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Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?
Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?
by Ross Robertson
03-30-2015
Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

The question of the benefits of aikido organizations comes up from time to time, and raising it here is by no means original. Nevertheless, it is an important ongoing discussion, as the vehicles in which we train should always be subject to scrutiny and revision. Here I will attempt to break the question into a number of component parts which, while not being comprehensive, is hoped to stimulate dialog.

What follows are some possible functions that a formal aikido association might serve, along with some of my own thoughts, opinions, and questions. (Hereafter, "formal" aikido association or organization is implied.)

SOCIAL COHESION

People tend to form in-groups. An aikido organization serves to engender social bonds and group identity. Necessarily this requires that there be mechanisms in place, implicit or explicit, which encourage in-group similarities and highlight differences with respect to out-groups. In this regard, an organization is a reflection of basic tribal and filial urges.

For whatever reason, humans seem to like to identify with a brand and invest some degree of loyalty in it. People, in varying degrees, derive some comfort and assurance in this. Being welcomed and included and recognized within a group is vital to cognitive and emotional well being.

The irony is that this almost always is concomitant with a sense of alienation from others. In more extreme forms, cults are formed and healthy participation in wider culture is actively discouraged.

Given O Sensei's vision of a world united through aikido, do aikido organizations serve to promote this or actually serve to undermine it?

RANK

Aikido organizations usually exist in no small part as accreditation bodies. The process of accreditation can provide valuable feedback to individuals and their local training group. The awarding of visual tokens of progress can potentially promote safer training environments where an understanding of an individual's capacity is essential to proper care during an engagement.

At the same time, crucial aspects of this capacity cannot in any way be labelled with suitable nuance. The details of whether an individual can take forward and backward rolls, can receive break-falls, has compromised body parts, is able to play fast and hard, and can be counted on to safeguard their partners' productive training, have to be negotiated verbally anyway. A colored belt might provide some shortcuts, but cannot replace actual dialog and awareness.

Transference across organizations is rarely formally provided for. Where there is widespread debate about whether rank has real meaning even within an organization -- or at the dojo level, for that matter -- there is a larger consensus that it becomes increasingly meaningless across organizations.

If rank were to be abolished, would this erode the value of aikido associations? Conversely, if associations were all to disappear, could a new form of rank emerge from a wider consensus among aikido's global constituency?

PERPETUATION OF A STYLE

As is the normal case with the emergence of a new art form, mutations and distinctive expressions of the form arise. Individuals may be drawn to a particular style for aesthetic reasons or perhaps for reasons of individual talent. Among the martial arts there may be also moral concerns, as well as for pragmatic outcomes.

Yet as a style succeeds in attracting an increasingly large population, its fundamental identity is challenged. (This is related to but distinct from the social cohesion problem.) At one time it made sense to speak of "styles of aikido" and their associations interchangeably. Now there are some organizations that have grown so large that they cannot be said to be representative of any one style.

Are the various styles of aikido analogous to the various styles of music, for instance? Can the student of aikido become conversant or even fluent in many styles? Do the individual styles contribute to or detract from the larger richness of the art? Do aikido organizations help or hinder this?

PERPETUATION OF A METHODOLOGY

When speaking of styles, a pedagogical methodology is often implied. And indeed, many schools of thought and practice are specifically designed to produce students adept in one particular style.

Even so, training methodology is not synonymous with artistic style. It is theoretically possible to create a curriculum which focuses on fundamentals which transcend stylistic particulars.

Do aikido associations which adhere to a program of strictly delineated training protocols serve to facilitate the student's practice of a more full-spectrum form of aikido, or specifically limit the student's exposure to a wide range of materials? If the latter, are these limitations good or bad?

PROFESSIONALISM

Whatever else they may be, aikido organizations are frequently profit centers, even as some of them may be characterized as not-for-profit (and, let's face it, rather modest business enterprises). It takes funding to sustain any kind of corporate entity. In some cases, there may be full-time paid instructors, organizers, and administrators.

Professionalism in many modern endeavors is seen as a good thing. We seek the help and guidance from professionals over amateurs for many reasons, and for areas of health and safety we are particularly particular.

Again, using music as an analogy, you may have a hobbyist friend who plays guitar and who you would rather listen to than pay to go see others in concert. Maybe you yourself would rather play alone or with fellow amateurs than spend money on a large music collection. Even so, music in the modern world is greatly informed by those who devote their lives and wholehearted passion into the creation and expression of their art, and who must somehow be sustained economically.

