118) Whose Aikido are you pursuing and why? June 2014

I believe that this topic is relevant at many different levels.  The founder of Aikido traveled a great deal of the time.  After W.W.II, the founder’s focus was more on his own journey than on passing his legacy directly to his direct students.  The founder allowed his son to run the organization, while he focused on his own unique path.  Some of us have been lucky to meet some of these “direct” students; some have been lucky to study directly under these people (who became teachers of the “art” themselves); some have studied under teachers who were students, of the students of the founder.  These direct, personal experiences inform us as to what we define as the Aikido that we study, practice, and for some, teach.

The main organization, Aikikai, is the “official” organization of the founder’s family.  This organization was created and run by the founder’s son and those  who were senior to him, who chose to support this organization.  There are those who would like to believe that this organization best represents the founder’s Aikido and they gain a sense of legitimacy from that claim.  Simply put, that claim cannot be substantiated when put under the most modest of scrutiny.  This organization goes to quite some lengths to increase their sense of control over Aikido as it is practice across the globe.  Their latest efforts in regards to ranking and Shihan designations simply place their efforts into the realm of ludicrous.  There is nothing right or wrong with belonging to that organization.  That organization is just one among many who seek to define Aikido in a manner that best serves their cause.

We can move on to several other organizations who make claims regarding the “legitimacy” of the “legacy” of their Aikido.  Any genuine exploration into those claims lead us to the same type of dead-end alleyway that claims from Aikikai end up in.  This sobering reality should lead most rational people to look at making more modest claims as to what their Aikido actually represents.  My own teacher, Imaizumi Shizuo, was listed by Stanley Pranin as one of the last group of direct students of the founder of Aikido.  My teacher will state simply that his primary teacher that he followed was Tohei Sensei (founder of Ki Society).  He can also accurately state the frequency with which he studied under the founder, on down.  He wrote everything down accurately with no embellishments or distortions (if you don’t believe this claim, simply ask Stanley Pranin).  He clearly states who influenced HIS Aikido.  He seeks to guide his students in the time-honored tradition of Shu-Ha-Ri.  The last stage should represent an art.- A deeply personal expression of a set and strong foundation of knowledge.

I work very, very hard to learn what my teacher is doing and how he has gotten there.  I work very hard to use that path as a direction upon which my own personal expression of Aikido takes root and is expressed.  I do not simply go to his classes to try and figure things out.  I train with Kenji Ushiro Sensei and with Dan Harden as critical components in this process of determining, defining and expressing my own sense of Budo.  Aikido is simply one path of expression.  The karate is a very different path. Everything that I do, from training, studying, reading, contemplating, teaching, helps to inform and guide me.  If it is an art that I am pursuing, then I must allow these strong foundations to find root in me and emanate as a unique and personal expression of my understanding at that particular point in time.

I believe that it is important that all of us try to move beyond the artificial boundaries that can be defined by an organization.  We need to find our own path.  This path entails the careful selection of those whom we chose to follow, guide and inspire us.  We should be able to do so within an organization that recognizes the strengths and weaknesses inherent in being an organization.  We should be allowed and even encouraged to be exposed to other teachers and organizations that have a different perspective on our “understanding” of what we do.  Ultimately, we need to be responsible for our own path.  We can all strive to pursue what we consider to be the highest expression of our art, without falling into the narcissistic and myopic delusional state that leads us to try and say that our expression is the “purest” expression of Aikido.

The study of Aikido as an art form can help to transform our lives in good ways.  We do not have to go into dangerous areas and test our abilities to “use Aikido” in order to legitimatize what we do.  Even if our expression of Aikido is an effective form of hand-to-hand fighting, would you like to see how that works with a person pointing a handgun at you from twenty feet away?  Is that really why you study Aikido now?  My teacher has not imposed his framework on my understanding as a necessity to study under him, nor would I do this to my own students.  I am so very thankful to Imaizumi Sensei for allowing his expression of Aikido to change my life for the better, without forcing me to blindly follow.  I continue to revel in the discoveries that I make in my studies of Aikido.  I also continue to revel in the discoveries that I make in my training in karate and internal power training.   In other words, this amazing process of learning and discovery and expression is what has changed my life for the better.  I see to it that all of my students have access to my teachers, so that can make their own understanding as to where I have come from and where I am going.  This should be used by them to help them define their own directions forward.  My success as a teacher is viewed by myself through watching the students delight in finding their own paths and expressions as they are going through the process of Shu-Ha-Ri.

At the end of the day, it is the end of the day.  The difference is defined in how we have gotten to the end of the day.  It is unfortunate that some seek to define this process through artificial and distorted yard sticks given to them by their teachers and their organizations.  People like Christopher Li are providing us with valuable understandings into the thoughts, writings and practices of the founder of our art.  We can try and follow similar paths in our own training.  The founder of our art is not there to tell us how we are doing.  Even if these paths are very close, what we do will still be our own unique expression of what we have have learned along the way.  Maybe the genius of the founder of our art was in not forcing us to follow a rigidly prescribed path.  Allowing people to take what they can, understand what they can, and practice what they think that they have learned can be a good thing.  Certainly the founder did so and found a path worth trying emulate inside of ourselves.  The joys of the journey should be guiding factors along this path.  By joy, I do not mean that every moment with be happy and satisfying.  I have spend years struggling on certain areas.  This process is very meaningful to me and the discoveries that I make through the repeated agonies of finding out what I am doing wrong are genuinely joyful in the end.  The simple truth is that all paths lead to the same cosmic compost pile, so why don’t we enjoy the time spent along pursuit of a meaningful path?  Not every path will be as close to what the founder seemed to do as others.  Some paths can be so different that they create a new pathway (Noro Sensei being a great example).  It seems to me that the integrity that we put into this process should enable us to derive great joy and meaning along the way, regardless of where we end up, or how we define that path.

Marc Abrams Sensei