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Old 08-30-2010, 01:50 PM   #1
George S. Ledyard
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670

I just heard the news that Sugano Sensei had passed away. Another direct student of the Aikido Founder whose lifetime of experience is no longer available to us. Here in the United States we have lost A. Tohei, Toyoda, Kanai, and now Sugano Sensei. That leaves Yamada, Chiba, Saotome, and Imaizumi Senseis from that generation of post war uchi deshi who trained directly under the Founder.

The depth of experience these teachers possess is truly irreplaceable, they are an "endangered species". As these giants pass away, one bu one, I can't help but raise the question once again of who takes over when these men are gone?

I don't mean who runs the various organizations presides over testing, etc. That's just administration. I mean who takes on the responsibility for the "transmission" to the next generation? Who is even capable of taking on this mantle? Did any one of these teachers manage to pass on what he knew? Can you look at the succession and say that any of these teachers created any students who were as good as they were / are? And if not, why not?

In my opinion, many of us senior students, direct students of these giants who trained with the Founder and then pioneered Aikido's growth overseas, have failed our teachers and failed our art. We squandered the time we had with these people, always acting as if there would be another class, another seminar, another chance to master what they knew. And now, increasingly there will be no more chances. And who amongst us has measured up?

There has been a lot of discussion about the failure both the Founder and many of his most talented students to develop a systematic teaching methodology for transmitting the art. I agree that this was the case. But once realizing this, whose responsibility was it to fix the issue? Once I realized that my own teacher was doing Aikido on a level that he could not break down and explain, whose job was it to figure it out?

If we can honestly and dispassionately look at what our generation to teachers has achieved in 35 to 45 years of practice and find that we are forced to admit that none of us is as good as our teacher, then I think we have to really look at the hard fact that we failed to do our jobs. We can blame our teachers for not doing a better job, we can content ourselves with excuses based on some "special" capacity or experience on the part of our teachers, which we could never measure up to...

We got in the habit of ceding control over our own Aikido destinies to the senior teachers. We waited for them to create training events, do seminars, tell us what they wanted us to know... If they looked satisfied, then we ere satisfied. Just as long as Sensei was happy. But did any of us feel like we had really mastered what our teachers were doing? If we actually did feel that way, did we move on and find the next teacher who could take us to the next level? Did we simply content ourselves with knowing more of what our teachers were doing than the general membership within our organization and give up on trying to be as good or better than our teachers?

I think that the passing of our teachers, one by one, is a wake up call for the community of senior teachers. As tragic as it is to have our teachers passing on, retiring, etc. the one positive is that its our turn now. We can't blame any failngs on anyone else. If Aikido fails to measure up, it's our fault. We can't blame our teachers, blame Hombu, blame Kisshomaru, or O-Sensei. It is our art now and our responsibility. If we don't feel like we have measured up to our own teachers, well, what is stopping us? The sources for taking our Aikido to the next level are out there. There are very high level teachers who are in the process of entirely retooling their Aikido, even after 40 plus years of training.

It is time for us to start acting like the leaders we will need to be to assure the transmission. I do not think we should any longer be waiting for our Shihan to create events, teach seminars, determine the direction of our training. I think we should be doing so. I think we should basically dispense with all this "style" or organizational nonsense and begin to support each other as senior American teachers. Collectively we have a vast experience which, if we shared, would benefit each other. We have connections to teachers from outside the art who offer some of the "missing pieces" that could take us all up to or even past our teachers. If we network with each other and share these connections, rather than horde them as giving us some advantage over the others, we could get our own training on the right track and model a far superior modus operandi for the next generation.

I look at Ikeda Sensei traveling all over setting up cross style and organizational "Bridge" Seminars and I ask myself, "why do we need to wait for someone like him to do this?" We should be doing this! We simply do not need to wait for someone senior to initiate positive change. It is our job to do so, starting right away.

When one of the giants like Sugano Sensei passes away, if people have to cast about ion their minds for who could fill those shoes, then we have not done our jobs. I do not mean whether the general membership has accepted someone as a future leader... I mean do we as those future leaders feel we ourselves could train another student to fill those shoes? If we do not feel we could do so, then the transmission is broken.

