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Old 01-19-2012, 07:17 PM   #1
George S. Ledyard
 
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The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

I have lately had the pleasure of attending and participating in a number of so-called Aikido "Bridge" Seminars. These are events which cross over stylistic and organizational boundaries allowing teachers of very diverse backgrounds, who might otherwise never have encountered each other, to share their Aikido experience with any willing student, regardless of level, style or affiliation.

Last year, at one of these events at which I was honored to be invited to participate, I sat after hours with a room full of teachers whose collective Aikido experience was more than three hundred years between us and had the realization that this was really the future, that we were participating in the death of the traditional organization as we have know them.

Back when the first Japanese teachers arrived on our shores there was no structure for the transmission of our art. These Aikido pioneers created any number of organizations designed to provide that structure. The original function of these organizations was to a) support the teacher(s) at the top of the organization's "pyramid" and to b) provide a structured access for large numbers of folks from within the fast growing Aikido community to their teachers in a way that promoted some sort of uniformity and quality control over the end product.

It became apparent, almost immediately, that the one organization, one country model propagated by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo wasn't going to work... As different organizations and styles back in Japan developed, so they were started here. After the death of the Aikido Founder, organizations developed reflecting each of these new directions taken by these teachers who felt compelled to strike out on their own. Since many of these "branches" off the original tree were actually "breaks", there was a political element that was always there, with various teachers competing via their organizations for students and influence.

Somewhere along the line, I think things went awry. It became more about supporting a given teacher than it was about the Aikido or the training of the members. I really believe that we have reached the point at which many of not most of the large organizations have actually become the limiting factor in the development of their members. When the Aiki Expos happened ten years ago, a set of events which I personally think will be looked at by future Aikido historians as pivotal moments in American Aikido, there were major organizations which simply chose to ignore the events and actively discouraged their students from attending. One famous Japanese Shihan actually did attend but told his students not to attend any other teacher's classes, which not only was totally out of sync with the spirit of the event itself but indicated an arrogance that I really had no time for, personally.

Over the years, as our organizations have grown, each has developed a core group of seniors, now 6th and 7th Dans whose "access" to the larger community was largely through their own organization by way of seminar invitations and appearances with other seniors at the large camps held by the organization. Since the Shihan in charge of thee organizations controlled who was put forward, they were able to maintain "control" politically be granting or denying "access". If you toed the line, you were put up front, if you didn't you found yourself ut in the cold.

One friend of mine was a hugely successful teacher, prominent within his organization. He travelled frequently all over doing seminars, appearing at the various events held by the organization. When he broke with his teacher, it all went away. The folks that had previously been enthusiastic supporters, now stopped inviting him. He ended up having very little interaction with the whole Aikido community until just recently.

Another good friend, prominent in another organization, one that considers itself to be representative of a certain teacher's "style", started to work with a broader range of teachers than was available from within the organization. This person's Aikido started to make a real jump. But when this teacher taught at an organization event, the teacher was informed that they were not to teach that new stuff at their event. Their event was to teach the specific style and they simply did not want to know about anything else.

What I see, is that at some point, it became more about personalities than the art. What is the point of making a fetish out of the "style" of some particular teacher, now actually passed on, as if that style had some intrinsic value in and of itself as opposed to simply being an approach to training for students to develop themselves, which was the purpose of the art in the first place.

When an organization is more about power, influence, money, or anything else that isn't first and foremost about the transmission of the art, it has outlived any usefulness it might have had. It become a detriment rather than a benefit to the training of the members, especially the most seniors teachers, who find themselves limiting their exposure, having to hide their own advances in approach to not offend some person at the top who controls their access to the members and their hopes of future promotion etc.

In the age of the internet and globalization, this is simply not a maintainable model any more. We have American home-grown teachers who have forty to fifty years in the art now. Increasingly thee teachers are no longer willing to stay in line. They don't wish to limit their Aikido so as not to threaten their teacher, they refuse to allow their teachers to dictate who they associate with or call their friends. Increasingly they are starting their own organizations and are actively trying not to duplicate the dysfunctions of the ones they came from originally.

