Out of the Blue
"Of itself, blue teaches us blue."
I can't seem to find the attribution for that quote. In the tangled cobweb that I call memory, there is a dusty lump of recollection that connects the saying to a novel co-authored by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom.
If my wondrous (to me) little brain is a bit dusty and decrepit in the corners of neglect, there are also a few clear, shining, spacious places. There exist stars, light bulbs, fireflies, luminous gems, and lighthouses radiant with the splendor of the thoughts, creativity and insights of others.
Maybe not a pearl, but surely a sapphire... "Blue itself teaches us blue." Someone whose name I'm unsure of taught me that. Thank you, blue. Thank you, whoever.
Bruce Lee said (possibly quoting someone else), "It is like a finger pointing to the moon... concentrate on the finger, and you miss all that heavenly glory." My own teachers made sure that I concentrated on the finger just enough to see what they were pointing at. But they were fairly unanimous in directing my attention beyond them to the staggeringly vast field of potential and possibility that was, is, and will be, aikido. It was they who turned my gaze to the great blue heavens.
Then, of itself, aikido teaches us aikido.
If blue, if aikido, if the world is so ready to reveal itself to us directly, who teaches us to see? I may know blue, but in knowing comes familiarity, and then inattention. I see blue everywhere I look, but I often stop looking and really seeing. When I look again, blue is still there ready to teach itself. Blue is deep. Blue is rich. Blue is subtle, vibrant, calm, electric. I have learned blue, but I don't know it so well that I should stop letting it teach me. ("I really don't know clouds, at all.")
Is blue the same for you as it is for me? Probably not, exactly, but we can still have meaningful conversations about the shades of the sky or the gaze of a newborn's eye.
Beneath the poetics, the idea of blue teaching blue points to a kind of pragmatic empiricism. It suggests that things will reveal themselves to us if we can learn to investigate properly, if we can see clearly, if we can discern without bias or prejudice or inflexible beliefs. Something akin to the scientific method is how I most prefer to approach aikido. It should be investigated, explored, questioned, and examined for what it is and what it might be. Theories can be constructed, then discarded when evidence points to better models, better methods.
This is the paradox of both science and aikido. We are all natively inclined toward superstition. (I can't prove the previous statement, but I'm sure it's true.) We make and hold models that are consistent and that make sense to us, but we tend not to want to test them against reality. We tend not to want to scrutinize our beliefs very closely, especially when we believe they work well enough for us. The scientific method is not native. It must be taught. The discipline of scientific thinking extends far beyond the laboratory and into everyday activity. Good science questions everything, updates continuously, revises ruthlessly, yet builds methodically. Much like a good martial artist -- agile, but grounded.
So we must learn how to learn, learn how to investigate and record. For this we need teachers and systems and methods. Fixation or rigid adherence to any of these, however, can lead to holy wars, even among so-called scientists or so-called aikidoists. We may hold our ground, but we've lost our agility.
Rather, we should be glad to be moved by evidence. We should be thrilled by the unexpected. Does that other teacher or that other system have anything better than what you know? How will we know, if we don't look? Can we define better? Can we find ways to test for better?
Science can explain a great deal about blue, because science does a very good job of letting blue instruct. We know a lot about electromagnetic spectra, quantum causalities, and the biology of retinas and optic nerves. When it comes to the human experience of blue, beyond the numerics and biometrics, when it comes to the deep fundamental knowing of essential blueness, science falls short. This is exciting. More to learn!
Likewise, aikido presents itself in direct, tangible, concrete ways. Investigated correctly, it is a no-nonsense discipline. Yet defining what aikido fundamentally is, can be devilishly elusive. The experience of it can approach the ineffable. Like Louis Armstrong when asked to define jazz, "Man, if you gotta ask you'll never know."
Of course, Armstrong also said "Jazz is music that's never played the same way once." This connects with the aikido that I most love, which was described to me very early on as "the formless form." Aikido is the way that is never the same way.
I have revered my own teachers enough to want to become one of them. I have done my best to dedicate my life to the path and to share it with others. What have I learned from my teachers and my path and my sharing? I've learned to learn. I've learned to teach. I've learned a degree of love. I've learned a modicum of conceit and a pinch of humility. I've learned how to think methodically, to question respectfully, and to invent aikido afresh each moment. I've learned to create systems (every single teacher in my direct lineage founded their own style). I've learned that traditions have branches, flowers, and seeds, as well as roots.
But I have not learned aikido from them, nor will you learn it from me. We all have our schools, our systems, our styles, our affiliations, and our lineages. We all call them "Aiki-This-or-That," (Actually, that wouldn't be such a bad name, now that I think about it.) But it's not aikido.
Or, in a way, it is. The coming together of people for a common cause is aikido (although the cause itself may not be). The coming together of people to reconcile a plurality of causes is aikido. The urge to learn, to explore, to investigate, this is aikido. The practice and the rehearsal and even the codification is also aikido. The deep contemplation, the profound knowing, the bewildering not-knowing, all of this must also be aikido.
But it's also not aikido. Try to describe your lover. Try to describe blue. For everything true you say, there will be endless things not said. For all the things you could say, there will be endless things you could never say.
You'd just have to know her. You'd just have to experience it. But then, for all that you know, there are untold things yet unknown.
I sometimes wonder if we mistake descriptions for definitions, and vice versa. As with the blind men and the elephant, if we listen to each man's report trying to understand what an elephant is, then we will be confounded by the contradictions. But if we listen to how they describe their experience of interactions with an elephant, then we may infer something the larger picture.
For me, aikido is the color of endless opening.
June 1, 2010
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
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