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Old 12-02-2010, 06:12 AM   #1
Michael Varin
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Talent & Aikido

It is almost universally excepted in other arts, disciplines, sports, and professions that talent is relevant to the success of the person engaged in the activity. Not all participants will have the same performance, creativity, insights, or perceptions even with a similar amount and type of training.

It seems that there is a belief underlying the practice of certain martial arts, one of which is aikido, that talent is a non-issue or at least an issue that can be overcome either through the right teachers, the right training, enough time, or by gaining and/or accessing magical powers.

For example, Michael Jordan had an extremely high degree of both talent and training. His former Bulls teammate Steve Kerr also worked incredibly hard and maximized his level of talent, achieving things in pro basketball that few have, winning 5 championships. However, Kerr could never have been Jordan or do the things Jordan could do.

The above example is a comparison of two men that had broken into the highest level of their particular field.

If you take a random sample of the aikido community you will find a much greater variance, from very good to very poor.

So what about it?
Does this attitude exist? If so, why?
Why do we accept that someone who is slow, uncoordinated, physically weak, old, handicapped will be able to attain even reasonably high levels in the art?
What, if any, effect does this have on dan rankings?
What does this mean about the practice and future of the art?
Is this a problem, and, if so, how can it be remedied?

These questions are only things that quickly came to mind. Please, feel free to response in any way.

-Michael
"Through aiki we can feel the mind of the enemy who comes to attack and are thus able to respond immediately." - M. Mochizuki
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Old 12-02-2010, 07:15 AM   #2
grondahl
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Re: Talent & Aikido

I think that everybody acknowledges the fact that there exists such a thing as talent, but since the majority of aikido practice does not focus on creating top level practitioners (I think that many in the aikido community even would say that focusing on elite practices is contrary to the spirit of aikido) talent is not really an issue.

Exactly what constitutes talent is another issue. Iīl take it that you heard of Gladwells Outliers and the 10 000 hours of practice-"rule" and maybe also the "The Talent Code"?
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Old 12-02-2010, 07:33 AM   #3
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Interesting subject.
Exactly what would talent be? The way our body works is greatly determined by our DNA. However, we also say that the mind controls the body.
Would Schwarzenegger be able to run as fast as Carl Lewis?
Who knows? Who cares? Allthough the mental picture is funny
Problem arises when you wish to equal or surpass another man's abilities. But in there hides the bigger problem: ego/competition.

Quote:
Why do we accept that someone who is slow, uncoordinated, physically weak, old, handicapped will be able to attain even reasonably high levels in the art?
Do we really accept that? I do not. All I do is respect those that truly make an effort to change and progress relatively to their starting point, not another's. Coincidentally, this is also how I grade my students: what progress did the individual make?

Where lies the future of the art? In the hands of those that truly walk the walk.

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-02-2010, 07:43 AM   #4
lbb
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Michael Varin wrote: View Post
So what about it?
Does this attitude exist? If so, why?
Why do we accept that someone who is slow, uncoordinated, physically weak, old, handicapped will be able to attain even reasonably high levels in the art?
What, if any, effect does this have on dan rankings?
What does this mean about the practice and future of the art?
Is this a problem, and, if so, how can it be remedied?
Michael, where are you going with these questions? It seems to me that you're trying to initiate a discussion not about talent, but about people's attitudes towards talent -- and even how these attitudes should be manipulated and controlled? The two discussions are very different, so which one are you trying to have?
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Old 12-02-2010, 07:55 AM   #5
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: Talent & Aikido

What Tim and Peter say....
I also recommend the Malcolm Gladwell book.

I guess we would have to agree on what talent is for exactly, we would quite possibly have to come up with a shared definition of the purpose and content of aikido, to have a meaningful discussion. Any suggestions, Michael? Would you say talent is about quickly learning techniques?