Simultaneous with all this, out steps a Japanese teacher who refuses on some level to act Japanese. He starts inviting people from outside his organization to teach at the organizations major events. After a number of years doing this he expands the concept... he has his students, who are now international in scope, to organize so-called "Bridge" Seminars to which a variety of teachers from different organizations and styles are invited to co-teach. This is so un-Japanese as to be quite shocking. Yet the idea is so powerful that it not only expands and grows but is taken up by others who use the same model to create their own events.

The teachers who participate in these events get to share their Aikido with other folks who have different approaches. This generation of teachers understands that there is a synergy to this approach that has the potential to lift then as teachers and the whole practitioner community beyond anything they'd attain under the old model. The exchange of ideas, the exposure to new approaches, the mutual respect that comes from watching one's peers be the professionals they were trained to be, all of this is incredibly powerful stuff.

As the old guard passes away, as the founders of these large organizations either fade away or lose their influence, things will be changing. The community of practitioners will be looking for another generation of leaders. I really believe that the next time around, they are going to insist on teachers who actually are trying to get better themselves. These teachers will have to have both the ability and the confidence to back it up that they won't be threatened by other teachers or by other approaches. The folks in the pipeline, the future teachers of this art will not be willing to accept the kind of self serving controls and limitations that has been the norm in many organizations. Their awareness of what is out there will be greater than any generation's before. They will simply not be willing to accept a teacher who becomes the limiting factor in their training.

One can already see it happening. It's right there before our eyes. Teachers are developing friendships totally outside what had been their traditional range of exposure. These teachers are more inclined to form their support networks based on respect for skills and character rather than simply because some dysfunctional individual has been a student of the same, often dysfunctional teacher as he or she has had. When the old Shihan have passed on, I don't see organizational identity having much sway at all. I think the teachers who have managed to establish their reputations in their own right will naturally rise to the top and the ones that have simply coasted on their association with some famous teacher will be totally marginalized. No one is going to care who their teacher was when that teacher is gone. And the folks who have the character and the ability to be leaders will all know each other. It's starting now and will only continue.

The next generation of leaders will not be imposed from outside. They won't have their status granted from on high. Rather, it will be the community as a whole which decides who it invests in and who it doesn't. Reputations will be built on the mutual respect of one's peers for what one has achieved, not because one had the ability to hang tough for decades with some difficult teacher in exchange for some authority which could be withdrawn any moment.

I see a time, which is already starting now, when teachers will have their own small organizations, really designed to facilitate the "transmission" of the art. There will be far more fluidity to these entities with other teachers who have their own small organization going back and forth teaching at each others events. The future leaders of Aikido will be networking like crazy with the folks they respect and simply ignoring the ones they don't. It will be highly de-centralized and nowhere near as hierarchical as our traditional organizations have been. And success will be based on the ability of the folks at the top to deliver the goods to the folks on the bottom. No one will put up with us just because we trained with the Aikido Founder because none of us did. Authority will be earned, not conferred. And I think the folks who do have "the goods" so to speak, will have the freedom and the inclination to work together to make something greater than has previously existed.

I have to say that I feel both excited and honored to be a teacher at this time... change is in the air and so far my experience of the possible future has me more optimistic than at any time I can remember. I have been making amazing new friends and renewing friendships that had been neglected. I see much that was stultified and stale simply passing away before my eyes and new and creative ways of doing things replacing them. I see signs that the next generation of folks will be willing to support each other in ways that they either never did in the past or simply couldn't.

Change is coming and it will be happening at a speed that many will find challenging. But it's coming anyway so folks can either go with the flow or even actively embrace it and help it come. The folks who resist the changes coming will simply fade away, no one will care. At least that's my take on it...

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
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Old 01-19-2012, 09:37 PM   #2
Chris Li
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

Very well said - and all true, it's about time for a change in organizational style.

