The IAF: Some Reflections
by Peter Goldsbury, I.A.F. Chairman
| The withdrawal from the
IAF of one of its member federations has been the occasion for much
pessimistic discussion about the future of the federation. I think
the occasion offers a chance to take stock of what the IAF has accomplished
and also to reflect on its future tasks. I do not think that the
IAF has failed as an international aikido organisation. In fact,
I believe it can claim several notable achievements.
| Some Preliminaries
First, since its foundation in 1976, the IAF has provided
a means by which aikidoists from all over the world can meet together
and practise the art under the direction of high-ranking teachers,
especially those having a direct connection with the Aikikai Hombu.
Secondly, the IAF has provided a forum in which aikido
organisations affiliated to the Aikikai can meet in a spirit of
friendship and discuss matters of common interest.
Thirdly, it has provided a forum for reasoned discussion
between these aikido organisations and shihans, whether Japanese
or non-Japanese, who are affiliated to the Aikikai Hombu and reside
Fourthly, and very importantly, the IAF has, through
its congresses and other meetings, provided a means of official
communication between aikido organisations and the Aikikai Hombu.
Fifthly, through its member federations and especially
its European continental federation, it has helped to sow the
seeds of aikido on new ground: to introduce and spread the art
in countries where previously it did not exist.
Sixthly, the IAF has engaged in official contacts with
various international sports organisations and has thus shown
the face of aikido in places where the art risks being misunderstood,
since it does not hold competitions and is thus not a sport in
this commonly-recognised sense.
Finally, the IAF's status as a recognised international
federation has enabled some its member federations to gain recognition
from their own government authorities. Not all members need such
recognition, but a significant number do.
When the IAF is mentioned in some quarters, an air of desperation
sometimes descends on the discussion and I am asked, as Chairman,
what is going to happen to the federation. Of course, it will
continue -- it must continue -- and I hope it will continue to
I think that the IAF is a pioneering organisation in many respects.
It is attempting to do something never before attempted, namely,
to be a worldwide federation which combines two distinct patterns
of organisation: a vertically structured pattern, since aikido
is a martial art; and a horizontally structured pattern, since
the IAF is democratic. Nevertheless, a fundamental aim the IAF
is also to retain, or, rather, protect, the original essence of
the martial art. Furthermore, the IAF is an organisation which
has probably not yet reached a form best suited to its aims and
objectives. Certainly, the present organisational structure is
not something set in stone. However, the fact that many aikido
organisations want to join the IAF, despite the recent departure
of one member, and the fact that there is much discussion, even
vigorous argument, about what form the IAF should have does not,
in my opinion, presage its impending death. Rather, it is a sign
of health and vigour -- and a reason for optimism. Of course,
some people want quick results and if these results are not forthcoming,
they immediately conclude that there is no future in the federation.
I think that this attitude is rather short-sighted.
Rather than glib condemnation of the I.A.F. for failing to conform
to certain preconceived ideas, I think that there is a need for
some serious reflection on the problems which will face aikido,
and especially the Aikikai Hombu, during the next century. I believe
that as more and more non-Japanese gain high ranks and become
aikido shihans, the balance will inevitably shift away from Japan
to the rest of the world. It will then become even more essential
than it is now to have an international aikido organisation capable
of supporting the growth of aikido while also retaining its essential
Japanese heritage. To find a suitable organisational structure,
which is -- like the ideal aikidoist -- well-centred, balanced,
mentally and physically supple, and possessed of a certain practical
wisdom, is not something which can be achieved quickly.
Of course, the Aikikai Hombu is a Japanese organisation and
I think it is not possible to disagree with the general thesis
that Japanese organisations tend to function differently from
those in the ‘west'. (NOTE: In this essay, I have put ‘west' and
‘western' in quotation marks because I think it is an artificial
concept, used by the Japanese to lump together the cultures in
a certain geographical location. The contrast between ‘Japanese'
and so-called ‘western' cultures, the latter always lumped together
in one general category, invariably fails to take account of the
important differences among the ‘western' cultures and I believe
this fact is of great importance for aikido and the IAF.) Whether
the difference centres simply on autocracy vs. democracy is a
debatable point. I think that there is much more to it than this.
The suggestion that organisations in Japan, especially martial
arts organisations, tend to be autocratic, whereas those in the
west tend to democratic, might be illuminating for those who do
have little understanding of Japanese culture, but it will ignore
much that is of importance for the proper understanding of the
actual development and existing organisational structure of aikido.
The danger in making the above distinction is that it adopts a
rather simple model (Japanese organisations = autocracy; western
organisations = democracy) and then concludes that the IAF does
not fit this model and thus somehow fails. I think that the basic
issue facing the IAF is not simply whether its organisational
structure is democratic or autocratic, but rather what sort of
aims and structure it, or any other cross-cultural aikido organisation,
should have and how these aims can be accomplished.
The structure of the organisation is just one of the problems
facing contemporary martial arts organisations. The rise of the
Olympic movement, with its current emphasis on telegenic, visually
attractive, competitive sports, and subsequent heavy dependence
on lucrative financial deals with the media, has also had an effect
on the martial arts and will certainly affect the development
of aikido. Judo, kendo and karate have become international sports,
with the emphasis on ‘western'-style competition, and the organisations
have also become ‘western' in the sense alluded to above. The
original Japanese martial arts are now of relatively minor significance
and there is good reason to believe that these sports have actually
lost their Japanese roots. One cannot fail to wonder whether the
same will happen to aikido -- and whether this matters.
I had originally planned to write this essay, not as the current
IAF chairman, but as an aikidoist with some 30 years of experience
who has also spent nearly 20 years teaching philosophy and comparative
culture in a Japanese university. But this is not really possible.
When discussing the IAF, I cannot simply ignore the fact that
I happen to be the present leader of the federation. Nevertheless,
I would like to supplement the above defence of the IAF with some
individual reflections of a more philosophical nature on the general
nature of martial arts organisations and the problems facing them.
I will conclude with some more extended comments on the IAF as
| The Dynamics of Organisations…
| To illustrate the point about the organisation of
the martial arts, I would like to sketch a hypothetical case, which
might or might not bear a close resemblance to an aikido organisation,
and in so doing discuss the possible factors involved in the creation
of a ‘martial arts-style' organisation. The aim of this exercise
is to point out some of the potential problems facing such an organisation,
which may well become actual and acute as the organisation develops.
The sketch is meant to precede -- and override -- the distinction
between ‘western' and ‘non-western' patterns of organisation, though
some of these latter features will obtrude and will be noted in
passing. Of course, the organisation so described is at many stages
removed from a worldwide federation like the IAF. However, some
of the characteristics of the organisation in these earlier stages
will be at the root of problems which will arise in the later development
of organisations like the IAF.
1. A remarkable person, who has great ‘charisma' attracts
disciples in virtue of particular exploits or abilities, such
as the creation of a new way of looking at the world rooted in
a particular practice or activity. (‘Charisma' is perhaps not
the best term to convey both the person's magnetism and also the
attractiveness of the ‘message'. I intend the term to be noncontroversial
and morally neutral. It simply denotes whatever physical or spiritual
qualities the person has which attracts disciples. Thus ‘charisma'
is something possessed by people like Christ, Gandhi, and Mother
Teresa, as well as less desirable types such as Asahara Shoko,
the leader of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group, currently on trial
for mass murder by poisoned gas.) The disciples enter into a relationship
with the person, but this relationship does not involve intimate
knowledge on the basis of equality. Of course, the disciples have
very close daily contact, since the relationship involves living
together and sharing the same general lifestyle, but the charismatic
leader is always someone ‘other', and never an ‘ordinary' person.
The disciples may have various reasons of their own for following
this person, but one of the reasons they all share is the sheer
‘charisma' he possesses. The students become disciples because
they believe that the person possesses what they are seeking for
and that they can share in it. Thus the mission, or art -- the
particular type of activity or practice created or expounded by
the leader -- is the fundamental basis of the relationship.
It is important to notice here that the leader of the group
has a teacher-pupil relationship with each of his disciples, but
the relationship is different in each case. The relationship differs
according to personal chemistry and also to the degree to which
the disciple understands the art. It should also be noticed that,
since the art or activity is open-ended -- in the sense that it
admits of differing degrees of progress or accomplishment over
a (usually long) period of time, such different relationships
might well depend on the degree of commitment from the disciples.
Thus, even as a single organism, the group has several tiers,
rather like concentric rings organised round the founder at the
centre. Those in the rings closest to the centre have the greatest
commitment; for those at the periphery such commitment is difficult
or impossible, and they practise the art or activity to the best
of their ability. The differing degrees of commitment will surely
become a major factor in the subsequent development of the art,
but one of the marks of the relationship with the founder, even
for those at the periphery, can be characterised as an intense
and personal loyalty.
2. The art becomes known and attracts more and more people.
Accordingly, several crucial decisions have to be made, either
by the founder or by the more perceptive disciples.
(a) The first choice is whether to expand. The original
group was a single organism gathered round the leader -- the disciples
might think of it as a family and the bonds between leader and
disciples might well be stronger than family ties. However, as
the group expands, it becomes more and more difficult for the
increasing numbers of disciples to enjoy continuous and unbroken
direct contact with the leader and his/her ‘charisma'. Thus the
group develops from being merely a single gathering of individuals
around a leader and becomes an organisation. The fact that the
art which he/she has created has great and lasting value -- i.e.,
the value of the art and the benefits which it affords should
not be allowed to disappear with the death of the founder -- will
usually ensure that the decision is made to continue the art.
However, the fact that ever increasing numbers of aspirants will
make close daily contact with the founder impossible becomes a
(b) Another choice is how rapidly to expand. The transmission
of the founder's ‘charisma' is entirely dependent on the availability
of disciples who are qualified to undertake the task of following
in the founder's footsteps and passing on his ‘charisma': surely
a daunting undertaking. The creation of an ‘inner group', which
will bear the main burden of passing on founder's ‘charisma',
is assuredly an essential factor here, regardless of the ‘western'
or ‘non-western' character of the organisation.
(c) The third choice is how to expand. Since the founder's
‘charisma' is based on the practice of a particular activity which
he or she created, the practice admits of varying degrees of knowledge
or proficiency, with the founder having the highest possible level.
