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Old 05-04-2007, 07:22 PM   #1
graham
 
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Parsing ai ki do

I know nothing about Japanese, so maybe some of you can help. What's the best translation of Aikido into English? What are the acceptable variations of interpretation?

Way of finding harmony with your spirit?

The Way in Harmony with the Spirit?

Or, the spiritual way of harmony?

Or, a harmonious spiritual way?

Or, even, the way of peaceful living?!

Is it obvious what I'm asking, or am I just making a fool of myself? In Japanese, what are the objects and subjects?

I'm only asking because I have recently come across some translations that strike ms as suspiciously Western (e.g. the first one above).

Cheers.
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Old 05-04-2007, 07:36 PM   #2
Paul Sanderson-Cimino
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido

It's three symbols which translate to, more or less, "joining-spirit-way".

The common character for harmony ("wa") does not appear in the name. The above translations might have some figurative validity, and are perfectly fair suggestions about the "deeper meaning" of aikido, but they have relatively little to do with the literal meaning of the word.
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Old 05-04-2007, 07:39 PM   #3
Haowen Chan
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Koichi Tohei, "This is Aikido":

"the way to a meeting with ki"

He then says that the word "ki" can't be translated. I think replacing it with the English word "spirit" is not adequate.

A more interesting question is whether "ki aikido" makes any sense in Japanese or if it's one of those things like "Windows NT Technology" (aka Windows New Technology Technology).

Ki aikido - the way to meeting ki with ki? Sounds bogus to me....

Last edited by Haowen Chan : 05-04-2007 at 07:46 PM.
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Old 05-04-2007, 08:19 PM   #4
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Tomiki Sensei often used this for an English meaning:

"the Way Of Appropriate Fitting"

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Old 05-04-2007, 08:22 PM   #5
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Lol. I know what you mean about ki aikido (even though I practice it!)

Paul, what are the restrictions on the order of words as they are translated to English? E.g. Is it the way of harmonious spirit, or the spiritual way of harmony, or the way to join with spirit, or the way to a life of harmony?

Or, is it just best to agree with Tohei Sensei and not try to do a direct translation?
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Old 05-04-2007, 08:23 PM   #6
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

I've never heard that, Chuck.

Thanks.
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Old 05-04-2007, 09:24 PM   #7
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Graham Old wrote: View Post
Paul, what are the restrictions on the order of words as they are translated to English? E.g. Is it the way of harmonious spirit, or the spiritual way of harmony, or the way to join with spirit, or the way to a life of harmony?
At this point I should clarify that I only have about a year of Japanese knowledge. However, I can hopefully steer you in the right direction.

There is actually no grammatical structure implied in the word "Aikido". That is, there's no genitive or possessive case involved. Japanese compounds don't quite work like that. It's just a string of concepts with no linking grammar.

I do think it's reasonable to view it as "Aiki-Do". That is, aiki arguably forms a subset. Aikijutsu, aikido, etc.

So put another way: "The Way of Aiki". Where Aiki is a concept of matching one's ki or fitting with one's "energy". As for "energy" or "ki", I do defend the "spirit" translation as reasonably correct; the English term "spirit" matches reasonably closely in terms of usage. Like, it can be ethereal or purely psychological, for instance. It can refer to "energy" ("Do it with spirit!") or to "attitude" ("in good spirits").

So the real question is: what is "aiki"?
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Old 05-04-2007, 09:35 PM   #8
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

I'd also add: I really would be cautious about reading the word "harmony" into "aikido". Wado (harmony-way) is another word; e.g., "Wado-ryu karate". Is harmony an important concept in aikido? Sure! But it's not in the word itself in a literal sense.

So what does "ai" mean? Well, Jim Breen's acclaimed online dictionary defines the character "ai" (verb form: "awasu") as follows:

to join together; to face; to unite; to be opposite; to combine; to connect; to add up; to mix; to match; to overlap; to compare; to check with;

So aiki is uniting, joining, fitting, etc. with ki, e.g., your opponent's ki.
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Old 05-04-2007, 10:13 PM   #9
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Paul Sanderson-Cimino wrote: View Post
As for "energy" or "ki", I do defend the "spirit" translation as reasonably correct; the English term "spirit" matches reasonably closely in terms of usage. Like, it can be ethereal or purely psychological, for instance. It can refer to "energy" ("Do it with spirit!") or to "attitude" ("in good spirits").
My problem with "spirit" is that "ki" has spiritual, mental, and physical (tangible) meanings and all three are important in aikido. Spirit hits 2/3 at best, completely missing out the physical part.
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Old 05-04-2007, 10:21 PM   #10
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

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My problem with "spirit" is that "ki" has spiritual, mental, and physical (tangible) meanings and all three are important in aikido. Spirit hits 2/3 at best, completely missing out the physical part.
Fair enough.
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Old 05-05-2007, 12:00 AM   #11
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Graham Old wrote: View Post
I know nothing about Japanese, so maybe some of you can help. What's the best translation of Aikido into English? What are the acceptable variations of interpretation?

