We cannot live in a world that is not our own. In a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a HOME. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.
-- Hildegard of Bingen
The use of a quotation in a work is an appropriation, not an invention. To quote Hildegard, as I have done, is to celebrate her thought while violating its spirit. I am borrowing her interpretation of the world because I believe in it -- but also to show that in so doing, I run the risk of silencing my own voice and dimming my own light.
At the same time, we may find that someone else has spoken our own true voice. We look to those who have gone before, and we judge if we like where they have gone, what they report, and if we should follow. How then, to best live, if we follow the dicta of those who trumpet originality, authenticity, and independence? Can we be followers of the Way and still chart our own course? If so, can we rightfully ask anyone else to follow in our footsteps, if bold exploration is what made our journey special?
I believe the answer is yes. Moreover, I believe in the necessity of living in this constant state of paradox. You, student (or teacher) of aikido, are in the same position as I am in writing this article. You began by finding something worthy of emulation. Perhaps your first encounter with aikido was an epiphany. Perhaps you merely recognized an expression of something you'd always known, but never found. Either way, you made a choice to embark on a path carved by others, with navigational aid by guides far more experienced than you. But beware... as I have said before, and others have said before me: You cannot get there unless you follow. You cannot get there by following.
We learn aikido by quoting the movements of our sensei with our own bodies. During an infantile stage, a significant percentage of learning is imitative. Yet given half a chance, infants will happily explore on their own, much of the time. With aikido, it's essential that we be given safe environments in which to explore and go beyond the imitative. As we progress, the balance shifts, and maturity brings increasing originality. Although learning is endless, and though even the most brilliant look to others for inspiration, failure to find and cultivate originality is a retardation of our potential. We must never be so careless, so irresponsible of the gifts we have been given that we fail to find and share new methods and insights.
There is an argument to which I subscribe that says that you are not following O-Sensei unless, like him, you invent aikido. There is the counter-argument that says no one can invent aikido, since aikido now exists and can only be copied -- possibly modified, but not created as an original act. There are also those who will say that O-Sensei did not really invent aikido, but merely repackaged a centuries-old transmission. It should not strain the imagination to understand that all of these statements are true, even where they disagree.
Does any of this matter? Yes and no.
No, because you should be too busy doing aikido, practising aikido, sweating and breathing hard, to become crippled by cerebral prevarications and dancing on pinheads.
Yes, because no matter how hard you sweat, no matter how often you train, no matter how perfect your form, your posture, your sincerity and diligence -- you are not doing aikido if you are imitating others.
For while imitation is appropriate for learning, it is not doing.
My first instructor, Bill Sosa, was ruthless in driving this point home. Although he was the consummate gentleman and a charismatic, likeable benefactor, he could be brutal when it came to people looking to him for validation. Given a chance, he would guide, nurture, critique, and encourage. But as soon as you asked him what he thought of how you were performing, he would spare none of your feelings in finding every single fault. I soon learned that it wasn't that my practice was abysmal, it was my lack of confidence in ascertaining for myself what is good and bad. Sosa Sensei would offer all that he could to make my progress possible... the one need he refused was external validation.
What Bill Sosa never said, but made me understand, was that if I were ever to do aikido, it could only be by finding my own voice and traveling by my own light.
Art is a deliberate recreation of a new and special reality that grows from your response to life. It cannot be copied; it must be created.
Art is what brings us to a fuller encounter with what is real. Mindless adherence to the formulaic is neither art nor good survival strategy. To live, to prevail, we must be creative. To be a creative human being means we must not only discern and reflect what is true... we must author reality.
Causation is not the same as creation. We experience the effects of a causal world as it attacks and embraces us. The confluence of forces are then ours to fashion. The script is ours to write.
At every level of our practice, and regardless of the extent of our experience, we must be the creators of our own aikido. Again, it's fine to learn by imitating, but the actualization of aikido happens in the interstices of memory and habit. Freedom also lives in the spaces between confinement, restriction, and structure.
