Thread: kotodama
View Single Post
Old 09-16-2002, 06:59 AM   #16
Peter Goldsbury
  AikiWeb Forums Contributing Member
Peter Goldsbury's Avatar
Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Posts: 2,221
Dear Ernesto,

I think your comments and difficult questions are relevant to why we practise aikido. As usual, I prefer to go through your own post ad add my comments etc. There are many issues, so this post will be quite long. Bear with me.

Interesting you should mention Byakko Shinko Kai. O-Sensei said something along the lines of Goi Sensei is the only one who can see through me. Apparently, O-Sensei did not think it necessary to engage in physical practice to reach the ultimate object (which I will not try and define). Goi Sensei did not follow O-Sensei's path but both acknowledged each other's level, thereby suggesting that O-Sensei thought budo was merely a means to an end and there could be other, equally valid, means.

Yes, it would seem that there are many ways of "Touching the Absolute", if that is indeed what aikido is, or is a means to achieving. I think this was clear to the Founder but is not so clear to us.

Does it therefore not seem plausible that a person, even a non Japanese without any cultural understanding of Kototama but with a deep affinity for spiritual matters, could in fact have or develop a similar approach to Kototama? This then might be very different from O-Sensei's understanding, but perhaps an evenly valid approach nevertheless. One that, in the end, might produce the same result and clear the way for the ultimate objective.

I have several comments about this:

(1) I do not fully understand what you think kotodama is, or is a means to. In fact, I believe that this and other threads in this discussion forum show a similar uncertainty. I think for O Sensei it was a direct consequence of the shamanism of Onisaburo Deguchi: a very personal way of communicating with and summoning the kami. Thus, for the Founder aikido was kotodama because he believed himself to be the reincarnation of certain Japanese kami. How the Founder conceived of kotodama is conveyed quite well by William Gleason in his book "The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido" and also in Part I of John Stevens' "The Essence of Aikido", but I think no one in this forum conceives of kotodama in this way. .

(2) Another way of interpreting kotodama is a way of becoming in tune with the so-called Word-Spirit. John Stevens does this in his book (with tapes) entitled "The Secrets of Aikido". One chapter of this book, called the "Kototama: The Language of the Gods", is a gentle trot through various cultures (e.g., Sufis, Greek / Pythagoras, Hindu, ancient Tibet) with examples of what he calls the kototama principle, including, of course, the Logos in St John's Gospel. The method is not new. You think of a 'fundamental principle' and then, lo and behold, you find that your principle is 'confirmed' in all sorts of instances. Margaret Mead did this sort of thing with the 'natives' in Samoa. The fact that the principle is itself couched in the very arcane language of one particular culture, and that there are clear differences of focus and expression, seems not to matter. Personally, I am very suspicious of such reasoning and I think a much better account is to be found in "The Essence of Aikido", mentioned above. However, you do not need aikido to get in touch with the 'word-spirit'. You mentioned someone having a "deep affinity for spiritual matters". I am not certain what you mean here, but I think such a person, like Mr Goi, for example, who "saw through" O Sensei, could develop a training regimen without any reference to aikido.

(3) I think that it is more likely that people come across kotodama during their aikido training and perhaps conceive of it as some means of improving their aikido. They know that breathing is important and also that some exercises are accompanied by sounds. (Actually, I suspect that that this is what Paula Lydon had in mind in starting up this thread under 'Training'. I have hijacked it and used it to discuss much wider issues. Apologies, Paula. However, have you discussed these issues with Ikeda Hiroshi San? If so, what was his response?)

Well, I myself regularly practise the breathing exercises and kiai training of Tada Hiroshi Sensei, who, like Koichi Tohei, trained with Tempu Nakamura. However, I personally think you can do this without all the cosmological stuff, which is deeply Japanese in any case, and I most certainly would not call my own exercises kotodama training in any sense of the word. But this is my own opinion and I am sure that others will disagree.

Now of course there's always a possible danger of becoming self-deluded, but that's for each of us to find out, right? Many of the earth's greats were nonconformists who did IT themselves.

Ernesto, with respect I have to disagree with you here on one point. Our finding out whether we are simply conformist, non-conformist or self-deluded is not a private exercise and it can have a major effect on our fellow dojo members, even on society at large. I think there is a fundamental difference between non-conformity and self-delusion, especially at its most extreme (as I once discovered from doing a memorable student holiday job in a mental hospital).

