Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
The Fear of Power
Aikido has done a strange thing to its students' minds. It has given them a sense of great power, yet it has made them afraid of power. It's so strange to see people deride the quest to attain power, knowing that they, themselves, are actually motivated by the images of Morihei Ueshiba's incredible power. Why else would they train in aikido? It's portrayed as a devastating martial art that requires no strength, yet the founder was absolutely powerful, almost beyond human limits, we would think. So people sign on with this, yet they have to deny that they're seeking "power"--especially "power over others." But....you fling people around like rag dolls. Or...you pretend to?
Let's face it: aikido is a means of attaining power to dictate to evil, rather than having evil dictate to us. It is a way to have power to stand up to "bad people".
But at the same time, it's full of Ueshiba's humane philosophy of not hurting the attacker. And by focusing on this, people forget why they came to the art: to be able to stop violent people from doing violence to them. For that, face the truth, you need to have power. So many put a blind faith in a "lightning strikes" kind of event that is supposed to happen without their intending it, without their reaching for it, without there knowing it will happen. And this is just confusion. In original aikido, you have to first face the fact that the world is full of seriously evil people who will do cruel and incredible things to very nice people if they get the chance. Next, you have to face the fact that you need to prepare yourself in some way to be able to prevent such people from effecting such cruelty on you. Now, when you consider that such people have invariably led very cruel lives and undergone much miserable suffering, you realize that they are not push-overs. They're likely the grown-up versions of the bigger, tougher, meaner kids you faced in elementary, middle and high school. Only worse. Maybe they've already killed people. Or is your aikido only meant to somehow shame people who speak too forcefully? Is it not meant to save your life from killers?
So, face it: aikido takes toughness. Approached by a would-be student once, Ueshiba said, "Aikido is very tough. Can you take it?" Why else was his dojo called "the hell gym"? Why did one of the students from that era say that people who came without excellent references were often "crunched" by the established students? You had to be tough just to get in the door, much less stay long enough to learn the actual art.
I recently read someone's tag line quoting Yamada Sensei as saying something like, "The worldwide spread of aikido is accomplished. Now we must worry about the quality."
Well, the decline in quality is largely tied to this idea that "power" and "strength" are somehow evil in this world full of evil people and that good people should entirely eschew any effort to become strong or to have intentional power. Well, frankly, that's crazy talk. It's schizophrenic. Because everyone who comes to the art comes to learn how to throw people around like rag dolls. Deny it all you want, but if you were looking for pure pacifistic love on earth you could pick Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Sai Baba or any of the multitude of other teachers who never threw anyone anywhere. You chose aikido because you wanted to be able to throw people around. In the process of learning, you got indoctrinated with the idea that the desire to throw people around like rag dolls is antithetical to the art of throwing people around like rag dolls. It is not the power we are to seek, you have been instructed, but the grace, the gracefulness, the beauty and harmony of the motions. Seeking power, you have been told, will destroy that gracefulness and ruin the beauty of the art.
But Ueshiba was incredibly powerful, by choice, by devotion, by effort and intentional development. And it in no way detracted from the grace and beauty of his movement. Morihiro Saito was likewise beautiful in the vast strength of his movement. And Mochizuki Sensei was very similar to that.
Recently, I've been reading Melville's Moby Dick and I'm just amazed at this tour de force of American fiction, the heart and soul, the knowledge of so many broad and meaningful topics, the art and craft of a master storyteller. The inherent understanding of human nature and the nature of nature itself. This whole thread, in fact, originates with the chapter of Moby Dick entitled, The Tail, in particular, this passage:
"...in the tail the confluent measureless force of the whole whale seems concentrated to a point. Could annihilation occur to matter, this were the thing to do it.
"Nor does this--its amazing strength, at all tend to cripple the graceful flexion of its motions; where infantileness of ease undulates through a Titanism of power. On the contrary, those motions derive their most appalling beauty from it. Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic. Take away the tied tendons that all over seem bursting from the marble in the carved Hercules, and its charm would be gone. As devout Eckerman lifted the linen sheet from the naked corpse of Goethe, he was overwhelmed with the massive chest of the man, that seemed as a Roman triumphal arch. When Angelo paints even God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there. And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son, the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, in which his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures, so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance, which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical virtues of his teachings.
"Such is the subtle elasticity of the organ I treat of, that whether wielded in sport, or in earnest, or in anger, whatever be the mood it be in, its flexions are invariably marked by exceeding grace. Therein no fairy's arm can transcend it."
So...the presence of strength does not detract from the grace of movement, but powers it. While the removal of power creates something unnatural and unappealing (not to say that even Melville intended that the "feminine" should be found unappealing, but, applied to the Son of Angelo's robust "God the Father," reduces it from dominion over the universe to "submission and endurance" even though some see Christ's teachings as just that. I don't see it that way, myself.
But I do agree with Melville that, as the multitudinous movements of the tail of the whale may express many moods and intentions, the incredible power it embodies is always expressed with gracefulness. So, to me, aikido is rather like the movements of the tail of a whale: full of grace but made of unstoppable, devastating power.
My point here is just to request that everyone return to the truth of this nature and recognize that the attraction and beauty of aikido is rooted in the effortless flinging-away of powerful people, the tossing of the merely strong and evil by the powerful and righteous. But we cannot be righteous in denying the truth. As Mochizuki said of O Sensei, "Do you think I would have followed him if he were not strong?"
He was strong as the tail of the whale is mighty. His art is mighty. It has not changed. It is only the practitioners, promoting weakness, who have lost the way of nature. They have lost touch with nature through their fear of natural power. It's time we understood that power is natural and the development of power is the development of true nature, just as Zen leads us to our true self. Fear of our true self leads only to delusion and fear of power leads far from the truth of aikido.