As the group expands and as direct contact with the founder diminishes,
a way has to be found of transmitting the founder's ‘charisma'
to the newer members of the group, who have not had this apparently
essential close and continuous contact with the founder. Thus,
the need arises for a systematised method of passing on the founder's
‘charisma' and for recognising those who are thought to possess
it. In some cases, this system is a set of rules of conduct, sometimes
personally drawn up by the founder, adherence to which is supposed
to form some kind of guarantee that the disciples will achieve
a similar ‘charismatic' state. In this case, the rules themselves
define the purpose of the organisation. In other cases, practice
of the art or activity itself is the defining purpose of the group
and the set of rules constitutes a system for recognising levels
of proficiency in the art, it being somehow understood that the
higher the level, the greater is the possible access to the founder's
‘charisma'. The system can be either a set of grades of proficiency
(X has reached a certain level of proficiency), or of teaching
licenses (X is officially qualified to teach certain techniques
-- or reveal certain ‘secrets'). Of course, those who were original
disciples of the founder will tend to have higher grades, or to
be able to teach the entire range of techniques. Whatever the
activity, the more experienced members of the group will be teachers
of the less experienced and will perhaps become officially recognised
2. 1. The transformation of the organisation from one
small group gathered around its founder to something larger is
the point when fundamental differences of organisation tend to
appear. A ‘western' approach is to have a system of rules and
this fits in very well with the western devotion to abstract principles
considered to have a general or universal application. (Examples
could be the rules which govern the activities of some Christian
religious orders.) A potential problem with this approach is that
the rules themselves might become the defining aim of the organisation,
rather than what following the rules is supposed to lead to. Thus,
the organisation tends to ‘ossify'. An ‘oriental' approach is
to leave everything in the hands of the individuals who lead the
various parts of the organisation, rather than to rely on the
system of rules itself. A potential problem with this approach
is that it assumes that all the disciples will be able to replicate
the founder's ‘charisma' simply on the basis of the training they
have received, i.e., it places a very heavy responsibility on
the shoulders of certain individuals who, of course, do not have
any system of rules to guide them. These problems might become
very acute and prominent, where a disciple of an ‘oriental' art
attempts to teach it to non-orientals, who expect a system of
abstract and objective rules.
2. 2. It is worth noticing here that in cases where the
aim of the organisation is to practice a certain activity or art,
a system for recognising proficiency is not intrinsic to the art
itself, for it is quite possible to become highly proficient in
the art without obtaining grades or licenses. It rests more on
the quite separate belief that the art embodies goals which admit
of objective measurement and that such a system of objective measurement
is desirable or essential in an organisation, for not all prospective
members are capable of distinguishing between genuine practitioners
of the art and charlatans. However, the differences of approach
alluded to above are also relevant here. The ‘western' approach
will place greater stress on the rules which have to be followed,
or the conditions which have to be fulfilled, for recognising
particular levels of proficiency and these levels will have an
‘objective' validity throughout the organisation. The ‘oriental'
approach will place greater stress on the fact that the grade
or license has been given by a particular person and its ‘objective
validity' will have less importance than the fact that it has
been given by this person. Both approaches have drawbacks which
are likely to become evident in an organisation which tries to
combine the two.
3. Despite the undoubted fact that they have actually
attained various levels of proficiency, the disciples go out and
create their own ‘replica' groups, sometimes with the active encouragement
of the founder. The replica groups operate on the quite reasonable
basis that, e.g., "I was taught personally by the founder and
have a mission to pass on to others the vision he/she has afforded
me and the skills that he/she taught me". There is an assumption
-- usually stated -- that the disciples have a (close or even
intimate) relationship with the founder, and usually a (high)
level of skill based on this relationship, that others do not
possess. There is also an assumption -- usually left unstated
-- that each disciple has a different perception of the founder's
vision and perhaps a different level of skill. Thus, a whole group
of satellite groups or groups of groups emerges, whose function
is to transmit to the members the vision afforded by the founder
to the particular disciple who leads the group, or, rather, the
content of the disciple's understanding of this particular vision.
The disciples tend to model these organisations on their experience
of the original group. The effect is a whole group of miniature
‘original' organisations, all claiming to be ‘authentic' in some
way. Of course, the outsider might well assume that they are all
working in harmony and this might indeed be the stated ideal,
but the unstated reality is sometimes quite the reverse.
3. 1. In such an organisation, the presence or absence
of any system of universally binding rules has the potential for
creating severe problems. Each satellite group focuses on the
disciple's understanding of the particular vision afforded to
him/her by the founder, and any entrant to the group will practise
the art in accordance with the parameters defined by that disciple's
interpretation of the founder's vision. The effect is to induce
a kind of ‘tunnel-vision' or clannishness. The responsibility
placed on the shoulders of the individual disciple leads to undue
emphasis on his or her particular interpretation of the founder's
vision. The channels along which understanding of the founder's
vision is supposed to run are vertical -- from the founder, to
first-generation disciple, to second-generation disciple etc.
The neophytes in the organisation are supposed to commit themselves
wholeheartedly to the particular disciple they have chosen, for
he/she has a direct link with the founder and thus has the answers.
They are never encouraged to wander from one group to another.
