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Old 10-27-2009, 06:20 PM   #1
George S. Ledyard
 
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Managing Change in Aikido

The Aikido community is entering a period of change. After experiencing rapid growth world wide since WWII, the art, along with virtually all "traditional" Japanese martial arts, is now in a period of retrenchment. It is far harder to find new students than it used to be, the students who have been training are older and have spouses, families, careers, mortgages, etc that many didn't have when they started training. This means they either train less or they train not at all. The young males, previously the majority of the new students in any martial art, now want to do what they see on prime time cable. From a pure marketing standpoint, there is no way for a traditional martial art to compete with nightly presence on prime time TV.

Now, to top it off, the community finds itself in a growing "identity crisis". Slowly the Aikido public is starting to redefine what it means to be "advanced" in this art. Teachers with long history and high rank are being reconsidered by a community which is far better educated than it was twenty to thirty years ago. Starting with the first Aiki Expo, almost ten years ago now, Aikido practitioners were exposed to a number of practitioners of what we will call "aiki arts" whose skill level seemed far beyond many of the Japanese teachers, both in Japan and overseas, who had become identified with post war Aikido. It was also clear that many of these teachers had a far more effective methodology for transmitting their knowledge than the teachers from the Aikido community as a whole.

Then, with the huge rise in popularity of Internet discussion forums, the relatively small number of folks who had become aware of these teachers started to talk about their experiences. A small group of teachers from outside of the Aikido community began to have regular dialogue, not without significant dissension in the ranks, with the folks from the Aikido community who seriously participate on the forums.

An outgrowth of these discussions has been a small number of seminars conducted around the country by various teachers specifically designed for Aikido practitioners, even teachers. This group represents a core of serious Aikido teachers and students who are changing the way they practice, even how they define the goals of their practice.

So far, this change taking place is far below the radar for most Aikido folks. The majority of the teachers I know don't even participate on the forums, didn't go to any of the Aiki Expos, haven't read much at all about the history of Aikido, and remain blissfully unaware of what's coming. They are happy with what they've been doing, happy with what they've gotten from their teachers, and happy that their students regard them as being skillful and worth training with.

So what will happen as more and more people start to be exposed to another paradigm concerning their art? What will people think when they find that what they'd been told about Daito Ryu, our parent art, simply wasn't true; that there were other teachers equally skilled in "aiki" as the Founder; that there are teachers of "aiki" from outside the Aikido community whose skills match or even exceed any of the top teachers we hold as models, that with proper instruction and hard work, it doesn't have to take thirty years or more to develop an understanding of high level principles?

Right now, this realization has created a crisis for many people. I have good friends who have quit Aikido, in some cases with some anger involved. They have wa;led away from years of dedication to the art and their teachers feeling that the "goods" had been denied them; that some sort of conspiracy has existed to keep knowledge away from them. Others, more realistic in their assessment of the situation in my opinion, have found themselves unable to continue training in their home Aikido dojos because their new found training methods and the skills evolving from them created too much dissonance with the dominant paradigm in the dojo.

Even the teachers who are now changing how they practice have had a hard time finding their place in the community. Imagine being a 6th or 7th Dan in an organization headed by a Japanese Shihan. This Shihan defines what happens in the organization; he is the origin from which authority flows. Now suddenly you have developed a different source or sources of inspiration. What are you going to do? Your Aikido is deviating from the accepted model. In fact that model may be more sophisticated by magnitudes than the generally accepted model. How will that effect your place in the organization? Your relationship with your teacher?

I believe that most folks, for the time being, will ignore what is happening and pretend it doesn't exist or that it isn't important. Most folks will opt for the status quo. Revolutions do not happen easily, they happen when an imbalance gets too great. The revolution in Aikido will not be televised, it will not be conducted by the leaders of the art, it will shake things up, and it will split the community, it will close dojos, it may shrink the art rather than grow it.

