Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
RE: Professor Friday's Reply
I think one could better address the points made by Professor Friday by returning to the question posed my Kim Taylor - a question which raises the issue of whether or not there are any results unique to martial arts (or "bugei," used by Professor Friday) in comparison to other non-martial arts or non-bugei activities.
Professor Friday believes the answer to this question to be "no". He goes on to (correctly) point out that bugei guide the learner toward a "universal/common result," or a "universalized state of understanding of things posited (in one form or another) by Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism." He then goes on to note how other non-bugei pursuits, such as, calligraphy, painting, music, etc., along with bugei, all represent "essentially co-equal routes to the same place." The old "universal-religion" metaphor of several paths leading up to a single mountain top is used to drive the point home. Also, somewhere, near the beginning Professor Friday turns Kim Taylor's question into one dealing with the importance, or lack thereof, in having a teacher/student relationship within any given bugei.
I would like to fully address Professor Friday's first point and deal with his second point on the importance of a teacher only in question form below. I imagine Professor Friday would not see himself as making two points, so I would like to first discuss my reasons for making this distinction. I think Kim Taylor's question is one that deals with differences, or possible differences, in technologies of the self. In other words, I think she is asking, for example, "Does bugei (using Professor Friday's term) differ in results from, for example, classical Zen training, or living the life of a Carmelite monk, or being a yogi, or perhaps even from other "do" arts such as chado, or even basketball?" While Professor Friday holds that the issue of a teacher is directly relevant to this query, I see it as only indirectly relevant in that it deals mainly with differences in subjectivities and not in technologies. In that no two teachers ever teach alike, I think that the issue of a teacher here, while possibly valid, can only be understood in the light of marking the "authentic" from the "inauthentic" at the individual level. In this sense then, I see the issue on the importance of a teacher dealing more with differences between students - people - than differences between systems or what I have called above, technologies.
Of course there is much overlap, and ultimately, perhaps, even an absurd argument in the end, when one is trying to draw a line between differences in peoples and differences in systems made up of peoples. Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity in what follows, I ask the reader to bare with me if the reasons for this distinction have not been made clear here.
DIFFERENCES IN TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF:
In the beginning of his response, Professor Friday uses the phrase: "…a universal/common result, by a unique and very specific path." If I leave Kim Taylor's question clearly in the realm of differences between technologies, I am made immediately curious to know what Professor Friday means by "very specific path." In particular I want to know what marks this specificity, and if any of this specificity "spills over" or "remains in" or "flavors" that "universal/common result." I think this is very much Kim Taylor's question. And while I think that Professor Friday did very much make clear his position on the role of a teacher in bugei training, I don't think he adequately addressed this - her main point.
We know a little of this specificity from what Professor Friday says elsewhere. It includes elements of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, or more accurately said later, it includes "Buddhist religious exercises, Taoist and other meditation practices, and whole-hearted devotion to any number of other pursuits…" I know Professor Friday has read his Grapard, and so he is fully aware that much, if not all, of the religious landscape of medieval Japan was "combinatoric" in nature. That is to say it was like a big salad bar - a little bit of this, a little bit of that, all mixed together with little concern for the modern notion of authenticity via the purity and maintenance of origin and lineage. (Note: Most certainly medieval Japan did already possess notions of lineage, purity, authenticity, maintenance and origin, but the modern notion of, let's say, that you could not be a good Catholic and a good Buddhist at the same time, for example, is far from born yet.) When Grapard posits, or hints that Shinto is a modern invention, in that it is indistinguishable from the Buddhist-Shinto combinatoric practices that preceded the Meiji Restoration, his logic begs the question of what exactly was combined. For combinatoric logic by necessity demands that at least two self-contained elements exist. Therefore perhaps even saying Buddhist-Shinto is saying too much. Maybe even Buddhist or Taoist is saying too much. Perhaps Professor Friday is no more correct than when he says, "…whole-hearted devotion to any number of other pursuits."
