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None of my observations should be taken as budo by any beginning practitioner of this art form or as heresy by any of the danship. Instead, for true guidance, I suggest reflecting on one of my favorite of O'Sensei's poems of The Path--
Techniques of the Sword
Cannot be encompassed
By words or letters.
Do not rely on such things--
Move on toward enlightenment!
Second, let me preface this article by making it clear that I am by all means a master of Self-Rebellion. Consider me the founder of the art the coiner of the term and an accomplished practitioner. Meditate upon my own poem when you are struck confused by my words and letters.
Relies solely on the words
and hypocrisy in your own mind.
Embrace them and your confusion--
authoritatively declare your ignorance
to the world!
Since I began my pursuit of Aikido approximately a year ago I have heard the art described and defined in many ways. I am still pretty uncertain what I've actually committed myself to, but enjoy it nonetheless. I find a bizarre comfort in my oscillating mental states of clarity and confusion during practice. I attribute this comfort to my prior and continuing practice of Self-Rebellion.
It is not my intention to write a complete treatise on the concept of Self-rebellion. Instead, I will describe it simply as the struggle between the destructive and constructive forces of the self. Self-rebellion reveals the self as fundamentally oxymoronic. Self-rebellion is absurdity accentuated by the apparent struggle yet actual stalemate of dueling elements of the self. Self-rebellion is a striving to achieve a dualistic and paradoxical balance. Self-Rebellion is hyphenated. Self-Rebellion embraces the fact that all lives come to the same conclusion, independent of their quality. Self-rebellion brings the self-rebel peace and makes the self-rebel happy even at the moment of their destruction. Whether the self-rebel is unwittingly hit by a bus or quietly passes on in his or her sleep. Apparently, self-rebellion is not simply described.
I have probably confused you more than I intended. Oh well. Life is confusion! Moments of certainty are rare and even those moments are followed by revelations contrary to one's previous certainty. Where is the stability in our world? Where is true path to contentment? How come its so easy to slip into blind complacency? I don't really expect answers-- but I imagine that at times you feel just like I do.
It is not entirely your fault. Just remember that. It is the world around us and the residual animal nature inside ourselves that make us simultaneously confused and completely certain of our infallibility. Sometimes we think we know what is best for us-- so we act and find ourselves injured by that action. But there are so many decisions to make every day! How are we ever to know which decisions are the correct ones? We are so often wrong.
Consider this: Emerson the transcendentalist said, "Trust thyself"-- a beautiful idea that is worth contemplating at length. The problem, we all know, is that far too many untrustworthy people trust themselves far too much. They get in the way imagining themselves like politicians running the world. Those of us who wish to trust ourselves sincerely often find ourselves immersed in a world that refuses to trust us back-- a world populated by unreliable experts who tell us we are wrong or, at best, kindly inform us that we are mistaken. We find ourselves frustrated and weak, cowering, sucking our thumbs beneath the covers and weeping at the injustice of the world. We feel primitive and childish because we still use internal combustion as our primary source of mechanical locomotion.
Still, it is not our fault, is it? No. It is the fault of unreliable experts. Think of all the conflicting input we receive throughout our lives. Actually, I'll make it easier, think about two of the most respected types "educators" in our society-- scientists, and spiritual advisors. Most scientists teach us that, over time, systems generally move from order and structure towards entropy and chaos. Then they proceed to teach us formulas and equations that are far to logical and clear-cut to support their claim of universal mayhem. Spiritual advisors claim the contrary-- a "natural order" or a "grand design". But then, when considering our spirits and their welfare, we are faced with innumerable conflicts-- a pantheon of deities placed in the heavens by churches at war.
Now, I am not claiming that all scientists and spiritual advisors are qualifiable as unreliable experts. The best are dedicated to the pursuit of sincerity and truth. But who is right? Perhaps Emerson is right after all. Perhaps we know what is right for us even if we can't articulate it. Even if we don't understand, who cares? I do-- so all that is left to me is to embrace the confusion and the unknowable as inevitable-- and love it.
