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Old 02-11-2009, 03:51 PM   #26
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

I wrote this back in 2004 but I think it contains some elements pertinent to the discussion. Personally, I don't think most folks running dojos are as clear as they should be about their roles and responsibilities when they hang out their shingles. Suffice it to say that every time a student makes the decision to train with an unqualified or under-qualified teacher, he or she is passing up an opportunity to find someone who is REALLY qualified. I have, in the past, advised various folks to find a really qualified teacher of another art than Aikido rather than train with a mediocre teacher in our own art. Anyway, these are my thoughts about "transmission" of the art, which is the teacher's prime responsibility as far as I am concerned.

Transmission in Aikido

In Zen Buddhism, "transmission" or inka has been at the heart of this spiritual Path since the Buddha held a flower and Maha Kassyapa smiled. Since then the Robe and Bowl have been handed from teacher to student for hundreds of generations. This type of direct transmission of the essence of an art from teacher to student has been considered essential in Eastern spiritual practice and has been especially important in the martial arts.

I have heard Chiba Sensei speak eloquently on the need to find one's "Teacher" in Aikido. The commitment that one makes to one's teacher, the putting aside of concerns for oneself that this requires are, in his mind, crucial elements in the proper transmission in budo. Without a proper relationship with a "qualified" teacher it is too easy for the individual to go astray, becoming entangled in the trap of self indulgence because there is no teacher student relationship to act as a check on the ego.

Saotome Sensei in his book, Aikido and the Harmony of Nature, refers to seminal spiritual experiences in which his one on one interaction with the Founder was an integral part. O-Sensei, in these instances was clearly acting in the manner of the "Teacher" as the one who transmits the art directly to the student.

Peter Goldsbury Sensei, on the other hand, wrote convincingly in his article for Aikido Journal about "Not Finding One's True Master". It would clearly be his position that, not finding one's teacher, in the sense that Chiba Sensei meant it, is not only not a disadvantage but has a number of positive aspects. However, when one reads his article it seems to refer primarily to mastering the techniques of the art, on becoming proficient on the techniques whether under one or several teachers. These I would consider this the Omote of the art. If one considers what might be called the Ura, the more intangible aspects of the art that can go beyond the mechanics of proper technique, it might be more difficult to say whether there can be "transmission". I think that there can be under the right circumstances.

I am inclined to think that the necessary pre-requisite for what we might call "transmission" is one or more intimate relationships with a teacher or teachers who have reached the level at which they actually have something of a deep nature to transmit. It is clear that Goldsbury Sensei felt that he had not found his "True Master" yet it seemed equally clear that many of his own realizations concerning Aikido had developed as he was forced to find his own truths in contrast to the ideas of his teachers. So even though Goldsbury Sensei didn't develop the type of relationship envisioned by Chiba Sensei when he referred to the Teacher / Student relationship he did do his training under a series of highly skilled and experienced teachers whose influence appears in his Aikido both in terms of what he chose to embrace and what he chose not to.

However, in modern Aikido the majority of practitioners do not have the option of training directly under a Shihan level instructor or instructors. Most students of Aikido train in dojos run by teachers of middle rank, teachers who by their own admission aren't "masters" of their art. They are "expert" enough to adequately pass on the principles of Aikido to new generations of students but at the same time they are themselves still working out the deeper aspects of the art. This has changed the nature of the teacher / student relationship.

Most non-Japanese are incapable of having the kind of relationship with a teacher which for the Japanese would have constituted the old uchi-deshi and soto-deshi relationships. In fact Saotome sensei always said that when one found an American student who wanted to have that type of relationship with a Japanese teacher he was often not someone who one wanted to teach. What was normal for a student from the Japanese culture was not necessarily appropriate for the character of a Westerner.

Consequently most students of Aikido have a more detached view of their teachers than what the "transmission" model demands. Students pay their dues and come to class. Most have a long list of expectations which the teacher must fulfill. If he does so the students is happy and loyal, up to a point, and may feel that he or she has a close relationship with that teacher. But quite often the expectations of the student are not in concert with what the teacher wants or is willing to impart. In that case, the formerly content student may suddenly find that the art or the teacher isn't "doing it" for them as it had been. They may quit or they may take the alternative route of leaving the teacher and finding a new teacher.

I have been told by some folks who went through this process that their next choice of teacher was based on finding someone who would primarily leave them alone while allowing them to maintain some connection with a group that represented the larger Aikido community and conferred some appearance of legitimacy to their own ranks and those of their students. In other words what they really wanted to was have an avenue for recognition which specifically did not have the elements of "transmission" that are contained in the close teacher student relationship. All they had to do was invite the teacher out to do a seminar once a year and the rest of the time they would be on their own.

The extreme cases of this type of thinking end up associating with organizations in which there is no central figure who acts as the senior teacher. There are a number of folks who have received very high rank from organizations which don't even have ranking authority from any legitimate Aikido source. In other words the persons granting the Aikido practitioner his "Master" status don't even do Aikido. There are actually a fairly large number of people who take this route because it can be done without developing any of the traits which are required to have a close relationship with a real teacher. One can set up one own style of Aikido and get rank and certification from an organization.

The problem here is that "transmission" doesn't come through an organization or a style. If it is to take place in any way that approximates what was traditionally meant it requires one to have intense and prolonged exposure to at least one teacher who is functioning at the higher levels of the art. I do not think that it requires one to find ones "True Master" as Goldsbury Sensei discussed it but I do think that it does require that at different stages of ones training one is focused on working out the deeper aspects of the teachings of at least one teacher. One might do this with a series of teachers over the years and end up feeling as if one has several major influences. But it does take a commitment over time. Simply taking a hodge podge of seminars with a variety of different teachers each year won't accomplish this. One must decide that, at least for a time, one will focus on the teachings of one or two teachers. One must seek them out wherever possible and work on what they have taught when one isn't with them in person.