In this connection consider the case of Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo sect, currently on trial for releasing sarin gas on the Tokyo subway. You should know from your kotodama training that AUM is Sanskrit for A-UN, a Japanese term for breath. John Stevens has a lot to say about this on p.25 of "The Essence of Aikido" and even gives an alleged quotation from Morihei Ueshiba in support. AUM is, according to Stevens, "the sum of all sounds, the actualization of cosmic breath involving the creation, integration and completion of all things." I have no quarrel with the way he describes it, but what Asahara did with the concept had horrendous results in Japan. Asahara was non-conformist and probably was self-deluded, but he drew into his web many hundreds of bright young Japanese, who were very discontented with JapanÕs current spiritual malaise. The Japanese authorities have dealt with Aum in the same heavy-handed way that they dealt with Omoto in 1935: they tried to suppress the effects of the malaise but without really bothering about its causes.

Both Omoto and Aum are examples of the same phenomenon in Japan: a 'new' religion created by a self-proclaimed guru, accompanied by a whole dose of alleged signs and wonders and designed to 'relieve' its adherents from anxieties and uncertainties caused by a major change of epoch. Actually, I can well understand the Aikikai's reluctance to stress too much the connection between Morihei Ueshiba and Onisaburo Deguchi. If you dip into "Reikai Monogatari", you will see the same quackery as in Aum. It did not have the lethal consequences, but it might have had. People accepted even Deguchi's most extraordinary statements as gospel. Actually, I am surprised that Aum Shinrikyo has not attracted so much attention among aikido practitioners outside Japan.

I could go on a lot more. Suffice it to say that self-delusion is always a constant possibility even in basic aikido training, and much more so with any spiritual superstructure that aims to achieve contact with the 'word-spirit' or 'deep structures' of the universe etc etc. In aikido we supposedly have a test that was denied to Omoto-kyo and Aum practitioners. The test is: do the techniques work? If not, the rest is irrelevant. Unfortunately this is not always a satisfactory test, probably because aikido comes with a culture in which neither new recruits nor older practitioners are taught to ask questions and form their own judgements. Ultimately, I think that to guard against self-delusion in your aikido life (which might or might not include kotodama training), you need a teacher, whom you can trust to tell you where you have erred.

What I, and I think many current practitioners, are wondering is can Kototama practice actually contribute to our aikido practice and if so, how? I was taught Kototama without any cultural understanding, although I was exposed to a cosmic frame in which to view Kototama, nevertheless, I started to question its practice. Both out of scepticism and curiosity. Reading into history and establishing a cognitive understanding of how Kototama worked for O-Sensei just seemed to arouse even more questions. Merely keeping the faith is a hard thing to do for many and it seems there are no authorities (left) who claim to understand or teach Kototama the way O-Sensei did. (Seiseki Abe Sensei and Michio Hikitsuchi SenseiÕs names do come to mind but I have no other than merely superficial knowledge of their views).

Well, as you might have gathered from our talks in Holland, my aikido training has been different. Since I began aikido, I have practiced without any reference whatever to kotodama and I have learned from teachers who learned from the Founder himself. This is why I am skeptical that there is a major gap in my training because I have not been exposed to kotodama etc etc. I first learned about kotodama from hearing Chiba Sensei talk about Mr Nakazono, a judoka who trained briefly with the Founder and established a Kotodama institute in the USA. Since then I have studied the Japanese sources. Here in Hiroshima University, I can draw upon the resources of a very good library and of many scholars of Japanese language and literature, but for me it is an academic study, aimed at deepening my understanding of the man whom my teachers constantly talk about.

But if you have been taught kotodama as part and parcel of aikido, or as an essential part of aikido, then I think there is a major problem if you do not have a trusted teacher, who can guide you both in your own kotodama and aikido training and also in how these coalesce to form one whole. I also think these issues are deeply personal, and so I have some qualms about airing all this in a public forum.

Best regards to you, your wife and your wonderful baby,

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 09-16-2002 at 07:08 AM.

P A Goldsbury
Kokusai Dojo,
  Reply With Quote