... it is also inescapably true ... Western interest in Japanese martial arts has been inextricably bound up with an ill-defined but omnipresent interest in the spiritual aspects of those practices ..., as a cursory review of the martial arts section of any book store makes clear. ... Aitken's argument ... itself is a radical reading of the word "dojo" that allows its poetic meaning to shine in much the same way that polishing a piece of tarnished silver removes the oxidation that hides its brightness. ... an act of etymological rescue from the forces of entropy.
The connotations of words alter much more than their denotative attachments, and loanwords notoriously follow divergent (but fascinatingly related) paths of connotative evolution in the mother and adoptive tongues. This is most especially the case in myth, a subject dear to O Sensei. He directly related reading of mythology as being inextricably associated with kotodama as a process, which he in turn inextricably related to the spiritual and technical concepts of takemusu aiki. That is what he gave us to ponder in the dojo.
Erick Mead wrote:
I think it is fair to say that O Sensei put as much store by myth as by science.
And? Remarkable skills and visions aside, he's not an example of the kind of person I want to be.
You don't have to want to be him to recognize the value of processes that he found or created that allow each of us to become who we are or wish to be. That is the point. I give O Sensei a bit more credit for his depth of thinking, while acknowledging his sometimes seemingly impenetrable way of trying to relate it. But it can be teased out and related to very similar things in Western understanding that are much more accessible. Understanding those, we can then look for the narrative truth in the Doka and the other mythic references he made to Aikido, its purposes and functions. If nothing else -- it means more if you have to wrestle it out.
O Sensei saw things through his lens of kotodama
and Kojiki's myth structure. There is obviously a very high bar to the Westerner in trying to make use of O Sensei's kotodama system directly. It involves the need for a great sensitivity to the sound and sense of Japanese that are not easily obtained by a non-native speaker.
But fear not -- there is an analogous method. The practice of etymology (be it mythological or otherwise) in Western tongues is very much akin to the practice of kotodama
in Japanese, in my considered opinion. Thus, Fred's etymological point about rescuing words (and this whole debate) has a potential significance far beyond its immediate subject.
At least one good popularly known example exist of how to delve into these things in the same spirit as O Sensei's use of mythological resources and the gifts of expressed language. In keeping with what I take to be O Sensei's purpose in I]kotodama.[/i].
If we know the narrative that are being referred to we can explore them even in translation by thinking carefully about the fit of the concepts in the trasnaltion ot the words they choose to translate. It is no longer O Sensei's "pure" aikido power (which some, I think, seek in vain). The point of my observation here is that, apart from O Sensei, that is a meaningless measure, since the art is a organic thing not some crystalline order.
As to the example, it also allows one to dwell on the technical and spiritual problems of conflict and its creative/destructive nature. I suggest that you google "Tolkien" and "Wraith" and "etymology" and study his thoughts on these issues. Tom Shippey's literary biography (he was Tolkien's successor in the English Chair at Oxford) is a great in-depth source on Tolkien's process of giving flesh (well non-flesh, really) to his terrifying images of evil seeking power and destruction -- the best example of which is "Ringwraiths," the Black Riders. Their mythic literary form was drawn entirely from the deep associations of the words and related words in their etymological lineage, which Tolkien's philology was critical in rendering so powerfully.
(OE >> cognate to -- "rode/ride")
This imagery of twisting, bending back onto the self, a self-enclosed ring, so twisted in substance to as to become insubstantial ("wraiths" /"wreaths of smoke"), riding and debasing that outside the twisted Shadow, and the elusive overpowering yet self-extinguishing ring. (For Fred's consideration, it is the precise antithesis of the self-abandonment or self-donation and resulting empowering Light of enlightenment that is found in the imagery of both Buddhism and Christianity)
This relates deeply to O Sensei's view of Aikido through kotodama
and myth. O Sensei relied upon Motoori Norinaga, the preeminent philologist of his age in Japan, for his exhaustive philological reading of Kojiki's myths. There is a fascinating coincidence (is it?), giving resonance to this approach. The kami of evil, a topic of some concern to Norinaga, was called Magatsune no kami
" also means "bent or twisted."
