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Old 07-04-2011, 03:50 PM   #1
George S. Ledyard
 
George S. Ledyard's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,632
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Open Letter to My Students

Hi Everyone,
After much reflection in the post Olson Sensei aftermath, I decided I needed to write something about what I see as the purpose of our art and how important the Dojo community is in preserving and transmitting it. I wanted to wait until I wasn't upset any more about the abysmal attendance at the event, which by the way, did not even break even. I was, at the time, embarrassed that my guest brought seven students all the way from Montana while the majority of our own folks, and especially our Beginner student population did not participate at all. Anyway, all that is what it is. My initial reaction was to read everyone the "riot act", which I realize simply isn't productive or effective. People cannot be forced to care about something they don't. So, I have decided to explain what I believe about Aikido, and what I see as the mission of Aikido Eastside. Folks can decide what these things mean to them, personally.

Aikido is a form of Budo. Budo is basically the use of the martial arts for personal transformation. Aikido as Budo is a "Michi" or Martial "WAY" (the "do" in Aiki-do). O-Sensei, the Founder, actually believed that through Aikido, the whole world could be brought into a state of harmony; he called our art "The Way of Peace". For him, Budo was a life and death matter. Given the right level of commitment one could truly become a better person, less fearful, stronger, braver, more compassionate. One could, in his or her own Mind and Body understand that everything in the universe is essentially connected. His creation of Aikido represents a radical transformation of how Budo was viewed historically. It is a unique art. It is not a "hobby", it is not a "sport", it is not a "workout", it is a Michi, a Way. The central maxim of Aikido is "masakatsu, agatsu" "True Victory is Self Victory".

I was blessed to stumble on to Aikido 35 years ago. My teacher, Mitsugi Saotome Sensei, trained under the Founder himself, for fifteen years. He is one of the true giants of post-war Aikido. Sensei's mission has been to create a line of "transmission" for the teachings of his teacher and to try to prevent the decline that often sets in after the Founder of a given art passes on. Josh Drachman and I have been greatly honored to be a direct part of this "transmission". We have been admitted to a select group which Sensei refers to as the Ueshiba Juku (named after O-Sensei's first dojo back in the 30's). To Sensei this represents the fact that we are in the direct line of transmission from the Founder, to himself, and then to us. I once asked him if that meant that at some point in the future, one or more of my own students would be a part of the Ueshiba Juku and carry on the "transmission". He replied "Absolutely!"

This is what Aikido Eastside is about. It represents the base of support for a number of us who are trying to attain some level of mastery in this amazing art. It is the place we come to work on our own understanding, it is the place we come to share what we know with the generations who are coming along afterwards. We serve as a support for other absolutely amazing teachers who come through to share their mastery with us and help us along this Path. I don't think that many of our members actually realize what we have here at Aikido Eastside. Often it takes "getting out" to realize what you have. We literally have people moving to our area to train with us. We have people coming from all over the US and even overseas to attend events. Some come specifically so that they can work with our students because they are know to be such great partners for` this training.

But this entire enterprise is dependent on committed participants. Without students who are "hungry", teachers cannot teach, no matter what their level of skill. We are totally co-dependent in our community. A student cannot progress without good partners. Teachers cannot teach without wiling students. Nothing we do is in isolation. People often think that it's not up to them, that someone else will make the effort. They can simply show up to the dojo and learn some interesting stuff, get a bit of exercise, pay dues for the privilege, and go home. If the issue were simply the survival of the Dojo over time, that would be fine. But that isn't what this whole thing is about. A Dojo literally means "Place for the Transmission or Practice of the Way". We have no equivalent in our culture. The success or failure of this transmission is entirely dependent on the people involved.

Aikido, and Budo in general, is endangered. Modern life places ever increasing demands of people's time, we are convinced that we need to fill our time with more and more things, just to keep pace. The number one reason for folks quitting or not training as much as they say they'd like is "lack of time". I have talked with various teachers and virtually all of them say that it is difficult, if near impossible, to find people who wish to train like we trained. Yet the fact of the matter is that every single person who ever mastered some art or pursued a spiritual path had exactly the same amount of time as we do. There have been 24 hours in a day since pre-history. If people allow themselves to become convinced that their time is scarce, then the very things that in an affluent society such as ours, in which we are not completely focused on not starving each day, we could be pursuing, making ourselves better, making our world better, then arts which contain what I call "old knowledge" will simply die out. They may still exist, just as you can see lots of Aikido being done out there, but in fact, there is very little truly deep Aikido being done. The tendency is to shape the art to fill the needs and abilities of the participants. Without a critical mass of committed folks, the art declines. Even the truly committed end up constrained by the fact that there are few who can or will train with them. Their own ability to achieve excellence is dependent on have a place which is supportive of that endeavor and offers an environment focused on attainment.

I realize that only a very few will ever devote themselves to any art the way my peers and I have done. It is the natural order of things that there always be a pyramid of sorts in which the number of the folks at the top is exponentially smaller than the number of folks at the bottom. There are an infinite number of gradations in this "transmission" of Aikido. Some will take their understanding to great depth and others will just touch the surface. Regardless, there is a certain commitment required to really participate in the "transmission". Below a certain level of time and effort, nothing is really happening... nothing is really being transmitted. I have never had the expectation that more than a few of our students will go the distance and run dojos of their own some day. It's a fact that less than ten percent will even stay long enough to get a Shodan. But what I do expect is that when the students are training, they do so seriously. That what they are doing and learning is really at some place along the continuum of of the knowledge we are attempting to transmit.

When people tell me they don't have time to train due to job, family, other concerns, what they are saying is really that it simply isn't important enough for them to prioritize their training. I won't use myself as an example, because I realize that I am not in any way, shape, or form typical or representative. But I think we have one of the finest examples I know of right at our dojo of someone who has managed to combine all of the elements of a typical person's life and still take his Aikido to a highly accomplished level. Alex Nakamura Sensei has had a family, a career, etc and still, he has been on the mat three times a week year in year out for 40 + years. When folks tell me they can't do that, I simply disagree. They could, but they choose not to. This is every person's right and responsibility. To choose. People will each choose differently, according to his or her individual concerns. But everyone should understand that these choices do not occur in a vacuum.

The folks in our dojo represent a tiny minority within our society. The demographics say that only one percent of the populace has any interest in martial arts at all. Of the folks that do train, a very small minority has any interest in the traditional arts, of which Aikido is one. Kids do Tae Kwan Do, and these days young male adults (the bilk of martial arts participants) want to fight and are doing Mixed Martial Arts. So the Aikido community in general represents a miniscule segment of the population. Then, consider that fact that of the many Aikido that do exist, only a small number can offer the chance to attain real excellence. I think it should be obvious that, whereas the numbers would indicate that Aikido is doing ok, not what it was fifteen years ago, but ok... the real issue is that while the art has grown, the commitment level of the students involved in the enterprise has not. Aikido, in the sense that it has anything to do with the art founded by O-Sensei is quite simply endangered. So, in a certain sense, the folks that do train and do care about this art of ours, have a greater responsibility rather than lesser to help save the art from a possible demise. When everyone assumes that someone else will make the effort, that someone else will support that seminar, that someone else will clean the dojo before the guest arrives, that training happens when there's spare time (which there seldom is), art is doomed.

Ikeda Sensei expressed his belief that this is simply an inevitable process. I am simply unwilling to accept that. Our school's mission is to "transmit" the art on some level that the Founder would find respectable, that my teacher, Saotome Sensei, feels justifies the efforts of his entire adult life. The dojo is at a fifteen year low in membership. This is due to the demographic issues I previously noted. Some teachers have reacted to this shift by designing the training to better fit the concerns of the larger population. They create what my good friend, James Bartee (retired Secret Service Agent), calls "happy dojos". These dojos survive because they have made the practice so user friendly that it has very little to do with the art as conveyed by my teacher. Dojos have become social centers where like minded folks get together and interact doing some interesting things and getting some exercise. But when this happens the "transmission" is broken. Nothing of any great depth is occurring, no great skill can be attained. Whatever personal transformation is taking place is very shallow. I will not do this. I have consistently resisted the temptation to dumb down the art to get more students. I have refused to construct our training to make people feel "as if" something of value were happening when it really isn't.

This dojo exists to allow anyone with the talent and motivation to become truly excellent at our art. I fully expect that some of our students will be top level teachers someday, part of the leadership of the art after I am gone. Whether or not people can or will make that commitment themselves, I hope they can see that it is an admirable effort and needs to be supported. I want every single person at our dojo to experience an Aikido that, at least on some level, has "aiki", helps them understand how we are all connected, that gives them some capability martially, helps them to understand Mind-Body-Spirit unification, etc.

Now Josh Drachman Sensei and I are actively on this Path, albeit substantially further along than you. To this end there are things that happen in the dojo that are, first and foremost, geared for our own training. The visits of Howard Popkin, Dan Harden, Ushiro Kenji, etc are really for our own training. We share it with interested folks. If we share the expense collectively, it is maintainable over time. But if it wasn't, we'd be finding a way to do the training anyway.

The Aikido seminars, on the other hand, are largely for you. Whereas I get a lot out of them myself, I don't need to do these for my own progress. But you folks do. In any dojo, there is a dominant paradigm as to how an art is taught, how it is explained and demonstrated. There is a certain point in ones training at which, if you were going to "get it" the way it's being taught, you would have already. Change in perspective is crucial. That's the primary reason there are seminars. Over and over my friends who are teachers talk about how one of their students had some epiphany at a seminar when they finally understood something their own teacher had been saying all along. It was the change in the perspective that did it.
When I invite a teacher to our dojo, I do so because I think that, at some level, this teacher is at the top of his or her game. We have hosted some of the finest Aikido in the world within our doors. When we get to the point at which only a quarter to a third of our membership participates in one of our Aikido seminars, then basically the process is broken. We are in serious danger of losing that critical mass needed to maintain excellence at our dojo. We have some fantastic instructors developing. But I am not seeing where the folks are in the pipeline coming along behind them, progressing in such a way that it pushes the seniors forward, rather than the seniors trying to pull folks along.

