Brian Kagen pick: “Managing Change in Aikido” by George Ledyard

“Slowly the Aikido public is starting to redefine what it means to be “advanced” in this art. Teachers with long history and high rank are being reconsidered by a community which is far better educated than it was twenty to thirty years ago. Starting with the first Aiki Expo, almost ten years ago now, Aikido practitioners were exposed to a number of practitioners of what we will call “aiki arts” whose skill level seemed far beyond many of the Japanese teachers, both in Japan and overseas, who had become identified with post war Aikido. It was also clear that many of these teachers had a far more effective methodology for transmitting their knowledge than the teachers from the Aikido community as a whole.”

Brian Kagen is an avid web researcher with a particular interest in martial arts. His training background includes both judo and aikido. He has contributed hundreds of article links over the years for AJ readers.

Click here to read entire article.


  1. bruce baker says:

    The solution is simple … it is the implimentation of the solution that is complicated.

    Just as always, in every era of change, the core principles of Aikido need not change because in change we lose the essence of the art, and yet surrounding the essence of the art is the variety of equally adept martial artists who are equal to and sometimes superior to the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.

    You cannot tell a child that their fantasy dreams and illusions are not real because they themselves must come to that conclusion over a long period of time as they mature and grow, but even when they realize their core beliefs, hopes, and dreams are not down to earth reality … they still keep them alive in the back of their mind with rose-colored glasses of affection. This emotional and psychological balance of the mind is a natural balance that all human beings need, and yet it can cause unbelievable consequences of imbalance and an unbalanced mind that rises to violent actions also.

    You wonder why change causes problems? Could it be intolerance and incapability to understand … Nature herself? Yeah, in understanding nature and the science of nature our explanation of our very emotional and mental state of “the thinking-waking mind” of human beings is understood.

    In plants and animal species we have a core identifiers from which DNA is passed on as the visual and genetic makeup of both plants and animals can be identified, but we also have genetic spin-offs that mutate and create new branches in new genetic lines from the core DNA.

    Why would Martial arts, which is a microcosm of nature, be any different than the nature from which human beings were created from? It wouldn’t! We human beings, in all our wisdom and contemplation of “WHY” make it more complicated than really is.

    As stupid as I am … I told ya so nine years ago that all the secrets of Aikido are NOT in Aikido. Gee, just reading the life story of the founder of aikido should have told you that! And yet … we have to preserve some CORE-PRACTICE for aikido so we don’t lose what we have gained with this safe effective practice that ADDS to effectiveness of other martial arts.

    Admit it … you can LEARN something from all different styles of martial arts, even if you can’t PRACTICE all styles of martial arts when you practice Aikido. That’s life.

    Life is Tolerance/ Intolerance, and it is also Preservations/Destruction at the same time. From Chaos comes Rebirth and Change, not only history supports this basic truth, but natural catastrophes and their long term results do also.

    But just because there is negativity all around us doesn’t mean we individual human beings need to be generators or practitioners of negativity, does it? No, we should not be negative all the time even though we recognize it, we should be more positive than negative, right?

    We live .. on a living breathing planet earth. We are the pests, the insects that Mother Earth occasionally swats and kills, or the Universe itself kills as it lives and breaths ignoring all our mighty efforts, or our pleas to some mythical god who will intercede on our behalf. (Don’t get me wrong, we need to believe in this God, in some faith, because without it … we resort to violence and uncontrolled insane killing. God, religion is our safety valve and our calming medicine for the insanity of the human mind, believe it or not.)

    So, in knowing that we human beings are unimportant, and knowing that we favor chaos when our mind over-comes fear or believes we are superior to all creatures and all other events of the universe around us, you must realize that letting people form groups that satisfy their emotions, their thinking minds, their physical efforts to create a social group can indeed be a good thing as long as that group is not a danger to themselves or society at large.

    Go play! Go make your little groups and off-shoots of Aikido because that is what your nature of chaos and change dictates, we are all just creatures of nature.

    You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. (There were other martial arts before Aikido, and there will be other types of martial arts after Aikido.) And in the time and space of sometimes years … these natural changes occur. It doesn’t mean we can’t fight against the tide of change for a while, say a couple of hundred years or so, and PRESERVE what we have found in Aikido until something better comes along, at least I see that as the normal progression of history for things we need to preserve over period of time.

