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Old 07-12-2011, 10:20 AM   #126
dps
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 2,167
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Joe Curran wrote: View Post
Dear David,
So if you asked your children to emulate your fathers days
would they be capable or willing to suffer to the degree your father did?Having had it easy I think not.Only if circumstances changed dramatically would the children adapt to harsh living.
Cheers, Joe.
Why would I ask them to emulate my father?

Good parents and teachers make prior knowledge easier to learn so their children and students can surpase them.

Complaining they do not have it as difficult as you did is selfish and counter productive.

dps
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Old 07-12-2011, 11:47 AM   #127
George S. Ledyard
 
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,633
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Jason Casteel wrote: View Post
George,

Looking at the post for your upcoming group seminar it seems that the spots are filling in nicely. I know Dan keeps his seminars small on purpose, so I'm sure you have no issues with those. What about other seminars by people like Ushiro, Ikeda, Threadgill, etc? Do you have any issues with filling those? If not, do you feel that says something about the one that prompted you to write this letter?
AS I stated in earlier posts... I never even have to consider whether a seminar with one of the Japanese Shihan won't break even. Typically, I turn folks away. It is frustrating in that, although these teachers are functioning at an extremely high level, their ability to articulate what they are doing and, even more importantly, get other folks to do it, is not anywhere near as good as some of the Non-Japanese instructors who are at the highest level.

It begs the question, why do people go to seminars? One of the Shihan I host flat out told me that "people generally do not attend seminars to get better. It's a social event." So, as if there were some inherent value to "basking in the presence" of the great one, they consistently go off to events at which from Friday to Sunday, they learn almost nothing. They do this for years. They pay a lot of money and sacrifice a lot of weekends to do this.

One weekend with William Gleason Sensei is worth years of seminar attendance with most of the Japanese Shihan. By Sunday night you feel as if you couldn't fit one more thing into your head. What you learn will have a virtually immediate effect on your training. The guy's Aikido has gone to the stratosphere. But in metro are with twenty plus dojos, three others in our own organization, I may have zero students from outside our dojo or, if there are some, they flew in from around the country to attend.

Are folks making their training decisions based on who can help them get better or who they want to be able to say they've been seen with recently? In many ways, I think that they are apt to work with the ones who make the fewest demands on them. Someone like myself or Bill Gleason will come in and tell you what you are doing that doesn't work and give precise instruction on what will work better. I did a whole seminar once in which there were some instructor level folks attending who had some serious issues with what they were doing. You could easily demonstrate that what they were doing didn't work or left them open. I spent quite a bit of time explaining how they needed to change their training in order to start getting better.

I had a friend at their dojo at the time. This person was frustrated by the quality of the training at the time (he has since left and trains elsewhere). At the end of the seminar, he was very excited because he thought that after a whole weekend of my retooling their approach to training, there would be a positive shift when they returned home. Instead, when they got on the mat on Monday night they went right back to what they had been doing all along. It was as if the seminar never happened.

(Another Koan, perhaps? If a seminar takes place but no one tries to learn anything, did the seminar actually happen?)

This is one of the greatest barriers to positive change in Aikido. Its just plain inertia. At any point in time, the vast majority of folks doing the art are happy with what they are doing. If they weren't happy, they'd have quit already. So, they aren't generally going to seminars to change what they do. Which is one of the reasons, I think, that training with the Japanese Shihan works for them.

With many the Japanese teachers, I have found that they are apt to walk around the mat and just smile ( to their credit, I have found that Chiba and Endo Senseis are less likely to do this, in fact Chiba will scream at you, which while terrifying, still means he is trying to get across to you. Endo Sensei is quieter and simply looks disgusted when he doesn't like what you are doing. But he is clear about it, which I like). Occasionally, I will see Saotome Sensei looking at something so wretched that he actually looks pained, but mostly he just walks around smiling. Folks need to understand that this doesn't not mean that everything's fine. It usually means that he has simply given up on folks. If you look like you are making a creditable attempt at "getting it", or you are simply so junior that no one would expect you to, he will help you. In other words, if he is on your case, it's because he still thinks you have some hope. But if you are a yudansha and simply look out to lunch, you are apt to get no feedback at all.

So, when I see absolutely world class teachers like William Gleason Sensei struggling to make a living while folks flock to seminars with teachers who will not or can not help them get better, well, it is frustrating and discouraging.

Even the Aiki Principles seminar with five instructors we are holding in Seattle may not be full until the last minute and the limit was only 65 students. The folks teaching are all top drawer folks. I expect it to be full by the time it rolls around but when I had Saotome Sensei several years back, the seminar filled up in four hours when I announced on-line registration was open. I turned away people and we had eighty folks attending.

The seminar with Saotome Sensei was a weapons seminar. I rented a gym so we'd have space. The general level of skill (and this was an instructor level seminar) was so poor that I had some kyu ranked students commenting on the fact that they were training with dojo heads who didn't hold their swords correctly. Sensei any number of times had to change what he was trying to present because the group was too remedial.

In an attempt to rectify that situation and raise the general level of skill up to the point at which Sensei could actually teach what he'd like to be teaching, I put together a seminar at the same venue the next year. I invited Tres Hofmeister Sensei (Ikeda Sensei's senior student) and John Messores Sensei (Saotome Sensei's original American student) to teach along with me. In our organization, this would be the "A" team for weapons work. Three teachers who would be able to teach at a level and with explanations that would actually allow folks to walk away after the weekend better than when they had arrived. I wanted to make it an annual event so that every three or four years we would get Sensei back and people could actually benefit.

I got absolutely clobbered on the seminar. The same folks who flocked to Saotome Sensei, even though they couldn't do a darn thing he did all weekend, stayed away when it was us teaching. As Bob Dylan once said, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." With a line-up like that, in an area which has so much Aikido, we came in with 15 attendees less than my worst case projection.

So the short answer to your question is that I ALWAYS worry about the attendance on our seminars unless it's one of the Shihan teaching. The only reason that we can have Popkin Sensei and Dan Harden Sensei as frequently as we do is that a) we have a Study Group for which one of the conditions of membership in the group is support of the events when he host the outside teachers. Even if you are out of town, you support the event. b) on any of these visits which doesn't quite break even, we have a guy who underwrites the shortfall on the theory that at least he didn't have to fly somewhere, rent a car, stay in a hotel, etc to get the training.

Seminars for us are all about the training. Financially, at the end of year, if we'd had no seminars, I suspect I wouldn't even notice. It's basically a break even endeavor for guest events. The ones I teach myself are something else again. Those are an important source of support for me.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:16 PM   #128
chillzATL
Location: ATL
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 847
United_States
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
AS I stated in earlier posts... I never even have to consider whether a seminar with one of the Japanese Shihan won't break even. Typically, I turn folks away. It is frustrating in that, although these teachers are functioning at an extremely high level, their ability to articulate what they are doing and, even more importantly, get other folks to do it, is not anywhere near as good as some of the Non-Japanese instructors who are at the highest level.
Your reply was much in line with what I was thinking when I asked the question. People in your area just don't know how good they have it. We don't get much of anything here, which is crazy considering it's Atlanta. I had to drive 11 hours to see Toby and four to see Ikeda! Owell, maybe one of these days the ban will be lifted and we'll get someone down here. Thanks for the reply.
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:23 PM   #129
Basia Halliop
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 711
Canada
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

I think people do go to seminars for all sorts of reasons, and not always for the same reasons they go to class...

