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What is Seidokan?

This article was originally written September 2003 for the official Seidokan Newsletter, the Seidokan Communicator.

First, why question such an obvious thing? I am reminded of a statement made by a philosophy professor. He said, "When people ask me 'why do philosophy?,' I ask them, 'why think?' If they give any answer at all, I point out to them that they are now doing philosophy. If they give no answer at all, I let them go."

I bring this story up, because if we look at the language from the Seidokan web page at Seidokan.org, we see, if not a mandate, then at least a very strong invitation to think, to question, to analyze, to doubt, to re-evaluate, and to reform.

"The objectives of Seidokan Aikido are to study the philosophy and the arts of Aikido and further develop them to best suit the modern way of life."

Who does the studying, who does the developing, who decides what is best for the modern way of life?

"Seidokan Aikido is the study of Aikido as a whole. Old traditions are analyzed and only the good traditions are kept and further developed so that they can be useful in our daily lives. Seidokan Aikido emphasizes the attitude of training. The students and the instructors grow together at Seidokan Aikido dojos. The students learn the fundamentals from the instructors and the instructors gain deeper understanding of Aikido while sharing their knowledge with the students. Through earnest, realistic and sincere training, the students of Seidokan Aikido will learn the true meaning of Aikido."

So, we study together, instructors and students, and we grow together in partnership. We each get to decide what works for us, and what does not.

"The motto for Seidokan is "earnest, sincere, and realistic." This is derived from the kanji for "sei" (alternatively pronounced "makoto") means "fundamental truth." Seidokan therefore emphasizes an approach to Aikido which requires continued honest evaluation of both technique and philosophy. In particular, Seidokan follows the line of tradition of O'Sensei which encourages ongoing refinement of the art to accommodate a modern way of life."

So while we are all encouraged to think and act for ourselves, we are invited to contemplate the idea of "makoto" as a touchstone. Makoto, which is often translated simply as "sincerity," means that there is or must be a unity between thought and action, word and deed. We must practice what we preach. The idea here is one of integrity, not just in the moral sense, but toward complete structural integrity of the system. I will say more about this later.

"Technique as taught by Seidokan Kancho, Roderick T. Kobayashi, tends to utilize movements which are very small and economical. While Kobayashi Sensei encouraged his students to discover an aikido which is truly their own, he nevertheless stressed the importance of doing away with the extraneous and focusing on that which works. Effective technique which manifests the principles of oneness and "loving protection of all things" is the goal of Seidokan practice."

I interpret this to mean that, if we practice earnestly and sincerely, we not only have the model that Kobayashi Sensei bequeathed us as a great legacy, but that we ourselves should be expected to discover the same fundamental truths that he did. We do not invent Seidokan Aikido, we probe deeply into the nature of things, and report honestly on what we find. We seek, and we discover. Where we find agreement and consensus, we may adopt these ideas and methodologies until something better is found. If we disagree, then we should continue practicing in a way that makes the most sense to us for our own unique situations, and share with others why this is so. But when we uncover a discrepancy, an inconsistency in our philosophy and our teaching (word and action), then we must seek to bring the system into a truer alignment.

We watch this process take place within ourselves when we look deeply and honestly at how we behave in executing technique. We discover postures and attitudes which get in the way of proceeding toward our immediate goal. We see this same dynamic unfold within our dojo group, within our organization, and we may witness it occurring at national and international levels. As individuals and societies, we run into great trouble when we lose our integrity. Indeed, psychological sicknesses may be measured by the extent to which our perceptions are inconsistent with our realities.

"The purpose of Seidokan Aikido is to share the most up-to-date developments and to provide a framework for individual development of its members. The Seidokan Aikido is not a federation of dojos which governs the operations of Aikido dojos. Each dojo may make up its own rules and regulations without interference from Aikido Institute of America."

This is one of the most intriguing and profoundly challenging statements to examine. Let us take it one step at a time. First, let's take a closer look at the word "Seidokan" itself:

makoto [Sei]
(adv,n) truth; faith; fidelity; sincerity; trust; confidence; reliance; devotion;

michi [do]
(n) road; street; way; method;

kan
(n,suf) house; hall; building; hotel; inn; guesthouse

(Kanji definitions are all from Jeffrey's Japanese/English Dictionary Server)

So, Seidokan is the "house" or "hall" where we share our insights and methods about truth. We understand this to be a figurative expression, meaning organization or infrastructure. Furthermore, we are told that there is or should be a framework for developing this among our members. What is the framework? How does information get shared? How do we all stay up-to-date with recent developments? If Jim Wallace in New York has found a better way to do enkei, how will you know about it? These are important questions, and if you don't know the answers, then we have work to do on our integrity.

"Seido" taken as a single idea implies a way or method toward truth. Claiming to know the Truth, in the great cosmic sense, is risky business. I am content to look at that which is true, in the same way an architect or builder needs to know that a plumb-line is true. I like to interpret the concept as "integrity." An integrated life path means that the methods can and should be applied in all arenas. We are not too good nor too pure to be involved with the realities of violence, of politics, of social hierarchy, or ideology. An honest look at fundamental truth will reveal that each of us are part of such systems, and these qualities exist within us all. We have no excuse, indeed no right, to say on the one hand that we practice Seidokan Aikido, but on the other hand, "can't get involved with politics." You already are, and always were, from the moment you stepped onto the mat. If a thing is true, then we should act accordingly, and not in denial or delusion.

What about the rest of the paragraph? If we are not a federation of dojo, then what are we? A confederacy? An organization? A regulatory authority? A licensing agency? If we are none of these things, then where does our rank come from? Why pay dues? Why have a kancho? On the other hand, if we are any of these things, what is the nature of our organization, and how is it that we can be in independent dojo?

These kinds of questions are at least as important as knowing about proper alignment of the feet during kotegaeshi. Indeed, they are the same questions asked on different levels.

The answers, of course, can be found in the principles. "Masakatsu Agatsu" helps us to remember that we are sovereign individuals, that no human being or agency has more responsibility for our thoughts and actions than we do. "Oneness" teaches us that we are all interconnected and interdependent, and that we begin to do aiki when we seek to share. We give what we can, and we learn gratefully from others. "Range of Effectiveness" helps us stay more balanced in seeking to remedy that which is truly within our control.

Happily, though networking with others, we can greatly extend our range of effectiveness, so long as the infrastructure is such that it encourages free exchange. If we agree with the wisdom set forth in writing by those gone before us, and if our actions are consistent with that wisdom, then we have Seidokan.

Where we lose our individual sovereignty, when the sharing stops, when the practice of deep inquiry is supplanted by the way of doing what you're told, then Seidokan is no more. In a conversation with Kobayashi Sensei at a Dallas seminar, he told us (Bill Sosa, Stephen McAdam, Brad Bergeron, and myself) that the organization of Seidokan doesn't really matter, so long as the principles continue, that is all that matters.

This may be so. We are all custodians of Sensei Kobayashi's teachings equally, even if we never met him. But principles must be embodied for them to have meaning, for there to be integrity. Air does not become breath without beings to breathe. Kokyu can only exist of there are beings to make it so. Bodies must have organs, organisms must have organization.

We are an organization. Anything less is a disorganization, and is not life-enhancing. May the heart respect the head, and may the head be aligned with the heart, always.