this as a problem? Do we actually need to reach any kind of consensus or agreement? If we do not, does this matter? Actually, I do not believe that the earlier generations of shihans reached much agreement. It is true that they bought into the iemoto system, especially after the war, when Morihei's son resurrected aikido, but I think this actually allowed them to continue with that they were doing and avoid coming to a consensus. I believe the iemoto system can be an effective tool, if properly managed. It certainly allowed such individuals as Shirata, Iwata, Saito, Tanaka, a couple of Kobayashis, Nishio, Kuroiwa, Yamaguchi, Arikawa, Tada, to display their individuality, all under the same general roof.
FT: Nonetheless, this long neglected part of Aikido's true identity needs to be recognized, seriously studied and discussed.
PAG. I agree. However, I believe that the present Doshu, for one, would take issue with you about "Aikido's true identity". The issue would be how you derive "Aikido's true identity" from all the particular views of what Morihei Ueshiba actually practiced. I think Doshu believes he understands "Aikido's true identity" and also believes that it is his task to preserve it and pass it on to future generations. I suspect that Doshu's certainty about this is one reason why even suggesting to him that some part of Aikido's true identity has been neglected is very difficult.
FT: Significant steps must be taken to individually, collectively and organizationally address these crucially important aspects of our beloved art.
PAG. You mention ‘organizationally' and this is where I have an interest (now wearing my IAF hat). What advice would you give me as Chairman of the IAF? Presumably, you would give the same advice to the USAF, the ASU, the Birankai, and perhaps the Aikikai in general. Of course, some will say that all aikido organizations are evil to begin with, so perhaps they should all disband—-including the Aikikai, with its system of doshus, waka senseis and dan grades.
FT: We owe the Founder no less than to prove our respect, appreciation, and our unconditional allegiance to the principles he gifted us with.
PAG: Do we? What is the point of ‘proving unconditional' allegiance to the ‘gift' of a man from another age, who is long dead? And what is the force of ‘unconditional' here? In other words, the hypothesis that the Founder bequested a ‘gift' of principles to which we owe ‘unconditional' allegiance is begging the question somewhat, since you seem to assume that this is Aikido's true identity, couched as it is in western ethical terms. However, it is only one of a number of ways of seeing Morihei Ueshiba. Certainly, he created the art, but he did this as an individual, obsessed, like Takeda Sokaku was before him, with his own training, together with the arcane religious pursuits in which he couched his explanations. Thus, any knowledge gained has to be stolen from him and combined with one's own private training and pursuits. In this, more traditionally Japanese, way of looking at the Founder, no one is obliged to do anything. Sure, someone like Hiroshi Tada, whose views I have just summarized, wanted to be like Ueshiba and to possess the skills he had, but he couched this in extremely personal terms.
We, the stewards of his Aikido, should resolve to do no less.
PAG: Should we? In view of what I stated in the previous paragraph, in what sense are we stewards?
Here is one suggestion, which I found on another website. I believe that when he wrote this, the author's tongue was very definitely somewhere in his cheek, though he himself might post here and stress that he was deadly serious. I apologize beforehand if I have offended anybody by (a) quoting from a post in a website to which access is available only by prior invitation; (b) removing the names quoted in the post. The suggestion is so relevant to the issues you raise in your column that it merits being discussed here. The context is Kisshomaru Ueshiba's alleged knowledge/ignorance of what may be called ‘aiki' skills.
"So let us imagine an announcement, either publicly or privately, among the ruling body of the Aikikai:
I, Ueshiba Moriteru, have just realized that our million strong international organization has gone down a terribly wrong path. My grandfather taught a particular, very sophisticated training method that was derived almost in whole cloth from Daito-ryu. He then amalgamated it with a charismatic neo-Shinto sect that is now the provenance of elderly devotees, and subject to attempts by a number of yakuza organizations to take control of their millions of yen in money and property. My grandfather used to practice, obsessively, specific drills which enabled him to achieve this internal power. My father rejected this, post-war, and focused on turning the cryptic phrases on peace among the three realms into a feel-good formula of cooperative, pseudo-martial circular movement to enhance relationships among people in the world. This has vitiated it as a martial art, but allowed the art to spread to almost every country, to have a level of political and social influence in our own country, and made beaucoup yen as well. To my shame, however, was stunned to find that not only I, but almost all of the shihan are ignorant of my grandfather's skills. We must recover them - but not through the weird religion grandpa followed. I've tried reading his writings on the subject, and if the old man wasn't crazy, he was eating lots of mushrooms behind that shrine in Iwama!
So I have, in secret, reached out to the various Daito-ryu organizations, the very groups we have slandered as old-fashioned and violent, the legacy of a psychopath that my grandpa was well shut of. Daito-ryu, the martial art transcended by our (not) magnificent aikido. To my surprise, Daito-ryu turned out to be either incredibly rigid, constipated kata training, or ridiculous dive bunny techniques that make Takeda Yoshinobu look normal, and a few really amazing guys who said that they would only teach me if I revealed what I learned to no one - ever. And they sort of indicated they would lie to me and not teach me anyway, while pretending to.
So there is only one way to save aikido - we must get outside help. We have three choices that I have found: All would state that they are far form the best at these skills, but they are the only ones who are not focused on a specific school. So we have, here, a large wheel and we will spin it and draw lots, and one third of the shihan will be dispatched for five years to study in Tokyo with a pugnacious little man named A - yes, please forget that we've previous accused him of being a gangster and told everyone to stay away from him; one third will go to Colorado. I'm sure all the shihan will get along fine with B, a 60+ year old ex-Marine ex-engineer. He will have a number of personality traits that they will like - obsessively meticulous and abrasively direct. (That third is ordered to give your bokken and jo to the nearest deprived child and buy pool noodles, the new weapon of the Aikikai). The other third will go to the eastern USA to study with a man named C of whom - well, just go and find out - I can't explain him easily. When you all return, we will have a battle royal in the Budokan, in pitch dark, like my grandfather used to do, with live swords (because aiki is universally applicable) and the team that survives will be responsible for promoting that version of aiki forever after. Actually, the Colorado group can use their pool noodles if they choose.
Me? Ahem. Well, my son and I will be making trips to a small village in China, just in case our elder brothers might somehow have something that we Japanese have not yet had an opportunity to improve. Just to check."