The following article has been reconstructed from Homma Kancho’s Japanese article “Nisegane Tsukuri wa Dochira Ka” and edited for English comprehension.
Who Are the Real False Profiteers?
I have heard people that say, “Practicing Aikido will change your life”, or “If you practice Aikido all of your problems will magically disappear”. I am sorry, but I don’t think that practicing shihonage or kotegaeshi will change your life in magical ways; I think this is an illusion.
I have heard of people who say they understand the deeper meaning of Aikido. To make such a claim means to me that these people are standing in front of a door that will never open. Claiming understanding is not the path to reach that goal.
Aikido is keiko. Keiko or practice is where you find the meaning of Aikido. Look up the translation for kei to get a better idea.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
There are some instructors, even high ranking instructors who have fallen into the trap of believing in their own illusions of grandeur. They do not focus on their own practice of Aikido, instead they begin to believe in their own powers; like truly believing that they can make an uke fly through the air with a flick of their fingers. They have forgotten that it is the skill of the uke that makes him fly. Believing in these illusion of grandeur reminds me of the old fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes”, http://deoxy.org/emperors.htm. Both the Emperor and some high ranking instructors have fallen for a such a fantasy and believe only in their own greatness. Unfortunately, there seem to be more and more such instructors in the world today that have forgotten reality, common sense and common courtesy as well.
I have always said, “Human beings make the martial arts. Martial arts do not make human beings”.
“Naked emperors” in leadership roles in our Aikido world have begun to bring decay into the foundation of our Aikido practice in many parts of the world. Healthy Aikido communities in many instances, find their existence threatened and struggle even to exist much less grow, under this kind of leadership.
I want to share with you the story about one such “naked emperor” in our world of Aikido today.
I have instructed Aikido seminars in over 70 dojos in over 40 countries around the globe. I am the founder of an independent dojo that sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, Colorado, USA. The name of my dojo is Nippon Kan, and I am just a small dojo owner.
I am very fortunate to have been able to meet and practice with so many different Aikidoka all over the world. I am much honored to have been able to develop so many relationships and friendships in so many places, but wherever I travel, I have never asked any dojo or organization to join Nippon Kan; never. There have been people who have asked to become part of Nippon Kan, but I have always politely refused. It is not my goal, nor has it ever been my purpose to expand my organization into some kind of “empire”.
In the United States there is only one Nippon Kan General Headquarters, and that is in Denver, Colorado. Why? Large organizations require rules that might originally be created to protect students and advance communications, but in too many instances, large organizations are structured as vertical hierarchies and rules can turn into barriers that rule over, dictate to and control those under their control. I do not personally like being part of a hierarchy. I do not want to control other people, and I certainly do not want other people controlling me!
You might ask, why do you have a general headquarters if you do not have a branch dojo system? We call our dojo Nippon Kan General Headquarters because it represents a place where students, beyond style, affiliation or organization, to gather together for practice, and a place where friends old and new can gather to focus their talents, energy and time into AHAN humanitarian projects around the world.
I am very clear when I travel overseas to teach Aikido. “My purpose is to practice with Aikidoka from different cultures and backgrounds and I am honored to accept invitations to teach. I go to experience the culture and customs of my hosts and to learn from them personally. I do not want to just read about other places in the world, I go there myself to practice together, to learn through “motion and sweat”.
The practice of Aikido is a great litmus test. The movements are primarily the same everywhere, but through the actual practice of Aikido I can experience different reactions, interpretations, thinking, ideas and values. I have found Aikido to be a truly valuable way to understand a people and their culture. I hope to widen my own experience of the world and develop my own understanding and values. Widening one’s experience I believe brings about deeper wisdom and happiness.
I am not on a mission to spread the word of Peace or bring Aikido to the world. This is not me. I do not carry slogan inscribed banners with me or try to influence anyone. I go to learn and experience, period.
It goes without saying that I only travel to visit dojos around the world by invitation. It is also important to me that my hosts understand that I never charge instructors fees for the classes I teach, and I always pay for my own travel and lodging expenses. If the seminar of which I am to instruct is a fund raising seminar, proceeds from the seminar must be donated publically in front of all attending students. The purpose for the fundraising is chosen by the host dojo, a charity or cause that will benefit the local community. Any instructor gratuities for my participation in teaching a fundraising seminar are all donated to the chosen charitable cause publically.