For me, aikido is both an in-the-moment and a very-long-term endeavour, that's one reason talent does not really feature in a central place there. I guess it would if I were involved in becoming or training an elite of teachers, but I am not.

When somebody learns stuff quickly, I clearly encourage them, and the environment I train in will also do so. However, I also find it very interesting how some physically "untalented" people keep suprising me and become much better than anyone would have thought. Quite possibly including myself.

---

Cross-posted with Mary - great point!

Last edited by Nicholas Eschenbruch : 12-02-2010 at 07:55 AM. Reason: last sentence
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Old 12-02-2010, 08:36 AM   #6
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

This made me think of some students at our dojo...myself included. Being physically gifted isn't always an asset in our style of aikido. A person who can uke and fall and roll easily may not have the internal fortititude to stay and find out who they really are. Developing strong ki and an "easily returned to center" takes time, commitment and daily practice.
Several people who were very good at technique quit after 3rd dan...to bad...they are missing the really fun and interesting stuff.
Mary
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:15 AM   #7
Janet Rosen
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Re: Talent & Aikido

There are limits to "talent." I was seemingly born "wired " with a lot of talent for two dimensional visual arts, symbol reading and language, very weak on music, timing, and movement. But utterly lacking the inner-directed drive to practice or excel, I've never achieved the levels of mastery in painting that artist friends have by dint of the hours they put in day after day, week after week.

Yet my love for aikido, a movement-based art that it was painfully slow to learn the basic moves of, keeps me working hard at it, coming back after injuries, persevering. I don't think w/ my age and relative infirmity that I'll ever achieve what I'd like, but sure will keep trying.

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:41 AM   #8
EzD
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Michael Varin wrote: View Post
For example, Michael Jordan had an extremely high degree of both talent and training. His former Bulls teammate Steve Kerr also worked incredibly hard and maximized his level of talent, achieving things in pro basketball that few have, winning 5 championships. However, Kerr could never have been Jordan or do the things Jordan could do.

The above example is a comparison of two men that had broken into the highest level of their particular field.
I believe we all have talent, that is the ability to achieve skill and success. In looking at the Jordan/Kerr analogy, I think one should accept that Michael Jordan was gifted.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:07 AM   #9
phitruong
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Re: Talent & Aikido

i think it's the jordan's shoes. do you see how much they cost?

some have natural talent for certain things, others, not. might as well go back and read through darwin stuffs. take for example, we asians are much better at aikido than other folks. that's just it. don't fight it! just accept it!

as far as personal talent goes, i have great knack for eating and sleeping and carousing.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:29 AM   #10
sakumeikan
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Michael Varin wrote: View Post
It is almost universally excepted in other arts, disciplines, sports, and professions that talent is relevant to the success of the person engaged in the activity. Not all participants will have the same performance, creativity, insights, or perceptions even with a similar amount and type of training.

It seems that there is a belief underlying the practice of certain martial arts, one of which is aikido, that talent is a non-issue or at least an issue that can be overcome either through the right teachers, the right training, enough time, or by gaining and/or accessing magical powers.

For example, Michael Jordan had an extremely high degree of both talent and training. His former Bulls teammate Steve Kerr also worked incredibly hard and maximized his level of talent, achieving things in pro basketball that few have, winning 5 championships. However, Kerr could never have been Jordan or do the things Jordan could do.

The above example is a comparison of two men that had broken into the highest level of their particular field.

If you take a random sample of the aikido community you will find a much greater variance, from very good to very poor.

So what about it?
Does this attitude exist? If so, why?
Why do we accept that someone who is slow, uncoordinated, physically weak, old, handicapped will be able to attain even reasonably high levels in the art?
What, if any, effect does this have on dan rankings?
What does this mean about the practice and future of the art?
Is this a problem, and, if so, how can it be remedied?