This model places more responsibility on the individual student than the old system. No longer is there the teacher whose word is law, who directs all aspects of the training, on and off the mat. The student now feels that it is ok to work on what he or she wishes to work on, ignore what they don't wish to address, train when it is convenient, etc. The problem with this model is that it is often unconsciously designed to protect the individual from having to face various issues which he doesn't wish to deal with. In this model one is essentially attempting to do the "transmission" to oneself. Only change that is comfortable is permitted, conflicts with others, including the instructor, leads to a search for a new training venue.

I think that it is the exceptional individual who can develop his Aikido to a high level under this model. It takes an individual who is never satisfied with where he is, who can be a beginner, over and over, as he encounters different teachers, even different arts. This kind of person must look at every teacher he meets, every art he encounters, every video he watches, as opportunities to get a new viewpoint on what he has been doing. He has to be the kind of person who will, after 25 years of training, rework everything he is doing, even at the cost of going through a period in which his technique doesn't work very well, just to get to the next level.

I think that O-Sensei was just such a student. Clearly he went through a kind of traditional "transmission" under Takeda Sokaku. Accounts refer to the very formal relationship in which he treated Takeda Sensei as his Teacher, deferring to him, even waiting on him just as any deshi would do. It is equally clear, however, that he went his own way in his training, eventually creating the art we know as Aikido. He did this by opening himself up to new ideas and practices. In a sense he made the Universe his teacher. He considered himself to be a vessel which the Kami filled, allowing him to channel the "Divine Techniques" through him.

Contemporary Aikido presents the student with tremendous opportunities and a number of impediments. While the number of people who are expert enough to teach the basics of the art has proliferated to the point that few people have any trouble finding a place to train, there are still very few places where the teacher has reached the level formerly associated with what the uchi-deshi of the Founder attained. If the current generation of teachers doesn't challenge itself to constantly push to take their Aikido to the next level, the students below them will become stuck as well. The very availability of different styles and approaches can lead to the trap of "dilettantism" in which only shallow understanding of a broad curriculum is attained. Or the opposite trap can snag the unwary. The very breadth of the available instruction can lead the student to take the "safe" approach of picking just a particular style or teacher's approach and defining that as the "true" Aikido, thereby narrowing down the field of investigation to something more comfortable and seemingly attainable.

With the thousands of practitioners doing Aikido these days it is no longer possible to rely on the old transmission model of "Master to student". There simply aren't enough "Masters" to go around. There aren't even enough Shihan level teachers to closely supervise even the various teachers functioning around the world. So it is a reality that we are at the point where most students of Aikido will be called on to do their own "transmission". If this is to work, they need to be as strict and uncompromising as any "Master" would have been. They will have to motivate themselves, finding new directions for their training and not simply wait for someone else to give their practice direction. If this happens we will get to the place in which we are all each others "Masters" and "transmission" will not only take place vertically but horizontally. This would in itself go a long way towards realizing O-sensei's dream of Aikido uniting the world.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
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Old 02-11-2009, 07:13 PM   #27
Shannon Frye
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

To hide / mask it is much different than to not post it on your web site. I agree that such information is important - and should be provided if asked. But just because YOU need to know doesn't mean an instructor has to post on their site. Nor does it imply that they are under qualified. If they have an address, show up and ask. If they have an email, write and ask.

I don't have it on my site - thought it would be boastful to do so. I can provide it if asked though. If it's relevant, and if I'm asked nicely. If demanded, I wouldn't share my favorite color with ya.

Quote:
Alex Megann wrote: View Post
This is my pet peeve ... in the martial arts who your teachers are seems to me a pretty obvious piece of information, and when it is missing one does start to wonder why...

Alex

"In the end there can be only one"

www.AikidoFellowship.com
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Old 02-12-2009, 03:51 PM   #28
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Quote:
First, as if this will ever happen
Ah, actually it has, right around the corner from me.

Quote:
Aikido sensei's shouldn't give rank out so easily.
Who said this person was *given* any rank. In the case I know of, it turned out they weren't. They just made it up.

Quote:
Second, there is no public benchmark for a Sensei or skill of Aikidokas.
I think you are correct. Rank in aikido is rarely an accurate indicator of actual skill...more an indicator of a relationship with the giver of the rank. And I don't mean that in a negative way at all.

Quote:
Third, what can you really do?
Just speak the truth when necessary. That usually does it.

Best,
Ron

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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Old 02-12-2009, 06:04 PM   #29
aikidoc
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Aikikai rank can be verified by simply e-mailing them. I have done so in the past.

Instructor certification is generally left up to the organization. Some do so formally although it does not guarantee someone is good at teaching. Everyone has their own learning style and finding yours and the person who can help you explore it is the biggest challenge. Low ranking instructors can be good instructors and lousy technicians. THe same as high ranking instructors can be good technicians and lousy instructors.
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Old 02-13-2009, 11:10 AM   #30
Jorge Garcia
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Quote:
John Riggs wrote: View Post
Aikikai rank can be verified by simply e-mailing them. I have done so in the past.

