Sunday, August 26, 2012

The "Death" of the Traditional Organization

 I have had the pleasure of working out with Ledyard Sensei in a few seminars now.  His thinking is a perfect mix of keeping his eye on the traditions and towards the future.  I like his ideas.  I bumped into this article on Aikiweb.  I wrote him asking permission to reproduce it here.

  The "Death" of the Traditional Organization by George Ledyard

I have lately had the pleasure of attending and participating in a number of so-called Aikido "Bridge" Seminars. These are events which cross over stylistic and organizational boundaries allowing teachers of very diverse backgrounds, who might otherwise never have encountered each other, to share their Aikido experience with any willing student, regardless of level, style or affiliation.

Last year, at one of these events at which I was honored to be invited to participate, I sat after hours with a room full of teachers whose collective Aikido experience was more than three hundred years between us and had the realization that this was really the future, that we were participating in the death of the traditional organization as we have know them.

Back when the first Japanese teachers arrived on our shores there was no structure for the transmission of our art. These Aikido pioneers created any number of organizations designed to provide that structure. The original function of these organizations was to a) support the teacher(s) at the top of the organization's "pyramid" and to b) provide a structured access for large numbers of folks from within the fast growing Aikido community to their teachers in a way that promoted some sort of uniformity and quality control over the end product.

It became apparent, almost immediately, that the one organization, one country model propagated by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo wasn't going to work... As different organizations and styles back in Japan developed, so they were started here. After the death of the Aikido Founder, organizations developed reflecting each of these new directions taken by these teachers who felt compelled to strike out on their own. Since many of these "branches" off the original tree were actually "breaks", there was a political element that was always there, with various teachers competing via their organizations for students and influence.

Somewhere along the line, I think things went awry. It became more about supporting a given teacher than it was about the Aikido or the training of the members. I really believe that we have reached the point at which many of not most of the large organizations have actually become the limiting factor in the development of their members. When the Aiki Expos happened ten years ago, a set of events which I personally think will be looked at by future Aikido historians as pivotal moments in American Aikido, there were major organizations which simply chose to ignore the events and actively discouraged their students from attending. One famous Japanese Shihan actually did attend but told his students not to attend any other teacher's classes, which not only was totally out of sync with the spirit of the event itself but indicated an arrogance that I really had no time for, personally.

Over the years, as our organizations have grown, each has developed a core group of seniors, now 6th and 7th Dans whose "access" to the larger community was largely through their own organization by way of seminar invitations and appearances with other seniors at the large camps held by the organization. Since the Shihan in charge of thee organizations controlled who was put forward, they were able to maintain "control" politically be granting or denying "access". If you toed the line, you were put up front, if you didn't you found yourself out in the cold.

One friend of mine was a hugely successful teacher, prominent within his organization. He traveled frequently all over doing seminars, appearing at the various events held by the organization. When he broke with his teacher, it all went away. The folks that had previously been enthusiastic supporters, now stopped inviting him. He ended up having very little interaction with the whole Aikido community until just recently.

Another good friend, prominent in another organization, one that considers itself to be representative of a certain teacher's "style", started to work with a broader range of teachers than was available from within the organization. This person's Aikido started to make a real jump. But when this teacher taught at an organization event, the teacher was informed that they were not to teach that new stuff at their event. Their event was to teach the specific style and they simply did not want to know about anything else.

What I see, is that at some point, it became more about personalities than the art. What is the point of making a fetish out of the "style" of some particular teacher, now actually passed on, as if that style had some intrinsic value in and of itself as opposed to simply being an approach to training for students to develop themselves, which was the purpose of the art in the first place.

When an organization is more about power, influence, money, or anything else that isn't first and foremost about the transmission of the art, it has outlived any usefulness it might have had. It become a detriment rather than a benefit to the training of the members, especially the most seniors teachers, who find themselves limiting their exposure, having to hide their own advances in approach to not offend some person at the top who controls their access to the members and their hopes of future promotion etc.

In the age of the internet and globalization, this is simply not a maintainable model any more. We have American home-grown teachers who have forty to fifty years in the art now. Increasingly thee teachers are no longer willing to stay in line. They don't wish to limit their Aikido so as not to threaten their teacher, they refuse to allow their teachers to dictate who they associate with or call their friends. Increasingly they are starting their own organizations and are actively trying not to duplicate the dysfunctions of the ones they came from originally.

