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Old 01-21-2006, 02:01 AM   #26
senshincenter
 
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Quote:
Charles Hill wrote:
I instituted a 10 time, twice a week introductory course for 3000 yen (a little less money than two tickets to a movie.) I make it clear that while I hope that everyone will continue to practice with us forever, I understand that not everyone will and that I will teach things that can really enrich one`s life even if they never do Aikido again.

When I explained my idea for the course to the local shihan, he wasn`t pleased,but made the comment that when the idea failed, the failure would be good for me. Someone asked me why I wanted to do the intro course and I answered that I wanted to make it easy to quit Aikido without the person feeling like they failed. The silence afterward was deafening so I didn`t go on to explain that I sure don`t want to practice with people who didn`t want to be there 100%.

It has become clear that through advertising problems and such that a beginners` course is not feasible, so I am now looking for ways for students to be able to start at any time while still retaining the feeling described above. Any ideas?

Charles
Well Charles, I think you can figure out my position on this. You got the right idea - one should have a dojo or should at least try to have a dojo with folks that want to train 100%. We don't like to kick folks out, or drive them away, but we try to train at a level where if one does not have a 100% desire to be there, the training will most likely backfire on them (e.g. injure them, make them bitter, make them more filled with fear, pride, and ignorance, etc.). For folks that can't must up the 100% desire, we either extend the trial period for them as they might require or request, or we ask them to try again later when they are more sure, or if they have prior training we extend "guest status" to them (where they basically can join in on any class with no commitment to the dojo). We do this because it is not doing anyone any good to expect 50% folks to train in a 100% environment.

A lot of folks are just fine with being surrounded by 50% desire-filled folks on the mat but such a mat will never be as fruitful as anyone would desire. Go figure. For them, it is absurd to try and make Aikido easy to quit - but I get your point just fine. I wonder how dismissive your higher-ups would have been if you just said the inverse, "Hey, aren't we limiting ourselves by surrounding ourselves with more folks that don't really want to be here - that don't really want to do the work - than do really want to be here - that really do want to do the work?"

In short, self-reliance and the institution will never mix, never get along. Self-reliance is the antithesis to the institution. History has proven this time and time again. The only way that I can see a delegate of the institution going for these kinds of ideas is if he/she is a rebel at heart and has some part of their heart that wonders every now and then how they ever got where they are now from where they used to be.

dmv

David M. Valadez
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Old 01-21-2006, 07:32 AM   #27
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Very interesting thread. I have learned very much from reading through it.

Given the initial exchange between David V. and Demetrio, I am very much inclined to agree with David's position. I myself would be very wary of anyone who asked me the kind of questions given in the exchange between the Deshi and the Sensei in David's web site, especially the question about my 'political leanings' in aikido. Even now, if I were to be asked this question, I wonder how I would answer it. I would probably request the prospective deshi to clarify the question.

However, I also wonder whether David is not setting up a 'straw man' in his example of the exchange between the Deshi and the Sensei. I do not know. I am curious as to whether the questions asked by the deshi actually reflect David's actual experience, or are the kind of questions that David feels shoud be asked by any prospective deshi. Either way, they are valid questions, but only if asked from within a certain cultural context.

Writing from my own knowledge of the deshi/sensei relationship, I think that if I were a real deshi approaching a real sensei, I doubt whether I would actually ask the questions posed in the dialogue. Perhaps this is an 'American' or 'Western' phenomenon. (I have used the quotes here to signal possibilities, not judgments. I know that there are various uchi-deshi schemes available in the US and elsewhere, but I assume from David's example that the deshi has some knowledge of the martial arts and of aikido.)

My own teaching experience spans 30 years or so, the last 25 of which have been spent in Japan, and I have never encountered an experienced aikidoka coming to a dojo with the questions David suggests in his thread and this is why I think it might be a 'western' phenomenon. I know that the Dutch, for example, want to know about both lineage, but place more emphasis on actual performance on the tatami, which they want to 'feel'. But I also believe that this questioning makes absolutely no difference to the quality of their own training. It certainly does not enhance it. And the only way it might hinder their training is if they refused to participate in a training seminar because of the 'political' allegiance of a sensei, who is technically very advanced.

I myself approached the dojo of ChibaSensei after two years of aikido training. I watched his class and I also felt that it was the best I had ever seen, from my limited experience. However, I can honestly say that the questions posed by the deshi in David's thread never occurred to me. I simply asked Chiba Sensei if I could train in his dojo (Notice that I did not ask if I could become his student, which is suggested by the connotation of the term 'deshi': I was not sufficiently aware of the issues to ask such a question.) Of course, perhaps I should have asked the questions that David highlighted, but I think that the answers would not have been enlightening.

