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Old 07-22-2007, 11:21 PM   #1
Dojo: aikido of charlotte
Location: Charlotte
Join Date: Aug 2000
Posts: 112
Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

I know this has been variously discussed under threads devoted to the intersection of aikido and religion, but I would like to solicit opinion based on another premise: Why we do what we do.

My basic question and solicitation for opinion is this: Why do you bow to kamidana/kamiza? Have you thought about why YOU do this and is it of any significance to you?

At the outset, I will state that in the past 3 years my life has changed fairly significantly. One of the consequences is that I have begun to ask why I do what I do. I have lately turned that attention to my practice during aikido of bowing to the kamidana/kamiza.

I have long been told that it is to show respect for O'Sensei for creating aikido. That seemed benign enough.

However, in looking into this I have found apparent confusion. We CALL the small shrine-looking thing in the front (shomen) of the dojo the kamiza, but it would seem that at least in almost every dojo I have been in (and I have visited many) that the more appropriate term is kamidana.

Kamiza would seem to be a general term for what might be called the upper seat or seat of most importance. Think of a meeting with the president of your company. He sits at the kamiza. Kamidana is a shrine in which much of what we see on what we in aikido call the kamiza. In fact one dojo I have frequented on business is run by a buddist priest and it looks 99% like the kamidana at our dojo, although we call it kamiza. Kamidana also as I understand it are found in homes and may have pictures of ancestors, and the purpose here of bowing is to either give thanks to the kami (spirit or god in shinto belief) or to ones ancestors.

So, if I am bowing to a kamidana (which in fact seems more appropriate to say) then it would seem I at least need to know what it really means. So, firstly since I don't believe in either the multiple kami that is a part of Shinto or in ancestor worship that would invalidate bowing for THOSE reasons. Secondly I can accept bowing to another ALIVE person as a sign of etiquette and respect. I can give respect in the bow to that person and they can accept it and return it (or not by virtue of if or how they bow). Bowing to an inanimate assemblge of wood and an inanimate picture of O'Sensei out of respect is useless in my view. It cannot accept or return respect. O'Sensei is long since dead and (possibly) in another realm where our respect to him is of little consequence. Finally isn't seriously practicing aikido and trying to encourage its practice to others showing MUCH more respect to O'Sensei and his memory than a perfunctory bow?

So, other than "being a part of the group behavior" it seems that there is no purpose IN THIS CULTURE for bowing to the kamidana/kamiza. Some would argue that during the bow is a time to center one's self and meditate. My counterpoint is that sure you can do that, but meditation generally requires one to be focused on nothingness and not "when to bow".....and I can do that before the class.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not bashing aikido. I have practiced it diligently for 14 years so I have been around the track more than a few times and I greatly enjoy aikido. it is a great physical practice and is mentally calming. It just seems to me that in our zeal to spread aikido, we spread CULTURAL and EXTERNAL practices as well as the content and essence of the art. It is quite natural that this would have happened in the first generation of aikidoka in the U.S. or other country other than Japan since everyone was instructed by a student of O'Sensei. But as we have grown, I just wonder if others question the relevance of what the second and third generation of non-japanese instructors teach. Since I am an assistant instructor, I spend a lot of time looking for good teaching vehicles, and in the process I have found that some things that appear at first as vital pieces of a technique can be left out or modified quite extensively without detriment to the technique. What that means is that some other part of the technique is what is real and that the other parts teach a lesson but are just that: TEACHING ARTIFACTS. It is important I think to be able to distinguish what is ULTIMATELY important and what is not in the progression of teaching a technique. It is also important in any other thing we do. Otherwise we are forever trapped in the externalities of something.

A very long post for a seemingly simple question. Your opinions would be welcomed. Please remember I am not bashing aikido, but posting a serious question. If you feel offended and want to bash me, please don't...I'll just skip over it.....Thanks for your opinioins!
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