Seminar crash: politics & aikido

23 08 2011

After looking left and right for news, sending emails to Japanese and Chinese dojos, I finally got real concrete information about Suganuma sensei, 8th dan, from Aikido Shoheijuku Dojo in Fukuoka, Japan.

writing TekisuikanBesides the Aikido, Suganuma sensei is also a master in Shodo, 書道, (Japanese calligraphy). Every time he visited Norway, he always dedicated some time at the end of the seminar letting the brush run on the special rice paper.. and always explaining about the way of the brush technique 🙂 It is always great when one has the chance to learn more about Japanese culture or different Japanese mind training. We do Aikido, it’s true, but with the years I have learned to appreciate every bit of culture or Japanese info I could gather from people like Suganuma sensei that has grown in a different time, learning things and.. about life in a different way.. probably more real for us, student of Japanese martial arts!

Stavanger Aikido and senseis!I have practiced several times with Suganuma sensei in Norway, since he used to come every year to the Norwegian Aikido Federation summer school (lately he comes every other year), and once even to a special winter seminar up in Tromsø in 2007.

His Aikido is very much hombu dojo for me, the more traditional way to execute techniques. Sensei is very clear in explanations, very disciplined and centered: all his movements are text-book. Extremely useful for graduation and for basics!! Also sensei has developed a very large network of dojos in the south of Japan, from Fukuoka extending in the whole region. Therefore I can understand he is very busy.

So sensei will come to Wushengguan Aikido Beijing in October and when I heard that from a Japanese friend, from Fukuoka, who lives and practices Aikido in Hangzhou, I was very excited about meeting Suganuma sensei in China!

But it is not going to happen: the very same weekend Endo sensei will visit Shanghai, and, even if I do not have any stronger connection with him than with Suganuma sensei, I think, for Aikido reasons, I will most probably go to Shanghai.

In China, main seminars with Japanese shihans (or international ones, as could be Tissier shihan for example) are a rarity. Counting less than 10 per year maybe. And I wanted to use a good optimistic number. If I think about 2011, Irie shihan was both in Shanghai and Beijing, then we will have Endo shihan and Suganuma shihan the same weekend in October. I have no idea if Nakao sensei from Kobe is also shihan, but for me it was a practice worth including in the important and relevant seminars in China (like Horii sensei last year in Hangzhou).

With these kind of numbers, I ask myself how is that possible that 2 major shihan seminars manage to crash over the same weekend. The answer is quite an easy one, from my years of experience about seeing extremely bad seminar planning in Norway and Europe: politics!

Nowadays, Norway has changed a lot respect to the first year of my Aikido life and Aikido travelling (1995-200): at that time it seemed a competition among the 2 Norwegian Aikido organizations, NAF and Aikikan, planning the seminar season in order to crash at most with other federation interesting seminars. Really childish, just to see who was going where, or even worse who was not going where!

Oslo Aikido Festival 2006 - Exhibition

Odd, Aikikan Oslo

Now things are completely different, with the two federations interacting and even collaborating in some events. One of my former instructors, Erik from Oslo Aikido club, was actually the founder in 2004 of a special event called Oslo Aikido festival, where all the instructors of Oslo clubs were holding one session of practice during a long Aikido weekend. And both federations participated to the event: this was probably the first time after the creation of 2 federations that instructors from both “sides” were on the mats at the same time! Also cool the outside Saturday afternoon exhibitions that every club had.

NTNUI Tekisuikan Trondheim Aikido clubAnother big event, just one year later, that brought on Trondheim mats not only people and instructors of both federations, but also some extremely good Aikido practitioners from Sweden has been the 20 years celebration of NTNUI Tekisuikan Trondheim Aikido, with Christian Tissier sensei!

Saying that in Norway most of the time (99.999%) all seminars have always been open to everybody, the interaction between the students from different federation has been quite good. Since the federations became more open to each other, the result was a huge contribution to the improvements in Aikido level in Norway.

Christian Tisser

Tisser sensei in Germany

Countries like Germany are, from the Aikido point of view, a purely anarchy. A German friend once told me that maybe there are more than 100 Aikido organizations/”federations” in Germany, some of them under the same sensei, of course. But the Aikido environment is huge, the level is quite high, they got a shihan sent there directly from Hombu dojo in older times in order to spread Aikido, Asai shihan. Nowadays they got several high ranked teachers and well established clubs, with connections to Japan or other sensei in Europe, but different groups or organization do not often collaborate. Good or bad, only the time will say.

China, as I said earlier, is million years behind. That’s normal: it is like Norway a few years ago. No proper shihan sent by hombu dojo but Aikido is developing. Thanks to Japanese graded people that came to China for either work or personal interest and then started clubs and thanks to Chinese people interested in this quite new martial art, without hating that just because it’s Japanese, I think Chinese Aikido environment is extremely promising!

At Irie sensei seminarIn the places I visited and practiced, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Beijing (3 different clubs), I always met amazing people and extremely interested students, kind of old “freak” friends from my Norwegian times!

But this does not mean that all places are free and open and they work together! Different places have different politics. Some instructor says that is a sort of internal defense in order to avoid that high ranked maybe from neighbor countries conquer smaller clubs just to increase their portfolio, their influence and their gain. It is always a risk when a person is a professional Aikido instructor. Setting the personal gain in front of the common good of spreading Aikido is a common risk.

All understandable, but when a club becomes established with its own identity and instructors, I understand much less why still keeping a “private” attitude when inviting sensei for Aikido weekends.

More mobility of people will improve Chinese level as well.. I hope soon Chinese different organizations will start collaborating more, for Aikido and not for personal gains!

Of course, from my point of view.. it is for my personal Aikido gain.. 😉 but I still think it is not a too bad thing!! 😛

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