Simultaneous with all this, out steps a Japanese teacher who refuses on some level to act Japanese. He starts inviting people from outside his organization to teach at the organizations major events. After a number of years doing this he expands the concept... he has his students, who are now international in scope, to organize so-called "Bridge" Seminars to which a variety of teachers from different organizations and styles are invited to co-teach. This is so un-Japanese as to be quite shocking. Yet the idea is so powerful that it not only expands and grows but is taken up by others who use the same model to create their own events.

The teachers who participate in these events get to share their Aikido with other folks who have different approaches. This generation of teachers understands that there is a synergy to this approach that has the potential to lift then as teachers and the whole practitioner community beyond anything they'd attain under the old model. The exchange of ideas, the exposure to new approaches, the mutual respect that comes from watching one's peers be the professionals they were trained to be, all of this is incredibly powerful stuff.

As the old guard passes away, as the founders of these large organizations either fade away or lose their influence, things will be changing. The community of practitioners will be looking for another generation of leaders. I really believe that the next time around, they are going to insist on teachers who actually are trying to get better themselves. These teachers will have to have both the ability and the confidence to back it up that they won't be threatened by other teachers or by other approaches. The folks in the pipeline, the future teachers of this art will not be willing to accept the kind of self serving controls and limitations that has been the norm in many organizations. Their awareness of what is out there will be greater than any generation's before. They will simply not be willing to accept a teacher who becomes the limiting factor in their training.

One can already see it happening. It's right there before our eyes. Teachers are developing friendships totally outside what had been their traditional range of exposure. These teachers are more inclined to form their support networks based on respect for skills and character rather than simply because some dysfunctional individual has been a student of the same, often dysfunctional teacher as he or she has had. When the old Shihan have passed on, I don't see organizational identity having much sway at all. I think the teachers who have managed to establish their reputations in their own right will naturally rise to the top and the ones that have simply coasted on their association with some famous teacher will be totally marginalized. No one is going to care who their teacher was when that teacher is gone. And the folks who have the character and the ability to be leaders will all know each other. It's starting now and will only continue.

The next generation of leaders will not be imposed from outside. They won't have their status granted from on high. Rather, it will be the community as a whole which decides who it invests in and who it doesn't. Reputations will be built on the mutual respect of one's peers for what one has achieved, not because one had the ability to hang tough for decades with some difficult teacher in exchange for some authority which could be withdrawn any moment.

I see a time, which is already starting now, when teachers will have their own small organizations, really designed to facilitate the "transmission" of the art. There will be far more fluidity to these entities with other teachers who have their own small organization going back and forth teaching at each others events. The future leaders of Aikido will be networking like crazy with the folks they respect and simply ignoring the ones they don't. It will be highly de-centralized and nowhere near as hierarchical as our traditional organizations have been. And success will be based on the ability of the folks at the top to deliver the goods to the folks on the bottom. No one will put up with us just because we trained with the Aikido Founder because none of us did. Authority will be earned, not conferred. And I think the folks who do have "the goods" so to speak, will have the freedom and the inclination to work together to make something greater than has previously existed.

I have to say that I feel both excited and honored to be a teacher at this time... change is in the air and so far my experience of the possible future has me more optimistic than at any time I can remember. I have been making amazing new friends and renewing friendships that had been neglected. I see much that was stultified and stale simply passing away before my eyes and new and creative ways of doing things replacing them. I see signs that the next generation of folks will be willing to support each other in ways that they either never did in the past or simply couldn't.

Change is coming and it will be happening at a speed that many will find challenging. But it's coming anyway so folks can either go with the flow or even actively embrace it and help it come. The folks who resist the changes coming will simply fade away, no one will care. At least that's my take on it...

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweet sweet ashi waza

I have played judo with a fair number of people.  Thus far I have met four or five that had such beautiful sweet ashi waza that I was helpless.  Here are two of them.  Lowry and Ables are two of the nicest people with the most evil feet.  There is a lifetime of artistry to soak in from this little video.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Daito Ryu's Signature 大東流

So I have long been trying to verbalize what the techniques of Daito Ryu feel like and why, as opposed to the techniques of other arts.  I ask myself this so I can figure out where the line is between schools and practices.  Daito Ryu has unique signature that I am attempting to identify.

The following is a list of some of my ideas.  It is incomplete and limited by my inability to articulate and perform aiki.  These are my notes, so doubtless the reader will not understand all ideas that are are not flushed out yet.  Please feel free to add your thoughts.  Hopefully someone will find it useful in their own journey.  Likely you will find Daito Ryu artists, techniques and bio dynamics that are exceptions to everything I am writing about.In addition I am probably half correct or just plain wrong about many things. The only way to understand this stuff is to find someone who can do it really well and feel it.  Then it will probably take a couple of decades to start doing it well.