There are plenty of great models out there for peer and professional organizations that are organized democratically and in a manner to actually support their members.

The most important thing to remember is that the change has to be implemented from this side, and that here is where all of the actual power is. Ultimately, hombu will go along with any situation that has enough people behind it. They know as well as anybody that they have no real hold on anybody, since they provide nothing in the way of actual benefits or support for their members.

Best,

Chris

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Old 01-19-2012, 11:46 PM   #3
Nick Lowry
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

Amen Brother -- its a new world rollin our way and i'm excited too!
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Old 01-20-2012, 03:46 AM   #4
Chris Li
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

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Nick Lowry wrote: View Post
Amen Brother -- its a new world rollin our way and i'm excited too!
I was going to say, the other thing that it will require is a number of people willing to cut the cord and willing to get cut off (not that you actually lose anything) if necessary.

Best,

Chris

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Old 01-20-2012, 11:11 AM   #5
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

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Christopher Li wrote: View Post
I was going to say, the other thing that it will require is a number of people willing to cut the cord and willing to get cut off (not that you actually lose anything) if necessary.

Best,

Chris
Hi Chris,
I guess that's the point, really. I think folks need to think about what they've been receiving from their organizations and compare that to what their expectations could and should have been.

Do these organizations exist to make the Aikido of its members better or do they exist simply as a support for a given teacher? Do they do some good or are they simply structured to perpetuate themselves?

What do we even expect of an organization? To my way of thinking organizations might fulfill any number of legitimate functions... An international organization might provide a sense of tradition... connection with the Founder through his family or a teacher who trained under the Founder. A functional organization might establish and maintain standards, certify teachers, etc. An organization might provide financial support for a Shihan, allowing him or her to focus primarily on the art. An organization should provide a sense of community identity amongst the members and create various events for the membership to have access to their Shihan and other senior teachers.

Each of these things is a perfectly legitimate function for an organization. But there must be a balance. I object to the hierarchical, pyramid model in which everything seems to flow upwards and little flows down... the model in which the broad base of the membership seems to exist solely for the support of a very small group of senior teachers at the top. A functional organization should not only provide support for its top teachers but should also be consciously structured to optimize the transmission of their skills to the broadest possible segment of the membership. I think it is a baseline expectation that the folks at the top actively care whether the folks at the bottom get better. This should be the number one focus of an organization, in my opinion.

While a connection back to Japan and the Ueshiba family is nice... it also should be a two way street. While the folks at Aikikai headquarters pay lip service to the fact that there are very senior non-Japanese teachers overseas, in reality they still believe that Aikido flows outwards from Japan. Their Shihan are the "real" Shihan. While this is not true of some other Aikido organizations, for instance the Yoshinkan organization, to my knowledge the Aikikai headquarters has never had any of it foreign Shihan teach back in Japan. There is little or no acknowledgement that some of these teachers are the eauls or even superior to many of the hombu instructors now on the teaching roster.

In former times this was natural. The uchi deshi at hombu were very senior and offered superior technique and experience. But now, the foreign Shihan are often either peers or senior to the instructors at headquarters. The headquarters teachers have nothing on the foreign Shihan in terms of ability or experience. Yet there is almost no recognition of this. So, one is forced to ask, what do we need headquarters for? If all this money flows to Japan but the only thing you get from it is some paperwork with ranks and titles which the Japanese themselves don't take seriously, then do we really need that connection? If it's only a one way and there doesn't seem to be any real concern for a true two way relationship, then why not dispense with it and invest that money in our own Aikido community? Does my rank really mean any more simply because it has the signature of someone in Japan who has never met me, has never seen my Aikido, and could care less? I don't think so.

