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Old 05-10-2008, 09:55 PM   #24
Dan Rubin
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Dojo: Boulder Aikikai
Location: Denver, Colorado
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 369
Re: Kisshomaru as Interpretor of the Founder's Words

I'm afraid that I have long been skeptical of translations by John Stevens, based on an interview that appeared in Aikido Today (v.2, #1, Spring 1988). In that interview, Professor Stevens was asked how he researched O Sensei's life for his book, Abundant Peace.

Professor Stevens replied that "the best, most interesting stories" were those told him by his various teachers over the years. He pointed out that O Sensei himself changed the descriptions of his enlightenment experience over time. He stated that the taped interviews of O Sensei were very difficult to understand, between the poor quality of the tapes and the difficulty in understanding O Sensei; studying the doka and looking at films helped him.

"But," he said, "I suppose I relied mostly on inspiration rather than on pure research. I looked for a unifying view instead of just looking at what O'sensei [sic] did and where."

The book is divided into three sections: The Man, The Martial Artist and The Message.

"The last and most important section is The Message," Professor Stevens said. "Here I tried, not to be objective, but to imagine what O'sensei would say to people if he were speaking English. This was very difficult for me because O'sensei lived in a different world—a world, now lost, peopled with gods and fairies and divinities. I had to appreciate that."

So it seems that Professor Stevens did not really translate O Sensei's words. Instead, he wrote what he thought O Sensei should have said, and would have said, if he could have said it in English.

Shoulda-woulda-coulda. That doesn't sound like great scholarship, to me. If this has been Professor Stevens research philosophy in all of his writing then I fear that, instead of helping readers understand O Sensei and aikido, he has done them both irreparable harm.

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