“Leadership,” by George Ledyard

“I just heard the news that Sugano Sensei had passed away. Another direct student of the Aikido Founder whose lifetime of experience is no longer available to us. Here in the United States we have lost A. Tohei, Toyoda, Kanai, and now Sugano Sensei. That leaves Yamada, Chiba, Saotome, and Imaizumi Senseis from that generation of post war uchi deshi who trained directly under the Founder.”

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  1. Dear Ledyard Sensei,

    I look to the top of the pyramid, and wonder how worried O’Sensei was of the dilution of Aikido (most of his life’s work too) soon before he passed away. My hunch is that he wasn’t terribly worried, and that he had plenty enough insight to know his uchi-deshi would some day pass away. I also believe he knew that Aikiwaza would be expressed differently by each practitioner. What might have eased his worries was virtually knowing that the universal wisdom he realized and so courageously shared would be forever a weathered sword. Each person gets one at birth, and many will choose to polish it.

    I do understand that Aikiwaza is the skeleton, the structure of Aikido, and therefore must remain sturdy. Yearning to improve technique on the mat is much of both the discipline and allure of the art. Many of our techniques amaze me. I suppose Aikido will have to veer from a current purer form, at least technically, but it could get better in some ways. There are many MAs that predate Aikido, so you have made me wonder how those have changed.

  2. bruce baker says:

    I have said it before and I will say it again, Aikido is just a part of the studies and knowledge all students need to study.

    It doesn’t matter if you choose Aikido as “your” martial art you wish to practice more than any other, but all students need to figure out what the short-hand notes of the practice actually mean. One of those studies you need is .. Aikido.

    Seminar, after seminar, after seminar, I would get myself in trouble for asking impertinent questions of the teacher and be brow-beaten back by the students and teachers who were either worshipful or the upper echelon of the Aikido cream of the crop, most of them either coming from some other art to choose aikido as their main art of practice. And now .. George Ledyard asks the age old question, what will we do when all these connections to the founder are gone?

    We stumble, we fall, we deal with the imposters and fakers, but in the end .. science, and what works, will reveal who is the master of the art and who is illusionist.

    There will never be a better way to prove that Aikido is a true art than to go study all the different forms of martial arts as you CHOOSE Aikido as the final form of the main art you want to practice as you bring your insights and interpretation of what you have learned back into the art.

    Each direct student of the Founder took a piece of what they learned, added it to what they practiced, and tried to give some of that experience to their students, sometimes succeeding .. sometimes failing.

    What did you take away from a seminar? What did the teacher give you to learn that you failed to learn, or succeeded in learning? AND .. what evolution does a modern Aikido of today, or tomorrow, need to go through to progress instead of losing the techniques and style that is Aikido of today and yesterday?

    Pay attention, because all our time is short, that is .. most of us will be old or dead, as the next couple of decades determine the fate of Aikido and even .. of Aikido Journal … and all that is left is video, writings, musings of a bygone eras as the next three generations try to figure out .. what the hell we were doing in those years after the founder passed on …

  3. After having read many blogs on the future and techniques and practitioners and styles and…. of Aikido, let me first apologize for my ingnorance and naivete.

    The late Terry Dobson Sensei once remarked that of all the years he was uchideshi, O’Sensei never once taught technique. I believe, through my readings, that O’Sensei considered Aikido a Budo, a vehicle of reconciliation between peoples. If we stay true to his vision, to this basic of principles, does it matter what style, what organization, what teacher. That does not mean not to cherish those that are still here or those who have passed. It is our only tangible connection to what was. Aikido is a Way to get to a very important destination.
    If I want to get to LA, it doesn’t matter if I drive a Chevy, Ford, or Toyota.

    Mark W

  4. As the good book says in Psalm 103

    As for man, his days are as grass:
    as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

    For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;
    and the place thereof shall know it no more.

    We are all but stewards, the question is are we good or bad stewards with the gifts and blessings of whatever we receive, are we thankful, and do we strive to pass on in wisdom that which we gave learned to the next generation, thus keeping the flame alight that others may find the way.

  5. You are born, you live a life, you die. It is up to each individual as to how you fill that life.
    If you have fallen for Aikido and study with passion and honesty, then all the teachers you meet should just confirm you are on the right path, or guide you towards it.
    O-Sensei called it Aikido not Ueshiba-do, it is not Chiba-do, Sugano-do, Yamada-do. These wonderful people are only passing on what they know, as best they can, in the hope you will carry on the path of discovery. Their individual personalities and experiences are what makes their Aikido style individual, unique, gentle yet powerful, and sometimes downright vicious and mean.
    Remember, just because you sit at the feet of giants, it will not make you any taller.
    The teachers you meet are just sign posts, indicators, checks and measures, to confirm or correct your path, and guide you on your way. Choose wisely.
    I follow what O-Sensei has written, and seek out teachers of interest to help me evolve.
    If you can perform Aikido without any physical strength or conflict, perform it easily and with little effort, against anyone, then you must be on the right path.
    All of us are teachers in a sense, and we will each pass on our version of Aikido for others to choose from. Take what suits you best at that time, and change styles as you evolve into a better human being. Thank the ones who went before you, and be grateful for the ones who will follow.
    Keep evolving, seek higher ground, never be afraid to change your mind (and techniques) as you grow, and most of all, enjoy the journey.

  6. …i’m thankful that i have been able to study with the people i have. i give credit in my classes for each specific thing i remember and can connect to a single teacher. i hope that they wouldn’t be ashamed of my rendition of their knowledge.

  7. Brett Jackson says:

    I especially vibrate with what Misters Jack, Araki, and Charles said above.

    This article has the feel of a “tough-love” approach, admonishing us to excel and measure up to our teachers, etc, but the downside is the impression of negatively and self-doubt. Whether intended or not by the author, I would like to say a few words to hopefully aiki those affectations. The glass must be seen as at least half-full, we must stay positive, appreciate what we have and have done, have faith that our teachers were successful, admire the immense growth of aikido — all on the one hand, and, on the other, rein in some of our tendencies to hero worship.

    “The depth of experience these teachers possess is truly irreplaceable, they are an “endangered species”.” There is both hero worship and hero undermining at play here. The greatness of a teacher can be measured by the quality of his or her students. Which of these irreplaceable treasures have not based the torch (or is not in the process of doing so) to new, inspiring and capable teachers which they can be proud of? Who will criticize those teachers by alleging that they did not and therefore could not pass on the torch? What were they lacking that caused them to fail in this most critical task of their lives work? That’s the implicit hero undermining part here. I don’t think so. Let us not undermine the accomplishments of our teachers.

    “Who is even capable of taking on this mantle? Did any one of these teachers manage to pass on what he knew? Can you look at the succession and say that any of these teachers created any students who were as good as they were / are? And if not, why not?” Not sure what the “mantle” is, but if we build up the mantle too high, then of course we will have a hard time finding someone to attain it. There are many very fine and inspiring teachers our there now; and instead of having only a few bright lights, we now have thousands of candles burning almost all over the world now, many burning very brightly indeed! No need to mention names — we all know of such lights, our own senseis for one.

    “…many of us senior students, direct students of these giants who trained with the Founder and then pioneered Aikido’s growth overseas, have failed our teachers and failed our art. We squandered the time we had with these people, always acting as if there would be another class, another seminar, another chance to master what they knew. And now, increasingly there will be no more chances.” Where is this negatively coming from? Failed our teachers and our art? No more chances?

    Did our teachers think that we had failed them? Did they think we didn’t measure up? In that case, why didn’t they correct us or hold us back? Humility is going a bit too far here. Trust our teachers, therefore trust that we are what they intended us to be, and, therefore, that things are going well. Who has failed aikido? If so, what do you have to do or be not to fail it? How is it possible to fail aikido? Aikido is not a person or test, it’s a goal. Therefore, so far as we making progress toward that goal, we are not failing but succeeding. Failing aikido would be to use it for criminal or malicious ends.

    “There has been a lot of discussion about the failure both the Founder and many of his most talented students to develop a systematic teaching methodology for transmitting the art.” To the extent that there is this “discussion” it is much overblown. I’ve never heard anyone say the Founder “failed”. If I had heard this, I wouldn’t have paid too much attention knowing that the claim was groundless, as is so much of the negatively that prances about as if the critic is so much above it all (not directed at the author of this piece).

    Beware the critics. Every school has a curriculum and basics and all teachers have their own ways of teaching. I’ve practiced in many dojos and they have all been systematic, starting with the basics and slowly moving on from there. Iwama prides itself on being systematic but non-Iwama schools are also systematic.

    “We are forced to admit that none of us is as good as our teacher, then I think we have to really look at the hard fact that we failed to do our jobs.” Don’t buy that. Another implicit criticism of our teachers. The claim that none of us is as good as our teachers is not as self-evident as the simple bold assertion itself would have us believe.

    Did our teachers ever say that we were not, or would not become, as good as them? Would they undermine themselves by offering up such a self-serving opinions? And what sense does the comparison even make – as good as our teachers? The comparison is incorrect as the contexts, starting-points, tasks, etc are all different.

    “But did any of us feel like we had really mastered what our teachers were doing? If we actually did feel that way, did we move on and find the next teacher who could take us to the next level?” There is no such thing as mastery (you are probably finished as soon as you believe you are there). Thinking we have to level up to being “masters” puts the torch too high and stacks the deck against us from the start.

    I’m sure many of us feel that we do understand our teachers, and that we are practicing in the way they approve, and that we are carrying that torch with us off the mats as well as on. What more can they ask? Importantly, we are probably even more open-minded and culture-sensitive than they are or were, though this is matter for a different post. Aikido is not in spirit a parochial art, not a Japanese art, except in the historical sense. That’s why it can potentially “fire up the pot” (so to speak) in all countries and cultures. A lot follows from this. Aikido is growing.

    Nor is there a requirement to move onwards and upwards to different teachers. We can move also for various personal reasons of family and career, but don’t have too.

    “If Aikido fails to measure up, it’s our fault. We can’t blame our teachers.” Enough, let’s stop criticizing aikido, stop beating ourselves up, stop undermining our teachers’ accomplishments, and stop hero-worshiping them.

    Irimi is to go forward with an open, clear, and positive mind that cuts through negatively and pushes back the obscurity and darkness of fear, worry, and self-doubt and brightens the way forward for all.

  8. I hope Sensei Ledyard doesn’t mind if I add Robert Nadeau Sensei (7th Dan Shihan) to that list. He studied with O’Sensei for 6 years (could be 4 I need to ask him) personally.

    There’s also Motomichi Anno Sensei (8th Dan Shihan) currently at Shingu and Yanase Sensei (formerly of Shingu). Both are in Japan however.

  9. This blog also appeared on aikiweb with a few responses there as is the link

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