For a long time now scholars have known that the "isms" of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc., are academic fictions having more to do with the colonial and imperial politics of a given era than with historical or sociological accuracy. And my point for bringing this up here, and for the detour into Grapardian historiography, is to show whatever this "very specific path" is, it certainly was not shaped through or via a will for specificity. In fact, when we want to speak generally about influences, as we must when we discuss terms like "bugei" (or the even larger one, " Japanese martial arts"), then we really shouldn't get any more specific than saying things like "Pan-East Asian," or perhaps even "Pan-Medieval East Asian" influences. Undoubtedly Professor Friday is well aware of all this, as one can clearly see in his work, and in when he mentions "co-equal" routes in his reply to Kim Taylor's question. But the question remains, when speaking generally, "How far do we want to go in this non-specificity for the sake of accuracy?" Or "When speaking generally, how far can we go with non-specificity before accuracy is compromised?"
Clearly there is a limit - it's only the place of that limit that remains foggy. For Professor Friday, that limit can be said to lie somewhere between fighting with a sword and basketball on one side, and bugei on the other. In other words, there is a place, some place, where bugei stops. Thus there is some "thing" that is non-bugei. This is important if Kim Taylor's question is to be addressed seriously. We certainly don't want to subvert her question by saying that that all things are bugei (though I'm sure some folks today do in fact hold this position). And we certainly do not want to suggest that when Professor Friday answered Kim Taylor's question in the negative, that he could be lumped with this group of "universalists." Clearly this is not his position. Nor would it be mine. For while the end "result" of bugei might be made up of a "universal," the process is quite unique. I believe this is Professor Friday's reasons for making use of the metaphor of the mountain-top and the several paths leading up to it.
Sticking with this metaphor, and referring back to the state of Japanese medieval culture mentioned above, it may very well be true that we could speak of one mountain-top (though an argument to the contrary could be easily made) with several different paths - paths different from basketball and fighting with a sword - but also paths different from each other. Here I am not so sure where Professor Friday stands on this point - so what follows is my own position. Professor Friday may very well be suggesting in his response that these paths are not different from each other, while they are nevertheless different from basketball and fighting with a sword. The confusion arises from his use of the mountaintop/path metaphor (which clearly suggest paths that are not equal to each other though their destination may be the same) and his use of the word "co-equal" to describe the various "do" traditions.
As a historian we would be very well pressed to demonstrate the singular cultural entity that we could metaphorically refer to as a single mountaintop, but as a mystic, or even as a practitioner of a "do" tradition, I think it may well be fine to continue talking as if such a thing not only could but actually does exist. Then, continuing with this line of thought, we could generally say that this mountaintop - made up or built upon a dynamic collection of medieval Pan-East Asian influences - deals, in general, with "a cultivation of the self via a reconciliation with Fear, Pride, and/or Ignorance, in order to in some way positively alter our experience of objectivity and subjectivity." (This is the part where you fill in the blanks with those qualities partial to your own tradition and/or personal cultural-history!) We might even be tempted, particularly those that have trained in more than one of the "do" traditions, and/or in combination with the various current Buddhist traditions, to say that, yes, from bugei to tea to Zen, all of these paths force us to reconcile with Fear, Pride, and/or Ignorance. We may even be able to recall moments in zazen when we were shaking with as much fear as any time we were training hard with a given bugei master. And we can point to times where an inability to reconcile with Pride hindered us in the pursuit or manifestation of a given aesthetic ideal during a tea ceremony - much in the same way that we were hindered from truly hearing the teachings of our Zen master.
All this aside, valid as it may very well be, I do not see it as out of the question to suggest that the various paths leading up to a single mountaintop are different from each other (are paths in the plural) precisely because they deal with the mountaintop in different degrees and from different angles and/or perspectives. The answer to Kim Taylor's question could very well be, "Yes, there are differences, and perhaps even different results, from martial arts (using her word) and other activities." In other words, it seems to me, because of the huge overlap between Fear, Pride, and Ignorance, and any other types of reconciliation that ultimately lead to positively altering our experience of objectivity and subjectivity, that it would not be entirely out of the question for one tradition to deal more with one element, for example, Fear over Pride, than an other one. Nor then would it be out of the question to suggest that some sort of remainder of the path - some sliver of difference - made it up to the mountaintop - at least at the level of experience.
