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Old 05-01-2012, 11:28 AM   #1
OwlMatt
 
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Smile The Best Way

I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, "But, sir, aren't we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?" He replied with total gravity--he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar--"Yes, but in England it's true." To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can however produce asses that kick and bite.

- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Whether the matter in question be religion, music, or the martial arts, I've never felt the need to assert that my way is the best way or the only way. Protestant Christianity, acoustic singer-songwriter music, and aikido, respectively, are all paths that I have stumbled upon, more by chance than by choice. Were I to take too much pride in the perceived relative merits of a fate that chose me far more than I chose it, I fear I'd become like the above patriot, boasting as if he'd chosen to be born English.

There are those, though, who'd have me do exactly that.

I was urged, even in the tolerant United Methodist denomination in which I grew up, to "save" people of other creeds from sin and hell by sharing my truer and more correct beliefs with them. I have been told by fellow musicians and music fans that my kind of music is "real" music, and that metal, rap, and electronic pop are "just noise". And from my first day in the dojo, I've had instructors telling me that aikido is something deeper, more sophisticated, and more moral than all other martial arts.

To be sure, on the spectrum of ignorant conviction Lewis lays out for us above, these particular aikido instructors have been much closer to the "loveable old ass" end than the "villain" end. My respect and love for them are not in question. But I still think they're wrong.

Aikidoka, tell me if you've heard these before:
  • Aikido is superior to other martial arts because it values technique over strength, so you don't have to be a big, strong guy to do it.
  • Aikido is superior to other martial arts because it teaches a way of life and not just a set of physical skills.
  • Aikido is superior to other martial arts because it doesn't dilute itself with sport competition.
  • Aikido is superior to other martial arts because O Sensei incorporated the best of many different martial arts into one art.

When I hear people claiming that aikido is the way, they usually support their position by making one of these four claims. There is much truth in all of these claims, but as assertions of disciplinary uniqueness or superiority, they all come up short.

All martial arts, not just aikido, aspire to be methods by which a smaller, weaker person can defeat a bigger, stronger one. And some, like Royce Gracie's jiu-jitsu, have proven themselves quite convincingly. The "way of life" claim has never impressed me, and at any rate aikido is hardly the only art making it (check Google if you don't believe me). Absence of competition is not exclusive to aikido, and I find the argument that competition is a valuable tool a compelling one (Rob Redmond, for instance, makes it here). Finally, many arts, including Shorinji kenpo and jeet kune do, can make equally valid claims to being a brilliant master's synthesis of multiple martial arts.

Does this mean that aikido isn't unique or special? Of course not. It probably does mean, though, that aikidoka have very little cause to be looking down their noses at anyone.

What's more, I suspect most aikidoka are like me: rather than exhaustively researching every martial art available to them and making educated decisions about their relative merits, they got lucky and happened upon something that was affordable and convenient and looked fun and interesting. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this method, but it's not a method that puts one in a position to make claims about the superiority of a particular discipline.

To return to the other examples I used earlier, my music and religion came to me much the same way. I didn't choose to be born and raised in the United Methodist Church, and the acoustic guitar landed in my lap during an elective class my senior year of high school. Does that mean these things aren't vital and meaningful parts of my life? Of course not. But it does mean that I don't really have a leg to stand on if I start to claim my religion or my music are the best in a world full of options. Maybe I might claim that they are the best for me, but even then I'm not saying anything that does me any good in an appeal to a universal or objective standard.

One more thing: who cares?

Who cares which martial art (or religion, or music style) is the best? Why can't we just find something that works for us and let it work? Why do we need to be better than anyone else? It's a question that returns to my mind whenever I am foolish enough to read YouTube comments.

To be sure, there are a select few who genuinely need the most effective combat skills they can find, and for them the comparative efficacy of different martial arts is a valid concern. But I'm certainly not one of those people, and neither are most aikidoka, or even most martial artists.

Most of us, then, have no authority to declare our way better than any other way, and, moreover, no reason to. Rather than trying to prove how much better we are than everyone else--something we are entirely unequipped to do anyway--why don't we all just get back to training?