Basically, when a certain point is reached at a dojo, where not enough folks are interested in training at the three times a week (consistently) that it takes to progress, when dojo events happen and only a handful support those events, when the same very small group consistently shows up for the work parties that maintain the dojo, then that dojo is in trouble. Now perhaps our dojo is ion trouble because Aikido is in trouble (which is actually my belief) or perhaps there are things we are doing wrong. In any case, I think we need to take a look at what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what we have that so many are envious of and we are treating so cavalierly.

Many of my fellow teachers have solved these issues by being extremely hands on, very control oriented, by building up the "Sensei Mystique" I have always seen that as a trap, personally. When folks start to invest that much in a teacher, there's a point at which that teacher starts to think he or she deserves it. That's a trap and it isn't my style. I have noticed that at none of the dojos at which things are run that way, are they producing top level students who will be leaders in the future. So, in exchange for running a very tight ship with folks who really respect and listen to their teacher, they sacrifice (this is just my opinion) developing students who are independent, capable of progressing on their own, keeping the dojo going after that teacher is gone. I have not done this. I have been purposely low key on the whole "Sensei" thing. I ask the membership to do certain things, they do what they want anyway. It's fairly amusing how, the more I have pushed for certain things to happen over the years, the less likely they were to have happened. That's fine for me. It keeps me humble... no one can think I get too big for my britches when I get so many reminders of how little power or influence I actually have.

But I will say that I feel I have a number of students who look to be better than I am when I am gone. I have a dojo which would survive quite nicely if I were not there tomorrow. I have students whom I have made sure they have the personal relationships with teachers who could help them keep progressing if I were suddenly not around. I have set up blocks of training that have been kept going by the efforts of my students, not by my own efforts. Because I have had a hands off relationship with my students and the dojo, I have allowed those folks with the desire and the capacity to develop into leaders. These leaders within the dojo will someday be leaders within the whole Aikido community. I am not willing to sacrifice that in order to make people more responsive to my own leadership.

...

I have only one expectation of our students... that they are trying to be better. Otherwise they are wasting their own time and money and the time and effort of those teaching them and the partners who are training with them. I don't care how fast someone progresses, that's largely a matter of ability. O-Sensei was once asked which he would choose if he had two potential students in front of him, the one with great ability or the one who would work the hardest. He said that the one who works the hardest wins out every time. I am not asking that folks make Aikido the center of their lives. But I am asking for folks to do the minimum required to progress. I am asking that folks treat their membership in our dojo community as something important to them and not just an after thought. When we have a dojo cleanup, folks should consider it a responsibility of membership to participate, even if they can't actually go to the seminar... We hold three Aikido seminars each year.. just three. Participation of the membership in those three events is expected. Of course I have said this many times before and folks continue to ignore me. But I am saying this once again. IF you have the time, money, and commitment to take advantage of the other training we are offering, then great, bonus training for you. But our Aikido seminars are an integral part of your training and a responsibility of membership. When folks don't participate, they are essentially saying they don't respect me, they don't appreciate the dojo, and the don't really care about their training. When your instructors are telling you how important it is that you show up for an event and you don't bother, you are telling them their opinions don't matter. When I invite a close personal friend to my dojo to teach, a man who turned out 45 or so people when I taught at his dojo, and 2/3 of our own folks do not show up for even a part of the weekend, it is insulting to that guest and it's embarrassing for me. It makes those of us who have put so much of our time and effort into this art feel like we have been wasting our time because so few people care at all.

If you are a member of this dojo you are connected to every other member and the effort as a whole. Choosing to do less than you are capable of holds others back. I am not talking about the extraordinary effort to attain mastery or become a teacher. I am talking about the bottom line, baseline effort required to simply get better and to support the place you require to make that effort and the folks you rely on to do so. There is a point for any art at which the number of folks willing to make that effort can be outweighed by the number of folks who are not. At that point the art either gets dumbed down, which is what is happening to Aikido, or it ceases to be vibrant, developing and it loses it's vitality. Thinking that it is someone other than yourself who will determine which direction Aikido goes is a mistake. It is up to each of us, if we care at all about the outcome.

I have attached a document which has been posted on the board at the dojo for several years. It is supposed to be given to each new member when they enroll but this has fallen into inconsistency. So I am attaching it now for folks to read. I would especially point out the requirements that be met in order to be promoted past 4th Kyu. People are totally free to determine how much they train etc. But it is my job to set the "standard" for the dojo. This is something my teachers told me specifically. It isn't my teacher, or our organization... it isn't in comparison with any other school. It is my personal responsibility to set the standard for my students. So, folks are free to train any way they wish. But, if they wish to get ranking through me and Aikido Eastside, then a certain minimum effort is required. This is an effort standard, not a performance standard. It based on my assessment derived from several decades of practice of what it takes to progress in this art for the average student (not the talented whiz kid or the fanatic).

Thanks for your time. These things need to be said periodically, I think. Some folks have been around long enough to remember several of these, while others may have never heard this all before. I just want people to be conscious and intentional about what they are doing. While these are my expectations, no one is under any compulsion to meet them... that is entirely up to each individual.
- George

(Original blog post may be found here.)
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Old 07-04-2011, 04:44 PM   #2
robin_jet_alt
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 525
Australia
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Hi George,

While I appreciate the sentiment, I have to disagree on some points. Not everybody has the same amount of time, and we can't all choose our working hours or the length of our commute. I trained 3 or 4 times a week for a number of years, but that was because I had time to. Right now, I work 9 hours per day, commute for 2.5 and cook dinner 7 nights per week. I am lucky to find the time to train on weekends.