Recalling the metaphor, I think if you climb the front face of a sheer cliff to get to a mountaintop, and your friend walks up the gentle slope on the backside of the mountain - when you are looking out at the same view - standing side by side - you are not really looking at the same view at all. Of course one can talk about the view being literally the same view, and one can also philosophically talk about the wiping away of all differences - even between gentle slopes and sheer cliff faces - once the top of the mountain is reached (which would in fact negate even the difference between basketball and bugei - something neither I nor Professor Friday would like to do) - but I think in doing so one would forget an excellent point made by Professor Friday: "…in bugei learning, it's not the goal, it's the process that's critical." Going back to our metaphor, it's not the mountaintop that's critical, it's the path that is critical.
It seems that metaphorically, historically, and philosophically, etc., the path of bugei (while quite possibly leading up to the same mountaintop as the other "do" traditions) can very well be quite different from the other paths. And if the path itself, and not the mountaintop, is the critical element, then that difference between paths is also critical. It seems Kim Taylor's question is perfectly sound and should not so quickly be dismissed by us via the rhetoric of the universal.
Let's start with the superficial - moving away from the mountaintop for a moment: What marks bugei that does not mark all of the other "do" traditions? What delineates the path of bugei? This list is easy to make - from the totally mundane to the somewhat profound: costume, gender restrictions (historically/culturally specific), grooming habits, physical conditioning, martial prowess, violence, etc. Let's discuss this last element a little bit closer - violence…
Violence, or more accurately, the paradox of peace through violence (the sword that gives life/the sword that takes life), could quite arguably said to be particular to the path of bugei. If we go back to the mountaintop for a bit, it may very well be true that the other "do" traditions deal with the reconciliation of Fear, Pride, and Ignorance, but it is not true that their reconciliation is called forth via this particular kind of spiritual paradox. For example, unlike with the tea student, the warrior first has his/her fear, pride, and ignorance tempted, even strengthened and supported, by a feeding of their individual subjective will to power. That will to power is fed quite purposefully on the nectar of being able to foster the ultimate primal egocentric (therefore not positively altering one's experience of objectivity and subjectivity) experience: the destruction of life. It very well seems that while the matter upon which the training is working on is the same, the manner in which it is worked upon is quite different. There are different takes on the same spiritual problems, in other words. Different spiritual paradoxes are set up, different ontological problematics are put forth, etc. This may be why, while the tea ceremony may or may not harbor moments of terror, or while the zendo may or may not also harbor such moments, the place where bugei are studied almost always harbors sheer terror (or at least should).
In other words, and sticking with my arbitrary elements of Fear, Pride, and Ignorance, the tea student may come to deal with Fear fully, but more through the vehicles of Pride and Ignorance, whereas the warrior may come to deal with Pride and Ignorance fully, but more so through the vehicle of Fear. Undoubtedly we are dealing with the same three elements (or any other elements of your choice), but might it not be like a wine that is tasted in several glasses that are of different shape? Depending upon whether the glass is long or short, whether the opening wide or small, the wine is the same, but the experience of drinking the wine, even tasting the wine, is different. Everything points to the notion that the vehicle, the glass, the path, does shape the experience of the mountaintop - how much more so when we negate the mountaintop and just stick to the path itself being critical? My answer to Kim Taylor's question, in difference with Professor Friday, is, yes - there are results unique to bugei. I briefly touched upon one of these - I think the rest of this answer is up to each practitioner - and up to their teacher. My point here is only to suggest that Professor Friday's answer may not be as complete as it appears to be at first glance.
THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER IN BUGEI:
Leaving Kim Taylor's question behind, I would now like to address Professor Friday's points on the role of a teacher in bugei training. Undoubtedly I agree with him. A teacher is important, but for the sake of promoting further discussion, I would like to raise a few points - leaving them as points only as much as possible.
1, In light of the hodge-podge (undoubtedly an exaggeration on my part) mud out of which arose the bugei, in terms of the "mountaintop," how important is the authenticity granted by a teacher of a given bugei toward the student's actual walking of the path itself? In short, what is the relationship between authenticity and steps actually taken by the student? Does authenticity ensure that steps are taken? And if not, does inauthenticity ensure that no steps can be taken? Is the mountaintop a matter of the soul/spirit - that which is universal in Man - or is it a matter solely of tradition - a given space and a given time?