One of the less welcome consequences of this multiplicity of vertically-structured
‘satellite' groups is that they tend to see themselves in competition
with each other. Being a student of A's group, the practitioner
is taught to feel that B and C have nothing to offer. They might,
of course, be very good, but they are not A. The clannishness
is occasionally given a mystical flavour, with some disciples
arguing that finding the right teacher is an all-important task,
probably of equal importance to that of pursuing the art at all.
(Such clannishness or factionalism is a common feature of a vertically-structured
society like Japan's, where there is a special term for it. Habatsu-shugi
exists in all spheres and at all levels of Japanese society and
it especially flourishes in the martial arts.)
4. The founder is unfortunately mortal and has to provide
for the continued existence of the group or organisation. A successor
has to be designated. There are various ways of choosing a successor,
which correspond with the level of autocracy in the organisation:
the founder's enlightened (but arbitrary) choice of a successor;
a fight to the death of his disciples (a proven method which ceased
to be socially acceptable many centuries ago); the automatic succession
of the oldest son in the founder's family; an election by an ‘electoral
college' of the most senior disciples; or an election by all the
disciples regardless of rank. Since the transmission of the art
is supposed to have the highest priority, all the ways have to
make assumptions of one kind of another. For example, an assumption
behind the third way would be that the son has inherited the founder's
vision and can transmit this vision in a better way than any of
the other disciples. The history of the martial arts in Japan
has demonstrated quite clearly that this assumption is not always
borne out in practice. The last two ways represent increasingly
‘democratic' ways of passing on the ‘charisma', but also assume
that many other people apart from the founder and the closest
disciples are able to make enlightened decisions.
5. At some point, the founder or his chosen successor
creates a system for defining the limits of the new organisation
and the disciples then have a choice to make: to join the organisation
or to remain outside it. Once the organisation, as defined, is
created, the levels of proficiency are controlled by the organisation.
The ostensible aim is to transmit the ‘charisma' possessed by
the founder, but also to authenticate it: to distinguish ‘true'
charisma from its false imitations. If the organisation is ‘western'
in spirit, the development of the ‘charisma' will depend on the
nature and flexibility of the fundamental rules governing the
development of proficiency within the organisation. If the organisation
is ‘oriental' in spirit, the development of the ‘charisma' will
depend on wise decisions made in choosing the disciples. Given
the essentially fluid structure both of the organisation itself
and of the ways of determining the levels of proficiency within
it, there is an inevitable tension between the organisation itself
and the ‘charisma' which it is supposed to transmit. Of course,
the founder and his successors act from the purest of motives,
but the tendency for the organisational channels which transmit
the ‘charisma' to become progressively restrictive is inevitable.
Certainly no organisation, to my knowledge, has ever solved this
dilemma successfully and those that have flourished as worldwide
organisations have undergone periodic reform or revolution.
5. 1. In some cases, the process for defining the limits
of the organisation also involves establishing relationships with
outside bodies, such as education or sports ministries and other
national organisations. This will depend on the political structure
of the particular country, but it is probably safe to assume that
there are very few countries where a ‘charismatic' organisation
which attracts a large number of members and operates on a nationwide
or worldwide scale will be allowed to flourish without any interference.
At the very least, the organisation will have to be established
on a legal basis and this establishment might also have to conform
to a complex set of cultural norms.
6. It is about at this point that the question might
arise of creating a worldwide federation such as the IAF. The
art is flourishing, in the sense that many people practise it,
and there are worldwide networks of satellite organisations &
groups, but there is also much splintering and fragmentation.
As I have tried to show by the above hypothetical sketch, the
success of a worldwide organisation dedicated to nurturing and
spreading the ‘charisma' of a single individual will depend on
wise choices made at a much earlier stage of development.
| …And the Consequences
Now it might be true that the main motivations for creating aikido
organisations are to exercise control and to obtain a source of
income, perhaps for the founder's family. However, I think that
the progress from a small band of disciples to a fully-fledged
organisation (note that this happens in order to transmit a vision,
or an art) is far less cold and calculating. It is certainly culture-based,
in the sense that the founder will usually create an organisation
based on the culture in which he or she was brought up, even if
the vision itself has a universal application. Thus, the early
history of aikido both inside and outside of Japan is the history
of the halting and unorganised development of embryonic groups
based on the original pattern. The groups were created by first
or second generation disciples of the founder, who received no
preparation for these tasks other than their training in the art.
I have lived in Japan long enough to realise that most Japanese
are totally unprepared by their education for prolonged and intense
exposure to other cultures and this problem is an enduring legacy
of the two centuries of sakoku -- forced seclusion in the Edo
period. The ‘culture shock' of university students who do go abroad
to continue their academic careers is severe enough, but they
have supposedly had four years of preparation in their universities
-- institutions most likely to feel the effects of cultural exchange.
Much greater will be the shock of disciples who have been sent
abroad to create ‘replica' aikido organisations, whose only preparation
has been severe training in the intense but narrow cultural confines
of the dojo.
