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Old 08-26-2009, 08:52 AM   #1
Erick Mead
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Dojo: Big Green Drum (W. Florida Aikikai)
Location: West Florida
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,616
How To Teach Power & Harmony?

One definition of harmony: Unifying of opposing qualities without destroying any part of their distinctions.

There is an element in the understanding of Aikido - in which the art is seen as a simultaneous manifestation of and instrument for creating a unity of opposites. This sense of the thing is itself an example of what it represents, since Aikido is seen (by the Founder) as both the tool producing the unification and the product of its work, a form of recursive or circular reference.

But some see a permissible separation between these things -- that power and harmony may be pursued independently of one another and then at some arbitrary later point be "connected."

I lay this question out there because the desire for power, as such, is a theme that troubles me in much of recent debates -- and among people of quite good intention here. The reason is that in my estimation of these things, harmony is not served by any will to power. Power as an intermediate end, as means to other ends is not by nature harmonious and tends ot be destructive of existing coherence or wholeness. I need not catalog the historical examples of the moral failings of the will to power. This is not an issue of that degree, but the pattern is there.

There are a number of different ways of expressing this self-similarity of coherent differences that have innate appeal to me. St. Bonaventure saw an interpenetrating entwining of a unifying hylemorphic duality (tree-like or wood-form, in the sense of its grain. The latter sense is in common with the Chinese concept of innate order described as li (J. -- ri) 理 (originally standing for the veining in jade, and by extension of wood as well). Miura Baien, a late Tokugawa scholar used a similar imagery of 條理 jouri -- the unification of branches differentiating from the tree from without sacrificing essential unity. More Western, we have the Hegelian dialectic, (too usually understood and applied in a crassly arbitrary and linear manner). More modernly, we have the mathematical understanding of fractional-dimensions (fractal) in non-linear processes, with scale-independent self-similarity, detreministic but non-computable and non-repeatable. The 19th c. Russian idea of sobornost, is similar -- a sense of community and individuality melded without sacrificing the essence of either. Solovyov's more speculative extension of that idea of sobornost in his work on spontaneous order dealt with integrating such opposing tendencies into a coherent whole, in ways similar to the above.

In all of these, I find a concrete image or sensibility that is innately satisfying of the meaning of the nature of harmony. It is hard to adequately articulate without taking in all these things at once. That largely unspoken sense is what seems to appeal at a gut level for the practitioners of aikido,

And it seems to distinguish it from the technically and historically related aiki-jujutsu arts. We are likewise distinct but not apart from them, certainly, but that does not end my concern or the significance of the nature of the separation. Sometimes a branch snaps off the tree.

Solovyov was reacting both to the linear forms of reasoning (e.g. - as many crudely applied Hegel's dialectic ) and the positivists who tended to deny (or at least undermined) the existence of intrinsic order, leading to the Neitszchean will to power -- which is poison (if you ask me) to the nature of harmony.

Power itself, as it comes by virtue of spontaneous development from the process of harmonious differentiation and development (of which there are many possible paths) exists within a harmonious constraint as to its exercise. The will to power, as a goal rather than a simple outgrowth of a developed nature, does not arise from, nor does naturally respect the integrity of the things to which it necessarily relates or interacts.

I see this as a problem in the nature of harmony and what we in this art strive to develop. I see this in terms of both martial power and in terms of that power existing and operating in a coherent harmony even in face of a direct conflict. The latter seems more important to emhpasize, as there are many other approaches to purely destructive martial power.

In other words, this is really quite a practical problem, not merely a theoretical or speculative one. If power is merely a (dispensable) adjunct to martial harmony, all well and good -- train as you like in the cafeteria mode, pick and choose and no harm done -- and later on "get your mind right" or not as you choose. (This is obviously a larger issue, to -- far beyond aikido or martial art, but we are of our time aren't we?).

But, much suggests that the crystal, like the tree, (like everything?) grows as the nature of its seed -- Then we should expect there to be an integrated differentiation throughout any art. That nature of its harmony in its development is what is truly responsive to the similar aspects of a larger reality of its harmony in both conflict and cooperation.

If harmony in direct conflicts is the integrated aspect of a coherent function that also produces a harmonious martial power, then we have a fundamental problem in trying to working on harmony and power as discrete functions.

If the latter point is true, then the (currently very popular) eclectic "a little here, a little there" and then "let's mash-up for a finished product," is leading to something other than what aikido is intended to accomplish -- in terms both martial and spiritual. At the same time, my premise as to the nature of harmony and power denies the very possibility of a purely prescriptive approach: "Thou shalt train in THIS way and not THAT way."

So if you do not accept my reasoning or my degree of concern -- why not?

If you do accept the reasoning, and prescriptive rules being conceptually unavailable, how do we instruct people in what is coherent with the purposes of the art, and what is damaging to it, so they can avoid stalling in their development of both power and harmony?


Erick Mead
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