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Don
07-22-2007, 11:21 PM
I know this has been variously discussed under threads devoted to the intersection of aikido and religion, but I would like to solicit opinion based on another premise: Why we do what we do.

My basic question and solicitation for opinion is this: Why do you bow to kamidana/kamiza? Have you thought about why YOU do this and is it of any significance to you?

At the outset, I will state that in the past 3 years my life has changed fairly significantly. One of the consequences is that I have begun to ask why I do what I do. I have lately turned that attention to my practice during aikido of bowing to the kamidana/kamiza.

I have long been told that it is to show respect for O'Sensei for creating aikido. That seemed benign enough.

However, in looking into this I have found apparent confusion. We CALL the small shrine-looking thing in the front (shomen) of the dojo the kamiza, but it would seem that at least in almost every dojo I have been in (and I have visited many) that the more appropriate term is kamidana.

Kamiza would seem to be a general term for what might be called the upper seat or seat of most importance. Think of a meeting with the president of your company. He sits at the kamiza. Kamidana is a shrine in which much of what we see on what we in aikido call the kamiza. In fact one dojo I have frequented on business is run by a buddist priest and it looks 99% like the kamidana at our dojo, although we call it kamiza. Kamidana also as I understand it are found in homes and may have pictures of ancestors, and the purpose here of bowing is to either give thanks to the kami (spirit or god in shinto belief) or to ones ancestors.

So, if I am bowing to a kamidana (which in fact seems more appropriate to say) then it would seem I at least need to know what it really means. So, firstly since I don't believe in either the multiple kami that is a part of Shinto or in ancestor worship that would invalidate bowing for THOSE reasons. Secondly I can accept bowing to another ALIVE person as a sign of etiquette and respect. I can give respect in the bow to that person and they can accept it and return it (or not by virtue of if or how they bow). Bowing to an inanimate assemblge of wood and an inanimate picture of O'Sensei out of respect is useless in my view. It cannot accept or return respect. O'Sensei is long since dead and (possibly) in another realm where our respect to him is of little consequence. Finally isn't seriously practicing aikido and trying to encourage its practice to others showing MUCH more respect to O'Sensei and his memory than a perfunctory bow?

So, other than "being a part of the group behavior" it seems that there is no purpose IN THIS CULTURE for bowing to the kamidana/kamiza. Some would argue that during the bow is a time to center one's self and meditate. My counterpoint is that sure you can do that, but meditation generally requires one to be focused on nothingness and not "when to bow".....and I can do that before the class.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not bashing aikido. I have practiced it diligently for 14 years so I have been around the track more than a few times and I greatly enjoy aikido. it is a great physical practice and is mentally calming. It just seems to me that in our zeal to spread aikido, we spread CULTURAL and EXTERNAL practices as well as the content and essence of the art. It is quite natural that this would have happened in the first generation of aikidoka in the U.S. or other country other than Japan since everyone was instructed by a student of O'Sensei. But as we have grown, I just wonder if others question the relevance of what the second and third generation of non-japanese instructors teach. Since I am an assistant instructor, I spend a lot of time looking for good teaching vehicles, and in the process I have found that some things that appear at first as vital pieces of a technique can be left out or modified quite extensively without detriment to the technique. What that means is that some other part of the technique is what is real and that the other parts teach a lesson but are just that: TEACHING ARTIFACTS. It is important I think to be able to distinguish what is ULTIMATELY important and what is not in the progression of teaching a technique. It is also important in any other thing we do. Otherwise we are forever trapped in the externalities of something.

A very long post for a seemingly simple question. Your opinions would be welcomed. Please remember I am not bashing aikido, but posting a serious question. If you feel offended and want to bash me, please don't...I'll just skip over it.....Thanks for your opinioins!

Rupert Atkinson
07-23-2007, 12:06 AM
When Japanese people learn English they first learn introductions, which are often accompanied by the handshake. If they were to say, we don't do handshakes in Japan, then, they would miss out on something important when trying to do business overseas. Of course, that is a useful action, whereas bowing to the Kamiza may seem not so.

So, what are you going to do? Could you imagine going to a dojo in Japan and saying - "I am not going to bow to the Kamiza because it is meaningless" ??? To Japanese, it has great meaning and they may not understand your point. And even if they did, they would probably not regard you with much respect. Personally, I am not religious at all, but I do show respect when required (when people say prayers at dinner, or bowing to the Kamiza, or whatever).

At one dojo I trained at in Japan the Kamiza contained the ashes of their previous sensei. I guess, you could say he was there. And again, although I am not religious, when I bow to the pic of O Sensei, I feel I am bowing to O Sensei, not the pic.

The problem, I think, is in dojos in the West where most trainees have no idea about Japanese religion. It will be even harder if there is no Japanese terminology in the dojo. And even more difficult if there are a few devout Christians, or others, in the group. Some dojos have no Kamiza and no pic of O Sensei. I am OK with that too.

Janet Rosen
07-23-2007, 12:07 AM
I write (and live) as an atheist: just as I have no problem bowing in respect and gratitude to my living teachers and partners, I have no problem in including a bow to the deceased founder of my art as part of the same opening and closing ritual.
That is purely my two cents. Everybody's mileage may vary :-)

eyrie
07-23-2007, 01:09 AM
We have a "reality" TV show here called Lost Tribes, where an Australian family gets to spend 10 days with an African tribe, during which time they must learn to live like the "natives" or fail. For some of these people, it is a tremendous culture shock, to the extent that these people's personal "reality" are at odds with certain tribal and social customs. I don't know if you've got it there, but it's interesting to watch these people flounder and sometimes attempting to justify their (inappropriate) behaviour based on their perception of "reality" (i.e. what *should* be) and the reality of the situation they are in.

It is also interesting to see how some people's attitudes and behaviour can change over that time and how cultural immersion can influence such changes.

I think that, irrespective of one's personal beliefs or whether one thinks that the "order of things" has no particular meaning or purpose, the socially and generally accepted thing would be to "do as the Romans do". To do otherwise, would be inappropriate - at least within accepted group norms and dynamics.

However, what you do in your own "house" is your business of course.... if such cultural artifacts have no intrinsic value for you then by all means, discard it. I'm positively certain it would not detract from the technical practice in anyway. As to whether it inculcates in the student following, a sense of respect of something greater than the Self, remains to be seen. My wife seems to think so, but I'm not sure I agree.... yet. ;)

Josh Reyer
07-23-2007, 01:22 AM
However, in looking into this I have found apparent confusion. We CALL the small shrine-looking thing in the front (shomen) of the dojo the kamiza, but it would seem that at least in almost every dojo I have been in (and I have visited many) that the more appropriate term is kamidana.

Kamiza would seem to be a general term for what might be called the upper seat or seat of most importance. Think of a meeting with the president of your company. He sits at the kamiza. Kamidana is a shrine in which much of what we see on what we in aikido call the kamiza. In fact one dojo I have frequented on business is run by a buddist priest and it looks 99% like the kamidana at our dojo, although we call it kamiza. Kamidana also as I understand it are found in homes and may have pictures of ancestors, and the purpose here of bowing is to either give thanks to the kami (spirit or god in shinto belief) or to ones ancestors.

Actually, there's a problem with your initial assumption. First off all, a Buddhism and kamidana 神棚 are completely unrelated. Buddhism is Buddhism, and kamidana are Shinto. Japanese people often mix the two, but the fact that a Buddhist priest has a small "shrine" set-up like the one at your dojo means nothing as far as the religious import of that "shrine".

Secondly, dojos with kamidana are very, very few. This is a kamidana:
http://www.iwashimizu.or.jp/kamidana/1.jpg.

The only dojo I've ever seen with a kamidana is the Aikikai dojo in Iwama.
http://www13.big.or.jp/~aikikai/img/doujyo.jpg
Notice how high it is, and with the bottles on it?

Not even the Aikikai Hombu Dojo has a kamidana. Kamidana are supposed to be raised, near the ceiling. Much higher than the little step you generally see at the kamiza 上座 in dojos. Also, they should be facing to the south or the east.

What the vast, vast majority of dojo have is a tokonoma 床の間.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4e/Hanging_scroll_and_Ikebana_in_Tokonoma.jpg/250px-Hanging_scroll_and_Ikebana_in_Tokonoma.jpg
Tokonoma have no religious significance. They simply indicate and serve as decoration for the kamiza - the seat of honor in a house. While the kamidana faces south or east, the kamiza/tokonoma is the wall farthest from, or opposite, the entrance. They should not be confused with the butsudan 仏壇, a home Buddhist altar which signifies the spirits of departed relatives. A guest in a Japanese house will typically be seated in the kamiza, and thus, if there is one, in front of the tokonoma. A guest is never seated in front of the butsudan unless it's a really small room.

If your dojo has an elevated shelf (the "dana" of "kamidana" means "shelf", by the way), with little cups and bowls containing rice, salt, water, and sake, and has a rope with paper lightning hanging across it, you have a kamidana.

If your dojo has a little stoop, on which is placed a vase of flowers underneath some sort of hanging scroll and a perhaps a picture of Ueshiba Morihei, then you have a tokonoma.

If your dojo has a little stoop, on which is placed a vase of flowers underneath some sort of hanging scroll, and little cups and bottles containing rice, salt, water, and sake, chances are likely that someone got confused.

So, if I am bowing to a kamidana (which in fact seems more appropriate to say) then it would seem I at least need to know what it really means. So, firstly since I don't believe in either the multiple kami that is a part of Shinto or in ancestor worship that would invalidate bowing for THOSE reasons. Secondly I can accept bowing to another ALIVE person as a sign of etiquette and respect. I can give respect in the bow to that person and they can accept it and return it (or not by virtue of if or how they bow). Bowing to an inanimate assemblge of wood and an inanimate picture of O'Sensei out of respect is useless in my view. It cannot accept or return respect. O'Sensei is long since dead and (possibly) in another realm where our respect to him is of little consequence. Finally isn't seriously practicing aikido and trying to encourage its practice to others showing MUCH more respect to O'Sensei and his memory than a perfunctory bow?

Well, you're not bowing to the kamidana, you're bowing to the tokonoma. Bowing to shomen, to the kamiza, in Japanese dojos is not always (dare I say, not often?) something of religious significance. Usually the bowing to shomen is to signify a change in attitude - a shift from everyday life to focused training.

Now, bowing and clapping is definitely a Shinto-based ritual meant to summon the spirits (kami) to observe your practice. Some say that this can be done without religious signficance, but IMO they've taken the ritual out of the Japanese idiom, like saying doing the sign of the cross can simply mean "good luck" rather than being an appeal to God.

So, other than "being a part of the group behavior" it seems that there is no purpose IN THIS CULTURE for bowing to the kamidana/kamiza. Some would argue that during the bow is a time to center one's self and meditate. My counterpoint is that sure you can do that, but meditation generally requires one to be focused on nothingness and not "when to bow".....and I can do that before the class.

Bowing is never part of meditation, but as I suggested above typically it is used in Japan to symbolize a shift in attitude.

It just seems to me that in our zeal to spread aikido, we spread CULTURAL and EXTERNAL practices as well as the content and essence of the art. It is quite natural that this would have happened in the first generation of aikidoka in the U.S. or other country other than Japan since everyone was instructed by a student of O'Sensei. But as we have grown, I just wonder if others question the relevance of what the second and third generation of non-japanese instructors teach. Since I am an assistant instructor, I spend a lot of time looking for good teaching vehicles, and in the process I have found that some things that appear at first as vital pieces of a technique can be left out or modified quite extensively without detriment to the technique. What that means is that some other part of the technique is what is real and that the other parts teach a lesson but are just that: TEACHING ARTIFACTS. It is important I think to be able to distinguish what is ULTIMATELY important and what is not in the progression of teaching a technique. It is also important in any other thing we do. Otherwise we are forever trapped in the externalities of something.


Well, in Japan, I've seen lots of different styles. Some places, they do the bow and clap. Other places, a simple bow to shomen. Still others, only a bow to the teacher to open the class. Bowing is simply endemic to Japanese culture - it's used to open meetings and classes.

Does any dojo need to bow? I don't think so. But as I've said before I would expect a dojo that did away with bowing to also do away with hakama, Japanese terminology, and maybe even dogi. The physical, and for most westerners, the non-physical aspects of aikido can be taught in sweats. But if one wants to retain something of the cultural origins of aikido, which while not strictly necessary, is still something of value in aikido, then retaining the simplest of cultural courtesy and bearing -- bowing to shomen and/or teacher at the beginning and ending of class, bowing to your practice partners -- seems like the least one should do.

All that said, there's a danger in taking things too far. Some people ascribe more meaning and intent to Japanese courtesy (and terminology) than even the Japanese do. On that score, I suggest that if a bow to your partner means more than a handshake would, then you're probably overthinking it. (Using the general "you", here.)

dalen7
07-23-2007, 07:05 AM
Some dojos have no Kamiza and no pic of O Sensei. I am OK with that too.

Yeah, I was thinking of putting my picture up instead... O' Dalen
- sounds more irish ;)

Peace

Dalen

jennifer paige smith
07-23-2007, 08:38 AM
O'Brother

ha-ha-ha, smiles.

RoyK
07-23-2007, 08:43 AM
I don't think bowing is only meaningful if there is another side who'd acknowledge the gesture. The gesture is meaningful to me, and that's enough reason for me to partake in it, beyond the fact that it's a tradition just like wearing a gi.

Bowing is meaningful to me because when I bow to O'Sensei, I feel as if I enforce the respect I have for what he created. Since I practice what he created, in turn I enforce the respect I have for what I do and how I choose to spend my time.

it's actually a nice concept, that when I bow with sincere gratefulness and selflessness, I am the one to eventually gain from that feeling. That's, at least, how I currently perceive it.

jennifer paige smith
07-23-2007, 08:51 AM
One of the amazing benefits of following etiquette is a sacrifice of the ego's hold on a person. many of our cultural and individual etiquettes are based in an unknown need that we have for something......whatever that may be. By bowing and following etiquette, we lose our personal habits, a lurking place for the ol' man ego, and empty our 'vessels' in preperation for the misogi aspect of training.
Teo's post above is great. It points to a lot of assumptions that people have about 'reality' and discusses the kinds of breakdowns that are almost required to inhabit a new perspective. I believe in the tribal aspect of aikido. It is an aspect that is under-nourished in many respects and,as I experience it, an indespensable tool for teaching tolerance towards the earth and it's functions. The tribal perspective fills in the blanks on many of the mystical elements of O'Sensei's Aikido. Hokkaido anyone?

