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Erick Mead
11-16-2010, 05:11 PM
I have a thought about the concept of Nen as discussed by Kisshomaru Dosshu in The Spirit of Aikido (TSOA). This thought follows from some interesting discussions about other express exploitations of the phonetic ambiguities of Japanese language to provide a deeper approach to essential meaning.

What struck me was the range of different meaning used in TSOA and placed on the concept of Nen -- reaching from the purely mental/spiritual to the wholly physical/geometric. To me this signals an clear intention to break categories and to consider as unitary concepts that, while linguistically and phonetically related, are ordinarily deemed quite distinct in function and meaning in common use. Prior discussion in Prof: Goldsbury's TIE series suggest similar uses of such tricks of language in Japanese to make intended associations or connotations that bridge concepts in other areas of Japanese thought.

The question is whether the concept of Nen AS IT IS DISCUSSED in TSOA is meant to capture not merely 念 (nen = attention, feeling, sense), but also to suggest 捻 (nen = twist, torque) (used in 捻転 (nenten = twisting, torsion). The concept of playing with or working out a puzzle with the hands is also connoted by nen 捻 -- which meaning also joins the perception v. action meaning of the two ideas.

This supposition of mine hinges on the translators' express acknowledgment of a linguistic conceptual category problem in the translation of the term nen as used in the text itself, together with the differing discursive explanations of that meaning in these markedly different senses. The translator (at least) is obviously sensitive to a problem of related nature in expressly NOT translating the Japanese word nen in the translated text but rather referring to its intended meaning in an extensive discussion that seems to break the category of merely mental phenomena and bridge them with a definitely relevant physical or mechanical concept.

Of course, I do not have reference to the Japanese version of the text of Aikido no Kokoro. The way in which this concept was expressed in the native text obviously might suggest more or less of what I am seeing here. If expressed by phonetic kana as nen ねん vice the differing kanji noted, or in slipping back and forth, may suggest the same elision of an ambiguity between different concepts that the translated version suggests.

In the context of its use in TSOA, Nen appears to be of one consequence in these two senses -- but allying the concepts of perception/action with a spectrum between them. The discussion in TSOA moves from the spiritual/mental framework of perception to the geometric framework of action in explicit terms. I suggest that this is a quite useful conceptual elision. The quirks of Japanese phonetic and pictographic associations may allow this connection in ways that English simply does not capture -- but even in his extended descriptions the the limits of the concept he is describing cover both of these senses in ways that seem hard to isolate to the mere "sensory" or "attentional" conventional sense of nen 念 .

My suggestion leads me into an area of thought about the nature of the mechanics of aiki action that I know to be unmistakably true and practically useful. This places Nidai Dosshu's analysis of aiki action qua aiki in an operative rather than purely spiritual sense, in a wholly different and more favorable light, given contemporary discussions about operative lapse in the art, than some of his recent critics have given him credit, IMO.

The physical references are very obviously related to this mechanical sense of nen 捻 with the left-right connections and spherical rotations/spiral references here (and more generally throughout the work). The direct connection of this mechanical reality of aiki action to the sensory or intent element of nen 念 in being able to train in and deploy aiki effectively seems to me very relevant to ongoing debates, and perhaps a better point of engagement with the Founder's son in trying to interpret his effort to transmit that legacy.

The Spirit of Aikido[/B] ]The essence of aikido, the unity of ki-mind-body, is to be realized by the whole person. If we grasp it merely as a spiritual reality, we may become doctrinaire and fall into abstraction. If we see it only as a matter of technique and physical prowess, then we become satisfied with a simplistic explanation of motor movements. The essence encompasses
both the spiritual and physical, and ultimately we must realize it as the budö unifying ki-mind-body from a philosophical and religious point of view.

The best way to properly master this essence is to carefully consider the words of the Founder. His sayings may be somewhat difficult at first reading, but repeated reading and reflection will help to reveal the various levels of meaning contained within them. The frequent reference to the Japanese word nen may be bothersome, but we will retain the original term because of the lack of an exact English equivalent. Nen connotes concentration, one-pointedness, thought­moment.) The realization of nen is the key to opening the essence of aikido; in fact, it constitutes the very heart of aikidö. The following statement by MasterUeshiba clarifies what is meant by this:

This body is the concrete unification of the physical and spiritual
created by the universe. It breathes the subtle essence of the
universe and becomes one body with it, so training is training
in the path of human life. In training the first task is to con-
tinually discipline the spirit, sharpen the power of nen, and unify
body and mind. This is the foundation for the development of
waza, which in turn unfolds endlessly through nen.