Most of us are getting to be around sixty now. We have perhaps 20 years, if we are lucky, to pass on what we know. If, in our questioning of ourselves we decide that we are not what we could or should have been, then we have only that twenty years to both take ourselves up to that level AND pass it on to another generation. We need to step up to the plate and become the leaders we have been trained to be. If we start now, perhaps we will actually be ready when there are no more uchi deshi left to fall back on and it is entirely up to us.

Every time we lose another treasure like Sugano Sensei, a greater burden of responsibility falls on us. We need to make sure we measure up and we need to make sure we are in position to pass it on. If we are not, then we need to do something about it, right now, not later. Later is too late.

(Original blog post may be found here.)
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Old 08-30-2010, 10:51 PM   #2
Dojo: Brisbane Aikido Republic
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 298
Re: Leadership

It is time for us to start acting like the leaders we will need to be to assure the transmission. I do not think we should any longer be waiting for our Shihan to create events, teach seminars, determine the direction of our training. I think we should be doing so. I think we should basically dispense with all this "style" or organizational nonsense...
I really dig this, and having trodden too heavily at times find its all too true across the pacific. My comparatively limited experience suggests that organisational structures ( boundaries) can be great facilitators or impediments to the process. Consequently there seems to be growing numbers of quasi-independants, that have the flexability to work around these, but the greatest danger (or temptation) then is disconnection and isolation usually leading to stagnation (or god complex). It then becomes a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

I'd be keen to hear more from those further down the road than I esp. on what works.


PS mostly replying to so this doesn't slip of fthe front page and into obscurity

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Old 08-31-2010, 11:26 AM   #3
Dojo: aikido academy/alhambra,california
Location: Los Angeles, California
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 371
Re: Leadership

The Japanese word “shido” may be translated as “leadership, guidance, instruction or coaching”. The nuance of interpretation goes to the heart of the intent of the writer or speaker, and must be taken in correct context.

Yes, the Aikido world has lost yet another leader in Seiichi Sugano Shihan, one of the few remaining direct students of the Founder of Aikido. As tragic as this may seem, is it really the beginning to the end of an era, or is it in effect the beginning of taking full responsibility and ownership of the appropriate and timely stewardship of Ueshiba Aiki for the current and future leadership in Aikido? After all, death and taxes are inevitable, but so also is the inevitable transfer of the mantle of true leadership that naturally occurs, as it always has throughout human history. Perhaps it is merely our turn to perform.

There really is no cause for alarm, panic or gnashing of teeth, and certainly, none of regret or feelings of failure. The present and future are bright indeed!

Further, let us not ignore or forget that the Founder had other great students, who in turn have expanded the dimensions of his gift to mankind. Names like Tohei, Mochizuki, Tomiki, Shioda, Saito, etc. are but a few that come readily to mind. They, their students, and their fine organizations are doing their magnificent part in preserving and expanding the benefits of training in Aiki.

Thank you, Ledyard Shihan, for once again raising the question of the proper and successful transfer of leadership of the Good Ship Aikido. I recognize several, including yourself, who have long since begun taking on the mantle of the correct transmission of the Aikido of the Founder, which was so ably started with the direct students of the Founder. In turn, these very same instructors have done their level best to successfully produce able students turned teachers in their own right, and are all in place to continue the task of maintaining and enhancing Aikido’s correct legacy and tradition.

I am in full agreement that no blame is due or deemed appropriate to the original stewards of the Founder’s Aikido for any failure to successful transmit their lessons forward. Nor should any undue reliance be continually placed on the Aikikai, the remaining direct students of O Sensei, or on any existing organizations, to continue alone the immense task of taking the Founder’s Aiki to ever higher levels over time.

Nonetheless, we must all do a much better job of harmoniously synchronizing our efforts with these established resources, together with the energies, agendas and good will of the current and future spate of leaders of Aiki, and of the Founder’s own example of Aikido.

Thanks to the efforts of visionaries such as Shihans Ikeda, Doran, Tissier, O’Connor, Hooker, and many others you or I can name, the reaching out to parallel organizations has successfully begun, and is gaining notice and favor.

I cannot agree, however, with any notion that we must “fill the shoes” of the leaders we have lost to the natural flow of events and history. The invaluable contributions they have made reflected what they were able to accomplish in their time, with no need for us to embellish or inflate their importance or relevance. Rather, as Ledyard Shihan has aptly pointed out, it is now the turn for current and future leadership to continually raise the bar of competence, visionary change and of unconditional commitment to excellence of our Aikido heritage to our students today, tomorrow and beyond.

