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Old 12-27-2013, 12:54 PM   #4
Alister Gillies
Location: Taunton
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 26
United Kingdom
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Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 25

Thank you Prof Goldsbury for an interesting discourse, from a phenomenological perspective, on the significance of the Founder of Aikido's beliefs, how those beliefs reflected cultural changes that were taking place in pre and post-war Japan and for outlining some of the difficulties inherent in the subject of study, not least of which is the lack of academic rigour in relation to Aikido in general.

Given the subject matter, and your own background in Aikido and professional interests in religion and philosophy, I can see why a phenomenological approach might afford a neutrality of sorts. There are, however, occasional and tantalising glimmers of insight of a more personal dimension that peep through the discursive prose style that strike me as potentially much more lively, relevant and interesting for the non-academic.

By not developing those areas you have shown not only academic restraint, but have intimated that there are many other questions that other academic disciplines and questioning minds could well ask of Aikido.

The difficulties with a phenomenological approach, it seems to me, are many and I am wondering if the semblance of neutrality it offers is really worth the candle? Among those difficulties I would include the following, which are by no means exhaustive:

1. Getting the phenomenologist out of the phenomena
2. The problem with Qualia - is it likely to be resolved? Can we ever be sure that what we feel is the same as what someone else felt or feels?
3. Interpretation - the tendency to create meaning and opposing interpretations with different ascribed meaning -
4. Historicist - as above
5. Relativistic- as above
6. Mistaking the trees for the woods; and not seeing the trees for the woods
7. Lack of reliable biographical detail and getting the biographer out of the biography
8. Too much biographical detail and losing sight of the subject (not the case here).

In the final analysis a phenomenological approach can only reach tentative conclusions, which are necessarily hermeneutic in nature. And although sometimes the 'woods and trees' can be very diverting, they can also be quite confusing and difficult to disentangle.

This complexity could be illustrated with reference to the Founders early enlightenment experience following his episode with the naval officer. While we could view this within the framework of a 'common religion', geared towards 'integrity' at one extreme, or 'intimacy' at another - or perhaps a combination of both - and understand it from a phenomenological perspective in those terms, that is really not the only option.

At the risk of over simplification we could choose to view this experience more prosaically. There is a tradition in Japan of ascribing the creation or major modification of a new Ryu to the influence of various Kami. In a culture where the individual is subordinate to the group, it is difficult to see how innovation can occur unless it is accompanied by an appeal to a higher order or has the solidarity of the group behind it. Kisshomaru, as the inheritor of the Ueshiba ryu, would have been well aware of this and would have at the very least been unwise not to avail himself of the opportunity of the validation afforded by his father's enlightenment experience:

我が合気道、大正十四年、この日をもって、すなわち開祖が黄金体と化した日をもってその一歩を踏み出したものであると、私は断じたい。
"I believe that from this day in 1925, the day O Sensei underwent his divine transformation, our Aikido took its first steps forward".

It may be that Kisshomaru was an opportunist, capitalising on his father's happen-chance experience to add credibility to bolster the future of Aikido; or it may be that his father intentionally and deliberately set out to create a ryu distinct from his erstwhile teacher, Sokaku Takeda.

It might be cynical of me, but the circumstantial evidence would suggest that this is at least plausible (Morihei Ueshiba met Sokaku Takeda in 1915; 1919, signed his property in Hokkaido over to him; 1920 met Onisaburo Deguchi; 1922, MU received "kyoju dairi" certification from ST; 1925 has enlightenment experience - meetings thereafter were sporadic and characterised by tension, possibly over money; 1927 MU moves to Tokyo with entire family and becomes increasingly independent of ST).

Irrespective of whether the founder of Aikido had a genuine enlightenment experience (we will never really know), what we do know is that this experience was something that marked him out as a unique individual and set him apart within his culture, that he was well connected socially with influential people and that he had a common-sense knack of avoiding potentially disastrous circumstances - the second Omoto incident, an irate Sokaku Takeda and the fire bombing of Tokyo.

I am not sure whether we will ever understand the enigmatic and elusive founder of Aikido, or even whether we need to. After all is said and done his legacy is his life's work, but even so there is evident disagreement about the meaning of that. Some, for example, see his pre-war days as his crowning achievement, and others (so-called modernists) opt for a more holistic approach and look at his art as a continuum, constantly evolving.

I suspect that the Founder would be spinning in his proverbial grave if he knew that the Way of Harmony was such a source of contention. Thank you Professor Goldsbury for providing some very useful framing and detail around a subject that will undoubtedly lead to many more debates to come.

Last edited by Alister Gillies : 12-27-2013 at 12:58 PM.
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