These questions are only things that quickly came to mind. Please, feel free to response in any way.
Surely the important thing for anybody is to be the best of your own potential talent and achieve this goal rather than draw comparisons between anyone else?
As a example if a six stone man can bench press 100 lbs and that is his maximum and a twenty stone guy can bench press 400 lbs max.since both are achieving their personal best , relatively speaking they are both the same. How does one compare a middle aged man in relation to a mid teen in Aikido?Can you compare a rose with a thistle?
Each person has his /her limitations and skill. In my mind comparisons are to be avoided. Just see the person as he /she is.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:48 AM   #11
mathewjgano
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

I think talent like Jordans is accessible by most, but not as easy to tap into as it seemed to be by him. I'm guessing it's a mixture of happenstance and effort. I think of my experience learning math as a kid as one of the main factors: when I was in 4th grade I was put in remedial math because I was the "weakest" in the class. I decided I would love math instead of hating it and by 5th grade I was the top of the class, finishing my tests with 98% and before anyone else; with enough time to start learning higher levels of curriculum. By the time 6th grade came along, I was a little full of myself and didn't try as hard. I think most people operate like this. It's hard to go full blow all the time and it's easy to get into a rythm and keep to that comfortable rythm rather than pushing it to new levels.
That said, who really knows....maybe Jordan was born to be a basketball player. We do know it didn't translate into other athletics though...and it's hard for me to think natural selection played a huge role in that compared to other people. I think the mind primes the body and somewhere along the way, Jordan developed a mind for playing basketball that allowed his body to follow suit the way it did.
...My two bits too early after too little sleep...

Gambarimashyo!
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:24 AM   #12
kewms
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Edric Doringo wrote: View Post
I believe we all have talent, that is the ability to achieve skill and success. In looking at the Jordan/Kerr analogy, I think one should accept that Michael Jordan was gifted.
But Kerr was still able to play in the NBA. That puts him several steps above all but a handful of players. He wasn't Jordan, but he was still very very good.

At the very top levels, yeah, maybe genetics matter. But without the hard work, you'll never be in a position to find out. For that reason, I don't think talent is worth thinking about, in any endeavor. Having it may mean that some things are easier, but it shouldn't change your overall approach.

Katherine
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:37 AM   #13
Lan Powers
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Warning!!
No great insights here.....

But it has been noticed and commented upon, about the correlation between the "natural" student and the "struggler".
We have had several very gifted folks come, train, achieve, ..... then drift off.
Any number who came, flailed about, struggled to comprehend,
achieve,.............. and still train and find fullfillment in the art.

There does seem to be a inverse relationship between the obviously talented and how well they "stick".
More to the point, the strugglers have sometimes surpassed the gifted in what observers perceive as ability. (not always the same thing as ACTUAL ability, but that is a different song)

Play nice, practice hard, but remember, this is a MARTIAL art!
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:48 AM   #14
Ketsan
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Michael Varin wrote: View Post

So what about it?
Does this attitude exist? If so, why?
Why do we accept that someone who is slow, uncoordinated, physically weak, old, handicapped will be able to attain even reasonably high levels in the art?
What, if any, effect does this have on dan rankings?
What does this mean about the practice and future of the art?
Is this a problem, and, if so, how can it be remedied?

These questions are only things that quickly came to mind. Please, feel free to response in any way.
Put it this way: the fastest way for a freshly minted 25 year old 1st kyu to get shodan in Aikido would be to chop their legs off.
In my association anyway. The individual is assessed on health, age and ability and then the test is created so that they can pass it.

Shodan makes a simple statement "the basics have been mastered by this person" In our quest for equality we make it into "The basics would have been mastered but........" The fastest way to high rank is through consistent achievement of low potential.

Shodan test is a simple question: "Have you mastered the basics, yes or no?" If the answer is no then the answer is no and as an Aikidoka who's supposed to be learning to deal with life and the universe you should be learning to deal with the reasons why you haven't mastered the basics and get beyond them if you can. Talent is only as useful as the determination that supports it and I think too often we give people an excuse not to be determined.
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:49 AM   #15
grondahl
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Re: Talent & Aikido

I strongly disagree. Being outstanding in any major physical activity just isnīt for everyone. You have to have a great combination of talent, a training environment that lets you develop that talent, etc.