I have tried to show that the question whether a martial arts
organisations succeeds -- fulfils its aims -- is very difficult
to answer. For example, in one sense the Aikikai Hombu is a very
successful martial arts organisation, for both inside and outside
Japan the art, as inherited by Doshu and developed and interpreted
by him, is flourishing. On the other hand, the disciples of the
founder went off to create their own dojos and these also developed
into fully-fledged organisations. Thus the aikido world very early
on split into groups -- competing groups, even during the founder's
lifetime. It is important to realise that this fragmentation of
aikido happened in Japan, the ‘mother' country, and not only abroad.
So, in another sense the Aikikai Hombu has failed to maintain
unity in aikido and the question whether such unity is possible
is a valid question, which needs to be considered very carefully.
The question is especially relevant for the IAF, since the federation
has been criticised for failing to achieve its stated aim of maintaining
unity in the aikido world. I will return to this important question
Furthermore, as I have suggested above, the success of an organisation
which emphasises an unbroken vertical line between the founder
and the current head of the dojo or organisation depends on the
constant supply of able people who are willing to sacrifice themselves
for a particular vision. I believe that it is extremely unlikely
that the Aikikai Hombu will be able to rely on a steady stream
of young instructors willing and able to reside overseas and teach
aikido. Thus, when the present generation of overseas Japanese
shihans passes away, their replacements will have to come from
within the countries where they have been teaching. (At this point
it will also become clear to what extent these Japanese shihans
have been successful in building a suitable organisational structure,
which will ensure the development of aikido in their adopted countries.)
In the next fifty years, the Japanese aikido shihan residing overseas
will become an increasingly rare figure and aikido will be in
the hands of non-Japanese instructors, aided by occasional visits
-- at summer schools and international congresses -- from the
instructors sent by the Aikikai Hombu in Japan. This, however,
assumes that the Aikikai Hombu and other dojos in Japan will be
successful in attracting a constant supply of able recruits. If
the martial arts clubs in Japanese universities are any indication,
this certainly cannot be taken for granted.
| Western vs Japanese
| I think it is very difficult to apply the ‘democratic
- autocratic' distinction to many aikido organisations outside Japan.
But even within Japan, the distinction needs to be handled with
For example, I do not believe that Japan is a truly democratic
society. By this I mean a society in which the members conceive
of themselves as individuals with certain responsibilities and
rights, who are able to choose representatives by vote and also
to have a direct influence on the policy made by these representatives.
Of course, this is democracy in a ‘western' sense, but I do not
believe that there is any other sense of the word. I do not intend
any disrespect to Japanese, or those who believe in ‘Asian values',
by the above observation and I consider that the comment recently
made in a magazine about martial arts organisations, "In a martial
arts context, the Japanese naturally set up an autocratic structure
controlled by a small inner group that supports a central figure."
is true. However, as I have stated above, to call Japanese society
autocratic without some important qualifications risks misunderstanding
by many non-Japanese. A democratic organisation of the ‘western'
sort rests on a set of unstated abstract principles about the
individual. The Japanese do not operate on such principles. Nevertheless,
a non-democratic society such as Japan's rests on a very important
general principal of harmony and even in such a supposedly autocratic
structure, if it really follows the Japanese pattern, those who
have the power have an obligation to take account of the feelings,
if not the articulated views, of those who do not. This relationship
between the sempai (senior) and kohai (junior) is firmly embedded
in the cultural fabric of Japan. It is taught to all Japanese
from around junior-high school age onwards (around the age of
12), but there are no formal rules stating what these mutual obligations
consist in. Of course, the sentiment expressed in the same magazine,
namely, "those who do not conform either leave or are ostracised
from the group", is also true, but the important point is that
these persons never constitute a majority of the group. The power
holders will always ensure that the general principle of harmony
will prevail and will try to evolve a consensus which takes account
of as many views as possible. If the minority ever became a majority,
the organisation would either cease to function or undergo radical
The autocratic style of organisation, which is rather repressive
of individual views, can be compared with the style supposedly
favoured by ‘westerners', which places greater stress upon the
individual viewpoint. But, as I have implied above, very many
aikido organisations in the ‘west' have been created by Japanese
disciples of the founder, who have created organisations based
on their own (Japanese) experience. The first dojo of which I
became a member, in Britain, was controlled by the Japanese instructor.
The organisation was totally autocratic, in the sense that there
were never any decisions reached by a consensus of all the members.
Our instructor did everything because we were total beginners
and had no idea how to organise a dojo. As we practised more,
we developed a general idea of what a dojo should be like. However,
we never felt that we were at the mercy of an autocrat and there
was never any jarring of the general atmosphere of harmony and
pursuit of a common aim. Friendships formed in that dojo, nearly
30 years ago, still continue to flourish today. The second dojo
where I practised on a regular basis was controlled to an even
greater degree by the resident Japanese instructor. His policies
were accepted without any question, though it has to be admitted
that many of the other aikido groups in the country were run by
ex-students of this particular instructor, or by non-students
who had no particular desire for any contact with him. There was
a similar pattern in the U.S.A. The shihan surrounded himself
with a small group of the more senior ranked students and the
rank and file students simply accepted the situation with reactions
ranging from bright-eyed adulation to sullen resignation. Where
there is no resident Japanese shihan (in countries like Sweden,
Norway, the Netherlands and many other members of the IAF), then
the organisation tends to be more democratic, but this is usually
because there is no one of shihan rank, or even because the resident
Japanese shihan was not successful.
| The IAF . . .
