Hello Mr Robertson,
Greetings Professor Goldsbury,
You have written a very interesting and provocative column. I would like to take you up on two points, best introduced with quotes from the column. The first:
I am not suggesting that aikido by itself can, or should, solve all the problems of the world. I am, however, reiterating the vision of the Founder that aikido must take its place in partnership with other movements and practices which aim to take practical steps toward improving the human condition. I am willing to go so far as to say that if your practice does not lead you to engage in an active, compassionate involvement with building a better world, then what you are doing is not aikido. I am prepared to defend the idea that aikido must be broadly defined, and that there are many, many right ways to do it, but on this one point, I think that an active campaign toward a better world is an essential ingredient before any habit of costume or ritual of activity can rightly be designated as aikido.
There are fairly uncompromising opinions and I wonder if you would you care to quote O Sensei on this?
Not so uncompromising, actually. I do state that there are many, many right ways of doing things. As for quoting O Sensei, I have not your depth of scholarship, nor knowledge of Japanese history and culture. So I freely admit I'm engaging you at considerable disadvantage.
However, I can quote an eminent scholar whose opinions I respect, and who quotes O Sensei:
""Sono shunkan, watashi wa
'Budou no kongen wa, kami no ai--banyu aigo no seishin--de aru'
to satori ete, houetsu no namida ga tomedonaku hoho ni nagareta."
(The Japanese is quite straightforward and the content of O Sensei's ecstatic realization apears in single quotation marks.)"
Now, all things are open to interpretation, but it seems to me that O Sensei is saying rather clearly that the root or foundation of budo is that of protection, not just of self or tribe or nation, but of all things. Surely the protection of all things involves an effort toward improving the human condition, and our relationship with the nonanthropogenic world also.
I also hasten to add that I quote or reference O Sensei, not because I believe he is an ultimate authority or because his will must be obeyed, but because he has expressed things with which I often agree, and find much of his thought to be insightful and revelatory.
The second (you will see that I have altered it slightly and numbered the questions):
Seen in this light, my test for good aikido (mine or yours or Morihei Ueshiba's) is this:
1 Does it increase prosperity?
2 Is it effective in the face of conflict?
3 Does it lead toward praise and gratitude more often than criticism and satire?
4 Does it promote the confidence necessary to admit personal faults, failings, and limitations?
5 Is it a path of service that is exciting and enticing and downright hedonistic?
I have had the temerity to put myself in Ueshiba's shoes and venture some answers:
1 I do not think this really matters. It has not really increased mine.
On the contrary. You state below that it has, though I suspect we may be centering on different usages of the word. By "prosperity" I do not mean greed or excess, but sufficient means to thrive in the relative world. Your dojo is prosperous in that it has attracted enough students that finding a larger venue has become an issue. That is indeed a prosperity to be commended, and I congratulate you and your students! Clearly, your practice, the life, longevity, and vitality, of your dojo community is sustainable, and that is what prosperity should be about.
2 Yes. Very.
3 I do not think this really matters. Aikido is training: in kotodama = possession by the Divine, which will lead to effective waza.
And what does effective waza lead to? O Sensei was not a Zen guy, so it's hard for me to imagine that he would limit his practice to waza for waza's sake (That's "sake" in English, not Japanese...). He talked about the forms all being "empty shells," so again it suggests to me that there was something deeper and more essential for him. In his universe, it evidently had to do with a relationship to the kami and perhaps certain mystical energies. In my universe, this simply translates into a truer and more direct relationship with physics (universal forces) and human evolutionary dynamics.
4 If you can train kotodama effectively, I do not think the rest really matters.
I would say that begs the same question my article is asking: what effect? And how to measure or evaluate it? Again, I'm not the scholar, but if O Sensei had a vision of uniting the world into one family, surely that must include elements of tolerance, inclusion of diversity, and the humility to forgive limitation?
5 It is certainly exciting, as it was for Onisaburo Deguchi, but I am not so sure about the enticing and hedonistic aspects.