KamiKaze_Evolution
07-23-2007, 09:13 AM
I don't feel offended and no intended to bash Mr Author, because i have usually bow to shomen but O Sensei's potrait without clap my hands. I know that such misunderstanding is too deep until can't corrected, especially to some of Christians/Muslims without any martial arts. I had been asked by my churchmates regard a faithfull Christians become good martial artist, and some of them are don't really know that metally fact regards Chuck Norris martial arts grandmaster as a Christian as well as an entertainment star.

Simply, i do really respect to O Sensei and apperciate his works at his lifetime but i don't worship him as kami. Logically, bow to each others is necessary among Japanese culture and evenly Aikido Dojo. I don't fell that i am worship each others with my sensei or Aikidokas else, is it illogic that a kami worship to another kami? And how about Japan national flag? It will be sensual if only Japanese flag displayed at foreign dojo, because it considered as cultural attack. But it doesn't matter if both American and Japanese flags displayed at an American dojo. Perhaps that some normal Christians or clergies don't really understand that what is Aikido, but it is effects to the community and perhaps that non-Christians misunderstand about Christianity.

BTW, this is my personal testimony. I know that someone will pisses me off here, i don't ever call myself wiseful person or i am holiness.

Have a nice day my :ai::ki: buddies!

dragonteeth
07-23-2007, 10:04 AM
If you are up for a little background reading, I would recommend Dave Lowry's book In the Dojo. It has a very detailed section on the layout of the dojo, the Shinto significance of the kamiza/kamidana and the associated rituals, and some Taoist ideas that also apply to dojo layout. Keep in mind that this is a Japanese cultural history treatise, and doesn't necessarily reflect how non-Japanese (and even some modern Japanese) view the subject.

I agree with what has already been said, especially about most dojo having tokonoma instead of kamidana. Each dojo sets its own spiritual and cultural tone in regards to both the kamiza ritual and aikido practice in general. Certainly if you have significant religious objections to the kamiza rei, then I would discuss it with your sensei. In the past I have met practitioners of different arts who as Jehovah's Witnesses were firmly against both the kamiza and shomen rei (and some even towards bowing to fellow students) just as they are against saluting the flag. As long as they remained respectful of those around them who did rei, the teachers, and the art itself, it generally didn't pose a problem once it was discussed with the sensei.

Personally, I view the kamiza rei simply as paying my respects to O-Sensei the same as I would if he were there, which doesn't interfere with my Christian beliefs at all. It is the attitude of the heart that constitutes worship, not the simple act of bowing, IMHO. I spend the short meditation time before training calming my mind and giving a small prayer for a safe, productive practice for all. Afterwards I do the same but instead express gratitude for my teachers and dojomates, and for the learning and growth I experienced in practice.

Best of luck in finding an answer that works for you!
Lori

odudog
07-23-2007, 10:06 AM
Joshua's post was extremely well done. I would like to add to his post this little tid bit. The kamiza, notice za at the end, is the same as the za in seiza. So the kamiza is the God's seat. In the old days and probably still today depending on the dojo, the Sensei would sit at the front on a little stool and conduct class from that location. The Sensei is the "God" of that dojo. Hence kamiza being used for the front of the dojo. Most people didn't speak Japanese when the arts came to the West so I'm sure you can understand the mixups with the terms.

Jonshez
07-23-2007, 10:27 AM
I'm intrigued by the use of the words kami and spirit in this thread. I'm at work so I'll need to be brief!

I am an atheist, I do not believe spirits are watching my training. However, I do respect the spirit of the men and women who's knowledge and experience I am about to share - in other words I respect their attitude, and by showing my respect (bowing) indicate my intention to share their spirit/attitude in my training with humility.

I have no problem showing my respect and thanks for the spirit/attitude of someone who has died. We do it each year when we wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. It is a specific time of the day/year/training to be respectful and remember the others who's effort and work allow me to be where I am today.

Sorry for the brevity, I hope I didn't lose any clarity.

Jon

Just Jamey
07-23-2007, 11:10 AM
Bowing to the Kamiza at the beginning of class is a traditional action within many martial arts. Being a Westerner I am quite positive this doesn't have the same meaning to me as to a person more versed in Japanese culture. However, it still holds meaning for me. The Kamiza has been explained in another post as the "head seat". In this case the head seat is left open, or conversely it can be thought of as being filled by O Sensei's picture.

First, I put the bow in perspective this manner. A few years ago my grandfather passed away, and when we get together as a family I, in my mind, still leave a place open for 'ole grandpa. Sort of the head seat if you will. To both remember what my grandfather meant to me, and to recognize what his life contributed to the family. The bow and this action are to me similar though they don't share the exact same personal connection. I bow to O Sensei to consciously recognize what his life contributed to mine that being Aikido.

Secondly, the original poster pointed this out already. I do use the bow as a very sharp and delineating line between my hectic days and my Aikido practice. It is that final moment where I attempt to drop everything, but practice. I very much use that bow to set my mind right.

I'm sure others bow with different reasons in mind, and that is absolutely their prerogative. I've just adapted my mind to this traditional custom, and gave it a place in my personal paradigm.

Qatana
07-23-2007, 11:12 AM
Do you shake hands when you meet someone?
Do you know why?

Chris Li
07-23-2007, 11:25 AM
Joshua's post was extremely well done. I would like to add to his post this little tid bit. The kamiza, notice za at the end, is the same as the za in seiza. So the kamiza is the God's seat. In the old days and probably still today depending on the dojo, the Sensei would sit at the front on a little stool and conduct class from that location. The Sensei is the "God" of that dojo. Hence kamiza being used for the front of the dojo. Most people didn't speak Japanese when the arts came to the West so I'm sure you can understand the mixups with the terms.

"Kamiza" as the front of the dojo generally uses a different kanji - "kami" meaning "upper", so the "kamiza" is the upper seat while the lower level people sit in the lower seats.

I've trained at a number of dojo in both the US and Japan that had some kind of Shinto shrine setup - Aikikai hombu dojo used to have one too, but they took it down after the war.

As to:

So, what are you going to do? Could you imagine going to a dojo in Japan and saying - "I am not going to bow to the Kamiza because it is meaningless" ??? To Japanese, it has great meaning and they may not understand your point. And even if they did, they would probably not regard you with much respect. Personally, I am not religious at all, but I do show respect when required (when people say prayers at dinner, or bowing to the Kamiza, or whatever).

My impression has always been that most Japanese don't really care all that much whether or not you bow - it's just the custom, that's all. If you have some kind of a reason for not bowing they most likely wouldn't give it a second thought,

Best,

Chris

Lan Powers
07-23-2007, 11:54 AM
I bow..(showing respect) but refrain from clapping (summoning kami/spirits) as that seems, and is stated to be part of Shinto religious ritual.
I respect the founder, I don't worship him.( or multiple kami )
I respect you (Bow) I don't worship you either.
Bowing has been given over-importance here in the west since we are so ignorant of the "proper" actions and wish to fit in the larger world of practitioners.
Simple respect, courtesy. Seems sufficient reason to me.

We shake hands in the west as a holdover from the time when a clasped hand was an un-armed hand. To show trust/respect.
That iswhy it is the right hand to shake with, since 90% are right handed.
Best regards
Lan

SeiserL
07-23-2007, 04:13 PM
Acknowledgement/appreciation for our predecessors/ancestors is always important. So, no problem bowing.

Carl Thompson
07-23-2007, 06:51 PM
Joshua's post was extremely well done. I would like to add to his post this little tid bit. The kamiza, notice za at the end, is the same as the za in seiza. So the kamiza is the God's seat.

I agree: Thanks for an excellent post Josh. I was going to attempt an explanation myself, but you have done so far more eloquently and in more detail than I would have done. I too can only add a little.

Here are two easy characters: 上 (up) and 下 (down).

It can be confusing that the "kami" in "kamiza" doesn't actually mean spirit. The word just means "upper seat" (上 kami "upper" and 座 za "seat" -- as in seiza 正座 "correct-sitting") where the most important people sit. But who is the most important? The kami (神 spirit/god) of course! So the kami sits in the kamiza上座 area. You bow in the direction of the upper seat. The most important people sit there (including, possibly, a kami, if you believe in Shinto). It's the god's/spirit's seat if you want it to be. The opposite is the shimoza (下座 lower seat -- notice the easy character for lower) where most of us regular folk sit.

I also agree with the views that to the average Japanese, there is not much religious significance in bowing to the kamiza-area. Whether you're bowing to the kami sitting there (in the tokunoma or kamidana) or not, it seems to be most important as an act of reigi (etiquette) which is the thing that enables us all to train together sincerely and respectfully.

Erick Mead
07-23-2007, 07:30 PM
Tokonoma have no religious significance. They simply indicate and serve as decoration for the kamiza - the seat of honor in a house.
All that said, there's a danger in taking things too far. Some people ascribe more meaning and intent to Japanese courtesy (and terminology) than even the Japanese I've said this elsewhere so I'll repeat it briefly here again, since, apart from those with military experience the formalities of address and deference are very slim in Western society -- but they are not entirely lost in concpet or fact.

This recurrent debate touches on knowledge about Western traditions in distinction in forms of respect versus worship, which in the West is matter of some significant thought. .

Dulia is a Greek word in theology that is distinguished from "latria." "Latria" is "worship" given only to God. "Dulia," on the other hand, is appropriate to any human being, alive or dead (typically dead), or even worthy inanimate objects. In Classical Latin the term used for both was "servitus." Early Christians failing to render "servitus" to the emperor, for example, were the similarly the cause of much controversy, which may have been as much linguistic as it was political, not unlike the debate about Japanese forms of rendering respect. While that usage elided the distinction made by dulia/latria in Greek, Orthodox theology held the two are different in kind and not in degree, as early as St. Augustine, as they remain.

The most closely related words in English to "dulia" are veneration or homage.

Dulia or homage can properly to political superiors, objects of great beauty and reverence, or people of superior quality, living or dead, without verging into worship. All of these are typical of Japanese observances toward kami of various types (including, ironically enough, the Emperor.)

What is done in the dojo toward the tokonoma is homage due and paid and nothing more.

Josh Reyer
07-23-2007, 08:46 PM
Just an extra note on "kamiza". "Kami" is an old Japanese word to mean "upper, higher", used for many different things, and thus distinguished by different kanji. For example, there's the physically "higher" - 上, and the metaphysically "higher" - 神, and the socially "higher" - 守, and the "highest" part of your body, the crown of the head - 髪.

The "kami" in "kamiza", refers only an "upper" sense in social context. The "seat of honor", as I suggested. Japan has its own share of devout Buddhists, Christians, and even atheists. Even in these people's houses there is a kamiza (and shimoza). It's simply a layout of a room according Japanese etiquette. Indeed, someone who knows the etiquette can go into any western house and point out where the kamiza is, or would be if the person living there followed Japanese etiquette.

Just last week I attended a meeting at my school, and I could tell before anyone sat down who would sit where, simply based on an understanding of which seat was the kamiza (and thus where the principal would sit).

So while kamiza and kamidana share the same "kami" sound, "kamiza" has no religious significance, and neither does bowing to it.

Ron Tisdale
07-24-2007, 07:18 AM
Josh, could you add your comments here to the Aiki Wiki? I think your posts would be a wonderfull addition on this subject.

Thanks, and Best,
Ron

Erik Calderon
07-24-2007, 08:46 AM
I love the formality of the bow, at the start and end of class.

http://www.shinkikan.com

jonreading
07-24-2007, 10:59 AM
Bowing is a cultural immersion. We train a Japanese martial art. Without getting into the argument of bowing, I believe first and foremost to respect the culture which gave me Aikido. My life has been affected [for the better] by Aikido and I wish to show my respect and gratitude for that gift. I have no problem taking the extra effort to learn a little bit about Japanese culture in the process of training aikido. Just because something is empty to me, does not mean it is empty to others...

When in Rome...respect and obide by the culture in which you find yourself.

John Matsushima
07-25-2007, 10:33 AM
Personally, I love the fact that here in Japan, after practice they leave little oranges and wine for us to eat and drink after practice. Japanese people are so nice! I always bow and say "itadakimaaaas!" I never thought it was enough for everyone though.....

ChrisHein
07-25-2007, 05:35 PM
We have a Kamidana in our dojo. We also have a picture of O-sensei next to it. For me it has no attachment to organized religion. I think it's a nice practice (bowing to the shomen). Seems to me that most of our lives are lacking ritual, at least mine often is. The ritual is not about the sticks of wood, or the photographic image, but my relation to them. More specifically my relation to what the represent.

When I bow to the kamidana I bow to the spirit of bu. Not a mystical entity the hovers around, but the actual spirit of bu. The ideal of not allowing myself to become a victim. To the knowledge that I take my life into my own hands and except responsibility for what ever happens.

Funny while writing this, I find it hard to get at what I mean by "spirit". When I say spirit I mean it as it’s used in "fighting spirit" or "spirit of giving". Not to say that there is a little sentient being floating around who makes us fight, or give, but the kind of spirit that comes from within. That is what I bow to. I bow to that which has given me so much and comes from within. I also bow out of respect to a long gone teacher who created something that has become a wonderful part of my life. I don't bow to a little doll house, or a stoic picture, I bow to what they represent.

Michael Varin
07-26-2007, 02:51 AM
Funny while writing this, I find it hard to get at what I mean by "spirit".

Allow me to give you some words, my friend.

I think you are referring to the essential nature or significance of the thing in question.

Ron Tisdale
07-26-2007, 06:18 AM
Another excellent post Chris. I was struggling to put something into words when I first saw this thread, but failed to find anything appropriate.

Best,
Ron

MM
07-26-2007, 06:56 AM
Yeah, ditto what Ron said. That was a nice post, Chris. Even though my reasons are not exactly the same as yours, it was still well worth reading your post and nodding in agreement. :)

Josh Reyer
07-27-2007, 05:05 AM
We have a Kamidana in our dojo. We also have a picture of O-sensei next to it. For me it has no attachment to organized religion. I think it's a nice practice (bowing to the shomen). Seems to me that most of our lives are lacking ritual, at least mine often is. The ritual is not about the sticks of wood, or the photographic image, but my relation to them. More specifically my relation to what the represent.

When I bow to the kamidana I bow to the spirit of bu. Not a mystical entity the hovers around, but the actual spirit of bu. The ideal of not allowing myself to become a victim. To the knowledge that I take my life into my own hands and except responsibility for what ever happens.

Funny while writing this, I find it hard to get at what I mean by "spirit". When I say spirit I mean it as itís used in "fighting spirit" or "spirit of giving". Not to say that there is a little sentient being floating around who makes us fight, or give, but the kind of spirit that comes from within. That is what I bow to. I bow to that which has given me so much and comes from within. I also bow out of respect to a long gone teacher who created something that has become a wonderful part of my life. I don't bow to a little doll house, or a stoic picture, I bow to what they represent.
Just out of curiosity (and further discussion), I'd like to ask, why do you have a kamidana if it has no attachment to Shinto belief? Why a kamidana and not, say, a calligraphic scroll of the "bu" character? Or even English calligraphy of "spirit"?