Instructor certification is generally left up to the organization. Some do so formally although it does not guarantee someone is good at teaching. Everyone has their own learning style and finding yours and the person who can help you explore it is the biggest challenge. Low ranking instructors can be good instructors and lousy technicians. THe same as high ranking instructors can be good technicians and lousy instructors.
I agree with John. A high ranking teacher can be a poor transmitter of information or a poor "body movement shaper". I recommend looking at the students of that teacher. While a teacher cannot be responsible for how everyone looks, if you look at those who have trained the longest with that instructor, that will tell you something although not everything. I am willing to be judged by the black belts that have trained with me the longest. I like the way they look when they train and I wish I was as good as most of them!

best wishes,
Jorge

"It is the philosophy that gives meaning to the method of training."
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:51 AM   #31
Rick Berry
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

I was instructed to teach Aikido as a 5th kyu student by my instructor in 1984. I was required to continue to train at our central Philadelphia dojo during this process.My instructor is Shuji Maruyama Sensei, founder of Kokikai Ryu International. Of course he knew that I was a competent Tae Kwon Do instructor with 18 years experience at that time. I live in Delaware am now 6th dan in the Kokikai system with 14 black belt students in our dojo. It worked out well.
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:50 AM   #32
carlo pagal
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Quote:
Mitchell Rister wrote: View Post
Anyone can rent a building and start their own dojo, regardless of their experience and knowledge of aikido. They can exaggerate on their qualifications to teach and a person new to aikido can be easily mislead. I feel sorry for the gullible students of these type teachers. I also feel frustrated that they are representing aikido so poorly. Some people go to see aikido for the first time and will leave thinking that aikido is BS.

Sometimes a student moves to an area where there isn't a dojo and must start their own in order to keep training. In these situations, I think that it is okay to teach as long as the sensei and the students continue to learn from a parent dojo. I think that the sensei owes it to themselves and their students to continue to learn.

What are your thoughts?
sad but true i really feel sorry for their students. someone here opened a dojo and he cant even pass a brown belt test in my opinion. its ok if he teaches or shares it with his friends, but putting up a dojo and teaching in schools is just absurd. he wont even uke when we invite him to practice w/ us. he would usually just watch us practice and maybe learn from that. i just wish he'd practice the art diligently in order to hone his aikido skills and teach the art effectively. he owes it to his students who pays to learn aikido.
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Old 02-19-2009, 12:01 PM   #33
jonreading
 
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

I remember telling a story about rolling until I nearly threw up. I didn't throw up, but I certainly pushed the limits of my skills. After telling the story, one or the listeners asked me why I didn't stop rolling when it got hard, "because sensei didn't say stop," was my reply. The listener did not understand the response. As students, we must trust sensei to lead us and make us better. My instructor was very good at leading us to point just past comfort but short of injury.

Ledyard sensei brought up several great points. In general, I believe most relationships in a dojo are consumer relationships, "I pay for aikido." Very rarely do students actually listen to everything sensei says. So in that sense, "qualified" is a relative term. Good instructors share aikido with students well. The rank only qualifies the right to instruct, not the quality of instruction. The consumer relationship puts many students into a performance/value/opportunity cost evaluation mentality, not a learning mentality

Not everyone is prepared or willing to listen to a teacher. Why complain about the credentials of sensei when you are not going to listen to sensei anyway?

Last edited by jonreading : 02-19-2009 at 12:05 PM.
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Old 02-19-2009, 09:06 PM   #34
George S. Ledyard
 
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The Old Model Doesn't Apply

There was a time when one simply did not teach until a level of "mastery" was attained. One got certified to teach by ones teacher. It was a one to one transmission, teacher to student. A given style might have a very few people ever certified. Some styles passed out of existence because they never certified another generation of teachers or the certified teachers got killed in battle without passing on the knowledge of the style required for certification. But the style might simply pass away rather than allow an unqualified teacher to take over.

So one could have assumed a certain level of mastery and would therefore have been justified in suspending his own judgment and preferences to throw himself into the care of such a teacher.

But those days are long gone. Very few styles of martial arts have stringent requirements about who teaches and who doesn't. Emphasis has been on spreading the arts and this has demanded instructors in large numbers. Far larger than could ever have been taken to any level of real mastery in the time allotted.

Most folks are lucky to have a teacher who is basically competent. Plenty of people are running dojos or teaching whom I would not say that about. If one is REALLY lucky, one might find a teacher who would qualify as what I would call an "expert". Having trained with some folks whom I would say were "masters" of their arts (in the old tradition, not what it means in its degraded sense today, when one hesitates to even use the term for bad associations) I would say that they are very rare.

Most Americans have little or no understanding of real mastery as it applied when it meant that one had received the transmission from ones teacher and had the documents to back it up. There was a time in the West when there were Masters of the Martial Arts. In England, for instance there was a certifying board of other masters who would provide grading. It was extremely difficult to attain master level and it really meant that one was absolutely at the very top of a large pyramid of weapons experts. In the time of Henry VIII however, the state started to sell the grades in return for cash, much as officers later purchased their commissions. It was the end of the guild system as far as martial arts was concerned.

A visitor once made the mistake of referring to a certain American teacher (who was a Nidan or Sandan at the time) as an "Aikido Master" in front of my own teacher. Sensei basically went ballistic and were had a LENGTHY discourse on what a "master" was and was not.

Discussion of who should and shouldn't be running dojos is almost impossible at this point. What's the criteria? As has been noted in numerous other discussions rank no longer means anything other than a lengthy association with a senior teacher and often not even that. It isn't about the ability to "win" in tournaments as most Aikido has no competition. And even if it did, it's not usually the successful competitor that has the highest level of mastery... it's that old guy that everyone thinks is past his prime.

