View Single Post
Old 05-19-2005, 08:45 AM   #28
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,123
Re: Basic elements of Aikido

Ron Tisdale wrote:
What would be interesting now, is to take some of the doka, or some relevent parts of the kojiki, and look at various translations, to see what can be pieced together in terms of using the breath, the mind leading the ki, etc.Ellis Amdur did a contemporary reading of one of Ueshiba Sensei's speaches at aikido journal...I wonder if that text would make a good start.

Don, would you know of a particular text that exists in Japanese and english that might be readily available, and that we might suggest as a good starting place?

Jun, would you happen to have Takemusu Aiki in Japanese?

Ellis, would you be willing to look at that text with the ideas Mike has presented? I know you have a pretty strong background in Chinese arts as well...which I certainly don't have.

The article in question can be found here: Aikido is three peaches.
I realize that the discussion is evolving and I'm not sure I want to go too deeply into this because I'm engaged in a protracted and interesting discussion on another mailing list. The original question was whether there were any things written down that codified the contents of Aikido. Some people want to argue this area because it is an avenue through which they can argue that "anything is Aikido", etc., and therefore what they do is legitimately Aikido, and so on. I simply wanted to point out that there were indeed some "codified" ideas.

Insofar as what Ellis wrote, Ron, I think you're needlessly opening a can of worms. The discussion might be interesting and even enlightening, but ultimately the functional "how-to" information contained in those sorts of writings is extremely limited.

Let me take one paragraph from Ellis' article and comment:

In Ueshiba's first statements, he defines aikido as the Way of union and harmony of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity. Note that very significant trinity, which later, one footnote suggests, come into fruition in a circle. He gives many definitions of aikido, but I see a trinity here as well: as a purification rite, as a procedure to make kotodama possible, and a means of protection of all of creation.

The idea of the harmony of Heaven, Earth, and Man is a basic idea in Chinese philosophy that you cannot escape in any reasonable tome, whether it has to do with martial arts or not. That's one level. On a functional "ki and kokyu" level, they take this basic idea and assign it to some specific physical practices. I.e., one facet of breath-mind-body exercise is called "heaven" and the other main aspect is "earth" and you "mix them" in "Man" to get a certain result. That is, Ueshiba was quoting the standard "Earth, Heaven, and Man" apothegm, but he used it in context with other standard references in a way that makes clear (because that combination is not used in any other usage than the martial) he is referring to the basic way of developing power through ki exercises. Additionally, he is not using an innovative way of developing this very basic idea; he is using the literal formulations that are common in Chinese writings, as well. Let me emphasize that these sayings are basic, not sophisticated, BTW.

Ueshiba also, as Ellis notes, makes Japanese-centered references to Yin and Yang ideas, etc., but these generally refer to the very important idea of "natural harmony" of the universe. The general (and trust me, this is quite commonly found) idea is that the rest of the earth is "natural" because they already or still have their natural ki. Man does not. Either he lost it through eveolution (one view) or he has not yet gained it (Ueshiba subscribes to this idea, apparently, and he ascribes the reason for man's lack due to his "sins"). Just as a quick example of ki in animals, look at the strength of wild animals in comparison to their size; look at how a horse can quiver his flanks at will (this is, believe it or not, a good example of ki, but I digress..).

Anyway, I think it's fairly clear that the vagueness and generality of Ueshiba's writings can be misleading. Look at the differences on a basic level between what Ellis and I see from just a small portion. When I look at O-Sensei's writings, I see him over and over use basic Chinese ideas (mixed with a lot of Shinto, "purification", etc., of course) to essentially espouse the greatness of true Aikido practice that utilizes the learning of ki and kokyu skills because that is the way in which to become "natural" and "harmonize" with the rest of the universe. I think to mistakenly assume the New Age idea (which Ellis does not, I hasten to add) that he was talking about the philosophical idea of "peace, love, and harmony" is totally missing the point. The way you "harmonize", in the traditional sense, is to learn these ki and kokyu things alongside a martial system that utilizes blending with the opponent's forces (another common idea in a number of other arts, experienced practitioner already know)... AND you couple those things with the correct religious practices. Leaving out the religious parts, it boils down to "develop your natural ki skills through certain practices and your Aikido practice and then use those skills to handle life in all its aspects". That's the essence of what O-Sensei was saying, I would suggest. People who want to think otherwise are free to do so and not feel "intimidated".

While a brief discussion of some of the classical and traditional references is perhaps enlightening, as I said, it doesn't really help people achieve physical progress. Let me point out a selected bit of Tohei's interview in Aikido Journal:

On one occasion the prince pointed at Ueshiba Sensei and said, "Try to lift up that old man." Four strong sailors tried their best to lift him but they couldn't do it.
Sensei said of that time, "All the many divine spirits of Heaven and Earth entered my body and I became as immovable as a heavy rock." Everybody took him literally and believed it. I heard him say that kind of thing hundreds of times.
For my part, I have never had divine beings enter my body. I've never put much stock in that kind of illogical explanation. .....

In reality that sort of thing has nothing to do with any gods or spirits. It's just a matter of having a low center of gravity. I know this and it's what I teach all my students. It wouldn't mean anything if only certain special people could do it. Things like that have to be accessible to everyone if they're to have any meaning.

As Tohei indicates, to dwell on what the "divine spirits of Heaven" really means is not so important as to know that that particular demonstration has to do with keeping a low center of gravity. That's the important discussion. Where I think Tohei falls short is that telling someone to "keep a low center of gravity" does not really tell you exactly how to do that trick, even though it is a technically correct statement. You have to be shown how to do the trick and you have to realize that the whole topic of ki and kokyu is far more complex than just a few "force path" tricks and "relaxing" to the point that you "awaken your ki". I.e., vagaries, whether in O-Sensei's writings or in Tohei's clearer statements, will not give you much substantive progress. So I'm somewhat opposed to dwelling too much on translating the purposely vague.


  Reply With Quote