I am willing to bet that all of the people you know who are able to train 3 times a week have their partners look after themselves on the nights they are training. That isn't an option for me, and if I am going to train on a weeknight, I need to have dinner in the fridge ready to reheat, and I will usually end up doing the dishes etc. when I get home at 10:30. Then I need to get up at 6 the next morning to make breakfast and lunch.

Where exactly is this time supposed to come from, or am I just being lazy?
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Old 07-04-2011, 05:05 PM   #3
Russ Q
Dojo: Shohei Juku Aikido Gibsons
Location: Gibsons BC
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 193
Canada
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Thank you George Sensei....,

To Robin: I think what George is trying to say is you do have time...we all have the same amount of time...it's how you prioritize. I am probably one of those "not so committed" students he is eluding to....I train 3x per week (teaching) I get an extra day when my sensei comes to visit, an extra weekend when George comes up this way and, maybe once a year, I go visit him when he is hosting a seminar. I could train more...I choose to spend more time with my kids, I choose to spend my money, generally, on things other than aikido training. I could choose to spend more time training with the quality instructors that abound in the Pacific Northwest, I could choose to spend more money doing just that....these choices would have consequences I would rather not face. My choices, I realize, are not bad, good or indifferent...they just are. That's today....I hope, as my children grow, as my income grows I can make choices more suited to my desire to progress in this art.

My two cents,

Russ
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Old 07-04-2011, 05:25 PM   #4
sakumeikan
Dojo: Sakumeikan N.E. Aikkai .Newcastle upon Tyne.
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,136
United Kingdom
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Robin Boyd wrote: View Post
Hi George,

While I appreciate the sentiment, I have to disagree on some points. Not everybody has the same amount of time, and we can't all choose our working hours or the length of our commute. I trained 3 or 4 times a week for a number of years, but that was because I had time to. Right now, I work 9 hours per day, commute for 2.5 and cook dinner 7 nights per week. I am lucky to find the time to train on weekends.

I am willing to bet that all of the people you know who are able to train 3 times a week have their partners look after themselves on the nights they are training. That isn't an option for me, and if I am going to train on a weeknight, I need to have dinner in the fridge ready to reheat, and I will usually end up doing the dishes etc. when I get home at 10:30. Then I need to get up at 6 the next morning to make breakfast and lunch.

Where exactly is this time supposed to come from, or am I just being lazy?
Dear Robin,
I do realise you have very little spare time.However may I suggest that perhaps you could train one hour [say two/three times ]midweek ?As far as meals are concerned and washing dishes, you could buy a takeaway meal/go to a cheap restaurant and you would not have to think about piles of dishware.
What Mr Ledyard is saying is that his group fail to understand the importance of supporting the dojo /course.Aikido is more than just a night out , wearing fancy gear , and so forth.To fully understand Aikido one has to be committed , make personal sacrifice[money /time] while at the same time[and this is important ] maintaining a good connection with family etc.You must learn to practise both Big Aikido and Small Aikido.
May I say that I also have the same issues as Ledyard Sensei?
Many a night I turn up at my own dojo and find I am in a minority of one /two.You can take a horse to the water etc.Funny enough the students expect the teacher to be there , but with a few exceptions,
I see some students one night then I dont see them for a week or two.And as for seminars my colleagues and I [6thDan /4th dan /two 3rd Dans and a Shodan]host a bi monthly area course.We charge for 4 hours training the princely sum of between 9 dollars/15 dollars.
Hardly excessive prices-yet we struggle to get more than 16 people.
And that includes visitors from other groups.No one receives a course teaching fee, we use this money to try a fund other events.
In conclusion I sometimes think that some of the newbies at Aikido have no real idea of what aikido is.The old timers like Ledyard Sensei understand the nature of Aikido and what it means to be
a Sensei and leader.Without men like Ledyard Sensei the legacy of O Sensei may well end in the not too distant future.
To the younger generation, step up to the plate.Give back what you have been given by your own teachers to future aikidoka.
Please do not think I am personalising this issue, simply saying that sometimes with a bit of planning one can utilise time better.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 07-04-2011, 06:21 PM   #5
graham christian
Dojo: golden center aikido-highgate
Location: london
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 2,697
England
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Hi George.
It's me, the outsider here. Hope you don't mind me giving a few thoughts from the outside.

I think I understand what you're saying here and agree that now and again we have to do something we don't feel quite comfortable with, with regards to others. I call this 'time for the sword' albeit in essence it's a compassionate sword really.

That's my summary of the above, read with admiration.

That brings me to solution. We can't really expect others to have Aikido as their world and yet we may expect certain things from them. This as I see it is the dilemma you face.

Maybe it's a lesson for you to learn? Hear me out on this.

It is your 'world' your 'dream' that you are creating and running with goals for the future. Now in your world the rules are put there by you and when things don't go as planned it's review time. I say this just so you know how I'm thinking and that it moved me to write.

Your communication alone may be enough for the future plans. If you feel it isn't then how about this idea:

You could have it as part of your grading system that all students at the different levels have to have attended a certain amount of seminars to progress.