ChrisHein
07-27-2007, 09:52 AM
The Kamidana over time (my teacher had one also) came to represent martial arts training to me. It could have been a little statue of Homer Simpson, but Homer has never come to mean martial arts training to me personally.

In short it could be ANYTHING ELSE, but my (or your) relation to it is what matters. I connect the kamidana and martial arts training. I connect english calligraphy of the word "spirit" with high school football. A strong connection in it's own right, but not exactly what I'm trying to evoke in the dojo.

eyrie
07-27-2007, 05:43 PM
IOW, it's a kind of mental/psychological "prop" intended to evoke a specific mental/emotional state....?

ChrisHein
07-27-2007, 06:18 PM
For me yes.

eyrie
07-27-2007, 06:29 PM
So, if you have already anchored that state, and can activate the anchor at any time, you would have no further need for the prop, right?

Avery Jenkins
07-27-2007, 07:18 PM
Sensei stands palm upward. I stand palm upward.

Sensei tenkans. I tenkan.

Sensei bows to the kamiza. I bow to the kamiza.

Best way to learn aikido is to do what Sensei does. Don't worry too much about why. At some point you will understand why, or you won't, or maybe there isn't a why.

eyrie
07-27-2007, 07:44 PM
If Sensei scratches his butt and picks his nose, would you too?

I think you're missing the point of the original poster's premise and what Chris is alluding to...

We're not advocating sheep-like behaviour in MA. It's a thinking person's game.... ;)

G DiPierro
07-27-2007, 07:58 PM
Sensei stands palm upward. I stand palm upward.

Sensei tenkans. I tenkan.

Sensei bows to the kamiza. I bow to the kamiza.

Best way to learn aikido is to do what Sensei does. Don't worry too much about why. At some point you will understand why, or you won't, or maybe there isn't a why.

This is a very traditionally Japanese way of looking at things. Of course, traditionally in Japan you really didn't have any other choice but to just blindly copy everything the teacher did and hope that you eventually learned something. If the teacher didn't answer your questions, it wasn't like you could easily go ask someone else. Luckily now we have things like the internet where we can go ask other people, some of whom might have a better understanding of the subject than whomever our teacher happens to be, and who, perhaps unlike that teacher, are willing to share this information publicly.

While you are free to reject this information and go back to just blindly copying your teacher because that is the "traditional" way, you will have a hard time defending the argument that this is also the best way to learn a martial art. If you don't have any other information or options, then obviously you will have to just copy and learn what you can, but given the increasing availability of high-quality information today it would be foolish to suggest that we should throw this information out because it is not the traditional way of learning in martial arts. Those who do will fall behind while the rest of us keep learning from each other and advancing.

ChrisHein
07-28-2007, 05:55 AM
So, if you have already anchored that state, and can activate the anchor at any time, you would have no further need for the prop, right?

Sure, and that should be your goal. I also think ritual is important though.

Josh Reyer
07-28-2007, 08:12 AM
This is a very traditionally Japanese way of looking at things. Of course, traditionally in Japan you really didn't have any other choice but to just blindly copy everything the teacher did and hope that you eventually learned something.

True, but as far as bowing goes, the important point, IMO, is that a Japanese person knows why they are bowing to shomen, or to a tokonoma, or to a kamidana.

I believe that the cultural artifacts in aikido practice need to be understood, and need to be understood idiomatically. So, if a student asks, "why do I call this person 'sensei'", then "because that's the way it's done," is not an acceptable answer. Nor is, "Because 'sensei' means 'one who has gone on before', and this is how we show respect for his experience and teaching." OTOH, "Because that is what teachers and instructors are called in Japanese, and we think its important to keep aikido grounded in its historical roots" is IMO pretty much ideal.

Likewise, if a student asks, "Why do we bow to that thing in the front of the dojo?", then "Because SENSEI says so," is not an acceptable answer, but a concise answer explaining the significance (which would be different depending on whether it's a blank wall, a tokonoma, or a kamidana) and allowing the student to make their own choice is, IMO, the best way to go.


So, if you have already anchored that state, and can activate the anchor at any time, you would have no further need for the prop, right?
Sure, and that should be your goal. I also think ritual is important though.

As do I. I think what makes me vaguely uncomfortable, though, is the disharmony between heart, mind, and belief. I think what you wrote above is truly admirable, and entirely true here in Japan. Most of the places I've trained in have been gymnasiums and generic judo dojo, with no kamidana, no tokonoma, no picture of Osensei, just some place designated the shomen. And the bows performed to that shomen were no less serious and full of purpose and spirit for the lack of some kind of symbol. Indeed, it's not about the collection of sticks and pictures and what not, it's not even really about metaphysical beings floating around. It's about what's in you.

But, at the same time, a kamidana that doesn't have a mystical sentient being hovering around it really can't be called a kamidana. Bows toward it aside, a kamidana has a specific purpose, a specific meaning. For those of the Shinto belief, it's very real and meaningful. So, having a kamidana, but not believing in the spirits represented therein, it strikes me as just...wrong. Like having a basin of holy water and using it for after practice thirst-quenching. Or someone kneeling and doing the sign of the cross before a crucifix, but then saying, "I don't really believe in God or Christ, but doing that helps me prepare for practice."

I freely admit that I may be being overly sensitive about this. In Japan, it's not unusual for a married couple to have a "chapel wedding", with a fake priest, just for the fun and image of it, even though they are not Christian at all. I was once asked to work as the priest. 10,000 yen (roughly $100) per ceremony. Just wear some priest outfit, say some proper sounding words that most of the "dearly beloved" wouldn't understand anyway, and give them the "experience" of a chapel wedding. I'm not particularly religious, and I haven't been a regular church-goer since I was a pre-teen, but I had to refuse. It just didn't feel right go through the motions faking something that is very meaningful to many people.

So, of course the important thing is your practice, and your mindset, which I think everyone would agree is top-knotch. And it really makes no difference to me how you do your training, so please take this in the spirit it's intended: a personal perspective, not criticism. But if the kamidana itself holds no special spiritual meaning for you, maybe you don't need it. Maybe a simple tokonoma - elegant, serious, keeping completely within Japanese cultural practice - is what you should be bowing to, rather than a bundle of sticks that you just call a kamidana. Or maybe not; it's your practice and your call.

ChrisHein
07-28-2007, 01:15 PM
Hey Josh.

Hmm, it's really hard to get at what you're saying when you're talking about this kind of stuff (probably why it's best experienced and not talked about...)

But I know what you're saying, and I really don't think there is any discord in what we are saying.

Ignatius Teo brings up some interesting stuff. Sure you could train with out a kamidana, and I'm sure you'd get good, and would become a better person. And it's good to be able to free yourself from unnecessary trappings.

However I can also live without ice in my water. I can eat food that is good for me but not tasty. I can look at pictures of nature and see what a tree looks like. I can drive the most economical car. Sure you can do all of these things, but it gets kind of...lifeless.

The kamidana is one of these kinds of things. It adds color to my life. It adds a ritual that I choose to be a part of. It add some spice. Why not have it, if I enjoy it, and it adds to my practice?

I can get snippy with all kinds of things. I can criticize someone for drinking a beer, or using too much salt. I can state facts that show why I'm right, and how these things are just not since able. But that's pretty damn dull, and not how I want to live my life.

My kamidana has a little spirit in it, the spirit of bu. He is in there every time I'm in the room, I put him there. But it's hard to get at what I'm saying on an inner net forum. Do I logically think there is a little floating man, no. But is the spirit of bu in my dojo, yes. How do we make an expression of that, well having a kamidana is a nice way to do it.

For me though, the Kamidana isn’t a Shinto thing. I know that’s its roots, but I don’t know anything about Shinto really. I’m not interested in studying Shinto, I like to study Aikido. The culture of Aikido has become independent of Shinto (for me any ways). I like the Japanese flare that comes with Aikido, but do I know a lot about Japanese Culture. But I do know plenty about Aikido culture. And that's what I train, Aikido, not Shinto or Japan.

So I’d feel like a hypocrite talking about Shinto stuff that I don’t know about. While I’d like to know some more about it, it’s not a priority for me. So my Kamidana is separate from organized religion, and is simply a part of my martial arts training.

Sorry for the long post guys.

jennifer paige smith
07-28-2007, 01:23 PM
Hey Josh.

Hmm, it's really hard to get at what you're saying when you're talking about this kind of stuff (probably why it's best experienced and not talked about...)

But I know what you're saying, and I really don't think there is any discord in what we are saying.

Ignatius Teo brings up some interesting stuff. Sure you could train with out a kamidana, and I'm sure you'd get good, and would become a better person. And it's good to be able to free yourself from unnecessary trappings.

However I can also live without ice in my water. I can eat food that is good for me but not tasty. I can look at pictures of nature and see what a tree looks like. I can drive the most economical car. Sure you can do all of these things, but it gets kind of...lifeless.

The kamidana is one of these kinds of things. It adds color to my life. It adds a ritual that I choose to be a part of. It add some spice. Why not have it, if I enjoy it, and it adds to my practice?

I can get snippy with all kinds of things. I can criticize someone for drinking a beer, or using too much salt. I can state facts that show why I'm right, and how these things are just not since able. But that's pretty damn dull, and not how I want to live my life.

My kamidana has a little spirit in it, the spirit of bu. He is in there every time I'm in the room, I put him there. But it's hard to get at what I'm saying on an inner net forum. Do I logically think there is a little floating man, no. But is the spirit of bu in my dojo, yes. How do we make an expression of that, well having a kamidana is a nice way to do it.

For me though, the Kamidana isnít a Shinto thing. I know thatís its roots, but I donít know anything about Shinto really. Iím not interested in studying Shinto, I like to study Aikido. The culture of Aikido has become independent of Shinto (for me any ways). I like the Japanese flare that comes with Aikido, but do I know a lot about Japanese Culture. But I do know plenty about Aikido culture. And that's what I train, Aikido, not Shinto or Japan.

So Iíd feel like a hypocrite talking about Shinto stuff that I donít know about. While Iíd like to know some more about it, itís not a priority for me. So my Kamidana is separate from organized religion, and is simply a part of my martial arts training.

Sorry for the long post guys.

Kind of summed it up nicely, though.
The same is essentially true for me as well. As an observation of 'Shinto', the practice is not necessry to me. But it does represent, in essence, even by way of 'shinto', the need to see all things from all directions, as in nature. Arguabley, the basis of shinto, but definitely the basis of my practice. A practice that trancends all religion yet brings them to their completion. Bowing is a reminder of my place in the natural order of things.

Avery Jenkins
07-28-2007, 05:27 PM
This is a very traditionally Japanese way of looking at things. Of course, traditionally in Japan you really didn't have any other choice but to just blindly copy everything the teacher did and hope that you eventually learned something. If the teacher didn't answer your questions, it wasn't like you could easily go ask someone else. Luckily now we have things like the internet where we can go ask other people, some of whom might have a better understanding of the subject than whomever our teacher happens to be, and who, perhaps unlike that teacher, are willing to share this information publicly.

While you are free to reject this information and go back to just blindly copying your teacher because that is the "traditional" way, you will have a hard time defending the argument that this is also the best way to learn a martial art. If you don't have any other information or options, then obviously you will have to just copy and learn what you can, but given the increasing availability of high-quality information today it would be foolish to suggest that we should throw this information out because it is not the traditional way of learning in martial arts. Those who do will fall behind while the rest of us keep learning from each other and advancing.

On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia. Frankly, I don't see how flapping your gums on the internet teaches much aikido. Entertaining, yes. But learning aikido is done on the mat, not on the screen.

Keep bowing. Eventually, the answer as to why you bow will come to you, because it is essentially an individual answer. Or, as I pointed out, you bow because you bow, and maybe there doesn't have to be a reason.

Janet Rosen
07-28-2007, 05:40 PM
Chris, your posts on the subject really resonate with me.

It is similar to an exchange I had a number of yrs ago w/ an aikido friend who was supervising creative people. He understood that there is a "state" we get into and he wondered, as a painter, how I do that. I explained that when I walk into my studio, I change from streetclothing to painting clothes. I lay my paints out in a particular order on my palette. I arrange my brushes. If I need to premix colors or tints, I do that. Then I'm ready to paint.
It is a ritual that serves to transition me from "not painting" to "painting"
Similarly, putting on my dogi, bowing in informally prior to doing some breathing and moving and centering, then bowing in with my instructor and classmates serves to transition me from "not in the dojo doing aikido" to "in the dojo doing aikido."

G DiPierro
07-28-2007, 06:07 PM
True, but as far as bowing goes, the important point, IMO, is that a Japanese person knows why they are bowing to shomen, or to a tokonoma, or to a kamidana.Sure, in the case of etiquette a Japanese person would understand these things because of their cultural upbringing. But let's consider a Western teacher who tells students to follow these matters of etiquette because that is the "traditional" way to do things or because that is how he learned to do it but he doesn't really understand why these things are done or what they mean. What then are the odds that this teacher is doing the same thing with regard to technical matters? It's an almost trivial step to go from saying "bow to the kamidana because that is what sensei does (or says to do)" without understanding what a kamidana is why or people bow to it to saying "do tenkan now because that is what sensei does (or says to do)" without understanding what purpose a tenken serves in a martial application or when it should be used. In fact, the poster to whom I originally responded equated those two same examples himself. Obviously, from a martial perspective the second problem is much worse than the first, but would say that anyplace you find the first you will almost certainly find the second.

G DiPierro
07-28-2007, 06:26 PM
On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia.Actually, aikido has only been around for a little over 50 years. Prior to the creation of judo about 100 years ago, Japanese martial arts were taught in small, local, usually independent dojos that were run very differently from the way most gendai budo dojos are run. In fact, much of the dojo etiquette that many people assume is "traditional" in martial arts actually has its source in Japanese pre-WWII nationalism.

The notion of large worldwide martial arts organizations is a very modern phenomenon. We tend to take the common availability of Asian martial arts in the US for granted today, but as recently as 20 years ago this was not the case at all. I think it's safe to say that the experiment of importing of these practices and their accompanying cultural baggage into an unfamiliar region is still a very new one.