All that is required to run a dojo is merely the ability to name and demonstrate the corpus of techniques of ones particular style at a level which prospective students would find impressive. Once they sign up, the limitations of the teacher usually become the limitations of the student, so ten years down the line, everyone still maintains that same relative position.

If a school is successful over time it is so first and foremost because the students are "happy". Most practitioners are "hobbyists". They are not Budo practitioners who will structure their entire adults lives around their training. They participate at various levels of commitment, some more than others by magnitudes. But if the training were not "interesting" and "fun" they wouldn't be there.

So when a student looks at schools, he or she might find that the school which seems to have the largest number of students, that has been in town the longest, etc is not necessarily the one whose teacher is at the highest level, the one at which the training is the most stringent. In fact the opposite my a very well be true.

The largest and most successful dojos are often run by teachers whose real talent lies in "care taking" not their high level of technique or their tremendous ability to teach the art. And the students generally don't care that it's true. They may be aware that other teachers are in the area who are technically more proficient or who consistently turn out students of a higher caliber. They will stay with the teacher who attracts students like themselves and who can make those students feel special and valued.

Occasionally, you do get the reverse effect... the student who mistakes the brutal, abusive teacher for the "real thing" over others who are far better teachers of the art. The masochists mistakenly think that if they are getting hurt, being yelled at, and generally exploited by their teacher they must be getting the goods... not like those weenies across town. But this is just another symptom of the lack of ability to tell what a really great teacher might look like.

Pretty much as soon as the martial arts were deemed important to the larger community and were actively encouraged to spread widely, first to the Japanese public and later to the world at large, it was all over for the transmission. It's not that there aren't folks around who got that type of master / student training. It's just that there could never be enough of them to spread the various arts around the world, into all sorts of small communities around the globe. So most folks who practice might seldom if ever put their hands on a real high level teacher. Their entire experience of the art might be through students of students of a master instructor.

The only way to approach this is to be very clear about what you want from your training and find the teacher who can take you there. This might require training with several teachers over time as one progresses (in Zen one is said to have three teachers before one is off on ones own). I wrote an article about being clear about how you structure your training, who you train with, and what you want from the training. it's in the archives somewhere.

You can't really talk about the competency of teachers because the students want totally different things from those teachers. There are folks who are terribly technically deficient in my mind who are clearly experts at providing a satisfying experience to their students over years and years. Are they incompetent really? There are technically amazing teachers who cannot teach effectively, even some whom I would call masters (the Founder perhaps?). Are they competent from the standpoint of being teachers, no matter how good they are?

No, it's a total mish-mash and the only advice I'd give folks is to be clear about what they want and then "caveat emptor" after that.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 02-19-2009 at 09:12 PM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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Old 02-19-2009, 11:56 PM   #35
crbateman
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Re: The Old Model Doesn't Apply

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
...the only advice I'd give folks is to be clear about what they want and then "caveat emptor" after that.
There it is, in a nutshell. It always comes down to precisely that.
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Old 02-20-2009, 01:48 AM   #36
Dan O'Day
 
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

To preface this post I will say that I have the utmost respect for Ledyard sensei.

I train in the Seattle area and have had the fortunate occasion to be on the mat with him a couple times and to see a wonderful demonstration at a fund raiser auction a couple years back.

I also have had the good fortune to read many of Ledyard sensei's articles and postings and found all of them well written, educational and thought provoking.

With that said I would like to comment specifically on a point or two raised in Ledyard sensei's most recent post in this thread

Note: I'm having issues with figuring out how to quote only a section of a post, therefore my "quotes" will be contained in actual quotation marks.

Ledyard sensei wrote:

"If a school is successful over time it is so first and foremost because the students are "happy". Most practitioners are "hobbyists". They are not Budo practitioners who will structure their entire adults lives around their training. They participate at various levels of commitment, some more than others by magnitudes. But if the training were not "interesting" and "fun" they wouldn't be there."

If happiness be not a result of progressing in Budo, or any other discilpline, then one may wonder what the motivation to continue might be.

I believe, from my own experience and getting to know many other aikido practioners over the last few years, that structuring one's life around their training is inherent in the training.

The degree of "structure" or of "training" one may employ is not for me to judge but rather to be grateful of. Whether one trains once a week or seven days a week I need them in my training. And I appreciate whatever they are able to offer.

I believe the term "hobbyists" might belittle the sincere efforts of one who elects to train but chooses not to elect to, for instance, leave their wife and children and go off to Japan to train for three years or to even train at home more than they already can, or choose to.

If my training wasn't "interesting" and wasn't "fun", I certainly would not be there.

Does this mean those are the only of attributes of my training? Of course not. My training is also difficult, both physically and emotionally at times. There have been a few times when I said to myself, "That's it! I can't do it. I'm not good at it, etc."

And it was the "interesting" parts that kept me coming back. The "interesting" parts about doing what I could do to become a better person to help "reconcile the world". To facing my fears, to living that most interesting of concepts I learned in my training. That true victory is self victory.

And the fun? I can't imagine why someone would want to take a flying roll or highfall if it wasn't fun. Or to be drawn in so expertly by a nage who, by his/her very actions, causes one to involuntarily grin from ear to ear before he/she even begins to be thrown.

I have fun. Most of the time. And when I don't, I get to examine my motivations, my fears or insecurities, for that day which may have not been left at the dojo front door. And I get to learn from them. Yes, this is very interesting stuff.

I have been training a mere six years. I do not purport to know much of anything about how aikido does relate, or ought to relate to practitioners of it. I only know for sure how it relates to me.

And if one iota of any art which stresses the diminishment of ego - without the diminishment of self, which I believe aikido accomplishes in a masterful way - remains with me, regardless of how much I train, then that art is nothing but a success.