Obviously, the best option for students who wish to pursue a deeper understanding of "aiki" principles, including "internal power" and related subjects, is to find a dojo in which the teacher is qualified to teach these things. These are few and far between and some exposure to folks who have these skills is required for newbies to recognize who has them and who doesn't.

For the vast majority of people training in Aikido this isn't an option. There simply are no teachers locally for them to train with who have this kind of skill. Of course the REALLY serious student packs up and moves to where the teacher is. That's a given. It is also a given that many folks consider themselves to be serious who wouldn't consider that option. So rather than indulge in a debate about what the word serious really means, let's instead be realistic. 99.9% of the so-called serious practitioners would not move simply in order to train with a different teacher. So what options do they have? Well, they can trot off to one of the increasing number of seminars with the various teachers who are intent on sharing their skills with the Aikido public. But the question is, then what do you do?

Can you go back to your dojo and secretly work on the solo exercises you've been taught and then keep training just as you had been so no one realizes? What happens when you aren't falling down as easily as before? How will you handle it when your teacher corrects you for doing something that just worked quite well but isn't what the rest of the class is doing? When that starts happening every night? What will you think when you get removed form the instructor's roster because you start teaching stuff that isn't on the syllabus? These things are already happening out there. I expect them to happen more and more.

It's no easier if you are a teacher. So you've suddenly found that teacher who can show you how to develop the kind of Aikido skills which only the legendary had... you trot off to as many seminars as you can, perhaps invite this fellow to your dojo repeatedly. Your Aikido, your whole view of Aikido, starts to change, it's radically different than what you had been doing. You are so excited, it's what you had been looking for all along. But what do your students think about all of this?

I can guarantee that there is not universal rejoicing over this new direction. Remember what we said about change? People don't like it. The fact that you have recovered your Beginner's Mind for the first time in decades may be great for you nut it is not, in the minds of many students, what they are looking for in their guru. You are supposed to be the source for them. For as much as two or more decades some of them have been doing their level best to be you. Some of them have gotten pretty close and a certain status and authority has derived from that. Then you go and start showing everybody a whole new paradigm at which the most senior instructor at the dojo isn't any better than the new guys. What do you expect them to say? "gee. I am so glad to get back to the place I was in my Aikido 20 years ago when I couldn't do anything and felt like an idiot all the time." Of course not. I would actually predict an inverse relationship between who receptive folks will be to this sudden change of direction and how long they have trained. This is exactly what has happened in one dojo with which I am familiar.

So I think people need to give some thought to managing this change which is coming. If you try to change things too fast you can expect to be isolated, from your dojo, from your teacher, from your organization, whatever. Like all my friends in high school who got "born again", the new convert to "internal skills" training is apt to go around endlessly telling anyone who will listen about the "Good Word". That same "I am saved and you are going to Hell" thinking exists in this community as well. If you aren't doing this secret training only the select know about, everything you are doing will do, and have ever done is crap. Eric Hoffer had a lot to say about the True Believer and it wasn't all that positive.

I don't really know how to advise the average Aikido student who wants to take his Aikido to a different level. I do not anticipate that you'll get much support from your community. I also don't think that going off on ytour own and working in your garage going exercises given you by a teacher you see twice a year will do anything terribly worth while. You are going to have to move. Sorry.

For the dojo head who is engaging on this study, I would recommend that you create space for your students who can't or don't wish to come along on your new journey. In my own dojo I feel that we have been moving fairly smoothly through a period of very rapid change. I think that this is due to my efforts to connect everything new that we are doing to what we have done before. I take all the advanced principles and try to connect them to the kihon waza so that people have a feeling of flow from what they've worked so hard to master towards the new paradigm. If they have a sense that what we are doing is simply the next step towards being good at what they've already been doing, that sense of radical change is made far less intimidating.

And, I would say to all those embarking on this new direction of Aikido study, keep it on a "need to know" basis. It is just not going to make your life easier with your sempai or your teacher. Pretty much guaranteed.