Survival of the mechanical body is the first requirement of self defense. Beyond that, quality of life is a matter of recreation, the joy of discovery, the meeting of chosen challenges, and the pursuit of humor, beauty, and pleasure. Self defense of the spirit and the intellect is a hedonistic pursuit. It is virtuous when shared, and is only a moral defect when practised at the expense or neglect of others.
Of course, you could argue that O Sensei's aikido was his aikido and our aikido is ours. So we do not need to look to O Sensei for inspiration.
And this is true. But if it is a poor spirit who depends on an idol for inspiration, it is a poorer one still who never looks beyond itself.
I agree with the second point, but would change the first to: O Sensei's aikido was his aikido; your aikido is yours and my aikido is mine. So if I believe that my aikido training does not require me to 'engage in an active, compassionate involvement with building a better world', at least, any more than I am doing now, there is nothing much that you can do about it, short of persuasion.
The persuasion should not come from me. If you become convinced that what you hold dear is in peril, then I hope you will take action. Further, I believe aikido is, in your case, the best vehicle for action.
Personally, that the world is in peril seems self evident.
Like yourself, I run a dojo. It is located in Hiroshima and everybody is acutely conscious here of the 'spirit' of Hiroshima: Hiroshima's mission to change the world. However, I think that I can safely state that I supported this mission quite some time before I took up aikido as a 'life activity'.
Excellent! And as I mentioned in my article, aikido is only one of many, many good paths.
Anyway, the dojo has about 50 members, all except two of whom are Japanese. All the members are beginners, in the sense that they have not been training for very long, and--and this is something that is pleasantly surprising in Japan--fully half the members are women. I run the dojo with two other foreign instructors, a German married couple, and the biggest challenge we have now is finding a larger dojo.
Let me once again salute your success.
In my dojo I have never taught that aikido carries within it a mission to change the world and I think that if I did, we would actually lose students. There are very many aikido dojos in Hiroshima and I suspect that students come to our dojo for fairly specific reasons, one of which is that the dojo is run by foreign instructors. I certainly do not think that they come because the dojo is a sort of moral lighthouse.
Let me quote another whose opinions I respect:
"Many people train in aikido for a wide variety of reasons. This diversity is as it should be. However, regardless of the individual's reason for practicing aikido, it is important to realize that any activity done regularly and deliberately will have an effect on the way we think and how we view our world.
We are, in effect, re-creating ourselves whether or not we intend this. Training (shugyo ) offers a way of shaping ourselves in an image more consistent with our internal ideals. At the same time we are learning to recognize and accommodate the external forces as they exert their influence on us. It is necessary to unify these forces in the ongoing creation of ourselves in order to act in a manner that is more truly coherent.
Therefore, the path of aiki is one which allows us initially a perception, and eventually an experience that the inner and outer worlds are ultimately one, and that all other considerations derive their impetus from this fundamental truth."
While the phrase "moral lighthouse" might bias the outcome a bit, I would be curious to poll your students to see if none of them find a desirable ethical component to your dojo, regardless of what you overtly represent.
I think this is perhaps where we differ. I do not believe that aikido carries within it its own morality, so to speak. This means that I do not believe that aikido training ipso facto requires one to do anything whatsoever outside the dojo, other than defending oneself to the best of one's innate or trained ability, if necessary.
If by "morality" we mean a specific ideology, then we might agree more than you think. Yet I do think aikido has an orientation toward minimizing harm. This might be more a matter of pragmatics, but I have often said that I believe aikido unifies ethics and pragmatics.
Out of curiosity, do you teach reigi, and if so, how and why? If you do not teach it overtly, is it nonetheless, shall we say, an emergent property of your dojo culture?
Finally, you say " other than defending oneself to the best of one's innate or trained ability, if necessary." I would argue that at some level of development it becomes necessary to ask "what is this self?" and "how far does it extend?"
As I stated earlier, your columns are always interesting and provocative, so I look forward to your response.
I'm honored by your time and attention, and I deeply appreciate the engagement.