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Old 10-20-2012, 07:27 AM   #31
Location: Massachusetts
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 3,056
Re: Aikido, the Hippie Martial Art

Hi Jon,

I guess I just have different experiences. I can't say that I ever much thought about aikido when I was practicing karate -- I knew that it existed, I had friends that trained, I knew that I didn't know much of anything about it, and I didn't spend a lot of brain cycles on it. I also know that in discussions with my fellow karateka, the subject of aikido never came up -- literally, not once in years of training. We'd talk about karate, beer, movies, sushi, beer, karate, sports, karate and beer. Maybe we were just very boring people!

But I think it's entirely possible for intelligent people with inquiring minds to let a subject rest, so to speak: there are only so many hours in a day, and "I know that I don't know" is a sensible resting place, if you know what I mean. Of course, a lot of people don't get to this point, and if you seek out a martial arts discussion forum that is not devoted to a single art, of course you're going to run into a lot of comparative discussions, because of self-selection bias: those who are attracted to these kind of discussions will be disproportionately represented in these forums. And I'm here to tell you, the "my style is the best" thing is absolutely not an aikido thing, nor even a martial arts thing -- it's a human thing. For "style" substitute "religion" or "political party" or "dietary habits" or "exercise regimen", and it seems clear that most humans reassure themselves about their choices by affirming the superiority of those choices over all other ways. Perhaps this comes from a belief that there is a "best" choice, and the fear that choosing anything but the "best" puts one at a life-scarring disadvantage. In the US, we see this often among middle- and upper-class parents, so many of whom seem to have this pervasive anxiety that they must make the "best" choice in everything for their child (schools, clothes, activities), and that failure to do so will cripple their child's chances in life.

It's a kind of arms race mentality, this endless search for the "best". It consumes so much energy and resources, and the hell of it is, it's all based on false premises (at least I think so). For one thing, it's often a case of two paths up the mountain, both with different features (this one has a great view, that one goes by a fantastic waterfall), both getting to the goal, neither having a decided advantage. Choosing one means forgoing the benefits of the other; it doesn't mean there is a "best". And even in a situation where a real quality difference exists, most people (of any age), when presented with the "best", are not able to fully take advantage of it. Give me Cadell Evans' bicycle, and I'm still not going to climb Alpe d'Huez; serve me Chateau Margaux, and I might not notice any difference between that and a mid-range Bordeaux.

This need to have the "best" and to be the "best" is generally presented in a favorable light here in the US. We (see, that's me and the mouse in MY pocket talking) say that this inspires us to seek excellence, but frankly, I think it's a corrosive mental disease that we'd be better off without. It makes a virtue of greed and self-centeredness, and leads to a life utterly out of balance.

But I digress. This need to be the "best" didn't seem to inspire my fellow karateka back in the day -- they were doing what they wanted to do, not because they thought it was the "best", but because it had value for them personally. They didn't spend time obsessing about what those weird aikido people were doing -- didn't, for that matter, think of aikido as "weird", as near as I can tell. It was different, we didn't understand it, and we didn't expect to understand it because -- wait for it -- we hadn't ever studied it. It doesn't seem to me to be such a huge leap of logic to think that outside the self-selected denizens of martial arts forums, most martial artists don't have this kind of attitude towards other styles, rather than an insatiable nagging obsession with the martial validity of styles of which they have only superficial knowledge.
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