From a pure training perspective, for me and for many it doesn't actually make much 'sense' to go to seminars. I may pay the equivalent of several months' dojo fees on one weekend with perhaps 10 hours total of class (my dojo has plenty of classes so if I took every class offered I'd be up to the same number of hours in less than a week at a tiny fraction of the cost), often with a class large enough that I don't get any individual attention. At home I have small classes with frequent individual help from an instructor who's good enough that other people travel to seminars to see him, and plenty of help from his top students.

And yet I keep going to seminars... why?

A lot of it is about that experience of training with different people on the mat who I'm not used to, a lot is about seeing specific teachers who I have learned to like both in terms of their technique and they teaching style, (e.g. who show a different perspective on things, in ways that help me learn), and a big part is about getting to train all day instead of just a couple of hours a day. But some of these are things that build with time, because until you start going to seminars, you don't start to get to know different teachers.... (And until you've actually trained all day you aren't that sure if you even can).

Actually if I recall the very first time I went to summer camp, what finally tipped the balance in favour of going was the realization that many of the first generation of O-Sensei's students were aging, some who I would so like to have met and taken classes from had died before I had had a chance to meet them, and that I would never know if this might be my last chance to see the others' training in person or to meet them. So actually, if I think about it it was those Japanese Shihans that drew me in the first time...
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:31 PM   #130
sakumeikan
Dojo: Sakumeikan N.E. Aikkai .Newcastle upon Tyne.
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,148
United Kingdom
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
Why would I ask them to emulate my father?

Good parents and teachers make prior knowledge easier to learn so their children and students can surpase them.

Complaining they do not have it as difficult as you did is selfish and counter productive.

dps
Dear David,
Maybe by emulating your/their father might reveal the fact that your/their father may well have been made of sterner stuff?In todays society perhaps the younger generation are cosseted?
How do you arrive at your conclusion that making a statement that you may have had a harder upbringing is selfish/counter productive? In fact pointing out the difference between each generation may well make the current generation of students learn to appreciate the sacrifices made by the older generation.I see that as a positive.I do agree with your other statement any teacher/parent worth their salt wants their children/students to do better than them.You are stating the blindingly obvious here.
Cheers,Joe.
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Old 07-12-2011, 01:57 PM   #131
phitruong
Dojo: Charlotte Aikikai Agatsu Dojo
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 1,785
United_States
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Jason Casteel wrote: View Post
We don't get much of anything here, which is crazy considering it's Atlanta. I had to drive 11 hours to see Toby and four to see Ikeda! Owell, maybe one of these days the ban will be lifted and we'll get someone down here.
i am willing to come down and give seminar on my stuffs. it will involve us spending considerable time in the kitchen with a meat cleaver, poultry, vegetables, noodles, rice, and spices. i can assure, none of my customers has ever complaint and/or able to complaint. and since i am asian, which meant folks will flock to the event.
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Old 07-12-2011, 05:18 PM   #132
Michael Hackett
Dojo: Kenshinkan Dojo (Aikido of North County) Vista, CA
Location: Oceanside, California
Join Date: Oct 2000
Posts: 1,129
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Jason, if you haven't yet, try and train with Andy Sato Sensei or Ginny Whitelaw in Atlanta. Very, very different approaches and both have some great things to offer.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 07-12-2011, 08:59 PM   #133
Kevin Flanagan
Dojo: ronin
Location: Lakebay, Washington
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 14
United_States
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Dear George Sensei,

You have taught me that when attacked with a shomen cut, the safe place is directly under the blade. Enter, connect, tenkan, keep your balance. I hope that I have understood this properly because it is in this spirit that I am responding to your letter.

I am a proud and grateful member of the Aikido Eastside dojo.

When I received your open letter to the members of our dojo, I was taken aback. Your communications are always thought provoking, so I have had to read your letter numerous times to try to understand what you are saying.

At my next class, I called aside some of the leaders of our dojo to ask, "Am I still welcome in this dojo, or should I be looking for a new place to train?" They wanted to know why I was asking. I told them that I could not keep up with your expectations. You see George, I am a leaf. I am not a branch and certainly not a trunk or a root. I am just a humble white belt. I don't train in aikido so I can kick ass in bar fights. I have no desire to open my own dojo. I don't ever expect to master this infinitely complex art and I have no delusions about surpassing your technical skills. I am just a happy leaf.

Please allow me to describe my background. Last month I celebrated my first anniversary as a full member of Aikido Eastside. Next month I will celebrate my 63rd birthday. In October I will have had 4 years training in aikido and aikijujutsu. December was my goal for testing for 5th kyu.

In my previous dojo, I tested for 7th, 6th and 5th kyu. As I was training for 4th kyu I saw that I would have to do 3 man randori, full speed, a la "Path beyond Thought", and full speed kotegaeshi into high, hard breakfalls. I was coming home from training with repetitive stress injuries and decided to change dojos.

My previous dojo only met twice a week. After my first year, I was ready for more. I started visiting other dojos and attending seminars. I averaged one seminar per month for the next two years and have visited more than 20 different dojos. We live in a very aikido rich environment, so I haven't been everywhere, but I have seen a lot.

George, the first time we met, I was overwhelmed. Here was this giant of the aikido world, taking the time to teach me the basics of irimi. I could not believe the generosity that you extended to me.

You gave me permission to attend your classes as a regular visitor. When you saw that I was attending every event that you offered, you told me that you would have to make me an honorary member of Aikido Eastside. You made my day.

When it came time to change dojos, yours was my first choice. It was not an easy decision. I have some very close friends in my former dojo. I have to drive 90 minutes each way for every class at yours. Not an easy decision at all.

When I joined AE, I realized that there was a great deal of basic knowledge that I was missing. I decided that I should join your beginners program and have been happy and challenged there since. You call it a beginners program, but I think of it as a basics program. It is a lot more challenging than the title indicates and the instructors are some of the best that I have met in the aikido world. Any one of them could open a dojo in my local community. I would happily join and have enough challenge to last the rest of my life.

When you sent this letter to AikiWeb, I was hurt, offended and insulted. It feels like you have slapped every member of our dojo across the face in front of the whole aikido community. I must object. I think that you have mischaracterized us unfairly.

Fellow AE students have told me that I dare not question you or I would face "The Wrath of God". Really? I thought that we were training ourselves not to be cowards. Aren't we supposed to join with the energy of our partners, turn to see from their perspective and keep our own balance? Should I be afraid to tell you when I disagree with you? I don't believe in master-student relationships. Teacher-student is fine with me. I don't accept masters.

