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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > April, 2005 - Keeping the Faith
by Ross Robertson

Keeping the Faith by Ross Robertson

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I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening;
I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.

~ Aleister Crowley

A number of questions continually arise for the practitioner of aikido. "Will aikido make me a better person?" "Is aikido the best martial art?" "Is aikido even a martial art?" "Is aikido a way to reconcile the world?" "Can I really defend myself with aikido?" "Is there a style which is the best form of aikido?"

Contemplating or discussing these issues can be a valuable exercise. In itself, this kind of thoughtful consideration is one aspect of our training. But don't expect to arrive at any definitive conclusions. These questions, and many more like them, have already been discussed ad nauseam, and satisfactory answers are still not forthcoming.

It might be that our collective wisdom is not yet mature or sophisticated enough to deal with these issues. I prefer to think that the real reason for our lack of good answers is that the questions themselves are flawed. Each of these questions implies a right "yes" or "no" answer. And to answer "yes" or "no" to such questions is to lie.

Deep down we all know this.1 And even though we may generally agree that aikido is about balance, many of us are very uncomfortable holding the balance between yes and no. We prefer instead to feel secure in one or the other, as if only our right hand or our left hand were true. We have allowed ourselves to be thrown by a false premise.

Any time our answers do not seem to be satisfactory, perhaps we should ask better questions. For example, instead of asking "Will aikido work?" we might ask "Under what conditions will aikido work?" "What are the limits of my aikido currently, and what would I resort to if those limits are surpassed?" "What can I do to extend those limits so my aikido will work more broadly?" "How can I avoid those situations that my aikido may not yet be sufficient to handle?" "Is that also aikido?"

To ask questions this way puts us on a path of discovery. The answers may not be immediate, but the parameters give meaning to the inquiry. We understand that there can still be "yes" and "no" answers, but they are conditional. And best of all, we can do a lot to change conditions.

The irony here is that in seeking the absolute, we inevitably wallow in a quagmire. Yet if we accept a certain fluid ambiguity as the truth, then our path is much clearer.

Some truths are discoverable, but personal preferences can blind us to those truths. And when we uncover a truth, we must be willing to examine the limits and conditions of that particular truth. Ask yourself good questions: "Is this a real defense technique, or is this an exercise to develop a certain skill?" "Is my 'knowing' interfering with my 'learning?'" "Are things that are not provable still able to be somehow useful?" "If a thing is useful to me, must I insist that it is true for everyone?" And finally, one of the best questions for anyone, any time: "How do I know?"

Is aikido a religion? A science? A philosophy? Is aikido a new dance form? Is it a sport? Is it combat? Is it love? Is it art?

The answer is simple:

Yes and no.

No question about it.


1 This statement is also a lie. A declaration of the author's suspicion is stated as a fact, when the truth is actually unverifiable. How many more lies can you detect in this essay? In yourself?

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