 1.  Direct entry 入り身

    Daito Ryu tends to have a direct entry.  Rather than seeking to evade or move off the line of attack Daito Ryu owns the line between partners and moves directly into it.  The entry is a central penetration of the opponent's attack structure.  It has a feeling that I have only felt with Japanese sword work of constant forward pressure on the opponents system.  While many arts are reactive, Daito Ryu feels to me to have an attitude of pro-activeness. It has a sen-sen no sen quality compared to the entry strategies of other aiki art forms.

2.  Control the center line

    While often Aikido prefers to play in the outside, Daito Ryu tends to play on the inside and up the middle.  The center line is often controlled.  When I first encountered Wing Chun theory it made a lot of sense to me from the Daito Ryu ideas about the application of technique.  I have felt a similar sensation in students of Onoha Ittoryu kenjitsu, an art form often associated with Daito Ryu.

3.  Connection 結び and pressurization

    Because of the direct entry and control of the center line, Daito Ryu often feels like it has an overwhelming connection quality to it.  I often felt from my teacher like my entire system pressurized and I could feel my entire system have a heavy or unstoppable pressure put on it.  It feels very different to me from some of the light a floating feeling I have gotten from high level aikido players. In addition artists  from the Daito Ryu lineage tend to be excellent at what Don Angier calls commutive locking.  Essentially this is locking entire groups of joints to cause destabilization.  When my teacher did this to me it felt like he reached inside and grabbed my skeleton and drove me around with it.

4. Balance breaking 崩し

    One part of the  signature feeling is the mechanism of obtaining kuzushi, structure breaking.   The methodology is of crushing opponent’s attack stance and structure through central penetration. This includes strikes to the body.  There is a heavy emphasis on balance breaking on contact, the instant of connection.  There tends to be a preference in Daito Ryu techniques for up and down balance breaking directions - Aiki Age, Aiki Sage.  In addition there is often a creation of asymmetry in the posture of the attacker shortly after the connection is established.   The continuing feeling of the balance break leading into technique  tends to actualize in small circles -  especially through the shoulders.  Daito Ryu addresses the three systems that compose  balance; the vestibular, proprioception and visual systems.  The visual component of balance is attacked in many techniques by cutting the vision, interruption of visual field, or eye threats.

 5.Technique is made through entire body movement

    Aiki, whether in Daito Ryu or any other art is characterized by connection and movement coming from the center.  The footwork of Daito Ryu often expresses itself differently than what I often see in aikido.  Mind you I have seen a variety of differing applications from different lineages of Daito Ryu.  I only speak from my own experiences.  I see a preference for Shizen Hon Tai, a natural body posture.  Hanmi or deep kamae from sword work does not seem to be favored.  In mainline Daito Ryu they sometimes use a very wide stance after a lunge forward.  There is a emphasis on stable footwork, not loading weight back and forth.  Body rise and drop is minimized.  I have noticed good Daito Ryu artists tend to make less steps doing similar techniques than their aikido counterparts.  I have noticed that not only is the original step used to create effect, there also is an excellent use of the recovery step as effector.  Turning is not usually expressed through the large tenkan motions which are signature of  aikido movement. Instead I have seen in Daito Ryu a skillful short turning body around center core.

6. Use of Kote 小手

    While technique of made with the whole body, the majority of connections and lines of energy are drawn with the kote.  The kote is often thought of as the forearm, in the practice we can think of it a the hand through the elbow.  In Daito Ryu the majority of the connections are using one's own kote versus the opponent's kote to create connection and technique.  Even though many art forms have this hand to hand quality to them, again I feel Daito Ryu's signature is worth noting.  

    Good Daito Ryu artists have an ability to move around, or emit energy around the contact point.  For instance, if the wrists are grabbed and controlled, then a Daito Ryu artist might emit a pushing line through his own elbows, thus changing the relationship and controlling the attacker in a very unique way.  I have found artists use elbows as energy emitters in a great many techniques.

