George Ledyard's All Things Aikido - Open Letter to My Students
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.
Read the entire article here: http://aikieast.blogspot.com/2011/07/hi-everyone-after-much-reflection-in.html