However, since you believe it's impossible to learn anything from this kind of internet "gum-flapping," you are welcome to disregard this post and go back to your dojo, keep bowing, and never ask any questions. Maybe you will eventually come to understand something about what you are doing and maybe you will not, and even if you don't maybe you won't care.

eyrie
07-28-2007, 07:32 PM
On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia. Frankly, I don't see how flapping your gums on the internet teaches much aikido. Entertaining, yes. But learning aikido is done on the mat, not on the screen.

Keep bowing. Eventually, the answer as to why you bow will come to you, because it is essentially an individual answer. Or, as I pointed out, you bow because you bow, and maybe there doesn't have to be a reason. I disagree... learning (MA) isn't a solely tactile experience. Logical analysis of theoretical foundations, discussions, research etc. also form the basis of inquiry.

It is one thing to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas regarding rituals, customs and tradition. It is quite another to simply follow blindly in the hope that "one day" you'll figure it out.

Language, customs, ritual and social etiquette serve to create shared identity, and establish group norms. The original poster is right to question the meaning and purpose of such ritualistic behaviours. It is part of the process of learning and inquiry and hopefully serves to better one's understanding of the practice and reasons for its practice.

Not all learning takes place on the mat - a balance between theory, practice and analysis is, I think, mandatory. Just as not all learning takes place in places designated as schools or institutions of learning.

Don
07-29-2007, 01:17 PM
Well it is good to see so much good discussion going on after my original post. Hopefully it has promted people to think about what they do.

I have to agree with Ignatius. Much learning takes place off the mat. If it were not so, we wouldn't see the plethora of aikido books, or forums like this or the innumerable "conversations over a beer". What O'Sensei, first and second doshu have not put in print, we will not know except by remembered experiences from their students and by rational speculation. We all rediscover. Hopefully we move forward and aren't just marching in the same place.

Looks like bowing has as many varied reasons to as many people. That's ok. Even "because sensei does" is good for the newcomer. Hopefully over the years of practice, the essence of the technique is revealed to each of us, as is the essence of the other stuff we do.

Great discussion.

Greg Jennings
07-29-2007, 02:31 PM
Complimentary questions to provoke thought:

You're invited to a Roman Catholic wedding. Everyone is genuflecting. Do you or don't you? Why? Some people stand at certain times during the service. Do you or don't you? Why? Everyone goes to the front to receive communiion. Do you or don't you? Why?

Now, same thing at an Episcopal/Anglican wedding.

Regards,

eyrie
07-29-2007, 06:24 PM
Thanks for reminding me why I don't go to Church anymore, Greg... and why I try to avoid weddings and funerals if I can help it... :p

Rituals are an integral part of the socio-anthropological development of human culture, ranging from the religious, psychological, social and fraternal. Apart from providing a basis for shared values, beliefs and identity, ritual also provides structure, order, a sense of progression from one state to another (real or otherwise), or, more commonly, an initiation into a stage of one's life.

The question is whether such rituals have any real or symbolic meaning for you. As Chris suggests - the act of bowing to a ritual object or artifact, has both a real (change in mental/psychological/emotive states) and symbolic (i.e. the "spirit") value to him.

The other question, which I think is what Don initial proposition was, is whether the abandonment of such rituals detracts from the wholistic practice of aikido itself? Are there any inherent dangers in so doing? If so, is there a need to substitute a more culturally aligned ritual that reinforces a similar "spirit", ideal or meaning - real and/or symbolic? Would it make it more or less appropriate?

Some socio-anthropological researchers have suggested that such cultural displacement (e.g. impact on aboriginal society by early white-settlement policies) and lack of modern day rituals and passage rites, has led to societal breakdown and fragmentation, and may be the root cause of gang formation - a primal response to satisfy certain primitive, tribalistic urges.

Is there such a thing as an "aikido identity"? What is it? And are we in danger of losing it by supplanting established rituals and artifacts, or discarding them entirely?

More questions and stuff to think about... ;)

Don
07-29-2007, 07:28 PM
Hmmm invited to a Roman Catholic wedding, or any wedding for that matter, where there is an unfamiliar ritual. If I have no knowledge of what is going on and I am only there one time.....eh when in Rome do as the Romans do.....On the other hand, if I am seriously contemplating joining a denomination which has practices I am unfamiliar with, I would ask what in the heck is going on before I joined (personally). Maybe someone else doesn't and begins doing these things without any knowledge of them. Hopefully if they are serious about whatever church they join they will make a serious inquiry. Or maybe not. However, the attending the wedding scenario is more akin , in my opinion, to a one time thing where as joining the church is more akin to sustained aikido practice (religious aspects aside).

eyrie
07-29-2007, 08:08 PM
Interestingly enough, the saying "when in Rome..." originated from the Roman Catholic fasting ritual as practiced in Rome on a particular day of the week... ;)

Organized and institutionalized religion aside, I think it would be more appropriate to think of aikido practice, and all its trappings, as a structured organization of socialized rituals, such as those one might find in fraternities, sororities, or other social groups, organized around a set of established behavioral norms.

For instance, one might view the bowing in/out as a ceremonial gesture to demarcate the commencement and termination of a formal class, or as a vestige of aikido's cultural heritage.

One might perhaps view testing and ranking as a rite of passage and initiation to a higher level of understanding and social pecking order within the organization.

The practice of aikido technique itself could be viewed as performance of a ritual act or dance in which participants engage in prescribed ceremonial behaviour and reenactment.

The question as to what significance these prescribed rituals have to individuals is probably less important than what meaning it represents to the group as a whole.

For example, one could go thru the same ritual motions as others within the group, but individuals can either attach the same meaning, different meaning or no meaning to its significance.

Greg Jennings
07-30-2007, 04:13 AM
My experience is that people pick up on the "vibe" pretty quick and participate in those things that they are comfortable with but that there might be some line that they will not cross. For example, at the Catholic wedding, people will stand up, sit down, mostly kneel but do not genuflect, make the sign of the cross or take communion. At the Anglican ceremony some people will respond to the invitation to communion, others will not. But mostly the other aspects do not change.

My take on this is that they are feeling out the dividing line between where they are comfortable and taking part. Isn't that pretty much like a dojo?

I'd written the original post, but it was lost when my session dropped:

You visit a dojo, the instructor tells everyone that it's a special day, they should write the name of someone special to them on a piece of paper, burn it with incense and clap twice while the smoke is rising? Do you take part or no? Why?

Best regards,

Ron Tisdale
07-30-2007, 07:06 AM
Avery Jenkins wrote:
On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia. Frankly, I don't see how flapping your gums on the internet teaches much aikido. Entertaining, yes. But learning aikido is done on the mat, not on the screen.
Well, my instructor has written and verbal tests for some classes, and written and verbal tests for yudansha rankings. He is fairly well placed in the Yoshinkan, a reasonably "traditional" organization (I place that in quotes in light of Giancarlo's post above), so I will assume he has a clue. ;) Why do you think that is, if aikido can ONLY be learned on the mat?

I should also say that I do believe that time on the mat is *extremely* important to learning aikido. But does that really obviate the need for understanding?

Keep bowing. Eventually, the answer as to why you bow will come to you, because it is essentially an individual answer. Or, as I pointed out, you bow because you bow, and maybe there doesn't have to be a reason.

I guess there has to be a middle way for me...don't over analyse, but don't burry my head in the sand either. Check out some of the discussions in the forum for "arts other than aikido" or what ever it's called. Some would say that if your mind is not extremely active, you will miss the heart of aikido...on or off the mat.

Best,
Ron (the mind leads the qi)

Walker
07-30-2007, 09:44 AM
This is a perspective from outside aikido, but it may be illuminating:
ďAcceptance or rejection of proper reigi can be utilized to expose a student's dedication or shortcomings to a sensei. The student who constantly questions or refuses to embrace reigi is not suitable for continued training because he ultimately views his own opinions and desires as superior to the aims of the ryu.Ē
Yukio Takamura TSYR

Unfortunately, this debate may point to a failing with in aikido. That being, if we apply shintoist cultural/spiritual ritual within our practice, then it should function in some concrete way with our aikido.

In TSYR shinto beliefs and practices are integral to the body of practice and understanding. They are not optional and they serve a function within the gestalt of the tradition.

Presumably, aikido would be similar, but is it? We still have the ritual (albeit in some places, much reduced), but is it an empty shell without functionality? That is, if pressed, the tradition or representative thereof should be able to illustrate the purpose of the practice for the tradition. In such an instance a bunch of contradictory answers is as good as no answer.

My personal suspicion is that as aikido has become an activity more focused on the individual i.e. "my personal aikido" it has lost or never incorporated this type of information.

To paraphrase from Stanley Pranin:
Osensei was both more spiritual and more martial than is generally understood.

Don
07-30-2007, 12:15 PM
My judgement is that I'd bet in about 99% of the aikido dojo, the ritual is a shell of the original shinto meanings. My guess is that when aikido was introduced with the intention of spreading it, those who came over, IF they embraced any religious meaning (as many did not) they realized that in predominantly Christian countries, at the time, they would not be able to attract as big a following, and the religious aspects were diminished. And we return the original question of my post - do we really know why we bow? Or care?

Josh Reyer
07-30-2007, 01:38 PM
My judgement is that I'd bet in about 99% of the aikido dojo, the ritual is a shell of the original shinto meanings.

That assumes that the ritual was originally full of Shinto meaning, which is not likely the case. Shinto rituals for the laity involve clapping and hand-washing, one of which is only occasionally present in aikido dojos and the other which is completely absent. The other major Shinto ritual, done by the priests, is harai, which again is not a common feature of aikido etiquette.

There is bowing in Shinto ritual, but bowing is ubiquitous in Japanese culture. At Shinto shrine, at a Buddhist temple, at schools, at the workplace, in hospitals, at the street, in business situations, and social situations.

The dojo etiquette of aikido, in both the U.S. and Japan, is neither unique nor exclusive to aikido. It is found in judo, karate, kendo, shorinji kempo, and koryu bujutsu schools. It's even found in sports. Aside from the clapping, I can't think one aspect of etiquette and ritual in aikido that isn't simply good Japanese manners.

And we return the original question of my post - do we really know why we bow? Or care?

Well, I know why I bow, and I have a pretty good idea why Japanese people bow, and neither has anything to do with Shinto or Buddhism.

eyrie
07-30-2007, 05:39 PM
I want to pick up on what Doug wrote, particularly in relation to the quote by Takamura, because it highlights an important point regarding the original purpose of bowing - which is an act of subordination, particularly in East Asian culture.

Whether there is any religious or spiritual significance attached to such gestures of subordination is neither here nor there.

The point is, by embracing or adhering to the prescribed ritual/protocol, indicates one's willingness to subordinate one's self... as a sign of respect, reverence or deference to someone or something.

Walker
07-30-2007, 06:53 PM
Since I have stuck my nose in I will offer some thoughts as to why the groups I am associated with bow to the kamiza and kamidana.

My aikido group does a relatively elaborate shinto bow. We gassho, bow, gassho, bow, clap 4 times and bow. For us this summons the attention of the kami (of which Osensei is a part). The kami observe and watch over our practice. At the end of practice we do the same series of bows and claps. This lets the kami know we are finished.

In my jujutsu group we gassho, bow, clap twice, bow and the sensei recites a kigan requesting the protection of the kami and we clap twice. This even more explicitly calls the kami to observe and protect us during our training. We signal the end of training with bowing and clapping.

In both cases it is pretty explicit that we are calling the kami to participate and observe our training.

Our aikido lineage derives from someone who viewed Osensei as a kami and believed (at least in part) that his own power derived from contact with him.

Our jujutsu lineage has abundant shinto aspects, worldviews and practices that are believed to be the very core of the ryuha. Additionally we are very aware of our predecessors in the art, our duty to them and their continued involvement.

On a side note, when in Japan, several Japanese were surprised I knew how to behave at various shrines when we visited. In a way, I visit a "shrine" several times each week. I had a Japanese professor ask me if I was shinto. I don't consider myself very religious, but I told her, "Shinto no toki wa shinto desu." (When it is shinto time, at least, I am shinto.) She thought that was a great answer and was very amused.

Greg Jennings
07-30-2007, 07:27 PM
So, a couple of different thoughts. In both, the idea is that you have the option of defining proper etiquette.

Case 1:
You are a yudansha starting your own dojo. The pastor of one of the students offers space for free in his apostolic Christian church. Would you alter your opening ritual in any way? Why?

Case 2:
You are a yudansha starting a dojo in your large walk-out basement. You've spent enough time around Shinto and Omotokyo to know when a component is drawn from it. Do you keep the tradition even though you do not believe in Shinto or Omotokyo? Do you feel less genuine or real because of it or no? Why?

I'll ventually put down my cards, but not yet.

Regards,

Greg Jennings
07-30-2007, 07:34 PM
And we return the original question of my post - do we really know why we bow? Or care?

Since I'm posing questions, I guess that it's fair that I answer one once in awhile.

I've got a pretty good idea of why I bow and have felt very comfortable requiring students to bow versus say, shaking hands, in class.

And, yes, I care in a big way. To the point that if I didn't know why I bow, it would really bother me. I'd lot rather someone's waza suck than them be less than thoughtful about their practice.

Regards,

Avery Jenkins
07-30-2007, 08:02 PM
I disagree... learning (MA) isn't a solely tactile experience. Logical analysis of theoretical foundations, discussions, research etc. also form the basis of inquiry.

It is one thing to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas regarding rituals, customs and tradition. It is quite another to simply follow blindly in the hope that "one day" you'll figure it out.

Language, customs, ritual and social etiquette serve to create shared identity, and establish group norms. The original poster is right to question the meaning and purpose of such ritualistic behaviours. It is part of the process of learning and inquiry and hopefully serves to better one's understanding of the practice and reasons for its practice.

Not all learning takes place on the mat - a balance between theory, practice and analysis is, I think, mandatory. Just as not all learning takes place in places designated as schools or institutions of learning.

This is indeed, the answer I would expect from a martial arts student lacking a dojo affiliation...in your case yes, apparently much or all of your training occurs off the mat, which explains why you have so much difficulty with my answer.

Words, rationalizations, verbose analysis...they are of limited use when learning many art forms, aikido among them. As I said before, the apprentice system (not aikido itself) of learning is ancient, and there is sound didactical reasoning for that. But this is another thread.

Let me try this one more time, in a manner that is perhaps more acceptable to you. The answer to the question of why you bow is an individual one. You, and you alone, give the act meaning. As other posters have appropriately noted, similar rituals are conducted in a variety of contexts, all with such a vast array of answers to the question of why as to render the question nonsensical.

Knowing why one bows at certain times has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on your martial arts ability. Why, I would be willing to bet that there are phenomenal martial artists who never bow to a kamiza at all!