Should professionalism in aikido be supported? Are aikido organizations the record labels of aikido artists? Is the economic vehicle for these individuals best configured on a membership/subscription basis, or should we rather only pay when we go see them live on tour?

SUMMARY

Clearly this discussion barely scratches the surface of what has become an enormously complex issue, and fully addressing even one of the questions raised here would require volumes of discourse.

My own view has always been that there is great value for individuals coming together to train and learn from one another, and to seek the guidance of those more experienced. When a group matures to a certain point, it becomes in some sense its own entity, and there is a higher order of operating where such entities affiliate and interact on some meta levels. In my view, an aikido organization can be thought of as a dojo for dojos.

Too, as my own understanding of aikido and its associated culture matured, I came to see the various branches as not necessarily schismatic and opposed, but healthy growth and division which prevents monoculture. As I often say, in biology all growth is through division. Why should aikido be any different?

At the same time, there is the continuing need for cross-pollination. If large groups of people always require politics, then there needs to be serious discussion and even training for a kind of aiki politic, statecraft, and diplomacy.

While I am never really opposed to an organism being self-serving, I find it objectionable when selfish habits degrade the larger ecosystem or social structure. The current state of affairs often inculcates an attitude of insupportable superiority, and fosters the erection of walls rather than the building of bridges.

Complex organisms may aggregate to create higher-order meta-entities, and when the parts serve the whole and the collective serves the individual ("All for one, and one for all.") this can be a very exciting dynamic. The integrity of the organism can be measured largely to the extent that health is well distributed throughout the entire system, AND how well the organism is able to benefit the other structures with which it interacts.

By this measure, how is your organization doing?

I look forward to your discussion.

2015.03.06
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

www.stillpointaikido.com
www.rariora.org/writing/articles
@phospheros
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Old 08-17-2015, 01:26 AM   #2
Sojourner
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

It is my view that Aikido is made better not worse by the presence of different organizations. I have the same view about Protestant Christianity where I feel that differnet denominations have the same core focus but express themselves in different ways and are able to cater for different groups of people as a result.

One observation that I have made is that the some of these organizations such as Yoshinkan came about before the death of O'Sensei and with his blessing.

It has been suggested to me that Aikido evolved as O'Sensei taught it and differnet students taught his teachings from differnet parts of his life span. If we take Yoshinkan and the Ki Society we see two different interpretations of Aikido, yet I put it to you that it is a good examples of the Aikido that was at the begining of the teaching of Aikido and the Aikido that O'Sensei taught at his passing.

Sadly I suspect there are some Aikido organizations that exist only because people want to be in leadership and do not have good reasons for being formed. In my mind however this does not negate the many good Aikido organizations that have much to offer the Aikido world.

Perhaps it would be a good thing if more organizations were prepared to do more to work together on a local level. As to my reference above about Christianity, there are various non denominational Christian groups, it could be a good thing if there were some of this type of group for Aikido students also where people could train together from time to time irrespective or the organization and style of Aikido offered.

Anyway a good topic to discuss, thankyou!
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Old 08-17-2015, 08:11 AM   #3
lbb
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

Quote:
Ben White wrote: View Post
Perhaps it would be a good thing if more organizations were prepared to do more to work together on a local level. As to my reference above about Christianity, there are various non denominational Christian groups, it could be a good thing if there were some of this type of group for Aikido students also where people could train together from time to time irrespective or the organization and style of Aikido offered.
I think this happens, but it's below the radar. I don't mean "hidden" by that, but instead that it's based on personal relationships and not formalized. I'm not sure that making it a "group" would serve the purpose that you want, but here I'm guessing somewhat about what that is. You say "do more work together", but what benefit do you see coming from that? There are potential benefits to ecumenicism, but I have a feeling that they tend to happen when it's a thoughtful exercise rather than a haphazard one.
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Old 08-17-2015, 09:52 AM   #4
rugwithlegs
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

I seem to remember the CAF had a substantial insurance policy for all member dojos - more than one dojo might be able to afford on their own. Also a national website and advertising, summer camps, and support for a Shihan. Large advantage for a beginning dojo, or for those teachers less savvy with computers, contracts, etc. besides, the teacher who gave up most of his life to be a teacher for Canada, he did need sponsors for immigration and so on.
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Old 08-18-2015, 12:57 AM   #5
ryback
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

Well, this is a bit related to some of my posts in other threads and I know that Mary and I already disagree on that one, which is healthy by the way, people agreeing all the time would make a really boring planet...

I am not really fond of organizations, affiliations and official recognitions, not that I consider them "bad" but it's not my cup of tea...
The reason behind that is that most times can be misleading and can send people on a ranking promotion and affiliation hunting and sometimes on their way to that they miss...Aikido understanding and technical skill.

But there is also another reason even more related in this specific thread... Most times organizations help divide people into camps, rather than unite them under a common art, Aikido. If Aikido is the art of harmony (and technically it is) there surely is no harmony in this. Even the mere fact that organization's ranks are not recognized by another it's problematic and shows that I am probably right when I feel that something is terribly wrong in this system...
If someone has spent 25 years in a, let's say, Saito lineage dojo and he is holding a specific rank, he may be asked to abandon his recognition and start as a beginner in a, let's say again, Shioda lineage dojo. Yet both Saito and Shioda were o'sensei's students, so every lineage leads back to him (not to mention the ones that preceded him back in the Aikijutsu days, we can't ignore any link of the chain).

In conclusion, I just feel that all this..."aikido politics" have nothing to do with the true spirit of the warrior and furthermore they make matters worse because people are focusing their effort and concentration on hunting down diplomas and papers instead of the effectiveness of their technique and that, in my opinion is leading to a decay, a fade out of the art...

"The soft is the most severe!"
Steven Seagal sensei
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Old 08-18-2015, 10:21 AM   #6
rugwithlegs
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

@Yannis: most of the organizations seem to exist because of the teacher who started them. I get it. In my own dojo, one guy learned forms and partner practice that keeps people so far apart that they are guaranteed to miss when they swing a Jo at someone's head, so people tend to move quickly with power. I was taught slow practice, but stopping the Jo an inch away from someone's throat. A white belt student who keeps my teacher's ma-ai but the other teacher's speed and power is unsafe. Interesting and fun variations from other schools now would confuse me as a beginner.

Does Yoshinkan require someone to restart? Sometimes, and there is a good discussion on how organizations may make allowances for experience in the thread "testing before minimums." Ultimately, Yoshinkan dojos do teach different starting stuff even if it does all become Aikido later. I have no problem wearing whatever color of belt if there is information to learn. I wore a white belt when I found myself in a Tohei lineage dojo. We all have a choice to rise above politics with so many of the original principle players dead and dying.

I believe previous posts had you mentioning Steven Seagal. I don't know much about his organization, or if he acknowledges the black belts of every style of Aikido. Maybe you know more?

Beyond personal integrity, I think the truth of any system is there is strength in numbers. Without support and students and growth, any excellent practitioner's work is lost when they are injured or dead.

Last edited by rugwithlegs : 08-18-2015 at 10:23 AM. Reason: Clarity
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Old 08-18-2015, 12:24 PM   #7
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

After reading the criteria of your essay Ross, my short answer to the question " Are Aikido Organizations relevant?" would be no.

We are an independent dojo with a couple of smaller dojos that affiliate with us.

After leaving a larger organization several years ago we could breath a sigh of relief. There is nothing snobbier than an aikido snob. I do not miss that "nose in the air" kind of attitude because of where one's dojo is and who one's teacher is.

Aikido happens on the mat between 2 or more people. The transmission of ki and attention celebrates the art. All the other stuff is not necessary and should be sloughed off so we all can practice together if we meet.

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Old 08-18-2015, 12:45 PM   #8
lbb
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

People are trying to answer this question "yes" and "no", without considering that the word "relevant" means nothing by itself. Relevant to what? Without defining that, we are once again attempting to engage in a discussion about a snorklewhacker, where to some "snorklewhacker" means banana and to others means wankel rotary engine.

A better question might be, "Are aikido organizations useful to you?" but that has its limits too. Here in the United States that are a great many people who think the government is useless, but who have somehow managed to remain ignorant of the fact that they have government-provided healthcare, schools, food assistance, subsidies, and services of all kinds. It's easy to bite the hand that feeds you, and even to be ignorant of the fact that you're being fed.
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Old 08-18-2015, 01:37 PM   #9
ryback
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

Quote:
John Hillson wrote: View Post
@Yannis: most of the organizations seem to exist because of the teacher who started them. I get it. In my own dojo, one guy learned forms and partner practice that keeps people so far apart that they are guaranteed to miss when they swing a Jo at someone's head, so people tend to move quickly with power. I was taught slow practice, but stopping the Jo an inch away from someone's throat. A white belt student who keeps my teacher's ma-ai but the other teacher's speed and power is unsafe. Interesting and fun variations from other schools now would confuse me as a beginner.

Does Yoshinkan require someone to restart? Sometimes, and there is a good discussion on how organizations may make allowances for experience in the thread "testing before minimums." Ultimately, Yoshinkan dojos do teach different starting stuff even if it does all become Aikido later. I have no problem wearing whatever color of belt if there is information to learn. I wore a white belt when I found myself in a Tohei lineage dojo. We all have a choice to rise above politics with so many of the original principle players dead and dying.

I believe previous posts had you mentioning Steven Seagal. I don't know much about his organization, or if he acknowledges the black belts of every style of Aikido. Maybe you know more?

Beyond personal integrity, I think the truth of any system is there is strength in numbers. Without support and students and growth, any excellent practitioner's work is lost when they are injured or dead.
In Steven Seagal Sensei's opinion there is only one aikido. These are not my words, you can search for his interviews and seminars and you will find out that these are his very words.

Steven Seagal Sensei has no organization. The term Tenshin aikido means simply "aikido practiced in the Tenshin Dojo" and does not consist another style or organization of aikido, yet the practitioners at the Tenshin Dojos study Seagal Sensei's practical and effective approach to the art.

Any "tenshin organization" is not acknowledged by Seagal sensei, his dojos are under Aikikai and the rank promotions signed by the doshu. Yet Seagal does the testings and his name appears as the examiner.

"The soft is the most severe!"
Steven Seagal sensei
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Old 08-18-2015, 07:08 PM   #10
rugwithlegs
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

So, not an organization but a cohesive group of likeminded individuals with a specific teaching methodology.
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Old 08-19-2015, 09:12 PM   #11
ryback
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

Quote:
John Hillson wrote: View Post
So, not an organization but a cohesive group of likeminded individuals with a specific teaching methodology.
I don't know... Seems to me it's just a dojo. It has its instructors and it has its students as any other dojo. It's not a political party or group or whatever so I am not sure what you mean with the "group of like-minded people " term. It's just that Seagal sensei's approach to the art emphasizes the execution of aikido principles and techniques with a practical application in mind, one that is effective in a fighting or self defense situation with real attackers who will do the best to harm you...

My teacher's approach is in the same direction, yet we have no affiliation with Seagal sensei, we have no organization, we don't call our aikido a specific style-name other than "aikido" and we don't feel like a group of like-minded people...

"The soft is the most severe!"
Steven Seagal sensei
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Old 08-21-2015, 05:54 AM   #12
rugwithlegs
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

While an organization seems elicit very specific ideas for the author and for Yannis, the actual definition of an organization is a social unit of people that is structured and managed to meet a need or pursue collective goals.. There are other options for the wording, but a dojo is the very definition of an organization.

It is not required by the definition that the group be completely homogeneous, or harmonious. It is not required by definition that an organization be legally incorporated, or a multinational group, or even large in number. Legal documents, dues and fee structures, us-versus-them against other groups - not required to be an organization.

Without someone else to be Uke, without the agreed upon class time and the teacher/student structure, we can't do the primary activities Involved in learning Aikido. Don't go to a dojo, just read and watch videos? The materials are provided and distributed by organizations. This art is always transmitted in the context of an organization.

Dojos that are not affiliated with the IAF or Aikikai Hombu still benefit from the efforts of the larger groups in that Aikido has become a household name. In the same way, I am not a part of any technology based organizations but I certainly benefit or at least am affected in highly relevant fashion from the existence, development and use of the microchip all around me.

A dojo may not refer to itself as an organization but really to exist it needs to proceed in social collective behavior. A dojo may or may not claim a specific style or social identity but in my experience individual instructor(s) are usually clear about what they teach and why or at least ask the question and this is passed on to students to varying degrees. Nothing in the definition insisting on everyone following the leader exactly. Some organizations seem to exist only as what they are not, or may have a poor sense of identity.

Is an Aikido organization relevant to Me? I could argue as I have never been to Norway nor met someone from Norway who practices Aikido that if there is a Norweign Aikido Federation it is not relevant to me. That may not be true - have any of my training partners over the decades had exposure to such an organization? The odds are it's likely. And, not being relevant to me is not the same as saying it is not relevant to someone somewhere.
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Old 03-02-2016, 07:50 AM   #13
jeremymcmillan
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Re: Are Aikido Organizations Relevant?