Aikido, in my opinion, is exceptional as both a spiritual and scientific practice. It is exceptional in its pursuit of sincerity, agility of mind and body, and power of spirit. Such phrases as, "The secret of aikido is to become one with the universe," and, "Aikido is primarily a way to achieve physical and psychological self-mastery," impose themselves upon us-- not maliciously but benevolently and harmoniously.
During the practice of Aikido, the use of intangible powers and tangible physiology are demonstrated in parallel. It is also collaborative. When we practice Aikido together we act and are acted upon-- collaborate in practical experiments. This makes Aikido somehow tangible even in its most ethereal aspects. Sometimes we cock our heads and stutter-step around each other for days, weeks, or months before we find a moment of clarity-- but still we find it.
Anyone beginning their own Self-Rebellion will excitedly sympathize with a beginning aikidoist. Both practitioners try their best to accept their confusion as a happy state before inevitable enlightenment instead of simply a frustrating state of purgatory.
But are we-- ourselves-- our minds-- the only things confused? The world around us, the populations we share it with, often seem pretty confused too. If not confused, the world, at least, seems incomprehensibly complex-- the people we share it with-- just plain stupid.
So here we are again. How are we to act with any confidence in the world. We can't simply shio-nage our way through life. As a child I knew that, despite my mother's claims, the Grand Design for my toys was scattered over the floor. Perhaps I am not alone in sometimes believing that the Grand Design is naturally the effect of the least amount effort. The principle of Aikido identified by Koichi Tohei, relax completely, is easily misinterpreted when dishes are stacked in the sink or when we obsessively wash our hands chanting the mantra "cleanliness is next to godliness". Entropy becomes a convenient excuse for the lazy and the anal retentive alike. I use it to my advantage often. For which neurosis, I'll let you guess.
In society, orderliness is considered a wholly positive trait. We all know that order requires effort, but it is not necessarily evident that effort becomes stressful and ineffective without the combination of relaxation and attentiveness. Still it seems that no amount of effort, relaxed and attentive or otherwise, can contend with the will of nature. The world that surrounds us is far more powerful than the will of any single individual, or even of the collective will of humankind-- in my opinion, at least, that is its beauty. Alas, we are faced with a dilemma-- a desire to push our own way, while the rest of the universe goes about it's business using us however it wishes.
So is nature ultimately at odds with the type of order we desire? Is cleaning your room more like act of prayer, or more like splitting an atom? Is science at odds with nature. Are the natural sciences in fact spiritual? Is there even such thing as an unnatural science? Do you expect me to tell you anything you don't already know? What the heck does all this have to do with Aikido?
If the world acts in its own way without regard for its inhabitants where do our individual wills have any real influence? The answer: within ourselves. The only forms of entropy that we can have any influence over are the confusion and conflict in our minds and the objects or people that are placed within our control.
In Aikido we practice the relaxed development of the hara and extension of ki into a dynamic sphere of power that we anchor to the weight of the earth. This sphere of power is the limit of our control over the external world. The principles of Self-Rebellion are neccessarily less clear than those of Aikido, but in self-rebellion we accept the confusion in our minds and the world around us. We make our peace with it. Learn from it. This is not unlike the practice of Aikido. Such an acceptance provides us with a perpetual rediscovering of the dynamic universe. As aikidoists (and perhaps self-rebels as well) we attempt to maintain a relaxed and attentive state with which to harmonize the dissonant within ourselves so that we can harmonize, in turn, with the world around us. So we can cope with sharp objects and unreliable experts with the confidence and sincerity.
Again, O'Sensei on Aikido:
A Path so difficult
Yet as simple as
The natural flow of Heaven.
And myself on self-rebellion:
For the Self-Rebel
Confusion becomes a blissful state.
Use your confusion as an excuse
To learn the world anew
Moment to moment!
And O'Sensei, who always deserves the last word:
Looking at the
World's sorry state
Do not whimper helplessly!
With the wrath of the gods
Let us bravely head on!