Ruminating again

I’m reading Christa Wolf’s City of angels

I saw the following :

I want to tell you right now that this is one of the reasons why I did not go back “home”: I knew that I could never be at home again among those people.

City of angels

Wow. That’s why I’m not training.

How come ?

I ask and attempt to answer a few questions about the results of a small petition a few months back.

  • How did I know that the petition would end my aikido practice?
  • Why was I so sure most people wouldn’t quit?
  • Why won’t I go back?
  • How come I knew how this would go down when others didn’t?

How did I know that the petition would end my aikido practice?

  • I had observed YY for over thirty years and could make an educated guess as to which way he would jump.
  • I recognized that many people would follow his lead, and that they’d therefore say and do lousy things.
  • I think I have always known that organizations protect their own hierarchy first. All right, maybe not always, but certainly since I was in my teens.
  • I could judge my own tolerance for lousy behavior.

Why was I so sure that most people wouldn’t quit?

  • Aikido organizations, from individual dojos through the international organizations, are high demand organizations. Ever since I started training, I have (only half joking) called aikido a cult.
  • It’s hard to leave a cult. That’s my basic answer – aikido is structured as a high demand organization, and leaving is psychologically hard.
  • Additionally, as I have said before, many aikidoists believe that aikido is different from other arts. They perceive it as having universal applicability (while also believing that only practitioners can understand the specialness).
  • Many aikidoists wanted a spiritual practice. They believe they have found one in aikido.
  • Fighting against your own doubts tends to cement your allegiance.
  • So again, why would they leave? Aikido was satisfying for them.

Why won’t I go back?

I could – in the sense that several teachers and dojos would welcome me.

I don’t want to. I’ve thought about what I get out of training. I would love to experience the camaraderie again. I am desperate for the adrenaline.

And yet – I don’t want to be part of an organization that places a premium on respect for a family (or other) lineage. I’m not interested in tradition.

I don’t believe in ki or in the ability of a martial art to further peace and understanding.

Given the above, there’s a good chance I was never really an aikidoist. I was a physically talented exerciser. I was a good teacher of technique, and enforcer of the rules.

If the essence of aikido is accepting that Ueshiba discovered a unique method of self awareness that could lead to universal peace – I wasn’t an aikidoist.

Indeed, I don’t think that aikido is special and that may be the real stumbling block.

How come I knew how this would go down when others didn’t?

I know why I knew how the fracas would likely resolve. I said so above: I had observed the players for decades, and didn’t idolize them.

But everyone involved had observed the players. The majority of (public) supporters of the petition weren’t tyros.

I am not so special. I am no more insightful than other people (if anything I’m less capable of reading people than most). If I could see that change wouldn’t happen quickly and that the leadership would interpret a mild letter and a petition as an attack – why couldn’t others?

Maybe having read Why does he do that? by Lundy Bancroft opened my eyes to abuse.

Maybe having no spiritual interests gave me a tiny shield.

Maybe training only intermittently for a few years gave me some distance.

I just don’t know.

What I do know is that leaving your friends is scary. Accepting that your judgement of people and things could be off is very difficult.

Recognizing that I had devoted over thirty years of my life to a group that could (and would) speak of a quiet request as disrespect and betrayal was very hard.

So was accepting that I had expected that response. I guess I had recognized, though I had not acknowledged what I recognized, that there were unhealthy elements – even in my dojo.

I had understood that people I knew and loved would behave immorally.

It was excruciating to accept that the people I loved would act as they did.

I have been looking for explanations that do not rely on the specialness of me. Maybe the recognition is the essence.

I couldn’t and can’t avoid perceiving that kicking people out of a dojo because they are willing to sign a petition is wrong.

I couldn’t and can’t avoid the conclusion that problem lies in the structure of aikido organizations, not in a few bad apples.

The mess that would ensue was obvious to me.

At the time, I felt sad, and sickened. But I knew that the cult I had been a member of would close ranks.

I wasn’t surprised.