Way of finding harmony with your spirit?

The Way in Harmony with the Spirit?

Or, the spiritual way of harmony?

Or, a harmonious spiritual way?

Or, even, the way of peaceful living?!

Is it obvious what I'm asking, or am I just making a fool of myself? In Japanese, what are the objects and subjects?

I'm only asking because I have recently come across some translations that strike ms as suspiciously Western (e.g. the first one above).

Cheers.
I think you have to be very careful with the idea of parsing a single word, even though it is a compound of several Chinese characters, in the way you would parse a Latin sentence.

In a typical Japanese kanji dictionary there are hundreds of compound words containing the character for KI and these words have quite ordinary meanings. How would you parse a word like kishoudai (weather station), irokichiga (sex mania), or koukiben (air valve)? Or a word like KOUHI (coffee)? The first character means 'ornamental hairpin' and the second means 'string of pearls'. But the 'real' meaning is the stuff we drink.

You can get into endless difficulties if you try to find the 'real' meaning of a word by means of some kind of theory about the relationships of the characters that make up the word. There is no 'real' meaning of 'kishoudai' apart from 'weather station'.

There are similar difficulties involved in trying to find the 'real' meaning of a single word, like BU, for example, by some kind of theory about the elements that make up the character (stopping spears, or whatever).

'Aikido' does not usually appear in Japanese kanji dictionaries, because it is a made-up word. However, the meaning of aikido is never a problem for Japanese native speakers, for the definition is given in any dictionary, such as the Kojien (p.4).

The problem is that there is no single-word translation into English, so some non-Japanese try to find the 'real' meaning of the word by decomposing it into the characters, perhaps because it makes them feel good when they train. This is fine. I have no problems with this, just so long as they do not then suggest that this decomposition is the 'real' meaning of the word.

Best wishes,

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 05-05-2007 at 12:04 AM.

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Old 05-05-2007, 05:00 AM   #12
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Very helpful, folks. Thanks.

Peter, that seems obvious now that you've pointed it out! Cheers.
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Old 05-05-2007, 07:07 AM   #13
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Howard Chan wrote: View Post
Spirit hits 2/3 at best, completely missing out the physical part.
I agree. Having practiced Aikido for a while (6 years active practice) it is obvious to me that ki has a very strong physical component that is often ignored with the so called spiritual meaning emphasized.

David
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Old 05-05-2007, 10:47 AM   #14
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Well, here's my two cents....

As others have mentioned, the literal translation is meeting,spirit, and way. But take those words with a grain of salt too. I don't like how the "Ai" is often misconstrued to mean "harmony". "Ki" is another one, as others have mentioned that is difficult to pin down. As for "Do" I don't like using it as a "the way of....". It sounds so light-hearted and more like a method, or a means to accomplish things, rather than a serious moral discipline.

Also, I believe many have misunderstood the term "aiki" to mean joining with the ki of the attacker. However, according to some like Tohei and Kisshomaru, it actually refers to the joining of the ki of the mind with the ki of the body to become one. Ultimately, the goal is the become one with the universal ki. I am curious if this definition of aiki is the same as the one used in other "aiki" arts, such as Daito-ryu aiki-jutsu.

While it is worthwhile to understand the meaning of the name, it is, just a name. From what I understand, it sounds like Ueshiba wasn't even the one to name the art he created.

-John Matsushima

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Old 05-05-2007, 09:34 PM   #15
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
John Matsushima wrote: View Post
Well, here's my two cents....

Also, I believe many have misunderstood the term "aiki" to mean joining with the ki of the attacker. However, according to some like Tohei and Kisshomaru, it actually refers to the joining of the ki of the mind with the ki of the body to become one. Ultimately, the goal is the become one with the universal ki.
Which takes place internally and not externally.

David
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Old 05-06-2007, 09:24 AM   #16
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

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David Skaggs wrote: View Post
Which takes place internally and not externally.

David
The phrase In/Yo comes to mind ( not in yo' face, tho). The inner and the outer being manifest of one and the same. The Chinese reference for this is Yin Yang.
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Old 05-06-2007, 09:38 AM   #17
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
John Matsushima wrote: View Post
Well, here's my two cents....

As others have mentioned, the literal translation is meeting,spirit, and way. But take those words with a grain of salt too. I don't like how the "Ai" is often misconstrued to mean "harmony". "Ki" is another one, as others have mentioned that is difficult to pin down. As for "Do" I don't like using it as a "the way of....". It sounds so light-hearted and more like a method, or a means to accomplish things, rather than a serious moral discipline.

Also, I believe many have misunderstood the term "aiki" to mean joining with the ki of the attacker. However, according to some like Tohei and Kisshomaru, it actually refers to the joining of the ki of the mind with the ki of the body to become one. Ultimately, the goal is the become one with the universal ki. I am curious if this definition of aiki is the same as the one used in other "aiki" arts, such as Daito-ryu aiki-jutsu.