(Original blog post may be found here.)
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Old 10-27-2009, 11:29 PM   #2
Linda Eskin
 
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Change can indeed be unsettling, but Aikido is all about change. Changing yourself, changing Uke's direction, changing what technique you thought you meant to do (if indeed you are still even thinking in those terms - as I am, as a newbie), with the changes in the energy you're given.

You said, of teachers:
"Your Aikido, your whole view of Aikido, starts to change, it's radically different than what you had been doing. You are so excited, it's what you had been looking for all along. But what do your students think about all of this?"

Your points about managing change by relating the new back to the known and familiar are excellent. Maintain the connection. But make the change. What your students should see (one would hope), with you as their example and mentor, is that it's OK to change when changing is what lets you stay strong, centered, and effective.

Linda Eskin - Facebook | My AikiBlog

"Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train." - Morihei Ueshiba
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Old 10-28-2009, 04:42 AM   #3
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

George Sensei, thanks for your thoughts. Always a pleasure and inspiration to read your stuff.

I think what you describe is a great opportunity for aikido, for learning, for martial development and personal growth. It is there for anybody who is interested and has the commitment. Seminars, DVDs, private visits. Personally, I work with teachers who I believe can help me in my development in "aiki" as well as in "do" in accordance with my personal commitment (which is, admittedly, now less than it was ten years ago in my twenties). None of these people post on discussion boards. And while I cannot compare them with frequent posters who I have not met, they can do a lot of the stuff that has been described here as result of serious "internal training". In all, I find it very challenging and exciting.

In addition, the opportunities created by cheap long distance travel, new means of communication etc., are phenomenal. Ikeda Sensei apparently shared his approach with people from all over Europe in France this summer, and it is being passed on.

So my chances to get a lot better as an average MA practitioner (30s, low to mid dan ranks, +/- three evenings a week) are probably higher than they would have been 20 years ago.

If I am worried about anything at all, it is that I find "aiki" gets a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to "do" in all these internet based discussions about change in aikido. I find the widespread idea that you somehow automatically become a better person (or even acquire wisdom) by just going through the physical motions for decades more misleading than unsubstantiated fantasies of martial applicability. Lots of "aiki" without any "do", power without personal development, would not do it for me.
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Old 10-28-2009, 05:49 AM   #4
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

I really enjoyed reading that thanks George. One of the things that's happened to me recently has been leaving my teacher's association (mostly for admin and finance reasons). However since leaving I've made efforts to create an open dojo where anyone can bring things they've learned elsewhere to us and we'll work on it. I think this is the most important thing I can do as our most senior teacher.

Doing so also includes recognising the contributions made by people even if I disagree with their technical approach, as an example, a very nice man who has been doing aikido a lot longer than I is planning on moving to the area, he said he'd like to train with us if he can. He's an established instructor and outranks me by several dan grades, but I have no problem giving him a night a week to teach at our dojo if he'd like to. He may do things differently but I still think he has something to offer. I think doing this is a big part of the aiki I'd like to see in my aikido, the other being what has variously been called ki/mind-body coordination/IT/aiki/kokyu/jin etc etc.

At the end of the day, it should be obvious to any student who has the stuff they want, if I haven't got it then I have no problem with them going elsewhere (so long as they tell me where they went so I can get it too!).

Mike

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
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Old 10-28-2009, 07:49 AM   #5
MM
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

George,

Certainly a lot to think about. I think in the short run (next 5-10 years), there will be some loss to attendance in certain dojos. Aikido has a reputation and people come to train with that reputation in mind. If they walk in and find people not training in what they had preconceptions of, then they won't stay. I have personally experienced that ... several times.

But, in the long run, I think maybe attendance will pick up ... because the perception and reputation of aikido will have changed. This is where I think one of two things will happen (here in the U.S. No clue what will happen in the rest of the world).

1. There will be a split (not necessarily anti, or against each other, but just two different camps). One side will hold to the current perception of Aikido and have students training in that. And the other camp where IT (Internal Training) and aiki have been reintroduced. I think the former will be more well known and have more overall dojos than the latter.

