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Old 02-06-2009, 03:42 PM   #7
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 339
Re: The Magnifying Glass

Hello Ross,

Many thanks for the considered response--and please call me Peter.

Hi Again, Peter,

[\] So I agree about the vision in the garden and about the Founder's commitment "towards a better world", as you put it. I think, however, that there is a certain context to the Founder's commitment here that cannot be taken for granted here.

The Japanese term is yo-naoshi: world repairs, and was a constant theme running right through the late Tokugawa period, up till the verge of Japan's defeat in 1945. However, there was no general agreement on needed repairing and some hotheads believed that the repairs could be achieved only by assassinating a few people who stood in the way. The Founder took Onisaburo Deguchi's vision of world repairs and chose for himself a central role: bringing together the Divine World, the Spirit World and the Earthly World. This mission of bringing together three worlds permeates the Takemusu Aiki discourses.

Very interesting! Resonant, I think, with the Judaic notion of Tikkun Olam. Like Tikkun, it is a thing beautifully conceived, but vulnerable to appropriation by those with less than humanitarian agendas.

So, how each person conceives of or defines his own particular view of world repair is going to be of crucial importance--and O Sensei does not really give detailed advice here, beyond the normal Japanese of carrying out your mission: of doing whatever you are supposed to be doing to the very best of your ability.

And yet, his revelation in the garden seems clear enough. True, he does not say, "this is how it must be for all students of aikido, and any who believe otherwise must be excommunicated." But neither does he say "this is only my opinion, you know, a private thing, you should feel free to do whatever you like, and if you call it 'aikido.' I'm cool with that."

Again, we have to careful about basing our arguments on what O-Sensei thought, because a) we can't really know, and b) each of us has to frame our discourse in a way that stands on its own merits without recourse to some authority. Having said that, though, I hope no one will exclude consideration of the Founder's words and teachings.

I think it was the judgmental aspect of your post that struck me: "if your practice dos not lead you to engage in an active, compassionate involvement with building a better world, then what you are doing is not aikido." I was once chastized by none other than Kissomaru Ueshiba for presuming to make a judgment on whether what x was doing was, or was not, aikido. Doshu told me gently that I had no right to make such a judgment.

Well, sure. I never knew him, but I always imagined him to be very wise in this regard, to say nothing of generous. I very much respect that. At the same time, I suspect that any of us, including members of the Ueshiba family, would agree that not all claims to aikido are equal. Personally, I take great measures to do everything I can to keep from becoming an aikido snob. All forms of practice, so long as they are safe and respectful, are welcome in my school and in my system.

But there you have it... "safe and respectful." Already we have the necessity of something like an ethical component within the dojo.

I do not share your view on prosperity. This is a personal thing, but it strikes me as a rather unfortunate choice of term, smacking too much of the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I believe that something like eudaimonia: the Greek view of happiness, which is the result of all-round integration of the personality and is not the same as pleasure, is more appropriate.

Ehh, believe me, I'm no Protestant!

Based on what little I know of you (and I will be pleased to learn more), I must object to your objection. I don't presume you to be rich (whatever that means, and in any case I would have no objection) but you have what many would consider a privileged position in your work (doubtless honorably earned, mind you). Your dojo, by your own account, has reached a considerable level of success. If you were jobless, and if your dojo were down to 5 students, you would have to make decisions about your survival and that of your dojo. These are matters of prosperity, or if you prefer, material necessity, and as such, they are matters of self-defense. It is not necessary to make a living teaching aikido (though that would be nice) in order for aikido to inform our approach to living.

Of course, Aristotle believed that the highest form of eudaimonia was the contemplation of the truth and this is what I find troubling about your five questions. I was taught by no less a shihan than K Chiba, that aikido training was intended to engender a more ruthless honesty, a clearer and perhaps more searing perception of the truth about oneself, than one had hitherto. Chiba Sensei took up zen because his education made him unable to accept O Sensei's Shinto world view, but he needed an alternative, an essential 'mystical' dimension to his training.

And yet, am I not asking questions about the veracity of our practise? Is not the intent to hold up a magnifying glass and ask the difficult but essential questions "what is our practice," and "how do we know," and how do we evaluate good from bad?"

And by "mystical," do you mean that there was also an ethical component?

As for polling my students to see if they saw a "desirable ethical component" to my dojo, I think the first problem would be defining ethical. I doubt whether they would know what you meant. There might well be a component that they might well agree was 'ethical', but I doubt very much that this was the reason why they took up aikido.

None of us can know what aikido is until we ourselves have been doing it for a little while. Original reasons for joining might be interesting. They may hold up for years. But to me, the more essential question is, "why do you continue?"

I would, frankly, be astonished to find that there were no ethical dimensions to your practise and how you present it in your school. I would be even more surprised if these teachings did not translate into your students' lives off the mat.

Now, if you want to make a case that how this happens is up to each individual, you will get little argument from me.

But if it does not happen at all, then I think it gives a validity to the distinction of what some call "sport aikido." Even then, I would say surely there is room for such a thing as sport aikido on our big planet, and let those who are drawn to it practice it joyfully.

Yet I stand by my original premise... such practice is a limited subset of what we generally call "aikido," and one which potentially is lacking certain necessary elements in order to fully qualify as aikido.

Finally I'd like to close this round with a quote:

"While preparing students for successful work lives, we also owe it to society to ensure that these same students—whatever careers they pursue—have a strong ethical compass and a commitment to civic and personal responsibility. Colleges can, and indeed must, do both of these things. The task of meeting these multiple educational goals is not all that different today than in years past, although the skills needed for citizenship and work are more complex. It isn’t an either-or choice, and it never has been."

College Outcomes for Work, Life, and Citizenship: Can We Really Do It All?

By Debra Humphreys

I think these same issues are essential for any aikido practice that is aimed toward a viable way of life, and not simply a hobby by which ones goes about the business of killing time.

High Regards,

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