But I agree that most people never even try to take their potential to itīs limits.

Quote:
Matthew Gano wrote: View Post
I think talent like Jordans is accessible by most, but not as easy to tap into as it seemed to be by him
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Old 12-02-2010, 01:04 PM   #16
Don Nordin
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Re: Talent & Aikido

I think that for many people their unique talent may never be realized. This is where practice and training come into play. Taking another view of your Mj example. Jan Ullirich was considered by most experts to be the most talented cyclist in the world, however he was always behind Armstrong at the end of the race. Is that because Armstrong was more talented? Personally I think it was because Armstrong worked harder for it.
Does talent or lack thereof limit the art, No not in my opinion.
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Old 12-02-2010, 01:07 PM   #17
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Michael Varin wrote: View Post
If you take a random sample of the aikido community you will find a much greater variance, from very good to very poor.
No, question.

Quote:
So what about it?
Does this attitude exist? If so, why?
I think the answer is simple... this is not a competitive art. There's no win or lose. So abilities of all levels participate, and that's good. Since the art is about personal development rather than simple technical skill, allowances are made for age, size, strength, handicaps, emotional baggage, athletic ability or lack therefor, etc Ranking reflects that.

If we had competition, the quality of the technique, if not the quality of the people doing the art, would be higher and there would be far fewer people doing it. Competition makes wishful thinking about ones abilities difficult. If you can't do it, you come to the dojo every night and lose. Folks who don't have at least some talent for it quit. In Aikido there are all sorts of folks who have little or no actual talent for it. They stay and train and are encouraged to do so. Personally, I think it should be this way. There are all sorts of benefits to training that come from participation and have nothing to do with actual skill. I want everyone to have the benefits available from training.

The problem comes when folks of mediocre or poor ability or folks who are not serious about their training still think they should be rewarded for their efforts. My wife is a fencer. In fencing you get your grades by winning matches. You don't win, you don't get graded. To go up in grade, you have to be able to beat some folks at that higher grade, or no grade. Period.

But in Aikido, people seem to rise in grade because they are nice people, are trying hard, contribute to the dojo in positive ways, etc Afetr a couple of decades you have someone with some serious rank who now thinks he or she should be teaching. It screws things up for the art big time.

Now, in Aikido they have tried to solve this by having teaching certifications that are separate from the Dan ranks. But my experience is that these certifications have become almost automatic when certain ranks are achieved. So if a mediocrity can get a 5th Dan (Oh, say it's not so) he usually ends up with Shidoin papers.

Quote:
Why do we accept that someone who is slow, uncoordinated, physically weak, old, handicapped will be able to attain even reasonably high levels in the art?
What makes you think people believe this? They certainly act like they do at times, but I think if you sat down and actually asked point blank whether this could be true, most folks would admit that it isn't possible. High level is just that. If everyone were at that level, it wouldn't be high level. It is not possible for everyone to be high level. Talent absolutely comes into it.

Quote:
What, if any, effect does this have on dan rankings?
What does this mean about the practice and future of the art?
Is this a problem, and, if so, how can it be remedied?
I think a truly exclusive Teaching Certification track would solve many problems. It would be based on ability, period. Then Dan ranks could reward all sorts of things and people wouldn't have the association that some Dan rank actually meant you were at some standard level, because as we all know, that simply isn't true.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
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Old 12-02-2010, 01:39 PM   #18
mathewjgano
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Peter Gröndahl wrote: View Post
I strongly disagree. Being outstanding in any major physical activity just isnīt for everyone. You have to have a great combination of talent, a training environment that lets you develop that talent, etc.