Why? IT training is not for everyone (not that everyone couldn't do it, they can. But that the amount of solo training and the mind-numbing repetitive, mentally exhausting work will not appeal to many). Regular Aikido has an organizational structure that will appeal to the masses. Training has been systematized for the masses.

or

2. This IT will overtake and overcome regular aikido, causing a shift in perception of the martial and spiritual viability of aikido. People will find a way to merge systematized aikido training with IT. Americans will emerge as leaders of organizations and they will have aiki as seen in Shioda, Tomiki, Shirata, etc, and maybe even Ueshiba or Takeda. A shift in *who* trains in aikido will most likely occur, also. You won't have as many people looking for "harmony". I think the "spiritual" nature of aikido will still be there, but not in its current incarnation.

Really, I think in the long run of 20 years or more, option 2 is going to happen. Once people get enough IT (10-15 years) and get out and about, a lot of the people they meet will want what they have. And I think there's going to be a myriad of Internally Trained people -- just like there's a difference between Tomiki's usage and Shioda's usage and Shirata's and Ueshiba's and Tohei's, etc. Some will have more "power" and some will be softer (but yet powerful). Skill levels will all be different. But, between then and now ... ack ... as you stated, change is not always liked.

One of the interesting questions is What is Japan going to do?
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Old 10-28-2009, 08:05 AM   #6
MM
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
I don't really know how to advise the average Aikido student who wants to take his Aikido to a different level. I do not anticipate that you'll get much support from your community. I also don't think that going off on ytour own and working in your garage going exercises given you by a teacher you see twice a year will do anything terribly worth while. You are going to have to move. Sorry.
Just wanted to make a personal observation on this.

I'm doing the distance training thing and it's working. It isn't as fast or as nice as being there every week, but it's working well enough that I see decent progress. I'm a 10 hour drive (each way) away. That's probably way more than most people would drive, but it gives people an indication of a distance that's working.

Money. Sheesh, it's like the movie, The Money Pit. Training just sucks it up. Time, distance, and money are all factors. I'm probably unique in that, so far, I've had all three. Not in abundance, but enough to keep me progressing.

You are right about 2/year, though. I think you'd have to make, at a minimum, 4 trips a year to progress satisfactorily.

But, now the good news. IT is spreading. So, you may not have to go as far in the coming years. I know that anyone in my area is more than welcome to come train with me. I've trained two people up to my skill level and a third is progressing nicely. We're by no means great at this stuff, but we have a proven track record of advancement. Having a genius of a teacher helps.

Anyway, I think in the coming years, there will be quite a few places spread out in the US that will have IT methods. I can think of NY, OH, PA, DC as examples off the top of my head. But as you note, the interim is going to be tough.
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Old 10-28-2009, 08:56 AM   #7
gregstec
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Excellent post! - As someone once said somewhere: "There is nothing more constant than change" I believe that, and I also believe that there is nothing people are more resistive to than change as well - maybe that is why the human race is so screwed up - well, at least one of the reasons We must embrace change and make it ours...

George, you and I are around the same age and I believe we both started down the Aikido road around the same time in the mid 70s. However, our paths have been much different. You started with a quality source with a direct connection to O Sensei and stayed with him all these years, and today you are highly ranked as a 6th Dan in that organization. I also started with a quality source with direct connections to O Sensei, but I have not stayed with any single organization for longer than a couple years since then; and the highest Aikido rank I ever obtained was a Sankyu from the Ki Society dated 1977. However, today, we both are looking outside Aikido at Daitoryu and IT from Mike and Dan (among other things) in order to help further our understanding and skills in aiki.