Please allow me to contrast two dojo experiences. My original dojo: I came to my third class to find sensei vacuuming the met. I took the vacuum from him and finished cleaning the mat. Thereafter, every two weeks, I brought my vacuum from home, came to the dojo an hour early, and cleaned the mat. Very, very rarely did another member offer to help. One day, I even shut off the vacuum and asked my training partners, "In the other dojos that you have belonged to, did you have maid service?" "Well yes, we did. That is what we pay dues for." They thought this was amusing.

At Aikido Eastside: While you were on vacation, a junior member of the dojo organized us to come together. We stripped the walls bare, we built you a new private office, we built a new dojo office, and we remodeled the entryway. Then we painted every wall in the dojo. Two offices, two changing rooms, storage room, entry and mat area. Then we replaced every work of art and cleaned the dojo thoroughly.

We did this solely to express to you our love, admiration, and gratitude for what you have created at AE.

Yet you characterize us as unresponsive and disrespectful aikidoka.

I have read and reread your letter many times. Each time I see something different. Right now, I am hearing a painful cry from the heart. The aikido that you have dedicated your life to is changing in ways that you can not control. You know that we are irreversibly interconnected and that the universe is constantly in motion. Still, you hope to preserve O Sensei's art unchanged.

The aikido that I am learning from you is not the same as the aikido that you learned from Saotome. Saotome did not teach the same aikido that he learned from O Sensei. And O Sensei did not pass on Takeda's art unchanged.

We struggle to preserve and protect our legacy, but it will not remain static. The aikido that we pass on will be created by us. In our own hearts, in our own lives, in our own dojos.

I think that you should be proud of the dojo you have created. It is a magnificent place to train. Studying at Eastside is like trying to drink from a firehose. To take full advantage of all of the opportunities that you offer is almost impossible. For a person that is making aikido a centerpiece of their life, AE may be the best possible place to train.

Regrettably, this does not describe me. Every day I wish I had found aikido as a teenager. I would have been a better person, lived a better life and helped to make the world a better place.

You and I see many things differently. There is only one aikido area where I am certain that I am right and you are wrong. You stated that if one persists in training until mid-yudansa level, that one can have a transformative experience. But, I am just a white belt, and aikido has already changed my life for the better. My wife of 27 years will testify to this. Friends that have known me for 40+ years have told me. I am more compassionate, braver, more patient as well as more persistent. I am more connected with others than I have ever been.

I was not seeking this when I began training. As a 59 year old man, I thought I was a fully formed person. I was wrong. Aikido has changed me for the better. I paid attention. I polished my mirror. I forged my blade. I persisted. But aikido did this for me. Neither religion, nor counseling, nor group therapy has ever affected me this way.

Please do not discourage people that are stumbling along their path. I know that you would not do this intentionally. But you are a very intimidating man. Your words have power. Please be more careful how you use them.

Whenever I visit another dojo, I am always asked, "Where do you train? Who is your sensei?" For the past year, I have been proud to say "I train at Aikido Eastside and George Ledyard is my sensei." Now I am afraid that people will think, "Oh, he's one of those bums that won't even support his own dojo. Why should we welcome him here?" I think that you have done real damage to our reputation.

This year has brought some unexpected financial challenges and I have had to reevaluate my spending. Aikido Eastside dues, gas, wear and tear are costing $6,000 per year. That is before buying and single book or DVD or attending a single seminar. Each seminar cost a minimum of $500. You talk of 3 seminars a year, but don't mention Dan Harden coming every six weeks, or Howard Popkin coming 3 times a year or Kenji Ushiro coming from Japan or the two randori intensives each year. Our neighboring dojos also host great teachers. Senseis like Endo, Nevellius, Choate, Doran and many others come every year.

My finances, just like my training, my health and my safety, are my own responsibility. No one else gets to decide for me how much is enough.

Since receiving your letter, I have watched my enthusiasm and motivation run down hill. It is easier to find reasons not to make that long drive and harder to fight the temptation to stay home. In class, the joy I had experienced, is gone. As I look around the dojo, all of my peers are missing from class. Perhaps I am missing them because I am not coming as often. Perhaps it is the school vacation and summer has finally arrived. Perhaps they feel as l do and just have not found a way to tell you.

In the metaphorical aikido forest, you are a giant maple tree. Broad of shoulder, strong of limb, reaching for the sky. Keep reaching George. Keep growing. We leaves need you. We cling to you for nourishment, support, and inspiration. But never forget, my friend, without leaves, the forest will die. We have been created to depend upon each other.

I have decided to take a sabbatical from aikido. I need some time and distance to contemplate, and reflect on what my training means to me, and how I want to proceed.

Please accept my resignation from Aikido Eastside.

I have tried to communicate in this letter, my respect, admiration and affection for you. I hope that in the future, I will be welcome to train with you again. If you feel otherwise, please let me know. I don't like to go where I am not welcome.

Sincerely in musubi,
Kevin Flanagan

P.S. I am sending a copy of this letter to AikiWeb and to some of my personal mailing list. I would be grateful to you if you would forward this letter to the adult membership list.
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Old 07-13-2011, 12:07 AM   #134
Hellis
Dojo: Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido
Location: Bracknell
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 596
England
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Kevin Flanagan""
You see George, I am a leaf. I am not a branch and certainly not a trunk or a root. I am just a humble white belt. I don't train in aikido so I can kick ass in bar fights. I have no desire to open my own dojo. I don't ever expect to master this infinitely complex art and I have no delusions about surpassing your technical skills. I am just a happy leaf.""""

Kevin
I must say that I was most impressed by the content off your letter from the heart...I understand the statement above very well, this applies to many students everywhere.
I too had a student who was in his early sixties, who sadly died just a few weeks ago - he was probably the longest serving 5th kyu in Aikido, a badge he wore with pride, for several years he was the secretary of the " Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido " he had no ambition of high grades - he enjoyed helping new members and being a part of the team, he too was a `leaf ` and a very happy leaf.
We all miss him.

Henry Ellis
British Aikido
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
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Old 07-13-2011, 01:28 AM   #135
sakumeikan
Dojo: Sakumeikan N.E. Aikkai .Newcastle upon Tyne.
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,148
United Kingdom
Offline
Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Kevin Flanagan wrote: View Post
Dear George Sensei,

You have taught me that when attacked with a shomen cut, the safe place is directly under the blade. Enter, connect, tenkan, keep your balance. I hope that I have understood this properly because it is in this spirit that I am responding to your letter.

I am a proud and grateful member of the Aikido Eastside dojo.

When I received your open letter to the members of our dojo, I was taken aback. Your communications are always thought provoking, so I have had to read your letter numerous times to try to understand what you are saying.

At my next class, I called aside some of the leaders of our dojo to ask, "Am I still welcome in this dojo, or should I be looking for a new place to train?" They wanted to know why I was asking. I told them that I could not keep up with your expectations. You see George, I am a leaf. I am not a branch and certainly not a trunk or a root. I am just a humble white belt. I don't train in aikido so I can kick ass in bar fights. I have no desire to open my own dojo. I don't ever expect to master this infinitely complex art and I have no delusions about surpassing your technical skills. I am just a happy leaf.