Most of the countries I visit with AHAN are underdeveloped countries with dojo students too poor to raise much in the way of donations, even for an AHAN project, and definitely not enough to cover the going rate for instructor expenses and fees. I visit these places, and pay my “tuition” by covering all of my own expenses to learn from these people. The value of these experiences exceeds well beyond any monetary gratitude I could ever receive.
Even with all of these important conditions of my teaching abroad, I still run into people who have a very defensive reaction to my visits. I am just one independent Aikidoka that is interested in learning about the world; there is no reason to feel threatened or defensive about me.
Once upon a time, for example, the dojo in the country I had visited received a very sharp letter from Mr. T of the Aikikai Kokusaibu (Aikikai Headquarters International Division), expressing major concerns with my visit to their dojo. Excerpts from the letter are included below.
“Please note that Aikido is a Japanese traditional culture which has an unique system and rules with Doshu’s exclusive authority and responsibility being the core of the system. To legitimate and award Dan/Kyu grades is Doshu’s exclusive authority. If some organization or someone issues Aikido Dan/Kyu certificate, it means violation and denial of Doshu’s authority, which can be compared to producing fake money (false profit) in a nation. Mr. Gaku Honma is the one who corresponds to this case”.
Upon hearing this news, my first reaction was one of surprise. I have never issued Nippon Kan certification to students who belong to another organization while traveling, and would never think of charging fees in the first place. My surprise then gave way to a feeling of pity.
I have never spoken publically in a negative way of the Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba or the Aikikai Foundation he created. Occasionally I have written opinions on isolated individuals in this organization but never about the Aikikai Foundation itself. I have never met or spoken to Mr. T who authored the complaint letter against me. This is fairly evident in the fact that he was not aware of the correct spelling of my name.
It feels odd to be accused of this when there is no reason for this kind of accusation. I am not upset, it is just perplexing. It makes me wonder why someone who holds a position of prestige and authority at Aikikai Headquarters would take the time to single me out with such false accusations.
Maybe this is a reflection of internal turmoil at Aikikai International Headquarters. This letter from Mr. T was written a while back and I have spent a great deal of time studying this puzzle and listened to people all over the world. I have been trying to understand what the underlying problem or turmoil at Aikikai Headquarters might be.
News of that letter, at the time it was sent originally sent by Mr. T, was received all over the world. I was initially concerned that the contents of the letter might be damaging to me or Nippon Kan. Actualy however, instead of a negative response, the number of hits on the Nippon Kan website increased sharply and we received an influx of email traffic with similar reports about the Aikikai Foundation. This, I found to be concerning.
I did attempt to correspond directly with Doshu about this matter concerning Mr. T’s accusations by sending a registered letter addressed directly to him. I did not ever receive a response. Either Doshu was in agreement with Mr. T accusations or my letter was never received.
I have seen in my travels that problems are developing in the world for Aikikai Aikido. In recent years there are many Aikidoka and entire Aikido organizations that have left Aikikai. Especially it seems in Europe. Many countries now have their own internal Aikido organizational structure and are not ruled by the Aikikai International Aikido Federation (IAF). A few organizations I have seen even organizing events against Aikikai.
One example comparable to the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in international Aikido practice is the phenomenon of a Doshu instructed Aikikai seminar abroad. Headlines read “Thousands in attendance”. That might be so, but at most of these seminars, not all attending students are Aikikai members. The reportedly large numbers actually include many students of instructors Mr. T calls “false profiteers”. Aikikai uses these inflated seminar attendance numbers as marketing tools for support from the Japanese government and other financial sponsors in Japan.
What I have witnessed repeatedly is a spirit of desperation from affiliated Aikikai dojo organizers sponsoring these seminars. They need every student attending they can muster-no matter their affiliation, in attempts to gain favor from their superiors and to cover the incredible expenses they incur hosting these events. I heard one affiliated Aikikai seminar event organizer remark, “When Shihan finally left, he left us without a penny to spare”. Being left without a penny is a good scenario; many are left deeply in debt.
Thousands of students may come to attend a seminar, but maybe it is simply because they love the Aikido practice itself. For Aikikai to believe in their own headlines, “Thousands of local loyal Aikikai supporters in attendance” is akin to the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” and a dangerous pitfall.