Since we are all looking for different things out of our training, I believe that we all must take personal ownership for our own aiki development and seek out sources that will give us what we are looking for. In a lot of ways, I feel very fortunate that I was not connected to a single organization for that many years since that would have hindered my personnel development and I would have ended up just being a clone of what was being pushed downed to me - there are a lot of dojos out there where that is happening. I remember one dojo I trained in for a while where the sensei actually insisted your feet in hanmi had to be a certain distance apart regardless of your body height and length of legs - an absolutely anal approach to teaching.

In my opinion, the future of Aikido, as well as other aiki arts, is in the cross pollination of different concepts, principles, and knowledge - this can only happen by getting with different people from different arts and organizations. In a perfect world, we all would be independently wealthy and could just pack up and travel around to all the different sources as we deemed it necessary. However, that is impossible for most of us due to other life commitments. So, I think the next best thing is to try and form a small local group with like interests where each member brings their individual perspectives to the mat and you all try to do the occasional seminar to keep adding to your pot of knowledge so it can be internalized and shared as warranted. Also, seminars are a good place to test where you are at with your development and they give you pointers on where you might want to focus next, etc. This is what we do at the E-town Aiki Kurabu and it appears to be working well.

Greg Steckel
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Old 10-28-2009, 09:09 AM   #8
gregstec
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Quote:
Mark Murray wrote: View Post
Just wanted to make a personal observation on this.

I'm doing the distance training thing and it's working. It isn't as fast or as nice as being there every week, but it's working well enough that I see decent progress. I'm a 10 hour drive (each way) away. That's probably way more than most people would drive, but it gives people an indication of a distance that's working.

Money. Sheesh, it's like the movie, The Money Pit. Training just sucks it up. Time, distance, and money are all factors. I'm probably unique in that, so far, I've had all three. Not in abundance, but enough to keep me progressing.

You are right about 2/year, though. I think you'd have to make, at a minimum, 4 trips a year to progress satisfactorily.

But, now the good news. IT is spreading. So, you may not have to go as far in the coming years. I know that anyone in my area is more than welcome to come train with me. I've trained two people up to my skill level and a third is progressing nicely. We're by no means great at this stuff, but we have a proven track record of advancement. Having a genius of a teacher helps.

Anyway, I think in the coming years, there will be quite a few places spread out in the US that will have IT methods. I can think of NY, OH, PA, DC as examples off the top of my head. But as you note, the interim is going to be tough.
Ditto to what Mark said on the long distance training - I am doing that for Daitoryu as well as IT stuff - it can work, but it does has to be more that twice a year, but not necessarily monthly either - you just have to make your limited time quality time, etc.

Greg
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Old 10-28-2009, 10:09 AM   #9
Russ Q
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Hello George Sensei,

Change is always hard, eh. You know I come from a relatively traditional organization :-) but I do enjoy quite a bit of autonomy. I think dealing with these changes comes down to "who you are". One cannot deny truth once seen (and expect to be happy anyway). If you are confident with "who you are" then you will find a way to encompass the change and work it into your present training paradigm.....just gotta remember that things are the way they are supposed to be (from a subjective experience POV).

I personally feel a great deal of gratitude to my teacher and the head of our organization. Magnificent human beings that, in many respects, I wish to model my own behaviour to/around. That being said, I would not let my association with them, or the "giri" I owe them, to create an obstacle to advancing my understanding of aikido. I understand that this may create some tension or misunderstanding at some point...but...I also have great hope and confidence that the organization (and my teacher's minds:-) are large enough to accept these changes.

Last thoughts.....are IT skills really anything new? I think Saotome, Ikeda & Suganuma Sensei's all have copious amounts of IT (it). As you say they don't have a structured way of imparting those skills and may even choose not to if they had a method. I think that percieved lack of openess is simply the conditioning they have undergone....Despite this lack of will/ability to impart these skills I think (I truly hope) they would encourage us to persue a deeper understanding of "aiki" and bring that to our practise.

A bit stream of conciousness.....sorry.