(The original post on The Young Grasshopper can be found here.)

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Old 05-01-2012, 01:04 PM   #2
Jonathan
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Re: The Best Way

Quote:
To return to the other examples I used earlier, my music and religion came to me much the same way. I didn't choose to be born and raised in the United Methodist Church, and the acoustic guitar landed in my lap during an elective class my senior year of high school. Does that mean these things aren't vital and meaningful parts of my life? Of course not. But it does mean that I don't really have a leg to stand on if I start to claim my religion or my music are the best in a world full of options. Maybe I might claim that they are the best for me, but even then I'm not saying anything that does me any good in an appeal to a universal or objective standard.
I was agreeing quite contentedly with what you had written right up to this point. It sounds to me as though you are saying two things here: 1.) The serendipitous nature of the beginning of your involvement in music and religion prevent you from claiming your music and faith or superior to all others. 2.) The mere presence of a variety of options precludes any of them from claiming superiority over the rest. Is this correct? If so, I can see some very obvious and serious problems with this kind of thinking. For instance, if a child taking a math test accidently hits upon the correct answer to one of the questions, is the answer any less correct, any less true, any less superior to all the possible incorrect answers the child might have given as a result? Further, since there is an almost infinite number of possible answers (possible answers don't necessarily have to be correct answers) to any math question, would the child be wrong in thinking that there is only a single correct one, an answer that is better than all the other possible options?

Quote:
One more thing: who cares?

Who cares which martial art (or religion, or music style) is the best? Why can't we just find something that works for us and let it work? Why do we need to be better than anyone else? It's a question that returns to my mind whenever I am foolish enough to read YouTube comments.
I for one care which is best (at least about some things). Mind you, I suppose this is contingent upon what you mean by "best." In any case, would you really want to practice a martial art, or style of music, or religion that was the worst of the available options - even if it "worked" for you? I've seen people practicing self defense methods that would easily get them hurt or killed. Their practice, however, "worked" for them; it made them feel safe and equipped to handle an attack. Should they take your view and just never mind the inefficacy of their chosen self defense approach? Is the illusion of self defense skill to be preferred over the real thing?

Being better than the next guy is not really a motivator for me except if the next guy is trying to harm or kill me and I'm trying to defend myself. In this case, being "better" at defending myself than my attacker is at harming me is very crucial, don't you think? Being better at a given thing ought not to be confused with doing what is best, though. I can be paddling a canoe in the best known method but not be doing so better than the guy in the next canoe.

Quote:
Most of us, then, have no authority to declare our way better than any other way, and, moreover, no reason to.
I don't agree. Depending upon the criteria involved, it seems to me perfectly appropriate to declare one way better than another. Is baking a cake with cement better than baking it with flour? I suppose it depends upon the purpose for which the cake is being made. If I want to use the cake as an anchor for my boat, then a concrete cake is much better than one made of flour. If I want to eat the cake, then a cake made of flour is better than one made of cement. So long as one is clear on the purpose for which one is doing a given thing, it seems to me to be quite appropriate to distinguish better and worse ways of accomplishing that thing.

Quote:
Rather than trying to prove how much better we are than everyone else--something we are entirely unequipped to do anyway--why don't we all just get back to training?
Getting back to training sounds good to me! The other stuff...uh, not so much.

"Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."
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Old 05-01-2012, 04:11 PM   #3
OwlMatt
 
