Dojo: Kiku Matsu/Chicago, IL
Location: Chicago, IL
Join Date: Feb 2011
Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?
I've only been a part of one organization, but I am fiercely proud of it, and I recognize others may not have the same opportunities and experience. I can represent one example though.
My experience in the AWA has been inclusive and less exclusive. I have definitely come to understand Aikido as a cross-cutting concern, involving people who would not otherwise become close friends. There is a bar raised to inclusion: complete a 4 week introduction, and formally join by committing to pay the dues and participate in the transmission of our art. This is very convenient socially because it allows one to make certain assumptions about the kind of devotion and sacrifice a person will make, engendering a kind of respect which is not appropriate for just anyone at large. Positive.
My recent promotion to yudansha brings a bit more clarity to this. In AWA, I understand rank as a delegation of sempai/kohai responsibilities. To me it seems a lot like traffic laws where in a rear-end collision, it is always primarily the driver whose front-end is involved who bears the primary responsibility for avoiding an accident. There's also a filial older/younger sibling teacher/student angle to this. Having a clear delegation of rank prevents people from needing to discover natural rankings through side challenges and contests. Positive.
PERPETUATION OF A STYLE
I am a consultant, and I have had the opportunity to visit a few other dojos in other organizations with different styles. When I began training, I thought Aikido was special partly because the art was pedagogically so refined. We have a "basic vocabulary" of Aiki Taiso, which translate into phrases through taisabaki, and this creates a neat web of relationships between movements, allowing beginners to master some key fundamentals that enable mastery of other things and so on. I later discovered that this is not "standard" but is an approach developed by Koichi Tohei, and further developed by Fumio Toyoda, and furthered by Andrew Sato. Other dojos in other organizations have their own teaching style. At the same time, other yondan and godan and shihan seem to me like there is a certain Aiki convergence, no matter where they come from. Those same converging masters also seem like they are diverging on another dimension because the freedom of expression they have achieved carries very personal messages and reveals facets of individuality. I don't see this as competing schools. They are different dialects which enable different voices. Positive.
PERPETUATION OF A METHODOLOGY
I touched on this before, but the question is whether having different pedagogies is good or bad. Didactically, it's crushing to try and take in too much at a time. Aikido would not be nearly as popular, and we would not have fostered the community of yudansha around the world without some pedagogy to meter off bite sized skills that can be discovered or mastered somewhat independently from the rest of the art. My tradition leaves some things out: yudansha are expected to discover them on their own, "stealing" from their sempai. Other traditions leave other things out. The methodologies are none perfect, but still useful to hone ourselves with. Having one as part of an organizational activity allows learning to be distributed across time on the mat and instructors. Slight variations are easier to generalize than radical variations. This, in my opinion has a positive impact on the transmission of the art, opening Aikido up to more people. The methodology as I see it is an enabling factor especially in the beginning, and the plurality of methodolgies is an enabling factor especially later on. Positive.
Being a consultant, I can only confer value to my clients on things they are willing to defer to me. My level of professionalism creates an impression which encourages deference. This deference leads to experimentation, and the experimentation leads to transference of expertise. I'm not just talking about Aikido--or am I? Deference in consulting happens partly when a contract is penned and agreed on. It is an expression of the value my clients expect to reap from the transference of expertise I offer. In an organization where the overall expertise is growing, maybe the accretion of deference and the demand for a sensei (esp. shihans) justifies a full time commitment. On the other hand, my sensei has often expressed something like "You don't do Aikido like this for the money, believe me, Aikido is a lousy way to try to get rich: there's no money in it." I would object to conflation of professionalism and profit, but professionalism seems to be very important. Positive.
This one was left out of the OP, but I think it is important. Aside from the art, Aikido needs a certain amount of production. Mats, some place to lay them out and train, travel are all practical concerns necessary to get people together in practice. These are material concerns and common concerns, and it helps to have an organization provide legal legitimacy around property held and enjoyed in common. In the US, this means a for-profit or not-for-profit corporation becomes an enabling factor. In AWA, member dojos and the organization at large have contributed partly to individual dojos or seminars or even members who need help traveling to a dan test. Someone else also mentioned liability insurance. Organizations, when they are legitimate legal entities, also help enable pooling of resources, which can translate to more support for individuals. At one time, lots of dojos claimed to offer Aikido without having qualified instructors. Legal organizations have legal recourse to discourage fraud. Positive.
In general, I am very pro-organization, pro-organizing, but specifically pro-AWA. I wish everyone could benefit from some of the things I've enjoyed, which inure from a well run organization.