Rank means something when it comes from a teacher that has respect. That's what grants the rank legitimacy, not because it comes from an organization. Mary Heiny Sensei grants her own ranks. Does anyone question her right to do so? She is the senior woman in American Aikido... few would say that a certificate from Japan would make her ranks more legitimate than her own signature. If Heiny Sensei's ranks show a concern for quality, then they will be seen as legitimate. If she compromises on quality, her ranks won't mean much. She has a personal stake in maintaining her credibility and authority. Does a huge organization do this better than an individual teacher? To my mind no, so there better be other benefits to membership.

The functional organization should provide material support for a top teacher to survive. But in return, the members should be able to point to a whole host of things the organization does for them. Meaningful certification and ranking of instructors, ethics oversight, group rates for things like health and liability insurance, communication networks between teachers and members, events designed to connect teachers with students, any number of things. When students start asking "what are we getting out of this?" the organization isn't doing its job. When you go to an event with a top teacher and he is just going through the motions, when there's little or no effort to actually teach, then things are broken. If you are a member of an organization, you shouldn't have to think hard about what you are getting out of it. It should be readily apparent. Too often it is not apparent to anyone. I know of one Shihan who will cancel an appearance at the last minute and still demand that the host dojo pay his fee even though he didn't actually teach the seminar... And people actually do pay up, just so they don't lose their association with that teacher. That's an organization that is out of control.

Becoming a teacher is a responsibility. In my mind, setting up shop as a teacher means that you now have a moral commitment to your students to continually progress, that you never become the limiting factor in their training. You absolutely must deliver the goods to the best of your ability. How much more so for a senior teacher who sets up an organization? Too often organizations are created to provide support for a given teacher with little or no sense that this teacher is taking on a huge responsibility to his members. If the guy at the top of an organization isn't spending every minute of his waking hours trying to figure out how to help his or her members improve their Aikido, then the system is broken.

When you are at the top of the pyramid, you have a huge base of support. There has to be some sense of responsibility that goes with that, not just the sense of entitlement that often exists. That's what I think really needs to go, and will start to largely disappear in the next generation of Aikido leaders. The folks in Japan feel "entitled" simply because they are related to the Founder or trained with him. Overseas people really bought into that... they have often put up with the most dysfunctional behavior on the parts of their teachers simply because they trained with the Founder.

My generation does not and will not have that. When Saotome sensei passes on, no one is going to care that I trained with him. Unless I can deliver the goods as a teacher in my own right, no one is going to invest anything in me. For my generation there is no real "entitlement"... it's going to have to be a two way street. I have good friends who have already started their own organizations. Their main effort in this is to not duplicate the dysfunction of what they came out of. That will be the norm in the future. You want to teach, you had better deliver. If you try to set up an organization, the members had better feel like you are doing something for them or they will bolt. It won't matter how long you've trained, it won't matter how long you were in Japan. It won't matter who your teacher was. There will be lots of alternatives for the average student and he or she will be able to vote with their feet if they don't feel cared for. I think this is all to the good. The folks who think they are simply "entitled" will fall by the wayside. The folks who care and have the talent will have the support of the community.

I think we are headed for a far more functional future that we've had in many ways. With the death of thee traditionally structured organizations I think networking will be more the norm. I see a lot of mutual support and exchange going on between teachers and their smaller less centralized organizations. I think the idea of "styles" of Aikido will also gradually disappear. People will simply have too much exposure to many different approaches to feel limited to one. Aikido is on its way to becoming a far more eclectic mix of elements and the overall quality of the art will increase for this reason. I am very optimistic for the future. I can see people already doing what I am talking about right now today. Going forward, their efforts will be the norm.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
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Old 01-20-2012, 03:07 PM   #6
Chris Li
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post

While a connection back to Japan and the Ueshiba family is nice... it also should be a two way street. While the folks at Aikikai headquarters pay lip service to the fact that there are very senior non-Japanese teachers overseas, in reality they still believe that Aikido flows outwards from Japan. Their Shihan are the "real" Shihan. While this is not true of some other Aikido organizations, for instance the Yoshinkan organization, to my knowledge the Aikikai headquarters has never had any of it foreign Shihan teach back in Japan. There is little or no acknowledgement that some of these teachers are the eauls or even superior to many of the hombu instructors now on the teaching roster.