Here’s an excellent article on yoga that parallels what happened in the USAF

Go away

This time is was “healthy morning start!” or some such nonsense. I said “fuck off.”

Next time some prize jerk makes a comment on my running I think I’ll stop. Here’s what I’ll say:

You don’t make comments to men running. I know you don’t so don’t pretend.

Just shut up. Keep your eyes in your head and your tongue inside your lips.

No noises. Shut up or drop dead.

Why I bothered

I said that I accept never training again. I had (and have) reasons for saying that.

  • It’s true.
  • I want people to understand that losing aikido is a survivable option.
  • I hoped people would read a relatively out there idea and decide that their own options were ok
  • My long standing beliefs about aikido organizations.

Of course it’s this final reason that I want to clarify.

As I’ve probably said before, I’m not intrigued by aikido’s philosophical and religious underpinnings. That’s because I’m an atheist who finds the search for meaning and order utterly pointless. I’m happy living in the material world. I’m content knowing that I’m done when I die.

As a result, when looking into aikido, NYA attracted me because the training placed no emphasis on ki. My first sight of Yamada cemented my perception of NYA as a place where training was important and doctrine was not. I walked into the dojo and saw a shirtless middle aged man with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other.

As I met people from other dojos and other lineages I noticed that many of them had internalized the idea that there was one correct method of training and that they should not deviate.

Yamada appeared to promote diversity in style. I liked that.

To summarize:

  • I picked a dojo that didn’t emphasize spiritual development.
  • I picked a teacher who appeared happy when his students did their own aikido, not his.

I ignored that many aikido dojos were run by men who fucked their students and then kicked those students out. (Yamada did that at least once.) Hell, I ignored that the founder of the art was fascist and mentally ill.

I ignored that hombu seemed fine with aikido teachers who beat up their students (and their wives).

In other words, I ignored the glaring flaws in aikido organizations because I enjoyed training and moving up in the ranks.

I had fun in my enclave. I knew, though, that the overarching organizations were basically some combination of incompetent or lousy or involved in spiritual practice that wasn’t for me.

Now I’ve had to accept that my corner, NYA, wasn’t the sanctuary I’d thought.

I’m 6th Dan. I have achieved a lot already in the organization. Thus I don’t need to stay in an organization to prove I’ve got chops. Been there done that.

Since I am not a believer in the philosophical specialness of aikido, I examined what’s there for me.

  • Throwing people into walls.
  • Being thrown.
  • Hanging out.
  • Making very close friends.

Then I wonder, do I need (or want) aikido for that? What would aikido be without bowing? What uniform do I want? What people should I train with?

I realized that there may be many dojos which would be fine with my attitude as a student, but –

  • They bow to a picture of a man who had odd (when not outright fascist) ideas.
  • They pay lip service to aikido’s specialness.

When I think about all this, I realize that maybe I will not train as an aikidoist. Maybe I’ve never really been one.

That’s OK by me.

Now for out there vs not so odd.

I believe that a lot of aikidoists like the idea of aikido philosophy as the special sauce that makes their training (and them) special too.

(To clarify, I’m not above this, it’s just that I perceived aikido’s specialness as being physical leverage well designed for short people. Like me. A lot of aikido technique is easier for me than for most bigger people.)

So if you’re a person who wants rank, you’ll probably want to stay in a rank granting organization.

If you’re a dojo you have to think about your students. What do they need?

If you like your dojo, you may have decided to leave the question up to your dojo cho.

  • You may really really really want to stay in the USAF.
  • You have friends and you want to keep them.
  • You like being part of something bigger than you.
  • You respect Yamada as a teacher and proselytizer.
  • You are too old too find something new
  • Your teacher likes and respects you.
  • Your students need access to rank.
  • Your students need access to more partners and styles.

I would be lying if I said I don’t judge you. I do. I think you’re wrong to stay. It’s immoral. But what do you care what I think?

I don’t want what you want

“We are all working towards the same outcome.”

“We all aspire to the same things.”

“We all want the best for each other.”

In this debacle, the issue is aikido.

“We all want what’s best for aikido.”