Yeesh.

eyrie
07-30-2007, 08:45 PM
Why thanks for the broadside and put down Dr Jenkins... rather than make assumptions about me, my dojo affiliation, or my intellectual abilities, perhaps you could try to observe the forum rules and adhere to netiquette. You don't have to like me, nor do I have to like you. But at least try to show some self-dignity and decorum.

I understood what you said... perfectly... I just happen to disagree with what you said. ;)

Avery Jenkins
07-31-2007, 09:10 AM
Why thanks for the broadside and put down Dr Jenkins... rather than make assumptions about me, my dojo affiliation, or my intellectual abilities, perhaps you could try to observe the forum rules and adhere to netiquette. You don't have to like me, nor do I have to like you. But at least try to show some self-dignity and decorum.

I understood what you said... perfectly... I just happen to disagree with what you said. ;)

My apologies, I came across stronger than I intended.

I re-read the rules, and apparently disagreeing with me is permitted on this forum. I'll try to get that oversight fixed.

Ron Tisdale
07-31-2007, 09:51 AM
I re-read the rules, and apparently disagreeing with me is permitted on this forum. I'll try to get that oversight fixed

I'm confused...
a) your oversight of the fact that people are allowed to disagree?

b) Or the oversight of the creator of the rules for this site?

If a, no need to reply, it's all good.

If b...

Best,
Ron

Erick Mead
07-31-2007, 12:32 PM
....The answer to the question of why you bow is an individual one. You, and you alone, give the act meaning. ... Knowing why one bows at certain times has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on your martial arts ability. I beg to differ. "Begin in etiquette and end in etiquette." Conflict is not an individualist enterprise -- it takes two or more people -- for those who are not pathologically disturbed. Many headless samurai would have attested (were their condition otherwise) that the failure to know why and how to bow appropriately may have significant martial consequences. Knowing why, when and to whom to bow -- literally, in the case of historic Japan -- and figuratively in terms of adjusting to the culturally preferred gestures of assertion or deference in a given situation (and a bow or failure to bow may be either or both) -- has EVERYTHING to do with one's martial ability ...

He who starts or continues a war unkowing, is no warrior, be it by failure to assert himself plainly, or by failure to defer appropriately -- and naturally. That is to say, with ease and grace in either case. Unnatural artifice or duplicity in either role can just as easily create offense and conflict as honest error.

Knowing why and doing so naturally is ki-musubi. For those that don't yet know what to do or why to do it, the rule of thumb for gracious conduct in almost any situation is easy -- pick out your equals in the room; do as they do. If wrong, you will be wrong about your choice of equals and a judgment of one's character will be made by that choice -- but this judgment of choices is unavoidable in any case -- whether you bow, or not, and whether you know why, or not.

eyrie
07-31-2007, 05:38 PM
No harm done, Avery... I'm afraid I just don't make a very good patient. I like to do my own medical research and would prefer a 2nd and 3rd opinion. ;)

BTW, thanks to Doug for sharing. Whilst I'm not one to "stand on ceremony", I think ritual is an important reminder of the intent and essence of the practice. So, it is refreshing to see that ritual and tradition is still alive and well.

Keith Larman
07-31-2007, 09:42 PM
I just recently saw the movie "Once". Great flick. Lots of people there and most of them started doing this really weird thing at the end. Many started slapping their hands together making this sound. "Clapping" is what I believe they called it. Apparently this is some reptilian brain throwback to some old tradition of showing appreciation for something by making this sound with your hands. It was really odd because no one from the movie was there -- good lord, it was just projected images on a screen. So how would they know there was some sort of appreciation? It made no sense at all.

"Clapping." What strange behavior...

And just think... Come Christmas most of us will be putting dead trees in our living rooms... Now what exactly does that have to do with Christian doctrine?

Me... I just watch sensei, do what he does, and hope to learn what he knows someday. Yeah, I do ask about why there's a whole lot of stuff you don't have to buy into in order to still train sincerely. I've been to dojo with a huge amount of traditional behaviors. And others that are extremely laid back. I worry more about the quality of the instruction personally...

When in Rome...

Fred Little
08-01-2007, 08:37 AM
Reading through the above exchanges, it comes to mind that the word "dojo" has a very specific history, which is summarized in the following excerpt from a talk by Robert Aitken.

Now I want to say a few words about the dojo. Dojo is a term that you are familiar with because it is used by people in akido, karate, judo and so on. It's even in the English dictionary. It is a sino-Japanese term made up of two ideographs. "Do" is the Japanese pronunciation of Tao, as in Tao-te-ching or Taoism. And Jo simply means place. The place of the Tao. Tao means "way". Arthur Whaley translates the Tao-te-Ching as the way and its power. But Tao does not mean only a way to - it does not simply mean a means. The opening words in the Tao-te-Ching are, "The way that can be followed is not the true way." So we should understand what Tao means.

When Kumara-jiva and other great translators set about rendering Buddhist Sanskrit into Chinese they had to find Chinese words that were equivalent to particular Sanskrit expressions. They used the word Tao to mean not only path but also realisation. They used Tao to translate Bodhi. So Tao is not only the path to realisation, it is realisation itself. Actually Dojo is a translation of the Sanskrit word Bodhi Manda. Bodhi is enlightenment, Manda is spot or place, the place or spot of enlightenment and it refers to the spot under the Bodhi tree where the Buddha sat when he saw the morning star and had his great realisation.

So, your meditation hall, your dojo, is your sacred place. Your cushions are your own personal dojo, your own personal Bodhi Manda, your own personal spot of realisation. Thus it is very important to keep the dojo as a sacred place of realisation. It must be spotlessly clean, it must be in regular order with a figure as the focal point of devotion - a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Before the Buddha or Bodhisattva, you should have incense, flowers and a candle. The candle represents enlightenment, the flowers represent compassion, the two sides of any genuine religious experience. The incense is an offering to the Buddha, as of course candle and flowers are as well.

While it is certainly common in the martial arts world to refer to a martial arts training hall as a dojo, the usage isn't universal. A number of such schools, in both Japan and the West, use the word juku, which can be translated as "private school" in their formal names, as distinct from the word dojo.

All of this raises a question that is related to that of the relationship between Buddhist practice, Shinto practice and martial arts practice, particularly in the West. I would also note that, Josh Reyer's largely accurate and informative parsing of some of the differences between Shinto and Buddhist practice, most contemporary scholars of Japanese religious practice have discarded the sectarian narrative that draws sharp distinctions between those practices and now take a much more nuanced view that frankly asserts that much of what is regarded as "pure Shinto" is in fact refigured and nativized Buddhist practice.

That said, here is my question: Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names? Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as "clubs" or "schools" "academiesm" or some similar name which does convey the notion of education and training, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice?

What do folks think?

Best,

Fred Little

MM
08-01-2007, 08:59 AM
That said, here is my question: Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names? Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as "clubs" or "schools" "academiesm" or some similar name which does convey the notion of education and training, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice?

What do folks think?

Best,

Fred Little

Would it be more accurate? Yes, I think so.

But I also think that the "Americanism" of the word "dojo" has been too deeply entrenched to ever change it to have its original meaning. We joke about "McDojos", but the serious side is that it is based upon an all too truthful meaning. In America, it isn't necessarily about tradition and true meaning, but more about the "Americanized" version.

For those who follow a more "traditional" approach, they will have studied the meaning and will act appropriately. For those who don't, they use the "Americanized" words because they are words and/or phrases that are common and well-known. And for the majority, they are caught somewhere in between, meandering until some experience shows them otherwise. :)

Thanks,
Mark

Erick Mead
08-01-2007, 12:31 PM
While it is certainly common in the martial arts world to refer to a martial arts training hall as a dojo, the usage isn't universal. A number of such schools, in both Japan and the West, use the word juku, which can be translated as "private school" in their formal names, as distinct from the word dojo.

All of this raises a question that is related to that of the relationship between Buddhist practice, Shinto practice and martial arts practice, particularly in the West. I would also note that, Josh Reyer's largely accurate and informative parsing of some of the differences between Shinto and Buddhist practice, most contemporary scholars of Japanese religious practice have discarded the sectarian narrative that draws sharp distinctions between those practices and now take a much more nuanced view that frankly asserts that much of what is regarded as "pure Shinto" is in fact refigured and nativized Buddhist practice. Actually, a great deal of Neo-Confucianism in native dress underlies Shinto stemming from Norinaga's exposition of Kojiki (and despite his efforts at being explicitly "sectarian") and its interpretation, generally, and Ueshiba's interpretation of Shinto, specifically. "Nuanced" is an understatement of massive proportions when it comes to teasing out intellectual heritage in a country such as Japan. But leave that aside for the moment ...

That said, here is my question: Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names? Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as "clubs" or "schools" "academiesm" or some similar name which does convey the notion of education and training, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice? I don't know, I think it's a false distinction, personally. Neither the Founder nor second Doshu made much of the linguistic distinction in their works. In The Spirit of Aikido Taitetsu Unno actually translates Doshu as relating that his father first started "Ueshiba Juku" and refers to it in two paragraphs interchangeably as "Ueshiba juku and "the dojo."

More critically, I think the concept is unnecessary. The practice imparts its spiritual dimensions without the need for any intent beyond doing what the art requires to perform its practice. I have seen too many who are different from when they started not to know that this is true -- and those that do not, or are not likely to change in that way, do not stay.

FWIW.

Josh Reyer
08-01-2007, 01:48 PM
All of this raises a question that is related to that of the relationship between Buddhist practice, Shinto practice and martial arts practice, particularly in the West. I would also note that, Josh Reyer's largely accurate and informative parsing of some of the differences between Shinto and Buddhist practice, most contemporary scholars of Japanese religious practice have discarded the sectarian narrative that draws sharp distinctions between those practices and now take a much more nuanced view that frankly asserts that much of what is regarded as "pure Shinto" is in fact refigured and nativized Buddhist practice.

That's may be true, but I think that matters to the Japanese laity about as much as Christianity's links to the antecedents of Judaism matter to modern Christians. While a modern Japanese person finds no contradiction in following both Shinto and Buddhist rituals, nonetheless the distinction between the two is kept, and in current practice the two are quite distinct, wouldn't you agree?

That said, here is my question: Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names? Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as "clubs" or "schools" "academiesm" or some similar name which does convey the notion of education and training, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice?

What do folks think?


Again, I follow an idiomatic perspective. Despite Mr. Aitken's learned explanation, in everyday Japanese life a dojo has no religious connotation in and of itself, and this is reflected in Japanese dictionaries, which list the definition as "a place to train and practice martial arts" separately from the definition as a place of Buddhist enlightenment. Professional wrestling gyms are often called "dojo". The current soke of Ono-ha Itto-ryu kenjutsu is a Christian minister who practices in a church. The name of his practice hall? Reigakudo Dojo.

So I see nothing wrong with a group with absolutely no interest in East Asian religion whatsoever calling their practice space a dojo, so long as they were practicing a Japanese martial art.

Kim S.
08-01-2007, 02:41 PM
Think of the word, church. Church originally met a place of public worship for the local community and it still holds that definition. Normally, the word is associated with Christianity, but there are other religions that call their place of worship, a church. Now the word is becoming secularized by Hollywood and postmodern groups. It is very common for a non-religious couple (aka I don't attendant my own religion's religious services very often).

The same can be said for dojo and bowing. Maybe in the beginning dojo and bowing contain more religious significance, but as time went on people's attitudes and opinions changed. Language is constantly changing whether verbal or physical.

eyrie
08-01-2007, 05:55 PM
So, your meditation hall, your dojo, is your sacred place. Your cushions are your own personal dojo, your own personal Bodhi Manda, your own personal spot of realisation. Thus it is very important to keep the dojo as a sacred place of realisation. It must be spotlessly clean, it must be in regular order with a figure as the focal point of devotion - a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Before the Buddha or Bodhisattva, you should have incense, flowers and a candle. The candle represents enlightenment, the flowers represent compassion, the two sides of any genuine religious experience. The incense is an offering to the Buddha, as of course candle and flowers are as well. I wonder if the Buddha would turn in his grave if he knew that his image has been turned into an object of deification and religious devotion....

Whilst I concur with the need to keep one's sacred place clean (the idea that environmental clutter reflects a cluttered mind and vice versa), I think symbolic representation can also be carried too far.

One of my primary school teachers once said to me, "You don't have to go to Church to pray. You can pray anywhere, at any time". It struck me at the time that it was a rather enlightened perspective of the Christian faith, given that God is supposedly omnipresent.

Whilst I am also aware of the spiritual/philosophical underpinnings of many East Asian TMAs, its full extent is a foreign concept to my Western upbringing, and I suspect, many in the West.

However, since the Tao beget the 10,000 things, I don't see why it could not be referred to as a dojo, so long as it remains a place where the Way can be perceived and practiced. That is, irrespective of whether one is consciously aware of the fact, or an unwitting participant.

That said, a dojo also need not necessarily be bound by 4 walls and a mat.... nor does the presence or absence of symbolic artifacts define or detract from it.

eyrie
08-01-2007, 06:34 PM
Edit time ran out... IIRC, the Bodhi Manda was simply the spot under the Bodhi tree where Buddha attained enlightenment and where he subsequently held "court".

Shannon Frye
08-05-2007, 10:26 PM
Some interesting info, and some great responses above.
To put my own 2 cents in, I think that "doing" without "questioning" is not a very American cultural trait. I remember being on a yahoo group of a certain instructor in CA, who complained endlessly about how Americans did things that were true to their culture, and not the "good old ways".
As others have stated, I have no issue bowing to those who have gone before. Or, as in Japanese culture, to anything that reminds me to remain "little" and a part of something greater than myself. But the problem is linked to a strength of aikido - that each person is there for different reasons. The bow can be interpreted so many different ways (showing respect, because it's cultural, peer pressure, humbling oneself, religious reasons, etc) that it's hard to nail down one answer to "why?".

My best advice is to think it through, find an acceptable reason that sits well with you, and go from there. Make the reason for the bow your own.

JohnSeavitt
08-06-2007, 11:30 AM
... but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice?

Seriously bad reading of a false distinction. While I am happy to draw discuss distinctions between "sports club" and "dojo", the suggestion that anything that isn't a Buddhist temple can't be a dojo is ridiculous. "Michi" has existed for some time in Japan, and certainly has its usage and meaning there. Lowry has at least one essay on the subject (http://www.michionline.org/summer99/page5.html), and I'm sure there's plenty of related comments.

John

Fred Little
08-06-2007, 11:57 AM
Seriously bad reading of a false distinction. While I am happy to draw discuss distinctions between "sports club" and "dojo", the suggestion that anything that isn't a Buddhist temple can't be a dojo is ridiculous. "Michi" has existed for some time in Japan, and certainly has its usage and meaning there. Lowry has at least one essay on the subject (http://www.michionline.org/summer99/page5.html), and I'm sure there's plenty of related comments.