Cheers,

Russ
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Old 10-28-2009, 10:53 AM   #10
Budd
 
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

As a consultant (in particular Information Technology), I deal with a lot of change management in organizations. On one level, in aikido and martial arts in general, the types of organization can vary from group to group via individual dojo/schools. In addition, many will operate as a top-down hierarchy, with subsurvience to an external org, etc.

Either way, if a dojo is looking to implement change from the traditional hierarchy on down . . the instructor(s) will need to be setting the example of how the change will be applied - and it will need to ultimately be embraced by the stakeholders (executives/instructors/org leaders as well as end users/student body) to be successful.

Some things that I do encounter all the time, though, in orgs that I've worked with . .

"Perception versus Reality"

If the perception is that the change is good - and that is reinforced via words and behavior, it will be more easily embraced and become the new reality that everyone operates under. If the perception anywhere at the top is that the change is unwelcome and should be resisted - that will also carry on down.

"Consistency and Communication"

In order for everyone to be on board with the change (and management issuing a directive and expecting compliance is not the same as the actual implementation of the change, which tends to be more gradual and less immediate), there needs to be an appropriate division of labor. Which leads to necessary communication, even on something as basic as a single overseer and multiple persons following the overseer's interpretation of the change.

If and when tasks do get delegated, there needs to be even more communication between the delegator and the delegatee, to ensure synergy in the implementation strategy and that follow through is in compliance with that strategy.

The follow-through is then behaving in a manner that's consistent with the communication that's been conveyed - a critical but sometimes overlooked piece of the implementation process - which generally means, "Do what you say, say what you do". This may be difficult because reishiki makes it somewhat difficult in a dojo setting to call out someone senior to you if they aren't following this - and that's a hurdle each org is going to have to cross - in many orgs I've seen the answer is to do nothing . . which nearly always negatively impacts the effectiveness of an implementation.

"Appropriate Unit Testing"

A lot of the time, there's a requirement for unit testing to take place with a sample of the overall group, to gauge the potential utility of a change, look for bugs, chances to optimize or improve something. Lots of times, you see something you might do differently, but realize that it might work better in a later release or update to the change (assuming the org doesn't pick a method and follow it in an unaltering state until the end of time - but I've never seen this happen).

Caution about a danger of unit testing, though . .you can spend forever doing it . . and never actually release anything to the main user community. On the flip-side, releasing something too soon, before it's been optimized enough, can result in a lot of user unhappiness and dissatisfaction (insert least favorite software/computer application here, there's plenty of whipping examples).

And that's just off the top of my head regarding change management, generally. Specifically in an aikido setting, there's many additional factors to consider, but I think Ledyard Sensei addressed a goodly number of them.
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Old 10-28-2009, 12:09 PM   #11
gregstec
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Quote:
Greg Steckel wrote: View Post
In a lot of ways, I feel very fortunate that I was not connected to a single organization for that many years since that would have hindered my personnel development and I would have ended up just being a clone of what was being pushed downed to me
Oops, meant personal - just got to love those spell checkers...

Greg
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Old 10-28-2009, 03:10 PM   #12
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Quote:
Russ Qureshi wrote: View Post
Hello George Sensei,

Change is always hard, eh. You know I come from a relatively traditional organization :-) but I do enjoy quite a bit of autonomy. I think dealing with these changes comes down to "who you are". One cannot deny truth once seen (and expect to be happy anyway). If you are confident with "who you are" then you will find a way to encompass the change and work it into your present training paradigm.....just gotta remember that things are the way they are supposed to be (from a subjective experience POV).

I personally feel a great deal of gratitude to my teacher and the head of our organization. Magnificent human beings that, in many respects, I wish to model my own behaviour to/around. That being said, I would not let my association with them, or the "giri" I owe them, to create an obstacle to advancing my understanding of aikido. I understand that this may create some tension or misunderstanding at some point...but...I also have great hope and confidence that the organization (and my teacher's minds:-) are large enough to accept these changes.

