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Old 05-11-2004, 10:00 PM   #48
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Re: Aikido and Samurai: a few questions

Dear Mr. Modesto,

Please call me Dave.

May I say, wow, I'm impressed and pleased by your response -- especially that you are familiar with Professor Grapard's work and its importance. Thank you very much for taking the time to post and to post with such attention. Professor Grapard was actually my mentor through my undergraduate, master's, and doctorate work. I'm wondering if you have come know him personally, that we may have actually ran into each other somewhere or some-when??? What a small world that would be (again)!

Yes, I would agree, the bigger problem does seem to be the romanticizing of the samurai when one considers the larger sub-culture of martial arts. No doubt that is something that has to be addressed -- as I agreed earlier to in a reply to a post by Mr. Dobro.
And, looking back now, I can see that I undoubtedly ran into such a process, one that had long been taking place before I arrived on this forum. And most likely before that there was the process of folks trying to build the samurai and bushido up and into something they are not and/or could never be. Please excuse some of the naiveté that came my way for not realizing all of this until now.

I was in fact trying to ally myself with your end but in doing so I opted for the "weapon" of, will you allow me to say, "measured" discourse. That is to say that I do not feel that anything more is actually required to show how many understandings of the samurai and bushido are either modern invention and/or mythical in nature; etc. I was also suggesting that nothing more than this type of discourse, that still does fully allow for Mr. Peling's post, is required to demonstrate that the bushido of the samurai is not open to us as a citizen of Modernity; etc. - all things I'm sure you would agree with, and things which I ended up posting later in this thread. However, in the same process, I saw tinges of Aikido's own tendency to romanticize itself while attempting to de-romanticize the samurai. I felt measured discourse could address all of these problems.

Treating your last post with the respect and courtesy it deserves, please allow me to address some points you made.

* I have to say that I was not out to contradict you, etc. So I do not feel that much of what I said negated what you were saying. If anything it was more of a "Yes, that is true, but so is this." It was in the "so is this" that I thought Mr. Peling could find some space for his original post - space it deserves but which I did not think was being granted by the thread as a whole. I did completely understand your use of common conceptions, etc., but felt that others in the thread did not -- at least not completely. As such, I saw a relation, even if it was an indirect one, between some of the factual statements you were saying and some of the outright dismissals that others were offering to stop Mr. Peling's post right in its tracks. Of course, I am not Mr. Peling's champion, and he would hardly pick me even if he needed one, but being a bit knowledgeable on the topic I felt a "push" to reply with my opinion.

Understanding you were using common conceptions as a root to your post, I made use of that same tool when I summarized that part of the thread that was closing off room for Mr. Peling's reply. In reference to a point from you latest post: I did not say that you were saying, or that anyone else was saying, "bushido was about piracy and brigandage." In answer again to the charge of "exaggeration," and in line with my ensuing defenses and/or all of the other following posts that ending up lending credence to my summary, allow me to note that the thread elsewhere contained the idea that bushido was used as a justification for an abuse of power - an abuse of power which can be understood both in terms of our own understanding, and in the historical evidence as far as what some samurai actually did (which does include piracy and brigandage - as you noted - and a whole lot more - as I noted. )

The polemics of the thread that were used against Mr. Peling's post, in attempt to end the romanticizing of the samurai and bushido, were making use of this relationship (i.e. bushido was a justification for the abuse of power, and samurai practiced piracy and brigandage) to say, "Get over it, stop trying to be a samurai." Hence my summary point.

Had I wanted to cite anyone, I would have. While some posts could be directly, almost word for word, connected to lines from my summary, even then it was not my intention to cite a person. That came about solely by the singularity of the topic summarized. Again, and totally different from the reading leveled against me, I wanted to say that there was a (growing) relationship here in this thread between the ideas that bushido was used as a political justification for an abuse of power, that the samurai were pirates and brigands, and that therefore one should not make space for Mr. Peling's post because it can be deemed "romantic" (and thereby based in falsehood).

In the end, my attempt, as was stated over and over again, was to make discursive space for the original post, in this case, by saying the obvious: "You know, you can't judge something in total by what some are doing in subtotal. Nor can you judge an ideal by the failure of those to live up to that ideal." After my post, many folks made these exact same points. Respectfully, what I did was no leap, small or large. It is was not an insertion of something that was not there. And it was not the setting up of your position in order to "knock it down". If anything the charge of exaggeration is an exaggeration itself. After all, though the attempt has been made, no one has been able to demonstrate this charge. As one academic to another, and not to inspire some sort of sympathy, it is unfair to use the phrase, "the sort of leap" in addressing my point. The thread does in fact hold my summary accurate, and this point here is not outside of that accuracy.

* When I read your section on Bushido being a 20th century phenomenon, I noted that the word "bushido" was not in quotation marks. This, as you can understand, led me to the position that you were not merely referring to the word itself. Your usage of the word "phenomenon" also led me to this understanding. I figured since you had made points elsewhere concerning the relationship between Nitobe and the word "bushido," you would have said "the word ‘bushido'" if you wanted us to understand that that was all you were talking about in this paragraph.

