I wish I had stumbled on this thread while it was still an Aikijoker Anonymous meeting. The timing of this post would have been right. But, I think I have a decent story just the same.
I trained Yoshokai Aikido in a branch dojo in Michigan. It was a pretty relaxed place: typical Aikido backbiting and rank worship but most of it disappeared when we bowed in and junior/senior BS wasn't evident unless, in my case, I had to line up with the one insecure shodan.
I became spoiled there. I just assumed that since, except for the one shodan, everyone stopped the pettiness on the mat, that it was like that everywhere.
I loved Aikido. Like, I'm sure, every weak-minded individual who falls for a cult, I was looking for meaning. I thought I had found it in the techniques. I was so foolish: a modern day Don Quixote looking to save the world by the transmission of relatively useless dance moves. I didn't need the philosophy; theoretically, my values were already consistent with Aikido's.
However, I was, in my mind, too big for Michigan and wanted something new. Naturally, as a cult adherent, my intended destination had to have a member dojo. I chose Portland, OR; just about as far away from home as possible.
I closed my business, which had just become successful, and did everything else you do before relocating.
The head instructor was, ostensibly, decent to me and the senior student, David Scheer, and others invited me out to welcome me. For a number of reasons related to being freshly relocated, I declined. I had the sense that the rejection was taken as a slight but nothing came directly of it.
During the, approximately, third class I attended, the instructor ran us through the standard course you get at any Aikido dojo: rolls, knee walking, etc. I believe it was during this class that everything changed.
As I recall, two people were on all fours, side-by-side and we were to do a jumping breakfall over them. Scheer, being senior, of course, was first. In dramatic Portland Aikido fashion, he did this big shuffle-run to get speed and then went over. All the other toads did the same. I, being new to the group, was about last and, just coming off of several months of high-quality and quantity breakfall work, walked up and went over without the preceding drama.
I believe that was the moment. Scheer, I believe, then introduced me to a common look I received there. It's the expression of rage accompanied by the refusal to look directly at the object of rage; in this case, I believe, me. When he came back around in line, I asked him about something and I think he was glaring at my forehead.
From there, it got bad. The higher kyus who were "in" started treating me awkwardly: snide comments on the mat, I believe one slandered me to the receptionist (community center dojo), when I brought my woman to the annual party, they'd evacuate any room we walked into. It was a mess.
However, I was there for Aikido. So, I kept showing up when I felt my solo practice wasn't progressing. It was always a joke.
Ultimately, Scheer took over the dojo. Bad news for me and, in my opinion, the style. I think I attended two of those classes.
The earlier was interesting. A 5th kyu who may have been a romantic interest of Scheer lead the class. Since I rarely visited, I always took low spot in line. That was the etiquette I was taught in MI. The 5th kyu directed me to the normal spot. Then, when the 5th kyu demo'd the first technique, he called me up to be uke. Then, when we began practicing, he called a partner switch repeatedly until I lined up with Scheer and, as I could have predicted, Scheer made some, in my opinion, asinine correction and, I swear, class was stopped within a minute of that.
I had never had my line position adjusted, never been called to demo and never had more than one partner switch in a class. Since this ended with Scheer's correction, my belief is that Scheer was carrying out some petty abuse of his fantasized samurai authority. But hey, what's a little abuse between samurai?
I went back again. On this night, Scheer, whose technique was, in my opinion, a laugh, was going to teach the finer points of a boxer's hook.
Note: About two years earlier, I watched a number of high level tests. The founder's son was testing for, as I recall, 6th dan (a huge rank in the org), the daughter testing for something, a 4th dan was testing and others. While everyone watched the tests, I watched the honcho watching the tests. He spent a lot of time watching their feet. I mentioned this to my seniors on the way home and they, as was a typical response to my dandy notions, laughed me off. In any case, I spent the next couple years watching feet, including Scheer's, trying to figure it out.
I thought I had unlocked something incredible but on my first day of Judo, the senior I was working with informed me that if my toes went up, it's a sign of imbalance.
So, Scheer's going to teach us Aiki-boxing. What does he do? He forces into the instructions,'Some people think the feet mean something.' I think, since his toes, when I watched, were up more than down, he didn't understand why I was watching.
In any case, over the preceding couple years, I had been giving up on the style. Father to son transition, different techniques, different focuses. It just didn't feel the same but what am I to do? I moved based on this crap.
But then, after Sensei Samurai taught us how to box, he said,'Now, for Aikido, you're going to throw your balance after the punch.'
I had lost my cult; my muse. Depression leading to much worse set in. I routinely babbled to the former head instructor via email; Much of it is so incoherent, I can't make it out. No one from the cult or Aikido, in general, lent a harmonious hand... Scheer was promoted. Thanks, Kushidas. Golly, did I fudge the whole harmony concept!
Finally, what made it a cult?
Wearing fancy pants, hollering "Osu!" for no good reason and talking in a Japanese accent didn't make it a cult. The defining characteristic of a cult is its destructive impact on the adherent's life.
For many non-samurai, it's a hobby rather than a cult. But for us quixotic adherents to bushido-- those of us who are perfectly rational in everything except matters of chivalry-- they'll accept everything you'll give.
I think Brave New World is the most contemporarily relevant. But, Don Quixote is the most relevant to fighting bullshido in the martial arts.
At the same time, I've seem people who do martial arts that pressure test and martial arts that don't and that is a weird situation all its own...