Last thoughts.....are IT skills really anything new? I think Saotome, Ikeda & Suganuma Sensei's all have copious amounts of IT (it). As you say they don't have a structured way of imparting those skills and may even choose not to if they had a method. I think that percieved lack of openess is simply the conditioning they have undergone....Despite this lack of will/ability to impart these skills I think (I truly hope) they would encourage us to persue a deeper understanding of "aiki" and bring that to our practise.

A bit stream of conciousness.....sorry.

Cheers,

Russ
Hi Russ,
Most of us would die happy if we were as good at Aikido as teachers like Saotome, Ikeda or Suganuma Senseis. What occasions much of my thinking on the matter is not, unlike many of the folks from outside the art, a perception that these teachers do not posses "the goods" in sufficient quantity with sufficient quality to be worthy of emulation.

But when I look at these teachers, I ask myself who, if anyone, amongst their students has developed the skills that they have? The number of people in these organizations numbers in the thousands. Each teacher has created students at the Shihan level. Yet, when it really comes down to it, do ANY of their students look like they will be anywhere near as good as their teachers?

It's the transmission that's broken. Now, perhaps nothing has really changed i this regard. In the old days, a very small number of people trained and a very small number of people acquired anytyhing like the skills of their teachers like O-Sensei, Takeda, Sagawa, Shioda, Shirata, etc

It is quite possible that, while many thousands more people are training in the art, the number of people who actually reach a higher level of skill is still what it was, VERY small.

Now that seems to me to make little sense. Normally, in the world of sports and other activities, the quality of the top people gets better and better as more people engage in the activity. The US now turns out world class soccer players where no one from the US was professional caliber when I was young. As fencing has grown in popularity, we have seen Americans taking Gold in events which we previously couldn't even qualify for.

Yet, in Aikido what do we see? An array of old men who trained with the Founder, whose skills are vastly superior to anyone under them, with perhaps one or two exceptions. In the cases in which we see a teacher who has actually produced a number of people at his own level of skill, it isn't because he has lifted them up to some great height but more that he simply wasn't that sophisticated to begin with. There was a very wide range in capability between the various uchi deshi, even those who trained with the Founder at precisely the same time.

Now there are certainly some Aikido teachers who have chugged merrily along for years turning out consistently wonderful students. Chuck Clark Sensei comes immediately to mind. However, because of the way politics works in the martial arts (especially the Japanese arts), it is actually easier for an Aikido student to develop a relationship with a teacher of another art than it is for him to be able to train seriously with an Aikido teacher other than his own. So there simply isn't that much interchange between Aikido groups and styles.

So we find ourselves in this situation of looking to people from outside the art to give us better explanations of what our own teachers have been doing than they themselves can give. Now, I know for a fact that they are aware of this... In the past few years I have seen both Ikeda Sensei and Saotome Sensei radically alter the way they are teaching. I often look at the younger students, struggling with something just demonstrated, and I shake my head.. "That's 100 times the explanation I ever got... I took ten years and many seminars with all sorts of teachers to figure that out. Now Sensei just showed you..."

So things are changing. But whether it's enough, I don't know. Aikido in general seems to have a set of common training methodologies which make little sense to me at this point.

For instance, one of the things that makes Aikido what it is, is movement. No other art has the kind of movement this art has. It is elegant, it is beautiful. It is also virtually impossible to learn about real center to center connection through movement.

One of the things you start to learn in Internal training is how to generate kuzushi without needing to make these large movements. It seems to me that Aikido, which starts large and then tries to move towards the small (or maybe not) is doing things backwards. I think that the beginning of training should focus exclusively on developing the body skills involved in really understanding about "joining". How does the body receive incoming energy? Where does power get generated? Doing the conditioning exercises which train these body skills.

Once you understand how connection really works, you can then choose to apply it while moving. I love the large circular movements of the art. No other art has anything that looks or feels like our flowing ushiro practice. Yet very few people can do those movements from a state of real connection. For most people, these large movements are a series of connect / disconnect events full of openings and dependent on ukes trained to run around nage in circles for no apparent reason.