John

Mr. Seavitt:

Did you have a substantive argument to make, or are you going to confine yourself to a misreading of my post, an unsupported assertion, and a botched hyperlink to an article that, however interesting and gracefully written, has little or nothing to do with your apparent point?

Regards,

Fred Little

JohnSeavitt
08-06-2007, 01:18 PM
Did you have a substantive argument to make, or are you going to confine yourself to a misreading of my post, an unsupported assertion, and a botched hyperlink to an article that, however interesting and gracefully written, has little or nothing to do with your apparent point?

My, touchy, aren't we? My "substantive argument" is that your assertions "the word "dojo" has a very specific history" and "most contemporary scholars ... frankly asserts that much of what is regarded as "pure Shinto" is in fact refigured and nativized Buddhist practice", and your quoted ""Do" is the Japanese pronunciation of Tao, as in Tao-te-ching or Taoism" are significant oversimplfications. Your suggestion that it is out-of-place to assign the name "dojo" to training groups that fail to "carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice" simply extends this oversimplification.

I suggest that the Japanese kanji character called "michi", and pronounced "do" has a usage and meaning (and has, for quite some time) that is more complex than a simple reference to Chinese Taoism. It certainly is often rendered as 'the way', but not as "This Only Way That Eschews All Other Ways", neh? There are certainly some traditions that contain as part of their historical practice a close relationship with -some- elements of your monolithic "East Asian religious practice" - I'm thinking of the role that Zen Buddhism has played in the philosophy and aethetics of Sado (the Urasenke family men live and train at least briefly in Zen temples before they become iemoto), to say nothing of the observance of past figures within the tradition through the Shinto-informed ancestor worship/honoring rites. Another distinct (and modern) but still extreme example (by comparison to the norm, at least) would be Ueshiba-sensei and his ... uhh ... pursuit of Omoto-kyo teachings. Still, other traditions (I'm thinking of kendo and judo, for example) have a view of their practice as a practice by which one improves ones' person in ways more broadly than the purely technical, yet without much mention of "East Asian religious practice". Which is right? We get to decide this here, with a bunch of non-native speakers parsing the bejeezus out of some Japanese words that anybody could find in any decent Japanese dictionary?

Why stop there? Should folks change their name of their tradition to drop the 'michi': aiki-, ju-, sa-, ken-, simply because somebody asserts that their traditions fail to observe some correct "East Asian religious practice"?

It's certainly the case that the indigenous Shinto and imported Buddhist practices have undergone quite a merger in Japan. I don't think it is the same to say that it is now "refigured and nativized Buddhist practice" anymore than saying voodoo is "refigured and nativized Christian practice". It's a little more complex. Likewise, the spiritual/'religous' background to a bunch of these traditions are pretty varied in focus and degree.

My point with the linked article was to draw an outside example of the usage of the word to mean something more general than "Taoism". While I certainly think that dojo is more than folks that show up once a week to ... whatever, but I do not agree that a kamidana at the front of the space is what makes that difference.

... a botched hyperlink ...

Not sure what your problem is, but I'll assume you've managed to work it out. Good work; sorry to have added this incredible complication to your day. Now relax.

John

Ron Tisdale
08-06-2007, 01:38 PM
Jeez, maybe we all need a chill pill.

B,
R

Erick Mead
08-06-2007, 02:04 PM
My "substantive argument" is that your assertions "the word "dojo" has a very specific history" and "most contemporary scholars ... frankly asserts that much of what is regarded as "pure Shinto" is in fact refigured and nativized Buddhist practice", and your quoted ""Do" is the Japanese pronunciation of Tao, as in Tao-te-ching or Taoism" are significant oversimplfications. In The Spirit of Aikido, Doshu's translator, Taitetsu Unno, specifically makes the dojo::bodhimanda comparison in his foreword. One may presume that Doshu read and approved the foreword to his book, so at least as regards aikido Fred's original point in comparing them is well taken -- although I am quite sure Fred has no doubt of the complexities associated with any religious thought that touches on Japan -- much less Buddhism.

Fred Little
08-06-2007, 06:29 PM
Your suggestion that it is out-of-place to assign the name "dojo" to training groups that fail to "carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice" simply extends this oversimplification.

What your argument thus far tells me is that you would do well to reread Dave Lowry's article very carefully and that I may be remiss in not foregrounding the extent to which a great deal of "East Asian religious practice" can easily be mistaken for prosaic secular activity if you're not as attuned to implicit as well as explicit phenomena.

I suggest that the Japanese kanji character called "michi", and pronounced "do" has a usage and meaning (and has, for quite some time) that is more complex than a simple reference to Chinese Taoism.

There is Chinese ideogram sometimes read as "michi" in Japanese. It already carried layers of both Buddhist and Taoist meaning when imported to Japan, and it has certainly added layers in Japan. Beyond that, you're arguing with a strawman of your own creation that has little to do with what I wrote and nothing to do with what I think.

Still, other traditions (I'm thinking of kendo and judo, for example) have a view of their practice as a practice by which one improves ones' person in ways more broadly than the purely technical, yet without much mention of "East Asian religious practice". /QUOTE]

Please see my note above about the explicit and implicit, then take a moment to reconsider my original question, which did not reference a "mention" but spoke of "no interest or an active disinterest."

[QUOTE=John Seavitt;185689] While I certainly think that dojo is more than folks that show up once a week to ... whatever, but I do not agree that a kamidana at the front of the space is what makes that difference.John

Neither do I agree that a kamidana at the front of the space is what makes that difference. I've been in dojo with kamidana that were dead and dojo without that were absolutely vibrant.

But as above, you've ascribed an argument to me that I didn't make at all.

My question was narrower than even the kendo and judo example you use above. Let me make it plainer: What about those folks who are just studying technique as a means in itself and have religious objections to considering the art as anything more than mere technique?

Sure, folks can do whatever they want, and I can't make any rules.

But on the other hand, maybe there are some devout practitioners of one of the three Abrahamc religions who would feel MORE comfortable if they kept their martial practice and their religious practice clear and distinct. Which, strangely enough, was the real point.

Best,

FL

Josh Reyer
08-07-2007, 12:33 AM
My question was narrower than even the kendo and judo example you use above. Let me make it plainer: What about those folks who are just studying technique as a means in itself and have religious objections to considering the art as anything more than mere technique?

As I mentioned earlier, Japanese people in Japan with no interest in combining religion and technique still refer to their practice spaces as dojo. So I'm afraid I fail to see why it would be a problem for non-Japanese practioners of Japanese arts.

"Dojo" has an etymology in Buddhist lore and practice, but that doesn't mean that is it's modern meaning any more than "thug life" refers to the Thuggee.

Fred Little
08-07-2007, 07:55 AM
As I mentioned earlier, Japanese people in Japan with no interest in combining religion and technique still refer to their practice spaces as dojo. So I'm afraid I fail to see why it would be a problem for non-Japanese practioners of Japanese arts.

"Dojo" has an etymology in Buddhist lore and practice, but that doesn't mean that is it's modern meaning any more than "thug life" refers to the Thuggee.

Josh --

See Erick's note above.

Of course, you're right about the Japanese norm.

My view is that setting one's own standards by the lowest common denominator is always a bad idea within one's own culture and a worse idea in borrowings from other cultures.

But opinions about that vary.

Best,

FL

jennifer paige smith
08-07-2007, 08:37 AM
Jeez, maybe we all need a chill pill.

B,
R

Would that be the red chill pill or the blue?:)

jen

Fred Little
08-07-2007, 09:07 AM
Would that be the red chill pill or the blue?:)

jen

It's a purple pill made especially for aikido practitioners and marketed under the brand name CONNEXIUM.

Thanks! You've all been great! I'll be here through Thursday, don't forget to tip your server on the way out.

FL

jennifer paige smith
08-07-2007, 09:14 AM
It's a purple pill made especially for aikido practitioners and marketed under the brand name CONNEXIUM.

Thanks! You've all been great! I'll be here through Thursday, don't forget to tip your server on the way out.

FL

Oh now I see the mistake. I picked up the Indigo Blue box marked CONUNDRUM.

Thanks to you to.

Ron Tisdale
08-07-2007, 11:00 AM
MMM I love a good conundrum... {licking lips} ;)

B,
R

Erick Mead
08-07-2007, 12:00 PM
As I mentioned earlier, Japanese people in Japan with no interest in combining religion and technique still refer to their practice spaces as dojo. So I'm afraid I fail to see why it would be a problem for non-Japanese practioners of Japanese arts.

Sure, folks can do whatever they want, and I can't make any rules.

But on the other hand, maybe there are some devout practitioners of one of the three Abrahamc religions who would feel MORE comfortable if they kept their martial practice and their religious practice clear and distinct. Which, strangely enough, was the real point. It is a point of distinct difference in culture. In Japan, religions are typically treated at the individual level, if you will permit the analogy, largely as suits of clothes, worn as appropriate for some occasions, doffed and others donned when deemed more appropriate for other occasions, and some may be more comfortable and beloved than others and worn more often than not. Motoori Norinaga, the arch-Shinto revivalist, himself had a Buddhist funeral and then a Shinto burial. Many is the white-gown and tuxedo officiated wedding in Japan among absolutely non-Christian parties.

In part, this surface of non-chalance disguises a deeper sensibility or feeling for things (Norinaga's mono no aware) that the Western eye perceives as spirituality and then seeks to connect to defined ritual observance. The Japanese, in contrast, tend to distinguish between that very important deep sensibility and a lighter sense of rituality threaded throughout their experience as opposed to the various formal ritual observances they may recognize on occasion and which to Western sensibilities are occasion of greater spiritual import.

Westerners, to extend the analogy, look at religion as something more indelibly imprinted in their persons, like tattoos vice clothes. Western traditions see religious observances and affiliations as marking one in a more durable way from an identifiable point in the arc of one's life (conversion experiences are defining in the Abrahamic tradition, in a way that is not typically seen in Japan). This means a marking of things into more defined categories of profane and sacred that is not the case in Japan where the distinction is far more vague and ephemeral. The strength of spiritual feeling is not generally less in one than in the other, I deem, but they are differently distributed.

Thus, there is a disconnect in the way that ritual observances connect to spiritual sensibility in the inclusive, but more casual Japanese way -- and the way that ritual observances connect to spiritual sensibility in the more exclusive but more intense Western way. Each is both deeper and yet also more shallow in its own way and they form in-yo complements in many ways, no doubt explaining the mutual fascinations.

Baseball, on the other hand? Go figure.

Josh Reyer
08-07-2007, 02:34 PM
Josh --

See Erick's note above.

Of course, you're right about the Japanese norm.

My view is that setting one's own standards by the lowest common denominator is always a bad idea within one's own culture and a worse idea in borrowings from other cultures.

But opinions about that vary.

Best,

FL

My view is in naturalness above all else - "idiomatic" usage and behavior if you will.

For example, I'm in favor of doing away with terms like "sensei", "deshi", "sempai", "kohai", "shihan" etc. when studying Japanese martial arts in non-Japanese contexts. Why? Because the vast majority of people can't use them right. Like a repeatedly copied video tape, the meaning and understanding of Japanese terms often become more and more degraded.

That said, "dojo" is in Webster's. Its use in the West overlaps almost perfectly with its use in Japan. Its usage is idiomatic and natural. Is there a difference between how Joe Judoplayer and Judoka Taro use the word "dojo"? I don't think so.

On the other hand, Yagyu Shinkage ryu kenjutsu is deeply steeped in Buddhism, both Zen and Mikkyo. And yet the Owari line practices in various gyms and community sports centers around Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. The old Nagoya dojo, used by the Yagyu family since the Edo period, burned down during the war. In an interview for a kendo magazine, the 21st soke Yagyu Nobuharu said that people had suggested to him that he build a new dojo, but he didn't think it was necessary; as long as the practice was done right, the outward appearance was not important.

That informs pretty much how I see it. Standing in a church doesn't make you religious. Practicing your Zen kenjutsu (or Shinto aikido) in a community center doesn't mean your practice is devoid of spiritual content. And when hundreds of millions of Japanese people use the word "dojo" with no thought at all of the place where Siddhartha found enlightenment, I don't think it's for the Westerners to reach back into the deeps of etymology and imbue the modern word with more meaning than it needs, regardless of what Taitetsu Unno wrote. Because, IMO, there's a hell of a difference between saying (paraphrasing), "You know, the word dojo originally meant the place where Buddha found enlightenment, so we should be mindful of spiritual enlightenment in our practice..." and saying (again, paraphrasing) "'Dojo' once meant the place where Buddha found enlightenment, so maybe it's not the best word for Western practitioners interested only in technique to describe their practice space." Particularly when the former is said in the context of looking at the spiritual paradigm of aikido practice, and the term in general is used without spiritual connotations.

Fred Little
08-07-2007, 02:56 PM
Because, IMO, there's a hell of a difference between saying (paraphrasing), "You know, the word dojo originally meant the place where Buddha found enlightenment, so we should be mindful of spiritual enlightenment in our practice..." and saying (again, paraphrasing) "'Dojo' once meant the place where Buddha found enlightenment, so maybe it's not the best word for Western practitioners interested only in technique to describe their practice space."

Nicely done!

FL

Erick Mead
08-07-2007, 03:41 PM
... I don't think it's for the Westerners to reach back into the deeps of etymology and imbue the modern word with more meaning than it needs, ... Why not? How do you think meaning is established? A word may mean things differently at different times and places, even in the same language, (shouting "Fire!" is not the same thing depending on whether one is in a forest, theater or a battlefield). But they are not unrelated and a consideraiton of their current use and history is not pointless when rumagging around behind the veil of language to get at something more profound. Siddartha may have one or two things to say about that -- and then also, one or two things he may have given but did not have to say :D ... Besides we are only doing to the Japanese terminology what they first did to the Chinese anyway ---- call it cultural karma.

If it suits a circumstance with overlapping or absent usages in our own tongue better than our own words -- we use it. English is a greedy packrat language, more interested in picking nifty tidbits off the various vines in poorly marked forests than in any grand conceptual consistency of some proprietary linguistic orchard.

Josh Reyer
08-07-2007, 09:33 PM
Why not?

Because it's unidiomatic. The word used in English is not arbitrary - it was chosen to follow Japanese nomenclature.

At core, I disagree with Mr. Little's core premise. He took a very interesting point made by Robert Aitken in a very specialized context (Buddhist practice) and applied it to a very broad context that I doubt Mr. Aitken intended it to be applied to. He asked, a) "Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names?" b) "Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as 'clubs' or 'schools' 'academiesm' or some similar name which does convey the notion of education and training, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice?" and c) "What about those folks who are just studying technique as a means in itself and have religious objections to considering the art as anything more than mere technique?"