Please allow me to describe my background. Last month I celebrated my first anniversary as a full member of Aikido Eastside. Next month I will celebrate my 63rd birthday. In October I will have had 4 years training in aikido and aikijujutsu. December was my goal for testing for 5th kyu.

In my previous dojo, I tested for 7th, 6th and 5th kyu. As I was training for 4th kyu I saw that I would have to do 3 man randori, full speed, a la "Path beyond Thought", and full speed kotegaeshi into high, hard breakfalls. I was coming home from training with repetitive stress injuries and decided to change dojos.

My previous dojo only met twice a week. After my first year, I was ready for more. I started visiting other dojos and attending seminars. I averaged one seminar per month for the next two years and have visited more than 20 different dojos. We live in a very aikido rich environment, so I haven't been everywhere, but I have seen a lot.

George, the first time we met, I was overwhelmed. Here was this giant of the aikido world, taking the time to teach me the basics of irimi. I could not believe the generosity that you extended to me.

You gave me permission to attend your classes as a regular visitor. When you saw that I was attending every event that you offered, you told me that you would have to make me an honorary member of Aikido Eastside. You made my day.

When it came time to change dojos, yours was my first choice. It was not an easy decision. I have some very close friends in my former dojo. I have to drive 90 minutes each way for every class at yours. Not an easy decision at all.

When I joined AE, I realized that there was a great deal of basic knowledge that I was missing. I decided that I should join your beginners program and have been happy and challenged there since. You call it a beginners program, but I think of it as a basics program. It is a lot more challenging than the title indicates and the instructors are some of the best that I have met in the aikido world. Any one of them could open a dojo in my local community. I would happily join and have enough challenge to last the rest of my life.

When you sent this letter to AikiWeb, I was hurt, offended and insulted. It feels like you have slapped every member of our dojo across the face in front of the whole aikido community. I must object. I think that you have mischaracterized us unfairly.

Fellow AE students have told me that I dare not question you or I would face "The Wrath of God". Really? I thought that we were training ourselves not to be cowards. Aren't we supposed to join with the energy of our partners, turn to see from their perspective and keep our own balance? Should I be afraid to tell you when I disagree with you? I don't believe in master-student relationships. Teacher-student is fine with me. I don't accept masters.

Please allow me to contrast two dojo experiences. My original dojo: I came to my third class to find sensei vacuuming the met. I took the vacuum from him and finished cleaning the mat. Thereafter, every two weeks, I brought my vacuum from home, came to the dojo an hour early, and cleaned the mat. Very, very rarely did another member offer to help. One day, I even shut off the vacuum and asked my training partners, "In the other dojos that you have belonged to, did you have maid service?" "Well yes, we did. That is what we pay dues for." They thought this was amusing.

At Aikido Eastside: While you were on vacation, a junior member of the dojo organized us to come together. We stripped the walls bare, we built you a new private office, we built a new dojo office, and we remodeled the entryway. Then we painted every wall in the dojo. Two offices, two changing rooms, storage room, entry and mat area. Then we replaced every work of art and cleaned the dojo thoroughly.

We did this solely to express to you our love, admiration, and gratitude for what you have created at AE.

Yet you characterize us as unresponsive and disrespectful aikidoka.

I have read and reread your letter many times. Each time I see something different. Right now, I am hearing a painful cry from the heart. The aikido that you have dedicated your life to is changing in ways that you can not control. You know that we are irreversibly interconnected and that the universe is constantly in motion. Still, you hope to preserve O Sensei's art unchanged.

The aikido that I am learning from you is not the same as the aikido that you learned from Saotome. Saotome did not teach the same aikido that he learned from O Sensei. And O Sensei did not pass on Takeda's art unchanged.

We struggle to preserve and protect our legacy, but it will not remain static. The aikido that we pass on will be created by us. In our own hearts, in our own lives, in our own dojos.

I think that you should be proud of the dojo you have created. It is a magnificent place to train. Studying at Eastside is like trying to drink from a firehose. To take full advantage of all of the opportunities that you offer is almost impossible. For a person that is making aikido a centerpiece of their life, AE may be the best possible place to train.

Regrettably, this does not describe me. Every day I wish I had found aikido as a teenager. I would have been a better person, lived a better life and helped to make the world a better place.

You and I see many things differently. There is only one aikido area where I am certain that I am right and you are wrong. You stated that if one persists in training until mid-yudansa level, that one can have a transformative experience. But, I am just a white belt, and aikido has already changed my life for the better. My wife of 27 years will testify to this. Friends that have known me for 40+ years have told me. I am more compassionate, braver, more patient as well as more persistent. I am more connected with others than I have ever been.

I was not seeking this when I began training. As a 59 year old man, I thought I was a fully formed person. I was wrong. Aikido has changed me for the better. I paid attention. I polished my mirror. I forged my blade. I persisted. But aikido did this for me. Neither religion, nor counseling, nor group therapy has ever affected me this way.

Please do not discourage people that are stumbling along their path. I know that you would not do this intentionally. But you are a very intimidating man. Your words have power. Please be more careful how you use them.

Whenever I visit another dojo, I am always asked, "Where do you train? Who is your sensei?" For the past year, I have been proud to say "I train at Aikido Eastside and George Ledyard is my sensei." Now I am afraid that people will think, "Oh, he's one of those bums that won't even support his own dojo. Why should we welcome him here?" I think that you have done real damage to our reputation.

This year has brought some unexpected financial challenges and I have had to reevaluate my spending. Aikido Eastside dues, gas, wear and tear are costing $6,000 per year. That is before buying and single book or DVD or attending a single seminar. Each seminar cost a minimum of $500. You talk of 3 seminars a year, but don't mention Dan Harden coming every six weeks, or Howard Popkin coming 3 times a year or Kenji Ushiro coming from Japan or the two randori intensives each year. Our neighboring dojos also host great teachers. Senseis like Endo, Nevellius, Choate, Doran and many others come every year.

My finances, just like my training, my health and my safety, are my own responsibility. No one else gets to decide for me how much is enough.

Since receiving your letter, I have watched my enthusiasm and motivation run down hill. It is easier to find reasons not to make that long drive and harder to fight the temptation to stay home. In class, the joy I had experienced, is gone. As I look around the dojo, all of my peers are missing from class. Perhaps I am missing them because I am not coming as often. Perhaps it is the school vacation and summer has finally arrived. Perhaps they feel as l do and just have not found a way to tell you.

In the metaphorical aikido forest, you are a giant maple tree. Broad of shoulder, strong of limb, reaching for the sky. Keep reaching George. Keep growing. We leaves need you. We cling to you for nourishment, support, and inspiration. But never forget, my friend, without leaves, the forest will die. We have been created to depend upon each other.

I have decided to take a sabbatical from aikido. I need some time and distance to contemplate, and reflect on what my training means to me, and how I want to proceed.