So I suggest that prospective deshi, if they really want to train like deshi, might well have come close to solving many of the questions involving training issues that David suggests before approaching the sensei. In fact I suspect that the actual training situation in David's dojo is much more accommodating to such students than 'general' dojos, where all comers are welcomed with no éÉrobation period, and it is much harder to single out, and respond effectively, to prospective deshi.

I would very much like to have a dojo like David has established here in Japan. This is very difficult and I am nowhere close to establishing why. When Chiba Sensei returned to Japan in the 70s, he found that even he could not establish such a dojo., despite his impressive training history. So he abandoned ship and moved to California, the location chosen in large part because of his back problems.

This leaves the 'federation' question and the question about 'political leanings'. My own students are aware of organization issues only if they look at the various websites pertaining to the dojo. They are never told about it. This is a result of a decision made by me never to mix political issues with training, especially in the early stages. In the later stages, the political issues are presented only as necessary. The local political issues really only involve whether to to take a Hombu grading, or not.

Best wishes to all,

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 01-21-2006 at 07:38 AM.

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Old 01-21-2006, 08:32 AM   #28
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote:
And the only way it might hinder their training is if they refused to participate in a training seminar because of the 'political' allegiance of a sensei, who is technically very advanced.
Well, this certainly happens a lot here. Not a lot of people who attend seminars organised by someone else than their own organisation. For honesty's sake I'll have to say that I don't either.

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Old 01-21-2006, 10:33 AM   #29
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

I agree with Peter about the context. I am not sure how often these kinds of questions come up worldwide - though others in this thread have suggested that it should be widespread. I think why it came up for us (though it doesn't seem to anymore) is because our context is centered on independence - and that we are neighbored by three other Aikido schools that one could suggest are very much into federation alliance. For me, independence is part of a training ethic -- if one will allow, it serves a purpose much like hermitage might (in some ways) in some monastic systems. Independence is part of a practical "asceticism" that one undertakes to discover what one cannot discover when holding (or being held by) institutional support.

Therefore, it is a strange combination in our case when someone comes in and that person is very used to being held by institutional support. You got a person that might not have asked those questions (such as they might not do were they to walk into the dojo of a competing federation) coming into a place where they make virtually no sense. It is sort of like when a beginner first learns the breakfall. When they walk, they have to fall a little bit every step, only they never reach for the ground with their hands. They know where the ground is -- it is under their alternate foot. However, when they are doing the breakfall, though their foot is on the ground, they feel inclined to reach for the ground with their hands nevertheless. In other words, they feel the loss of the support (institutional support) they were used to having, and so they reach for it. They reach for it because they are now in a place where it is no longer present.

It is also very similar when someone wants to know my rank -- I say, "I have no rank." In the same way, one can imagine, we get a certain type of deshi via these choices I have made -- we get deshi that are more able to endure what this type of practical asceticism requires. In other words, ask yourself, you experienced aikidoka, "Whom would you rather train with -- the deshi that wants to know rank, is inspired by rank, feels rank is meaningful, etc., or the deshi that makes a choice to train knowing that in the end they too will have no rank?" For some of us the answer is obvious. It is the same way for me in valuing things like a month long trial period over paperwork.

We are not out to be restrictive -- we are not a koryu. Moreover, I deeply believe in the widespread dissemination of Aikido. However, we seek to assist students in helping them enter into the dojo in a certain way -- one way and not another. That one way is of course adaptable, but it nevertheless stands in contrast to "anyway." As a result, we risk "losing" students (like Charles does) in manners thought insane, thought to be financially irresponsible, and even immoral by other federation-based Aikido dojo. For us, for me, this makes sense. If we were not looked at in this way by the bulk of federation practitioners, we would not be doing our own practical asceticism.

We have just moved into our new location. It is very nice and it has given us now many more training hours (as one can see on our website). More people are discovering us. Yesterday a prospective student came by to join up. After answering his questions -- which did not include questions of paperwork, lineage, etc. -- I asked him if he had seen the other Aikido schools yet (this though I'm sure some of them would look at our understanding of Aikido and state we are not doing Aikido, and this though one of the schools has in the past sought to "attack" us via the ranting of a spousal abuser). He said they are never there -- but he had tried. I gave him the most likely hours of training for them and said he should be sure to check them out in person if he could. I told him to do the same for other martial arts he might be interested in -- though he said he felt he wanted to do Aikido. I told him this was part of making a sound decision -- since training is not a thing that one should undertake in an ill informed manner -- "How informed you are by first-hand experience is how seriously you can make your decision." At the same time I told him our protocol of the two day a week training minimum, and how we encourage that folks train as much as they can, etc. I told him of our month long trial period and that we would even provide him with a gi to use during that time, etc.