While it is worthwhile to understand the meaning of the name, it is, just a name. From what I understand, it sounds like Ueshiba wasn't even the one to name the art he created.
As a musician the word harmony has a different conotation than it does for many others who do not study music. When we begin to combine the practical aspects of harmony, as they are revealed in music, with the concept of a 'drone tone' we can see how the constant vibration of the universe (ki) defines the environment that we have to unite to (harmony). A study of Kotodama (sound, syllable vibration as creative basis ) reveals the ties between the harmony of which we speak and the ways that we can utilize it. Perhaps this might help. Spirit is the feeling of the sound and playing the instrument is the physical practice. Kinda hard to isolate the two in composition.

My 2 cents:
Before we begin to feel to fluffy in the sneakers about our use of 'Do', we might consider how deadly some passes can be on this nature hike. Speaking of nature: the equivalent of DO is Tao, written frequently translated as 'unobstructed nature'.

Simply because we don't yet understand something does not mean we should discard that teaching or take a stance for or against it. I believe we should stay humble and continue to seek to come to a new place of renewed understanding.

thanks

Last edited by jennifer paige smith : 05-06-2007 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 05-06-2007, 09:49 AM   #18
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Chuck Clark wrote: View Post
Tomiki Sensei often used this for an English meaning:

"the Way Of Appropriate Fitting"
'Appropriate', by nature, being ever changing and always relative to the present condition.
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Old 05-07-2007, 12:01 PM   #19
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Howard Chan wrote: View Post
My problem with "spirit" is that "ki" has spiritual, mental, and physical (tangible) meanings and all three are important in aikido. Spirit hits 2/3 at best, completely missing out the physical part.
Shrug. "Aiki" as a concept in Japanese martial arts well-predates aikido. There doesn't seem to be any doubt Ueshiba had some things in mind during his teaching, but "aiki" as a description of a type of waza is well established. Still, some of the parsing strikes me as reminiscent of arguments about what the pleats in a hakama "mean" - an odd question since that form of trousers far predates the principles typically bandied about. Sometimes, it's just pants.

John
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Old 05-08-2007, 04:40 PM   #20
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
John Seavitt wrote: View Post
Shrug. "Aiki" as a concept in Japanese martial arts well-predates aikido. There doesn't seem to be any doubt Ueshiba had some things in mind during his teaching, but "aiki" as a description of a type of waza is well established. Still, some of the parsing strikes me as reminiscent of arguments about what the pleats in a hakama "mean" - an odd question since that form of trousers far predates the principles typically bandied about. Sometimes, it's just pants.

John
I agree with your point that this is a lot like the pleat argument. It is an awful like many arguments where people want or need to establish claim to something. Why? I don't know.
The arts are here to be practiced, no matter what we call them.
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Old 05-08-2007, 11:05 PM   #21
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
John Seavitt wrote: View Post
Shrug. "Aiki" as a concept in Japanese martial arts well-predates aikido. There doesn't seem to be any doubt Ueshiba had some things in mind during his teaching, but "aiki" as a description of a type of waza is well established. Still, some of the parsing strikes me as reminiscent of arguments about what the pleats in a hakama "mean" - an odd question since that form of trousers far predates the principles typically bandied about. Sometimes, it's just pants.

John
Hakama without labels attached to the pleats, it's still pants.

Aikido without ki.... or without understanding of ki.... is not aikido.
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Old 05-09-2007, 05:19 PM   #22
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Howard Chan wrote: View Post
Aikido without ki.... or without understanding of ki.... is not aikido.
My point was the literal parsing of 'ai ki do' doesn't get you any understanding of martial 'aiki', just like parsing 'uncouth' doesn't help one with the usage of the word ("not"+"known").

John
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Old 05-09-2007, 11:03 PM   #23
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
John Seavitt wrote: View Post
My point was the literal parsing of 'ai ki do' doesn't get you any understanding of martial 'aiki', just like parsing 'uncouth' doesn't help one with the usage of the word ("not"+"known").

John
In that case, What helps?
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Old 05-10-2007, 04:38 AM   #24
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

The best definition of 'ki' that I've come across is: "the lid must fit the pot."

In gassho,

Mark
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Old 05-10-2007, 04:43 AM   #25
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Re: Parsing ai ki do

Quote:
Jennifer Smith wrote: View Post
I agree with your point that this is a lot like the pleat argument. It is an awful like many arguments where people want or need to establish claim to something. Why? I don't know.
The arts are here to be practiced, no matter what we call them.
Why? That is a good question. It is of course, very important to practice, practice, practice, and being a serious student also means doing your homework. One can either just do what they are told and follow, never rising above a mediocre level, or one can take the initiative to find out on their own by asking questions such as these. If one is serious about Aikido, then it is of course natural to want to know what the name means. However, many are right when comes to the fact that just knowing what aikido really means isn't going to lead to some grand enlightenment where the essence of aikido is revealed. But it does lead to more questions, which is important. Now that we know what ai, ki, and do really means, we will want to know more about it and practice even more.
We must practice, but we must also learn.

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