Please accept my resignation from Aikido Eastside.

I have tried to communicate in this letter, my respect, admiration and affection for you. I hope that in the future, I will be welcome to train with you again. If you feel otherwise, please let me know. I don't like to go where I am not welcome.

Sincerely in musubi,
Kevin Flanagan

P.S. I am sending a copy of this letter to AikiWeb and to some of my personal mailing list. I would be grateful to you if you would forward this letter to the adult membership list.
Dear Kevin,
Do not be so hard on yourself or on Mr Ledyard.Mr Ledyard I believe wrote his original article with good intent.
On reading your letter I believe you have already acquired Aiki.
You may require polishing you technical skills but your heart and character are already fully developed.There is no need for you to feel obliged to go to seminar, you have the choice.Neither should you or your fellow students take a negative viewpoint to the open letter.If you were happy at Eastside why cut off your nose to save your face by resigning?
I wish I had a person like you training with me.I consider you someone of sincere views and courage.You are certainly in no way a coward in my eyes.The Sempai/Kohai relationship should be one where there is genuine heart to heart connection between each person , not a relationship built on fear.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 07-13-2011, 02:19 AM   #136
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
...let folks decide for themselves if he is talking about them. But I have noticed the folks who take the criticism seriously and take it on as applying to them are seldom the people actually being addressed...
Kevin, I side with sakumeikan. Are you sure he refers to you? That would indeed surprise me.

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 07-13-2011, 03:05 AM   #137
Ernesto Lemke
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Dear Kevin,

Your letter struck a deep chord. I found it a very mature, impressive and sincere expression 'from the heart' (as Hellis noted so nicely) that resonated with some events that took place in my aikido past.

If nothing else, the fact that it touched me, someone almost 30 years your junior, living on the other side of this planet, unaware of your existence untill this letter, that is a remarkable feat in itself isn't it? Unintended as it may have been, thank you for that, and I sincerely hope your contemplation will have a positive outcome.
Best wishes,

Ernesto Lemke

Ernesto
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Old 07-13-2011, 03:46 AM   #138
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Kevin Flanagan wrote: View Post
Dear George Sensei,

You have taught me that when attacked with a shomen cut, the safe place is directly under the blade. Enter, connect, tenkan, keep your balance. I hope that I have understood this properly because it is in this spirit that I am responding to your letter.

I am a proud and grateful member of the Aikido Eastside dojo.

When I received your open letter to the members of our dojo, I was taken aback. Your communications are always thought provoking, so I have had to read your letter numerous times to try to understand what you are saying.

At my next class, I called aside some of the leaders of our dojo to ask, "Am I still welcome in this dojo, or should I be looking for a new place to train?" They wanted to know why I was asking. I told them that I could not keep up with your expectations. You see George, I am a leaf. I am not a branch and certainly not a trunk or a root. I am just a humble white belt. I don't train in aikido so I can kick ass in bar fights. I have no desire to open my own dojo. I don't ever expect to master this infinitely complex art and I have no delusions about surpassing your technical skills. I am just a happy leaf.

Please allow me to describe my background. Last month I celebrated my first anniversary as a full member of Aikido Eastside. Next month I will celebrate my 63rd birthday. In October I will have had 4 years training in aikido and aikijujutsu. December was my goal for testing for 5th kyu.

In my previous dojo, I tested for 7th, 6th and 5th kyu. As I was training for 4th kyu I saw that I would have to do 3 man randori, full speed, a la "Path beyond Thought", and full speed kotegaeshi into high, hard breakfalls. I was coming home from training with repetitive stress injuries and decided to change dojos.

My previous dojo only met twice a week. After my first year, I was ready for more. I started visiting other dojos and attending seminars. I averaged one seminar per month for the next two years and have visited more than 20 different dojos. We live in a very aikido rich environment, so I haven't been everywhere, but I have seen a lot.

George, the first time we met, I was overwhelmed. Here was this giant of the aikido world, taking the time to teach me the basics of irimi. I could not believe the generosity that you extended to me.

You gave me permission to attend your classes as a regular visitor. When you saw that I was attending every event that you offered, you told me that you would have to make me an honorary member of Aikido Eastside. You made my day.

When it came time to change dojos, yours was my first choice. It was not an easy decision. I have some very close friends in my former dojo. I have to drive 90 minutes each way for every class at yours. Not an easy decision at all.

When I joined AE, I realized that there was a great deal of basic knowledge that I was missing. I decided that I should join your beginners program and have been happy and challenged there since. You call it a beginners program, but I think of it as a basics program. It is a lot more challenging than the title indicates and the instructors are some of the best that I have met in the aikido world. Any one of them could open a dojo in my local community. I would happily join and have enough challenge to last the rest of my life.

When you sent this letter to AikiWeb, I was hurt, offended and insulted. It feels like you have slapped every member of our dojo across the face in front of the whole aikido community. I must object. I think that you have mischaracterized us unfairly.

Fellow AE students have told me that I dare not question you or I would face "The Wrath of God". Really? I thought that we were training ourselves not to be cowards. Aren't we supposed to join with the energy of our partners, turn to see from their perspective and keep our own balance? Should I be afraid to tell you when I disagree with you? I don't believe in master-student relationships. Teacher-student is fine with me. I don't accept masters.

Please allow me to contrast two dojo experiences. My original dojo: I came to my third class to find sensei vacuuming the met. I took the vacuum from him and finished cleaning the mat. Thereafter, every two weeks, I brought my vacuum from home, came to the dojo an hour early, and cleaned the mat. Very, very rarely did another member offer to help. One day, I even shut off the vacuum and asked my training partners, "In the other dojos that you have belonged to, did you have maid service?" "Well yes, we did. That is what we pay dues for." They thought this was amusing.

At Aikido Eastside: While you were on vacation, a junior member of the dojo organized us to come together. We stripped the walls bare, we built you a new private office, we built a new dojo office, and we remodeled the entryway. Then we painted every wall in the dojo. Two offices, two changing rooms, storage room, entry and mat area. Then we replaced every work of art and cleaned the dojo thoroughly.

We did this solely to express to you our love, admiration, and gratitude for what you have created at AE.

Yet you characterize us as unresponsive and disrespectful aikidoka.

I have read and reread your letter many times. Each time I see something different. Right now, I am hearing a painful cry from the heart. The aikido that you have dedicated your life to is changing in ways that you can not control. You know that we are irreversibly interconnected and that the universe is constantly in motion. Still, you hope to preserve O Sensei's art unchanged.

The aikido that I am learning from you is not the same as the aikido that you learned from Saotome. Saotome did not teach the same aikido that he learned from O Sensei. And O Sensei did not pass on Takeda's art unchanged.

We struggle to preserve and protect our legacy, but it will not remain static. The aikido that we pass on will be created by us. In our own hearts, in our own lives, in our own dojos.

I think that you should be proud of the dojo you have created. It is a magnificent place to train. Studying at Eastside is like trying to drink from a firehose. To take full advantage of all of the opportunities that you offer is almost impossible. For a person that is making aikido a centerpiece of their life, AE may be the best possible place to train.