In my travels I have heard from many who have become confused, discouraged and disillusioned with being associated with International Aikikai. With people like Mr. T involved at Aikikai Headquarters in an international decision making capacity, I fear for the future of Aikikai as a leading international organization as well.
A Few Bad Apples
There are also a few bad apples associated with Aikikai that are contributing to instability in the organizational structure of Aikikai internationally and are creating a negative effect that is rippling through many parts of the world.
JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) is a Japanese organization that supports international volunteer service work in a number of fields; mainly in the fields of agriculture, infrastructure engineering, education, cultural enrichment and sports. Many Japanese apply for these positions after they have retired from their careers in Japan and involve themselves with the Senior JICA program.
In the field of Aikido instruction, the requirements including holding the rank of black belt, completing the application and attendance in a short special seminar at Aikikai Headquarters. After these requirements have been met, JICA volunteers are certified as ready for service in the field of Aikido instruction internationally and are dispatched to all parts of the globe to teach Aikido.
I have heard of many problems caused by these senior JICA volunteers because of their approach toward teaching Aikido in foreign lands outside of Japan. Because they have been granted status by the Japanese government, many of them wrap themselves in Japanese flag and consider themselves experts in Aikido and better than the local people of their host country. They don’t bother to learn the local language or customs of their hosts and cause a myriad of problems for local pre- existing instructors and organizations. They ignore the balance between existing local Aikido organizations, and in some cases even try to take over the local organizations that invited them to their country in the first place.**
These kinds of attitudes and ensuing disruptive problems reflect badly on Aikikai Headquarters in a very serious way. Good tax-payer money in Japan is being spent to ultimately ruin the reputation of Japanese organizations and the Japanese people in general. Aikikai Headquarters is the organization that is training and approving the junior and senior JICA volunteers to teach Aikido abroad therefore ultimately they are responsible for both the negative and positive influences of their charges.
I knew one Aikikai instructor that was deeply involved in the process for approving JICA applications to teach Aikido abroad. He once told me, “I never have to buy my own beer. I receive plenty of gift certificates for beer… and for food for that matter”.
Listening, I thought that this was a perfect comparison to the Emperor of fabled lore; someone who had become totally engrossed in the misuse of their own power. No part of his story is fair or ethical; it all seemed dirty to me.
The problems are already evident as results of this type of sloppy, slanted rubber stamping application approval process. There is no quality control. The deck has become stacked with incompetence and the JICA/Aikikai alliance has become a breeding ground for bad apples.
Of course, not all Senior JICA are like this, many have made positive contributions and are highly valued members of their “adopted” communities.
Who are the Real False Profiteers?
A few Japanese high ranking instructors from Aikikai Headquarters have created another lucrative system for personal profit. These instructors collude with local international instructors to set a fee structure for promotions beyond the structure set by Aikikai Headquarters. They add on “dojo support fees” or “promotion donations” that can run anywhere from $1000 to $7000 above the standard promotion fee structure rules set by Aikikai Headquarters. As a form of extortion, extra donations are used to curry favors and position. Fees to review videotaped examinations are another lucrative venture for some Aikikai instructors and their local foreign collaborators who ask for private donations to perform this service.
The Japanese government and other private sponsors fund many Japanese cultural enrichment programs overseas. Aikikai is a recipient of government and private sponsorship. For every instructor candidate that is successfully sent to another country for a cultural enrichment project, Aikikai receives a white envelop of money from the host country as reimbursement for the visiting instructors expenses and instructor gratuity. This too is a symptom of a naked Emperor’s illusion and a warning sign when money is concerned.
Aikikai Headquarters is also involved in the International World Games, sponsored by the IWGA (International World Games Association). The International World Games are held every four years (alternating years with the World Olympics) and highlight sports that are not supported in the World Olympic Games. Aikido is one such “sport” that is represented in these games. I have heard reports that this international event has become a target for intentions not as honorable as the games merit.
Some small local dojo organizers in countries outside of Japan are using these games as a means for personal gain. To achieve this goal, coordinators and local organizers have registered their Aikido organization as Aikikai affiliates (in name only) and petition local IWGA committees for the purpose of obtaining licensing, funding and visa assistance. Support funds received by local dojo organizers from the IWGA for participating in the International World Games are then divided and distributed back to organizers in the form of kickbacks and commissions.
