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Aiki News #36 (May 1980)

The subject of money in almost every context I can think of is an extremely sensitive one. In the realm of Aikido it is a particularly perplexing issue due to the so-called “spiritual” nature of the art in contrast to the realities of its promotion among the general public, dojo management, etc. Over the years of my involvement in the art I have often both observed and participated in discussions involving money in various connections where the participants were obviously made uncomfortable by the very nature of the topic. I can recall senseis voicing such sentiments as “I don’t teach Aikido for money!” or quickly referring a student to someone else he has delegated to handle monetary affairs in his stead. Another typical scene which sticks in my mind is the student who brings up the subject of training fees in such a way as to imply that the dues are too expensive, the implicit argument being that since Aikido is a “spiritual” discipline, and the “spiritual” is the very antitheses of material considerations, ideally one should be able to study free of charge, or if absolutely necessary, paying only a minimal amount.

Allow me to recall an episode out of Aikido history which sheds an interesting light on this delicate matter involving Aikido and money. Those of you acquainted with the life of the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, will remember that he spent a number of years in Hokkaido (1912-1919) where he happened to meet the famous Sokaku Takeda Sensei whose Daito-ryu Jujutsu played a pivotal role in the later development of Aikido. Takeda was a very eccentric and demanding individual who, though a superb martial artist, was very difficult to get along with and caused O-Sensei no end of headaches in their teacher/student relationship. For one thing, in addition to having to look after the personal needs of his teacher and even build him a house, young Ueshiba was required to pay large sums of money.

“For the ‘budo’ he (Ueshiba) studied at that time he had to pay the teacher (Takeda) three-hundred to five-hundred yen (during that time, 0.49 dollars equalled one yen) for one technique. In addition to that, the Master had to work hard by cutting wood and carrying water for him before receiving the lesson. He spent almost all the property that he inherited from his parents. ” (Quoted form Aikido, K. Ueshiba, P. 150).

I strongly suspect that the principles of economics prevailed in this instance and the fact that Ueshiba was the son of a wealthy man was the major factor in determining the amount he had to pay. Historically speaking, does one condemn Takeda for taking unscrupulous advantage of his sensei status and charging an exorbitant amount for his instruction or chide O-Sensei for being so foolish as to squander the better part of his inheritance to learn jujutsu techniques?

It is quite interesting to contrast this with O-Sensei’s attitude toward accepting money later on in his life when he became a famous sensei in his own right. Being a very spiritual individual, he found it extremely distasteful to directly accept money from his students. He would instead have them present their offerings to the “kamisama” (deity) and his wife would then discretely borrow the money from the “kamisama” in order to meet family expenses. Not that it should have been otherwise. The point is that here the “appearance” of a clear separation between Aikido instruction and the acceptance of money was rigorously maintained. O-Sensei himself seemed to regard money with disdain and as “tainted” by the material. As we have seen, this is in sharp contrast to the events surrounding his association with Takeda where this separation was not maintained and where he was willing to spend large sums of his father’s fortune to pursue his martial arts study.

After all is said and done, what is the essence of the teacher/student relationship? What role, if any, does money play? I personally regard this relationship as an exchange of values. Certainly the teacher is the dominant figure in the sense that it is he (or she) who possesses the knowledge which the student desires to assimilate, but, on the other hand, it is also a realtionship of interdependence. The teacher without students would have no means of self-expression or mirror for his actions and ideas. It is customary (and perhaps economically a necessity) for the student to offer money for lessons as an expression of gratitude for the opportunity to learn. However, as I have pointed out above, because of the way in which many people regard money, this arrangement somehow seems a contradiction, at least in a psychological sense. Consider further the following. The sensei who has guilt feelings about accepting money for his instruction would probably gratefully accept a gift from a student of a non-monetary nature. Imagine, for example, that the student is an accomplished painter and presents his teacher with a beautiful portrait which if sold through a gallery would be worth several hundred dollars. Fine. But if the same student were to sell the painting and offer a monetary gift which the “starving” sensei might need much more than a painting, what would the latter’s reaction then be? Clearly the issue is an emotionally charged one. All of this notwithstanding, I think that this apparent conflict between the “material” and the “spiritual” might be alleviated if one were to reflect on the meaning and function of our oft-misaligned friend “money”.

I have been especially impressed by one controversial writer’s views on the subject. Permit me to quote a few pertinent lines from the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand regarding the nature of money:

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?…. Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trake and give value for value.

“To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return.” (pp. 387-383).

When perceived in this light, money becomes a noble entity, the freely negotiable concretization of the product of one’s efforts, a “currency” allowing individuals of disparate ability a common basis for exchange. It is an “effect,” the result of thought and action. Money in the best of worlds is the symbol of the sum of one’s “creativity” plus “productivity.”

If, indeed, this is the essence of money, why has it become for so many, “the root of all evil?” I don’t pretend to know the full answer to that question but I do have some thoughts on the matter. Money is very unforgiving in the sense that it comes into existence in direct proportion to one’s efforts. Anyone who has had the experience of being in business for himself (for example, running a dojo) knows only too well the nature of this cause-and-effect relationship. On the other hand, lazy, inefficient or inexperienced people produce little and it is easy to see how those who either can’t or don’t produce might come to envy those who do, the success of others serving merely to reveal their own inadequacies.

Unfortunately, the matter does not rest there and seems further to be tied up with what might be called the “democratic reflex”. Democracy functions not only as a political ideal where society, made up of individual units, expresses its desires as a collective whole through the democratic election process. However the right to an “equal share” in the electoral process is seen by many persons as reversible and to further imply the right to an “equal share” of the collective wealth of the nation. This highly vocal segment of society is of the belief that the “rich”, many of whom are highly successful producers, do not actually create wealth but rather seize already existing wealth by exploiting the common “working” man.

Another one of Rand’s characters verbalizes this view: “We are breaking up the vicious tyranny of economic power. We will set men free of the rule of the dollar. We will release our spiritual heirs from dependence on the owners of material means. We will liberate our culture from the stranglehold of the profit-chasers.” In other words, the “rich” as the possessors of money, are in reality parasites and it is the workers who are the true producers. The money earned by the latter is not “tainted” since it is clearly and directly the result of hard-earned effort (and probably because the sums involved are not large) . Yet, let one such worker choose to exert himself still further, invest his assets wisely and gradually build his own fortune and he then in turn becomes an “exploiter” as he has come to possess far more than his “fair share” of the collective wealth. Accordingly, his success would earn him the condemnation of his former peers. Also, in some part of his being, he, too, would probably experience guilt feelings about his success. I believe it is attitudes such as these alluded to above that are responsible for the extremely ambiguous feelings surrounding the concept of money.

So, once again we are left with the bewildered Aikido sensei who, though teaching a “spiritual” art, must eat to live. He can choose to hold down a full-time job and teach in his spare time in which case his progress in Aikido is likely to be retarded, not to mention the success of the dojo. Or he can make the leap to full-time Aikido teacher and dedicate himself body and soul to the art while, at least initially, living on a subsistence level. Then should he achieve some measure of financial success, he becomes open to criticism for being too “commercial” with O-Sensei’s art and is himself plagued with feelings of guilt with regard to his success, not an altogether enviable state of affairs. In light of this dilemma, would it not behoove us to recall that the samurai of old who are for many people “models” both in terms of spiritual and technical development were first and foremost “professional” soldiers and that O-Sensei was the first and heretofore the most successful “professional” Aikidoist?