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What is a Deshi in Aikido?

About Traditional AikidoPosted by Billy McAuley Sat, December 10, 2016 16:42:41

Kanazawa Takeshi Sensei 7th Dan Shihan:

A perfect Deshi: When I was training in Japan, Kanazawa Takeshi was Doshu Ueshiba Moriteru’s Deshi. Every time I saw Doshu or he attended an Enbu (demonstration) and/or function at Minato-Ku Aikikai. Kanazawa Takeshi was always with him. He was very quiet and very kind hearted, you can tell by his face. See links below:

What is a Deshi (‘pupil, apprentice or disciple’.)?

When a teacher finds a student who is serious about the art, consistent in their attendance, has a desire to improve, is modest, has an open mind, understands instruction, tries to emulate what is being taught and has potential for personal future development & study and could carry on the teacher’s work, the teacher may view or choose that student as a person to concentrate on and to pay special attention to when teaching the art.

This is a two-way street! What I have described above is the way the teacher acts. From the student’s point of view, how the student behaves is a matter for each student. I think that at best what the teacher hopes for is respect which should be honest, natural and mutual.

Now respect is a big word, what respect means, well that is what the student (everyone) has to figure out, but whatever it means to the student, it must be honest, it must be natural, it must be without effort and it must clearly be associated with being modest. Being a deshi has nothing to do with fetching the teacher’s slippers or in any way being subservient to the whims, demands and desires of the teacher.

In Japan students often show their teacher respect and gratitude by physically being there and undertaking certain responsibilities, but must never let the teacher down, if they take on a responsibility, never asked of them, they should always be relied upon to continue till that responsibility is passed on to a ‘younger brother/sister’ who wishes to show his/her respect and gratitude to the teacher.

If a student feels that they want to become a deshi and they further feel that they have the right attitude and attributes to become a deshi then a good teacher should guide and ensure that the student fully understand what being a deshi truly means and the student should be advised to do some research into the true meaning of what a deshi is. The student should also be guided to give serious and honest consideration about becoming a club deshi as it is not a position or role that should be taken on lightly in the same way that being a teacher is also not a position or a role that should be taken on lightly.

Being a deshi is not a reward and both the teacher and the deshi should not think of or expect reward. Being a teacher or a deshi is a responsibility, the best that a teacher or a deshi can hope for is the honest advancement of the students in their care.

Thank you to my students; Yusuf Uddin, 1st Dan and Nathan Ingham, 2nd Kyu for enabling me to put some thought into this topic. I have since done some research as to what being a deshi means, what is expected of a deshi and what a deshi should get in return, I was going to write ‘what a deshi should expect in return’, but the reality is that like a teacher a deshi should never expect a return.

What is a deshi?

A look at the kanji for deshi. The word consists of two kanji, TEI, DAI, DE, which mean “younger brother,” and SHI, SU, KO, which mean “child.” In Kanji & Kana the meaning of deshi is ‘pupil, apprentice or disciple’.

Our club is called; Asoryu or Asô ryû or Asoh sensei’s ‘way’, ‘path’ or ‘style’ of teaching Aikido (that is; Traditional Aikido or Aikikai style of Aikido): The Ryû is a ‘way’, ‘path’ or a ‘style’ passed on by Asoh Kinjo sensei and which we follow and pass on:

The purpose of a ryû is not to teach a martial art. The purpose of the ryû is the continuation of the ryû, in this instance, the ryû teaches a martial art. A true deshi is someone the ryû considers worthwhile, rather than someone who thinks they have something to offer the ryû.

From the perspective of the needs of the ryû, the ryû needs members who will work for the continuation of the ryû and not for their own fame or personal success. This is in keeping with the Japanese concept of what is good for the group takes precedence. In this case the group is the ryû. In other words, ego is bad for the ryû. A shift in perspective, a deshi is someone the ryû considers as a potential carrier of the ryû. Being a deshi then engenders some responsibility. You can’t simply go around just being a “martial artist,” but are a representative of the ryû.

A deshi can only exist in a school that is a ryû. To truly be a deshi you must give yourself over to the needs of the ryû.

Uchi Deshi System:

Uchi-deshi (内弟子 "inside student") is a Japanese term for a live-in student/apprentice who trains under and assists a sensei on a full-time basis. The system exists in kabuki, rakugo, shogi, igo, aikido, sumo, karate and other modern Japanese martial arts. I don’t have first-hand experience of the uchi deshi system other than knowing of it and having met many uchi deshi in Japan and in the US. It is worth some research on your part.

Final Thoughts:

The above might be helpful to understand what being a deshi really means, it has helped me to understand this better. Although, I took on certain responsibilities for my teacher Asoh sensei while I was his student in Japan I never had the privilege of being his deshi. I think, at that time, I was possibly lacking some maturity, was definitely far too wild and was undoubtedly far too quick to react without thought. I did however have the privilege of being close to the Dojo-cho (manager) and two of Asoh sensei’s deshi and to a point close to Asoh sensei as well. The role of deshi takes a huge commitment and responsibility which, at that time and up until Asoh sensei passed away, I was far from being ready to assume.

When I visited Asoh sensei in hospital prior to his passing I gave him a letter of thanks and my commitment to continue Aikido in his name throughout my life. I have tried to stay true to this promise although at times it has been very difficult to do so. Knowing some of the difficulties that Asoh sensei and one of his deshi have had to face and overcome has kept me going and to them I am and remain truly grateful.

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido Club, Huddersfield, UK. 10/12/2016.

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