View Single Post
Old 02-27-2008, 09:31 AM   #61
Location: Massachusetts
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 3,192
Re: why focus on internal power

George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
Aikido as an art requires a kind of letting go of the mind of conflict. I think that Mary, quite correctly in my opinion, was commenting on the fact that these discussions about internal power, while valuable from a certain standpoint, also show that the "mind of conflict" is alive and well in posters from all sides of the debate. While this might be just fine for those folks partaking in these discussions who are not Aikido people, since they never made any protestations about all this peace and love stuff anyway, it certainly shows an issue with many folks vision of what their Aikido is about.

I take the gist of Mary's post as being that, internal power or no internal power, if it isn't about somehow dealing with our own "mind of conflict" than it isn't what she wants from Aikido. I would say that this would have been O-Sensei's position... The art is about fundamentally altering the way in which you see yourself and everyone around you. It isn't about fighting; it's about not even having an enemy....
I try to approach aikido as I try to approach most other things in life these days: by removing as many of my filters as I possibly can (or at least being aware of them), and so trying to see what it actually is, rather than what my hopes or fears might make it. I think this has a lot to do with why I'm still training.

When I first started martial arts (taekwondo, back in 1990), I wasn't looking for self-discipline or a character-building experience or a peaceful spirit or the ability to kill the neighborhood drug lord with my bare hands. All I wanted was a form of exercise that wouldn't bore me into quitting. Other students started training at the same time I did, with various hopes and expectations -- of a spiritual breakthrough, of developing amazing physical skills in no time, of the rest of their life somehow falling into place around the seed crystal of martial arts training. I don't think it any coincidence that a year later, I was the only one still training.

The irony is that while I hadn't expected the kind of transformations my fellow beginners had hoped for, I nevertheless found them happening. They just happened in smaller and subtler ways, and much more gradually, than those who look for them are expecting. Physical changes happened, but also mental changes, life changes, and -- dare I say it -- spiritual changes too. I believe they happened through the alchemy that turns persistent practice into a form of gold, in which something is revealed that is beyond what you might expect. The exhausted mind isn't necessarily a peaceful mind, but the mind made quiet by the need to focus on one simple thing, combined with the body that is tired by honest effort, certainly provides the most important ingredients for being a restful, tranquil person. That personal, within-one's-own-body tranquility is peacefulness in its most atomic form. If individuals don't understand that peacefulness, can a larger peace even be possible? Fra Giovanni Giocondo said, "No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant." So I believe.

The struggle to reconcile learning fighting skills with peacefulness is a debate that I stay out of, for the most part. I tend to think that a fair amount of aikido "peacefulness" rhetoric is a shuck and jive, repeated as platitudes without a true sense of personal relevance -- but I recognize also that that's a judgmental attitude, so I try to keep a lid on it (not always with success). I do feel that some (many?) aikidoka fool themselves about their ability to use their techniques in a way that won't result in harm to their attacker. I believe if you use aikido techniques on a determined attacker, and you're successful, serious injury to your attacker is the probable result. I have no illusions about what it's like to be injured like that. I've had enough injuries, I know how much a dislocated joint hurts, and I know how long it takes to (incompletely) heal. If I train aikido, I have to be willing to accept the possibility that I will use it some day; if I accept that, I must also accept the possibility that I will seriously injure someone. I do not try to justify this before the fact, and I doubt I'd try to justify it after the fact. It wouldn't be okay, it would just be what happened, and I'd live with it. I'd have to live with having badly hurt another human being. I could not tell myself that he got hurt because of his own negative energies or some damn thing. He got hurt because I kotegaeshi'ed the bejesus out of his arm, and why that happened is another matter altogether -- it would not change the fact that I hurt him.

Likewise, I understand the logic of the argument that "true" peacefulness can only come from a position of strength, but I find that argument incomplete. Violence does not require power: look at powerless and disenfranchised people, and you will find plenty of violence -- towards self, towards others even less powerful, towards animals and inanimate objects and other things that cannot fight back.

I don't think aikido can claim any special ownership over the development of all this stuff. I think that a sincere practice of many things can bring you to this "present little instant" form of peace, and from there, everything's possible. I've been training aikido for less than two years now, so I try to avoid statements of what aikido is and isn't. I started training aikido not because it's "the art of peace", but because I moved to a new place where the only real dojo was an aikido dojo. I didn't expect (or want) to have Yoda for a sensei, or to achieve enlightenment, or anything like that. "Internal power", whatever that means, isn't a goal for me; it isn't an anti-goal for me. I just want to pursue my "present little instant" peace in a way that I'd found to work for me: within my body.