To my mind, the answers is very clear. A) Yes. It is completely normal in Japan, where the word comes from. B) I don't see it as "more accurate" as simply changing from the Japanese idiom to the English idiom. C) They have nothing to worry about, as the word "dojo", as commonly used in Japan today, and as borrowed into the West, simply means a place to practice martial arts.

If one wants to associate the word "dojo" with its early Buddhist meaning, that's completely a free choice. Knock yourself out. Think of the character 武 as "stopping spears" while you're at it. Whatever helps your practice. It should just be recognized that these are personal interpretations, and not common ones.

Let me ask a counter question to illustrate how bizarre I find this question. Is it appropriate for schools, fitness clubs, and German secondary education schools with no interest or active disinterest in exercising naked to use the word "gymnasium" to describe where they exercise/learn? Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as 'exercise space' or 'training place' 'high school' or some similar name which does convey the notion of exercise and education, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with Greek nude competition? What about those folks who are just exercising and competing as means in themselves and have religious objections to considering the exercise/competition as anything more than mere physical exertion?

Erick Mead
08-07-2007, 11:26 PM
Why not? Because it's unidiomatic. The word used in English is not arbitrary - it was chosen to follow Japanese nomenclature. The looser and western usage IS idiomatic:
"form of speech peculiar to a people or place," from M.Fr. idiome, from L.L. idioma "a peculiarity in language," from Gk. idioma "peculiarity, peculiar phraseology," from idioumai "I make my own," from idios "personal, private," prop. "particular to oneself,"

The one thing about being peculiar to oneself is that one has no one to answer to. (There's a koan in there somewhere) .

In short, words mean what we agree that they mean, nothing more and nothing less. The only question is whether one is a party to a given agreement on a given word at a given place and time. Problems arise with untoward assumptions in changing usage, which is one point of Fred's enquiry -- whether usage and an aspect of tradition have departed so far that new usage or modified usage may make sense

At core, I disagree with Mr. Little's core premise. ... "Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names?" Not at all. Fred is just negotiating on a point of the usage in this setting, explicitly doing what we all collectively do less conciously as words shift their meaning and associations.

The degree of the reaction seems out of proportion.
But in a charitable view of your tagline I have some suspicion why:

Somtyme this world was so stedfast and stable
That mannes word was obligacioun;
And now it is so fals and deceivable
That word and deed, as in conclusioun,
Ben nothing lyk, for turned up-so-doun
Is al this world for mede and wilfulnesse,
That al is lost for lak of stedfastnesse.

jennifer paige smith
08-08-2007, 08:12 AM
One of the things I like about bowing and just doing it without getting my brain overly involved is that it takes on my inner asociations, my inner respect and my inner workings and contextualizes them in a sharing aspect.
Just like in church, you can be told or tell someone what they should be praying to or praying like, but inside that person will naturally do what connects them most deeply to what they value, wether I think it fits or not. And definitely within the same school, the same teaching, the same ritual sequence, individuals have come away with completely different interpretations of the same material.
My friend who has been off the mat for 8 years (back this month, yay!!!) read this forum as an introduction to aikiweb and he said
"When did everyone get so complicated? Sit down, be on time, shut-up, bow and train. What does it matter the reason we bow? We just bow . Its part of the package. Get over it."
I laughed in total agreement because this is what we both came away with after years of formal ritual. We empty the vessel to prepare for practice, not just to fill it with some other matter.

But talking is good and so is sharing ideas and I, for one, am enjoying all of the history, information, nit-picking and everything else that is squirming around on the floor of this forum.

It doesn't seem that anyone of us is getting any other of us closer to god, so it comes down to what fills us during practice, including bowing.
or so I say.

tarik
08-08-2007, 09:41 AM
My friend who has been off the mat for 8 years (back this month, yay!!!)

Anyone I know?

read this forum as an introduction to aikiweb and he said "When did everyone get so complicated? Sit down, be on time, shut-up, bow and train. What does it matter the reason we bow? We just bow . Its part of the package. Get over it."

I laughed in total agreement because this is what we both came away with after years of formal ritual. We empty the vessel to prepare for practice, not just to fill it with some other matter.

:)

So very true and yet also so very untrue at the same time. This embodies the paradox of our training is that we place value and meaning into our actions in the process of learning to detach ourselves from over-valuing them.

Q&A sessions with teachers have often been an amusing time for me because, more than half the time, the real answer in my mind while listening to the question was "just train." At the same time, real stuff and real understanding grows out of the sharing of the the ideas and information around practice.

But talking is good and so is sharing ideas and I, for one, am enjoying all of the history, information, nit-picking and everything else that is squirming around on the floor of this forum.

These conversations and explorations of ideas in and around our training is training, as far as I'm concerned, and has been perhaps one of the most important parts of my practice for over 10 years.

It strikes me that understanding where the terms come from and how they're used differently in modern contexts by different people is more information that can be used, preserved, or discarded on an individual basis, just as people often pay attention to how different teachers execute technique and keep what feels right to them.

At the same time:

If one wants to associate the word "dojo" with its early Buddhist meaning, that's completely a free choice. Knock yourself out. Think of the character 武 as "stopping spears" while you're at it. Whatever helps your practice. It should just be recognized that these are personal interpretations, and not common ones.

I think Josh makes a very important point. If what one wants to practice and understand is as close to the original content as we fallible humans can reach, one must at least understand and accept the most accurate understanding available before choosing to change or select a personal interpretations which certainly do change over time as in the above example. Correcting even old mis-translations such as the common one for 武 (bu) is important if one wants to understand the real stuff underlying our study.

The mythology exists everywhere, even in Japan, so these are muddy waters that can be navigated only with careful research and a release of ego.

To me this is the essence of being a fillable vessel, that we shape ourselves to the knowledge rather than the other way around and be educated by it until we are finally free to make our own "Way".

Regards,

Fred Little
08-08-2007, 09:42 AM
Because it's unidiomatic. The word used in English is not arbitrary - it was chosen to follow Japanese nomenclature.

True enough. But it is also inescapably true that, for better or for worse, Western interest in Japanese martial arts has been inextricably bound up with an ill-defined but omnipresent interest in the spiritual aspects of those practices, as a cursory review of the martial arts section of any book store makes clear.

At core, I disagree with Mr. Little's core premise. He took a very interesting point made by Robert Aitken in a very specialized context (Buddhist practice) and applied it to a very broad context that I doubt Mr. Aitken intended it to be applied to. He asked, a) "Is it appropriate for martial arts schools that are operated with no interest in or an active disinterest in those spiritual traditions to use the word "dojo" as part of their names?" b) "Would it not be more accurate for them to refer to themselves as 'clubs' or 'schools' 'academiesm' or some similar name which does convey the notion of education and training, but does not carry the implication of a linkage with East Asian religious practice?" and c) "What about those folks who are just studying technique as a means in itself and have religious objections to considering the art as anything more than mere technique?"

To my mind, the answers is very clear. A) Yes. It is completely normal in Japan, where the word comes from. B) I don't see it as "more accurate" as simply changing from the Japanese idiom to the English idiom. C) They have nothing to worry about, as the word "dojo", as commonly used in Japan today, and as borrowed into the West, simply means a place to practice martial arts.

Your characterization of Aitken is inaccurate. While the context of Aitken's argument is the practice of meditation in a particular Zen tradition, the argument itself is a radical reading of the word "dojo" that allows its poetic meaning to shine in much the same way that polishing a piece of tarnished silver removes the oxidation that hides its brightness. This is not at all a question of a personal interpretation, it is an act of etymological rescue from the forces of entropy.

Moreover, your reductive insistence that the word, as borrowed, "simply means a place to practice martial arts," is tantamount to saying that "martial arts, as practiced in Japan, do not have now and have never had any explicit or implicit value beyond the technical development of physical skills." This is clearly not the case, even in kendo and judo, which are arguably the most secularized and functionalist of the Japanese martial arts.

My more immediate concern, however, is that I find myself increasingly struck by the extent to which practitioners in many "dojo" are practicing something that is neither a martial art nor a martial way, but merely a desultorily and inattentively practiced fitness and friendship activity.

And I can't for the life of me figure that out at all.

But that's another thread.

Best,

FL

Erick Mead
08-08-2007, 10:52 AM
If what one wants to practice and understand is as close to the original content as we fallible humans can reach, one must at least understand and accept the most accurate understanding available before choosing to change or select a personal interpretations which certainly do change over time as in the above example. ... The mythology exists everywhere, even in Japan, so these are muddy waters that can be navigated only with careful research and a release of ego.I think it is fair to say that O Sensei put as much store by myth as by science.

The late Stephen Jay Gould wrote a eloquent defense of the old Catholic concept of magisterium or teaching authority in these differing areas, with specific reference to religion and science -- but the approach is much more broadly applicable. It is an age-old debate -- whether the Truth is manifest in catalog or narrative. Myth is human narrative. Science is physical catalog. Neither alone is adequate, if you ask me, and neither is in a position to adequately judge the approach of the latter, either, so long as each respects the boundaries of their respective authority. The boundaries, Gould observed, often interleave like the fingers of two hands joined. That does not mean there are not boundaries that need respecting. History (particularly intellectual history) and language are two areas in which his point has particular force because the two approaches are deeply intertwined.

Correcting even old mis-translations such as the common one for 武 (bu) is important if one wants to understand the real stuff underlying our study. Which one would that be? :D

tarik
08-08-2007, 11:43 AM
I think it is fair to say that O Sensei put as much store by myth as by science.

And? Remarkable skills and visions aside, he's not an example of the kind of person I want to be.

It is an age-old debate -- whether the Truth is manifest in catalog or narrative. Myth is human narrative. Science is physical catalog. Neither alone is adequate, if you ask me, and neither is in a position to adequately judge the approach of the latter, either, so long as each respects the boundaries of their respective authority.

I quite agree. Where are the boundaries?

Regards,

jennifer paige smith
08-08-2007, 11:44 AM
Anyone I know?

:)

So very true and yet also so very untrue at the same time. This embodies the paradox of our training is that we place value and meaning into our actions in the process of learning to detach ourselves from over-valuing them.

Q&A sessions with teachers have often been an amusing time for me because, more than half the time, the real answer in my mind while listening to the question was "just train." At the same time, real stuff and real understanding grows out of the sharing of the the ideas and information around practice.

These conversations and explorations of ideas in and around our training is training, as far as I'm concerned, and has been perhaps one of the most important parts of my practice for over 10 years.

It strikes me that understanding where the terms come from and how they're used differently in modern contexts by different people is more information that can be used, preserved, or discarded on an individual basis, just as people often pay attention to how different teachers execute technique and keep what feels right to them.

At the same time:

I think Josh makes a very important point. If what one wants to practice and understand is as close to the original content as we fallible humans can reach, one must at least understand and accept the most accurate understanding available before choosing to change or select a personal interpretations which certainly do change over time as in the above example. Correcting even old mis-translations such as the common one for ? (bu) is important if one wants to understand the real stuff underlying our study.

The mythology exists everywhere, even in Japan, so these are muddy waters that can be navigated only with careful research and a release of ego.

To me this is the essence of being a fillable vessel, that we shape ourselves to the knowledge rather than the other way around and be educated by it until we are finally free to make our own "Way".

Regards,

Hi Tarik,
I don't know if you know him.
He left training right as you started.

As for the rest of your post's questions and statements. They are definitely yours and belong firmly to your practice. I'm happy you are working on finding 'your way'.

Jen

Josh Reyer
08-08-2007, 01:42 PM
True enough. But it is also inescapably true that, for better or for worse, Western interest in Japanese martial arts has been inextricably bound up with an ill-defined but omnipresent interest in the spiritual aspects of those practices, as a cursory review of the martial arts section of any book store makes clear.

I wouldn't disagree with that at all, but I fail to see what that has to do with those who practice Japanese martials with no interest or active disinterest in East Asian religion/spirituality.

Your characterization of Aitken is inaccurate. While the context of Aitken's argument is the practice of meditation in a particular Zen tradition, the argument itself is a radical reading of the word "dojo" that allows its poetic meaning to shine in much the same way that polishing a piece of tarnished silver removes the oxidation that hides its brightness. This is not at all a question of a personal interpretation, it is an act of etymological rescue from the forces of entropy.

Now we come to the irresolvable crux of the matter. As a descriptivist linguist, I entirely reject the notion of "etymological rescue", and view language change not as "forces of entropy" but rather as natural change and evolution.

Moreover, even accepting the "forces of entropy" argument for a moment, I am not at all convinced that the shift of "dojo" as a translation of bodhimanda to meaning "practice space for martial arts" is a degradation, as I'll note below.

Moreover, your reductive insistence that the word, as borrowed, "simply means a place to practice martial arts," is tantamount to saying that "martial arts, as practiced in Japan, do not have now and have never had any explicit or implicit value beyond the technical development of physical skills."

Wow! :eek: Talk about oversimplification! I'm frankly shocked that you would get any kind of reading like that from my posts, given what I have written about Yagyu Shinkage Ryu and Ono-ha Itto-ryu. Please reread my #89 post, as you seemed to have missed a very relevant point therein. Yes, my contention is that "dojo" as borrowed and as used in both Japan and the West simply means "a place to practice Japanese martial arts (budo, if you will)." But as I have also contended, the amount of East Asian religion/spirituality in a person's practice is inherent in the art, not in the name of the place where it is practiced. In other words, from the most secular (MMA/pro wrestling) to the most religious (Shorinji Kempo) all these places use the word "dojo" for their practice space. In that "dojo" means a place to practice "martial arts", it thus also bound to the complete spectrum of spirituality, religion, and moral improvement that is found in Japanese martial arts. What I object to is the idea that because etymologically the word is related to Buddhism, that the current usage is inextricably linked to "East Asian religious practice". Because as the Takada Dojo (http://www.takada-dojo.com/) and Reigakudo Dojo (http://onohaittoryu.3.pro.tok2.com/main.html) clearly demonstrate, that is not the case. Nor, of course, is it the case in Western usage. To be clear, I am not at all saying that the Takada Dojo and Reigakudo are simply places where emphasis is placed on physical technique. There is certainly an emphasis placed on improving oneself morally and mentally, if not spiritually (and spirituality is obviously very important to the Reigakudo). It simply isn't concerned specifically with East Asian spirituality - Buddhism, Shintoism, or Daoism.

My more immediate concern, however, is that I find myself increasingly struck by the extent to which practitioners in many "dojo" are practicing something that is neither a martial art nor a martial way, but merely a desultorily and inattentively practiced fitness and friendship activity.