In former times this was natural. The uchi deshi at hombu were very senior and offered superior technique and experience. But now, the foreign Shihan are often either peers or senior to the instructors at headquarters. The headquarters teachers have nothing on the foreign Shihan in terms of ability or experience. Yet there is almost no recognition of this. So, one is forced to ask, what do we need headquarters for? If all this money flows to Japan but the only thing you get from it is some paperwork with ranks and titles which the Japanese themselves don't take seriously, then do we really need that connection? If it's only a one way and there doesn't seem to be any real concern for a true two way relationship, then why not dispense with it and invest that money in our own Aikido community? Does my rank really mean any more simply because it has the signature of someone in Japan who has never met me, has never seen my Aikido, and could care less? I don't think so.

Rank means something when it comes from a teacher that has respect. That's what grants the rank legitimacy, not because it comes from an organization. Mary Heiny Sensei grants her own ranks. Does anyone question her right to do so? She is the senior woman in American Aikido... few would say that a certificate from Japan would make her ranks more legitimate than her own signature. If Heiny Sensei's ranks show a concern for quality, then they will be seen as legitimate. If she compromises on quality, her ranks won't mean much. She has a personal stake in maintaining her credibility and authority. Does a huge organization do this better than an individual teacher? To my mind no, so there better be other benefits to membership.
Too much good stuff to respond to all of it - but here's what's going to be the crux of what holds most people. The only real hold that hombu has on anyone anymore is through rank and the mystical (and imaginary) Japan connection. Unfortunately, most people have bought into the myth of their importance. Cut that cord and most of the obstacles disappear.

Best,

Chris

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Old 01-24-2012, 10:58 AM   #7
ToddDJones
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

Ah, language! Accurate thoughts, clearly expressed George; although your title makes me cringe a bit. Transition is inevitable, but how we affect it is mission-critical. You and I wouldn't be where we are today, but for the big organizations (please don't construe that as a defense). My suggestion is that we need to be consistently welcoming and appreciative... we should strive to make it easy for those who have dedicated their lives to teaching, to spreading the Founder's art, and built big organizations in the process, to embrace these changes as a legitimate part of their legacy.

You and I have personally experienced (and observed) bonds as deep as any while a member of one of the big organizations. There's no denying, most people practicing martial arts are good, decent human beings. The fact that human beings are flawed will never be avoided; political and financial challenges are just part of that equation. How we come together is what's important. Our generation is fortunate to have a reset opportunity coming up; like you, I hope we can do a better job through lessons learned.

Most understand that "association" is far more important than "Association." It's the personal connection, mutual respect, and demonstrated commitment that bonds people (i.e. both teachers and students) that's important. Who you train with... are able to "bootstrap" with, that influences your ultimate abilities and attitude. Aikido, more than any other modern budo, can be expressed in so many ways that its identity could be lost without an anchor; I think there is some value to the concept of a headquarters (again, please don't construe this to be a defense of the status quo). I just think we need to be as gracious as possible throughout the process so that opportunities are not lost.

Those of us who have genuinely embraced these events have all felt the euphoria of freedom you so aptly describe; I just hope no one forgets that the foundation of freedom is personal responsibility.

See you in Orlando brother!

Todd D. Jones
Chairman, American Butokukan &
Sand Drift Martial Arts Association
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Old 01-24-2012, 08:29 PM   #8
Rupert Atkinson
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

I have to say, the 'organisation' for me has been a non-starter almost since I started training. Back then (1980s), you were not allowed to train in another org, and even training at another teacher's dojo in the same org could be a problem without 'special' permission. They seemed to think you were some kind of traitor. I solved that problem by doing different arts as it made it almost impossible for them to find out. Of course, eventually, they did, especially when I started attending summer schools of different Aikido orgs. In the end, it was not really much of an issue because I really couldn't have cared less for what they thought of me. I knew I was learning and that was good enough for me - I was just having a good time. However, it did cause issue with gradings. At one point I was a fully paid up member of several orgs; paid the $ and did lots of gradings - but they only let you get so far. After a while they 'talk' about you. He trains over there, and similar silly stuff. Of course, at first, you do care about what 'they' think of you, but as you grow and improve, and see that you are getting better than some of 'them', so your mind changes, and you become stronger and more independent, more confident.