Aikikai Headquarters has been using this opportunity to monopolize the attendance of Aikido groups participating in the World Games by attempting to mandate that only Aikikai affiliated organizations in each participating country be eligible to represent their home country in these games.
I receive communications from Aikidoka all over the world. I have also personally visited many Aikido dojos in our world today. If I hear negative reports or complaints about Aikikai, I always answer, “I think we must believe in Aikikai and the ultimate leadership at Aikikai Headquarters. Most of the instructors and administrators are good people that are dedicated to maintaining and promoting a healthy structure for Aikido practice worldwide.
There still remains a group of senior administrators however that have a hold on the direction and policies of Aikikai whose thinking is narrowed by old school ideas. They dictate policy because they hold onto the power at the top of a vertically linear structure. Their seniority holds precedence over new ideas and any group or individual that might questions this authority runs the risk of banishment or other forms of punishment. These threats insure loyalty from the ranks below; a loyalty that is pledged to insure personal survival. My reference to Mr. T’s letter early in this article is a good example. Mr. T had no reason to make accusations against me, relying instead on warnings and threats to local dojos to pledge their allegiance to Doshu and Aikikai. The loyalty of the local dojo was never in question, but the reaction from a senior administrator at Aikikai Headquarters should be questioned seriously.
In my travels I meet more and more Aikidoka that are NOT or are NO LONGER Aikikai affiliated members. I believe Aikikai Headquarters needs to think about the reasons for this exodus rather than relying on retaliating with recriminations and accusations. I do not condemn nor defend Aikikai. I do not belong to Aikikai and personally my position is still neutral however I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the reports I receive any longer. In thinking of all of the Aikidoka that are turning away from Aikikai, and the negative effects of some of their administration I am seeing in the world, I no longer can justify just standing by and doing nothing.
It is not necessary for all Aikidoka to attend Aikikai seminars if non-Aikikai members are only being labeled and called bad names. Aikikai affiliates around the globe advertize their seminars with slogans like “All styles and organizations are welcome to attend”. Currently this is not true. Aikikai Headquarters should stand on by own current principles and advertise their seminar more correctly as “Aikikai members only”. It is not honest representation to speak contradictory terms simultaneously. On the one hand they condemn non Aikikai dojos as “false profiteers” and on the other hand ask for support to boost seminar attendance and collect more fees. If Aikikai Headquarters cannot issue an order for Aikidoka to stay away if they are not part of Aikikai, then Aikikai must show more respect and consideration to all of the Aikidoka that help them set seminar attendance records and make headlines for their newspapers.
Respect is part of the true spirit of Aikido; the way of Aikido.
Stand up and be Heard
All Aikikai affiliated Aikidoka don’t be hesitant to question mandates or rules that appear to be handed down to your organization from Aikikai Headquarters or the International Aikido Federation. If the mandates concern examination fees or dues that you think are unfair or questionable, don’t be afraid to report the instructors to Aikikai Headquarters and confirm that the mandates are legitimate and originated from Headquarters and not somewhere down the chain of command.
Challenge requests to host seminars in your native land with exorbitant associated costs, and make sure Aikikai Headquarters is aware that these seminars are extremely difficult to host successfully or financially viable without the participation of students from outside Aikikai affiliation. Don’t let them extract fees that cause hardships for your students and operating budgets without agreement.
If senior JICA Aikido instructors are causing problems in your local community or at your dojo, register a complaint with JICA Headquarters in Japan. It is an injustice to your community and to the JICA organization if instructors under their supervision are causing more harm than good in their assignments and the proper authorities are not notified. JICA has an extensive website and a staff fluent in many languages; they will be able to understand your concerns if you register them.
Any Japanese instructor, JICA based or otherwise has no right to cause problems in your communities, report unfair or unethical actions to the Cultural Affairs Consul at the Japanese Embassy or Japanese Consulate office in your area. Anyone that is culturally insensitive or causing discord in the communities of another country falls directly within the Japanese Consul’s jurisdiction; they will pursue the issue.