The IAF was created in response to an initiative from Europe.
Before the IAF there was an organisation in Europe called the
ACEA (Association Culturelle Européenne d'Aikido), which
later became the EAF (European Aikido Federation). Many of the
members of this European Aikido Federation were aikido sections
of judo organisations, wherein most of the power was firmly in
the hands of the judoists. I do not think that the decision to
put aikido under the protection of judo was free of controversy
in the Aikikai Hombu, but I certainly do think there was something
to be said for it. Mr. Nobuyoshi Tamura, who was the first Japanese
representative of the Aikikai to reside in Europe, probably felt
that judo groups could provide good organisational support for
what was a new and unknown martial art. However, it is a curious
fact that this example was not followed by any other Japanese
Aikido instructor who went to reside abroad and teach aikido.
I want to stress that I am not saying that Tamura Shihan was wrong
to attach his aikido organisations to judo. It is well-known that
Japanese judoka were instrumental in introducing aikido to Europeans
and thus many European judoists also practised aikido. It might
have seemed the natural thing to do at the time. It was also a
courageous decision, since, for the first time, Tamura Shihan
tried to take account of the cultural attitudes of the people
he had been sent to teach.
The IAF was actually founded in 1976 in Tokyo, though the original
founding meeting was held in Spain in 1975. It has been suggested
that very important structural problems arose at the very first
Congress in 1976. Basically the problems were these: the Japanese
accepted the IAF basically as a ‘western' arm of the Aikikai Hombu.
The federation would have a democratic flavour, but would actually
be controlled by the Japanese (this was a reasonable viewpoint,
since very few ‘westerners' had achieved high dan ranks in the
art. However, some politically acute delegates from Europe attempted
to wrest control from the Japanese and make the IAF a truly democratic
organisation. The Aikikai Hombu were not prepared for this and
the attempt was sabotaged. The IAF was left as a federation with
a blend of Japanese and ‘western' features. I am not qualified
to comment on the first two congresses of the IAF, but some very
important issues arose at the 3rd IAF Congress, held in Paris
in 1980. As I have suggested above, the spread of aikido abroad
was culture-based and in many cases the Japanese shihan established
an organisation that was nationally based, with a name like The
Aikikai of Great Britain. The congress was the scene of a major
conflict within European aikido over an apparently simple issue:
what is a ‘national' aikido organisation? The IAF statutes unfortunately
do not define this term, since they did not need to do so when
the federation was founded. At that time, everything was in ‘harmony'
and there was only one aikido organisation in each country, namely,
the one created by the Japanese instructor and recognised by the
Aikikai. (The USA, because of its size, did not have this system
and the rather complex situation in Japan also escaped attention.)
Alas, this problem of definition was related to another, more
fundamental, problem concerning aikido's independence from judo
and this problem was one of the unforeseen consequences of the
fact that Mr Tamura's aikido organisations were under judo control.
Independent aikido organisations in Holland and Spain wanted recognition
from the Aikikai Hombu, and also membership of the IAF, in preference
to the established aikido department of the national judo organisation.
The Paris Congress could not make any real progress because there
was no clear decision on who had the power to vote. Since the
1980 Congress the split in Holland between judo based and non-judo
based aikido organisations spread to France and Mr Tamura lost
about half of his students. As far as I know, the Aikikai organisations
in France are now independent of judo, but the division into two
large groups still remains.
It is important to understand the issues which arose at the
3rd IAF Congress. First, the issue which paralysed the Congress
was a European issue and one which had split the European Aikido
Federation. Between 1978 and 1980 there had been a grassroots
revolt against excessive judo domination in the EAF. In this case
the Japanese instructors living in Europe generally remained on
the sidelines. However, the dispute caused a crisis in one of
its sub-federations which the IAF was in no position to deal with.
The founders had probably never imagined that such conflicts could
occur in an aikido organisation. ("After all, aikido is all about
harmony, isn't it.") Certainly the Aikikai Hombu were taken by
surprise at the force of the dispute and had no idea what to do.
One might argue that they should have known that this would happen
because disputes in some form or other have existed ever since
martial arts schools were created and the seeds for these disputes
lie, as I suggested above in my earlier sketch, in the vertical
organisation of the martial arts, with its emphasis on the unbroken
line between the founder and the current the head of the dojo,
rather than on a framework of rules or procedures.
The second point to note is that, while the Japanese in Europe
generally remained on the sidelines during the crisis within the
European Aikido Federation, there was a parallel dispute within
the Aikikai Hombu itself about the official recognition of overseas
aikido organisations with judo groups: should the Aikikai Hombu
recognise an independent group in a country, when there was also
a judo-affiliated group. Now it is commonly supposed that only
non-Japanese, or only Europeans, have disputes about aikido and
this might be something that Japanese teachers like to stress,
for the picture of Japanese senseis squabbling over a Japanese
martial art that is supposed to bring peace and harmony rings
somewhat hollow. However, this is not really true. At the time
of the dispute within the EAF, the Japanese instructors in Europe
affiliated to the Aikikai Hombu also revolted en masse against
Mr. Tamura's leadership and this Japanese revolt also profoundly
shook the Aikikai Hombu. The point I want to stress here is that
the problems which faced the IAF in 1980 and after can be seen
as a consequence of disputes within the Aikikai Hombu concerning
the recognition of aikido organisations overseas. They were not
created solely by the European aikidoists themselves.
