View Full Version : Respect versus Dependence

George Ledyard
30th October 2000, 01:55
I was thinking about a statement I have heard Saotome make several times over the years. At seminars I have heard him chastize the group approximately as follows: Some of you people I have seen every years for ten years. Each year your training is no different, what meaning does your training have?

This is something that I have noticed myself. My feeling is that many people are using their teachers as a crutch. They go to class each night, train, and at the end of class marvel at how amazing their teacher is. This goes on night after night for years. The question is, at what point in time do they decide to be "amazing" themselves? When do they stop using their teacher as a form of entertainment and start really training for themselves?

I have noticed a tendency on the part of students like myself who have trained with the great teachers (my own teacher is Saotome Sensei) to place their teachers on a sort of pedestal. Their accomplishments can't be duplicated because they are so amazing, they trained with the Founder, etc. While many of these statements are true, they can be an excuse for not taking responsibilty for your own training. As long as you feel that you can't attain what your teacher has attained, you get to slide by with imitations of his art. You can sustain your self importance by working out a pretty good imitation and if the object of your imitation is important enough you can attain some status within the larger community.

But that has nothing to do with making the techniques of the art your own, developing your own understanding of the art through your own practice rather than imitation, really assuming some level of mastery over your art. I am not talking about Shodans or Nidans obviously. They must use their teachers as models as they get more experience. But people who have been training for twenty, thirty or more years should be striving to fond their own place in the art. Placing your teacher on a place higher than your own can result in accepting a self imposed limitation on your own accomplishment. I think that can be a trap.

Paul Mathews
30th October 2000, 16:26
Mr. Ledyard,
Do you think that this in some way reflects a "groupie" mind set? I think this kind of behavior is not uncommon in areas other than the martial arts, at least I know that I have seen it. It always involves someone who is successful in their field of endeavor being surrounded by those who wish to share in the "glory" by association. I have been guilty of it also.

I can appreciate your comments about making techniques your own. Unfortunately, I have seen some of my own peers (we are talking about a relationship of 20 years) who are still practicing and teaching techniques based on the understanding that they had 16+ years ago. Yet I recognized years ago that the techniques of our sensei were under a constant state of evolvement.

Perhaps it is only through challenges such as the one that your sensei has offered at his seminars that some of us wake up and become more completely involved in our own development.


George Ledyard
30th October 2000, 21:29
Originally posted by Popie
Mr. Ledyard,

I have always felt that some style encourage students to teach a bit early because they are not growing. I would say this action is more like weaning to stimulating growth rather then a person ready to teach. I feel stagnation is very damaging as you pointed out. So, when you have a stagnating student a strategy may have them teach.

I do think that teaching class is a good way to give a developing student space to work on his own understanding of his art. My own experience was that I got forced to work things out on my own. I had trained with Saotome Sensei on a daily basis for my first five years in Aikido. Then I got transferred to Seattle and found myself training at the dojo of Mary Heiny Sensei. Mary Sensei is a wonderful teacher but she didn't have the same focus that I did so I started training at the newly opened dojo of Bruce Bookman Sensei in oredr to get a complementary experience. Still, there was no one who had the appraoch that I was used to from Saotome Sensei so I had to work on things myself. I hit every seminar within a ten hour drive, read every book and watched every video (in those days you could actually own every video and it didn't fill more than a shelf). And I worked out things for myself. Later i got into Defensive tactics training and through the local police instructors got a bit of exposure to Muy Thai, Kali and Jeet Kun do basics. Teaching a couple of six foot plus 250 pound cops gave me the chance to try my stuff out on folks who didn't know much ukemi which improved my Aikido tremendously.

Now it seems hard to get people to travel twenty minutes for a seminar. We recently held a seminar with a top notch instructor whose teaching is challenging in the extreme. We have a city with fifteen dojos in the immediate area and only one person came from another dojo. Its as if people do not want to know anything beyond their own little world.

I have a friend whose Aikido is very fine. He trains at a dojo in Seattle where he is never asked to teach class. The reason is that he isn't from that dojo's "organization" and therefore doesn't do the same "style" of Aikido they do. In other words they don't even want to know about something different.

I am always amazed when I ask who has read a certain Aikido book, has a subscription to Aikido Journal or Journal of Asian Martial Arts, or who has seen any O-Sensei videos. So many people, even those who would cosnider themselves serious, have not taken the initiative to go beyond what is presented directly to them in class.

The people that I know who have become great teachers of Aikido were all "hungry" and have remained so although the focus of their "hunger" changes over the years. Is it that being "hungry means that you have to have "Beginners Mind" and that people sacrifice that over the years in favor of establishing some identity or achieving some status? I guess I don't undertsand why it seems so difficult for people to stay open and keep developing.

1st November 2000, 15:39
[QUOTE]Originally posted by George Ledyard
[B][ "Its as if people do not want to know anything beyond their own little world.
I am always amazed when I ask who has read a certain Aikido book, has a subscription to Aikido Journal or Journal of Asian Martial Arts, or who has seen any O-Sensei videos. So many people, even those who would cosnider themselves serious, have not taken the initiative to go beyond what is presented directly to them in class.
I guess I don't undertsand why it seems so difficult for people to stay open and keep developing."