There is another "art" of which I have trained in for near 23 years. It's unofficial motto regarding many things is to "attract, rather than promote".

This "motto" has worked rather well in creating what many think to be a considerably profound social movement of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Aikido, by its very nature is attractive, I believe it may be made more, or less so, only by its members but never by the aikido itself. Aikido, as with any social construct, requires people to be of purpose. People. Fallible, sincere, terrible, beautiful beyond words...just regular ole' crazy people.

That component alone is pretty darn interesting and can make the whole thing worthwhile.

The beautiful and incredible people...When I was at my first dojo, there were many times where I thought, regardless of my own training, just being in the same room with and watching our chief instructor was well more than a good enough reason to be there. An honor in fact.

And I feel the exact same way at my current dojo.

I wonder if OSensei's vision of aikido as a force of positive change in this world was one in which the art itself would only achieve true "mastery" if all its practitioners devoted themselves to it as he did?

Of course "mastery" is a difficult thing to comprehend. It being finite and our universe being quite a bit more. But that's another conversation.

I do understand that it is easy for the original intent of a thing to be changed and altered and even greatly damaged through a lack of respect for its founding premises. It happens all the time.

It's a good thing the founding premises, for me, of aikido are that it is non-competitive and that true victory is self victory.

It's pretty hard to mess that up.

In closing I wish to state in no unceratin terms that I believe a very important aspect of aikido training for me is offering a sincere and healthy respect for those who have come before me. My senseis.

On the mat the only thing I offer is "onagashimasu", "domo aragoto gasimashita" and "yes sensei". In the dojo, off the mat, it is the same to the degree appropriate and obvious for the situation.

In this open forum where anyone may exchange thoughts and ideas "off the mat" and "out of the dojo" so to speak, I still believe it imperative to offer respect to those who have come before me.

My sincere desire is that the preceding thoughts are considered in those terms.
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Old 02-20-2009, 08:42 AM   #37
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Very nice Dan!
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Old 02-20-2009, 09:57 AM   #38
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Nice post George. I would like to add that some may also achieve mastery through perseverance and an innate ability to observe and "figure out" what is really happening via personal study, experiementation and observation. As my sensei (Hiroshi Kato) states: "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one's own choice."

"Learning to learn" can hone one's ability to evolve with exposure to a master. Observing the master in person, feeling the technique and follow-up observation on video can help someone with this ability to significantly improve their understanding and ability to transfer what is learned (to me a good teacher). Approaching the teaching responsibility with the mindset of a student-i.e, every time you step on the mat you should expect to learn somehting yourself. Whether it be a distinction, an aha moment of what your master instructor is doing, or a new way of interpreting what you have been doing so to better communicate it to your students. With the "student" mindset it forces you to evolve and avoids stagnation. I took this mindset when I started and transfered it to teaching when I started teaching. I found it makes me constantly strive to develop new insights into my practice and helps me pass on what I learn to my students. It also helps me make the necessary changes I need to make in my art due to the fact that once I "understand" change is natural and has to happen because my brain no longer accepts doing something incorrectly.

I have also noticed, with this mindset, that sometimes aha moments come randomly. I have experienced them sometimes as much as a year after observing something. An incident may trigger it, had that happen last night, and cause me to connect something I did or needed to do to make it work. That happened to me last night on something my sensei does with kotegaeshi, which I had already incorporated, where I had not seen the connection as to why he was doing it that way. The aha happended when I was demonstrating with one of my students that is a "bull" and likes to resist.

This mastery we all seek to me is an evolutionary process along a continuum. If approaching one's training with the right mindset, you move toward it.

Last edited by aikidoc : 02-20-2009 at 09:59 AM. Reason: forgot something.
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Old 02-20-2009, 04:06 PM   #39
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

So, who are the aikido lineage holders? I am not asking who the closest students were, who the most popular students were, or who anyone thinks most represents what O-Sensei's aikido. I'm not even asking whom O-Sensei authorized to teach. I'm asking who received transmission. Whose aikido is certified as a complete understanding of what O-Sensei had in mind?

AikiWeb threads are replete with arguments, however polite, that are rooted in fundamentally different understandings or partial understandings of what aikido is. So, I'm suspect of any complaints about instruction; is the complaint that the instructor really is an idiot, or is it that either the methodology of instruction or the material being transmitted does not match the a particular interpretation of aikido instruction?

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Old 02-20-2009, 07:50 PM   #40
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

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I believe the term "hobbyists" might belittle the sincere efforts of one who elects to train but chooses not to elect to, for instance, leave their wife and children and go off to Japan to train for three years or to even train at home more than they already can, or choose to.
When I use the term, I do not mean it to be "belittling". There can be very serious hobbyists. People have a knee jerk reaction to thinking that they are being told they aren't serious. This is one of the reasons that we have trouble recognizing teachers of a higher skill level. But the plain fact is that the person who did go to Japan might very well have been more serious about his training than the ones who did not. The person who trains seven days a week is probably more serious than the person who train twice. The one who stays after every class to keep practicing, who is always after the seniors to show him more, who reads every book on the subject that is published, etc is more serious than the one who goes straight home after every class, never goes to outside seminars, might not even attend the extra events at his own dojo...

It's just a fact that the majority of the people training will never make enough of a commitment to their training to reach a very high level. That's why there are so few real master instructors out there. But everyone wants acknowledgment for whatever level of effort they make. That's why testing standards are so problematical. The minimum time in grade standards set up for our organization were based on the idea that the student was attending class 4 times per week. That was considered to be a sort of average expectation. So 3 months in grade might have related to 16 days of class attendance. But these days it is hard to find folks who want to train like we use to. I hear this from virtually all my friends who run dojos.

