Saturday, June 19, 2010

the story of the aikido mafia

You might recall that the YMCA here in Valparaíso got bullied into canceling their aikido class some years ago, when Aikikai Chile came around and demanded a bunch of money, and control over how it was taught. Plus I did find a place in Valparaíso that offers aikido classes, but they're on hiatus right now until the teachers get Aikikai Chile. (I'm going to stop by and see if I can be a substitute teacher and we just won't tell anyone.)

Today I visited the Santiago dojo again and asked the teacher if they have any deal or business with Aikikai Chile. I told him the story of the Y, and the suspended class here in town.

"No, we don't talk to them at all."
"Why not?"
"Well, we're very strong here. They know we have a strong practice and a strong lineage. But I think I know who the Y's director talked to, and that's definitely how he operates. And some random little club probably doesn't have the strength or resources to argue with him."

The story is interesting, complicated, sad, and completely Chilean:

The guy who spoke to the Y was JR. He was, for many years, the head of Aikikai Chile, but much more than that, during the dictatorship, he was the only person in all of Chile authorized by the government to teach aikido. Anyone who wanted to teach had to go through him. So his mindset can be, kindly put, monopolistic. I imagine Aikikai Chile tells itself some story about maintaining the quality of instruction or something, but the Y's director said JR was running a business, and if you're really just interested in quality, large sums of money aren't really required. The teacher I spoke to didn't doubt that they have "aikido" registered as a trademark, but it seems they enforce it selectively.

Things have changed a lot: there are now many dojos like the one I visited, that operate outside Aikikai Chile, affiliating directly with organizations in Japan. There's just a ways to go.
It's a sad and ugly thing. O-Sensei saw aikido as a way to bring people together, to help us learn to resolve conflict peacefully, and thought that spreading aikido was the way to make the world a better place.

I'm constantly shocked by how much damage the dictatorship did here, the extent to which it poisoned everything. In theory, you can see why a military junta would want to control the teaching of martial arts, but the reality is that the military junta controlled just about everything, indiscriminately. Sometimes it feels like any place you scratch the surface in Chilean society, you can find some kind of sad wreckage from those two decades.

[EDIT: I'm a little uneasy about the tone of this post's title. I don't actually know anyone at Aikikai Chile, and while the odds are low that anyone involved will ever read this, I don't want to start a fight. I'll leave it in place, but hey, if anyone who has a real connection to aikido in Chile sees this, leave something in the comments. I'd like to hear more of the story, especially any parts I've got wrong.]

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like the plot of a kung fu movie: the big mean dojo against the friendly little upstart dojo, et cetera.