Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Article: Big Mind, Little Mind by George S. Ledyard
Thank you for writing the article. As always, what you have written offers much to ponder.
I can understand, and do agree with, the contrast (and even the irony) you are wishing to draw between two general types of addressing Aikido praxis. My own thoughts, further sparked by what you have written, have brought some questions to mind. Perhaps you, and/or any other member here, would like to comment a bit upon them -- it is my hope.
First, I would like to say that there is always going to be a bit of "slack" when one uses mystical (which are correctly noted as relevant by you in your writing) modes of interpretation. That is to say, whenever object and subject cannot be so clearly demarcated or are outright rejected entirely, the lines we use to make things related and/or distant become too much beyond our intention and/or control. As such, we are left only with groupings that are as definite as they are arbitrary -- groupings that can be drawn and redrawn not in one way, not even in many ways, but in all ways. That said, and in particular, while it is perfectly accurate to interpret the exchange that can take place within a given waza in the manner in which you did (i.e. the reconciliation of two distinct energies described as "positive" and "negative" -- my terms for the many descriptives you used), it seems that an equally valid reconciliation can occur along mystical modes of interpretation that involves other types of energies not particularly akin to martial interests. Does it not? After all, can we step out of the principles of the Universe, or beyond its Harmony simply because we have not in some way become aggressive to each other in our training? If that is the case, then don't we have to ask, "How universal is this Universe and this Harmony?"
While attempts to choreographed harmony in one's training is not my thing, I would like to suggest that one would be hard pressed to note it as "straying" from an accurate understanding of waza training according to mystical modes of interpretation. After all, leaving for the moment the seasoned yudansha that train according to the model you are critical of, are we not still expressing the nature of the Universe, Harmony, reconciliation, blending, etc., when (though more martially inclined) we are working with beginners and/or folks with poor ukemi skills? In such cases, we are not smack in the midst of positive and negative forces, yet we are still governed by the principles of the Universe and our desire and/or will to abide by those principles. To be sure, a mystical reconciliation here does not take place along martial lines, but we are still dealing with multiple elements that at first appear to be different and in disaccord but in actuality need not be nor are. A blending here then would make no less a reconciliation in terms of mystical matters. This is why I would suggest that mystical modes of interpretation are going to allow room for such training, not denounce it or lead us to describe such training as "off."
For me, this is something significant to note, not because I am out to legitimate the mutual choreography by which some like to define their Aikido, but because it is the means by which we are most likely to bring Aikido practice off the mat. If the Universe is the Universe, and if Harmony is at its basis, I should be able to find both Harmony and the need for Harmony in whatever I do. Such matters cannot be limited solely to the avenues of reconciliation that come to us through experiencing pure positive and negative energies. Perhaps then when we come to criticize the presence of mutual choreography in our own training (which is the only place I think that critique should exist), we should realize that the Universe is still at work and still in need of having its nature reconciled with the whole of our being. After all, those choreographies are not so easy to perform. There is within them some sense of two becoming one (i.e. a mystical sense) -- which we can note quite readily when beginners in such interpretations of Aikido attempt such perspectives. In such cases, there is no fluidity, no dynamism, etc., - there is no blending, no harmony. Reconciliation has not occurred. There is something absent from when the beginner attempts such training -- there is something present when such skilled practitioners carry out such training. Also, these models of Aikido praxis are not without their precedent. The later years of Osensei's practice upon his visitations to Tokyo -- captured on film, films most come to recognize Osensei from -- lend themselves to this type of training. In those films there are many high ranking teachers of today (then as young deshi) performing the "attacks" your article seems to be critical of -- even though many of those instructors today speak out (and often little more) against such forms of attack.
Secondly, I would like to ask how the understanding of Aikido waza that you have offered in the article differs from talismanic practices. If the difference is not present or is only slight -- please allow me to say: As you may well know, talismanic practices have also always held a place in East Asian religious traditions. Moreover, it would be highly unlikely if Osensei himself were not one to participate in them. So, assuming I am reading your piece right, I do not want to suggest that you are not correct in offering one possible way in which Osensei may have understood waza -- as ritual akin to talisman. It definitely seems most plausible.
However, I am not so sure that such a position resolves all issues relevant to talismanic mentalities. As your article stated, waza can be thought akin to ritual. My graduate mentor, following Fritz Staal, always likes to define ritual as "rule governed behavior," and he equally noted how in many case such behavior is primary over the belief in such behavior - when it comes to the efficacy of the ritual in question. That is to say, rituals operating under this mode of operation are thought to possess an efficacy that is innate to their performance (as you also wrote in your article). This innate efficacy is one of the marks of a talismanic mentality.
In your article, you noted that a person who is training under more martial considerations (i.e. working to manifest positive and negative energies and then to obtain a reconciliation between them) may be more closer to Osensei's take on the Universe and our Harmony with that Universe (both potential and realized) than a person who is working with "artificial" or choreographed harmonies. You posited this according to an innate efficacy found within the ritual/waza -- what I am labeling a "talismanic" understanding of waza performance. Because the mystical efficacy of waza is in some way innate to its performance, you suggested that this may even be the case when said martial interpretations are performed outside of a will to understand waza at any level deeper than the superficial (my word) level of martial considerations. If this is the case, how do we then understand all of the warnings throughout history that denounce such talismanic mentalities? For as many times that a religious practice puts forth talismanic positions, that same tradition will denounce such positions as superstition, false, ignorant, etc. This is particularly true in mystical traditions, which in many ways are antithetical to issues of innate efficacy and/or talismanic paradigms.
If it may be the case that the blending being performed by folks that do not train with polar energies may lead to only having a sense of the Universe and its Harmony inside of fair weather, is it not the truth that of the folks that train "martially" (i.e. with attempts to reconcile polar energies), many are stuck in matters of aggressiveness, anger, violence, pride, etc. It is not true that they may be quite good at demonstrating musubi in the controlled environments of the dojo, even when those environments are posited as "hostile" (a hostility manufactured artificially for sake of training), but often such musubi is missing from how they relate to their children, their spouse, their parents, etc. If this is the case, and following the warnings of the religious figures that have denounced talismanic mentalities, we can ask: "Where is the positive result of this inherent efficacy that is supposed to be at the heart of waza and/or the performance of waza?"
To be sure, from some sort of global perspective, having folks achieve a reconciliation of energies via the performance of waza adds to the Universal Harmony of which we are all a part. However, wouldn't more be added to that Harmony if we were able to achieve reconciliation with ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, our planet, etc., outside of the highly artificial world of waza performance? Are we not more align with Osensei's mystical perspective when we find reconciliation outside of the artificial environments (i.e. waza performance/training) that are totally geared to produce the "reconciliation" we are supposed to achieve? I would say we are, and I would say that we could not do that if we posit too heavily the innate efficacy of waza performance. It would seem to me that we should be highly critical of understandings that could be called talismanic when it comes to Aikido waza.
Thank you again for the article. I would love to hear your comments and/or the comments of others.