Finally, the dispute was not merely about something discussed
at the supposedly ethereal heights of an international congress,
but reached right down to the local dojo, for it concerned qualifications
for dan grades and teaching diplomas. There was a possibility
that aikido instructors in some countries would also have to have
grades in judo or karate. The U.S.A. (and also Japan) is very
lucky in that few restrictions are placed on the martial arts
by the national government. Anyone can open a dojo and issue his/her
own dan grades (which actually might be worth no more than the
paper they are written on). The situation is quite different in
some European countries , with governments laying down precise
regulations about examinations and dan grades. France has a system
of national dan grades and no one may teach aikido in a municipally-owned
dojo without a state diploma. Someone might receive a dan grade
in France and later find that it is recognised only in that country.
In the UK no one may teach in a municipally-owned dojo without
a national coaching qualification. With the rise of the European
Union (EU), such government interference is likely to increase,
rather than decrease.
Many aikidoists have the feeling that they can ‘just get on
with practise' and that aikido ‘politics' (i.e., worrying about
the organisation of the dojo and its relation with outside bodies)
is an undesirable and largely unnecessary business which can be
left to those who are good at talking, or who like that sort of
thing, the implication being that they are not really true aikidoists.
I think this attitude is rather naive and in my own experience
of aikido in three different countries, I have found that ‘political'
issues are never far away from the tatami. Questions about the
organisation of one's own dojo, or the affiliation of that dojo
to a national or international federation, or the registration
of one's grade and its international standing, are often debated
and not just outside Japan.
| . .
. And the Future
It has been stated that the IAF is still attempting to agree
on a constitution. This is not really true, for the federation
has had a constitution since it was created and this was approved
by all the founder members in 1976. With a few minor alterations
it is still in force. However, the problems which arose during
the 1980 IAF Congress showed that the I.A.F. Statutes are in need
of overhaul. Work to revise the IAF Statutes has been going on
since about 1984. The process is taking time because IAF congresses
meet only once every four years and also because there is no consensus,
either within the Aikikai Hombu or within the present IAF membership,
concerning crucial questions about the nature and roles of aikido
organisations, especially overseas organisations. I doubt that
these questions were ever seriously discussed when the federation
was created and they were certainly not settled. Now they have
arisen again and have to be settled in the best way possible.
I hope that the 8th IAF Congress, to be held in 2000, will be
able to approve a new -- and more flexible -- constitution for
the federation. Nevertheless, I must stress that the decisions
concerning the Statutes will be made by the IAF member organisations
themselves, not by the Aikikai Hombu, and in a democratic way.
People sometimes complain that people use the IAF for their
own purposes and that IAF congresses tend to be occasions for
people to dispute and reveal their thirst for power. Some have
even questioned the need for the IAF, seen as a so-called ‘democratic'
federation of aikido organisations -- surely a contradiction in
terms. Why not leave everything to the Hombu's international department?
I do not think matters are quite so simple. For one thing, very
few of the IAF member federations have actually brought disputes
to a congress. The disputes that have been discussed involved
problems consequent on recognition by the Aikikai Hombu in one
or two European countries. For another thing, I do not think that
aikido is a kind of moral panacea for the world's ills. I have
always been taught that the art offers a way to sometimes scorching
self-honesty, but it is not an automatic path to sainthood, either
in Japan or abroad. I think that there will always be people who
practise the martial arts for the wrong reasons and the IAF is
certainly not in the business of checking the moral credentials
of those who practise aikido. For yet another thing, the rapid
expansion of aikido overseas -- and in the form of organisations
-- is a fact, which carries with it certain consequences. One
is that the international organisation of aikido no longer fits
the traditional Japanese model, for the overseas organisations
are also culture-based. The resident Japanese instructors have
had to adapt to the host culture and this is one of the reasons
which led to the creation of European aikido associations like
the ACEA and the EAF. This is obvious as soon as one considers
the question of recognition by a national or regional government.
As I have stated above, the USA is very free, but certain other
countries insist that martial arts organisations must have a democratic
structure and must also belong to an international federation.
To go back and place all international matters in the hands of
the Hombu would not solve the problem, even if the Hombu had the
human resources to look after all aspects of overseas aikido.
The late Shirata Rinjiro Shihan once commented at an IAF congress
that, whereas the Aikikai Hombu was a vertically-based organisation,
the IAF was horizontally-based. He certainly never said that the
two were in conflict. I would like to turn Shirata Sensei's comment
the other way round. I think the IAF will always be a ‘horizontally-structured'
organisation, with all the members on an equal footing. However,
the Aikikai Hombu is vertically-structured by its very nature
as a Japanese martial arts school. The Hombu's international department
could never function as a horizontally-structured international
As I see it, one of the fundamental aims of the IAF is to be
a forum, where the representatives of aikido organisations can
meet, as fellow aikidoists, and discuss matters of common interest,
such discussion always punctuated by intensive aikido training.