 7. Assumption of Weapons 

Some martial arts historians point to a connection between aiki and kenjitsu.  My teacher said aiki comes from the sword.  Takeda the modern father of Daito Ryu was also a swordsman in the Onoha Ittoryu kenjitsu lineage.While much of the time in many Daito Ryu groups in spent with empty hand training, every Daito Ryu teacher I have worked with emphasizes that weapons are involved.  My own teacher, Ota Sensei,  taught from the perspective that you were going for your sword or knife and your opponent was grappling with you to stop the draw of the weapon.  Additionally atemi after a technique is complete is often taught that it is the killing blow done with the weapon.  Also during the execution a technique the question is often asked "would that work with a knife?"  There is an assumption that the emtpy hand could indeed be a knife hand.
 8. Relaxation

     As I mentioned earlier, there is a characteristic pressurization of the opponents system  in many Daito Ryu techniques.  As a young student I often though this was muscle.  But Indeed Daito Ryu done well is done with a relaxed body and can be very soft.  While muscles are used, practice in my old dojo focused on  use of only  necessary muscle groups using efficient lines to create the desired result.  

·   Probably many more

Thursday, August 16, 2012


    In the system of aikido I was originally indoctrinated in we had rules. If you followed the rules of the system you were doing aikido. If you didn't - well you were doing aiki wrong. That was all fine and well. It helps clarify the goals when things are clearly laid out.

    Then I moved to Japan. Ota Sensei, my Daito Ryu instructor, seemed to break all the rules I had been taught. Yet he moved me around effortlessly. Apparently there are many ways to break the rules. Then I met my current judo and aikido teachers in Round Rock. Neither one of them have any concept of rules as they were originally presented to me, and both of them break many previous rules I had come to understand.

     All of my teachers approach the practice and game differently. Apparently the thing I had thought of as "laws of aikido" were merely a teaching pedagogy to conform to a particular teacher's preference for aiki aesthetics. Every time I meet a new teacher it amazes me how diverse the thinking and approaches the simple act of throwing a person on the ground can be.

Monday, August 13, 2012

合気の基本 Aiki fundamental form

This is an interesting little video. I have done a lot of training like this when I was living in Japan and training in Daito Ryu. Recently I got a dose of this type of feeling while training at a Daito Ryu intensive. It was called, "the do as little as possible game." In the above film we see the man making a semi circle though his partner. I think he could even make smaller circles through his partner using even less arms. I like this type of training. I needed to step away from it a for a few years before I could really understand the value of it's subtlety.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Into the Lair of the Rat

                                             Above is a police sketch of the scoundrel known as Dojo Rat.

  Just back from extensive tour of the United States.  In my many adventures of the Pacific Northwest I had the opportunity to meet and train with a fellow blogger who has challenged me and questioned my sound advice over the years.  His blog is far more popular than mine.

Here is his accounts of the meeting.  Dojo Rat's tall tales

   I had three missions to accomplish when I met this man.

1. Drink him under the table
2. Whoop him
3. Flirt with his wife

 Mission 1 - Drink him under the table

   Never challenge a man with his own saloon - which he has.  The beer flowed from the bar, and I estimate a Mongol horde could not challenge this man in a beer-off.  It was like a tale from the legends.  As my memory serves me he had a guitar in one hand and a barrel of beer in the other.  As he drank he sang.  Later as we gathered around the BBQed carcass of an animal he killed, he spun tales of his meeting with Bigfoot.  I ended up sleeping in the bar, as he ran off into the dark of the night - presumably to howl at the moon.  All the Bigfoot tales gave me a weird sleep though.  Was that Bigfoot roaming through the woods, or was it the Dojo Rat?

Mission 1 - we will call a draw

Mission 2 -  Whoop him

  On a picturesque battle field next to a lake  we engaged. We kept it relaxed and slow.  I could feel power in the old guy.  He caught me in a string of balance breaks.  He let me catch a few also.  Later I cheated and caught him in some foot sweeps so he whacked my head 5 or 6 times to let me know he could cheat too.  We played for a couple sessions over the course of a few days.  He is a solid player.  He feels like he could still handle about any scrap, even if it took him 6 months to recover.

Mission 2 -  draw

Mission 3 - Flirt with his wife

Dojo Rat must have some good mojo, because his wife is far more beautiful and charming than he deserves.   I figured this would be an easy mission, but alas she was impervious to my spell.   I suspect she is not into charming and handsome men, hence I stood little chance.

Mission 3 - FAIL

Overall the enigma that is the Dojo Rat is a fine fellow.  He lives in a paradise, has great friends and a lovely family.  He lives a blessed life. I am proud that I have had the chance to meet, play with and share a few beers with this fellow. I consider him a good friend.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I'm Back!

   Hello friends.  It has been 41 days, 11 states and 6346.6 miles.  I am back and ready to do some serious martial arts.  Hang tight while I get adjusted back to normal life.  I have learned a lot and have a bunch to write about.