    I don’t care what you point to as being around hundreds of years, I can point to some changes in whatever you point to because nature herself fights against preservation, and you know like I do … NATURE always wins!

    So, for now … we preserve much of what is Aikido. We allow off-shoots of practices that take in other techniques and other styles of practice to see if they survive … or we let those practice die. Those practices that are dangerous to society at large … we isolate or kill. That is the way society works, and the way nature works when it can fight back.

    My thought is .. Aikido was an attempt to understand nature, understand violence without using violence to understand violence. Maybe it will fail as human beings can’t even understand NATURE, dammit!

    Well .. whatever.

    All I know is what I see in nature and read about in history, and that somehow .. we living creatures of today are the living ancestors of that nature and that history. When you ignore nature and history .. you are bound to repeat the failures of either nature or history.

    It is both that simple, and that complicated.

    If you like classic Aikido practice Classic Aikido.

    When you change from Classic Aikido, pick another name .. you have just created a mutation and it is time for a new name …

  2. Jack Richard Hosie says:

    As I have mentioned before, in the blog comment response. To all these kind’s of issues, such as the above and indeed all other aspects of the martial arts.

    The secrets of aiki are concealed and yet revealed in the very beginning, the question to ask is where is the beginning? The old masters learned this for themselves, Sagawa sensei of Daito Ryu, certainly discovered this in his training, as did his teacher Takeda sensei, and Ueshiba sensei also learned these truths for himself, that aiki is the correct internal dynamics, expressed through and in the external mechanics.

    It is in truth very simple and easy, but we are so full of preconceived notions that we do not see clearly at all and so we continue in the same way as everyone else, hoping things will get better, it has to come from the inside flowing outwards, it is not something you put in, but rather what you allow to be released what is already there.

    All the arts contain everything needful, it is matter of the knowledge being clearly known and communicated, and that knowledge being received and understood accurately and then developed into a learned skillful ability.

    The reason for change, is that the knowledge required was either lost, or not known, or not shared, for whatever reason, and so aikido practitioners seek other paths to try and develop their art, which in truth is a watered down weakened budo, and try as they might to fit it into the model of a true martial art, which it is not, they must realize this, or forever struggle with the lack of real ability.

    As to the idea of classic aikido been the true art versus modern aikido and all the other variations in between, this issue arises, because no one seems to get it, it is not the curriculum of technique or any other outward form, the key is to be simply be one, learn this and everything else drops into place.

    Please think about this, the secrets you seek in aiki, are concealed and yet revealed in the beginning, what one needs to do is question how and why we do, what we do, does it help or hinder the ability to function, as we say in our dojo, does it do what it says on the tin! Can you hold someone down with one finger, etc. like Ueshiba sensei, they are not tricks, rather it is knowledge applied knowingly and skillfully. This is what I have done and those whom I teach are realizing this, as they are giving the knowledge and tools to work it out for themselves, they are amazed and what can be achieved so simply and easily, that is the essence of true martial art and the application of its technique.

  3. Musashi was extremely talented. Died in a cave. And where is Ni To Ichi Ryu today? A name in a book. I think we all admit that we aren’t O Sensei. As long as we wish to refer to his art, as promulgated by our aikido teachers, then, fine: call it aikido. Within aikido, when I started sandans were few and almost supernatural beings. Today they’re pretty common and their mortality obvious to most of us who’ve been around a while. But what of the sandans of yesteryear? Is Alan Grow still training? Doubt he’s ever been promoted beyond sandan, and he was one of the supernatural beings a few decades ago. What would he be like today? Does nobody hear from him because he quit aikido, or did aikido quit him? I recently promoted somebody on my own authority, but that was mostly because nobody I knew from the “old days” wanted to take the time to send me an email with a better idea.

  4. Charles,
    You have a very interesting point…

    The International spread of Aikido has rather reversed what the process was in its homeland. Originally, people encountered O-Sensei and decided to train. Those folks also attained a very high level, although they all agree that none completely had what the Founder had.