It is essential that waza always be in accord with t-he truth of
the universe. For that to take place proper nen is necessary. If
one's nen is connected to the desires of the small self, it is er-
roneous. Since training based upon erroneous ideas goes against
the truth of the universe, it invites its own tragic consequences
and eventual destruction.

Nen is never concerned with winning or losing, and it grows
by becoming properly connected to the ki of the universe. When
that happens, nen becomes a supernatural power that sees clearly
all things in the world, even the smallest movement of hand or
foot. One becomes like the clear mirror reflecting all things, and
since one stands in the center of the universe, one can see with
clarity that which is off-center. This is the truth of winning
without fighting. To develop the subtle movements of ki based on
nen, you must understand that the left side of the body is the
basis of martial art and the right side is where the ki of the universe appears.

When one reaches the realm of absolute freedom, the body
becomes light and manifests divine transformations. The right
side brings forth power through the left. The left becomes a
shield and the right the foundation of technique. This natural,
spontaneous law of nature must be based in the centrum, and
one must manifest the self freely as dynamic, spherical rotation.

Master Ueshiba taught that the cultivation of nen was the one-pointed concentration of the spirit as it seeks union with the universal reality that brought us into this life on earth. When the mind-body unified by nen harmonizes with the principle of an ordered universe, a person becomes free of self­centeredness and self­consciousness, giving birth to a supernatural all-seeing power. The person in accord with the principle of universal change moves deftly with lightness and agility, able to freely manifest himself in spherical movements.

Nen, the single­hearted concentration seeking the unity of the order
in the universe and the principle of change, becomes the wellspring of the subtle working of ki. When this subtle working, rooted in nen, is manifested in the heart and mind of a practitioner, he becomes free and open, and his insight becomes penetrating. When it works through the body, the result is spirited, dynamic movement in circular and spherical rotation. In short, nen is the line that connects ki-mind-body and the universal ki.

Peter Goldsbury
11-16-2010, 07:33 PM
Hello Erick,

The Japanese original of the translation you have quoted appears on pp. 55-57 of 『合気道のこころ』. Nen is always written as 念, without any other left-hand radical (稔, 捻, and 棯), and is usually enclosed in brackets (curved brackets).

The only compound use of 念 (without the curved brackets and with another character) occurs once and this does not come out in Mr Unno's translation. This term is janen: 邪念 (translated as a vicious mind, evil intention, sinister designs) and is immediately preceded by jado: 邪道 (evil course, deviation from the path of virtue).

The two terms occur in the second paragraph of the translation, about the necessity for proper nen. Here is the Japanese text of the second paragraph, with the relevant terms in bold:

業はあくまで、宇宙の真理に合していることが不可欠である。そのために正しい(念)が不可欠である。自己の(念)を小我の欲にむすぶのは邪道であり、邪念による修業は宇宙 の真理と反するゆえ、かならずみずからの災難と破滅とをもたらすこととなる。

Best wishes,

PAG

Erick Mead
11-17-2010, 02:45 PM
Thanks Professor. The native text lends no additional weight to my supposition from the description in context, then. I wonder however, if you agree or disagree, that these uses of 念 (nen = attention, feeling, sense) here are hard to reconcile with the commonplace usage as 'attention,' 'feeling' or 'sense' (emphasis added):
This body is the concrete unification of the physical and spiritual created by the universe. ... 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 the development of waza, which in turn unfolds endlessly through nen.... To develop the subtle movements of ki based on nen, you must understand that the left side of the body is the basis of martial art and the right side is where the ki of the universe appears.
... The right side brings forth power through the left. The left becomes a shield and the right the foundation of technique. This natural, spontaneous law of nature must be based in the centrum, and one must manifest the self freely as dynamic, spherical rotation.

I cannot help but to relate these associations of nen in the right-left connection with the mechanical principle of torque shear in this diagram:

http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=509&d=1215185239

Nidai Dosshu in Aikido elsewhere specifically relates his concept of this dynamic "spherical rotation" analogizing it to the stability of a top (p. 169- of 1985 ed.), in which the "centrum" attains a "rock-like" stability through the "development of spherical motions which consists of centripetal and centrifugal forces." (p. 170)

The only way those forces coexist and imply a sphere is if they are at right angles to one another -- as in the diagram, and spiral both up and down. Centripetal is the tension forces shown in the arrows pulling away from the centrum of the diagram (tension or extension) and the centrifugal is the arrows pushing toward the centrum in the diagram. (compression or contraction)

Back to the point of how this is associated with nen -- at p. 171 of Aikido he, in two sentences, specifically equivocates this principle that leads to the keen and automatic sensitivity of the windmill to winds softer than we can feel (nen 念) but then again relates the analogy of the dynamic action of the top (nen 捻 "whose force of rotations extends to every part yet simultaneously stabilizes and concentrates its mass around its center." (i.e. -- centrifugal and centripetal forces combined).

