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Old 04-13-2006, 01:33 PM   #21
James Kelly
Dojo: Glendale Aikikai
Location: Los Angeles
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 109
United Nations
Re: "Self-defense" or Something Else?

A little something on the language of aikido:

It's a pet peeve of mine, and it happens all over the place not just in aikido, but it seems to me that the practice of using the etymology of words to find their true, somehow hidden meaning is unsound.

Aggression does not = irimi

Yes it may derive from the Latin meaning ‘advance toward' but it now clearly denotes hostility or an attack. (Otherwise an aggressive irimi would be redundant, but it's not. You can have a timid irimi. It may be bad, but it's still an irimi).

Similarly, Aikido does not = ‘the way of harmony and energy' (or however you want to translate the kanji)

Ai, ki and do are clearly components of the term aikido, and it's fun to talk about them and see how they fit in, but the word aikido refers to a specific thing: this art we practice. If not we could use ‘aikido' to label any activity that uses these components.

So when we talk about a ‘martial art', this is an English term applied to various disciplines. But it's an arbitrary category. Sure, an ‘art of war' is about killing and destroying, but labeling aikido as a martial art doesn't mean that it is in fact an art of war.

It's an accident of English that ‘martial art' is applied to aikido. My unscholarly guess is that when the Japanese arts came to the west they were grouped into strange categories like budo and bujutsu and people looked around for a translation for these terms and came up with ‘martial art' for all. They could have just as easily come up with ‘fighting system' or ‘violent practice' or "vigorous training" or simply "expertise" (the literal translation of kung fu). Then we'd be discussing whether aikido is really violent, or is it actually a system (as opposed to whether it's martial or really an art...)

With that said...

In Etruscan times, Mars was the god of springtime, and growth. It was only with the rise of the Romans and their warlike culture that he became associated with war because, legend had it the Romans were descended from Mars and they wanted to up their intimidation factor (his mom was Juno, the queen of the gods and his dad... a magical flower). So they ascribed warlike attributes to Mars and eventually raised him to the equivalent of Ares (the Greek god of war).

The word ‘martial' in English means having to do with the military as opposed to ‘civil', having to do with the citizenry. Martial law vs. civil law; martial disobedience vs. civil disobedience; even martial war (two militaries fighting each other) vs. civil war (the citizenry fighting itself). But I don't think anyone's arguing that aikido is somehow exclusive to the military.


Similarly, people tend to get caught up in the ‘art' part of the term. You hear, ‘Remember, it's an art form.' to justify the aesthetic concerns of aikido.

But aikido is not necessarily martial or an art form. It is a martial art... a separate category of things that includes karate, capoeira, systema... a wide variety of things, some of which are martial, some of which are artful, some neither and some both.

It's still a valid discussion to debate whether aikido is self-defense (which, as someone already pointed out, doesn't require and may preclude the destruction of others) or something else, but I don't think using the term ‘martial art' as evidence of the destructive nature of aikido holds up.
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