I agree with most everything you say in your latest post concerning this point. However, I would say that while one might hold that Nitobe was instrumental in coining the term, this should not lead us to the conclusion that it was Nitobe himself, and other thinkers like him at the turn of the 20th century, who invented the idea that military practice can and/or should be related to ethical behavior -- which is one of the aspects that Mr. Peling was most interested in discussing.

Nebulous or not, which I agree it was (and still is), I hold it to not be too fair to close off Mr. Peling's post by saying or suggesting that folks like Nitobe invented, started, or even sealed bushido. One man, nor all the men of one generation do not in total make an ethic. In agreement with you, undoubtedly the genesis of a nomenclature is relevant to our understanding, as is the noting of a tendency for revisionist historiography that plagued Japan at this time, but I still hold that it is not wholly accurate to suggest that "bushido is a 20th century phenomenon" (as you first posted). Perhaps we will have to disagree to disagree here, but I imagine we are just coming at the same thing with different ways of describing it.

* I agree with your point on how some samurai were just "cannon fodder". I don't think I'm saying anything different, especially after I had made the suggestion that we should not over-generalize and allow for human multiplicity. Bushido was an ideal, as an "ideal" I am saying that not everyone followed it. Being a samurai didn't make you a follower of bushido. That was your point -- a point I concurred with then. And that has been my point all along -- and my reason for why one cannot denounce bushido based on the actions of some samurai, etc.

What I was saying "yes" to had to do with how a particular technology of the self allowed for a particular person to carry out a particular set of practices. I was not saying "yes" to the idea that all samurai were proponents of bushido -- especially right after I disagreed with Mr. Peling assumption in this regards.

* It is true, the ideals that we may appear to hold in common with the samurai, such as honor, a sense of shame, loyalty, responsibility, courage, etc., are so intimately connected to a class mentality that is so thoroughly entrenched in feudalism that it is next to impossible to suggest that our honor is the honor of the samurai, that our loyalty is their loyalty, etc. I agree. Knowing the history, as you do as well, I have to admit that Mr. Ledyard' suggestion about the military and the police adopting bushido as a code of conduct made me more nervous than not. But, I can understand his point if I consider him to merely be suggesting that one can and perhaps should draw a relationship between ethical behavior and military practice. When I considered what he was saying from that perspective, I deemed it possible for all of us (as martial artists) to do the same -- not just the military or the police. After all, it seems one sure way of curbing power in the hands of the powerful -- which was indeed one of the reasons behind the effort to set a manner of conduct as an ideal for the samurai.

* As historians, especially historians born in the post-modern era of the Academy, we sometimes fail to apply our own insights to our own lives. In particular, we accept the notion that things develop, that they have their genesis and their demise, we understand the gap that exists between will and effort on the part of agents and institutions, etc., but often we fail to recognize how our own time is subject to these very same forces. We tend to consider our own time "settled, once and for all." We tend to consider our own time outside of history.

It is true that the samurai's honor cannot be our honor. But is it true that we cannot connect our sense of honor to our military and/or martial practices and call it "bushido"? Earlier in this thread I was critical of this. Now I'm wondering. Is it true that we cannot by connecting our honor to our marital practices thereby have our own time follow in line with the rest of history - that long duration that has played a part in the development of this term "bushido"? Is it true that we as society or as a culture cannot share in the same social aim of the samurai, to temper the power to kill with a responsibility toward the social?

If we can as historians but see the agency and the subjectivity in our own times, I think we can and perhaps should allow for these things. I have no conclusions to offer. I can say we cannot allow for a romanticism to take place and/or any revisionist history to reign supreme. That is always a dangerous thing. But aren't these things achievable outside of exercising the historian's supposed privilege to Truth? Are we truly working toward the end of romanticism when we hold that "bushido" is long gone and cannot ever be again, or are we just claiming and spending the cultural capital society affords to us, the historian? I am beginning to believe the latter. And I'm beginning to believe the latter is founded in non-reflexive stance, one that holds the historian's own time period outside of history, holding it in a realm of supposed objectivity by which he/she can utter down the Truth from his/her ivory tower.

In short, have you thought about why we as historians are so quick to say things like "you can't name it that," "you will have to name it something different." After all, we know things have histories, and we know histories involve many continuities and discontinuities. We know histories are alive. Why is our own time not afforded the right to have a say in such things, to add its input, to make its own continuities and discontinuities? It seems to be because we would then lose our right to objectivity over all other times.

So for our time, Time has ended, evolution is unwanted, and development is an out of date idea. We say, "you can't name it that", "you will have to name it something different", etc. Of course the right to nomenclature is one of the ways that we gain our various forms of capital within our own halls, but under what privilege do we seek to enforce such things upon others, upon our time as a whole?

Have you thought about that?

I am beginning to see no reason behind such an extension of privilege.

Let me know what you think -- when you get a chance.

Again, and in return, thank you for the stimulating reading.

Yours,
david
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