New form of Aikidokas

Not too long ago, I chatted up an Aikidoka, when I was on my way to NUS for my Aikido class. I sat down with this chap and once we started talking, I ended up late for my class, very late.

The gist of the conversation bothers me, and makes me wonder, again, the state and quality of the Aikido practitioners in Singapore.

Instructor in one school, Student in another

We started the chat, talking about the weather, stuffs about Aikido of course. I didn’t know this chap so well, and thought he was working in some corporate office, like me, and takes Aikido lessons in the evening.

We talked about the respective Aikido school, and I learned that he actually teaches Aikido in a school that is specifically tailored for children, it is related to one of the Aikido school in Singapore.

He lamented that because of the large size of the school, there are multiple instructors holding classes, and because the head instructor is the head instructor, there is limited opportunity to train with the head instructor, in depth, in person. So those different instructors have different interpretations, dependent on the understanding of the instructors. So he ended up getting a variety of style. This is quite common, since owing to the large size of the school. No matter how much quality one can put into the instructors, it will always get watered down, as the numbers gets bigger. It’s elementary, really.

Regular Army, Rangers and Delta Force

In military terms, you have the regular Army, then you get the Rangers, which is better trained than the regular Army, then you have the Delta Force, which is the creme de la creme of the Army. A regular Army unit? Corps size, which is perhaps 50,000 men. A Ranger unit? It is about 3,500 men, and Delta Force? even smaller, maybe 1,000 or less?

The point is, when you want something to have quality, you cannot have quantity, an vice versa. Martial arts is subject to the same equation. You want good quality practitioners? Have a smaller class, a smaller group. The larger the class, the worse the quality.

Of course, you need a bigger class, if you are aiming to make it profitable. You need economies of scale, so that you can be sustainable, so that you can make money, and keep going. This is the perpetual enemy of any Aikido school, any martial arts school, any business. You need constant, repeating customers to make money, and the larger the better!

Back to this chap I met…

So he is effectively a paid, full time instructor. And the simpleton in me, expects him to learn from his sensei.

Instead, he told me, as a matter of fact, he is going to another smaller, Aikido school to learn. A school that is not affiliated to the one he teaches in.

Sorry, this blew my mind.

This chap has no reservations in loyalty. Well, who am I to demand that he has? He is a paying student, a consumer in the broadest sense. Nevermind that he is a paid instructor of another Aikido school. I don’t know how to wrap my logic around such matter.

Perhaps it is not about loyalty, it is about being drawn towards quality. Perhaps, as an instructor, he is compelled to deliver the best Aikido curriculum to his students, and the current curriculum in his Aikido school isn’t measuring up, so he has to use his own money to go and learn from another school, so that he can bring back what he learned from another school to teach his students. It is like a Mercedes driving instructor, going to BMW to learn how to drive better, and use what he learned in BMW to teach Mercedes students how to drive better. I don’t know how that sounds like, but for marital arts this just sound weird.

Stick with one school

Although I used the word ‘loyalty’ here, I don’t think, I train with Harry sensei for the longest time, because I am ‘loyal’ to him. Neither am I disloyal, in any sense. When I train long enough with Harry sensei, his understanding becomes my knowledge, and through a thorough understanding of his movement, I learn my own unique style. This process is deep and takes years. Of course, you can throw in the fact that I am ‘lucky’ to have direct, and intimate access to a 7th Dan Aikido shihan, I can build my knowledge on a dedicated, single sensei platform.

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer out of this. I think is all boils down to your own path and what you want out of it. I cannot see myself training in one place and teaching in another, there is just something not coherent in that method of thought.

Anyway, here’s a list of Aikido schools in Singapore. I don’t know if the list is a complete one, as the community is still fragmenting. By the way, they are not listed in any order, its completely random.

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