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Old 12-17-2003, 09:08 AM   #1
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
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Race and Aikido: Demographic

On another thread, I found the following statement:

Quote:
I don't know of others experiences but I have ALWAYS one of the few Blacks in the dojo (if not THE only). I often wonder why that is. I don't feel that aikido has been accessible to certain demographics. I am not saying that is a fault of the art that we study but it may be a flaw in how we as practitioners market or reach out to others of the various ethnicities. I believe that if aikido is to spread and become relevant in the future somehow we have to reach a wider audience than what has been the norm for the past 30 years.
As an African American myself, I have also noticed this trend to a certain extent. The main school which my style derives from stands out in this regard in a few ways, though.

One, the school has a formal class at Temple University, which is in North Philadelphia, so we have a draw from a very 'mixed' population in that regard.

Two, the yoshinkan has as one of its highest ranking members an African American, Amos Parker Shihan, 8th Dan. I find for myself that he provides an excellent aikido role model.

These two things aside, I have noticed that many of the aikido schools I have been to other than my own seem to have fewer African Americans than say, boxing schools, kung fu schools, etc. But all of my life I have been in that situation...either in school or in work, as well as in many social situations. So I have adapted to being in environments where I 'stand out' in that sense.

An observation I have made is that many of the African American aikidoka I have seen and met are *very* self assured, dynamic individuals (in and out of aikido). I think being able to function well as a minority in a sometimes hostile society may build a certain level of character. And it has often shown itself as very apparent in the aikidoka I have met and trained with.

If you or your dojo wants to reach out in a larger way to the African American community, try starting a feeder program at an inner city university, an after (secondary) school program, local boy scout troop, or church. Basically, if you want to make a difference here, you have to expose the group in question to what you have to offer by going where the numbers are.

I'd be interested in hearing what people from all groups think about this topic. And if people feel comfortable stating their race and experiences in non-confrontational ways, that would be great as well.

Some questions if you are part of a minority group:

Does it matter to you that you might stand out in aikido settings?

Does it matter to you that friends of the same ethinic group and family find it strange that you choose to practice a Japanese martial art?

What do you feel your reception has been in the aikido community?

Has your practice of aikido influenced your feelings about race in general?

Maybe I'll take a shot at these questions in a later post myself.

Thanks for listening,
Ron Tisdale
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Old 12-17-2003, 10:08 AM   #2
Eric Joyce
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Hey Ron,

I am not African-American, but you do make a point. One of the things that my sensei and I did was go to the inner cities and partnered up with the local YMCA or Boys and Girls club and taught them Yoshinkai aikido (just basic movements and techniques) to spark their interest. Some liked it, some didn't and that's okay, aikido isn't for everybody. What I did find is that the kids that really liked it, either didn't have a ride, had other responsibilities or couldn't afford monthly classes. It's sad, but that's reality sometimes. I personally like going to the inner city and teaching kids/teenagers a martial art that they may not have the access to. To see there faces light up is a real treat. I would recommend more aikidoka do this. I guess if aikido is to "truly spread", this is one avenue worth looking at. By the way Ron, I think Amos Parker is a excellent example. I would also add the late Gibert James to that list as well. Peace my friend.

Eric Joyce
Otake Han Doshin Ryu Jujutsu
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Old 12-17-2003, 10:17 AM   #3
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
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And Peace to you too...

One of my instructors would always charge everyone who could pay a little more so that we could sponsor families and children who couldn't afford to train otherwise. He considered it his (and by default, our) way of giving back. But we had a lot more students then, and were partialy subsidized by the main school we were affiliated with. Its not so easy to do as a small school on our own, like we are now.

I think the yoshinkan is unusual in the number of relatively to very high ranking African Americans like Gilbert James, Amos Parker, Gil Fitz, and others. It may seem silly to others, but I always felt a little more comfortable because of that. I think they influence their non-minority students in very positive ways along the same lines.

Take care,

Ron

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
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Old 12-17-2003, 11:31 AM   #4
aikidoc
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Ron:

Although race should not be an issue I too have observed your impression of the lilly whiteness of some schools. I'm not sure the reason. Perhaps we don't set up schools in a convenient area or make them financially accessible to all students. Perhaps Afro-American students are more attracted to the other arts. I'm not sure of the answer. I have had black students as class mates and one as a student. None seemed to stay long. My classmates were in California my student locally.

