View Single Post
Old 02-23-2010, 11:38 PM   #29
Peter Goldsbury
  AikiWeb Forums Contributing Member
Peter Goldsbury's Avatar
Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Posts: 2,219
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 17

Scott Harrington wrote: View Post
I am much intrigued by the Peter Goldsbury's writings (FASCINATED and devouring each one -- more! more!) and Ellis Amdur's books and comments (whom I love disagreeing with but he writes so damn well).

One of the things I mention when discussing history is those in the past were 1) just like us, loving, laughing, crying and living and 2) were radically different in belief systems and how and why they did things. Not wrong always (sometimes), just different.

Goldsbury makes much of the difference of the Japanese mindset and Amdur much of how they had the same foibles and faults as today. I tend to listen, trying to determine what is right, what is wrong, what was lie and what may be a truth.

Scott Harrington

co-author of "Aiki Toolbox: Exploring the Magic of Aikido"
Mr Harrington,

Many thanks for your comments. My review essay of Ellis Amdur's book is really a 'one-off' undertaking, but there are so many themes in HIPS that are germane to my 'Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation' columns I am writing, that it seemed better to include them as columns than to write a separate series.

When I came to Japan, I had few expectations, probably owing to the sound advice I received from one of my aikido teachers ('Do not go to Japan solely with the aim of practicing aikido: if you do, you will be sorely disappointed,') and as a result have indeed suffered few disappointments. Living in one of Japan's more unusual cities (unusual, because the city considers itself both unique and average at the same time) has given me an opportunity to study Japanese culture and also how the Japanese themselves view Japanese culture (the two are not the same). In addition, teaching in one of Japan's more enlightened national universities has allowed me to function as much part of a large Japanese organizational culture as a foreigner is likely to be allowed to do so. Both of these aspects are very relevant to aikido, at least as it is conceived and practiced in Japan.

An interesting issue here is the difference between biography and 'straight' history. In HIPS Ellis does both and neither at the same time. For example, his descriptions of Sokaku's mental state, as a result of alleged tortures suffered at the hands of his father, would form part of a very good psychological biography, rather like Romulus Hillsborough's semi-fictional biography of Sakamoto Ryoma. But I doubt whether it would be acceptable as ‘strict' history without much more detailed evidence.

Like HIPS, the columns I am writing are highly revisionist. If you immerse aikido in its wider Japanese cultural settings, it becomes much less 'spiritua'l in the western sense this term has acquired and much more mundane and this-worldly.

Onisaburo Deguchi was yet another one of a general crop of leaders of new religions, precipitated by the collapse of the cherished Pax Tokugawa and the leap into the political and economic uncertainties of Meiji and Taisho. There was a good reason for Omoto to arise and an equally good reason for it to fall.

Morihei Ueshiba was Deguchi's lieutenant, but he separated from Deguchi to create something else, a Japanese art with a crucial martial component, but one which he himself nevertheless based on the same type of new religious observances ('doctrine' is not really appropriate here) as Deguchi and Goi had offered. The revelations offered by Ellis in Chapter Four, based on his reading of the English translations of Takemusu Aiki, done by Sonoko Tanaka and Stan Pranin, are a confirmation of this. Deguchi was once told that he was a reincarnation of Susa-no-o and this deity was also one of Ueshiba's favourite deities. Deguchi also made use of kotodama-gaku, (the supposedly academic study of word-soul) which was a by-product of the rise of kokugaku (country/nation-study = study of Japan's unique culture, especially in contrast with Chinese accretions). It is clear that Morihei Ueshiba knew about kotodama-gaku, as interpreted by Deguchi, and made great use of it in his own discourses. One reasonable conclusion is that if you do not know about kotodama-gaku, you will never make sense of Morihei Ueshiba's own interpretations of the Kojiki, and this is one of the lasting thoughts I received from the late Arikawa Sadateru Shihan.

Ellis quite reasonably interprets the Kojiki as a semi-historical text, in the same sense that the Iliad is a semi-historical text. Though the writer/compiler records a myth, as ‘Homer' did, he assumes that Izanagi really did throw three peaches at his pursuers, and then had his discussion with his dead wife. There are many manga versions of the Kojiki available for Japanese children. But then on top of this interpretation Ueshiba adds a completely different interpretation, according to which the three peaches were/are actually aikido. How they fulfilled this role is unclear, beyond the general idea that Morihei Ueshiba actually believed that the three peaches prevented Izanagi and Izamani from doing anything other than what they actually did. Takamusu Aiki (the parts that have not been translated into English) is full of kotodama-gaku interpretations of the Kojiki, which Ueshiba made free use of to explain what he thought aiki and aikido really was.

I think there are very good reasons why kotodama-gaku never gained popularity as a discipline in the Meiji period. One is that it had to compete with western science, which had gradually shed its own close associations with religion that it had at the time of Newton and had acquired standards of rigor that were immediately perceivable, if not immediately attainable. The second is that it was tied too closely to a certain paradigm of knowledge, according to which receiving the truth or the secrets of kotodama was eligible only to those who were deemed worthy, or in a position to understand what they were told.

There is also a very good reason why kotodama and kotodama-gaku were dropped like a stone after World War II. It was too closely tied to prewar esoteric Shinto, as manifested in the myth of the kokutai (the mystical body of Japan). So the tatemae of Takemusu Aiki (and also the Aiki Shinzui texts translated by John Stevens, which are very similar) is that, "it is the work most representative of O-Sensei's thinking", as Ellis quotes Kisshomaru Doshu in HIPS. The honne is that it is a period piece: a ‘remembrance of things past' and in no way at all representative of Kisshomaru's thinking.

Best wishes,


P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
  Reply With Quote