Jul
16

“How do we determine who is good?”, by Charles Humphrey

“The issue of martial skill is impossible to determine within a civilized context.”

The text below is from a comment by Charles Humphrey in response to the blog “Schism and Disharmony – The Bumpy Road to Aiki,” by Alister Gillies. I felt it merited special attention for it offers a viewpoint not commonly heard. – Editor

Cheers on some more thoughtful contributions. This is why I avoid organizations like the plague. When there is an organization, there are organizational politics, and much wasted time. My answer to the question “how to determine who is good?” is far from the usual answer. Look at the personality. The issue of martial skill is impossible to determine within a civilized context. To truly determine who is “the best” in this sense is nearly impossible.

Even the most extreme imaginable situation of you sticking them in a limited space and saying “to the death!” You eliminate the possibilities of positional advantage and foresight that are the mark of true skill. In any case, it is unnecessary. Want to see who’s the best, just look at the life they lead. Do they belittle others? Do they repeatedly stress that they/their teacher/their style is the only one true way? Do they have a sense of humour, particularly about themselves? Do they laugh? Do they fart a lot? Do you feel comfortable around them? Are they good husbands/wives/children/parents? Do they accept people in all their limitations, do their best to be tolerant and yet admit that they experience natural human frustrations with certain people or circumstances? In essence, are they truly human, neither presuming to be a god nor laxing into an animal, and are they comfortable with this lot? What else do you expect?

Such a person is not an invincible warrior. No one is invincible, but they can live a quiet and content life knowing that if they are such a person they will have no more regrets than they should, and live neither a longer nor shorter life than they were intended. The highest level of skill is to be truly natural, foibles included. I have seen examples of this in teachers but none of them are part of organizations. They are obscure men because they are naturally disgusted with organizational politics. They don’t judge those who are involved in such organizations and if asked by someone to whom they feel they owe something they will assist these organizations, but will then promptly retire once their work is complete. I have seen such examples in the most senior students of great masters who humbly try to learn something from the second most senior student without resentment, recognizing that although junior, the other student understands some things they don’t. This second most senior student, in turn, continually attends lectures and reads books from other arts in order to expand his knowledge. I’m in a rambling jetlagged state of mind but it’s obvious. Look for lack of pretension, mellowness is the acme of true skill.

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Comments

  1. I decided to make a comment ref. this blog as I indeed had a Sensei some twenty years ago named Max Moss from the UK who demonstrated all of the attributes you mention, unfortunately, I lost contact with him & have only just made contact again over the last few months, he is not an easy man to locate.

    When I first started training with him he encouraged me to try other martial arts, other dojos, in fact he almost insisted on it, then if and only if I could not find what I was looking for should I return to him with the view to training.

    He appeared to have no affiliations to larger organisations yet never once did I hear him criticise any of them, he had no political agenda either, yet at the drop of a hat could ask other instructors from different organisations or even other martial arts to come down to train/teach. I always found that facinating that they would do that!

    The instruction was firm, disciplined yet with an amazing amount of caring which was shown by him & all of his higher graded and longer standing students. One thing he used to say was that ‘if the day comes when you can put your hand on your heart and say you can’t learn from a beginner, then your journey is either over or your ego has outweighed your usefulness’.

    I trained with him for over ten years and the only person I really saw him cross with was himself yet even then it was always with a smile on his face and laughter in his voice, I asked him once after training how do you remain so cheerful with your outlook on life, his answer, ‘there are 86400 seconds in a day and I enjoy every one of them’, what can you say to that?

    Thank you for allowing me the place to voice my thoughts Sensei Pranin! This always has been and I trust always be an increadible forum for information.

    • Joe Peterson says:

      Well said. Fantastic quote. ‘if the day comes when you can put your hand on your heart and say you can’t learn from a beginner, then your journey is either over or your ego has outweighed your usefulness’.

  2. Going back to the title. A good start to locate the good teachers is look at the students they turn out. If you find great students, probably the teacher is great. O’Sensei turned out lots of great students.

  3. Pranin Sensei recently ran a clip from “Twilight Samurai”. The whole movie is to the point – humility.

  4. Hello,

    My first Sensei told me at the beginning of my training that if I “stick” to it for six months, “it” will stick to me. Some 25 years later I can say he was half right. “It” stuck with me for my whole life, but not because of my “sticking” around, but because of him, and later my second Sensei.

    I was fortunate enough to have two mentors for whom there was no inside politics, no competition, no envy. Just plain old desire to keep improving, both in skill and in moral.

    I attempted to follow their example with my students. To me, that is a “good” Sensei. A person who places learning above the ego. Ego is easy to spot and so is a humble man.

  5. Great article. I think it spells out the best attributes of an aikido sensei. I do have a problem with the organization bashing tho.

    All of the best senseis that I know or have worked with over the decades have been proudly representing their respective organizations. Whether that be Aikikai, Iwama, ASU, Shin Budo, etc. etc., they have used the skills spelled out in this article to continuously improve and build whichever group or subgroup or local branch of a subgroup that they are in. More often I have found the “independents” to be the more questionable senseis. Why aren’t they still in the organization that taught them? Is it ego or is it just that they can’t play nice with others, either personally or organizationally?

    The big advantage of an Organization is that is has the potential to reach a much larger audience. You could reach hundreds or thousands of people if you influenced a good organization to be better. The greatest Sensei ever who just teaches one student in his or her garage seems a bit selfish. And why? Just because they’re afraid of a little politics?

    “Do they accept people in all their limitations, do their best to be tolerant and yet admit that they experience natural human frustrations with certain people or circumstances?”
    That sounds like a good aikido organization leader.

    Not afraid of life and death conflicts but afraid to step into an Aikido Organization and try to make it better? Or to branch it, or split it and make your own?
    Step up. Share the Art. Do the best you can to help the most.

  6. Dean Koropatnicki says:

    Did Morihei Ueshiba embody the characteristics listed in the second paragraph above? Sokaku Takeda, the same?

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