A "serious" student at my dojo is training 3 times a week and most only train twice on an average. So that same time in grade means something very different now. Three months in grade might mean only 8 - 12 classes compared to that 16 we used to use as a benchmark.

When I started Aikido in DC with Saotome Sensei in the 70's, and it was also true when I trained under Mary Heiny Sensei in the early 80's, the so-called serious folks in the dojo trained 5 or 6 times a week, not including the fact that we hit seminars on the weekends. We used to hit every seminar within ten hours of driving from Seattle (of course there were far fewer seminars in those days and we often HAD to drive to get the training).

So the plain fact is that the students I see now are generally not as serious as we were. It's just a fact. They have real careers, not the jobs we used simply to support our training. They are generally married (or have partners) and most have families. Most of us were single and no one had kids. I am not saying that most students of Aikido SHOULD train more or harder than they do. Most seem to work out what fits for them. But everybody still wants that Black Belt when they've been around for four or five years. They still want to get promoted after time in grade because they all want to be validated as being "serious". No one wants to think of himself as not serious. A teacher that flunks a student who has been around for a while risks losing that student. I've lost students because they perceived that my expectations were greater than they wished to commit to.

Anyway, if one is a hobbyist, then be a good hobbyist. If one wants to be a Shihan, you had better understand that entails far more effort, time, sacrifice, and hardship than what the hobbyist will put in. Most of the top teachers I know don't have much in the way of lives outside their training... I am not recommending that for everyone. If you are serious about having a good balanced life, that is fantastic. Most of us don't have that. But don't get bent out of shape when someone states the obvious, that Aikido is just one part of the interests you are pursuing whereas there are others who have pursued their training with a quite single minded focus.

I used to play tennis every day. I was quite the serious hobbyist. But I never would have thought to question that fact that I was a casual player as opposed to serious competitors and folks who were actually professionals. But with competition one has trouble maintaining that one is better than one actually is because you have to win matches to back it up. In Aikido we don't have that. So folks can easily delude themselves about their skill and the amount of effort required to better that skill.

Saotome Sensei is occasionally moved to deliver lectures at summer camp. "Some of you I have seen every year for ten years... Each year your training is no different! What meaning does that have?" Now, some of the issue is the lack of good methodology for helping people get better. But much of the problem is that many of the folks he is talking to are not serious enough about their training to make the effort required to make the next jump. To get better in this art, each step requires more effort than the last, not less. Most folks stall out at the level at which their commitment has gone as far as it is going.

So when we talk about Aikido do we lower our standards so that more of the folks out there training can feel that they are serious? Or do we keep talking about the greats like the Founder, like Shioda, like Yamaguchi etc. and use them as what we are shooting for? Perhaps that might entail a realization that one won't ever be willing to train as those teachers did. Then fine, be happy with what you are willing to do and do it as well as you can. It's you folks out there who feel that way who keep Aikido alive, support the professionals, keep the dojo doors open. It's not us; we can't do much of anything without you.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 02-21-2009, 06:02 PM   #41
Robert Cowham
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

I remember an interesting conversation with a senior at the Shiseikan in Tokyo several years ago. This was an elderly gentleman (well preserved late 60s) with a certain style, a "Sherlock Holmes" deerstalker hat, and good command of English (important give my minimal Japanese) and who I subsequently discovered had been a senior official with MITI (and was referred to as "sensei" outside the dojo).

He referred to the gap that he felt exists between sandan and yondan in Japan. As he described it - between amateur and professional. He referred to himself as a "serious amateur" - a sandan, with skills and experience greater than many yondans, but who had no particular desire to progress in the "hierarchy".

I recognise that my commitment level is well below what many others achieve, and yet I continue to aspire to "serious amateur" - while I don't necessarily restrict it to sandan

However, looking back on 20 years experience, I can see periods of several years at a time where I didn't really learn much or progress. This was partly due to other activities in my life, but also the aikido learning path I got myself into. In the last few years, I haven't upped my "time in dojo" hugely, and yet I feel I have rekindled my desire and made large strides - partly through researches outside traditional aikido circles.

I spend considerably more time on solo practice these days (what with young kids and all) than previously, and inspite of the lack of mat time, feel I am making much better progress than I was some years ago - life/practice is increasingly interesting.

My current (few) students have the "benefit" of my researches - not all avenues of research are fruitful, but I feel the future is bright (hopefully). I know full well that people can learn what I have learnt in much less time than I have spent, and hopefully I can pass that on.

I have had various experiences where I have learnt more from senior students than from the "big sensei" directly. This I think is due to factors such as:

- sensei may have forgotten how he learnt said skill
- student has learnt it more recently and remembers better the transition process from un-skilled to skilled
- student may be able to explain it in a way that I understand better

So, while I seek out skilled teachers, I pay more attention to those with good students.

Just some thoughts
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Old 02-21-2009, 06:35 PM   #42
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Quote:
Joe McParland wrote: View Post
So, who are the aikido lineage holders? I am not asking who the closest students were, who the most popular students were, or who anyone thinks most represents what O-Sensei's aikido. I'm not even asking whom O-Sensei authorized to teach. I'm asking who received transmission. Whose aikido is certified as a complete understanding of what O-Sensei had in mind?