Later, I relayed all of this in a conversation to another deshi. She asked, "Why didn't you just let him sign up right then and there?" My answer: "Because we'd be doing him a disservice and it would not just be the disservice of not helping him to be informed. The true disservice of just signing someone up is the disservice of expecting them to possess a capacity for commitment but offering them no means to cultivate commitment. It is the disservice of expecting him to train seriously but of not providing an avenue for him to act seriously. Moreover, in providing this disservice to him, the dojo does a disservice to itself." What I have found is that folks get this, if you give then a chance - even newbies. They do not walk away insulted or feeling unwanted when we do not hurry up to have them sign away their first-born. They either return to the dojo more in possession of what they actually want from their training (since no one consciously begins training only to not take it seriously), or they return to say they cannot undertake the training at this time. In this way, it is a win-win situation for both the potential member and the dojo.

I mention this because this is my own personal opinion on how one should approach a dojo and/or a new teacher. It is not in keeping with what is becoming in vogue on these boards. I personally never approached one of my past teachers by asking for their credentials -- like Peter. What I was interested in was never to be found on paper (hence, why we as a dojo are like we are, I guess). For me, a large part of becoming a deshi means practicing faith. Practicing faith cannot be done if one wants to know where the ground is every time they are about to take a step. (Chiba Sensei often mentioned that Zen analogy of stepping off the top of a 1000-foot pole.) For me, spiritually speaking, it would be more "damaging" to rob oneself of the chance to cultivate and practice faith (and self-reliance) than to risk spending a few hours, days, or weeks with some loser who can't help you and might even hurt you. This is not to say that I feel these questions that folks might like to ask nowadays are wrong -- personally, I just feel they aren't worth what they are costing. There are other ways, more real ways, of gaining the sense of security one supposedly wants from such questions -- ways that don't have one robbing him/herself of a chance to practice more faith in one's life. In my opinion, one should practice those ways -- they are the ways one finds through the door of self-reliance.

dmv

David M. Valadez
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Old 01-21-2006, 09:18 PM   #30
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Quote:
David Valadez wrote:
I agree with Peter about the context. I am not sure how often these kinds of questions come up worldwide - though others in this thread have suggested that it should be widespread. I think why it came up for us (though it doesn't seem to anymore) is because our context is centered on independence - and that we are neighbored by three other Aikido schools that one could suggest are very much into federation alliance. For me, independence is part of a training ethic -- if one will allow, it serves a purpose much like hermitage might (in some ways) in some monastic systems. Independence is part of a practical "asceticism" that one undertakes to discover what one cannot discover when holding (or being held by) institutional support.
...
dmv

I think in part, this may be why for me this discussion seems a little strange or much to do about nothing. To me , you make way too much out of the idea of independence. A very American/western emphasis that is itself really a fiction also.

My experience with new students is the main concern is times and location. I often tell students watching a class about other schools in town, but most times they seem not terribly excited to find out the next closest school is 10 miles away. I always invite them to try a class and I welcome them to watch as many classes as they want. If I had the time and resources available to have people dipping their toes in the water for a month with no monetary commitment, it sounds like a nice utopian idea. Maybe it's not a problem in California, but in Texas I still get a lot of blank looks when I mention aikido. Students coming through nowadays generally have already looked through our website and others in town before they show up in person or call.

With prospective students that have had training experience elsewhere, I have never had questions about lineage rather it's about whether or not they can keep the rank they got in some other organization. And at that point, I am certainly trying to steer them to a school in town that could likely transfer their rank without any extra steps.

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Old 01-21-2006, 09:50 PM   #31
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Quote:
Craig Hocker wrote:
I think in part, this may be why for me this discussion seems a little strange or much to do about nothing. To me , you make way too much out of the idea of independence. A very American/western emphasis that is itself really a fiction also.
Well I would never disagree that independence is not fictional - one is not after the "really real" in seeking independence. One is after a capacity to practice non-attachment to all subjective realities and/or sense of identities, etc. However, I would disagree with the American/Western comment.

Independence understood as utilizing self-reliance for ascetic or ascetic-like reasons is hardly a Western and/or Modern notion. There is a long list of noteworthy and beloved personalities in Japanese cultural history for example - e.g. Ikkyu, Ryokan, etc. Japanese and Chinese history are filled with these type of folks. The independence that these kind of people demonstrated had hardly anything to do with Jeffersonian Independence and/or individualism, etc. Same word, different heart, different meaning, different means, different end.