There also may be an issue as to where one is located geographically. The black population here is relatively small (we are in the middle of nowhere). I would expect more diversity in the dojo population in areas with more ethnic groups.
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Old 12-17-2003, 11:35 AM   #5
Ron Tisdale
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Thanks for responding John. You're right, it really shouldn't make any difference. I'm currious...you probably have other minorities that are in your area though...hispanic, asian, middle eastern, something. Do you see an interest in aikido in whatever minority communities that happen to be close by? I don't want to limit this topic to just African Americans...

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
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Old 12-17-2003, 12:06 PM   #6
Daniel Mills
 
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Without wishing to butt-in as it were, regarding your last response Ron, but with regards to minority communities near-by affecting minority dojo attendance -

Although I've no experience of elsewhere dojos, our dojo does have a strong Asian contingent (mainly in the juniors, actually!) but also a few kyu ranks, and at least one Dan grade (female, no less ), which I contribute mainly to the strong diversity and ethnic presence in the area. I view it as a more-than positive note, when taking into account that the area in which I live, and in which the dojo is situated were involved in some of the most horrific racially-motivated riots that the United Kingdom has seen in recent years, a few years ago.
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Old 12-17-2003, 12:26 PM   #7
Ron Tisdale
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That's not butting in, that's contributing!

When you say Asian, do you mean people mainly from India and Pakistan? I remember hearing about those riots. Sounds like your dojo can (and does) contrubute a lot to your community. I'd love to hear more from people 'over seas' on this topic.

RT

Ron Tisdale
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Old 12-17-2003, 12:28 PM   #8
Greg Jennings
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Our dojo is in a predominantly African-American church. All the services there are *packed*.

We don't charge any fees of any kind.

Yet, we've only had 1 church member attend during our six years there and he was quickly gone.

That church member had been exposed to aikido in the UK while stationed there by the Air Force.

I think it's a prevalent stereotype: "Martial arts are for the well-off".

I'm so frustrated by this that I'm ready to give up and move the dojo closer to the people that do attend.

FWIW,

Greg Jennings
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Old 12-17-2003, 12:36 PM   #9
Ron Tisdale
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Quote:
I'm so frustrated by this that I'm ready to give up and move the dojo closer to the people that do attend.
Boy, I can understand that. I think there is a hesitancy in some religious communities about martial art in general. And perhaps that idea of a Japanese martial art figures in there as well.

Here's an interesting angle; one of my instructors is sansei (3rd gen. Japanese American) who is very active in a mostly 'white' church. He uses his understanding of aikido in a lot of his sunday school teaching, and a lot of his understanding of christianity in his aikido. And he doesn't have much patience for the 'old school' japanese 'stuff'. People in the church seem to really like his topics and perspective.

Have you ever done a presentation of aikido to the church members? I'm not suggesting that you should, I'm just currious.

Ron

Ron Tisdale
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Old 12-17-2003, 01:41 PM   #10
Chuck Clark
 
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Interesting discussion...

I've wondered about this for many years. I'd like to present a different position that I've come to finally.

I practice budo and teach it because: 1. I want as many practice partners as possible as I get older. 2. This is one way I try to balance my responsibilities to my teachers and their teachers. 3. I love it.

I would prefer to have a dojo with a balance of men and women, ethnic groups, income groups, people of varied ages, etc. However, it never, never works out the way I want it to. I have given up trying to manipulate or manage the dojo mix.

We practice traditional Japanese budo (taught through "modern educational methods"). People are either ready for this type of practice or they aren't, it's that simple. Advertising, marketing of any kind, etc. doesn't seem to work. We just do our practice and people that want to practice with us show up for some reason. We even try to talk people out of joining (sort of...)and somehow, enough people stay for the long haul. I have given up really caring what demographic they represent. We seem to have a diverse group, but really they're just people that want to practice. I don't seem to be "smart enough" to do it any other way.

Safe and Joyful Holiday Season to All,

Chuck Clark
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www.jiyushinkai.org
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Old 12-17-2003, 02:01 PM   #11
Eric Joyce
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As far as the church example goes, perhaps the reason some in the church don't practice it is because when the see the bowing, kneeling, the picture of O'Sensei...that they interpret aikido not as a martial art, but rather as a religion or cult. I don't know if this is the case, but it may be a possibility. I remember telling one of my friends that it wasn't a religious cult that the bowing and so forth was the custom and just using proper etiquette. I do sense your frustration Greg.

