Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 1, by Peter Goldsbury

This column is an extended discussion of some recent topics already touched upon in the AikiWeb discussion forums and in private mail. The various topics are closely connected and treatment of one influences the perception and treatment of others. The column is very much work in progress and is not intended as a full-blown academic paper. The topics discussed are related to the various issues involved in the transmission of theoretical and practical knowledge in a non-competitive martial art like aikido, especially the transmission of knowledge across cultures. All these issues are fundamental to how we conceive the form and content of the aikido training we undergo at the hands of our teachers and can be presented as propositions, subsumed under the three headings in the title.

(a) Morihei Ueshiba made no attempt to ‘teach’ the knowledge and skills he possessed to his deshi.

(b) The latter all gained profound knowledge and skills during their time as deshi, but it is by no means clear that they gained all the knowledge or that all gained the same knowledge.

(c) Morihei Ueshiba appears to have made no specific attempt to check whether his deshi had understood what they had learned from him.

(d) On the other hand, all the evidence indicates that Morihei Ueshiba worried very much about passing on the art to future generations and finally designated his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba as heir and inheritor of the art.

(e) Kisshomaru Ueshiba seems to have changed the inheritance he received quite radically, again, with no clear reaction from his father, such that it has been stated that the aikido taught by him and by his successors nowadays is no longer Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido.

(f) Just as the heirs of Morihei Ueshiba have passed on their knowledge and skill to their deshi, so also have the deshi of Morihei Ueshiba passed on their knowledge and skill to their own deshi, but with very varying degrees of success, such that the knowledge and skills of present and future generations are becoming and will become increasingly varied in quality, in proportion as they become more distant from the source.

(g) The fact that many of these deshi live outside Japan and that aikido has become a Japanese art practiced more outside Japan than in Japan has profoundly affected and is profoundly affecting its essential character.

Teaching and Learning Paradigm
Over the next few columns I will examine each of these three general categories in turn, for, as I suggested above, I believe that they are fundamental to our core perceptions of the art as it is practiced, both here in Japan and abroad. However, I also believe that certain crucial assumptions are made, even in the way that the categories are set up. These assumptions, which are also very much controversial issues, are based on a particular paradigm (for want of a better term). This paradigm can also be expressed in a number of propositions:

(1) Aikido is a budo that can be fully taught and fully learned (in the sense that it is possible for the deshi to acquire all of the master’s skills).

(2) Aikido is a budo that has to be taught and learned by means of being systematized into teaching and learning strategies.

(3) Whereas the teacher is crucially important in this process, it is the mastery of the teaching and learning strategies on the part of the student that will ultimately determine whether the knowledge and skills can be or have been or are being acquired.

(4) Thus, there is an important element of accountability and independent assessment of the internal efficiency of the art, but this is based on some vague standard of what the art should ‘do’ in a ‘real’ situation.

(5) There is also a ‘moral’ aspect to the art, in the sense that (1) the art should bring about a change in any individual who practices the art, and (2) this change should be for the better, however this is conceived.

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