Every thread is going to be much to do about nothing to someone - even every post. That's why one chooses to read and write - it's a given of this form of communication that some topics and some comments will seem irrelevant to some and/or to everyone at some given moment in their life. Still, you posted, so thanks for that.

dmv

Last edited by senshincenter : 01-21-2006 at 09:54 PM.

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Old 01-21-2006, 10:46 PM   #32
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Quote:
David Valadez wrote:
Independence understood as utilizing self-reliance for ascetic or ascetic-like reasons is hardly a Western and/or Modern notion. There is a long list of noteworthy and beloved personalities in Japanese cultural history for example - e.g. Ikkyu, Ryokan, etc. Japanese and Chinese history are filled with these type of folks. The independence that these kind of people demonstrated had hardly anything to do with Jeffersonian Independence and/or individualism, etc. Same word, different heart, different meaning, different means, different end.
...
dmv
I find these notions of independence just as romantic and fictional as the Jeffersonian idea of individualism. There is little virtue in asceticism except if you live in a culture wealthy enough to allow you the luxury of it. Self-reliance is a virtue itself that need not be utilized for anything else. A two year old may need to go through forms of denial to claim it's notion of independence, but a mature human being while expressing in action virtues such as self-reliance should be self-aware to really know and see through the illusion of independence in whatever form a culture has defined the notion in its stories.

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Old 01-21-2006, 11:41 PM   #33
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Re: Senshin Center's Exchange "Arriving"

Quote:
Craig Hocker wrote:
I find these notions of independence just as romantic and fictional as the Jeffersonian idea of individualism. There is little virtue in asceticism except if you live in a culture wealthy enough to allow you the luxury of it. Self-reliance is a virtue itself that need not be utilized for anything else. A two year old may need to go through forms of denial to claim it's notion of independence, but a mature human being while expressing in action virtues such as self-reliance should be self-aware to really know and see through the illusion of independence in whatever form a culture has defined the notion in its stories.
Your working definition of asceticism is too narrow for me. Indeed, if you are understanding it as the practice related to the mythic character in robes or half-naked - you are right. But the general idea - the idea of spiritual cultivation through self-discipline and various types of denial, etc., is indeed more valid today than ever - in my opinion. Asceticism is more needed today than ever. If it's not for you - that is one thing - but only one thing and only for you. Perhaps we are talking about different things then.

For me, no virtue is a virtue in and of itself. Virtues, like self-reliance, are virtues solely by how we use them and particularly how we use them toward communal or social ends. In my opinion, to be "self-reliant" and to have no way of utilizing it toward a social or communal end is to be spiritually (even emotionally) impotent and thus self-alienated. We'll have to disagree on this.

One would think that denial (or delusion, or attachment, etc.) is a thing reducible to two year olds, but for any adult that has taken the cultivation of his/her spirit seriously, he/she knows that this is unfortunately not true. Additionally, such adults learn not to consider themselves above childlike habitual responses. For these people, it is not a lesser mature state that reflects and notes that one is driven by fear, by pride, and/or by ignorance. If anything, for many, such things would be understood in the reverse - where boasts to be above such things are seen as the more immature state of existence. To each his own then - if you are above it and then wish to identify others who make no such claims about their own person as two year olds, etc. - more power to you. I personally can make no such claims about myself. Additionally, I opt not to understand others of a similar nature as two year olds and/or as spiritually immature.

Spirituality without romanticism is dead. Aikido without romanticism is dead as well. First, one begins with ideals and with an attraction to such ideals, and then one works to make them real. Romanticism is the seed of realization - be that spiritual or martial. You called a place with month-long trial periods a utopia - a "no place." It once was a "no place" for me as well - an ideal I had romanticized - but now it is real. It's hardly a utopia for me. With work, it became real. In other words, I did the work, a month-long trial period is real; you didn't do the work, a month-long trial period is not real. The problem then is not with ideals, or even with romanticism, the problem is with not doing the work to make things real. If romanticism is one's excuse for not doing the work, or for denying that there is work to do, or if it is used to excuse one's lack of work by saying the work cannot be done, then, yes, I would agree with your critique against romanticism. However, then I think we are talking about two different things again. Fictions, romantic or otherwise, are not the problem - the lack of work is the issue. For those that do the work, utility is very much found in fictions (in this case, the utility of being able to gain some distance from one's own fictions).

But this is now a different thread topic - we've strayed too far for me to comment more on this here (in my opinion). Perhaps, should you start another thread on the positive or negative nature of romanticism in our training, you can let me know and we can post more there on this topic. Otherwise, I get your point that these issues are not issues for you - fair enough.

Thanks again,
dmv

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