So I think that, to get more people up to the level of our teachers, we are going to have to innovate on the training. A critical element of this ability to innovate is, quite frankly, distance. George's Law of Innovation in Aikido says that there is an inverse relationship between the proximity to ones teacher and the level of innovation taking place at your dojo.

If you have had a great teacher for decades, if you haven't done so already, move as far from him as possible and start figuring things out for yourself. You will almost certainly not do so training with that teacher for another decade or so, in his own dojo.

Another thing I'd recommend to most folks... don't advertise what you are doing. A wonderful piece of advice given me many years ago by one of my mentors was "Sensei doesn't need to know." Personally, I am a huge advocate of change, cross training, etc and I have a teacher who has always been very supportive about training with a variety of teachers in many styles. So I am always up on the web telling people what I am doing, encouraging them to do likewise. But I wouldn't recommend being that visible to most folks. Get this training and go home and work on it. You don't need some sniveling toadie going back to your teacher quoting what you said about your Daito Ryu experiences or your Systema work on the Internet (and believe me they will, even if they are continents away). Does your teacher, hundreds of miles away need to know that on Tuesdays you are working on this weird stuff you got from Mike or Dan? Probably not. He's most likely happier not knowing. Then, when you see him the next time, he will most likely go, "Ah, you are starting to get what I've been trying to show you all these years! Good." Letting him think it's because he finally got through to your duncelike self will not hurt your relationship at all, whereas saying "Yes, I found someone who could teach it, finally" will not put you on the fast road to promotion.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 10-28-2009, 03:33 PM   #13
Russ Q
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Quote:
So I think that, to get more people up to the level of our teachers, we are going to have to innovate on the training. A critical element of this ability to innovate is, quite frankly, distance. George's Law of Innovation in Aikido says that there is an inverse relationship between the proximity to ones teacher and the level of innovation taking place at your dojo.

If you have had a great teacher for decades, if you haven't done so already, move as far from him as possible and start figuring things out for yourself. You will almost certainly not do so training with that teacher for another decade or so, in his own dojo.

Another thing I'd recommend to most folks... don't advertise what you are doing. A wonderful piece of advice given me many years ago by one of my mentors was "Sensei doesn't need to know." Personally, I am a huge advocate of change, cross training, etc and I have a teacher who has always been very supportive about training with a variety of teachers in many styles. So I am always up on the web telling people what I am doing, encouraging them to do likewise. But I wouldn't recommend being that visible to most folks. Get this training and go home and work on it. You don't need some sniveling toadie going back to your teacher quoting what you said about your Daito Ryu experiences or your Systema work on the Internet (and believe me they will, even if they are continents away). Does your teacher, hundreds of miles away need to know that on Tuesdays you are working on this weird stuff you got from Mike or Dan? Probably not. He's most likely happier not knowing. Then, when you see him the next time, he will most likely go, "Ah, you are starting to get what I've been trying to show you all these years! Good." Letting him think it's because he finally got through to your duncelike self will not hurt your relationship at all, whereas saying "Yes, I found someone who could teach it, finally" will not put you on the fast road to promotion
.

Ha!Ha!Ha! - you said it! Bloody spot on!!!! I will chuckle to the dojo for kids class now.

Thank you Sensei,

Russ
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Old 10-28-2009, 03:48 PM   #14
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Dojo: Aikido of Northern Virginia
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

Thanks George...good stuff as always.

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Old 10-29-2009, 07:44 AM   #15
Budd
 
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Re: Managing Change in Aikido

That's an important point because a dojo as an organization (leaving alone any larger organizations) is more than just a Darwinian place where the best hunter/fighter dictates policy. Ideally, it's a collective following the course laid out by the dojocho and working together to better themselves collectively and individually. If someone's individual pursuits are disruptive - even if there's potential that it CAN improve the collective - if there's a real risk that the collective will be severely impaired in the process, you have to weigh the risk/benefits in the short term and long term as part of the implementation.
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