I was teaching class at the University the night before last, and we had a visitor from the South Austin Aikido group.
The University of Texas Aikido Club is the oldest aikido school in Austin, and one of the oldest in Texas. It's been operating continuously since the mid 1970s. I wasn't there at the very beginning, but I'm pleased to have had an association (with some hiatus) with it since the autumn of 1979 when I moved to Austin from Dallas.
My own training began with Bill Sosa Sensei in Dallas earlier that year. Back in those days, both the Dallas and Austin dojos were Ki Society affiliates, and both dojos were under the direction of Rod Kobayashi Sensei, Chief Instructor of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido of the Ki Society Western USA. So that made the transition to Austin easy for me.
In March 1981, Kobayashi Sensei left the Ki Society to form Seidokan Aikido. Such departures can create a conflict for those who are motivated by loyalty, honor and devotion. At such times, we all must choose, and choosing need not diminish our loyalty, honor, or devotion. Sosa Sensei chose Kobayashi Sensei.
The Austin club was divided. After much deliberation, those who chose to remain loyal to Tohei Sensei left the University group to train elsewhere, while those who stayed with Kobayashi Sensei remained with the University. I was enrolled in the University, the University Aikido Club chose Seidokan, my home dojo in Dallas had chosen Seidokan, so my decision was mostly made for me.
All of this political stuff was way over my head. I'd only been training about two years, and I was clueless about such things. But I found it troubling. I had been sold on aikido as a way of unifying the world. Things really didn't bode well if we couldn't even unify ourselves as a group.
Nevertheless, I continued to train, orienting my path around notions of joining, meeting, matching, merging; of synergy and confluence. Meanwhile, more and more aikido organizations arose, splinter groups splintered, and independents washed their hands of the whole affair. I tried my best to let it go, excusing it as inevitable human nature, that aikido was still young, and we all had much to learn.
At the same time, a shift was taking place within me. My own understanding grew, and my sophistication in the art matured. I had been studying an art that has been called, among other things, the Way of Nature. And I had a revelation.
In nature, things grow by division.
Roots spread out, limbs branch and flower and fruit, seeds fall away on the wind. Cells divide.
Division is multiplication.
Of course, things also grow by aggregation. Divided cells make tissues, tissues make organs, organs make bodies, complex organisms form societies, and societies aggregate to form economies and ecosystems. These in turn divide and create new forms, new ways, new structures, new beings.
Things started to make sense. If aikido is going to grow, it has to multiply. It has to divide. If we're going to study aikido, we need to understand not just the way of unification, but also the way of division.
Just as things can come together violently and destructively, things can come apart with much pain and suffering. Conversely, as things can conjoin for great pleasure and procreation, things can also separate constructively. Aikido must encompass all of this, to know and understand the nature of violence, and to embody a cyclic kokyu of ongoing creation.
Eventually, I would start my own dojo, the Still Point Aikido Center. Eventually, Still Point would disaffiliate with the Seidokan HQ, many years after Kobayashi Sensei died. We went our independent way, I formalized a pedagogical framework that I call Honmatsu Aikido (Root and Branch). This, along with strained finances and a doomed marriage caused me to quit my teaching responsibilities and attendance at the UT Club, which I had steadfastly retained heretofore. Eventually, the Still Point could not hold, too many disparate aikido groups were now around Austin, and I could not continue making a living while others charged only what was needed to make rent (and even some of those have fallen as well).
Eventually, I would return, head bowed, to aikido at UT. They've been good enough to let me teach things as I see fit. I see this as a good thing. Not in spite of, but because of all these divisions, I have in me the DNA of the Ki Society, Seidokan, a bit of Henry Kono (another story), and Honmatsu Aikido. Implicitly, I carry the genetic legacy of Ueshiba and Takeda. And like you, I carry the vestiges of all those who survived skirmish and warfare and assault, and who shared their stories, who studied the way of survival of plant and animal and chemical, from untold millennia lost to all human memory. Actually not really lost, because you and I are alive and can train together and continue the epic narrative of our ancestors, and even improve upon it.
Now, have you forgotten all about the stranger who came through our door the other night, bowed, and joined for one evening? Let's not. It takes courage to visit a strange land or a foreign culture. Even in aikido, where we all ought to be welcome, we know this is sadly not so.
I'm happy to report he was a perfect guest. He came with decades of experience of his own, but in a spirit of quiet hunger for more. He followed my teachings as faithfully as he could, and respectfully and humbly helped the beginners in the class. It's my sincere hope that he found my class at least entertaining, if not a bit enlightening.
We walked together to our cars, and chatted about the nature of aikido, its many divisions and hurts, and the need for us to heal ourselves.
He sent me a beautiful thank-you note today, and I responded:
"I believe that there should be many dojos, many styles, many organizations -- but these should be linked with bridges and portals. Such architectures are constructed of people like yourself."
So today I'm celebrating our separateness. When we visit one another, as guests, or as hosts, or in encounters on common ground, we bring differences which facilitate exchange and discovery. We enrich one another.
When we leave, we carry each other along, and the residue of our meeting manifests a widening presence in the world. We get to keep our individuality (we must!), but we always contain multitudes.
I'm celebrating a visit from a stranger to one of my homes where I myself am something of a stranger. I'm celebrating the privilege of visiting you wherever you are as you read this, and letting me into your mind and you life for a little while. I'm celebrating the fact that you've come here to my modest little soapbox, and have stayed this long, and that there are some of you here that I've seen many times before. You honor me by being here, and I'm grateful to all of you, including the silent ones.
As one cultural group likes to say, Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again. That seems like a pretty good formula to me for how we can do our aikido.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA