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Old 06-11-2020, 07:29 AM   #1
akiy
 
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Racism and Aikido

Hi folks,

With all of the protests occurring all over the world, I thought I would try to start a civil and meaningful discussion on the topic of racism and aikido. I know this is a multi-layered and complex topic (especially with an international audience), not to mention volatile. So, please—let’s engage with respect here.

To start off this discussion, I wanted to ask two questions:

Is racism an issue within the art of aikido? If so, in what ways? If not, what are your thoughts behind that?

Is systemic racism an issue within aikido organizations? If so, in what ways? If not, what are your thoughts behind that?

Best,

-- Jun

Last edited by akiy : 06-11-2020 at 07:39 AM.

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Old 06-21-2020, 08:28 AM   #2
Garth Jones
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Re: Racism and Aikido

That is a complicated question. First off, I've been training about 32 years and I'm white, and I'm in the US. In all that time I can't recall anybody saying anything racist to me about folks of other races, either on the mat or in a locker room chat.

That being said, in my experience the aikido world in the US is overwhelmingly white. It seems very difficult to recruit and retain non-white members.

So is there overt racism? Well, I haven't encountered it. Is there more passive racism that keeps the community white? Maybe.

-Garth
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Old 06-21-2020, 05:51 PM   #3
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Well, I think you need to define racism more carefully. I have been training for over 50 years and I am white. I have lived in Japan for 40 years and am an aikido shihan here. Of course, as a 7th dan, I can hold dan examinations and give dan ranks.

In Japan I am classed as a foreigner, though I have permanent residence with the only restriction being that I am unable to vote. A dojo colleague has a Japanese wife and he has dual nationality, one of which is Japanese. Of course we are both fairly fluent in the language, with the only problem for me being difficulty in writing an adequate number of Chinese characters (an acceptable figure would be about 2,000. Reading is much easier.)

Many times I have been in a taxi and have given precise instructions as to the destination, only to be asked how long I have been living in Japan, the unstated point being that I am obviously not Japanese, since I do not look like one, but am unusually proficient linguistically, the proficiency being exhibited in the unusually precise instructions given in Japanese.

The Japanese term for 'we' is 'wareware', which is short for 'wareware Nihonjin': which can mean 'we Japanese' or 'we members of the Japanese race.' I have a book which was banned by the Allied occupations authorities at the close of World War II. Have you seen this book, Jun? The Japanese title is Kokutai no Hongi (國體の本義) and the translation is Cardinal Principles of the National Entity of Japan. The book is very rare and I am luck to have a copy in Japanese, also.

So, I am sure that one can talk about racism in aikido, as applied to the US (though I never encountered this in Kanai Sensei's dojo in Cambridge, Mass.). But how about racism in aikido, as applied to Japan?

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 06-21-2020 at 05:54 PM.

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Old 06-21-2020, 08:13 PM   #4
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Another term, which is probably more closely allied to race in the dictionaries, is minzoku (民族). Shihai minzoku (支配民族) is usually translated as master race, with Nazism being given as the prime example. The definition given in the Kenkyusha dictionary is a race, a people, a nation, followed by many examples.

When I was at school, I took my GCE ' S' (scholarship) levels, which required one more year of study beyond the 'A' (advanced) levels, and were indispensable for entry into universities like Oxford. I remember that there was a general paper and one question was: Distinguish between a nation, a state, and a people.

On a related matter, I remember my old aikido teacher telling me specifically that if I had wanted to practice aikido before World War II, I would not have been allowed anywhere near the Hiroshima dojo: I would have besmirched Japanese racial purity, well exemplified by Japanese budo. It should be remembered that in 1945 Kisshomaru Ueshiba decided to spread aikido abroad in order to show that there was something good about Japanese culture, despite the disaster of World War II. His decision was not very popular.

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 06-21-2020 at 08:18 PM.

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Old 06-22-2020, 09:29 AM   #5
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Re: Racism and Aikido

One thing that is fascinating is the systole-dystole of Japanese attitudes towards foreigners in budo.

Takeda Sokaku had a foreign student - Charles Parry. Parry objected to Takeda riding in a 1st (or 2nd) class train car, and was chastened with, if I recall correctly a double yonkajyo. There is no account how long he studied, however - and I did find (and cannot relocate) a small article about an elderly English teacher named Charles Parry who was beaten to death in 1946 in Yokohama by a young Japanese student. [Laszlo Abel did locate Parry's grave - and former landlady - in Yokohama, so this is surely the same person}.

Ueshiba Morihei had an Italian student of aiki-budo, Salvatore Mergè, in 1942 Also, Terry Dobson was admitted as an uchi-deshi to the Tokyo Aikikai on the express order of Ueshiba Morihei, despite the opposition of most of the senior shihan (Dobsom, personal communication).
The counter to these incidents are many, Peter giving one example.

Regarding racism in any aikido dojo in America, I've never seen it. Or heard of it. Anti-semitism? Yes. I visited Nakazono's dojo in Santa Fe, in 1975. He gave a long speech about Kotodama, and stated that two thousand years ago, the Jews had created the Iron Age of war, disease and oppression. But he promised that in 2014, 144,000 Japanese would chant Kotodama and create the Golden Age, saving the world from the Jews.

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Old 06-23-2020, 06:47 PM   #6
Walter Martindale
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Re: Racism and Aikido

I've practiced Aikido in Canada, once or twice in the U.S. at a small dojo in Boise, ID, and in many dojo in New Zealand. A few short visits to Japan. During that time I haven't encountered racism - or - I should say, I wasn't aware of any racism in my travels. However, shortly after my arrival in Japan for my stint at judo training, my friend (a student at... Takudai?), not a judoka, advised me that I would never be really good at judo because I couldn't - I wasn't Japanese, and couldn't possibly understand "bushi". I had thought I would never be extremely good at judo because I'd only started it at 18, but that's another story. Not long after I returned to Canada I got a letter in green ink.
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Old 06-23-2020, 10:00 PM   #7
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Quote:
Walter Martindale wrote: View Post
I've practiced Aikido in Canada, once or twice in the U.S. at a small dojo in Boise, ID, and in many dojo in New Zealand. A few short visits to Japan. During that time I haven't encountered racism - or - I should say, I wasn't aware of any racism in my travels. However, shortly after my arrival in Japan for my stint at judo training, my friend (a student at... Takudai?), not a judoka, advised me that I would never be really good at judo because I couldn't - I wasn't Japanese, and couldn't possibly understand "bushi". I had thought I would never be extremely good at judo because I'd only started it at 18, but that's another story. Not long after I returned to Canada I got a letter in green ink.
Takudai (Takushoku Daigaku) is a very conservative private university, which does not have the ranking of Keio or Waseda, both private institutions, and certainly not of public universities like Tokyo and Kyoto -- and even Hiroshima Dai. My only experience of aikido in Japan has been as a black belt and so it was rather harder for Japanese beginners to state openly that I did not / could not understand Budo or bushi.

However, I have heard it stated in all seriousness that the reason why foreigners can never understand the unique taste of Japanese food is that their stomachs are different: clearly human evolution took a different course in Japan.

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Old 06-24-2020, 10:18 AM   #8
Bernd Lehnen
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post

However, I have heard it stated in all seriousness that the reason why foreigners can never understand the unique taste of Japanese food is that their stomachs are different: clearly human evolution took a different course in Japan.
So have I.
I've been told, that their elders maintained - and some among them even in "modern Japan" apparently still believe - that their digestive tract is at least 1m longer due to their racial specificity.
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Old 06-25-2020, 08:51 PM   #9
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
One thing that is fascinating is the systole-dystole of Japanese attitudes towards foreigners in budo.

Takeda Sokaku had a foreign student - Charles Parry. Parry objected to Takeda riding in a 1st (or 2nd) class train car, and was chastened with, if I recall correctly a double yonkajyo. There is no account how long he studied, however - and I did find (and cannot relocate) a small article about an elderly English teacher named Charles Parry who was beaten to death in 1946 in Yokohama by a young Japanese student. [Laszlo Abel did locate Parry's grave - and former landlady - in Yokohama, so this is surely the same person}.

Ueshiba Morihei had an Italian student of aiki-budo, Salvatore Mergè, in 1942 Also, Terry Dobson was admitted as an uchi-deshi to the Tokyo Aikikai on the express order of Ueshiba Morihei, despite the opposition of most of the senior shihan (Dobsom, personal communication).
The counter to these incidents are many, Peter giving one example.

Regarding racism in any aikido dojo in America, I've never seen it. Or heard of it. Anti-semitism? Yes. I visited Nakazono's dojo in Santa Fe, in 1975. He gave a long speech about Kotodama, and stated that two thousand years ago, the Jews had created the Iron Age of war, disease and oppression. But he promised that in 2014, 144,000 Japanese would chant Kotodama and create the Golden Age, saving the world from the Jews.
Ellis, have you come across a book by David Goodman and Masanori Miyazawa, entitled Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype? It was published in 1995 and has a large bibliography. The concept of a Chosen People is explored both in the Old Testament and also the myths surrounding Japanese uniqueness and their destiny to rule over Asia (at least). Peter Dale has a book on this latter subject.

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Old 06-26-2020, 11:01 AM   #10
Ellis Amdur
 
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Ellis, have you come across a book by David Goodman and Masanori Miyazawa, entitled Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype? It was published in 1995 and has a large bibliography. The concept of a Chosen People is explored both in the Old Testament and also the myths surrounding Japanese uniqueness and their destiny to rule over Asia (at least). Peter Dale has a book on this latter subject.
No, I've not. I'll have to take a look.

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Old 06-27-2020, 02:50 PM   #11
Robert Cowham
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Japan isn't the easiest place to be as a foreigner, and especially as a woman, as I know from a couple of friends (e.g. decades there and kids in 20s).

That said, I have certainly seen a different form of racism in Aikido/Budo in the West, where "any Japanese teacher is better than a Western one" irrespective of rank, proficiency, etc.

The dojo where I did most of my studying in London, founded by Paul Smith sensei, has long attracted many students from the dance world, and BAME backgrounds and continues to do so. Have to say that my own dojo, while small but with a multinational membership group, has a smaller BAME representation. This is good to contemplate, especially in current times.
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Old 06-27-2020, 06:22 PM   #12
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Hello Robert. Can you tell me something of Paul's history? I did my PhD at UCL and trained extensively at Ryushinkan nearby and at Chiba's old dojo in Earl's Court. This was for 5 years from 1975 till 1980. M Kanestsuka was the teacher and his body was like toughened rubber, quite a lot more supple than Chiba's. There was never any racism (blacks vs. whites) in either dojo, but whatever racism there might have been of the Asian kind was tied to the idea of the mission of the Japanese to bestow a superior type of Budo (because it was 'spiritual') on uncomprehending westerners.

There was a dancer training and I wonder whether it was Paul.

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Old 06-28-2020, 02:19 PM   #13
Robert Cowham
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Hi Peter, almost certainly that was Paul. I started back in London in 1989 with Kanetsuka sensei, and at the time Paul was his senior student in London. Paul also ran his own dojo, and over time I started to training with him as well as Kanetsuka. Paul's invitation to a course run by Inaba sensei in 1992 in Japan lead to him switching direction and leaving the BAF, and I went with him. Inaba sensei came to UK in 1993 for the first time.
Paul lived with Chiba sensei in his teens for a very intense period, but then had a break in his Aikido training while studying dance.
Kanetsuka sensei was for me a somewhat complicated man with various personality issues, and I was less than impressed by various experiences I observed on the mat (although always impressed with his aikido).
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Old 06-28-2020, 06:19 PM   #14
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Quote:
Robert Cowham wrote: View Post
Hi Peter, almost certainly that was Paul. I started back in London in 1989 with Kanetsuka sensei, and at the time Paul was his senior student in London. Paul also ran his own dojo, and over time I started to training with him as well as Kanetsuka. Paul's invitation to a course run by Inaba sensei in 1992 in Japan lead to him switching direction and leaving the BAF, and I went with him. Inaba sensei came to UK in 1993 for the first time.
Paul lived with Chiba sensei in his teens for a very intense period, but then had a break in his Aikido training while studying dance.
Kanetsuka sensei was for me a somewhat complicated man with various personality issues, and I was less than impressed by various experiences I observed on the mat (although always impressed with his aikido).
Hello Robert,

I had an introduction to Inaba Sensei via Seigo Yamaguchi Shihan and also the Sekiyas. However, there was / is an element in Japanese judo culture that relives / harks back to the times of the samurai, and is heavily right wing. Yamaguchi approved of me because I fitted his image of the budo intellectual and I was admitted to his private circle in Japan, which included training in a dojo with no tatami. He held court at a coffee shop near the Hombu after his training -- and talked endlessly. The acolytes present functioned purely to ensure a flow of conversation. I was so glad I lived in Hiroshima and did my training in a completely different way.

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Old 07-01-2020, 01:44 PM   #15
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Although this mostly concerns koryu, rather than aikido (well, it would be germane to O-sensei's aikido, and that of more traditional teachers), perhaps this essay is relevant to the discussion.

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Old 07-02-2020, 01:06 PM   #16
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Re: Racism and Aikido

Quote:
Ellis Amdur wrote: View Post
Although this mostly concerns koryu, rather than aikido (well, it would be germane to O-sensei's aikido, and that of more traditional teachers), perhaps this essay is relevant to the discussion.
It is.
Apart from any racism perceived in koryu:
After crossing a certain threshold, it is a matter of life and death, not any more life or death. And so there is no escape. A "Torii" (Japanese 鳥 居) thus may symbolize the point of no return.

Best,
Bernd
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