This of course would work both ways, it would mean you have to do more and more have to attend.

Note please this is not my way but given as food for thought that may help or not.

At worst it's just unasked for banter from that guy in the hat.

Regards.G.
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Old 07-04-2011, 06:27 PM   #6
robin_jet_alt
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 525
Australia
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

I really do understand what you are all saying about prioritizing, and I admit that I am currently prioritizing, food, work and family over aikido. All I mean to say is that I doubt Alex Nakamura sensei for example is expected to do all the cooking in his household. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he could finish his training session, go home and have a snack and a cup of tea waiting for him. That makes a very big difference. I really don't think we should be making judgments about each other's choices unless we can walk in their shoes. There is a difference between someone who doesn't train regularly because they can't be bothered, and someone who doesn't train regularly because of other responsibilities.

In my own personal circumstances, if my wife and I were to eat takeaway 3 or 4 nights per week, I think we would quickly develop health problems, which would also hinder me from training. Not to mention the fact that it would just be gross. As things stand, I haven't been on the mat for about a month due to everything I've mentioned plus illness and things like going to a friend's wedding. I am literally itching to get on the mat. It really isn't due to a lack of will. I would much rather be on the mat than on these forums for instance.
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Old 07-04-2011, 06:45 PM   #7
JO
Dojo: Aikikai de l'Université Laval
Location: Sainte-Catherine-de-la-J.-C., Québec
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 292
Canada
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

I don't think the amount of training an individual does is that important to the maintaining of the art. The focus of that person during training is much more important. I prefer those that come out once a week and give it all they got over those that come 3 times a week (every class in my dojo) but train with the intent out a sleepy slug.

Commitment, priorities. Big words. I usually train 2 or 3 times a week (2 hour classes). The dojo is only open 3 days a week, so schedule conflicts have a huge impact on my training. I have a full time job and 3 young kids, plus my wife is also a member of the dojo. Me and my wife can't both make it to each class. The babysitter costs alone would do us in. So we take turns and do what we can. This week I can't train at all as I must stay home alone with my 2 year old (wife working out of town). On the other hand, each of my children have sat by the mat as babies as their parents trained. Could I do more, probably. But not without decreasing the input into my family, something I am unwilling to do. However, I try not to let anyone outdo me on intensity and focus on the mat. That I can do every time I manage to make it out. It takes nothing away from my other commitments.

And to those working on the "Happy Dojos" and George puts it. This will do you in in the medium term I think. Those that would put in the work gradually drift away for lack of intensity and challenge, leaving only the slugs. The most successful dojo I know personally tends more towards the higher intensity of things. An aikido dojo that still attracts the young hard cases that have always been the lifeblood of the martial arts. When I visit there I am not always physically fit enough to keep up with the most intense students. It's a nice change of pace really.

Jonathan Olson
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Old 07-04-2011, 08:52 PM   #8
phitruong
Dojo: Charlotte Aikikai Agatsu Dojo
Join Date: Aug 2007
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

those who follow the way are slowly disappearing. nothing can withstand the passage of time. i wonder what aikido will be 20 years from now.
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Old 07-04-2011, 09:07 PM   #9
ninjaqutie
 
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Dojo: Searching for a new home
Location: Delaware (<3 still in Oregon!)
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

I didn't see the attachment you mentioned that is hung in your dojo... did I miss something? Maybe it was incorporated into the post and I just didn't catch on.

~Look into the eyes of your opponent & steal his spirit.
~To be a good martial artist is to be good thief; if you want my knowledge, you must take it from me.
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Old 07-04-2011, 09:51 PM   #10
dps
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

You are disappointed, you chastise and expect more commitment of time and money from the people whose dues pays your salary.

Isn't that biting the hand that feeds you?

dps

Last edited by dps : 07-04-2011 at 09:54 PM.
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Old 07-04-2011, 09:54 PM   #11
Janet Rosen
  AikiWeb Forums Contributing Member
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

In terms of how many times one can train per week/month ... sometimes for some people it really is a matter more of convenience than need and really reflects priorities (just as for some people they complain about not having money but always have the latest tech toy, or highest price cable tv option, or a stack of new books on the coffee table or plenty of cigarettes and beer on hand...whereas when some complain about not having money, they may have actually chosen between dojo dues and putting new tires on the car before winter)... what I also carry away from George's post is the "somebody else will do it" attitude from dojo members, as if their dues were just membership in a health club and NOT part of actively supporting a dojo community. To me this is inexcusable ... there is always a half hour *somewhere* in the week one can do a run for needed supplies or dust the shomen or whatever, even if you can't necessarily get in for an extra class or even if you are nursing an injury.

Last edited by Janet Rosen : 07-04-2011 at 09:56 PM. Reason: clarity

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Old 07-04-2011, 11:18 PM   #12
Chuck Clark
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

I started to echo what many others have written... well, they nailed it pretty well. Budo practice can fit in these times, but we have to each create our own practice. The hard part is that this is an individual practice that requires others to take part, and there's the rub...

"Don't Quit, and Don't Die"

Best regards,

Chuck Clark
Jiyushinkai Aikibudo
www.jiyushinkai.org
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Old 07-05-2011, 12:43 AM   #13
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

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Graham Christian wrote: View Post
Hi George.
It's me, the outsider here. Hope you don't mind me giving a few thoughts from the outside.

