Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
That was a very interesting talk. I think there are a number of observations I'd make when comparing what he is talking about to our Aikido world.
Mr Smith hits on a number of factors that have lead to an increase in peak performance in his game as an amateur after being a professional. His discussion of the perception of time is spot on. I actually try to teach how to experience time in that manner... we call it 'time shifting". It requires relaxing the mind and the body. In our randori training when someone is "ramping up" getting too excited and trying to out-speed his attackers, we'll actually have them do a randori in which they are instructed to move in slow motion while the attackers are instructed to move at full speed. 100% of the time, the randori goes better than it had been.
I think the issue of money or financial reward as a creator of counter productive tension in Aikido is a non-starter... that's because there simply isn't any serious money to talk about. Unlike competitive sports in which a given sport my be dominated by the need to bring people along, starting when they are young, so that some select few can play at the top level, in Aikido there simply is no top level of that type, at least not here in the States.
There are different types of professionals in Aikido. There are a few, like myself, who actually do this full time. Their income is derived from teaching Aikido, one way or another. I know very few of these folks. By Aikido standards I am pretty darned successful. Yet after 35 years and a lot of work, I have only recently even started making what I made at my job back in the mid-eighties when I was working at a regular job. In other words, I make less than half what i could have expected to be making if I had stayed with my career of the time.
There are a number of folks who teach and do not have other jobs. In that sense they too could be called professional. But almost without exception, they have partners with real jobs. I do as well, my wife is a business lawyer. But, at least in my own case, I have gotten to the point at which, if I were totally alone and didn't have kids (which I do), and I chose to live simply, I could get by. And I am an Aikido success story from a business standpoint...
For most "professionals" in Aikido, their income from the art maybe covers what they spend on their gear and their training. They're happy to have gotten to the point at which their practice doesn't represent out of pocket any more. Even that takes a long time to achieve usually.
When I post about Aikido's future, I think I would say I usually am asking for more professionalism in how we approach our art rather than less. I've actually written a lot about that and why I believe it. I don't need to repeat it here. But I would like to point out why Mr Smith's perspective, while important to understand, is only partially relevant to Aikido, which, since this is an Aikido forum, would be the point of a discussion.
When Mr Smith talks about how, by taking away the pressures of the professional game and getting back in touch with the love of the art, he has actually increased his performance, it is necessary to remember the context. He was starting from a place at which he was already at the very top levels. He had done all the hard work, trained since he was a child, spent decades totally absorbed in the game. Very few people ever experience what he has experienced since only a very, very small percentage ever become professionals in the first place.
It would be incorrect to think that Mr Smith is saying that if you want to be the best you can possibly be, you can take the "amateur" path towards that goal. And I am not talking about whether money is involved. I am talking about time and effort commitment.
The Olympics used to make a solid distinction between amateurs and professionals. It was seen as important that money issues not soil the gentlemanly aspects of competition. The problem was that it simply did not lead to the best possible performances. In every sport in which it became possible to be a paid professional, performance has steadily gotten greater. Consistently and steadily better. I am not saying that something might not have been lost in striving for that peak performance but it was certainly the fact that professional athletes could train with professional coaches and not need to spend a huge portion of their time on other pursuits allowed performance in every professional sport to increase.
There are still sports in which there simply isn't enough money to be a professional competitor. My wife is a former national champion fencer. She missed making the Olympic team by one or two spots. In fencing, in the US, there simply isn't enough participation to generate the kind of money it takes to be a professional competitor. In Europe, where fencing is far more popular, it is possible for some. Here, it is possible, if one runs a school and coaches to make a living. But actually most folks who do this have partners who have real jobs, etc just like Aikido.
Just like in Aikido, the folks that fence largely do so in their spare time, at their own expense, and they do it out of love for the sport. In the US anyway, it is still a sport that is largely amateur in the old Olympic games sense of the word. And we consistently get beaten up by the Europeans. It has only been recently that we have started to be able to hold our own in certain events. Our women won their first Gold medal ever in the previous games. How did they get to that point? They developed enough financial support to allow their athletes to devote themselves to their training without the distractions of other pursuits. That was the only way they got to the point at which they could go toe to toe with the Europeans.