    But once Aikido went over seas, the spread of the art far outpaced the system’s ability to develop instructors at that kind of level. Apart from the uchi deshi who came here from Japan, the homegrown folks who spread Aikido around the US, people like Terry Dodbson, Bill Witt, Klickstein, Mary Heiny, Frank Doran, Bob Nadeau, etc were all 4th Dan when I started. Most folks started Aikido with instructors who weren’t even that experienced.

    So most of the folks who encountered Aikido for the first time did so with teachers who, while very impressive from the standpoint of a Beginner, actually weren’t that experienced compared to what the standard had been before the war.

    So thousands of people trained with teachers who were themselves still trying to figure the art out on a deeper level, often in something of a vacuum. There weren’t the plethora of seminars we have today. There were no videos, just a few VERY expensive 35 mm films available. And the amount of material in English by the Founder amounted to 30 or 40 pages and was heavily edited.

    So unlike Japan, where started at the highest levels and spread outwards. Overseas, apart from the small number of Aikido centers run by uchi deshi imported from Japan, Aikido was really an art that was growing from the bottom up. The instructors opening dojos all over the country were often only shodans or nidans. Most of us from my generation were running dojos at san dan.

    So Aikido has been in a continuous process of redefining itself as everyone got more experience. At this point there are American teachers in a position to know that not all of the original Japanese deshi who came over were equally skilled. There is far more awareness of the differences between styles, better quality information on the history and philosophy of the art, countless hours of video available of the Aikido greats, instructional videos by top teachers, etc.

    So now Aikido has come of age in terms of its understanding of itself and its strengths and weaknesses. Now, the “happening thing” is access to very high level training from outside the art which can serve to bring back knowledge into Aikido which had been “forgotten” on some level. No one knew anything about Daito Ryu when I started Aikido in the seventies, even in Japan. Thanks to Stan Pranin and Aikido Journal, people rediscovered this art and the related aiki arts. Now it is possible to actually train with experienced instructors and get some insight into what made the Founder’s skills different than what has been the norm in the post war period.

    The Aiki Expos gave high level teachers the opportunity to network with and learn from even higher level teachers from aiki arts whom they would probably never have encountered in the normal course of affairs previously.

    So everything is changing… It’s likely to be a bit sloppy. You’ll have top teachers changing what they do and being resisted by senior students who liked what they were doing before. You’ll have hide bound experienced teachers whose students go outside for new knowledge and begin to outpace them. We will continue to have people “jumping ship” to train with teachers from outside the art and abandoning the art altogether and you’ll have folks trying their level best to ignore change altogether.

    But the “genie is out of the bottle”. Awareness isn’t going backwards. Folks have seen what real high level skill is. We aren’t going to be able to pretend that fluid movement and aesthetically pleasing waza represents high level skill. Simplistic wishful thinking about what the Founder believed won’t cut it anymore. There is simply too much far more sophisticated information available now. Aikido will be better for all of it, but rapid change is always difficult for people. We’ll see what happens…

  5. Michael Bravo says:

    I hope you do not mind me pointing this out, but for an average Aikido practitioner, quite lavishly referenced above, this article looks like a good chunk out of a conspiracy theory movie. Because, being posted on the ‘Net and referring to “a wealth of new information available”, it contains exactly zero links to any such information. Now, nobody in their right mind wouldn’t expect to get “how-to” step-by-step cookbook, with names and addresses and general direction on how to break out of the “blissful ignorance” etc. However, if you proclaim that there is something worthy going on out there, it probably is also worth a common courtesy of linking to at least the relevant forum discussions, or maybe dojo or teacher websites, so that the general aikidoka public, whatever their level or training routine currently are, could read up and make their own informed opinion.

  6. Ledyard Sensei, you spoke of Dobson. His co-authored book, Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get Your Way, is in the FSU library, and I checked it out once. I embraced his philosophy early in the text, but once he got into the triangle/circle/square, my interest had waned. I often refer friends to, where they can read the first several pages of this book. To me, just these preliminary pages provide the biggest wake-up call I have ever seen printed on paper. Just as he refers to, I have had a lover mildly complain at our orgasm ratio once. I told her I didn’t think it should be a competition.


  7. Learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present! That’s all there is.

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