Way back in the '70s, as an adolescent I was introduced to the Tao Te Ching. I read it through a number of times, and would also occasionally select a chapter at random and see what was in it. I have no doubt that it, and related works such as "The Gospel According to Zen" influenced my world view considerably.
One of the ideas that lodged in my mind was the Chinese principle of wu wei
. It became a worthwhile puzzle, and I liked to look for instances that I thought might qualify as exemplars. I suppose it was only natural that I would develop a fascination with the martial arts, most readily the western popular appropriation of kung fu (thank you David Carradine). I never pursued any training, however, and my only exposure to the martial arts outside of entertainment media was occasional attendance at tournaments and demonstrations (hapkido particularly caught my eye).
Still, it wasn't until my early college days that my brother introduced me to aikido. I wasn't particular about the country of origin, but I knew there were a lot of arts and styles that did not appeal. The first time I saw aikido in action was at Bill Sosa's old dojo on Jefferson in Dallas (not the newer one, where I also trained). David Leibs (forgive any misspelling) was the instructor of record that first day, and I thought I'd found magic.
Nothing was said about wu wei
, but I could see it there in its fullness of (empty, non-) action.
Now, decades later, I've seen countless styles and instructors of aikido. I've witnessed and experienced a very wide diversity of hard and soft, decisive and nonchalant. I like it all, more or less, but the expression and experience of wu wei
retains for me its original appeal.
Yet, oddly, I never really hear it being discussed within aikido schools, except perhaps in passing. Yes, I understand that this is a Japanese art, and wu wei
is a jewel of Chinese thought. But still.
There are related concepts, certainly. Mushin
pertains, as does dochu no sei
. Probably the "ju" of judo was conceived in the same spirit. No doubt there are many others, and hopefully my readers can point me to schools where it is a central feature of their training.
But I've gotten around a bit by now, and I can't say that it's been common in my experience. So where is it? (Insiders may joke that it's everywhere, and one need only look under a rock or to split wood to find it there. I don't disagree.)
Some of O Sense's remarks can easily be interpreted as hints toward wu wei
. But I would have some concern that that's just a confirmation bias, seeing and interpreting something just because we want to.
I'm tempted to tentatively conclude that, for the most part, wu wei
is simply not a central concept in the practice of most aikido. As I say, I welcome the exceptions, but it will take some convincing before I accept that it is commonplace.
This mystifies me a bit. That doesn't stop me from continuing to develop my own art along such lines (and occasionally with significant help -- thank you again, Henry Kono). But it sometimes leaves me feeling that much of what I see in the realm of aikido is -- oddly foreign.
Confirmation bias may have been at work when I first saw aikido. I didn't consciously think to myself, "Wow! Just look at all that wu wei
out there!" But it triggered that sense in my bones that I was seeing a fundamentally different quality of action, and I wanted it.
Regardless, my immersion in aikido has without a doubt made me who I am. There is much more to aikido in particular, and oriental philosophy in general, than just wu wei
. I feel quite wealthy from just the few pebbles I have in my pocket, even while I stand in awe at mountain ranges of crystals and gems.
Mostly though, this is just me wondering aloud: Does wu wei
exist intrinsically in aikido? If so, is it explicit or implicit? If not, why not?
What do you think?
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA