Sometime ago, I wrote a short article accompanied by an unusual photo that has produced a number of comments from readers. The photo taken in 2001 captured the last meeting of Koichi Tohei Sensei and Morihiro Saito Sensei, two of the luminaries of postwar aikido.
I think the photo evoked a great deal of nostalgia for an earlier era in which the few aikido organizations maintained cordial relations and members could meet freely without fear of being ostracized. Alas, these days are long passed as aikido has moved into a different phase where the various aikido organizations now have second or third generation organizational heads. Present-day leaders, I believe, are more conscious of the fact they are running businesses. Some carry out this task more efficiently than others, but that is ultimately their main aim.
I think I can safely say that few of today’s leaders are focused on the philosophy and technique of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Their main concern is the solidification/expansion of the organization and its smooth operation. The concepts espoused by the Founder in his old-fashioned way are considered quaint, esoteric and impractical. After all, we’re in the 21st century!
More than one of the commentators on my article asked me to use my influence, such as it is, to approach the concerned principals to attempt to “thaw the ice,” as it were, among the leading organizations that no longer communicate. That won’t happen! At least not now… Not because I would not be disposed toward undertaking such an attempt, but because there is no desire on the part of the leadership to apply the ideals of aikido to the practical operation of their associations.
You must understand some things about how all of this works.
In Japan, when a major event occurs that results in the splitting off from an organization of a key member, there are two sets of reasons that explain what has happened. The first is for public consumption. It is designed to make the communicator of the viewpoint look acceptable and justified in the decision taken by his side. The second set of reasons may include all of the first set, but it also reflects other information that is deemed too sensitive to be made public. Usually, it is these “unmentioned” reasons, often involving personal foibles, that are what really caused the break.
Neither party will go into these taboo areas in public, but one can learn the actual unseen causes in a more private setting where the person feels comfortable, particularly where drinking is involved. One can learn a lot by keeping an ear to the ground in such situations.
This is where the journalist/historian comes in. Such people conduct research, write down facts and opinions, and publish their findings. They have their supporters and detractors. Their success and fate rests on how they conduct themselves, their output, and how close they come to crossing the line and exposing these taboo areas in a public context.
The journalist/historian often appears as an academic type, perhaps having the outward demeanor of a mere fly on the wall. Such persons are, however, potentially very dangerous to the established order, as they have the power to strip the players in the political drama of their outer facade by using their insider knowledge.
This is a problem I have had to come to grips with throughout my career in aikido as I have ventured across organizational boundaries. At this point in my life, I no longer wish to be in the “heat of the action.” I have drunk deeply of the Japanese culture and its martial arts world over nearly five decades. I have encountered many wonders and many travesties along the way. Sometimes, single individuals have embodied both facets simultaneously. It becomes difficult to arrive at a moral verdict as to the totality of that person’s deeds and accomplishments, or where to place him in the overall historical context.
When I wax nostalgic from time to time about some past episode in my writings, I try to emphasize the positive aspects in my portrayal of events. Perhaps I am guilty of violating the journalist’s expected pretense towards objectivity, but the prospect of hanging out another’s dirty laundry for all to see in the manner of a tabloid publication is revolting to me. I have thought long and hard about this dilemma. If I were an artist, I would want to be remembered for my best works, for the ones that inspired and gave food for thought. I would not want to leave dark, despairing paintings that evoked like sentiments in the beholder. What would be the point?
My closing thought is this. Don’t look to Japan or any organization for leadership in aikido or any other field of endeavor. This world of dizzying technological advancement has left these bloated dinosaurs panting in the dust. In today’s networked world, any visionary and hard-working individual can produce prodigious results at lightning speed. The shaping of aikido’s future lies in our hands. Let’s get crackin’!