And I can't for the life of me figure that out at all.

But that's another thread.
Well, that's a much deeper problem than their use of the word "dojo", and I don't see it as much better if they continue to call what they do "budo/martial art/martial way" but refrain from using the word "dojo" out of respect of its Buddhist roots in the far past. But at the same time, I'm much more concerned about my own practice than what anyone else is doing.

tarik
08-08-2007, 02:30 PM
Hi Tarik,
I don't know if you know him.
He left training right as you started.

PM a name? 8 years ago I was nikyu, so I should know him. It would be great to re-connect.

I remember that my first teacher at ASC/NBA was of the opinion that aikido should be experienced, not read about. I concurred, but I also had read more and knew more about aikido's history than many of the teachers who recited oral stories that didn't match the published histories, so I also found value in the reading.

As for the rest of your post's questions and statements. They are definitely yours and belong firmly to your practice. I'm happy you are working on finding 'your way'.

I have the odd sense that you may have misread me or my tone. I was largely agreeing with you and going into further detail concerning my own thoughts.

Naturally everything I post is purely my opinion, informed by my studies and experiences, as is everyone else's.

Regards,

Erick Mead
08-08-2007, 03:25 PM
... it is also inescapably true ... Western interest in Japanese martial arts has been inextricably bound up with an ill-defined but omnipresent interest in the spiritual aspects of those practices ..., as a cursory review of the martial arts section of any book store makes clear. ... Aitken's argument ... itself is a radical reading of the word "dojo" that allows its poetic meaning to shine in much the same way that polishing a piece of tarnished silver removes the oxidation that hides its brightness. ... an act of etymological rescue from the forces of entropy.

The connotations of words alter much more than their denotative attachments, and loanwords notoriously follow divergent (but fascinatingly related) paths of connotative evolution in the mother and adoptive tongues. This is most especially the case in myth, a subject dear to O Sensei. He directly related reading of mythology as being inextricably associated with kotodama as a process, which he in turn inextricably related to the spiritual and technical concepts of takemusu aiki. That is what he gave us to ponder in the dojo.

I think it is fair to say that O Sensei put as much store by myth as by science.
And? Remarkable skills and visions aside, he's not an example of the kind of person I want to be.
You don't have to want to be him to recognize the value of processes that he found or created that allow each of us to become who we are or wish to be. That is the point. I give O Sensei a bit more credit for his depth of thinking, while acknowledging his sometimes seemingly impenetrable way of trying to relate it. But it can be teased out and related to very similar things in Western understanding that are much more accessible. Understanding those, we can then look for the narrative truth in the Doka and the other mythic references he made to Aikido, its purposes and functions. If nothing else -- it means more if you have to wrestle it out.

O Sensei saw things through his lens of kotodama and Kojiki's myth structure. There is obviously a very high bar to the Westerner in trying to make use of O Sensei's kotodama system directly. It involves the need for a great sensitivity to the sound and sense of Japanese that are not easily obtained by a non-native speaker.

But fear not -- there is an analogous method. The practice of etymology (be it mythological or otherwise) in Western tongues is very much akin to the practice of kotodama in Japanese, in my considered opinion. Thus, Fred's etymological point about rescuing words (and this whole debate) has a potential significance far beyond its immediate subject.

At least one good popularly known example exist of how to delve into these things in the same spirit as O Sensei's use of mythological resources and the gifts of expressed language. In keeping with what I take to be O Sensei's purpose in I]kotodama.[/I].
If we know the narrative that are being referred to we can explore them even in translation by thinking carefully about the fit of the concepts in the trasnaltion ot the words they choose to translate. It is no longer O Sensei's "pure" aikido power (which some, I think, seek in vain). The point of my observation here is that, apart from O Sensei, that is a meaningless measure, since the art is a organic thing not some crystalline order.

As to the example, it also allows one to dwell on the technical and spiritual problems of conflict and its creative/destructive nature. I suggest that you google "Tolkien" and "Wraith" and "etymology" and study his thoughts on these issues. Tom Shippey's literary biography (he was Tolkien's successor in the English Chair at Oxford) is a great in-depth source on Tolkien's process of giving flesh (well non-flesh, really) to his terrifying images of evil seeking power and destruction -- the best example of which is "Ringwraiths," the Black Riders. Their mythic literary form was drawn entirely from the deep associations of the words and related words in their etymological lineage, which Tolkien's philology was critical in rendering so powerfully.

ring
wring
wraith
writhe
wreath
wrotha (OE >> cognate to -- "rode/ride")

This imagery of twisting, bending back onto the self, a self-enclosed ring, so twisted in substance to as to become insubstantial ("wraiths" /"wreaths of smoke"), riding and debasing that outside the twisted Shadow, and the elusive overpowering yet self-extinguishing ring. (For Fred's consideration, it is the precise antithesis of the self-abandonment or self-donation and resulting empowering Light of enlightenment that is found in the imagery of both Buddhism and Christianity)

This relates deeply to O Sensei's view of Aikido through kotodama and myth. O Sensei relied upon Motoori Norinaga, the preeminent philologist of his age in Japan, for his exhaustive philological reading of Kojiki's myths. There is a fascinating coincidence (is it?), giving resonance to this approach. The kami of evil, a topic of some concern to Norinaga, was called Magatsune no kami-- "maga" also means "bent or twisted."

Norinaga's project (as with Fred's point) was explicitly to effect the etymological rescue of the root thought contained in the Japanese Kojiki from the associations of the Chinese characters it was written in. His point - that the Way of the Japanese was not the same as the Way of the Chinese. It needed its own concrete expression to assure healthy development as Japanese -- which he provided in his exhaustive 40-odd volume commentary on the Kojiki and giving a concrete example of kotodama in extremely practical use. He has his errors and criticisms but the value of the effort and its purpose is beyond doubt.

I'll give you an example of applying this thought in the current discussion of the circumstances and implications of practice in modern aikido that I have been working on lately:

念 nen

This word figures prominently in Doshu's The Spirit of Aikido, where he (and in quoting his father) states that nen is both the foundation for and the continually creative faculty of aikido.
The realization of nen is the key to opening the essence of aikido; in fact, it constitutes the very heart of aikido.
In training the first task is to continually discipline the spirit, sharpen the power of nen, and unify body and mind. This is the foundation for development of waza, which in turn unfolds endlessly through nen.

Nen is notable in not being spoken of in Western circles nearly as much as ki or kokyu. Taitetsu Unno translates it as "connotes concentration, one-pointedness, thought-moment" The last is the more literal reading as the character is the combination of 今 ima/ kon "this, now, immediate" and 心 shin/kokoro "mind heart spirit. "

Westerners are also notable for commonly doing something in the dojo that is not common (indeed, often frowned upon ) in Japan. Speaking. Talking in the dojo. Asking stuff. Impertinent questions. About all sorts of things -- some of which may verge into Fred's peeve - "desultory and inattentive friendship activity."

It may be that this is just our Way -- discursive, random sampling (desultory = jumping around) and accretionary in loose clouds of concepts taking shape as a diffuse whole gaining in substance as as single, organic unfolding shape. Conversely, the Japanese Way is more curt, methodical and discrete in assembling the whole in successively and substnatially completed parts. Where we are elliptical in thought Japanese is more direct; more direct where Japanese is elliptical. Digressing where the Japanese is tightly channeled; and vice-versa. In-yo, in so many ways.

The Chinese is 念 niŗn -- which classically meant "to think of, recall, or study." Modernly, it retains this sense when used in combination with other characters. But when appearing alone it means "to read aloud" calling up immediate associations (nen? ;) ) with the sound sensibilities that are reflected in the kotodama process.

Most broadly conceived, kotodama is the process of giving the inchoate (mind spirit) some immediate concrete expression (now, this, "suchness" (for Fred's sake)). The difference, I think, is that we, in the West, give expression to thought (or in developing our thought that leads to such expressions) in a manner and mode in physical training that is necessarily different from that which is typical of Japanese. Our manner or Way defines or makes necessary the space or circumstances for its fullest growth -- just as Noirinaga contended that the Japanese Way defined (in preference to Chinese concepts) the circumstances necessary for its fullest growth. Ours and theirs differ somewhat, but they are not so alien in alteration as to lack relation or recognition.

One reason why we may not speak so much of nen in O Sensei's sense of the "endless unfolding," (when we chat endlessly about so much else) is, in that respect, that we simply do it. Our dialectical natures are suited to it -- even as they are otherwise sometimes ill-suited to the singular focus or attention in training that Japanese interpretations of "nen" use in their approach to the art.

One view considers the affect of attention to practice -- while the other is attending to the resulting function flowing from it. While seemingly different, they may tend in their own Way to reach much the same end. This may explain the curious appeal of aikido to so many Westerners -- the root aspects of aikido's nen, considered as the immediacy of "endless unfolding" are a good "fit" in ways that may not seem superficially obvious in comparing the outward forms of traditional Japanese practice with our own. Omote/ura.

It is necessary for us to follow our own Way to realize our native form of nen -- the "thought-moment" of our training -- in order to achieve the essence of aikido for ourselves, as much as it is necessary to adapt the novel elements that are distinctly of Japan into our understanding in that training process. Being honest with ourselves and disciplined in practice is required regardless of place or form in which it occur.

Both elements are critical. While through training we make a new reality in ourselves what was of Japan, we are simultaneously remade, in part, to realize more of what is Japanese in us, in consequence. Neither remains unchanged. And what is true of us, individually, is also true of the art collectively. Like the development any language, the kotodama or concrete expression of ideas takes shape immediately as it is expressed, and not in any other way -- precisely like the limitless techniques of takemusu aiki.

Some may view this as a "spiritual" exercise, others not -- the differences do not trouble me so much as interest me.

jennifer paige smith
08-09-2007, 09:26 AM
PM a name? 8 years ago I was nikyu, so I should know him. It would be great to re-connect.

Regards,

Hi T,
He's watching this thread so your message will get through. If you would like to train you can meet us for some mat time. Interested?

I don't think I misread you. I simply heard you and I don't have anything to throw back and forth on this one.

tarik
08-10-2007, 12:52 PM
You don't have to want to be him to recognize the value of processes that he found or created that allow each of us to become who we are or wish to be. That is the point.

I agree. Certainly some of the processes, valuable or not, that he engaged in are not ones I'll ever subject myself or my family to. I doubt he did that to spare us the effort.

I give O Sensei a bit more credit for his depth of thinking, while acknowledging his sometimes seemingly impenetrable way of trying to relate it. But it can be teased out and related to very similar things in Western understanding that are much more accessible.

Ah, but you left the other shoe hanging with only a hint of what you intended. Use of myth has it's place, certainly. Thank you for the "and?"

Some may view this as a "spiritual" exercise, others not -- the differences do not trouble me so much as interest me.

My feeling is that life is a spiritual exercise, self-acknowledged or not.

Regards,

tarik
08-10-2007, 12:53 PM
Hi T,
He's watching this thread so your message will get through. If you would like to train you can meet us for some mat time. Interested?


I'll see if I can free up some time.

Regards,

Erick Mead
08-11-2007, 08:44 AM
Ah, but you left the other shoe hanging with only a hint of what you intended. Use of myth has it's place, certainly. Thank you for the "and?" You are welcome.

O Sensei's discussions do not track the "Tab A, Slot B" linear logic preferences of some people. They do have a knowable and coherent shape, reason and pattern of their own. The energy in operation 氣 is real. It has a pattern. 理, li or ri. Ki cannot be described by a linear logic pattern -- but it has a pattern and set of principles of its own. O Sensei's mythic imagery is meant to be reasoned through as showing the inner-principles of ki, but using the whole mind and heart, 心 kokoro, not merely with the small slice of mind that is occupied with linear logic.

Combat is contingent. We cannot map all the possible paths that can be taken to go from one snapshot of the dynamic (one waza) to another snapshot in the dynamic (another waza). The true pattern is always richer in dynamic than any number of short splices of still frames can capture. Our mind is the same way. But we can understand the pattern of the path, and of our own mind in response to it, intuitively, if not descriptively. The shape of the path reveals itself in terms that are not descriptive.

Myth, like combat, is narrative and contingent. Even when the end state seems irrevocably determined and fate or doom is certain, the path and the manner of our passing over it is not. the Narrow, linear logic of an encounter may describe an inevitable doom, and thus tempt us to destroy the pattern that would cause it. But myth tells of choices about the manner of accepting an inevitable fate, that may thereby change it. Myths tells us how our internal state fits (or does not fit) the shape of the situation -- in ways that may cause the linear terms to break down, revealing the larger pattern and branch points that linear logic is blind to -- or can at best only roughly and partly describe.

If we deeply feel our way through what it is saying we come to sense that shape. We then can begin to perceive if we have fitted our own pattern to the energy in operation at the moment (aiki 合氣), and if not, to move closer to immediately knowing (kan 勘) the proper fit in the moment that we act. (nen 念).

jennifer paige smith
08-12-2007, 10:35 AM
You are welcome.

O Sensei's discussions do not track the "Tab A, Slot B" linear logic preferences of some people. They do have a knowable and coherent shape, reason and pattern of their own. The energy in operation ? is real. It has a pattern. ?, li or ri. Ki cannot be described by a linear logic pattern -- but it has a pattern and set of principles of its own. O Sensei's mythic imagery is meant to be reasoned through as showing the inner-principles of ki, but using the whole mind and heart, ? kokoro, not merely with the small slice of mind that is occupied with linear logic.

Combat is contingent. We cannot map all the possible paths that can be taken to go from one snapshot of the dynamic (one waza) to another snapshot in the dynamic (another waza). The true pattern is always richer in dynamic than any number of short splices of still frames can capture. Our mind is the same way. But we can understand the pattern of the path, and of our own mind in response to it, intuitively, if not descriptively. The shape of the path reveals itself in terms that are not descriptive.

Myth, like combat, is narrative and contingent. Even when the end state seems irrevocably determined and fate or doom is certain, the path and the manner of our passing over it is not. the Narrow, linear logic of an encounter may describe an inevitable doom, and thus tempt us to destroy the pattern that would cause it. But myth tells of choices about the manner of accepting an inevitable fate, that may thereby change it. Myths tells us how our internal state fits (or does not fit) the shape of the situation -- in ways that may cause the linear terms to break down, revealing the larger pattern and branch points that linear logic is blind to -- or can at best only roughly and partly describe.

If we deeply feel our way through what it is saying we come to sense that shape. We then can begin to perceive if we have fitted our own pattern to the energy in operation at the moment (aiki ??), and if not, to move closer to immediately knowing (kan ?) the proper fit in the moment that we act. (nen ?).

Damn! That is great!