Sightlines – Oct 3, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Further to the idea of the spread of a budo being like sparks scattered out from a fire, I’d like to think about viewpoints. Yes, I use these writings to do my thinking while I’m writing them, hence the messiness at times. From what I’ve seen there are at least three viewpoints on any of the arts, from the source, from a local organization, and from the individual dojo.

First the source, this is Japan in my case, and I’m usually talking about the Kendo Federation but I could easily be talking about Aikido or Judo. Large coherant groups with country and regional organizations. The viewpoint in Japan comes from one of being at the very top of the heap, which is obvious, and implies all the associated attitudes, the assumption of correctness, entitlement, arrogance and the other things that being on top can bring with it. These traits will be shown to various degree depending on how thoughtful the persons are at the top, but the tendencies come with the position. This goes with the territory in the lower (national and regional) levels too, with the upper level folk being prone to thoughtless assumptions of correctness, but this is counterbalanced with traits of subservience directed up the ladder. After all, the head guys might not get to stay in their head positions without the guys up the chain letting them stay. Except that’s not usually the way it works.

There is a saying “Peking is far away” which applies directly to this situation, even in those organizations that have a pyramidal structure, with the folks in Japan appointing those in the rest of the world to power. The saying refers to distance, “we do things here in the provinces the way we do it here, Peking is far away”. Even if the hiring and firing comes from Japan, it’s likely that the local groups will be doing things their own way.

But most organizations of any size have an independent rule in the countries, where they choose their own political leaders. This is tied up with the administrative vs instructional split in any physically centered activity. We elect or anoint our own administrators and they are expected to do their best for their group. We earn or are given from above our teaching ranks and so we are responsible to those up the chain in a very direct way. This is true in the sports as in budo, baseball coaches aren’t usually expected to deal with the IOC and the administrators are expected to administer, not give advice on how to win ball games. In the budo the heirarchical nature of the rank structure gets mixed up with the administrative arm of things and sometimes you’ll get fearful administrators who are more concerned with their next rank than their duties as local leaders. It should always be remembered that one does the job the hat requires. If you’re wearing the hat of the regional president you ought to be fighting the national organization for more resources for your area. If you’ve got a 5dan hat and want a 6dan hat next grading you ought not be in the faces of those above, but rather at the other end. If the grading authority is separate from the administrative authority that’s usually not a problem, but in the budo the two usually get mixed. Remember which hat you’re wearing at any given time.

Similar things apply to dojo who are “out of the loop”, who are not in the regions of power in their country. If you’re out of the loop it means that the loop is out of your hair. In our Canadian case “Toronto/Vancouver/Montreal is far away”. We dojo out on the marches have as much control from those in the loop as we allow that power base to have over us. How fearful are you that you won’t pass your next grade? A lot? Perhaps then, you should not be arguing for funding for your next event. Give the job to some student who has a chance of being forgotten before his next grading.

Of course none of this is relevant if everyone from the hinterlands through to Japan has the same viewpoint on how to do things. “As above, so below”. But there are certain realities that slant the viewpoints in different ways and these often hinge on numbers and rank.

Japan has lots of rank and lots of students. OK I know there are hinterlands in Japan but I’m talking the administrative base, those who make the rules. In the big centers, there is no problem with getting enough students to run a dojo, the problem is crowding, not enough spaces to accomodate the numbers. The same with rank, you’ll get dojo with dozens of high ranked students, rank enough to be running dojo anywhere else, but here they are just the guys who organize the new year’s party. So lots of students, in fact they may need to be turned away, and lots of rank so no worries about instruction amongst the students, but perhaps a feeling of the glass ceiling for the upper ranks.

In this case the view of training can easily be one of no accomodation. With lots of students there’s no real need to… well accomodate is the best word, to do anything special for any of them. They fall into the norm or someone else steps into their place as they fall by the side of the road. I don’t say this happens, but the conditions are there, the nails that stick up can be hammered down or pulled out to be replaced by ones that are shiny, straight and new. This can be the view of the juniors.

What about the seniors and their glass ceiling? With no advancement available (into the highest ranks or into their own dojo to teach due to the crowding already existing) the seniors need some other way to feel they are advancing. One challenge needs to be replaced by another and this other can be healthy or not. Competition for status can mean gossip and cruelty while trying to gain the top sensei’s favour or it could mean sports competition through tournaments or even competition to see who can do the most to build the dojo through helping with funding, teaching, cleaning or organizing the parties. A glass ceiling can skew the expected viewpoint (the next grade) into unexpected areas. The very top levels will of course be guarded carefully by those at the top, so admission will be very tricky. Those seeking to get in will need to make sure they don’t do anything wrong. The viewpoint will be very rigid, no sticking up.