I think that the 7th IAF Congress, held in Katsuura, Japan, was
a good example of discussion interspersed with practice. Another
very important aim is to give the Aikikai Hombu some considered
feedback. It is important to realise that the IAF is not, and
never has been, a part of the Aikikai Hombu. Thus complaints that
the IAF is separating itself from the Hombu are misconceived.
Despite its very close association with the Hombu, it has always
been a separate organisation. Nevertheless, the position of the
Aikikai Hombu at the top of a pyramid structure makes it very
difficult for it to hear the views of those at the bottom. As
I have stated above, in Japanese society in general these views
are considered, but the sempai - kohai system is not an essential
part of aikido, certainly not overseas aikido.
Like the Olympic movement, the world of aikido has often been
compared to a family. This comparison has become increasingly
tenuous as we move into the 21st century, with the rise of divorce,
one-parent families, wife-beating etc., but in any case it is
not often pushed very far. Families tend to have siblings and
disputes both among siblings and between siblings and their parents
seem to be an essential feature of any family. It is a fact so
obvious to anyone who has practised the martial arts for any length
of time that (1) disputes and conflicts occur in any dojo and
have probably occurred ever since the martial arts were first
practised in dojos, but also (2) that there seems no way of resolving
them. The fact is remarkable, for the martial arts -- and especially
aikido, which is a ‘Way', rather than a mere fighting skill --
stand at the very apex of conflict resolution, but seem to be
singularly unable to offer equally enlightened ways of resolving
such conflicts at the level of organisation, be this ‘autocratic'
That there are such conflicts is undeniable. For example, during
my aikido career I have been struck by the fact that very many
disputes occur over dan grades. A common source of complaint is
the relative ease with which dan grades are obtainable in certain
organisations. Sensei A, for example, is known to be very severe,
whereas Sensei B's examinations seem much less difficult. Problems
with grading usually constitute the main reason why aikido organisations
fragment and splinter and this usually comes as a complete revelation
to those innocent aikioists who practise the art because it offers
peace and harmony. Another revelation is the special treatment
of Japanese university students. It is a common custom in Japan
for students of university aikido clubs affiliated to the Aikikai
to receive their 2nd dan by the time they graduate, that is, in
their FOURTH year of aikido practice. At the very least one might
wonder why this is so. My own students at Hiroshima University
are astonished to be told that it takes their overseas contemporaries
about eight years to obtain 2nd dan. Of course, I have heard all
the arguments: that students practise hard everyday, and especially
the argument that a grade is an expression of an intimate (and
‘vertical') relationship between the student and his teacher etc.
etc., but this is also the case in other countries, like France,
for example. In France, a student's grade might well be the expression
of a ‘vertical' relationship with a certain teacher, but it is
also the result of an examination that is of the same level of
difficulty all over the country. A grade is an objective measure
of one's ability and this is why they are numbered from 1 upwards.
Furthermore, many of the disputes which have arisen in aikido
concerning grades resulting from one instructor going into another
instructor's ‘territory' without being asked and holding examinations
there, or by a resident instructor having his allegedly ‘easy'
grades recognised by the Aikikai.
Now if the above questions are raised at a congress, as they
might well be, anger is sometimes expressed in certain quarters
that these are ‘internal' problems, which should not be discussed
in a general forum. Grades are supposed to be the particular prerogative
of the Aikikai Hombu and its accredited instructors, but this
is to miss the point. Such problems exists and to dismiss them
as ‘internal' is an evasion of responsibility.
Of course, I am not saying that the IAF should necessarily involve
itself with grades, or become a kind of court, or that its main
function should be to solve disputes. What I am saying is that
aikido is a living, breathing art and that conflicts occur. This
fact should be recognised. Conflicts cannot simply be pushed under
the tatami in the hope that they will go away. Many disputes arise
because of lack of communication and I have suggested that an
autocratic structure which places great emphasis on the role of
the individual shihan makes ‘bottom upwards' communication very
difficult. By providing as one of its functions a general forum
for communication among aikido organisations and between aikido
organisations, aikido shihans, and the Aikikai Hombu, the IAF
can be a source of support for these organisations, for the shihans,
and also for the Hombu. A vast reserve of trust and goodwill towards
the Aikikai has been built up over the years from many thousands
of aikidoists overseas & their teachers. This is something which
needs to be protected and nurtured and the IAF has an important
role to play in this.
Finally, I would like to return to a point made earlier in this
essay and state it differently. At the present moment in the history
of aikido, I do not think that it makes much sense to talk of
the IAF as an organisation in some kind of opposition to the Aikikai
Hombu, or to the Japanese. Aikido is a relatively young martial
art and it still retains its Japanese cultural roots. Unlike judo
and kendo, there has been no major power shift in aikido and no
reorientation of the art into the form of a western sport. Nearly
all the high-ranking teachers are Japanese and there has been
no division between Japanese and ‘western' aikido. I think that
one of the most important future aims of the IAF is to make sure
that such a split does not happen.
NOTE. This essay is a slightly revised version of an article
which first appeared in Aikido Journal #114 and 115. I am greatly
indebted to Stanley Pranin, publisher of Aikido Journal, for kindly
allowing me to make use of the original.
P A Goldsbury, IAF Chairman