Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Re: Basic elements of Aikido
There has been a tendency to spiritualize and mysticize a lot of Asian philosophy, medicine, martial-arts, etc., while overlooking the fact that the flowery language and unclear literature (read "classical style of writing") was actually referring to things derived from pragmatic and substantive issues. Most of the writings I read that interpret "spiritually" simply follow that trend which is misleading and usually just downright wrong in its conclusions.
Take, for instance, the acupuncture theory and meridians which focus on the "ki" in the body. As everyone already knows, this system was borrowed from the Chinese... but how did the Chinese discover this thing called a "universal force" (by so many westerners) and learn the "meridians" and all that obscure stuff that goes with it?
Ki/qi and strength are inextricably intertwined; ki is a paradigm that explains how strength (and by extension, "health") work. Better yet, the obverse is true... ki is about the health of the body and strength is an aspect of health. Regardless of your perspective, the earliest records relating to ki/qi in China relate to "channels", not the finer-tuned and more complex "meridians" of later times. The "channels" are a study of how strength moves best in the body. For instance, it is easier to push something to your front with your palm, having the elbow down or slightly turned outward; it is easier to pull something toward you with that same hand if, as you draw your hand inward, the fingers close and the arm twists so that the elbow turns down and inward. The convention of strength flow, in this simple example, is that forces going outward go along the outside of the arm; forces pulling inward come along the inside of the arm. Hence you will see musculo-tendon "channels" for ki going away from the body on the outside of an arm or leg and forces coming inward going along the inside of an arm or leg. The precursors to the acupuncture meridians, the musculo-tendon "channels", gradually became more complex as more and more was added to the knowledge of how things work.... but in a practical sense, not a mystical or "spiritual" sense.
The truly interesting thing about the quote from the Yellow Emperor classic is that it indicates the study of ki/qi, etc., has been around a VERY long time. Let me repeat the translation from the previous post and then comment:
"I have heard that in ancient times there were the so-called Spiritual Beings:
They stood between Heaven and Earth, connecting the Universe;
They understood and were able to control both Yin and Yang, the two fundamental principles of nature;
The inhaled the vital essence of life;
They remained unmoving in their spirit;
Their muscles and flesh were as one;
This is the Tao, the Way you are looking for."
Here would be my personal explanation of what is most probably being said:
Of course, there are religious connotations due to the translator's perspectives using the term "spiritual", but maybe it's best just to look at it as a myth explaining a topic. In that myth, there were gods that stood between heaven and earth and who knew how to control some kind of basic forces, if you consider the world in terms of all things being part of a dichotomy. These gods "inhaled ki" while staying relaxed and emptying their minds. Their muscles and fascia systems were as one (via a divine power of the body within the mind). This is the Way to do things.
Of course, I'm verging on being flippant, but given that the words in the original translation pretty precisely describe how a qigong is done, I can't see any other translation or need for that particular story which mentions the specifics that it does, frankly. In a cause and effect world, a myth that has the exact requirements of a qigong in it would be highly suspect as a coincidental myth that mentions those criteria.
Incidentally, this particular Way (the one from which Taoism arose) meshes so very nicely within the Buddhist tenets that it's no wonder that the qigong practices were a mainstay of Buddhist temples in India and China.
Anyway, the point in mentioning that was to point out the "muscles and flesh were as one". Other, but later, Chinese documents refer more specifically to muscles and "connective tissue", "fascia", or similar translations. The idea of the "flesh" and "muscles" combining function is paramount to full-blown qi development and is done via breathing exercises.
Jumping ahead to today, we're suddenly beginning to find out that there is some relationship to fascia layers and acupunture points. Other studies are indicating current flows, "magnetic feelings" and other activities in the fascia. There are a great number of relationships between the muscle and fascia and mental functions that are blatantly mentioned in current qi-related literature and demonstrations. So the point I've been trying to make is that to read the flowery and abstruse descriptions of "classical" comments and to reflexively attribute "spirituality" and mysticism to the initiating thoughts in the words is to usually miss the real idea. (Incidentally, I can give some references for reading material on a number of the ideas, if anyone is interested... although I've previously recommended some of them).
Having said all that, I take a look at Peter Boylan's exposition, which I reproduce in part:
For Ueshiba, the practice of Aikido, like the practice of any art for a member of Oomoto-kyo, was a means of promoting the Divine within oneself, and ultimately a means for achieving unification with the Divine.
Many of Ueshiba's doka were lessons of strategy and technique. Others were lessons about the mystical and spiritual side of Aikido, and how Aikido relates to God and the Divine. The examples below show how Ueshiba viewed the connection between his religion and Aikido.
The Divine Will
Permeating body and soul
is the blade of Aiki:
Polish it, make it shine
throughout this world of ours!
(Ueshiba 1993, 41)
This doka makes it quite explicit that Aikido is an activity that is intimately connected with religion.
can never be encompassed
by the brush or by the mouth.
Do not rely on words to grasp it,
attain enlightenment through practice!
(Ueshiba 1993, 41)
Though Ueshiba was hardly a Buddhist, still the idea of enlightenment, or sudden, individual understanding about the true nature of things, is such a common idea in Japan after a millennium and a half of exposure to Buddhism that it can be seen here when Ueshiba describes attaining true understanding through Aikido.
Protecting the Way
of gods and buddhas
in this world of ours:
The techniques of Aiki
are the law of kusanagi.
(Ueshiba 1993, 45)
Taking into account my pre-ramble, perhaps you can see my perspective of where a lot of current thought on Ueshiba's writings is simply misdirected because the root understanding of ki/qi and qigongs was kept secret and few of today's practitioners understand the relationships and classical concepts that Ueshiba was referring to. In turn, those classical concepts are turning out to have been based on a far more practical body-technology that we have previously credited.