AikiWeb threads are replete with arguments, however polite, that are rooted in fundamentally different understandings or partial understandings of what aikido is. So, I'm suspect of any complaints about instruction; is the complaint that the instructor really is an idiot, or is it that either the methodology of instruction or the material being transmitted does not match the a particular interpretation of aikido instruction?
No one. No single person got the whole deal. I have not talked to a single former uchi deshi who claimed to have gotten more than a part of what the Founder taught. Each picked up the part that fit his interest, inclination, and talent. That's why getting out and training with more than one teacher is important. Each can show you something, none can show you everything.

That said, each of us, based on his own interest, inclination and talent has certain teachers he thinks really have the goods. I have come to realize that the teachers I am most attracted to have turned out to be all in the Yamaguchi lineage. Saotome Sensei, Endo Sensei, Gleason Sensei, all trained with Yamaguchi Sensei and share certain common attitudes about training as well as many elements of technique in common.

Other folks would probably pick an entirely different set of teachers to whom they look for information and explanation. They could be so different from the ones that I named as to be almost doing another art. That's why the search for a teacher is so important. They will not all take you to the same place.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 02-21-2009, 06:45 PM   #43
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

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Very nice Dan!
Thank you, Ricky.
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Old 02-22-2009, 11:56 AM   #44
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
No one. No single person got the whole deal. I have not talked to a single former uchi deshi who claimed to have gotten more than a part of what the Founder taught.
Its kind of funny. When i read the article, I believe the one where Sensei Tohei talks about receiving 10th Dan...could be another...he basically made a comment that he was the 'only one that got it'.

This was when he talked about his experience how everyone else received their 9th dans 'secretly' and then upon coming back to Japan OSensei sheepishly tried to offer him 10th dan after he saw Tohei wasnt upset.

Now the information may be form different interviews, but he appeared to be confident that Osensei knew he was the one that got what was going on.

Funny about the whole 'ki' bit being what people talk of why there was a split with Tohei, for a couple of reasons from what I have gathered.

1) Apparently Osensei taught one thing and showed another...(the relaxed state as Tohei put it.)
So, ki was/is an integral part of the teaching.
2) Tohei was offered to teach his ki bit at hombu after they saw that it took off at the Olympic stadium? (may not be the right location.) Of course he said it was 'to late'.

None the less, the interviews out there with Tohei are quite revealing in numerous ways.

Peace

dAlen

Last edited by dalen7 : 02-22-2009 at 12:00 PM.

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Old 02-22-2009, 02:49 PM   #45
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Quote:
Dalen Johnson wrote: View Post
Its kind of funny. When i read the article, I believe the one where Sensei Tohei talks about receiving 10th Dan...could be another...he basically made a comment that he was the 'only one that got it'.

This was when he talked about his experience how everyone else received their 9th dans 'secretly' and then upon coming back to Japan OSensei sheepishly tried to offer him 10th dan after he saw Tohei wasnt upset.

Now the information may be form different interviews, but he appeared to be confident that Osensei knew he was the one that got what was going on.

Funny about the whole 'ki' bit being what people talk of why there was a split with Tohei, for a couple of reasons from what I have gathered.

1) Apparently Osensei taught one thing and showed another...(the relaxed state as Tohei put it.)
So, ki was/is an integral part of the teaching.
2) Tohei was offered to teach his ki bit at hombu after they saw that it took off at the Olympic stadium? (may not be the right location.) Of course he said it was 'to late'.

None the less, the interviews out there with Tohei are quite revealing in numerous ways.

Peace

dAlen
Tohei was top notch but his idea that he was the only one that got it shows him as his own best fan. You know how many of the deshi thought that they were the only ones who got it?

The rank thing was always "iffy" in that O-Sensei somewhat functioned separately from the official organization. He was apt to simply hand a rank out orally, without consultation with the Aikikai folks. Later that teacher would present himself at the doors asking for his certificate... I'm sure it was a nightmare for the folks trying to set standards and give out official ranks.

There were plenty of folks who "got it" from a technical angle, fewer who really understood O-Sensei's take on the techniques as they related to spiritual principles. Tohei had his own take on things, not necessarily identical to the Founder's. I think Hikitsuchi, Abe, and Sunadomari probably were closer in intent to the Founder.

Anyway, I pretty much decided Tohei was out there a bit ego-wise when he was selling the "Ki Stones" back in the 80's; sort of the Aikido version of the "pet rock".

This doesn't detract from his Aikido ability nor does it put him in a class by himself as far as having a pretty strong sense of his importance. The deshi, in general, weren't lacking in the self image category.

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Old 02-22-2009, 03:37 PM   #46
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Is there any organization that, as a prerequisite to advanced dan promotions, insists that the member train in a different (aikido) lineage for some period of time?

Call it an exchange program of sorts...

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Old 02-22-2009, 08:29 PM   #47
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

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Is there any organization that, as a prerequisite to advanced dan promotions, insists that the member train in a different (aikido) lineage for some period of time?

Call it an exchange program of sorts...
I have never heard of anything like that...
- George

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Old 02-22-2009, 09:35 PM   #48
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

George Ledyard,
I'm a little surprised at some of your statements about minimum testing standards. If people are training less, why ot make them wait longer for their ranks. 4 to 5 years to shodan seems awful short to someone who took 8 years (which is on the short side of average in my group). Our minimum requirements are based on days or hours of training. My sensei even has a elaborate preparation rating system that factors in hours/week and days/month. Truth is I don't find that the drive to gain rank is that important to many if not most of the "hobbyists" I know. Most that sign up are so ignorant of the whole issue they can take more than a month to figure out that there are published exam reqwuirements.