Regrettably, this does not describe me. Every day I wish I had found aikido as a teenager. I would have been a better person, lived a better life and helped to make the world a better place.

You and I see many things differently. There is only one aikido area where I am certain that I am right and you are wrong. You stated that if one persists in training until mid-yudansa level, that one can have a transformative experience. But, I am just a white belt, and aikido has already changed my life for the better. My wife of 27 years will testify to this. Friends that have known me for 40+ years have told me. I am more compassionate, braver, more patient as well as more persistent. I am more connected with others than I have ever been.

I was not seeking this when I began training. As a 59 year old man, I thought I was a fully formed person. I was wrong. Aikido has changed me for the better. I paid attention. I polished my mirror. I forged my blade. I persisted. But aikido did this for me. Neither religion, nor counseling, nor group therapy has ever affected me this way.

Please do not discourage people that are stumbling along their path. I know that you would not do this intentionally. But you are a very intimidating man. Your words have power. Please be more careful how you use them.

Whenever I visit another dojo, I am always asked, "Where do you train? Who is your sensei?" For the past year, I have been proud to say "I train at Aikido Eastside and George Ledyard is my sensei." Now I am afraid that people will think, "Oh, he's one of those bums that won't even support his own dojo. Why should we welcome him here?" I think that you have done real damage to our reputation.

This year has brought some unexpected financial challenges and I have had to reevaluate my spending. Aikido Eastside dues, gas, wear and tear are costing $6,000 per year. That is before buying and single book or DVD or attending a single seminar. Each seminar cost a minimum of $500. You talk of 3 seminars a year, but don't mention Dan Harden coming every six weeks, or Howard Popkin coming 3 times a year or Kenji Ushiro coming from Japan or the two randori intensives each year. Our neighboring dojos also host great teachers. Senseis like Endo, Nevellius, Choate, Doran and many others come every year.

My finances, just like my training, my health and my safety, are my own responsibility. No one else gets to decide for me how much is enough.

Since receiving your letter, I have watched my enthusiasm and motivation run down hill. It is easier to find reasons not to make that long drive and harder to fight the temptation to stay home. In class, the joy I had experienced, is gone. As I look around the dojo, all of my peers are missing from class. Perhaps I am missing them because I am not coming as often. Perhaps it is the school vacation and summer has finally arrived. Perhaps they feel as l do and just have not found a way to tell you.

In the metaphorical aikido forest, you are a giant maple tree. Broad of shoulder, strong of limb, reaching for the sky. Keep reaching George. Keep growing. We leaves need you. We cling to you for nourishment, support, and inspiration. But never forget, my friend, without leaves, the forest will die. We have been created to depend upon each other.

I have decided to take a sabbatical from aikido. I need some time and distance to contemplate, and reflect on what my training means to me, and how I want to proceed.

Please accept my resignation from Aikido Eastside.

I have tried to communicate in this letter, my respect, admiration and affection for you. I hope that in the future, I will be welcome to train with you again. If you feel otherwise, please let me know. I don't like to go where I am not welcome.

Sincerely in musubi,
Kevin Flanagan

P.S. I am sending a copy of this letter to AikiWeb and to some of my personal mailing list. I would be grateful to you if you would forward this letter to the adult membership list.
I have already written to Kevin but I'll post a reply here. I noted earlier that the problem with the generalized feedback approach taken by my teacher, Saotome Sensei, which I always rather appreciated was that more often than not, the folks that took what he said most to heart were the folks that he least meant to address,

Kevin was definitely not one of the folks I was addressing. Kevin has been attending seminars at or dojo since long before he was a member. He made the trip to the dojo every week despite the fact that it took him well over an hour, often two.

Every time Kevin showed up, it represented two or three times the effort of any other student yet he managed to be there consistently, if not as frequently as he might have liked.

So far two students have made comments to me about my letter. In both cases neither one was one of the intended targets. The folks for whom I really intended the letter have been completely silent. I have not heard from any of the instructors that there was a reaction. This is my fault for not being more specific in how I chose to deliver feedback.

So, as a number of you pointed out, the letter probably did not have the intended results. The folks that care took it on themselves and I now have to repair the damage and the folks who don't care, still don't.

Anyway, I will spend some time clarifying with my students want my intent was. While I still have little or no idea how to move things in the needed direction at the dojo, it's clear that this wasn't effective. Thanks to to the folks who understood the intention and thanks to the folks who felt I could have handled it differently. Probably correct... After twenty three years with my own dojo, I still struggle with how to get right.

At least we had a good discussion out of it. I was really impressed by the quality of the responses.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 07-13-2011, 04:55 AM   #139
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

George

Thanks (to all) for sharing. I have learned a lot from this discussion. Even though my dojo is only a few years young and non commercial, I can relate to most of the issues, be it on a smaller scale.
Best of luck

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 07-13-2011, 05:45 AM   #140
gates
Join Date: Feb 2008
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Kevin Flanagan""
You see George, I am a leaf

No Kevin you are the Cherry Blossom.

Enjoy the journey
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Old 07-13-2011, 07:50 AM   #141
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Hey Kevin:

Nice letter. To me that is what Aikido is all about. Being able to speak your Truth and hear another's.

I am sure George will read it in the context you sent it. George is not a Mighty Oak. He is a person who has been training longer than you. We all make mistakes. I am learning not to take things personally or to let my own sensitivity torture me.

I hope you continue training. If you quit because of a story that you telling yourself, you will still have quit. The way people continue to progress in Aikido is to train through this opportunities to grow and learn about ourselves and our teachers.
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:01 AM   #142
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Hi George,

Quote:
So far two students have made comments to me about my letter. In both cases neither one was one of the intended targets. The folks for whom I really intended the letter have been completely silent. I have not heard from any of the instructors that there was a reaction. This is my fault for not being more specific in how I chose to deliver feedback.

So, as a number of you pointed out, the letter probably did not have the intended results. The folks that care took it on themselves and I now have to repair the damage and the folks who don't care, still don't.
Reading statements like this one Kevin made:

Quote:
Fellow AE students have told me that I dare not question you or I would face "The Wrath of God".
Make me wonder if the generalizad lack of response to your letter from your students is not caused only because "they don't care".

What do you think? Are there a significant number of scared students?

Regards.

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Old 07-13-2011, 09:32 AM   #143
Janet Rosen
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Kevin, your letter/post is as heartfelt, cogent and brave as any I've read in my years on this list. I hope you and George work through this because it would be a pity for me to come all the way up to Seattle in August and not have a chance to train with you!

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:41 AM   #144
jbblack
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Keith Gates wrote: View Post
Kevin Flanagan""
You see George, I am a leaf

No Kevin you are the Cherry Blossom.
Kevin, I hope you will continue your Aikido journey. We need many Sakura along the path!