I think I understand what you're saying here and agree that now and again we have to do something we don't feel quite comfortable with, with regards to others. I call this 'time for the sword' albeit in essence it's a compassionate sword really.

That's my summary of the above, read with admiration.

That brings me to solution. We can't really expect others to have Aikido as their world and yet we may expect certain things from them. This as I see it is the dilemma you face.

Maybe it's a lesson for you to learn? Hear me out on this.

It is your 'world' your 'dream' that you are creating and running with goals for the future. Now in your world the rules are put there by you and when things don't go as planned it's review time. I say this just so you know how I'm thinking and that it moved me to write.

Your communication alone may be enough for the future plans. If you feel it isn't then how about this idea:

You could have it as part of your grading system that all students at the different levels have to have attended a certain amount of seminars to progress.

This of course would work both ways, it would mean you have to do more and more have to attend.

Note please this is not my way but given as food for thought that may help or not.

At worst it's just unasked for banter from that guy in the hat.

Regards.G.
Hi Graham,
Thanks for the response...

I don't think you can do what I do and not constantly get thrown up against yourself and your desires and expectations. Virtually nothing happens quite the way one wants nor do folks generally feel the need to meet your expectations.

I have thought a lot about this. I am quite capable of seeing what it is that people would like and could find a way of creating that. I am absolutely sure I cold have more students and the dojo could thrive in a way that it has never done. I have never been quite willing to make those changes. I have experimented with what is possible within certain self imposed limitations. But these explorations have taught me that there is a point at which I am unwilling to structure what I do differently, just to make the whole enterprise more "popular" or financially successful.

I think that this touches on the nature of leadership and what that entails. I was told by Sensei when I was just a white belt that he was "training leaders". I have chosen to follow that path.

I think a leader is someone who moves along a path and encourages others to follow. He or she cannot make anyone pursue that same path. But whether or not anyone anyone else at all follows along behind, one keeps going because it is ones path to do so. I think it is incumbent on leaders to make an effort to communicate to those that might follow along just why they should be making the effort.

As you move "up the mountain", as Ikeda Sensei puts it, you discover an array of things that one who has not gotten to the same point will not yet have experienced. Part of being a leader, I think, is trying to point the way to what the student might accomplish if the effort weren't allowed to come up short. Some levels of effort will not now, or ever, even allow you to glimpse the top of the mountain while other levels of commitment might give at least a sense of what could be had. Someone has to tell the students what that is... even when they won't like hearing it.

Anyway, I have changed vastly over time... I have been running a dojo now for 25 years. I am far more positive and "user friendly" now than when younger. I am far less judgmental about the choices folks make. I just think it is incumbent on me as a teacher to let my students know what the expectations are when they train at my dojo and hopefully develop an understanding that these expectations are not arbitrary but are based on my experience and my own estimation of what it takes to get out of the art at least a bit of what could be had on some deep level and what is required to support a dojo community that is serious about pursuing an Aikido that has both depth and breadth. O-Sensei was once asked which he would prefer, a student of great ability or one who would work hard in his training, He said that he'd go for the student who would work hard every time.

What we face today is something of a crisis of s different order than what he was referring to. Aikido is in danger of becoming an an that does not attract either the student of great ability or the student who is willing to work hard. It is in danger of losing the very characteristics that make it Budo and morphing into something that is just a hobby done by nice folks in their spare time.

This discussion needs to be had, over and over. Each teacher will decide for himself or herself what it is they require from their students. Each student will decide what he or she is willing to do. The main thing I want is for people to be clear about what they are doing. I have yet to hear anyone state that they are doing "Aikido-lite". Not one person... yet there are a set of choices that one can make about his training which virtually guarantees that Aikido-lite is the only thing that is happening.

That is not what I am trying to teach, that is not what I am personally pursuing, and it is not what our dojo is about. So periodically clear explanations of what I personally am trying to accomplish and certainly, what my expectations as chief instructor are need to be made. People can then decide for themselves what to do about it all.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 07-05-2011, 12:46 AM   #14
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

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Ashley Carter wrote: View Post
I didn't see the attachment you mentioned that is hung in your dojo... did I miss something? Maybe it was incorporated into the post and I just didn't catch on.
I didn't attach it in the Blog... it's just something I like to give out when folks sign up. The issues were covered her anyway...

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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Old 07-05-2011, 01:05 AM   #15
robin_jet_alt
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
Hi Graham,
I have yet to hear anyone state that they are doing "Aikido-lite". Not one person... yet there are a set of choices that one can make about his training which virtually guarantees that Aikido-lite is the only thing that is happening.
I will be the first then. I think I am quite clear about the degree to which I am choosing to engage, and the amount I am likely to get out of it. I hope one day to be able to engage to a greater extent, much as I was able to do in the past. For now I am merely treading water, and I don't expect to progress much beyond where I am.

So, there you go. I am doing "Aikido-lite"
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Old 07-05-2011, 01:14 AM   #16
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Dear George

I have read your letter with much interest.
The points you bring up are common to every dojo, I think.