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Re: The Best Way

Quote:
Jonathan Hay wrote: View Post
I was agreeing quite contentedly with what you had written right up to this point. It sounds to me as though you are saying two things here: 1.) The serendipitous nature of the beginning of your involvement in music and religion prevent you from claiming your music and faith or superior to all others.
Not exactly. The reason the nature of the beginning of my involvement in music and religion (and most things, for that matter) keeps me from making any claims of superiority is that I did not come to them by a process that involved investigating other options. How can I claim my way is better than other ways if I've never looked into the merits of those other ways?
Quote:
2.) The mere presence of a variety of options precludes any of them from claiming superiority over the rest. Is this correct?
Not necessarily. But I think it's very difficult for any of said options to make a broad, sweeping statement about being the best of the bunch.
Quote:
I for one care which is best (at least about some things). Mind you, I suppose this is contingent upon what you mean by "best." In any case, would you really want to practice a martial art, or style of music, or religion that was the worst of the available options - even if it "worked" for you? I've seen people practicing self defense methods that would easily get them hurt or killed. Their practice, however, "worked" for them; it made them feel safe and equipped to handle an attack. Should they take your view and just never mind the inefficacy of their chosen self defense approach? Is the illusion of self defense skill to be preferred over the real thing?
Of course not. There is nothing wrong with looking at things logically and making value judgments based on our analysis. That's not what I'm talking about. It's perfectly reasonable to say, "I believe art X is better for knife disarms than art Y because I find its training methodology has a more realistic approach to weapons." What is unreasonable is saying, "Art X is the world's greatest art; there is no reason to train any other art." No one will ever be able to prove or even make a strong logical case for that; it's a statement based on emotional attachment that then gets rationalized after it's made.
Quote:
Being better than the next guy is not really a motivator for me except if the next guy is trying to harm or kill me and I'm trying to defend myself. In this case, being "better" at defending myself than my attacker is at harming me is very crucial, don't you think?
Yes, absolutely.
Quote:
Being better at a given thing ought not to be confused with doing what is best, though. I can be paddling a canoe in the best known method but not be doing so better than the guy in the next canoe.
Exactly.
Quote:
I don't agree. Depending upon the criteria involved, it seems to me perfectly appropriate to declare one way better than another. Is baking a cake with cement better than baking it with flour? I suppose it depends upon the purpose for which the cake is being made. If I want to use the cake as an anchor for my boat, then a concrete cake is much better than one made of flour. If I want to eat the cake, then a cake made of flour is better than one made of cement. So long as one is clear on the purpose for which one is doing a given thing, it seems to me to be quite appropriate to distinguish better and worse ways of accomplishing that thing.
Of course. But when you limit your scope to two options and specific purposes, then you're out of the realm of the kind of silly, categorical assertions I'm criticizing.

I think you and I agree more than we disagree. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in what I was talking about.

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Old 05-01-2012, 09:32 PM   #4
OwlMatt
 
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Re: The Best Way

A side note, Jonathan. Your reply to my post alerted me to a mistake.

What I said was, "Most of us, then, have no authority to declare our way any better than any other way," but what I should have said is, "Most of us, then, have no authority to to declare our way better than all the others". I'm making the change to the original text now.

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Old 05-02-2012, 10:29 AM   #5
phitruong
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Re: The Best Way

i'd say that my way is better than all the others, until i find a better way.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
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Old 05-02-2012, 01:59 PM   #6
Allen Beebe
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Re: The Best Way

there is no way that is the best way

~ Allen Beebe
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:07 PM   #7
dps
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Re: The Best Way

I am sure Mathew did not intend this correlation.

Quote:
Matthew Story wrote: View Post
I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, "But, sir, aren't we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?" He replied with total gravity--he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar--"Yes, but in England it's true." To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can however produce asses that kick and bite.

- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
It is a unique art. It is not a "hobby", it is not a "sport", it is not a "workout", it is a Michi, a Way. The central maxim of Aikido is "masakatsu, agatsu" "True Victory is Self Victory".

George Ledyard's All Things Aikido
http://aikieast.blogspot.com/search?...&max-results=2



dps (another old ass)

Last edited by dps : 05-03-2012 at 12:10 PM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 06:16 PM   #8
OwlMatt
 
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Re: The Best Way

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
I am sure Mathew did not intend this correlation.

It is a unique art. It is not a "hobby", it is not a "sport", it is not a "workout", it is a Michi, a Way. The central maxim of Aikido is "masakatsu, agatsu" "True Victory is Self Victory".

George Ledyard's All Things Aikido
http://aikieast.blogspot.com/search?...&max-results=2

dps (another old ass)
I've actually quoted that very passage in my blog:
http://yghmartialarts.blogspot.com/2...tter-word.html

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