Cheers,
Jeff
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:42 AM   #145
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Demetrio Cereijo wrote: View Post
Hi George,

Reading statements like this one Kevin made:

Make me wonder if the generalizad lack of response to your letter from your students is not caused only because "they don't care".

What do you think? Are there a significant number of scared students?

Regards.
While I would say that most are not... I suspect that some are. My wife often says that I am somewhat unaware of the force of my personality. Since she is an extremely perceptive person, I will assume she is correct.

I think that, it's more a matter that, at least in most cases, my students actually like me too much. There's this whole "approval" thing that operates in any activity that has hierarchy. It's one of the reasons that so many really senior teachers fall into the "guru" trap. So, something as simple as who gets used for ukemi, how you tell someone that what they just did doesn't work, etc all gets invested with a whole layer of stuff that is unrelated to the issue at hand.

Different teachers handle this differently. Some maintain a distance between themselves and their students. On some levels I think this serves to protect them as well as buffer the students from getting too sucked in. It definitely serves to protect the teacher from getting too invested in the students and then being disappointed.

I have seen teachers who do the strict hierarchical, disciplined thing. I have to say that, this approach, in my experience had the highest likelihood of ending badly with abuse problems etc in the dojo.

Other teachers are the student's friend. Everyone is buddies, it's all low key. While pleasant, I seldom think this results in a dojo where people are apt to push themselves. Certainly, when everything is happy in everyone's training, there is seldom any personal transformation going on.

My own approach is to walk a fine line. It's my own and not modeled after any other teacher I know of. I am largely hands off about the dojo and let the students run the place for the most part. My letter was one of my rare cases of inserting myself into the process. I saw a small group doing all the work and hard training and a number of others not supporting the efforts.

My students treat me respectfully but are not at all slavish. When we travel to seminars, especially when I am teaching, they fold my hakama after class but generally do not do so on a daily basis. I mostly choose the ukes based on seniority (or the ability to safely do he ukemi for what I am teaching). Occasionally I rotate it through everyone there so as to not leave anyone out. I don't think we have too much of an issue with the "uke role" as a popularity contest.

I have created blocks of instruction, like an iai class, and a IP study group which, after I got it going, I stepped back in order that the students themselves get in the habit of keeping their training going rather tha being motivated just by me. It's worked well and the dojo would survive quite nicely if I weren't there tomorrow.

I suspect that the folks who are most "scared" of me are the ones I rarely see. I do not teach the beginners classes (something recommended by my teachers) and they don't know me very well. Not to mention that my training background was with a Japanese teacher... so my default setting was not as positive feedback oriented as it is these days. My wife has made an effort to get me to retool this area. When I trained one simply didn't get positive feedback. If one was doing ok, one was given the next thing to work on. If one wasn't doing ok, one got it pointed out in no uncertain terms. I trained for thirty years before I got an actual compliment about something I had done (in this case a class that I had taught that my teacher observed) that wasn't in the context of reflecting back on my teacher in some fashion.

So, I am always trying to find the right balance. The folks that come to my classes daily I do not think are terribly scared, nor do I think they are overly motivated by seeking my approval. On the other hand, I do know that they are proud of the dojo and want to do a good job "representing" when they have to be in public, as at seminars or at Dan tests. I am glad that they care... I want them to wish to do a good job. It makes it hard to get folks to want to test because they always want a bit more time so they can be "perfect". Usually i end up having to tell them they have to test. That isn't a bad thing I think.

Anyway, I do think about these issues. I think I m far more "supportive" in an overt sense than anything I grew up with in my own Aikido but I suspect that I can do better. I always look at dojos where I think the training is top level and try t see how their teacher handles things. If I think he or she is doing a better job, I will adjust. We all operate within our own limitations however, so I am not saying that I can't improve here. This is another "old school" thing in many ways. When I first started, what we did was considered Budo. Being scared on some level was normal and you were expected to suck it up. Having looked at how Systema folks deal with this I think I have changed my views on this. But my process probably needs to evolve to keep pace with my ideas.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 07-13-2011, 10:18 AM   #146
sakumeikan
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Dear All,
One of the problems I think exists in Aikido is that there can exist a climate in a dojo where the relationship between teacher and student sometimes is not quite balanced.This is particularly the case if the sensei has a strong personality coupled with strong waza.Its not always easy for a junior to socialise or communicate with this type of instructor.Usually the junior has to either get more experienced or
make a deliberate decision to engage with the teacher.
Of course you can get a teacher whose persona is such that people are drawn to him/her by the manner of the teacher.For example, Tamura /Sekiya Sensei were very personable and kind both on /off the mat,very easy to get along with and both were sociable.
The main thing I feel is to realise that a teacher is like everyone first and foremost a human being .The sensei may well be high ranked and as such you respect this fact.You as a student must learn to differentiate the status/relationship between your being a friend of the teacher and being a student of the teacher.The relationship is different here.
You can tell from Mr Ledyard that he has his own issues to deal with.I cannot think of any instructor I know who has not had the odd sleepless night thinking about issues related to aikido.The role of a teacher is like a father figure /counsellor/nice guy /bad guy/agony aunt .It s not easy , so I would suggest that Kevin and any other students who are a bit peeved to understand Mr Ledyards viewpoint. Guys, be a bit charitable here.I also think that Kevins wonderful blog has probably given Ledyard Sensei something to consider in depth.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 07-13-2011, 10:39 AM   #147
chillzATL
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
While I would say that most are not... I suspect that some are. My wife often says that I am somewhat unaware of the force of my personality. Since she is an extremely perceptive person, I will assume she is correct.

I think that, it's more a matter that, at least in most cases, my students actually like me too much. There's this whole "approval" thing that operates in any activity that has hierarchy. It's one of the reasons that so many really senior teachers fall into the "guru" trap. So, something as simple as who gets used for ukemi, how you tell someone that what they just did doesn't work, etc all gets invested with a whole layer of stuff that is unrelated to the issue at hand.

Different teachers handle this differently. Some maintain a distance between themselves and their students. On some levels I think this serves to protect them as well as buffer the students from getting too sucked in. It definitely serves to protect the teacher from getting too invested in the students and then being disappointed.

I have seen teachers who do the strict hierarchical, disciplined thing. I have to say that, this approach, in my experience had the highest likelihood of ending badly with abuse problems etc in the dojo.

Other teachers are the student's friend. Everyone is buddies, it's all low key. While pleasant, I seldom think this results in a dojo where people are apt to push themselves. Certainly, when everything is happy in everyone's training, there is seldom any personal transformation going on.

My own approach is to walk a fine line. It's my own and not modeled after any other teacher I know of. I am largely hands off about the dojo and let the students run the place for the most part. My letter was one of my rare cases of inserting myself into the process. I saw a small group doing all the work and hard training and a number of others not supporting the efforts.

My students treat me respectfully but are not at all slavish. When we travel to seminars, especially when I am teaching, they fold my hakama after class but generally do not do so on a daily basis. I mostly choose the ukes based on seniority (or the ability to safely do he ukemi for what I am teaching). Occasionally I rotate it through everyone there so as to not leave anyone out. I don't think we have too much of an issue with the "uke role" as a popularity contest.