Norinaga's project (as with Fred's point) was explicitly to effect the etymological rescue of the root thought contained in the Japanese Kojiki from the associations of the Chinese characters it was written in. His point - that the Way of the Japanese was not the same as the Way of the Chinese. It needed its own concrete expression to assure healthy development as Japanese -- which he provided in his exhaustive 40-odd volume commentary on the Kojiki and giving a concrete example of kotodama
in extremely practical use. He has his errors and criticisms but the value of the effort and its purpose is beyond doubt.
I'll give you an example of applying this thought in the current discussion of the circumstances and implications of practice in modern aikido that I have been working on lately:
This word figures prominently in Doshu's The Spirit of Aikido
, where he (and in quoting his father) states that nen
is both the foundation for and the continually creative faculty of aikido.
Kisshomaru Doshu wrote:
The realization of nen is the key to opening the essence of aikido; in fact, it constitutes the very heart of aikido.
O Sensei wrote:
In training the first task is to continually discipline the spirit, sharpen the power of nen, and unify body and mind. This is the foundation for development of waza, which in turn unfolds endlessly through nen.
is notable in not being spoken of in Western circles nearly as much as ki
. Taitetsu Unno translates it as "connotes concentration, one-pointedness, thought-moment" The last is the more literal reading as the character is the combination of 今 ima/ kon
"this, now, immediate" and 心 shin/kokoro
"mind heart spirit. "
Westerners are also notable for commonly doing something in the dojo that is not common (indeed, often frowned upon ) in Japan. Speaking. Talking in the dojo. Asking stuff. Impertinent questions. About all sorts of things -- some of which may verge into Fred's peeve - "desultory and inattentive friendship activity."
It may be that this is just our Way -- discursive, random sampling (desultory = jumping around) and accretionary in loose clouds of concepts taking shape as a diffuse whole gaining in substance as as single, organic unfolding shape. Conversely, the Japanese Way is more curt, methodical and discrete in assembling the whole in successively and substnatially completed parts. Where we are elliptical in thought Japanese is more direct; more direct where Japanese is elliptical. Digressing where the Japanese is tightly channeled; and vice-versa. In-yo, in so many ways.
The Chinese is 念 niÓn
-- which classically meant "to think of, recall, or study." Modernly, it retains this sense when used in combination with other characters. But when appearing alone it means "to read aloud" calling up immediate associations
) with the sound sensibilities that are reflected in the kotodama
Most broadly conceived, kotodama
is the process of giving the inchoate (mind spirit) some immediate concrete expression (now, this, "suchness" (for Fred's sake)). The difference, I think, is that we, in the West, give expression to thought (or in developing our thought that leads to such expressions) in a manner and mode in physical training that is necessarily different from that which is typical of Japanese. Our manner or Way defines or makes necessary the space or circumstances for its fullest growth -- just as Noirinaga contended that the Japanese Way defined (in preference to Chinese concepts) the circumstances necessary for its fullest growth. Ours and theirs differ somewhat, but they are not so alien in alteration as to lack relation or recognition.
One reason why we may not speak so much of nen
in O Sensei's sense of the "endless unfolding," (when we chat endlessly about so much else) is, in that respect, that we simply do
it. Our dialectical natures are suited to it -- even as they are otherwise sometimes ill-suited to the singular focus or attention in training that Japanese interpretations of "nen
" use in their approach to the art.
One view considers the affect of attention to practice -- while the other is attending to the resulting function flowing from it. While seemingly different, they may tend in their own Way to reach much the same end. This may explain the curious appeal of aikido to so many Westerners -- the root aspects of aikido's nen
, considered as the immediacy of "endless unfolding" are a good "fit" in ways that may not seem superficially obvious in comparing the outward forms of traditional Japanese practice with our own. Omote/ura.
It is necessary for us to follow our own Way to realize our native form of nen
-- the "thought-moment" of our training -- in order to achieve the essence of aikido for ourselves, as much as it is necessary to adapt the novel elements that are distinctly of
Japan into our understanding in that training process. Being honest with ourselves and disciplined in practice is required regardless of place or form in which it occur.
Both elements are critical. While through training we make a new reality in ourselves what was of Japan, we are simultaneously remade, in part, to realize more of what is Japanese in us, in consequence. Neither remains unchanged. And what is true of us, individually, is also true of the art collectively. Like the development any language, the kotodama or concrete expression of ideas takes shape immediately as it is expressed, and not in any other way -- precisely like the limitless techniques of takemusu aiki.
Some may view this as a "spiritual" exercise, others not -- the differences do not trouble me so much as interest me.