YAMANTAKA : We have many doctors but few remarkable doctors; Many painters but few "masters of the brush"; many lawyers but few respected profissionals; many people but few "good" people... Why should martial arts be different?
Perhaps I'm a radical but in all my quite long life I got many "colleagues" but just two friends and in spite of many dates and affairs, just two women I felt passion for.
In majority, there's mediocrity. Very few people look for martial arts with passion in their hearts. Even less know that budo spreads to every aspect of our lives and that theory is as fundamental as practice. It's difficult to see, understand and make a teaching your own. People prefer to be taught what to do and are afraid to go into the world on their own. Copying is easier than creating.
I guess that's their problem...
Best regards

Neil Yamamoto
1st November 2000, 19:34
Hi George, I finally made my way to the another forum. Must be some beer around here somewhere. And itís even a serious post. Nathan, mark this down for the record!

I went to the Ikeda sensei workshop at Aikido Northshore a few years ago for the Friday evening session. Ikeda made the same type of comment. Essentially, I remember him saying ďWhat do you train for? Why are you here? I have been telling you these same things for years and none of you do it!Ē People laughed like it was a joke but Ikeda was serious.

George summed up something I have seen in every martial art, students holding back or simply not trying to become as good as or better then their teachers. They simply take what is taught and repeat it. Granted, this is how you learn at first, but there has to be the leap to understand for yourself at some point.

Want to really p- off some sensei I know in different arts? Tell them you canít do something. One of the first things I said to Don Angier when I met him was ď I canít understand what you are doing now. I intend to get it before too long.Ē His response was along the lines of ď If you donít then you are wasting your time and mine.Ē Anyone worth calling ĎsenseiĒ wants you to understand it and get better. But most students simply donít make the cutting of the strings to stand on their own. I believe this is the purpose of teaching now and in the old days, of shugyo. Go make it work for yourself and grow up. Studentís are going to ask questions, it is the senseiís duty to dig into the art to have answers and methods of teaching to help studentís understand and get to the point where the students can become teachers. This is hard work.

What George describes of doing it on his own is the key I believe to getting better. He went looking to find more information in his base art and cross-trained in other arts. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I was ever given was by a sensei I wonít name, no legitimacy disputes on this thread, except to say he has been blasted on e-budo before crash. He told me whatever arts I study, try and understand it in how it works in terms of your aiki training. In other words for a very simplistic explanation, Make aiki your mother art and use other arts to broaden your perspective. Having to apply it on people bigger then yourself is a good way to improve too. From my point, I became the little mean nasty guy that every dojo has, but I had good technical skills.

I really sympathize with George on lack of turnout at workshops. When I had Don Angier up a few years ago, I had very small turnout. For myself, I go to very few workshops any more since I have plenty on my plate to work on as it is. There are some exceptions, In addition to one of the best, Don Angier is a friend so I really want to go to his seminars. Isoyama senseiís workshop was one of the best I have seen in a long time. The Ikeda workshop I mentioned was very enjoyable and Saotomeís workshops as I recall always have great food for thought.

Quite frankly, I have discovered that the reaction I get from martial artists for the most part is - We donít do it that way here!!!- is tiresome and removes most of the pleasure I get from being on the mats. What do I do in these cases? I simply bow and try and do what is taught in the dojo.

I know not all dojo are like this. But the majority I run into cling to organizational methodology and oppose any outside influences. In a few cases, I was asked not to show my face again simply because my technique is not the same as is taught in the dojo. In others, I end up with someone challenging my techniques and trying to show their art is better. It is not the sensei doing this, it is the senior students - exactly the people George was talking about, attached to senseiís hakama, burning incense to senseiís honor and leaving fruit at the home alter they have built to honor him while chanting hymns.

Why do I practice what I call ďslug-jutsuĒ by staying under a rock and not coming out very often and ignore most people? Because I donít have time to train the way I would like for myself and I really donít have the patience to deal with people who donít want to learn anything new and are bound and determined to show me that their art is better then mine.

There may not be outright challenges, but the snide looks and double barbed comments wear thin. Maybe it has changed out there, but Iím gonna stay under my rock and just do what I do cause Iím tired of people with salt shakers.

I do a lot of research on my own, not to Joe Svinthís level, but I have a strong interest in most martial arts. I pick away at what I know and try to understand it better. I just do it with a few students. I go to a couple friends dojo to practice and in one case, in exchange for mat space, teach basic bokuto for their aikido class. Why? because there is no attitude but one of trying to learn from the students.

As to beginnerís mind, I think this is part of the trap. People donít understand what it means. I believe most people interpret ďbeginners mindĒ to mean you are always subordinate to your sensei in all aspects. At least this is what their actions indicate. Perhaps the organizational approach has something to do with this. Trying to be round peg in a round hole thought and fit in with everyone else.

Then there is the other view, which I and obviously George interpret beginnerís mind to mean - always try to learn more. George does in within a group, I do it under a rock.

Re-reading this before I post makes me sound very cynical. Maybe I am, but I donít think I am alone in how I see things. So, I will keep trying to understand what I do better and keep out of the light and sight of those with salt shakers looking for slugs like me.

Russ Qureshi
14th November 2000, 20:31
I don't think I've been around long enough to comment accurately....,however..., a classmate of mine, whom began his training at the aikikai hombu in 1970, mentioned: "I've noticed aikido has gone from methodology (uke/nage) to ideology (sempai/kohai)." I'm still ruminating on this. At this point, from my experience, it seems many sempai expect their partner to fall down and, even worse, many kohai believe if they aren't falling down for sempai they're being disrespectful. I guess there is a lot of grey area in that last statement but the idea is prevelant today.