So, back to Aikido. Aikido is already an amateur art. There is so little potential for professionalism that it almost isn't worth talking about. Now it's possible that one might belong to that community of people who believe that our art is everything it should be right now. That the folks who do Aikido and teach Aikido are just as good as the Founder and the uchi deshi he trained over the years... That there has been no problem with the "transmission". If you fall into that community, then you won't agree with my assertion that what is needed in American Aikido (I'll limit myself to what I know) is more, not less, professionalism.
If, as Mr Smith states, the love of the game is so important for performance, well we have that now. No one in Aikido is doing it for the money. I don't know a single person teaching who isn't doing it for any reason other than love of the art. This is an art which people are passionate about. Look at the forums... A hugely diverse set of opinions and styles, passionate back and forth about what Aikido is and should / could be. The folks here love Aikido.
It's not the love that we are lacking... it's the ability to commit the time and resources to ones training that would result in top level Aikido teachers. The idea that a nation of amateurs or hobbyists will produce top level teachers is simply not born out by past and present circumstance.
I am not saying it's strictly the money issue. But it is the commitment issue. Every teacher who is top level that I know of, without exception, spent some substantial time period in which Aikido was their primary, if not sole, focus. Some did uchi dehsi programs in Japan, some trained with Japanese Shihan here when they first came over... But no one I have ever seen got to the top level without training his brains out, at least long enough to provide the crucial foundation required to be great.
Mr Smith did that. Yes, he feels he is better now and that should tell us something. But I do not think that he would maintain that he would be as good as he is if he hadn't trained that way in the first place. It simply isn't the case in any sport that I know about where the amateur, no matter how much he loves the sport, outperforms the professional. Even in sports in which there is simply no serious money, the folks that are the best, train as if they were professionals. This was true of the Founder of Aikido, who never had a successful job in his life, and was supported by his family and later his students. It is why in Japan, various uchi deshi programs have been created so that future instructors can train as professionals.
Even though I have trained 6 or 7 days a week for 35 years, I would be the last person to try to maintain that I wouldn't be better than I am if I had been able to do more hours on the mat on each of those days. Saotome Sensei put in 6 - 8 hours a day, seven days a week, on the mat training and teaching every day for fifteen years as an uchi deshi. That's mostly why he is so good. Not because he is somehow special or more talented than any of us... He was trained as a professional.
What is missing from American Aikido, in my opinion, is more professionalism amongst the teachers. I don't mean that they should be pursuing money that clearly isn't there... But I do mean that they should act "as if" they were professionals. I do not think that anyone should take on the job of teaching who isn't qualified to do so. Since there really isn't any mechanism to determine that, it has to be self policed. All sorts of folks who run dojos will admit to not feeling confident that they know what hey need to know to do their jobs.
For instance, in my own organization, I constantly hear teachers admit that they don't have a good handle on our kumitachi (paired sword forms). Yet these are required for promotion at Shodan and Nidan. It is their job to prepare their students in this are yet they know they are not competent to do so. If they had the "professional's" approach to being a teacher, they would devote themselves to fixing this issue. They would either travel to, or invite to their own dojos, the teachers who could help them fix the issue. Yet that isn't generally what happens.
The problem with the "transmission" in Aikido has been that, despite the fact that we had professional teachers, their ability to teach what they knew was not very good. It wasn't the lack of passion or love of the art. It wasn't necessarily that they lacked high level skills. What was lacking was that their preparation to be teachers focused on getting them to a high competence level rather than focusing on how to transmit the skills. In other words, despite the fact that many of these folks trained as if they were or would be professionals, their training programs didn't actually prepare them to be teachers... it simply prepared them to do Aikido well. This is not necessarily the same thing.
So, I think we need to look at more "professionalism" amongst our teachers, we need to develop "professional" teacher training programs, etc Since there is simply no money of any consequence available, the only motivation for people to undertake any of this would be for love of the art. We need to be better at what we do... loving the art enough, lack of passion for the art, simply isn't the issue.
Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 08-18-2011 at 12:17 PM.