Re: Words like God and Ki
These discussions always remind me of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art if Motorcycle Maintenance, once of my all time favorite books. One of the several themes he investigated in the book had to do with the difference between the linear, rational, scientific outlook and the non-linear, "groovy" outlook.
Seldom does one person successfully hold both viewpoints simultaneously. So you have the "groovy" folks who talk about intangibles, impart values and emotions to concepts like "Ki" as if these ideas were just as real as material reality. They like the fact that things are mysterious and oft times actually get offended when explanations and causes are too clearly explained.
Then you have to "scientific", logical, linear folks who basically don't think anything is real unless you can measure it with a machine. They tend to suck the life out of everything by reducing it all to the level of the material, mechanical, technical, devoid of values, emotions, mystery, etc.
Aikido is an art that can contain both viewpoints simultaneously. There are parts of our practice that seem "magical" even though they are not "magic", aspects that we experience as mysterious even though they can be explained.
In Aikido, too often these two archetypal world views miss the true mark completely. Without a solid technical grounding, ideas like Ki and the more ethereal spiritual concepts are merely ideas and are easily dismissed by the linear thinking materialists. Without an understanding of the principles that exist beyond what can be measured and quantified, the art becomes mechanical, just a bunch of technique, at best a form of interesting exercise.
Too often the "groovy" folks are woefully lacking on the technical side. Everyone is too busy feeling good about how spiritual they are doing an art like Aikido to worry much about whether they can actually do what they are training to do. When confronted with this fact, they ignore it by saying "Aikido isn't about fighting anyway". These folks often haven't a clue about how the beautiful ideas they have about Aikido spirituality manifest at all in the material realm as Aikido technique.
On the other hand, the linear materialists, spend all their time doubting the existence of concepts that all the great practitioners of our art simply took for granted and which can be demonstrated empirically by any competent Aikido practitioner. Typically, these folks are stuck on the merely technical level and never get beyond the physical. They are seldom amongst the best teachers technically because they are so busy worrying about not being "taken in" by phony teachers or fake technique, that they have extremely closed minds about what works and what doesn't, what is real, and what is not. This causes them to ignore whole levels of technique that go beyond the simply physical. Their Aikido is devoid of great ideas or great anything that could really touch your heart.
A really skilled Aikido teacher is able to bring these two seemingly oppositional outlooks into a unified vision. Because they have a deep understanding of the principles that underlie the technical side of the art, they can easily actualize the spiritual / energetic aspects on the mat, in their waza. They can "walk the talk" technically but can speak to people's hearts as well, connecting the principles that underlie technique with concepts that are universal alive, and potentially trans-formative.
That's the Aikido I have been pursuing... I have little patience with the folks for whom their ideas are just wishful thinking. I have little interest in an Aikido that has been made devoid of anything beyond` the physical technique, a spiritual wasteland offering little sustenance that would justify the time and effort of training.