I have met many Aikidoka in my travels who in their wildest dreams could not afford to pay the $100.00 or more required as an examination fee for an Aikikai black belt rank. Therefore they remain white belts after years and sometime decades of practice. I have heard a tone of resignation in the voices of these students as they have said to me, “It does not matter what skills you have mastered or how long you have practiced. If you want a promotion in Aikido you have to have money”.
With all the Aikidoka I have met in many places, the most prevalent complaints include the subject of money.
I do not believe that we can rely on or believe that Aikikai Headquarters will address these concerns and fix these problems internally. They need to hear of the hardships that their promotional fee structure is causing Aikikai students globally. The more vocal the complaints, the more likely to be heard by a willing, listening ear.
A few years ago, an individual of high position as Aikikai Headquarters let it be known to me that he could facilitate obtaining Aikikai certification for my students by recommendation. I thought that a bit odd since Nippon Kan is an independent dojo and not affiliated with Aikikai but surmised that this must be okay coming from such a high source within Aikikai. I proceeded to submit a list of about 40 black belt promotions; not by examination but by recommendation, and I requested the certificates be made for one rank lower than current Nippon Kan held ranks.
Recommendation promotions I learned were about double the cost of an examination promotion if you included the extra promotion fees that were required. I submitted the applications for promotions and paid the fees at a small tea house outside of Tokyo. I did not receive a receipt for the fees and applications I submitted. After the certificates were delivered, I checked to see if the promotions had been recorded and published in the Aikido Shinbun (Aikikai’s official newspaper). Names of recent promotions to black belt ranks are routinely published in the Aikido Shinbun, but the students I requested recommendation promotions for were never listed.
It was then that I began to question the value of Aikikai certification.
From the beginning I had felt uneasy because Nippon Kan is an independent dojo and not affiliated with Aikikai and it continued to puzzle me that I was awarded promotion certificates for my students. I was to learn, that the Aikikai representative who had made this suggestion to me was known at the time to be, “the man to go to for Aikikai certificates”, and it was he who had suggested, “I can facilitate”.
The transaction was easy but expensive, and it was not long before I began to regret my decision, thinking after all that Aikikai certification was more a waste of time and money than a true validation of practice and skill. I of course did not charge my students one dime over the amount that was charged to me, and since that time, I have completely distanced myself from this person from Aikikai.
It is very important, and I want to be very clear that the person that I dealt with to obtain Aikikai certification for my students was NOT the late Morihiro Saito Shihan or Yasuo Kobayashi Shihan or any member of their organizations. Nippon Kan’s relationship with these high ranking instructors and their staffs has always remained at the highest level of integrity and respect with no exchange for ranking certification.
It seems that a controlling leadership at Aikikai Headquarters made up of old-fashion instructors and committees have made profit a main objective of Aikido practice in the world today. This focus has been passed down to generations of teachers and students both in Japan and abroad who have grown numb to a real sense of morality and fairness when it comes to money issues. The current structure of Aikikai looks like a giant pyramid scheme with the top feeding off the bottom; promoting a “those who can pay get to play” hierarchy.
Those who can’t or won’t pay drop out of the system and the value of this kind of organization decreases. Unless these old-fashioned instructors and committees are exposed, this disease will continue. If this disease is not eradicated, more and more good Aikidoka will leave Aikikai in disappointment.
It is not Aikido that is the problem, nor is it the innocent students around the world that are practicing Aikido. The problem lies with a few in the upper ranks of hierarchy that sniff out benefits and profit from the Aikikai organizational system. How long should we keep quiet about those that are causing the problems that are now surfacing all over the world? The tailors weaving invisible clothes don’t know what is going on in the world outside of their small realm and don’t know the extent of the damage they are causing.
It is time for the Zaidanhojin Aikikai (Aikikai Foundation) to be investigated more thoroughly by the Japanese ministries involved in licensing and funding of organizations that affect Japanese relations globally. JICA as well need to be investigated thoroughly. Senior JICA members are called volunteers, but the benefits and salaries commanded by these “volunteers” would surprise you; especially if these volunteers are being paid to be more disruptive than helpful in their overseas missions. The relationship between JICA and Aikikai needs to be examined at length.