One reason people may take the "hobbyist" lable badly is that aikido can be more than a hobby to someone even if he has no intention of becoming a professional. I view aikido as a Do, a way of life and of being. I may never become a "Master" as I am one of those people with a career, kids, wife (I sometimes skip aikido to watch the kids so that she can go train at the dojo, it's what I get for getting her into the art), but aikido is still more than a "hobby". Is a churchgoing Christian just a "hobbyist" because he didn't go to seminary and get ordained?

Which brings me top what I consider the biggest problem in developing truly skilled professional teachers in aikido. There is no framework, nor a good economic model for creating them or supporting them. The only one's who make it are the fanatics. The Shihan I am closest to still has a day job, yet teaches aikido six days a week and gives seminars on multiple continents. I don't know if he could support himself solely with aikido if he wanted to. Very few seem to manage that. Unless a 25 year old on a "professional" track can support himself and a family, there will always be very few true professionals in our art.

It's a good thing you don't have to be a "Great Master" in every field to be a professional and be able to put enough time in to become that master, or few of us could earn a living.

Jonathan Olson
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Old 02-22-2009, 10:21 PM   #49
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

Hi George,
Interesting thoughts on transmission and the attainment of mastery of an art.

Quite of few of the last series of posts have recounted "time in rank" as being a measure of progress, and progress being a measure of teaching.

I would ask the question of whether the true master is one that has attained a certain level or spent a certain amount of time studying, or whether it is the person who has attained a level and still recognises that they are learning. True, most students of Aikido will not put in the amount of time and effort as an uchi deshi, but surely every person has something to contribute and the master still listens and considers.

I know there are facets of my training that have been influenced by twenty plus years of training in other arts, and that there are things that I have found, that my teachers cannot see for lack of a frame of reference. My favourite teachers actually do stop and listen and pay attention to what their juniors have to offer.

The most senior practitioners I have found are those that have attained a mystery factor (something that you as a student cannot yet explain) but are not too aloof to keep learning. I liken this to the adage of every student following a path up a mountain with some people in front of the student and some people following.

Attaining a certain level of proficiency is like having a driver's licence. It simply means that at some point in time you were able to meet a minimum criteria. I personally think that is not the same as saying someone is underqualified as just meeting some agreed upon standard.

Finding an instructor that you relate with, both in terms of your aims and objectives, your moral code and your wants and needs isn't in and of itself a compromise or a sign of sub-standard teaching.

Several people have said caveat emptor and the this is very true. Be wary, but take what you can and what you want from everyone, weed out what works and doesn't work, but at the end of the day be satisfied that you have derived what you want. I would liken this to studying at university. You can sit back and diss the lecturer for their (lack of) presentation, but at the end of the day you take responsibility for what you take away.
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Old 02-23-2009, 01:23 AM   #50
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Underqualified Sensei

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4 to 5 years to shodan seems awful short to someone who took 8 years (which is on the short side of average in my group). Our minimum requirements are based on days or hours of training. My sensei even has a elaborate preparation rating system that factors in hours/week and days/month.
Your group takes quite a bit longer than the average I would say. In Japan it is not unusual for the students at a university martial arts club to graduate with a Nidan after four years at the school.

If folks were taking eight years to Shodan, and each rank after that typically takes longer for each promotion, we wouldn't have any Seventh Dans and the number of Sixth Dans would be a faction of what it is. I'm not saying that would be bad... but it indicates to me that the time in grade you are talking about is quite a bit longer than what is the norm.

I am not the one who thinks the term "hobbyist" is somehow demeaning. If it offends you, I won't use it. The fact remains that there are varying degrees of commitment. It isn't about being a "professional" or not. I am one of a very small number of teachers who are "professional". Most of the teachers I know still work regular jobs to support their training. That doesn't mean they are somehow less committed. They put every spare moment of their time, every spare dime they earn, every vacation each year and devote that to Aikido.

In point of fact, balancing ones training with a career and family often takes more commitment than being a single practitioner with no other responsibilities. When I was married to my previous wife we had eight kids between us. I had a very demanding job as a menswear buyer for Eddie Bauer for much of my early training career. I had to fight for every moment I got on the mat. There were years when I couldn't get to Summer Camp because I didn't have the money. So I understand about balancing priorities. In my own case, I had career, family, and Aikido. I realized that I couldn't really do all three well. So I combined the career and the Aikido and stayed home with my kids and trained every night.

What you get with a "professional" is someone who has to deliver the goods. There is no option. There are lots of folks running dojos which are marginal but they can get away with it because they don't have to live off it. So if the dojo simply pays for their seminars they are happy. I have to "deliver the goods" or I don't eat. If I teach a seminar and it isn't inspiring enough to be invited back again soon, I can't pay my bills. If I sell one video and it fails to generate repeat business from that customer, I can't pay my taxes. There are plenty of mediocre teachers out there running dojos and there are many very fine folks as well. But it's difficult, if not impossible, to make it teaching as a profession if you aren't good at what you do.

As I said before... I am not recommending that anyone put the kind of time and effort into his Aikido that I have... Get a life, have a job that pays, spend time with your family, have money for your kids college, have a body that isn't hosed when you are fifty. No one sensible does what I have. One does it because they are driven to it; because they simply can't see themselves doing something else. So don't think I am being demeaning when I said "hobbyist"... they are the ones that have lives that actually make sense. They are the "normal" ones. But I cannot think of a single great teacher with whom I have trained who would qualify as "normal" in this sense. So the folks who don't wish the art to take over their lives, who just like to train, who don't care about advancement, etc should be darn glad that there were crazed folks who were fanatical about their training or otherwise there would be no top level teachers to train with.

George S. Ledyard
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