Thread: Vantage points
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Old 01-01-2013, 05:53 PM   #72
Dojo: Shobu Aikido of Boston
Location: Peterborough, NH
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 653
Re: Vantage points

Reflecting on this post and this topic at the beginning of a new year, I'd like to start with an expression of gratitude.

To Jun, for putting up with the hassles of maintaining a forum like this, without which I never would have met some very wonderful people.

To Dan, for having the tenacity to beat on the aikido world until it listened, and the skills to back up his words when they finally started paying attention.

To the AikiWeb community for beating on Dan long enough and sincerely enough to force him out of his cabin in the woods and share his stuff for real.

To Bill Gleason, my sensei, for having the moral honesty and courage to be still seeking ways to take his aikido to the next level after 40 years of practice.

To Stan Pranin, who really should take the blame for it all, for going out and asking uncomfortable questions and then--quelle horreur--publishing what he learned.

The state of the discussion as I see it is this:

The claim is made that "aiki" was a special and important term to both O-Sensei and to Takeda, his teacher. Given that both chose to use that term to name their arts, this seems self-evident, but it is bolstered by sayings of O-Sensei highlighting the importance of whatever it is he called aiki ("I defeated him because I understood aiki.") I think the evidence that's been presented over the years here and partially collected in Chris Li's blog is very strong on this point.

The claim is also made that the understanding of "aiki" as a special body of skills has been largely lost in the aikido world over time, though artifacts of those skills remain in specific exercises and in the very real abilities of at least some senior aikido teachers. But to the extent they remain they are not articulated as a body of knowledge. Justification for this claim is found in the words of O-Sensei's students themselves, who admit they didn't understand the guy and couldn't reproduce what he did. Justification is also found in the specific teachings and exercises of O-Sensei which have been dropped over time, because they were not understood.

It is certainly fair game to argue that O-Sensei used the term more loosely by presenting other quotes and evidence, and any such evidence needs to be accounted for by the IP crowd.

It's also fair to argue that "aiki" has been used more loosely in this or that lineage. But since part of the argument is that the aiki skills have been lost over time (and are worth recovering) I think it's fair and useful to talk about what should properly be called aiki and what shouldn't. And in that discussion, I think a careful analysis of how O-Sensei and his teacher used the term trump "this is what I think" or "this is what my teacher thinks." We can have that discussion respectfully. But I think we have to have it.

The claim is also made that "aiki" skills will trump other skills on the mat. The evidence provided for this is that so many senior practitioners have taken up studying these skills as soon as they are introduced to them. (There's also the in-person, hands-on evidence of meeting up and finding out what happens--but you can't do that across the web.) This is contentious because we all have ego involved but if we aren't willing to engage at this level and submit our understanding to this test, we have no right to call what we do budo.

One counter to this argument is that "aiki" as the IP/IS crowd define it is not the whole story, that avoiding, timing, blending, and jitsu techniques like wrist locks all have a place. I think it's an argument worth making. Recently someone pointed to the Asahi News video where O-Sense escapes out of a ring of people attacking him with a bo. Was that just avoidance? Timing? What else was going on? I think it's a real question and deserves a real discussion.

Another counter is that aikido is not designed for contest fighting and therefore testing your aikido by fighting in a contest is silly (and counter to the Founder's intent). Which would be a fair point, except that no one is talking about an Old West style throwdown. There are lots of ways, in person, to see who's got what and what they can do with it.

Another counter is that aikido isn't just a martial art--it also has spiritual goals of harmony and peace. Proponents quote the Founder's words on this. I think this is profoundly true, and would be a great area for discussion and inquiry--I only wish it would be pursued with the same intellectual rigor that the IP/IS crowd has pursued their arguments. Go find the original Japanese, make translations that seek to be accurate, rather than understandable to a Western audience. Tie O-Sensei's words and perspective to that of O-Omoto kyo and Deguchi. Talk to people who follow that religion and practice those rituals, practice them yourself, and then come back and tell us what you found out. That's what's been happening on the budo side. That's the standard you have to live up to.

One final claim being made is that O-Sensei's "aiki" is not his invention, or Takeda's, but that it ties into an immensely long martial tradition extending back to China and from there to India. In fact, the discovery of this historical continuity is the really new thing Dan brings to the table--and he brings it by talking to and putting hands on with the people from a variety of arts and discovering that the body skills correlate and the language and imagery correlate with what he learned and with how O-Sensei talked. I myself have had the experience (I posted about it a year or so ago) of walking off the mat having done an exercise and encountering exactly that exercise in the words of O-Sensei, words I never would have recognized without the experience of the body practice.

I haven't tried to corral every thread of evidence in this short post, but that's the outline of how I understand the debate to stand right now. I think it's worthy of vigorous debate--and the debate *should* be vigorous, if we care about our art at all. But the bar for debate has been raised and it was first raised not by Dan but by Stan Pranin, who wouldn't accept what all the teachers taught but instead went out and looked at the real evidence for himself. In this argument, if someone justifies a claim with "O-Sensei said this, and it translates this way, and correlates to other Japanese budo terms this way, and to Chinese budo classics like this, and looks like this in this video of O-Sensei, and is supported by these exercises," you really aren't going to get very far responding with "But I feel this way." Or even, "But my teacher taught me this way."

Finally--these are bloody huge ginormous opportunities on the table in front of us here. Nobody has to respond to them. If you're happy with what you're doing, walk away. Keep doing it with like-minded people. But don't complain if you feel like there's a conversation happening behind your back--because there is. And try not to get too frustrated if every topic you post gets brought back to this new/old aiki/IP/IS. Once you learn to see aikido this way, it's really hard not to see it in everything.

Evolution doesn't prove God doesn't exist, any more than hammers prove carpenters don't exist.
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