Eric Joyce
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Old 12-17-2003, 02:02 PM   #12
Ron Tisdale
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I don't believe the smart thing, Clark Sensei!

I'm not sure we *should* 'manipulate or manage the dojo mix.' I can see though how my posts would give that impression. I'm more just currious about it. And I have seen interesting demographics result from just doing your thing in interesting places (like North Philly).

I'd like to think I share your reasons for doing Budo. I didn't mean to suggest any agenda here, more just a general curriosity. Thanks for taking the time to write.

Ron

Ron Tisdale
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Old 12-17-2003, 03:32 PM   #13
jducusin
 
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Great topic, Ron! This has also been on my mind lately.

In my own limited experience thus far, I've been feeling "doubly" a minority as an aikidoka, being both Filipino-Canadian and female. Throughout my life, I've simply grown used to this in general, but I suppose that I was somehow optimistically hoping to find more of my peers in an art that is so important to me.

Not only am I the sole female in what had consistently been an all-male dojo for some time, but I have yet to train with very many other female (and absolutely no minority female) aikidoka. This certainly hasn't discouraged me in the least --- quite the opposite. On the plus side (and I always find a plus side), this situation only motivates me further to persist in training so that perhaps one day I might myself become a good role model for other minority female aikidoka.

As a (not so off-topic) aside, I'm really looking forward to an upcoming solo trip to Toronto, during which I'll be training at two dojos --- one of which is run by a 5th-dan Japanese woman who my Sensei recommended my looking up in order to glean from her experience.

I'll have to try tackling the whole of your questions later when I find more time...

Last edited by jducusin : 12-17-2003 at 03:36 PM.

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"Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead." - Morihei Ueshiba
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Old 12-17-2003, 05:04 PM   #14
aikidoc
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Being in Texas we have more Hispanics. One of my yudansha is Hispanic and we have some students periodically. I correct my original. I forgot about another black student-he just did not stay long. The one senior black student had to leave due to lying about being a black belt-we checked-he wasn't. Lots of excuses. I've had others lie (white mostly) as well so I always check rank. When you're not honest it makes for a difficult future no matter your ethnic back ground.

We do not have much of an oriental population here (mostly Chinese). We also do not have much of a female population in the dojo either (owner) which is unfortunate.
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Old 12-17-2003, 08:07 PM   #15
Steven
 
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Hi Ron,

In response to the Yoshinkan and ranking instructors. In addition to Amos Parker and Gilbert James, don't forget Herman Hurst and Alvin McClure, both Godan's.

At my home dojo, we've had our share of students from the afro-american community, one of which is one of our black belt instructors. Great Aikido, great martial artists, Artists and overall great person.
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Old 12-17-2003, 09:43 PM   #16
Josh Manning
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I'd like to start by saying that this is a remarkably (and refreshingly) civil thread. I haven't posted in quite some time,partly because of a negative discussion tone, but mostly due to a lack of knowledge base to draw from.

My Sensei is black, as are roughly half of the students. It seems to be a matter of utter unimportance on the tatami, which is, i think, as it should be. I suspect that the racial composition of a class will typically have more to do with the location of a dojo than any other factor,(ours is near a military base, with obvious implications for student draw) but wonder if perhaps the harder styles of aikido will tend to be better blended than the softer styles.

I do strongly believe that marketing a art in any forceful fashion cheapens it, and targeting specific demographics in that way (even though no one really suggested it) is a bad approach. I think I saw a cheesy 80's kung fu movie that had a decent line in it, something along the lines of "when the student is ready, the master will appear.

anyway, thats my nickel.
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Old 12-17-2003, 10:15 PM   #17
Nafis Zahir
 
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Ron,

I am an AA and I train in Philadelphia @ Aikido of Center City with Waite Sensei. I also use to train in New Jersey. IMO, I think that AA's are not attracted to Aikido because it doesn't look violent enough to them. Many times I have seen AA's sitting on the bench watching class, and they seem very unimpressed. Whenever I get the chance to speak to any of them, I try to encourage them to join and explain to them the effectiveness of aikido for self defense. Another sad aspect to this, is that, even at dojos like mine where there are a few AA's, none of them are AA women. And you would think that in this day and age, and in a city like this, you would see more women period. I don't think it's demagraphics, but I'm not sure what the reason is. Maybe we should get together and have a conference about the matter.

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Old 12-17-2003, 10:58 PM   #18
Bronson
 
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Wow, it seems that this is a topic that weighs on a lot of us.