But I agree that most people never even try to take their potential to itīs limits.
What do you think makes for talent? I see it as the product of nurture more than nature...that is to say, I think genius isn't something most "genius's" are born with...though I have to admit some might be born more well-suited than others. I just think those cases are probably very rare...the exceptions which might prove the aforementioned rule.

Gambarimashyo!
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Old 12-02-2010, 01:59 PM   #19
kewms
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Re: Talent & Aikido

If someone told you that you were fabulously talented, how would your practice change?

If someone told you that you had no talent whatsoever, how would your practice change?

Education studies have shown that people who are told that they *don't* have talent actually achieve more than people who are told that they do: the people with "talent" tend to coast, while the ones "without" tend to work harder. (The studies assigned people to one group or the other randomly, not based on test scores or any other actual measure.)

Katherine
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Old 12-02-2010, 02:18 PM   #20
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
I think a truly exclusive Teaching Certification track would solve many problems. It would be based on ability, period. Then Dan ranks could reward all sorts of things and people wouldn't have the association that some Dan rank actually meant you were at some standard level, because as we all know, that simply isn't true.
In such a track who will judge potential yudansha? Their teachers no doubt, or perhaps a group of teachers. But how will a grade given in the US relate to the (arguably same) grade in the Netherlands? The teachers most likely will never have met. Who sets the standards?
Problems aside, on the technical part (instruction) all this is perhaps feasible. However, I am very afraid politics will interfere quickly. Dare I say would result in the very system that exists today?
At a different level I do not believe a teacher can grade your progress/growth as a person. People cannot be compared on an absolute level (which any grading system does). This ultimately implies duality, competition. But this [growth] is what Aikido is about: learn to balance mind and body.

Good students find good teachers...(and no that is not a mistake)

I am very interested in this subject and appreciate you sharing your view (perhaps different thread, PM).

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
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Old 12-02-2010, 04:52 PM   #21
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Some of us have no natural talent, but we are coach-able.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 12-02-2010, 05:10 PM   #22
Dan Hover
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Clearly Ledyard Sensei hit the nail on the head, big difference between rank and ability and even teaching ability. Very rarely does those three things overlap. Maybe 1% of the time, meaning that about 1% of aikidoka are the blessed or gifted individuals who either through perseverance or talent or even excellent teachers become one of those people who have the motivation and desire to not only physically master the art, but understand the history, philosophy, culture, antecedent arts and context of Aikido. That being said that 1% should be 100% of your instructors.

Last edited by Dan Hover : 12-02-2010 at 05:10 PM. Reason: double word

Dan Hover

of course that's my opinion, I could be wrong
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Old 12-02-2010, 06:48 PM   #23
Janet Rosen
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Well, if one is looking for a separate system for teaching, per George's post, an option could be: testing the individual for rank, testing the individual's students to assess his teaching. It would only make sense to do this within a given organization.
Just off the top of my head.

Janet Rosen
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Old 12-02-2010, 08:38 PM   #24
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
Lynn Seiser wrote: View Post
Some of us have no natural talent, but we are coach-able.
You know how many wiz kids I've seen come and go? It takes a combination of things to get someone to achieve expertise, and natural talent isn't necessarily one of them.

Commitment beats natural talent every time. Put commitment together with natural ability and throw in top level instruction and you will have a top level practitioner. Like yourself, I had two out of the three... natural talent was not one of my gifts. However, I made up for that lack by being more passionate about my training than most folks. I suspect you have been the same...

I have to say, just as an aside, I will never forget looking over at you with Tennenhouse attached to your arm trying to do ikkyo on you... It flashes every time I read one of your posts...
- George

George S. Ledyard
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:00 PM   #25
Keith Larman
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Re: Talent & Aikido

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
I have to say, just as an aside, I will never forget looking over at you with Tennenhouse attached to your arm trying to do ikkyo on you... It flashes every time I read one of your posts...
- George
Ah, haven't heard that name in years... Wonder where he went...

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