For a long time I have had the feeling/the urge to grow, get a big dojo. But after a while I realised that the students you then get are not that committed. So you can have a small dojo that struggles to come by but generates (hopefully) quality and committed Aikidoka's or you have a more popular larger dojo with perhaps lower quality. Mind you, I do not imply to say that you cannot have a large dojo and good quality, but I do think that is very hard to achieve intentionally. It is hard to be humble, stay true to the Way and still get a group of committed students.

Somewhere along the line you mention that "you choose the way to become a (great) leader". But leadership requires to inspire, motivate members. I have not read your take on this, would you care to share your view on this, how you do this?

All things said and done....
My teacher pushes me to grow. He says to practise with a lot of different people is good and you cannot ever know which student will have long term commitment. When asked how to reach the 'right' people; he lacks an answer and says your view on Aikido is completely different from theirs....this is what I struggle with to the day

Also there has been one badly attended seminar, but to organise it on Mothersday has not been the smartest thing...

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 07-05-2011, 01:19 AM   #17
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
You are disappointed, you chastise and expect more commitment of time and money from the people whose dues pays your salary.

Isn't that biting the hand that feeds you?

dps
David,
For one thing, people are paying me to be members of the dojo which is a place dedicated to teaching Aikido and carrying on a transmission that started with O-Sensei and came to me through my teacher.

If, as one might assume, they are paying to learn the art, then it is my job to make clear what needs to be done to do that. Not doing that job would be taking their money under false pretenses.

I can set up all of the opportunities to make progress and potentially achieve excellence but it is up to the student to decide whether to take advantage. It is possible that students of less experience don't understand why they need to make a particular effort, why it certain experiences are crucial to their Aikido development. So it needs to be stated.

I don't get why it is that in so many other activities, it would be considered absolutely normal for a teacher to demand a certain effort and, if that expectation were not met, the student would be asked to leave. Bela Karolyi taught gymnastics for many years and turned out champions on a regular basis. Does anyone think he accepted just anyone into that training? People had to be "accepted" into that training. They paid a lot of money just to have him demand their best. It was his job to demand their best and show them how to achieve that. Why is Aikido different?

If I were to find myself a top level piano teacher, does anyone think for a minute that he or she would put up with anything less than my full effort? The money I would pay for having such a teacher would be wasted if that teacher did not care enough to demand excellence from me. Is Aikido not at least as valuable as some other practice which has depth and requires great effort to achieve excellence?

I understand that my perspective is different than many others, because of who I trained with and because of the fact that I am a professional instructor. In my case, the local Seattle area has well over 20 dojos in the immediate metro area. There are multiple dojo choices open to any student wishing to train. Each of these dojos will have a different expectation, each will see its mission differently.

It is my job to set my expectations for my dojo and my students. I take the fact that they pay me to teach them Aikido VERY seriously. I have done my level best to set up a program which makes that possible. If people are paying me to learn Aikido but are not dong what needs to be done to do so, it is only doing my job to let folks know what I do feel is necessary. There are plenty of places folks can go which set an entirely different standard and have vastly different expectations. But if they join my dojo then it is up to me to set the standards and to let folks know when they are not meeting them. That is precisely what a professional teacher gets paid for. Not doing so is almost fraudulent as far as I am concerned.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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Old 07-05-2011, 01:24 AM   #18
carina reinhardt
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

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George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
O-Sensei, the Founder, actually believed that through Aikido, the whole world could be brought into a state of harmony; he called our art "The Way of Peace". For him, Budo was a life and death matter. Given the right level of commitment one could truly become a better person, less fearful, stronger, braver, more compassionate. One could, in his or her own Mind and Body understand that everything in the universe is essentially connected.
Hi George,
I'm not your student, but I'm a student in a dojo that grows progressively. And I fully agree with Grahams post.These are just my humble thoughts and I do not want to bother you in any way.
All the best
Carina
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Old 07-05-2011, 01:41 AM   #19
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

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Graham Christian wrote: View Post
You could have it as part of your grading system that all students at the different levels have to have attended a certain amount of seminars to progress.

This of course would work both ways, it would mean you have to do more and more have to attend.
I have practised in a dojo that actually does this. People have left because of this. They said the dojo became commercial and had moved away from traditional ways of teaching an art
People could only do exams on specific saturdays (seminar), for which a fee had to be paid. So you had to pay to attend the seminar and you paid for the exam. Sure this brings in the dollar (or euro in our case)...

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 07-05-2011, 02:55 AM   #20
Hellis
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Dear George

I had a wry smile as I read your post, as with Joe I see many of the problems that affect Aikido today.....Today students want a dojo within walking distance of their home with times that fit in with their favourite TV programmes. In the 1950's the first visitors to the Hut Dojo which was the only Aikido Dojo in the UK - Ralph Reynolds and a couple of students would drive down from Birmingham every Sunday morning for a two hour practice - this was a time when there were no motorways and would have been a four hour drive each way..As assitant to Ken Williams Sensei I had to be at the dojo every night - I would get home from work and then run two miles to the dojo...Now I see students arrive just minutes before the class starts and do not seem surprised to find that someone else has put the mats down for them..
Changing values I guess.