One of my first instructors is AA interestingly he also did Yoshinkan for a while. He still trains at my sensei's dojo when he can, he recently got the police chief job in our city so his schedule can get a little busy. It's something I've wondered about over the years and I think I may bring it up to him the next chance I get. I'll ask him if I can paraphrase or quote him on the forums.

Other than him most of our students are white. We have two other AA students that I can think of one is a sandan in our style and a hachidan in Uechi ryu karate, the other holds a shodan in aikido. We have a few students of asian descent (korean, japanese, vietnamese) and maybe 7-9 women, one of which is the highest ranked student (yondan). We are located in a predominately AA neighborhood, occasionally we'll have people stop to watch but few of them ever start classes...white or black.

I have no real theory about why more minorities aren't attracted to the martial arts. When I've seen the above mentioned hachidan's students giving a karate demo the only AA I've seen was his son (lots of women though). I recently visited a BJJ/JKD school here in town. The instructor there is AA, very competent, a good instructor from what I saw but I didn't see a single AA student on the mat for either the BJJ or JKD class I watched. The dojo I teach in has several arts that share the facility. I can think of maybe two AA students that I've seen on the judo mat and one or two in the okinawan karate and/or kobudo class (I've not watched the other classes so can't comment). I've had AA students come for a little while but leave with about the same attrition rate as white students...but fewer AA students even come in the door.

The BJJ instructor I mentioned works for the Justice Dept. and is part of a youth anti-violence program. He is setting up a big, all day martial arts demo with all the arts in town being invited to participate. He feels that people have a misconception that MA's promote violent behavior when in his experience martial artists are consistently some of the least violent people he knows. We'll see if it draws any interest. My gut feeling is that we'll get a small surge of new students right after the demo but most, if not all, will leave...just like any other demo.

Bronson

"A pacifist is not really a pacifist if he is unable to make a choice between violence and non-violence. A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence."
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Old 12-18-2003, 03:12 AM   #19
philipsmith
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Interesting and though-provoking thread.

In my dojo we have only one Afro-Caribbean student (who also runs his own dojo)and interestingly he has no AC students either!

Also an AC friend of mine has a predominantly white dojo.

We have no asian (Indian/Pakistani) students despite our dojo being in a 50% asian area.

However, Karate in particular appears in the UK to have a predominantly AC/Asian profile. Perhaps its the competition aspect which makes the difference.
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Old 12-18-2003, 04:59 AM   #20
ian
 
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When I was in Northern England there were several black students (though no asian students) in the dojo. I'm not sure if there was the extreme division between the black population and white population (in terms of wealth and location) that would be found in the south of England or the US.

Don't forget we have excellent black aikidoka like Donovan Waite.

Although different types of clubs can have a certain 'culture' which may discourage minority groups (golf springs to mind), I think it's stupid targetting minority groups and trying to redress the balance in some way (although I have found females tend to stay away if there are no females already within the club). In my mind discrimination is a problem within certain personalities, and having 'positive discrimination' does nothing to redress this. Besides, anyone could be considered to be part of a minority group if you classified people differently.

In Ireland there are very few black people, especially outside the cities (I think I've seen 2 black people since I've been here), but we have a higher asian population. We do have asian (chinese/japanese) students that train (sporadically!) at the dojo.

Ian

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Old 12-18-2003, 06:49 AM   #21
Ron Tisdale
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Thank you all for your posts, and being willing to look at this question openly and civily. I really appreciate the thought each of you has put into your posts. A couple of quickies...

I too have noticed that while AA and other minority males do train, and progress in the art (like Waite Sensei, I should have mentioned him), not very many minority females seem to train. I know of only one AA female personally at a dojo in Philly, but there are a few at the Doshinkan Roxbourough dojo I believe.

One reason I think about this sort of thing is that I have also been thinking about ways to give back to the community I come from, since I have been able to glean some small sucsess in my life. The benefits that I believe come from training in aikido are only one small way to do that. But it is something which I really enjoy, and that I believe could be usefull to communities in distress. I really hope the demo that Bronson mentioned yeilds some positive things in that community.

As to marketing, our presense and example is probably the best marketing. Not high pressure sales, or false claims.

Nafis, I would really enjoy meeting and hopefully training with you some day. It would be interesting to share our perspectives in person. And I want to thank you for your post which inspired me to start this thread.

Keep those posts comming...

