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Old 05-19-2005, 07:47 AM   #26
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,123
Re: The tower of Babel

Stefan Stenudd wrote:
Me, I am Swedish, but I am still sure that there are lots of folks in the world who understand the norse myths, or an Ingmar Bergman movie, better than I do.

On the other hand, Swedish sinologist Bernhard Karlgren got so good at the Chinese language, he could teach the Chinese scholars a thing or two about it.
I think we're going off on a tangential discussion when some people essentially say "Westerners can understand anything Japanese (or Chinese) can". I agree. IF someone is available to teach you those things. However, we're not talking about language, Buddhism the religion, etc. We're talking about a narrow field of knowledge that is not readily shown to anyone, especially foreigners. Whether some westerner *could* understand it is beside the point. IF they understand it, they can demonstrate it... it's that simple. They can do the jo trick, release sudden great power, be very strong despite small size, etc. And this is aside from the normal details of Aikido, karate, Taiji, Bagua, Shaolin, etc. Heck, even I can understand how to do these things and I'm not Japanese or Chinese... but I had to spend about 20 years looking, asking questions, practicing, studying, seeking out new teachers, and so on. If the implication from someone is that they don't need to do all these things, I'm not arguing, by the way... I simply say "congratulations" and I look forward to seeing your demonstration sometime.

Insofar as statements like "Bernhard Karlgren got so good at the Chinese language, he could teach the Chinese scholars a thing or two about it", the literalist in me forces me to ask, "did he teach them ALL a thing or two?". Some of them? A few of them? I know several western sinologists who learned the old characters, etc., and claimed that they were better at it than the Chinese, but it turns out in reality that they're better than the average joe, at best, and don't have enough command of the the idiom and culture to grasp many things. The Chinese have well-known experts on the old writings among themselves, I've heard, but the discussion of sinology is not the point of this discussion, IAIK.

The closest to a real genius level sinologist (AND someone who also was qualified to reasearch the old Japanese writings) who ALSO had a command of English idiom that I know of was William C.C. Hu. He also had a good grasp of Asian martial arts, since he practiced (and taught) a number of them. However, some of his translations suffer (I was just re-reading one the other night) because he was unaware of some of the politics and chicanery within various subsets of the arts.... one simply cannot be an expert at everything, can one?
We are aikido students, so we know: Wherever you are, whoever you are, to learn something you must study it.
True. And you must first find the information. We're talking about the information that Tohei and others had to go and deliberately seek out.... none of them just "knew it" because they were Japanese, Swedish, Chinese, etc. Insofar as someone re-discovering it on their own, I wish them well and a fond adieu. These things are not that simple, even though I thought so at one time, too.
Another thing: China and Japan are two different countries and cultures, even though they use the same "alphabet". A Japanese understanding of the Chinese classics is not necessarily the same as a Chinese understanding of them.
??? So? We're talking about a narrow spectrum of information. Think of it as the "secret" Quadratic Equation, for instance.... knowing it has nothing to do with your nationality. However, if you discuss the Quadratic Equation and you use Chinese terminology and references (qi, etc., are from China, not from Bulgaria) and Chinese phrases that are used to obscurely describe the Quadratic Equation, someone can rightfully assume that you got the ideas from a Chinese source, ne c'est pas?
As an historian of ideas, I have also been taught that there is a context to be considered. For example, the Chinese classics were certainly read differently in the days of their appearance, than in any other era thereafter.
There is no absolute in culture. What a book means, is something that is born in the meeting with its reader. There is seldom a definite right or wrong reading of it.
To me, an admitted literalist in many things, your last sentence tells me that you don't believe there is a certain way to repair an automobile engine or to solve a mathematical equation because there is no such thing as a wrong way to do those things. I disagree. Are you also of the belief that it is impossible to do any Aikido technique incorrectly, because relativism precludes any such thing as "wrong Aikido"?

Insofar as translating the old alphabets and idioms, I'm well aware of the problem and I've mentioned it before. The problem is further compounded, as I've also mentioned before, by the fact that martial idiom further confuses the writings... your Mr. Karlgren would be absolutely helpless, even though he is a "sinologist", in translating Chinese martial literature.

However, the information doesn't just reside in the "classics", something a few of you are attempting to hang your hats on, it also is known by various people. My only mention of classical statements was that the phrases Ueshiba used are well-known, traditional references, albeit obscure ones. I can think of two English-language books, off hand, that contain the same references here and there; I could probably think of a few more if I sat down, perused my library, etc., but I don't like going off on a tangent just because some people are more comfortable discussing an area where they can argue. I.e.,.... I was just contributing some information, not offering to argue. If anyone is more comfortable with their current view of Aikido, I encourage them to simply continue and to ignore anyone who suggests there is more to it. As I noted, though, ultimately to ignore the possibility that some current "experts" don't know some basics (as mentioned and demonstrated by O-Sensei and some uchideshi), is an untenable position. It will only come back to haunt in the future when people look back and say, "Oh.... he obviously didn't know." (I mention that because I have never forgotten hearing a very credible Chinese martial artist say exactly those words about someone while referring to what they used to teach)
So, what Chinese classics to go to, for words on (pinyin spelling qi)? Pretty much anyone of the Confucian classics, I'd say. It's scattered all over, more or less. I Ching (pinyin Yi jing) contains the fundamentals of ancient Chinese cosmology (yin and yang and their dynamics). The most lengthy treatments of are found in texts on Chinese medicine, where the Yellow Emperor's Classic (Huang Ti Nei Ching) is the nestor.
I would suggest that you're missing the point of what I was saying.
Me, I favor the perspective of philosophical taoism, such as in Tao Te Ching (pinyin Dao De Jing). is only mentioned a couple of times in it, but its cosmology is sweet. Other taoist texts elaborated more on the subject of , especially within the so called religious taoism, the guys who tried to live forever.

Tao Te Ching, with its message of non-interference and calmness in the turmoil of life, has a lot to say to the aikido student - especially in widening the concept of the way, .
Well, I'm certainly not trying to assaily your personal beliefs, so I encourage you to think as you please. However, the things I was talking about are substantive and outside of any necessity for religious or philosophical devotion.

All the Best.

Mike Sigman
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