I've only been a part of one organization, but I am fiercely proud of it, and I recognize others may not have the same opportunities and experience. I can represent one example though.

SOCIAL COHESION

My experience in the AWA has been inclusive and less exclusive. I have definitely come to understand Aikido as a cross-cutting concern, involving people who would not otherwise become close friends. There is a bar raised to inclusion: complete a 4 week introduction, and formally join by committing to pay the dues and participate in the transmission of our art. This is very convenient socially because it allows one to make certain assumptions about the kind of devotion and sacrifice a person will make, engendering a kind of respect which is not appropriate for just anyone at large. Positive.

RANK

My recent promotion to yudansha brings a bit more clarity to this. In AWA, I understand rank as a delegation of sempai/kohai responsibilities. To me it seems a lot like traffic laws where in a rear-end collision, it is always primarily the driver whose front-end is involved who bears the primary responsibility for avoiding an accident. There's also a filial older/younger sibling teacher/student angle to this. Having a clear delegation of rank prevents people from needing to discover natural rankings through side challenges and contests. Positive.

PERPETUATION OF A STYLE

I am a consultant, and I have had the opportunity to visit a few other dojos in other organizations with different styles. When I began training, I thought Aikido was special partly because the art was pedagogically so refined. We have a "basic vocabulary" of Aiki Taiso, which translate into phrases through taisabaki, and this creates a neat web of relationships between movements, allowing beginners to master some key fundamentals that enable mastery of other things and so on. I later discovered that this is not "standard" but is an approach developed by Koichi Tohei, and further developed by Fumio Toyoda, and furthered by Andrew Sato. Other dojos in other organizations have their own teaching style. At the same time, other yondan and godan and shihan seem to me like there is a certain Aiki convergence, no matter where they come from. Those same converging masters also seem like they are diverging on another dimension because the freedom of expression they have achieved carries very personal messages and reveals facets of individuality. I don't see this as competing schools. They are different dialects which enable different voices. Positive.

PERPETUATION OF A METHODOLOGY

I touched on this before, but the question is whether having different pedagogies is good or bad. Didactically, it's crushing to try and take in too much at a time. Aikido would not be nearly as popular, and we would not have fostered the community of yudansha around the world without some pedagogy to meter off bite sized skills that can be discovered or mastered somewhat independently from the rest of the art. My tradition leaves some things out: yudansha are expected to discover them on their own, "stealing" from their sempai. Other traditions leave other things out. The methodologies are none perfect, but still useful to hone ourselves with. Having one as part of an organizational activity allows learning to be distributed across time on the mat and instructors. Slight variations are easier to generalize than radical variations. This, in my opinion has a positive impact on the transmission of the art, opening Aikido up to more people. The methodology as I see it is an enabling factor especially in the beginning, and the plurality of methodolgies is an enabling factor especially later on. Positive.

PROFESSIONALISM

Being a consultant, I can only confer value to my clients on things they are willing to defer to me. My level of professionalism creates an impression which encourages deference. This deference leads to experimentation, and the experimentation leads to transference of expertise. I'm not just talking about Aikido--or am I? Deference in consulting happens partly when a contract is penned and agreed on. It is an expression of the value my clients expect to reap from the transference of expertise I offer. In an organization where the overall expertise is growing, maybe the accretion of deference and the demand for a sensei (esp. shihans) justifies a full time commitment. On the other hand, my sensei has often expressed something like "You don't do Aikido like this for the money, believe me, Aikido is a lousy way to try to get rich: there's no money in it." I would object to conflation of professionalism and profit, but professionalism seems to be very important. Positive.

LEGITIMACY

This one was left out of the OP, but I think it is important. Aside from the art, Aikido needs a certain amount of production. Mats, some place to lay them out and train, travel are all practical concerns necessary to get people together in practice. These are material concerns and common concerns, and it helps to have an organization provide legal legitimacy around property held and enjoyed in common. In the US, this means a for-profit or not-for-profit corporation becomes an enabling factor. In AWA, member dojos and the organization at large have contributed partly to individual dojos or seminars or even members who need help traveling to a dan test. Someone else also mentioned liability insurance. Organizations, when they are legitimate legal entities, also help enable pooling of resources, which can translate to more support for individuals. At one time, lots of dojos claimed to offer Aikido without having qualified instructors. Legal organizations have legal recourse to discourage fraud. Positive.

In general, I am very pro-organization, pro-organizing, but specifically pro-AWA. I wish everyone could benefit from some of the things I've enjoyed, which inure from a well run organization.
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