2. Both the literary record and the historical record (for not only the "do" traditions but also other mountaintop and/or "mystical" or "religious" traditions) provide for and give evidence of the phenomena of, shall we say, "genius." That is to say, from the Buddhist notion of "Pratyaka," to the Christian mystic notion of "Grace," to the fact that not until fairly recently in their history do you hear of bugei students staying with one master for any decent length of time, all traditions similar in scope and aim allow for the individual to "save" himself. Historically, and traditionally speaking, after the hodge-podge sort of settled down, eventual bugei masters trained a little here, a little there, or a little with this person or a little with that person, BUT a lot on their own. Isn't there something else, something "new," something "added," in this call or push for authenticity via a teacher? And is that thing a good thing or a bad thing?
I'm not sure of the answers here. But I think problematizing this will to conserve or to authenticate is a good thing for contemporary students of bugei. For sure, the path is critical, as Professor Friday states. But when that path is no longer concerned at all with whether or not it is on the mountain - instead simply satisfied to merely be a path - then I think we have a problem equal to that of only focusing on the top of the mountain. Such a thing is very much possible when the path becomes confused with lineage alone.
In this way a bugei can very much become an art. That is to say that it can very much experience a kind of "museum death," becoming like some sort of water-jug borrowed or stolen from some other aboriginal culture, a jug never to be used as such again - only to be looked at from behind the other side of a glass pane and a velvet rope.
3. Why does it seem to be such a part of the mindset of Westerners who train in the koryu (for example) to preserve or conserve, to authenticate or to denounce as fraud, to draw a line between this and that, etc.? Clearly they are not in the museum business, and yet they adopt curator practices quite easily - why? Part of it is easily understood: The Arts are dying. They have been dying for a long time. They are indeed undergoing a kind of death. But are curator tactics the solution? Were they ever part of the solution? In other words, what brought the arts this far? I seriously doubt it was the same kind of museum technology. Life, history, culture, none of these things work this way.
4. Back to the metaphor, (and I am continuing to use that metaphor because it allows the reader to fill in his/her own ideas, concepts, terms, while allowing the reader to recall to mind my own suggestions) what is the path that no longer allows for one to move? Certainly that is no path at all. From the point of view of the "ultimate" (again - you fill in the blank) in bugei, is one not making too much out of the path here when one's "authenticity" can be decided solely with a piece of paper marking some sort of lineage? What happened to the notion of "killing the Buddha when you see him" or of "burning the vessel when you get to the other side"?
I think when one is dealing with the heart of the "do" traditions or the spiritual ideals of the bugei in general (new and old - whatever - the history is much more complex than space and time allows for) one needs to be suspicious of conservative trends and/or wills - even if we may admire them for what they preserve and/or achieve. As I said above, one can certainly understand and even sympathize with the will to authenticate and conserve/preserve. However, let's not let our thinking on this matter stop there. Let us understand that conservative movements always mark the death of something. Let us understand that the will to power that says things must be done "this way" or "no way" is a fairly modern invention - one very much relevant to the birth of the modern nation state and one not at all relevant to the birth of the bugei traditions. Of course none of this was said or even suggested by Professor Friday, but I still think his position on the role of a teacher, in how he felt it adequately addressed Kim Taylor's query, lays the groundwork for the rest of us to consider these separate issues carefully.
In the end, Professor Friday says: "Learning and techniques and tactics in bugei study is like learning the alphabet in pursuit of becoming a writer or learning arithmetic in pursuit of becoming a mathematician. It's where you start, but it's only a tiny first step."
Herein lies my closing question.
5. Can we really be led, let alone guided, past these tiny first steps? Is this point as far as a teacher can take us? Are the steps past the tiny first steps the steps we make alone?
Every single literary and historical record that has anything to do with the transmission of any kind of "sublime" knowledge or mastery of any kind of given knowledge (sublime or not), as well as any current teacher of such things worth his reputation in salt, tells us that after these tiny steps - we are on our own. Yet for some reason, I'm not sure the preservationist of bugei (of which I cannot include Professor Friday since he is not clear on this position, undoubtedly due to the briefness of his reply - again I repeat, I am only using his reply as a catalyst for this new discussion) would follow suit. So the question remains (perhaps a preservationist can respond): Why not? Why can I not make these steps on my own - errors and all? Or the more pointed inverse: Why can you make these steps for me? Or why can you help me make these steps at all?