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Background On San Francisco Area Teachers

Aiki News #39 (August 1981)

It is with great excitement tinged with a touch of trepidation that we publish the interview on page 3 of this issue. Some of its contents are bound to fascinate and challenge the minds of Aikido practitioners cutting across cultural and linguistic boundaries, while other portions are apt to disturb and offend the tastes of some readers who will no doubt find the language and metaphors used too direct on the one hand, or too abstract or even meaningless on the other. But one thing which will immediately become obvious is that the opinions expressed are, as we say in English, “straight from the heart.”

The individuals present for the interview were Robert Nadeau, Frank Doran, Bruce Klickstein and yours truly. I think that some of the problems which are of the deepest concern to people studying the art (for example, “hard versus soft”, “Aikido as a martial art or a spiritual discipline”, “O-Sensei’s role”, “the essence of Aikido”, “approaches to teaching”, etc.) are tackled from a variety of angles.

The three men, each of whom I have the pleasure of knowing for many years, all have their personal styles and all are very successful as teachers in the San Francisco Bay area, one of the most dynamic and innovative areas for the development of Aikido. One of the really special characteristics of the region is its unique political structure, or perhaps I should say, its lack thereof. Despite the really dramatic build-up of the art in the area, which stretches from the Monterey Peninsula in the south to Marin County above San Francisco in the north and inland to the Sacramento region, there exists nothing more than a skeleton framework of an organization with no by-laws, no officers, no dues and none excluded from participation. The Aikido world is full of political infighting, petty bickering, groups excluding other groups and Senseis publicly criticizing other teachers and styles. This is, of course, to be expected, as it seems that this form of behavior is a basic trait of human nature. However, given the self-espoused spiritual and social aims of Aikido, it can only smack of hypocrisy. The concept of a “one world family” has never seemed a realistic or even desirable ideal to me for no one can even begin to agree on what is meant by these words, in the first place, and even if that were possible, the thought of what type of power center or machinery would have to exist in order to implement such a concept is frankly chilling. What I feel is possible, however, is the achievement of harmonious interaction, or at least a genuine “live and let live” attitude on a microcosmic level. This may not seem a lofty ideal to pursue, yet it offers the advantage of a situation of maximum choice with a minimum of coercion (sometimes referred to as “freedom”. The situation existing in Northern California, although not devoid of disagreements, squabbling, numerous cases of “wounded pride” and the like, nonetheless provides a format with great opportunity for self-expression and , in the absence of political barriers, a context wherein conciliation is always a possibility. Moreover, the case of Northern California once and for all refutes the often heard argument that “Aikido cannot grow without an organizational structure to direct its progress.” It certainly can and has.

We sincerely hope that the contents of this discussion will elicit comments on the part of readers and I, for one, am immensely curious to learn whether or not this “food for thought” has been served in a palatable form.