Any viewpoint tends to be personal, it’s only natural that people see things through their own experience and concerns. The view of other countries from Japan, when it exists, will usually be through the lens of personal concerns such as advancement at home. There are very few individuals anywhere in any organization who will stick their necks out for the folks elsewhere. While we may think this is not the way of budo, it is the way of humans. Those with a small investment will have a small desire for risk. Only those who see beyond their own concerns will risk for strangers. If a country can find a teacher who is dedicated to the international growth of an art, they are lucky indeed, and these teachers do exist, but they need a dedication to an ideal rather than to their own status. Why you say? Simply because of some of the gossip, the backbiting for status we mentioned before. This is what we usually call “office politics” and it exists everywhere, and one of the biggest causes is jealousy. Sensei who get to travel to other countries are resented back home so they have to have thick skins or high enough status to ignore the politics if they want to advocate for their overseas students.

Is this thinking unfair of me? Perhaps but if we understand how people see what they see, we can understand and forgive what they do.

Let’s leave the home ranges and move to the country levels. How do the budo get established in other places? Emigrants and foreign students mostly. Japanese who left Japan often took their budo with them, and students who went to Japan often learned the budo and brought it back with them. Curiously, these two groups can have radically different viewpoints, one being that of someone born into something and the other that of the convert. Then there’s the “none so Scots as the Scots abroad” group. The attitudes of the founders will persist in national organizations for decades and sometimes generations. The Japanese who leave the home country to find jobs or a new life will usually not have a very romantic view of Japan. They will start organizations, working hard to do so, building things up slowly and will have an attitude of ownership toward their work. These organizations will tend to be rather independent-minded and slow to accept control from Japan, especially if the political structures are horizontal (independent national units under an overall international structure) rather than vertical (national organizations are directly controlled by the Japanese organization). The sports oriented budo tend to be horizontal due to international competition while the non-competitive arts can be either.

Organizations created by students tend to have a different outlook, the founders being much more tied to their instructors back in Japan, much more reliant on them to explain what is important and what is simply a cultural artifact. Japanese ex-pats will know what is simply the way things are done because they were learned in public school, but adult students won’t have that background with which to separate what’s important to the art and needs to be carried to the new country and what’s just cultural baggage. Those organizations will be much more deferential to the originating country. A certain amount of romance will also be involved here, as students of the Japanese arts tend to be Japanophiles, at least when they go to Japan, and perhaps even when they return. These are the converts. Japanese emigrants tend not to romanticize their place of birth.

On the other hand, the “none so Scots” attitude does exist in some ex-pats that found a budo in another country, and they may genuinely miss the old country with a bit of resentment that they were forced to move to a new place for work and now feel trapped there. These folks will run a very Japanese organization indeed, often along lines that will become antique compared to those back home who have moved on. Thus the “none so Scots” reference, they are living in the country of their birth which, after 40 years is likely not the country that exists now.

Bottom line, national organizations will be more, or less, likely to defer to Japan. Those in the organizations may be more, or less, concerned with pleasing the international organization (one hopes so), the Japanese organization (good or bad depending on the political structure of the organization) or any Japanese high rank who comes along (one always hopes respect is given where it is deserved, rather than on the basis of birthplace).

The viewpoint of the national organization toward its own regional and dojo members will depend, as it does in Japan, on numbers of students in the dojo of those in charge and rank in those dojo. Lots of students and lots of rank in the dojo of the administrators will tend to give viewpoints similar to those mentioned for Japan above.

The hinterland dojo will almost always have a viewpoint coloured by their struggles on the marches. Being the front line in a new area will feel lonely indeed, and resentment can build up as the years of neglect from the organization (which may not even remember they have an outpost) pile up. The lone teacher has to build his own connections to those above, finding people who are in a position to help and appealing directly to them rather than to the organization as a whole.

Curiously, the folk on the edges may have more in common with the founders of the organization than with the folks running it who have come up with an entirely different viewpoint. The organization may say “you have to build things up and fund your own events” while the founders may say “when do you need us”.

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