PAG - would you be able to share your vetting process? I am curious because we just started implementing something similar a year ago. People get a week free trial. The instructors observe and the student will speak with the instructors after the week for some Q&A. Permission will be granted for official membership if there's no display of obvious abusive tendencies or outright arrogance. I am worried sometimes that it might be too draconian and would put off new students. Cass, would you be intimidated by such a system when dojo searching? Thank-you.
Cassia Rose Heatley
I would like to hear of the vetting process too! I haven't heard of a dojo picking and choosing its members before, even at Hombu it seems that as long as you come with a letter of recommendation you are welcome to train. With the exception of becoming an uchi deshi it always seemed to me like the students always choose the dojo rather than vice versa. I'm honestly not sure if it would put me off, I am a little shy at first so I would likely be very nervous but it would depend on how it was phrased. If it were implicit that I was being judged/trialed for membership, I would more worry about my performance and behaviour which can make things worse. If it is rarely excluding people - just those that are abusive or too egotistical etc. - I think it would be better to be on a case-by-case basis of if someone is unsuitable just telling them early on, rather than putting everyone through the process. However, if the sensei in question was the one I wanted, the one who's style I related to the most, I would be ultimately fine with the trial. It just depends on exclusivity to a certain extent - if you have something to offer that another dojo does not, be it that you're the only one in the area or have a high dan/renowned instructor or are the only one of a specific style (i.e. Yoshinkan) in the area that is a bit different and you can maybe be more selective if you have the popularity.
PAG. Well, we need to look at some history again.
When Morihei Ueshiba opened his dojo in Tokyo, he vetted potential members very carefully. Before this, in Ayabe, he taught members of the Omoto sect, of which he was also a member, and a few problems arose: the new religion and Ueshiba’s rough bujutsu
did not prove an entirely seamless match. As Japan embarked on her military conquests in Asia, the intake in the Tokyo dojo diminished, as potential recruits were called up, and Ueshiba had to widen the pool of potential members.
In 1942, Morihei Ueshiba moved to Iwama and after Japan’s defeat in 1945, he called his practice aiki-farming. Initially, the main aim was to train, but later he did so in such a way that it did not attract the attention of the Occupation authorities. He had ordered Kisshomaru to maintain the Tokyo dojo and Kisshomaru did so, even when the air raids caused much damage. Eventually, training had to stop there and the dojo became a place of refuge, but it was never abandoned and was gradually reopened in the 1950s. At some point Morihei Ueshiba was asked about rules for training and he gave the rules that have become part of aikido holy writ. They can be found quite easily, but the last rule seems to me to require some ‘interpretation’ if not straight fudging:
Here is the rule in Japanese:
This appears on p. 12 of 「規範合気道基本編」, written by Kisshomaru Ueshiba and his son Moriteru and published in 1997. (There is an English translation of this book, which I thought I had. I cannot find it and so I have had to use the Japanese original.)
Various English translations have been made of these rules and they are accessible on the Internet. An early translation appears on p.174 of Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s book, Aikido
, the edition I have being published in 1973:
“6) The purpose of Aikido is to train both body and mind and to make a man sincere. All Aikido arts are secret in nature and are not to be revealed publicly, nor taught to rogues who will use them for evil purposes.”
A need was soon felt for some interpretation and in the same work Kisshomaru gives a more detailed interpretation of these rules. Here is his interpretation of Rule 6:
“Lastly, the aim of Aikido is not merely to produce a strong man, but to create an integrated person. Any educated person knows how brute strength is meaningless in the present day of advanced civilization. For these reasons the Master forbade Aikido to be misused and severely cautioned everyone. He would not permit the publication of his techniques and required introductions and guarantees for each student.” (Op.cit., p. 176.)
I have not gone back and checked the Japanese originals, reworked for Kisshomaru’s book, but he leaves unstated any explanation of the changes he made. There were major differences between his own attitude and that of his father—and he gives some explanation of these elsewhere, in his autobiography (not translated into English). There was certainly a difference between the intense training, tight control, and hothouse atmosphere of the prewar Kobukan dojo and the more relaxed conditions of the postwar Hombu, and the quest for “rogues and those who will use the arts for evil purposes” was not done openly, if at all. (There is some irony here, for the dojo where I started training in Hiroshima had originally opened as a front for a yakuza
(gangster) organization and had to close suddenly. It restarted in the city budo gymnasium, with kendo on one floor and aikido / judo on the floor above.)
After the war, there was a difference in regime and expectations for the special students, like N Tamura, Y Yamada and K Chiba, and for the more ordinary practitioners, but it was a major part of Kisshomaru’s postwar aims to make aikido available to everyone as a ‘peaceful’ martial way, and the ‘special’ students who went to live abroad after the war, went to ‘victor’ countries like the US, France and the UK.
In the present-day Hombu, there is no preliminary vetting at all, as far as I can see; students become members at the office window, next to the main entrance, by filling in a form, paying the requisite fees, and being issued with an Aikikai membership card. To practice, they sign in, change, and then enter the dojo, either the beginners’ class or the general adult classes.
In my own dojo there is some vetting, but this is done in the following way. As the senior instructor, I am not supposed to be concerned with mundane matters like registration, and this is done by my colleague. He has as much experience in aikido as I have and I am called on to advise or decide, only if he is unsure whether the prospective member will fit. In any case, if the student is a complete beginner, he/she initially takes part in the beginner / children’s class and does not come into my hands until it is time for the rank of 5th kyuu
are handled differently, but if the yudansha
is Japanese, he/she will need to produce the yudansha
book and give details of previous training and especially of the shihan who awarded the last dan rank. If I need to check, I can easily do so by telephone. So, unless the student is a yudansha
, there is no way he/she can begin training in my classes straightaway, without first going to the beginners’ class and learning some basic skills like ukemi
The system works quite well, but the children's beginners' class is regimented in a way that people outside Japan might find too restrictive, even when adjustments are made for age differences.
Best wishes -- and apologies for the length...