As to the question of whether we “have mastered what our teachers were doing”, how is that possible, or even feasible? As they gained insight, proficiency and skill on a daily basis, did they not readily exchange their temporary understandings with the new knowledge gained on each successive day of their lives? They never stood still, resting on their laurels. They remained “green and growing”, and we would certainly do them a grave disservice by trying to emulate that which they themselves would have discarded for something better in their constant training. No, we must learn from their example of how to acquire and build knowledge, not from their actual findings or temporary accomplishments on a given day. Let us retain those memories for reference and in history, even as we proceed with the ongoing training to accomplish similar gains in our own development and growth. We need to trust in our own innate abilities to recognize the principles and truths of Aiki, even as they did, when they attempted, almost always unsuccessfully, to gain full advantage of training directly with the Founder.

Yes, we are losing treasures from the past. This is the way the world, and our existence works. Let us not also lose the treasures we still enjoy today, and to ensure that the Aiki treasures of tomorrow have their chance to materialize.

Last edited by aikishihan : 08-31-2010 at 11:30 AM.
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Old 08-31-2010, 02:54 PM   #4
PhillyKiAikido's Avatar
Dojo: Philadelphia Ki-Aikido / New Jersey Ki Society
Location: Philadelphia/PA
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 56
Re: Leadership

Thanks Ledyard sensei for sharing your thoughts and the questions. It's thought-provoking. I truely hope more aikidokas should think about their responsibilities seriously. I truely hope more Aikido teachers teach their students the responsiblities.

In the culture that I grew up, studying martial arts is a tremendous serious thing. To the matial artists, learning matial arts means hardwork and self-sacrifice, which means his lifestyle will change to getting up before dawn to practice for several hours every day until he dies. Each master usually just have few students throughout his whole life, so he has to be very picky to find the right person(with spirit/body gifts and well prepared characters and desire to commit to learn and pass the art) to teach. While teaching, the teacher has to be very strict with his students. The students usually live in the teacher's home as family members for many years. The students call the teacher "teaching father", call other students "teaching brother/sister". Under this kind of conditions, it usually takes students many years/decades of training before they're ready to teach. I assume the early deshis of O'Sensei went through the similar trainings. But think of what we're today, martial arts are not precious, it's too easy to get so we don't cherish it. It becomes commercial. It's just fun, not hardwork, not sacrifice, not responsiblity. If the teachers are like that, what students will become?

Thanks Ledyard sensei for thinking about this topic. As far as I know, another person thought about it decades ago. His name is Tohei.

Last edited by PhillyKiAikido : 08-31-2010 at 03:00 PM. Reason: typos
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Old 09-01-2010, 10:00 AM   #5
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
Location: Midland Texas
Join Date: Dec 2000
Posts: 1,652
Re: Leadership

There are many challenges facing the senior teachers. Many are cultural and some are personal. Many have to maintain full time jobs with a few lucky ones being able to teach full time. Difficulties arise when one is not able to spend as much time with their teachers as needed or desired.

Senior teachers also may need to look at their teaching models. The learning to steal techniques teaching model proseltyzed by many may not be the most expedient method of transmission. It may not fit each culture and may be too time consuming. Teaching our students to learn how to learn may be the best gift we can give them. Video records may help give the future generation reference points by which they can "figure out" what they don't get. Everyone has a different learning style. Modern teaching methods may assist in the learning progression.

Ikeda and Ledyard sensei's efforts on passing on the energy / Ki information with videos is a good example of positive efforts being made. For years telling students to just relax doesn't seem to always work effectively. Teaching them how to do it does.

Students must also take it upon themselves, as suggested, to seek out those who can fill in the gaps in their training. External criticism from other arts (Sigman, Harden, etc.) have spawned focused efforts to improve such things as grounding, relaxation, energy work, etc. We must not be so thin skinned that these criticisms are reacted to negatively, but rather seek out solutions to fix our weaknesses.

It is difficult to determine the quality of instruction that will come out of Japan's new generation of shihan's since many have never touched hands with O'Sensei.
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