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Old 05-24-2007, 02:35 AM   #70
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

I think Erick Mead's last long post (#65) deserves a much more detailed response, not because I disagree with it (I do not), but because it supplements and illuminates his other posts in this thread and also further illuminates the issues under discussion. Because this is a long post, I have numbered the paragraphs.

1. The first poster began this thread by asking how to parse the word 'aikido'. This sort of question is often asked because the word does not have a clear English translation, perhaps also because of the way the art is sometimes presented: a budo that is quite different from anything that has gone before, different in particular from arts like judo & karate and especially different from 'western' sporting contests.

2. One common response is to parse the word in the abstract by breaking it down into its constituent parts and analyzing these, usually by quarrying Japanese-English dictionaries. So, 'ai' means A, 'ki' means B, 'do' means C and then the parts have to be put together again, and the result more or less gives the meaning of the word. (I say 'more or less' because there is still the problem of the internal structure of the term. Because Japanese is assumed to be like English, the meaning is usually expressed as C of A-ing B, for example, and not simply ABC.)

3. Another response is to look at the word not in the abstract, but as it is actually used in Japanese. In this respect 'aikido' is unusual because it appears in Japanese dictionaries only as the term for the particular martial art. Thus, on p.19 Vol. 1, of the largest monolingual dictionary I possess, the following definition is given:
"Koryu jujutsu no ichi ruyha daito ryu jujutsu no nagare wo kumu bujutsu de, atemi waza oyobi kansetsu waza wo sho toshita mono." "Aikijutsu."
A very rough translation would be:
"An art (mono = something: the term eartf is not stated specifically) which mainly uses atemi waza and joint waza, by means of martial skills stemming from Daito-ryu jujutsu, one school of koryu jujutsu." "Aikijutsu."

4. There is no discussion here of the word's internal structure or etymology. For such a discussion, one needs a dictionary of Chinese characters, as these are used in Japanese. 'Aikido' is still a problem here because it is a made-up word and therefore does not possess an established internal structure. On pp.795-805 of Vol. 2 of the largest Kanji dictionary I possess, the character is dealt with. There is no discussion of 'aikido', but there is a reference to C, with the older form of KI . However, this is read as GOU-KI. The meanings are given as (1) to match (awaseru) ki; (2) to match the KI of IN and YOU (yin and yang).

5. So this means that there is no reference to 'ai-ki' in the Classical Chinese texts read by the Japanese, so far as is known by Tatsuto Morohashi, the scholar who compiled the dictionary.

6. How can we go further in understanding the term? One recourse is to look at the older examples of the term above, but read as 'ai-ki' (Ellis Amdur gave one example), and then see what Morihei Ueshiba did with this. The problem here is to understand what the older term actually meant and then to see how Ueshiba further changed the meaning.

7. This recourse leads us to the written discourses/lectures of Morihei Ueshiba and Erick Mead raises the very important question of how we understand these. The possibilities here are similar to those appertaining to biblical texts: we can immerse ourselves in classical Aramaic or Greek and discover as much as possible what the texts meant to those who wrote them. In this case we immerse ourselves in contemporary Japanese and try to discover as much as possible both the meaning of the words themselves and also what Ueshiba intended to convey by them.

8. Or we can use an accepted translation of the Bible and work from that, with or without a commentary. Equally with Morihei Ueshiba, there are accepted translations, such as appear in Budo Renshu/Budo, in the examples scattered through Kisshomaru Ueshibafs writings, or in Stanley Praninfs Aikido Journal. Here we have to assume that the translator has done a sufficiently professional job that we can be confident of reading what Ueshiba actually meant and not what the translator thought he meant or would like him to have meant.

9. In either case, the possibilities are vast. I myself have done what I sketched in (7.), above, with the Greek texts of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato & Aristotle, the Latin texts of Virgil, Horace and Cicero, the plays of Shakespeare and the poems of writers such as Chaucer, Donne and Hopkins. It is not so much a matter of elitism here, as a matter of penetration or depth. In some respects it is easier to deal with poetry expressed in onefs native language than in a foreign language, especially a language like Classical Greek, where there is no model offered by native speakers. On the other hand, to appreciate a poet like G M Hopkins in any depth demands some acquaintance with his theories of stress and rhythm, which illuminates further what he was trying to achieve. But he can still be appreciated without this, as I can appreciate Bachfs cantatas without knowing the German text.

10. Japanese poetry is no exception. The Manyoshu and haiku can be read and enjoyed in translation, though being able to read the Chinese characters adds a certain richness to the experience. I think the Manyoshu is where one needs to start in order to appreciate Ueshibafs douka, but, of course, this is my personal opinion and he can still be read with profit without such preparation.

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 05-24-2007 at 02:48 AM.

P A Goldsbury
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