View Full Version : A Defining Moment

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R.A. Robertson
10-20-2014, 12:07 AM

1) The way or manner of energy or structure coming together. Conjoined forces. Confluence. Synergy. A match, blend, fit, or joining. Integrity.

2) The study and/or application of the above, in any domain.

3) A system of self-defense based on the principles of the above, originally from Japan.

4) A philosophy, mode of conduct, world view, or way of life based on the principles of the above. In formal settings, a somatic discipline which utilizes the self-defense context as its central method of experiential exploration, yet encompasses a broader scope of endeavor than ordinary combat.


I have observed that in discussions of aikido, we often don't know what we're talking about.

It's not that we're clueless or inexperienced, necessarily. It's that we make assumptions about each others' clues and experiences as being common with our own, and so we skip right over stipulations of explicit terms. This is a mistake.

Aikido is a rich and varied terrain. We all know this, and it ought to go without saying. Accordingly, the best any of us can do is visit a few provinces, and our understanding will be forever limited. We can take the grand tour and sample as extensively as possible, but then our comprehension of the particulars will be superficial. We could settle in one area, and focus intensively on what is on offer there, and though our depth may be extensive, our breadth will be limited.

So it may be that some of us strive for a balance, finding a happy home base where we live, and out of which we can explore, wander, commingle, returning enriched and renewed. Ideally we can find opportunities for happy commerce, where everyone profits by the shared knowledge.

Our common overlap gives us a shared language in which to communicate, even if some accents seem decidedly foreign. At the same time, we are deceived if we automatically assume we are all talking about the same thing.

In fact, we are almost never talking about the same thing, because we can only speak authentically from our own experience, background, and perspective. In order to be able to commune - icate with one another, we owe it to ourselves and each other to be willing to say what aikido means to us and why it is meaningful.

From a rhetorical perspective, a subject must be definable. To define is to differentiate, and in a universal art such as aikido, people may be understandably squeamish about setting limitations. As some have said, if a thing is everything, then it's nothing [meaningful]. At the same time, we might rightly say, for example, that physics is everything. This does not mean that physics cannot be discussed, nor that it isn't useful to distinguish a physics problem from a mathematical one.

To be unable -- or worse, to simply refuse -- to state with some rigor what aikido is (to you) is intellectual laziness. One risks a kind of moral cowardice in entering into a discussion on a topic and then being deliberately slippery about the terms.

We should have the courage to accept that our definitions may differ, and indeed there may be profit in the differences. We should have the courage to embrace that as we encounter others, our definitions may evolve. It's natural to want to defend what little piece of turf there is that we think we actually do understand, but really, if all other turfs must be made to be like yours, then I suppose war is as inevitable as it is pointless.

My own definition as stated above is at once manifold and unitary. That is, I think that several definitions are necessary to encompass all that I mean when I discuss aikido. At the same time, these definitions are just different aspects or expressions of the same thing.

Aiki, and the way of aiki (aikido) is independent of humans or other sentients. It is a fundamental feature of any plausible universe. The study of this requires its own method or way, and this takes many different forms. Again, I refer to physics, which allows for String, Particle, Quantum, Einsteinian, Newtonian, and other interpretations. Some of these are vastly different and even inimical, yet they are all one and those who study these things are all physicists in their own right.

About such things we may argue, and indeed we should. But discourse is fruitless if we cannot or will not stipulate the terms under discussion. String Theory, should it lead to a deeper and better way to model Reality, will nevertheless be the wrong tool for understanding the trajectories of cannonballs, for which Newton is likely to never be surpassed. Reconciling the two is more about acceptance of their necessary difference than it is about forcing one to yield to the other.

So say what you will about aikido. I'll automatically understand you to be speaking about your aikido, and that's fine. But as soon as you start making definitive statements about what aikido is and what it isn't, well, you'd better be ready to actually be definite and not merely throw stones from behind your invisible screen.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

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