That was back in the 80s and I have no idea if it is still like that today because I just can't be bothered with it. I ask no one for anything - if I can train, fine; if not, I'll go away, fine. These days though, people don't seem too bothered about it.

I think today, as the old teachers die, orgs will split up and regroup according to whoever is the best new kid on the block (talent), or whoever can 'get' them a grade from Hombu (hierarchy, not necessarily talent). But there don't seem to be many 'new kids on the block' as the old ones were elevated far beyond their capabilities so I think a lot of people are going to get rather lost. Maybe aikiweb is part of that regrouping.

Last edited by Rupert Atkinson : 01-24-2012 at 08:35 PM.

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Old 01-27-2012, 05:50 AM   #9
Rocky Izumi
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

Being an independent of some sorts and a networker, I agree with much of what George and you all said but there is a place for the large pyramid organization. We will probably reorganize into one as well as there is some need for the stability that the traditional organizations provide. Without that stability, there is too much discord outside as everyone heads their own way and ends up developing their own cultures of personality. A good example is in the countries where a strong-man has been deposed recently. The countries fall into a long period of internal conflict from which they may never recover.
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Old 01-27-2012, 10:44 AM   #10
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

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Hiroaki Izumi wrote: View Post
Being an independent of some sorts and a networker, I agree with much of what George and you all said but there is a place for the large pyramid organization. We will probably reorganize into one as well as there is some need for the stability that the traditional organizations provide. Without that stability, there is too much discord outside as everyone heads their own way and ends up developing their own cultures of personality. A good example is in the countries where a strong-man has been deposed recently. The countries fall into a long period of internal conflict from which they may never recover.
Hi Rocky great to hear from you!,
In theory, I see no reason why it couldn't be done well. I look at the kind of organization that a born leader like Christian Tisser has been able to set up and it looks pretty functional to me and he definitely seems to be able to maintain a certain quality level within that structure. I think it's more structured than I would personally enjoy but It seems functional from what I know of it.

The real problem is the disconnect between what it takes to get to the top of a martial art like Aikido technically and being a functional, integrated individual. To get really good at this it takes almost fanatical dedication and a huge will backed by self confidence. So you necessarily find a disproportionate number of narcissists and a lot of folks who don't really play well with others. When you take someone who isn't terribly well integrated as a person and put him at the top of an organization in which he has close to absolute power, it isn't a recipe for a structure that optimizes the benefits for its members.

If an extraordinary individual created an organization, I see no real reason why it couldn't thrive... I know people who are doing this on the medium scale... not huge national organizations but more localized, regional groupings and it's working fine. Could these morph over time in to something larger? Perhaps, but I am not sure anyone wants that... I doubt anyone would make the effort to grow that large. Of course, that's where the money is. You make serious money only by starting an organization, you can't do it off one dojo. So, perhaps someone will do it. The incentive is there. The folks I know who are currently running their own shows are motivated by something else... I doubt if they will. But I do see the start of these small groups networking with each other. That will be wonderful for everyone going forward.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
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Old 01-27-2012, 11:06 AM   #11
Rupert Atkinson
 
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Re: The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

The only successful way to run an organisation is to have one with a good leader, or to have one with an executive. The former is likely to be more successful if the leader is really good at what he does and good with people, but when he passes on the chance of finding a similar replacement is 'difficult'. Just because soemone was #2 or #3 under a good leader is no guarantee whatsoever that they too will also be a good leader (even if everyone makes grandiose pronouncements to that effect). This seems pretty much the same in business or anywhere.

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