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Old 03-30-2009, 03:13 PM   #21
Steve Earle
Dojo: Aikido in The Fan, Richmond, VA
Location: Richmond, VA
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 12
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 12


Thanks for your comments; very helpful. Haven’t had to think about these subjects in quite this way for some time and notice my scalp beginning to itch!

I’m a little rusty on my Plato, but wasn’t what he was always trying to get at in his questioning the points or limits at which logic inevitably contradicts itself and formalism breaks down? In other words, the formlessness behind the form. This it seems to me is the perennial goal of philosophy—to construct new structures that extend the limits of human understanding while also invariably demonstrating the futility of the effort: No conceptual framework will ever explain everything for all time, and all more or less end in the epitaph “of that whereof I cannot speak I must remain silent”.

In our practice of aikido, ikkyo is a technique or form. Or is it? Every ikkyo executed is specific to uke, nage, and a million other variables; no two ikkyos ever have been or ever will be performed in exactly the same way. This is taken for granted and we don’t get caught up in semantic battles over what ikkyo “is” outside of the practice.

My concept of language is much the same; when I say “language” or “words” I do not suppose that there is any such animal out there separate and apart from the act and practice of speaking and listening (including internal speaking and listening). In fact, I will even go a step further and assert that this act and practice is fundamental to what it means to be human and therefore attempts to divorce the two—man and language—are meaningless.

To take the aikido analogy another step further, I might say that the intent (the founder’s intent) behind the transmission of ikkyo was not to simply leave his students with a form to be imitated but to point them in the direction of the formless essence or aiki behind the form. Likewise, in the discussion taking place here, what (I assume) we are mutually up to is trying to come to a shared sense of understanding and clarity about the subjects at hand—and understanding and clarity are always formless. When that subject is words and language, however, the endeavor is made more difficult to the extent that we are communicating about the very thing that we are communicating with—or if you prefer, the very medium that we are communicating in.

Won’t attempt to speculate on what the venerables Kukai or Deguchi were up to, but since you included Odano’s name in the same paragraph, I will respond specifically to that part: First it is important to point out that Odano did not start with questions about words and language. That is where she ended up after many years of attention to fundamental questions about life and the universe. Second, this was not an academic pursuit. For her, this work was her life, and the act of taking apart words in their written form was a practice—to talk about whether or not that practice is meaningful or philosophically sound without engaging in the practice is a bit like talking about whether or not practicing Zen is meaningful or philosophically sound without sitting. Third, by looking at words in their written form through the particular lenses (the particular means of analysis) that she developed as a result of this life-long practice, what she was doing was piercing the formal aspect of words and characters and showing how they related directly back to formlessness. One of the essential conclusions of her work was that life (the energy of life), transparent nothingness, and word-sounds/word-characters are all aspects of the same fundamental formless reality. Again, I would warn that to approach that statement academically without actually engaging in the practice is something akin to trying to understand ikkyo through third-person observation without ever having practiced aikido.

Finally in answer to the question, why should this be the archetype of the language of kotodama, my only answer is that there is no good reason of which I am aware; Odano-sensei for one certainly never suggested such a notion.

Look forward to your next installment.

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