When we are free, we live life artfully. There is no human being who is not an artist, but there are many who have forgotten what it means to be human. Humans build structures, many of which confine, but the best structures are those that promote a healthy, sustainable, dynamism.
Humans create. Creation is not so much a conjuration of something from nothing, but a simple rearrangement of parts into a better design, a greater synthesis and synergy.
With that in mind, I end as I began, with yet another quote. This time, though, it's one of my own. Keep in mind that it is declarative rather than descriptive. That is to say, its truth is intended to be generative rather than representative. And should you find that you'd like to use the quote in a work of your own, may you do so artfully. After all:
All that is not artifice is delusion.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
Nice column, Ross.
It ocurred to me in reading it that, while there is truth to "We cannot live in a world that is not our own. In a world that is interpreted for us by others." we still need to find a common language. For each of us to live in a world wholly of our own creation is, I believe, psychosis. And that give and take, that reality-testing, that validates each moment whether our interpretation is "working," is how an art develops and grows and how a functional society.
Compliments and appreciation.
Yes, we can re-create the direction pointed out to us (not dictated), but we must create our own path.
I agree with you completely, and that was part of the point of my article. For while I do agree with Hildegard, I think she speaks a partial truth. The other part is that we cannot live in a world without interpretation. Without guidance, without the experience of those who go before, there would be endless reinvention of wheels. Without artists and scientists and philosophers offering their interpretations to us, our own minds would become very small.
We are richer when we go exploring and discover our own originality. We enrich the whole world when we share. Being confident in our own voice allows us to be discerning when partaking of the wealth of interpretation offered by others.
If Hildegard was suspicious of an interpreted world, perhaps it was because all those who share all have an inescapable agenda. By living according to our own authentic originality, we can take whatever vision offered by others and incorporate it into the material of our own creation.
The more everyone does this, the stronger the network of community becomes. It is both the passive acceptance of a world-view that is not your own, and the outright refusal to listen to anyone that undermines healthy society.
I appreciate your comments!
Thank you very much for this. I've been spending a lot of time evaluating my own interpretation of Aikido and how it fits with who I am. Not everyone's way of doing Aikido is going to be the same, We all learn differently and get slightly different results, as you are aware :) I find this particularly interesting now, as I am considering studying another art - Tai Chi or Jiu Jitsu (there are no Aikido schools here). There are many things that are similar, so it tends to make the learning a little easier :) I hope to see you when I am next in Austin.
In :ai: :ki:,
"the one need he refused was external validation."
what a fine line to balance... I can imagine someone trying to learn through this credo and some of them would probably go through the process believing that their way is correct until proven otherwise. If by any chance they are stronger or more assertive than their ukes, it is likely that that time would be pretty long indeed. Unless of course the sensei comes and shows them the error of their ways.
I think a lot of soul searching is needed to improve your aikido. But sometimes its frustrating about thinking you know the theory behind it, but you're unable to do it. Its like this switch or key you're missing that is not visually available from your observations of sensei's or yourself.
Even then, we should not expect that things will always work. If I have a key in my pocket, in principle it's an easy thing to take out, put into a lock, turn, and open. And most days this is just how it works.
But some times I have my hands full. Some times I fumble sorting through my keychain. Maybe it's dark, or cold, I have gloves on, or just drop everything into a puddle. It's human to be distracted. Even the simplest of things go wrong.
Yet consider the common miracle of getting into your car and inserting the key into the ignition switch without looking, without even thinking about it. Think about the amazing precision with which you do this ordinary task, more often perfectly than not.
Aikido is just like this. When it's perfect, we don't even notice. It rarely feels special, and because of its ordinariness, it easily escapes our attention.
We stop looking for what we already have. And because of this, we lose what we possess.
I think I understand a part of this. Yesterdays seminar just reminded me of it. We're not puppys needing a pat on the head everytime we do something right. Because we're doing budo, and budo is either done right or not done at all.
If we're going about doing aikido to earn praise, I think we've lost sight of the goal.
Sensei Saotome's writings too help me understand this more when he explained what Osensei taught to his students about Aikido's secret and purpose.
But our generation do talk a lot don't we.
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