Is Aikido passing to the West?

Williams Sensei awarded his 10th dan by Maruyama Sensei, Japan 2010

Williams Sensei awarded his 10th dan by Maruyama Sensei, Japan 2010

With this year’s Aiki Kai Kagami Biraki announcement of promotions, I noticed a healthy sprinkle of aikido pals from near and far. The number of “foreigners” being promoted seems to increase each year. It might be just that I am getting older but I wondered whether this might be a trend.  I thought I’d take a look at the numbers of gaijin appearing on the list historically. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I gathered the promotions lists since 2010 and counted up the number of names in romaji vs those in kanji and plotted these up as a percentage of the total. While there are a few problems with this methodology, it’s an interesting first cut and shows some quite clear trends, particularly as the sample size grows. (8-dan is a pretty small sample so it’s a bit tenuous there, but 5,6,7 dans are pretty robust I think.)

The figure shows the percentage of total dan grades awarded to gaijin through Aiki Kai hombu dojo over time. I plotted only 5-dan and higher for two reasons: firstly because I ran out of fingers and toes; and secondly at these levels what’s issued from hombu is a reasonable aggregate of those issued by this organisation globally. Throughout the time period you can see a trend of more awards going to the west over time.
Dan grades trends in Aikido

Dan grades trends in Aikido

It’s seems reasonably clear the hump of foreigners is working its way up the dan ranks in the mainline Aikido organisation, having passed unity (50%) quite some time ago in the lower listed ranks.

Another possible indicator, when I look around my own backyard, is the increasing number of independent organisations not affiliated to Japan, I suspect this is approaching unity as well.

Of those affiliated to Japan, some have now passed in a significant way to the West. As an example I’m thinking of my own former organisation whose chief instructor Michael Williams was based in Australia. (More recently there is his establishment of a new independent organisation  Aikido Goshinkai, further grist for the mill too!)

 A further indicator might be the growing speculation about whether hierarchical feudal organisations are the way forward, and I defer to my betters with this excellent piece from US commentator George Ledyard, together with a rambling commentary (see on the death of the traditional organisation)
Caveat: Of course the trends aren’t a “real” statistical treatment (n=3 for 8-dan in 2016 for example) but it’s a start and fairly robust for the more junior ranks. I couldn’t find any earlier data than 2010, so a shout-out there to aikido land if you have some promotion lists from earlier that would be a useful inclusion.

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