Ron

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
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Old 12-18-2003, 06:53 AM   #22
Ghost Fox
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My dojo, located in Brooklyn, has a decent African-American, African-Caribbean mix. Our Dojo-Cho is black and so are two of our senior instructors. I think we are pretty close to the matching the racial demographic in the city. I've visited a few other dojo in the city and I can't say the same thing holds true in most other dojos.- One of the senior instructors in our dojo who is African Caribbean makes it a strong point to encourage Latinos and Blacks to continue their practice because he feels it very important that they are represented in the Aikido community.

In the city (NYC) though I think African Americans have a strong representation in Jujitsu, and might even be the majority. They also have strong representation in karate and the hard styles of kung fu. I don't think it has to do with the level of violence like Nafis states but with an issue of practicality. Growing up in the ghetto, hood, street whatever, there is a big need for practicality, so styles like Jujitsu and Kyokushinkai Karate have a definite leg up over aikido. It is probably also the reason why Yoshinkan does better than other school of aikido (Please don't get into a pissing contest about aikido being effective).

Also, in general I think most other martial arts in the city anyway, refer to Aikido as a yuppie martial art, and the ratio of Yuppie to Buppie is a lot more extreme than the normal demographic.

I also think that Eric is right in saying that demographically speaking most AA and Latinos have less disposable income readily available.

YMO
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Old 12-18-2003, 09:07 AM   #23
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Ron, that's exactly what I was getting at. I will have to get with you off this thread because it is impossible for me to get it all out here. For now I will try to respond to your questions-

1- No it doesn't matter to me as an individual that I stand out because I am a very confident person.

2- My family and friends know that I love the art and the Japanese culture but they also know how committed I am to empowering people with the knowledge of their own history and culture.

3- My reception in the Aikido community has been mixed. I find that practitioners that are confident in their abilities do not find me a threat but those that are not have definitely had to deal with some issues. I also have studied other arts which I think gets overlooked at times. The other arts that I studied have made my progression easier in many ways and I think some may attribute my progression to "althletic ability".

4-Feelings about race? I find that there are more similarities among people than differences. The issue I see is that we are still so distant from one another we don't have the chance to get to know each other on a personal level.

Ron I'm glad you moved on this topic. I honestly wasn't sure if it was just me. I see I am not alone. BTW- this is MY personal mission - to bring this art to people who wouldn't normally be exposed to it. But I believe to make this happen we need more open minded and dynamic individuals of all ethnicities. We have to take a look at some of the ways in which we present ourselves to the public at large. Aikido tradition and basic essence should never be lost but I don't think we can stay "stuck" in the past. The average person in the inner city has a need for the self defense aspect first and foremost. So yokomenuchi is meaningless to them at first glance. We have to expand the types of things to catch a person interest then hopefully they will be around long enough to see the full scope of aikido. But this is just the visual aspect. As I said - I could go on for days about this one.
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Old 12-18-2003, 10:49 AM   #24
aikidoc
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"most other martial arts in the city anyway, refer to Aikido as a yuppie martial art".

I have noticed over the years that the students who tend to hang around are generally more white collar and educated. Lots of doctors, professors, lawyers, professionals with a second group with more of a law enforcement background. Just my observations so don't filet me on this. I'm not sure why it appears to the professionals more-perhaps its the lack of emphasis on damaging techniques and the cultural issues between professionals and blue collar workers-don't know the answer. In California we had one group I trained with where we had: Medical doctor, professor (instructor), chiropractor (me), another professor, computer programmer, district attorney, college student working on her masters degree in criminal justice and another college student. Occasional blue collar workers would come in but usually ended up going for the shotokan.

It would be an interesting study to see what the demographics of aikido versus other martial arts with a cross section study of the softer versus harder styles of aikido. This would be more revealing at the yudansha level since there is so much turnover in the lower ranks. Who sticks it out and what is their academic, work, ethnic, and cultural background?
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Old 12-18-2003, 11:05 AM   #25
AsimHanif
Join Date: May 2003
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I think you're right on point John. I tend to think it is less an issue of location but more in terms of (I hate to use this term) class? Maybe not even culture. But people of a certain class tend to share experiences. Poor White and Poor Black folk have to deal with many of the same issues. Both are more likely to encounter violence on a day to day basis. So I would like to know if these were issues that persisted in earlier aikido times. Were there trends in demographics at certain periods based on Japans socioeconomic circumstances before and after the WWII and then again in better economic times?
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