Friday, May 24, 2013

Rank and Lineage in Aikido

As I occasionally research something related to aikido, I have often stumbled across discussions of ranking and lineage.  As to ranking, there are two threads, and that is does someone deserve a certain rank, and the other is how come more non-Japanese are not higher ranked?

It seems to me, like all voluntary associations, ranks are about leadership, not talent.  Rank is so someone can make a decision affecting the voluntary association.  The people subject to the decision, it is also generally true of voluntary associations, really don't care much which way the decision goes, they just want a decision to settle a given issue.  Sure, aikido, like every voluntary association, has some issues, usually personality conflicts, that cause rifts and the happy result of multiplying by dividing.

For those of us who just want to practice, those who pursue the higher rankings and the responsibility for the organization that goes with it, those leaders make the practice possible by attending to dojo management.  From this point of view, who cares what rank any particular person has?  Look at their service, not at their skill.  If you envy their rank you are missing their service.

As to the highest ranks being reserved for Japanese, well, it is a Japanese art.  I am pretty sure there are elements specific to the Japanese that will never quite be apprehended by non-Japanese.  I perceive how some Swedes cannot fully fathom an Irishman, but so what?  There may be some question as to whether the differences matter, but I don't think it is debatable that there are differences.

It seems to me the question is whether aikido is a Japanese martial art, and whether we want it to remain so (or even if we have a choice.)  To my mind it is a Japanese martial art, and I'll no more "get it" entirely than ever be able to master an Ikebana arrangement, in spite of the fact that people tell me it reminds them of it.  My one connection to Japanese culture is aikido, remote as that connection might be.  I am not sure I would be as interested in the art if the leadership was not Japanese, because I think it would change.

Having said that, I am surprised by claims of lineage as if that much matters.  I've seen natural talents who've picked up aikido from the most unlikely sources, and seem to have self-corrected as necessary.  And if lineage mattered, what with my three instructors all trained by the only ju-dan in aikido, Tohei Sensei, the Chief Instructor of Hombu dojo, then I should be a most excellent aikidoka.


You'll find the best trained aikidoists are the ones who can trace their training back to Tohei Sensei.  Note I said "training." If you look at his videos, what you see is his seminars were really "how to teach aikido" seminars.  What Tohei did that was so important is lay out a method of teaching aikido, which his later version shin shin to-itsu emphasized.  I don't think lineage is anywhere near as important as the method and content of the teaching.  And you can get that without having any "lineage" at all. Read Tohei Sensei's  Aikido In Daily Life (the 1966-72 versions - not the later Ki in Daily Life).  Is the teacher teaching aikido along the lines Tohei Sensei explains?  And then for the actual arts, read Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, Westbrook and Ratti, an encyclopedia of aikido moves.  Between these two books you can become a consumer of good aikido instruction.

Don't worry about lineage.  Don't worry about ranking.  Worry about learning aikido.

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