I have created blocks of instruction, like an iai class, and a IP study group which, after I got it going, I stepped back in order that the students themselves get in the habit of keeping their training going rather tha being motivated just by me. It's worked well and the dojo would survive quite nicely if I weren't there tomorrow.

I suspect that the folks who are most "scared" of me are the ones I rarely see. I do not teach the beginners classes (something recommended by my teachers) and they don't know me very well. Not to mention that my training background was with a Japanese teacher... so my default setting was not as positive feedback oriented as it is these days. My wife has made an effort to get me to retool this area. When I trained one simply didn't get positive feedback. If one was doing ok, one was given the next thing to work on. If one wasn't doing ok, one got it pointed out in no uncertain terms. I trained for thirty years before I got an actual compliment about something I had done (in this case a class that I had taught that my teacher observed) that wasn't in the context of reflecting back on my teacher in some fashion.

So, I am always trying to find the right balance. The folks that come to my classes daily I do not think are terribly scared, nor do I think they are overly motivated by seeking my approval. On the other hand, I do know that they are proud of the dojo and want to do a good job "representing" when they have to be in public, as at seminars or at Dan tests. I am glad that they care... I want them to wish to do a good job. It makes it hard to get folks to want to test because they always want a bit more time so they can be "perfect". Usually i end up having to tell them they have to test. That isn't a bad thing I think.

Anyway, I do think about these issues. I think I m far more "supportive" in an overt sense than anything I grew up with in my own Aikido but I suspect that I can do better. I always look at dojos where I think the training is top level and try t see how their teacher handles things. If I think he or she is doing a better job, I will adjust. We all operate within our own limitations however, so I am not saying that I can't improve here. This is another "old school" thing in many ways. When I first started, what we did was considered Budo. Being scared on some level was normal and you were expected to suck it up. Having looked at how Systema folks deal with this I think I have changed my views on this. But my process probably needs to evolve to keep pace with my ideas.
George,

Some of this is just built into the art or the mindset people have about the art, since it operates in a somewhat "traditional" mode. The heirarchy is, for the most part, unavoidable. You could be the warmest, most open and approachable person on the planet and a large part of your students are simply going to be scared of you. I'm not sure scared is even the right word, but they're so concerned about upsetting the tradition and being scolded by seniors, that they forget that they're just normal people. It certainly doesn't sound like you do anything to support this type of mindset, so there's really not much you can do to change it. I see the same thing in our organization. Sensei is the most laid back, easy going guy. It's funny how most people seem almost scared to talk to him. When they do it's almost always the same old stuff, asking stories about O'sensei, Tohei and his various other teachers. Which I'm sure he enjoys, but nobody ever seems to just talk to him about this or that, which I know he would enjoy too. I'm pretty sure he's never done anything to foster the idea that you have to walk on eggshells around him or risk his wrath, but that mindset eixsts all the same.
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Old 07-13-2011, 11:07 AM   #148
Janet Rosen
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

I'm a pretty self-contained and outspoken person, so tend to treat bosses and instructors more as highly respected peers than as parent figures or whatever. But there have been those who for some reason I just don't quite click with on that level and remain flustered or unnerved around.
It may be that this is operating for some folks in any given dojo, including w/ George - again, simple force of personality may be enough to trigger it in some people.

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Old 07-13-2011, 11:49 AM   #149
Mike Sigman
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Trying to read through to the crux of the issue in the thread, my impression is that George was disappointed with the amount of "support" his students gave to some teachers doing workshops; i.e., not enough attendance. Kevin noted that instead of 3 workshops a year, there are more in the neighborhood of 18 workshops a year that need to be supported in addition to class dues, and so on.

I personally never attended a dojo where there were more than about 3 extraneous (to the normal classes) events, but different strokes for different folks. However, if 18 (or thereabouts) is a realistic number, I can see why George is observing that people aren't supporting his invitees and I can also see why students may be feeling a bit stressed.

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Old 07-13-2011, 12:51 PM   #150
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Mike Sigman wrote: View Post
Trying to read through to the crux of the issue in the thread, my impression is that George was disappointed with the amount of "support" his students gave to some teachers doing workshops; i.e., not enough attendance. Kevin noted that instead of 3 workshops a year, there are more in the neighborhood of 18 workshops a year that need to be supported in addition to class dues, and so on.

I personally never attended a dojo where there were more than about 3 extraneous (to the normal classes) events, but different strokes for different folks. However, if 18 (or thereabouts) is a realistic number, I can see why George is observing that people aren't supporting his invitees and I can also see why students may be feeling a bit stressed.

2 cents.

Mike Sigman
Hi Mike,
Just to be clear, and this has been communicated to the students, we have several tracks going on. The three seminars I am referring to are the three Aikido guest seminars we hold. They are targeted at the general Aikido student at the dojo, although occasionally, they might be restricted to seniors.

We do have a Daito Ryu Study Group. It is operating under the supervision of Howard Popkin Sensei. It functions some what autonomously from the Aikido program in that we have a number of folks from outside the dojo who are members of this group. Because Josh Drachman recently moved to our dojo and had a previous relationship with Dan harden, we are now lucky enough to have him willing to come as well. So, yes, we are pushing the envelope as far as what the dojo can support.

I have tried to make it clear that my expectation that people support our seminars is limited to the Aikido seminars and clearly not everything we are doing. Much of what we are doing is primarily for my own and Josh's training. While I am happy that my students are doing the training as well, I would be holding as many of these as I could support even if the events meant out of pocket for us. The fact is that we have just enough folks participating that we are almost at break even on these visits... so when compared to flying someplace else and all the expense that entails, it's still a bargain for such great instruction.

But I do not expect the general dojo to support these events. Doing so has been a condition of membership in the study group. But on the rare occasions when someone has said that they can't attend due to financial issues, we have not turned folks away who are dojo members. We have always felt that doing the training benefits the dojo even if a student can't pay. We are in a fairly affluent area and most of my students are gainfully employed. While expense is a consideration, for most of them it's the time issue rather than the expense.

We are gradually establishing ourselves as a venue at which folks from outside our immediate dojo community expect to find training that they can't easily encounter elsewhere. As this happens, we are finding it possible to set up an ambitious training schedule that simply could not be supported by the small dojo student population itself. We now have regular participation from folks regionally on the Study Group sponsored events and this is growing. The same is true for various blocks of targeted training that I do myself such as our Randori and Weapons Intensives held twice a year. We are getting world wide participation on those events at this point.

I am definitely pushing the envelop on this. But is far it's working. And I am trying to be really clear with the students about the difference between training that is totally optional and what is considered part of the core instruction. As I said, there are only three Aikido seminars each year with guests from outside that I consider par of everyone's training. The rest is open to folks who want to but is as much for my own training as for anyone else and I have no particular expectations that folks support the events (unless they are part of the study group, in which case they need to have the exposure to the folks we are bringing in).

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 07-13-2011 at 12:53 PM.

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