Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
RE: Karl Friday's reply
While it might be considered futile to further delve into a topic after a person has stated both a lack of time and inclination, I nevertheless see that Professor Friday's points remain fertile ground for conversation. If it is possible to discuss those points without necessarily attributing them solely to Professor Friday or necessitating his defense of those point, I think such a discussion is not without some merit.
Professor Friday rightly pointed out several key elements. In particular, or rather, first and foremost, there is the high potential for misunderstanding that comes from the fact that the original post was not at all meant for this audience. Undoubtedly this has led to things needing further explanations - which Professor Friday has kindly provided. As for my own position, I don't feel that Professor Friday has provided the need for any further explanation on my part. This is not so much because his points are not well made - they are - but rather because he's opted not to fully engage this thread.
That being said, and while I do think that taking about basketball on the one hand but seeing a small incidental reference to, for example, yoga as "too scattered and unrelated" as somewhat inconsistent in thinking; or while I do know for a fact that "combinatoric" is a word derived from that branch of mathematics known as Combinatorics, and that Professor Grapard's "combinative" position is based upon his early and continual usage of this word throughout his lectures and presentations; or while I know that Professor Grapard does in fact hold the position that "Shinto" - as we know it today - is in fact a modern invention; etc.; I do want to say that I think that the heart of the disagreement in what Professor Friday is saying, and what I was saying in my earlier post, lays elsewhere.
In particular, I think there is a very small divergence between what Professor Friday is saying and what I am trying to say in the area of what makes up the essence of bugei. I think this divergence could be put, grossly, as tradition being the essence, or that medieval "goal" that various given michi were supposed to be working toward or in light of being the essence. Undoubtedly, both he and I would hold that such a division in "essence" is not possible - in that one with out the other makes both ultimately meaningless. However I do believe that as a point of argument this divergence between our positions still remains.
For me, this leaves room to fully accept Professor Friday's position that he's mainly dealing with a given history, while seeing as fully valid, perhaps more so for this forum than for his, any discussion into the potential or possible physical/psychological "changes" that students of bugei might hold as unique to them (different from shodo, basketball, or yoga, etc.).
Thus I fully agree with this position: "The main point I was trying to make, is that the Japanese view of what martial art training is about, and how it works, is fundamentally different from modern Western ideas about various kinds of education and learning." And yet I fully disagree with this position: "Learning the bugei becomes as much about how you study and how you ultimately do things as it is about what you become able to do. This is not true of all martial art. Nor is it true of modern Western sports, such as basketball, which are about acquiring proficiency in achieving results (and, ultimately, about the character-building properties alleged to attach to hard work and competition): it doesn't matter if you prefer to do your hook shots like Wilt Chamberlain and your jump shots like Michael Jordon, so long as that combination works for you. But Japanese bugei, as a cultural phenomenon, is built around the idea of learning (at least initially) to do everything in one particular way." My disagreement here is when one wishes to discuss structural elements of praxis such as this, no real difference is ever going to be made between, for example, basketball and bugei. In other words, the perfection of form as the necessary precursor to the artistic, and spontaneous, demonstration of "master" levels of proficiency can be both found in basketball and bugei. Even in the case of Michael Jordan, possessing his own unique style, today complains left and right how his current team is lacking in basketball fundamentals - that they are playing "over their head" in a way. No coach of decent quality, like no bugei sensei of decent quality, let's his players by-pass form and structure for the sake any given result - at least not "initially". This is not to say that I believe that basketball and bugei are equal in practice or even in result. I do not hold this to be true. I only find it impossible to draw a structural difference between the two outside of anything relating to the "goal" particular to the "michi" bugei are derived from. Undoubtedly this is the same problem other contributors to this link had with Professor Friday's comments on what basketball is or is not supposed to be.
Another point I agree on is: "Authenticity of this sort is an externally-imposed recognition of proprietary rights to a particular body of knowledge. It obviously doesn't always coincide exactly with true mastery of that body of knowledge. Legitimate heirs to recognized bugei traditions are not always budo masters. And budo masters are not always authorized representatives of some recognized bugei ryuha." While this may very well put an end to the historical question, I believe the personal question which I raised in my first comment still stands. Why? Because this very historical fact is a problem for contemporary practitioners of bugei - it is no solution. In other words, while the historian may and well be completely satisfied by correctly identifying a particular social and/or institutional will behind the role of authenticity, the practitioner is still left with the problem of some folks being masters without authenticity, or folks with authenticity not being masters. Obviously, as Professor Friday made clear, this has nothing to do with his original post. However, for the sake of this discussion I find it to be much more relevant to our forum.
For me I think this sociological problem (i.e. masters without authenticity and authenticity without masters) is compounded by a historical position I hold different from Professor Friday. I do not hold that the bugei of the Tokugawa period is what has been handed down to us (Aikidoka) today. (I do allow for the possibility that koryu and Aikido may not share the same history and thus that a given koryu may in fact be directly derived from the Tokugawa period - which is Professor Friday's point. Though I would find this to truly be a historical anomoly.) I do hold that there was a very strong will to "organize" and "authenticate," even "purify" various Japanese cultural traditions, bugei and the various ryuha being some of them, but my experience with history holds that this "will" is more imagined than it is manifested. That is to say, first, that a will to organize only works hand in hand with the phenomena of the contrary will also existing and operating within a given culture. (e.g. I need to push for systematization because other folks are pushing against it.) Second, as for the Aikido that was handed down to us (which Professor Friday has clearly said he's not commenting upon), it certainly is not the product of a culturally successful will to study one and only one ryuha. From the founder to the shihan that are considered to be budo masters today, they all studied in various bugei traditions. Who is to say which one is the original way for the Japanese bugei? Who's to say which way, combining "different" things or willing them to be the same, is more Japanese? Japan has always - at all times - in my academic pursuits - demonstrated both trends. For us, when we are not historians, for us members within a given tradition, for us when we are the actual players and not the "objective" scholar, we have one question - the same one that has always existed in Japan and in every other culture around the world: "Do you go with the will of the institution or do you go with the social fact that folks have always done what they want to do - institution or no institution?
If you go with the institution then you help to reify it's imagined will. You will talk about origins and delineate limits or boundaries. If you go with the sociological mess that is a given cultural reality then you run out of things to talk about even more quickly. For example, there is a poll going on in this site: Is it legitimate Aikido if your Aikido cannot be directly traced to Osensei? From an institutional point of view, the answer is a quickly reached 'no'. From a cultural point of view, the question is kind of funny really, since Osensei did not participate in one art only, and since his top students also trained in various bugei (some doing so even until this day).
Clearly one cannot make it all up - even when we talk about such things being philosophically allowable. I am a huge proponent of basics and of long tutelages. And perhaps it is a matter of semantics ultimately, but to me, the tiny steps that make up your first 10 to 20 years in bugei are very much the property of a given sensei and a given tradition. What comes after those tiny steps is all up to you. To me this is not only "spiritually" viable, it is also historically supported - through medieval traditions, even through the Tokugawa will to organize, and up to our current predecessors (Osensei, and his early and later students).
As a practitioner in Aikido the poll might be better said this way: Would you rather train with an Aikido master without institutional authenticity or would you rather train with an institutionally authentic Aikido sensei that is surely no master? Or even more pointed, and still from the point of view of the practitioner - not the historian: Is there a more real authenticity that only takes place on the mat and not on paper? If so, why? If not so, why?
P.S. And thank you to Professor Friday for taking time out of his busy schedule to further elaborate his position. He has shed much light on the matter.