The future of aikido students

Saotome sensei was talking recently about how people these days don’t have the patience, commitment, perseverance, humility, etc. that was more common years ago. This was followed up by someone asking, how then can aikido benefit the world if people aren’t practicing it like they did “back then”? How can people reach the purported benefits of aikido?

This may not seem like a direct answer to the question, but sensei ended up talking about how he became a student of aikido: he chose to become a student of O-sensei. This was not about wanting to pursue O-sensei’s aikido philosophy. It was about somehow being inspired to follow this person. There was no rational or planned decision. The point that I took was that it was completely an individual, heart-to-heart experience. That without any explanation let alone persuasion, he was compelled to find out more and give all of himself to do so.

How this relates to the issue of how aikido can benefit in the modern context if people are so “weak” compared to before, is that it’s moot, it can’t be helped. It’s still a matter of an individual (e.g., aikido teacher, practitioner) being the kind of person that can touch something deep inside another person just by being the way they are on a usual, everyday basis. (Of course, to some extent there’s the “selling” of aikido that leads to benefit, but in the end the student who sticks with it through all of the confusion and discomfort is still the person who is finding something more compelling than the initial “sell”. That is, they are finding something more personally meaningful, something that endures through the challenges of the process.)

A relevant factor, arguably more relevant now, is that there will be few people who are inclined to become involved deeply in the practice. Not only will there be patterns of attitudes toward the discomfort of training, there will be common attitudes toward teacher/mentor – student/disciple relationships. There will also be the common understanding of mental/spiritual/psychological practices – what’s possible, what’s achievable, how things can or do happen, etc. There may be a certain character who will be open-minded about going into the unknown yet be driven to explore deeply and clever or wise enough to make the endeavor meaningful to him/herself.

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