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Old 04-11-2006, 04:41 PM   #1
Erick Mead
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Dojo: Big Green Drum (W. Florida Aikikai)
Location: West Florida
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,616
"Self-defense" or Something Else?

Are MARTIAL arts 'self-defense" or something else?

A tour of websites recently put me off. Particularly those in the vein of "Aikido is an art of non-violent self-defense. I will not name the site that caused my dyspeptic condition, but this was said there:
Could it be that Aikido is not martial in nature, but simply aligned with the true definition of BUDO as related by O-sensei himself. ... What could be the importance of describing Aikido as "a non-martial attitude" fitness "art"? Isn't it quite an unjust service to Aikido to represent it with a word which quite clearly suggests imminent destruction or destruction? That word of course being "martial".
I therefore pose my question: Are MARTIAL arts "self-defense" or something else? Mars is the God of war. Arts of war are for killing people and breaking things -- as my gunnery sergeant once duly enlightened me (while standing over my suddenly prostrate form).

No, really -- killing and destroying -- that is what arts of war are. If you think otherwise you are seriously deluded. Aikido Hombu once placed the image of Take-mika-zuchi-no-kami, the Kami of military arts on the kamidana as a token of worship. The appreciation of this by non-Japanese was deemed a source of potential misunderstanding and the practice was curtailed. But the original dedication of the art remains. Mars inescapably rules our fates in Aikido.

And yet -- O-Sensei once said "True budo is a work of love. It is a work of giving life to all beings, and not killing or struggling with each other."
And "Love is the guardian deity of everything. Nothing can exist without it. Aikido is the realization of love."

Are these just the doddering sentimentalities of a old man getting senile or is there something else here that he was telling us that bears a lot of thinking about? (Me, I vote for the latter)

Conventionally, if martial arts are simply about self-defense-- when presented with a threat -- you kill or destroy before you are killed or destroyed in turn. Q.E.D. Honor? -- piffle! IF it is merely self-defense, then survival of self is all that matters. But martial arts at least pretend to concern themselves with things of greater moment than mere personal survival.

More deeply, what justifies a war for which we would train in such arts? Plainly, it is something larger than mere defense of myself, and indeed, willingly entering into a field of conflict is antithetical in many instances to my own self-preservation. A gazelle does not typically irimi a lion for this reason; except when her fawn is threatened.

Love, only love, can support the will necessary or hope to justify the willing entry into the reach of death. For that is what we train to do.

O-Sensei's thoughts need a modern context. They are true, but need a focus and image to dwell upon for us to begin to act them out and comprehend them in our bones. As the Second Dosshu recognized in removing it, we do not understand the image of Take-mika-zuchi-no-kami, nor its place on the kamidana in the dojo, nor the significance of reverence and even worship for that fierceness of spirit in combat, which is love in its most terrible and irresistible form. But we need an image, or many of them, that will likewise serve for us to call to mind this spirit in ways we can relate to.

Modern myths are more commonplace now and are our common stories, so I will make use of one, which I recently watched with my kids. It is a scene from "Return of the Jedi." I asked my kids when it was over, why Luke was able to defeat Vader in the end. Pleased papa that I am -- one of them got it right.

The scene is where Luke confronts Vader before the Emperor is a sublime exploration of this theme. The Emperor, focus of the will to power and domination in the galaxy, admonishes Luke to take up that power and destroy Vader to save his friends. As he squares off with Vader, Luke wants to save his friends, but also to save his father and simultaneously struggles with his temptation to give in to a very justified hatred and desire for vengeance. Until this point, Vader has the better of him, vastly more trained in the art of the cool and efficient will to destroy.

Vader discovers the existence of Luke's sister and threatens to turn her. Then Luke's fury is unleashed cannot be stopped. But it is not a fury of anger, nor hatred, nor vengeance. His furor rises from a deep and selfless love so commanding that he can do nothing except act upon it until he cannot act any longer.

When it is accomplished, Vader defeated, he turns aside, trying to save his father once more, but throwing away his weapon as an admission of futility in the face of an overwhelming power. He submits and endures the inevitable torture and death that are to follow. It is this completely selfless abandon for the sake of that love that carries the day, converts Vader, and even saves Luke, although he does not intend to seek his own salvation.

Too often I find those drawn to arts of war trying emulate the coolness displayed by Vader until very nearly the end, seeking the will to destroy without care. Our other modern myths (often in the form of video games) too often advance this theme.

What we need to seek is that reservoir, a mass of waters restlessly bound, a matchless torrent waiting to burst from its dam. These waters are pure and clear, but also deep and exceedingly dark. They are drawn from sources deep beyond our meager selves. We cannot trifle with such as this except in small spoonfuls in training. If released unchecked it will carry us away, along with everything else in its path.

I ask again. Is it self-defense we are training in, or is it something else?

Erick Mead
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