Henry Ellis
British Aikido
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
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Old 07-05-2011, 03:18 AM   #21
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Reading the responses I cannot help but think that perhaps our culture has changed/is changing. In the past (not so long ago?) people put in more effort to 'get' something. Nowadays there is this consumption mentality: quick and easy, available everywhere 24/7 at low prices.

To no ones surprise this mentality also reflects on Aikido.
One could argue that the old way (Way?) is dying and time has come for perhaps a modernised version of Aikido?
Earlier I said:
Quote:
It is hard to be humble, stay true to the Way and still get a group of committed students.

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 07-05-2011, 03:32 AM   #22
carina reinhardt
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

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Henry Ellis wrote: View Post
Dear George

I had a wry smile as I read your post, as with Joe I see many of the problems that affect Aikido today.....Today students want a dojo within walking distance of their home with times that fit in with their favourite TV programmes. In the 1950's the first visitors to the Hut Dojo which was the only Aikido Dojo in the UK - Ralph Reynolds and a couple of students would drive down from Birmingham every Sunday morning for a two hour practice - this was a time when there were no motorways and would have been a four hour drive each way..As assitant to Ken Williams Sensei I had to be at the dojo every night - I would get home from work and then run two miles to the dojo...Now I see students arrive just minutes before the class starts and do not seem surprised to find that someone else has put the mats down for them..
Changing values I guess.

Henry Ellis
British Aikido
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
Hi Henry,

As Bob Dylan says "For the times they are a-changin'." Anyway, I drive 15 min to my dojo after an 8 hours job and attending my family.
And if everything goes well I'll go 3 times to Tenerife this year, the neighbour island(more than 2 hours by ship or 15 min flight + the time you must be before at the airport and the drive of 30 min to the dojo), to attend several seminars(the last in november with Frank Noel Sensei) and the flight to the south of Spain in Granada 1750km from where I live to a seminar of Endo Sensei, because he is worth it.
Best
Carina
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Old 07-05-2011, 04:49 AM   #23
raul rodrigo
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

What? "Biting the hand that feeds him"? Wouldn't that reduce George's relationship to his students a purely economic one? Isn't that tantamount to saying that basically, "their money, their rules"? That can't be right. It's George's dojo, his rules. The people who won't bring the effort and dedication should really bring their money elsewhere.
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Old 07-05-2011, 05:15 AM   #24
sakumeikan
Dojo: Sakumeikan N.E. Aikkai .Newcastle upon Tyne.
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Henry Ellis wrote: View Post
Dear George

I had a wry smile as I read your post, as with Joe I see many of the problems that affect Aikido today.....Today students want a dojo within walking distance of their home with times that fit in with their favourite TV programmes. In the 1950's the first visitors to the Hut Dojo which was the only Aikido Dojo in the UK - Ralph Reynolds and a couple of students would drive down from Birmingham every Sunday morning for a two hour practice - this was a time when there were no motorways and would have been a four hour drive each way..As assitant to Ken Williams Sensei I had to be at the dojo every night - I would get home from work and then run two miles to the dojo...Now I see students arrive just minutes before the class starts and do not seem surprised to find that someone else has put the mats down for them..
Changing values I guess.

Henry Ellis
British Aikido
http://britishaikido.blogspot.com/
Dear Henry,
When I first started Aikido and travelled the length and breadth of the U.K to train with Chiba Sensei I often slept on dojo floors, under hedges , in my car .Looking back it was grim, but
the effort was worth it.Too many people expect things to be put on a plate for them nowadays.No pain No gain is my mantra.Aikido
in the 70s was gruelling.Now some dojos are more like social clubs.For those who have been uchi deshi of Chiba Sensei at San Diego Aikikai [for example]each of these students know through their experiences what it takes to be a skilled aikidoka and a future leader of the aikido fraternity.Sacrifice of time, endurance , commitment, enthusiasm and will power.The students also need a Sensei/s who lead from the front, never asking any student to do anything that the sensei/s would not do,one who inspires people.
We as aikidoka have a duty to maintain and preserve our aikido lineage.Many aikidoka before us some sadly deceased spent their lives transmitting the art to the younger generation.
No one expects everyone to have this frame of mind , but without present day teachers understanding this mindset aikido will diminish and be diluted . As I see it this is a potential problem and needs addressing now.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 07-05-2011, 05:21 AM   #25
sakumeikan
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Re: Open Letter to My Students

Quote:
Carina Reinhardt wrote: View Post
Hi Henry,

As Bob Dylan says "For the times they are a-changin'." Anyway, I drive 15 min to my dojo after an 8 hours job and attending my family.
And if everything goes well I'll go 3 times to Tenerife this year, the neighbour island(more than 2 hours by ship or 15 min flight + the time you must be before at the airport and the drive of 30 min to the dojo), to attend several seminars(the last in november with Frank Noel Sensei) and the flight to the south of Spain in Granada 1750km from where I live to a seminar of Endo Sensei, because he is worth it.
Best
Carina
Dear Carina,
Your commitment to the art is commendable.Should I visit the Gran Canaria, I will look your dojo up.i did visit a dojo in Gran Canaria, but there were no classes on at that time.It was a nice dojo.I also visited Tenerife many years ago to conduct a Seminar .I was invited by Mr Brown, who at that point in time was residing in Tenerife.If my memory is ok the Dojo was in a Gym.
Cheers, Joe.
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