As you can see my sense of this intended elision is not isolated to this text -- thought its relationship to the dual sense of nen as explained in TSOA is no where else made. Nen in this use seems to point to something rather more concrete than merely sense or feeling and seems to describe something very like 捻 (nen = twist, torque) as the right/left centripetal/.centrifugal connection in the center as the basis of BOTH the sensory and action components that are meant.

Peter Goldsbury
11-18-2010, 04:29 AM
In all the places where he uses nen (念) on pp. 34-37 of 『合気道のこころ』, Kisshomaru Ueshiba places the term within brackets. In Japanese, the brackets are like this 〈念〉. These do not so much mark a quotation as such, as single out a term for special attention. I suspect that Kisshomaru did this because the term was used by the Founder and he did not want to qualify or second-guess the Founder's use of it. The English translation does not convey this and nen is written as if it were an ordinary English term.

I think that you cannot argue from the use of the character itself, or even from the context, that Kisshomaru or even Morihei Ueshiba really meant 捻, even though they wrote 念. 念 occurs alone, or with three left-hand radicals: 捻, 稔, and 棯. 念 and 捻 occur in compound words, but the compounds, not the radicals, are what extend the core meaning. So there are many compounds of 念 and rather fewer compounds of 捻. However, there is no crossover, so the compounds of 捻, which is also read as hineru or nejiru, have no relation with the compounds of 念. As far as I can judge, 稔 and 棯 do not occur in compounds and denote, respectively, harvest and a kind of fruit tree.

Best wishes,

PAG

Erick Mead
11-18-2010, 10:59 AM
In all the places where he uses nen (念) on pp. 34-37 of 『合気道のこころ』, Kisshomaru Ueshiba places the term within brackets. In Japanese, the brackets are like this 〈念〉. These do not so much mark a quotation as such, as single out a term for special attention. I suspect that Kisshomaru did this because the term was used by the Founder and he did not want to qualify or second-guess the Founder's use of it. The English translation does not convey this and nen is written as if it were an ordinary English term.

I think that you cannot argue from the use of the character itself, or even from the context, that Kisshomaru or even Morihei Ueshiba really meant 捻, even though they wrote 念. 念 occurs alone, or with three left-hand radicals: 捻, 稔, and 棯. 念 and 捻 occur in compound words, but the compounds, not the radicals, are what extend the core meaning. So there are many compounds of 念 and rather fewer compounds of 捻. However, there is no crossover, so the compounds of 捻, which is also read as hineru or nejiru, have no relation with the compounds of 念. As far as I can judge, 稔 and 棯 do not occur in compounds and denote, respectively, harvest and a kind of fruit tree.

Best wishes,

PAGWell, that tells me that my sense of the special use of the term is not awry, if it remains to be seen if my appreciation of it significance holds as I see it, or not. His fascination in playing with the connotation of relationships by sounds in language -- given the fascination he has with kotodama, especially, does not allow one to easily leave the matter at that level of dismissal. We may view "false etymology" or fortuitous correspondence of no empirical value in the evolution of language -- but I think the record indicates that he treated such things with more weight in his uses of them to illustrate his meaning.

My related question is whether we know what text of M. Ueshiba Kisshomaru was quoting and in what manner that text was written by his father. I wonder if the bracket treatment does not signal something in the primary text that Kisshomaru Ueshiba was relating, which is less than unequivocal in import, requiring this special treatment. Do we know what that text was ? It does not seem familiar to me from anything translated out of Budo or Budo Renshu.

The further suggestion of "harvest" as you mention in nen 稔 actually lends a third leg to my supposition of an intended wordplay signal that relates directly to my intuition here. M. Ueshiba himself also drew a famous link between farming activities and the art.

My own bio-mechanical observations track directly with his association -- specifically relating efficient whole-body work movements as cutting and gathering (http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/but-why-7854/the-missing-kokyu-training-farming-2948/) and mechanically distinct from from levered joint action such as pushing and pulling, curling or pressing -- which are not aiki.

The fact that these associations of torsion and shear nen捻 to a perception/attention function nen 念 to agricultural activity nen 稔 all track with the same sound, could be a complete coincidence -- but with a writer who is religiously committed to the fundamental importance of sound to meaning and the creation of reality through that sound/meaning in kotodama, and with a penchant for such wordplay -- I am highly inclined to doubt it.

Once is accident; twice is coincidence; three times is conspiracy.

:D

Peter Goldsbury
11-18-2010, 03:46 PM
Well, you will need to find someone else to go through the Japanese sources. Sorry, but I do not have the time.

Best wishes,

PAG