Recently I became aware of one senior JICA Aikido Instructor who has almost single handedly splintered the organizational structure of the country in his charge: Morocco. This individual has recently completed his JICA mission in Morocco but continues to stay in Morocco with an unclear status. He has caused severe damage and turmoil in an Aikido organization in that country with over 6000 students and a history of over 40 years. The conflict caused by this individual is rising to a dangerous level. If all of the people affected by this individual, included their families and friends, stood up against him, it would qualify as an international incident between Japan and Morocco!
I do not think that Aikikai Headquarter or JICA administrators are ready to handle an incident that has the potential of growing in such magnitude. This senior JICA Aikido Instructor is a also a former Navy officer and was serving as a Japanese Self Defense Army Reserve Lieutenant when he was first sent to Morocco as a senior JICA Instructor. These credentials make him the responsibility of the Japanese government. I do not think the Japanese government would be in support of one of their reservist officers causing so much havoc on an international stage.
Tribute to a True Morocco Aikido Pioneer
Moroccan Aikido pioneer Alaoui M’Barek Sensei has returned to his dojo and is standing strong once again. After recovering from an illness, Alaoui Sensei has returned to find the organizational structure of Aikido in Morocco shaken and in turmoil. The next personal battle for Alaoui Sensei may be protecting the survival of his own organization, an organization of over 40 years and 6,000 members in Morocco.
The source of conflict lies with the implanted Senior JICA Aikido instructor whose Japanese government and Aikikai sponsored mission was to facilitate communication and cultural exchange and enrichment between Morocco and Japan. This individual has now turned into one of the most destructive forces in Moroccan Aikido history. Having once survived on the gracious generosity of Alaoui Sensei he now stands in opposition, and threatens the stability of the entire Moroccan system.
I am of the same Japanese nationality, and this makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed.
In February, as I prepared to leave Morocco after instructing a seminar with Alaoui M’Barek Sensei, I attempted to spare Aloui Sensei the trip to the airport. but to no avail. He insisted it was part of Moroccan hospitality and joined the entourage heading toward airport to see me off.
As we reached airport immigration I turned to say goodbye to Alaoui Sensei but he was nowhere to be found. I thanked his staff for their generous hospitality and desperately started searching for Alaoui Sensei. I found him a ways back standing behind a crowd. He was standing there, alone, with tears in his eyes. I could see in this teacher of such great stature and heart, how heavy the weight of this new conflict and struggle for his organization was weighing on him. I reached Alaoui Sensei and with a big hug Moroccan style, we said our farewells.
As I boarded the plane I reflect on the days I had just spent in Morocco. Was Alaoui Sensei disappointed in me? All I was able to do was listen to his grave concerns and now I was feeling guilty and disappointed that I could not do more for him.
The Founders Deshi
I have kept this issue of the “false profiteer” accusations from Aikikai Headquarters to myself for quite a while now. After this visit to Morocco this past February however, where I could see with my own eyes the pain and conflict that one Japanese Aikikai JICA instructor and the Aikikai committees that support him are causing, I feel I could stay silent no longer.
I studied at the knee of the Founder Ueshiba and lived together with the Founder in Iwama. I can no longer hold my tongue. I am after all, the Founder’s deshi.
In his last years in Iwama, one of my duties was to massage the Founders legs after he had retired for the evening. Sometimes, the Founder would wake and bolt straight up in bed. He would turn to sit in seiza and look towards the direction of Tokyo. In an eerie high-toned voice that rattled the shoji screens closest to him he would shout loudly, expressing anger for the perceived transgressions of those that served him in Tokyo and expressing his worry for the future of Aikikai and even the future of his way of Aikido. I will never forget those chilling admonishments and the deep concern from the Founder for the future, for our future, the future of all of us…
I am not member of Aikikai but I am the Founders deshi. I see in the world today wonderful Aikido instructors and wonderful students. It pains me to see these dedicated Aikidoka caught and cornered in an unfair politically motivated, manipulating game. In our global world, I worry that these relationship problems will grow to reflect on Japan and the Japanese people as a whole.
The Founder used to say, “If you are worried about how much rice you have, you cannot teach Aikido”. These are valuable words from the Founder, and as his students, we all need to think deeply about their meaning.
Founders Memorial Day April 2010
Aikido Nippon Kan General Headquarters
Kancho, Gaku Homma