No. We don’t.

We have a variety of agendas. We have different needs.

I could start listing the different things we want and I’d still be here next week. In brief, each of us wants something different. Even so, I see a few broad shapes.

– Some people are sick of the USAF and of all aikido organizations.

– Some people want to continue to achieve rank in an aikido organization.

– Some people don’t give a damn about organizations, but want to train.

– Some people make a living out of aikido, and want some kind of association of dojo cho.

– Some people are done.

– Some people remain committed to teachers who will remain in the USAF.

– Some people want a reason to stay with Yamada.

So if you’re someone who’s done, you’ll do and say very different things, in very different ways, from someone who is committed to staying in the USAF. Pretending otherwise is an error.

Moreover, there are many beliefs about what aikido actually is. I fall at one end of a spectrum: I don’t think aikido is intrinsically special. It’s a good tool for some people.

My take is, as I said, at one end of a spectrum. At the other end are people who believe deeply in the unique ability of aikido training to promote human potential. As a result of our different beliefs about what aikido is, we might have differing views about the importance of preserving a good image of aikido, or protecting a legacy.

That’s why you read me saying things that seem disrespectful or off-hand. Deep down inside, I don’t think aikido has any significance aside from the ways practitioners use it. I don’t care whether O Sensei retains admiration. I don’t care if aikido organizations succeed or fail. More accurately, I don’t care, aside from keeping friends happy and employed.

I am fairly certain that my attitude is not shared by everyone.

But even among people who care deeply about aikido (as opposed to caring about other practitioners), there are wide differences in what people want and need. Someone who has just started training might be interested in achieving rank. Someone who has rank might be interested in teaching in a hombu associated dojo. Someone else might care primarily about passing along their own skills. These are very different desires, and might lead to different tactics.

Let me get specific again. If you want rank recognized by hombu (and I certainly did), you have to train with people who have links to hombu.

That doesn’t have to mean USAF, but you might feel the need to be circumspect anyway.

You might live somewhere where the best training (by whatever measures you use) is in USAF dojos. If that’s the case you might feel the need to watch what you say, or to display deference. You might look for a reason to accept what YY says.

If that describes your situation, your needs differ from those of someone who has decided they want to be part of a cooperative dojo. The person who wants a cooperative might look into multiple arts as part of their training, and might not need (or want) hombu certification.

Pretending that you share the same perspective or needs doesn’t serve either of you well.

Those were general examples but I’m sure each person knows what they want, and can assess what others want.

Again, I think that assuming we all want the same things is a mistake. We have an alliance hoping for specific changes in the USAF. The actions we are willing to take if and when Yamada and the USAF leadership shoots down our common desires will differ.

Some of us are willing to stay in the USAF, although we’d prefer it changes. Some of us are not.

If you don’t realize that these are very different options, then you won’t be able to formulate a reasonable plan.

Another way of perceiving this situation: we have different aims, as a result we will favor strategies that achieve our own aims, not those of others. We will favor tactics that work within our strategies.

Again, that’s why I’m not very discreet. I’m already out. I don’t have to defer to YY or the board of the USAF.

You might.


Some aikidoists are hurt and confused right now.

Much of their distress stems from their idea of what aikido is and what aikidoists should be.

Aikido isn’t special or important.

Aikido is a more-or-less modern martial art, created by a cult member and all around odd person. Ueshiba claimed that his art developed fighting skills and magic insight.

If you train hard and seriously, yes you’ll develop the skills. You won’t develop magical ki because magical healing and bullet sensing and all that don’t exist.

At advanced levels, you can end a disagreement without harm. So what? That’s substantially true of any martial arts system.

As for focus and insight, aikido doesn’t differ intrinsically from any other tool. If you’re working on some aspect of your character, if you’re attempting meditation, that’s on you. Aikido could be your tool. So could writing morning pages. So could knitting, or swimming, or, well, pretty much anything.

Studying a martial art won’t make you a better person. Becoming a better person makes you a better person.

The organization is the people. If they are lousy, then the ideals maybe aren’t true.