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Old 07-25-2007, 05:35 PM   #26
ChrisHein
 
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

We have a Kamidana in our dojo. We also have a picture of O-sensei next to it. For me it has no attachment to organized religion. I think it's a nice practice (bowing to the shomen). Seems to me that most of our lives are lacking ritual, at least mine often is. The ritual is not about the sticks of wood, or the photographic image, but my relation to them. More specifically my relation to what the represent.

When I bow to the kamidana I bow to the spirit of bu. Not a mystical entity the hovers around, but the actual spirit of bu. The ideal of not allowing myself to become a victim. To the knowledge that I take my life into my own hands and except responsibility for what ever happens.

Funny while writing this, I find it hard to get at what I mean by "spirit". When I say spirit I mean it as it’s used in "fighting spirit" or "spirit of giving". Not to say that there is a little sentient being floating around who makes us fight, or give, but the kind of spirit that comes from within. That is what I bow to. I bow to that which has given me so much and comes from within. I also bow out of respect to a long gone teacher who created something that has become a wonderful part of my life. I don't bow to a little doll house, or a stoic picture, I bow to what they represent.

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Old 07-26-2007, 02:51 AM   #27
Michael Varin
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Quote:
Chris Hein wrote:
Funny while writing this, I find it hard to get at what I mean by "spirit".
Allow me to give you some words, my friend.

I think you are referring to the essential nature or significance of the thing in question.

-Michael
"Through aiki we can feel the mind of the enemy who comes to attack and are thus able to respond immediately." - M. Mochizuki
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Old 07-26-2007, 06:18 AM   #28
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Another excellent post Chris. I was struggling to put something into words when I first saw this thread, but failed to find anything appropriate.

Best,
Ron

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Old 07-26-2007, 06:56 AM   #29
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Yeah, ditto what Ron said. That was a nice post, Chris. Even though my reasons are not exactly the same as yours, it was still well worth reading your post and nodding in agreement.
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Old 07-27-2007, 05:05 AM   #30
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Quote:
Chris Hein wrote: View Post
We have a Kamidana in our dojo. We also have a picture of O-sensei next to it. For me it has no attachment to organized religion. I think it's a nice practice (bowing to the shomen). Seems to me that most of our lives are lacking ritual, at least mine often is. The ritual is not about the sticks of wood, or the photographic image, but my relation to them. More specifically my relation to what the represent.

When I bow to the kamidana I bow to the spirit of bu. Not a mystical entity the hovers around, but the actual spirit of bu. The ideal of not allowing myself to become a victim. To the knowledge that I take my life into my own hands and except responsibility for what ever happens.

Funny while writing this, I find it hard to get at what I mean by "spirit". When I say spirit I mean it as it's used in "fighting spirit" or "spirit of giving". Not to say that there is a little sentient being floating around who makes us fight, or give, but the kind of spirit that comes from within. That is what I bow to. I bow to that which has given me so much and comes from within. I also bow out of respect to a long gone teacher who created something that has become a wonderful part of my life. I don't bow to a little doll house, or a stoic picture, I bow to what they represent.
Just out of curiosity (and further discussion), I'd like to ask, why do you have a kamidana if it has no attachment to Shinto belief? Why a kamidana and not, say, a calligraphic scroll of the "bu" character? Or even English calligraphy of "spirit"?

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
- Chaucer
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Old 07-27-2007, 09:52 AM   #31
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

The Kamidana over time (my teacher had one also) came to represent martial arts training to me. It could have been a little statue of Homer Simpson, but Homer has never come to mean martial arts training to me personally.

In short it could be ANYTHING ELSE, but my (or your) relation to it is what matters. I connect the kamidana and martial arts training. I connect english calligraphy of the word "spirit" with high school football. A strong connection in it's own right, but not exactly what I'm trying to evoke in the dojo.

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Old 07-27-2007, 05:43 PM   #32
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

IOW, it's a kind of mental/psychological "prop" intended to evoke a specific mental/emotional state....?

Ignatius
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Old 07-27-2007, 06:18 PM   #33
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

For me yes.

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Old 07-27-2007, 06:29 PM   #34
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

So, if you have already anchored that state, and can activate the anchor at any time, you would have no further need for the prop, right?

Ignatius
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Old 07-27-2007, 07:18 PM   #35
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Sensei stands palm upward. I stand palm upward.

Sensei tenkans. I tenkan.

Sensei bows to the kamiza. I bow to the kamiza.

Best way to learn aikido is to do what Sensei does. Don't worry too much about why. At some point you will understand why, or you won't, or maybe there isn't a why.

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Old 07-27-2007, 07:44 PM   #36
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

If Sensei scratches his butt and picks his nose, would you too?

I think you're missing the point of the original poster's premise and what Chris is alluding to...

We're not advocating sheep-like behaviour in MA. It's a thinking person's game....

Ignatius
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Old 07-27-2007, 07:58 PM   #37
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Quote:
Avery Jenkins wrote: View Post
Sensei stands palm upward. I stand palm upward.

Sensei tenkans. I tenkan.

Sensei bows to the kamiza. I bow to the kamiza.

Best way to learn aikido is to do what Sensei does. Don't worry too much about why. At some point you will understand why, or you won't, or maybe there isn't a why.
This is a very traditionally Japanese way of looking at things. Of course, traditionally in Japan you really didn't have any other choice but to just blindly copy everything the teacher did and hope that you eventually learned something. If the teacher didn't answer your questions, it wasn't like you could easily go ask someone else. Luckily now we have things like the internet where we can go ask other people, some of whom might have a better understanding of the subject than whomever our teacher happens to be, and who, perhaps unlike that teacher, are willing to share this information publicly.

While you are free to reject this information and go back to just blindly copying your teacher because that is the "traditional" way, you will have a hard time defending the argument that this is also the best way to learn a martial art. If you don't have any other information or options, then obviously you will have to just copy and learn what you can, but given the increasing availability of high-quality information today it would be foolish to suggest that we should throw this information out because it is not the traditional way of learning in martial arts. Those who do will fall behind while the rest of us keep learning from each other and advancing.

Last edited by G DiPierro : 07-27-2007 at 08:04 PM.
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Old 07-28-2007, 05:55 AM   #38
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

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So, if you have already anchored that state, and can activate the anchor at any time, you would have no further need for the prop, right?
Sure, and that should be your goal. I also think ritual is important though.

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Old 07-28-2007, 08:12 AM   #39
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

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This is a very traditionally Japanese way of looking at things. Of course, traditionally in Japan you really didn't have any other choice but to just blindly copy everything the teacher did and hope that you eventually learned something.
True, but as far as bowing goes, the important point, IMO, is that a Japanese person knows why they are bowing to shomen, or to a tokonoma, or to a kamidana.

I believe that the cultural artifacts in aikido practice need to be understood, and need to be understood idiomatically. So, if a student asks, "why do I call this person 'sensei'", then "because that's the way it's done," is not an acceptable answer. Nor is, "Because 'sensei' means 'one who has gone on before', and this is how we show respect for his experience and teaching." OTOH, "Because that is what teachers and instructors are called in Japanese, and we think its important to keep aikido grounded in its historical roots" is IMO pretty much ideal.

Likewise, if a student asks, "Why do we bow to that thing in the front of the dojo?", then "Because SENSEI says so," is not an acceptable answer, but a concise answer explaining the significance (which would be different depending on whether it's a blank wall, a tokonoma, or a kamidana) and allowing the student to make their own choice is, IMO, the best way to go.

Quote:
Chris Hein wrote:
Quote:
Ignatius Teo wrote:
So, if you have already anchored that state, and can activate the anchor at any time, you would have no further need for the prop, right?
Sure, and that should be your goal. I also think ritual is important though.
As do I. I think what makes me vaguely uncomfortable, though, is the disharmony between heart, mind, and belief. I think what you wrote above is truly admirable, and entirely true here in Japan. Most of the places I've trained in have been gymnasiums and generic judo dojo, with no kamidana, no tokonoma, no picture of Osensei, just some place designated the shomen. And the bows performed to that shomen were no less serious and full of purpose and spirit for the lack of some kind of symbol. Indeed, it's not about the collection of sticks and pictures and what not, it's not even really about metaphysical beings floating around. It's about what's in you.

But, at the same time, a kamidana that doesn't have a mystical sentient being hovering around it really can't be called a kamidana. Bows toward it aside, a kamidana has a specific purpose, a specific meaning. For those of the Shinto belief, it's very real and meaningful. So, having a kamidana, but not believing in the spirits represented therein, it strikes me as just...wrong. Like having a basin of holy water and using it for after practice thirst-quenching. Or someone kneeling and doing the sign of the cross before a crucifix, but then saying, "I don't really believe in God or Christ, but doing that helps me prepare for practice."

I freely admit that I may be being overly sensitive about this. In Japan, it's not unusual for a married couple to have a "chapel wedding", with a fake priest, just for the fun and image of it, even though they are not Christian at all. I was once asked to work as the priest. 10,000 yen (roughly $100) per ceremony. Just wear some priest outfit, say some proper sounding words that most of the "dearly beloved" wouldn't understand anyway, and give them the "experience" of a chapel wedding. I'm not particularly religious, and I haven't been a regular church-goer since I was a pre-teen, but I had to refuse. It just didn't feel right go through the motions faking something that is very meaningful to many people.

So, of course the important thing is your practice, and your mindset, which I think everyone would agree is top-knotch. And it really makes no difference to me how you do your training, so please take this in the spirit it's intended: a personal perspective, not criticism. But if the kamidana itself holds no special spiritual meaning for you, maybe you don't need it. Maybe a simple tokonoma - elegant, serious, keeping completely within Japanese cultural practice - is what you should be bowing to, rather than a bundle of sticks that you just call a kamidana. Or maybe not; it's your practice and your call.

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
- Chaucer
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Old 07-28-2007, 01:15 PM   #40
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Hey Josh.

Hmm, it's really hard to get at what you're saying when you're talking about this kind of stuff (probably why it's best experienced and not talked about...)

But I know what you're saying, and I really don't think there is any discord in what we are saying.

Ignatius Teo brings up some interesting stuff. Sure you could train with out a kamidana, and I'm sure you'd get good, and would become a better person. And it's good to be able to free yourself from unnecessary trappings.

However I can also live without ice in my water. I can eat food that is good for me but not tasty. I can look at pictures of nature and see what a tree looks like. I can drive the most economical car. Sure you can do all of these things, but it gets kind of...lifeless.

The kamidana is one of these kinds of things. It adds color to my life. It adds a ritual that I choose to be a part of. It add some spice. Why not have it, if I enjoy it, and it adds to my practice?

I can get snippy with all kinds of things. I can criticize someone for drinking a beer, or using too much salt. I can state facts that show why I'm right, and how these things are just not since able. But that's pretty damn dull, and not how I want to live my life.

My kamidana has a little spirit in it, the spirit of bu. He is in there every time I'm in the room, I put him there. But it's hard to get at what I'm saying on an inner net forum. Do I logically think there is a little floating man, no. But is the spirit of bu in my dojo, yes. How do we make an expression of that, well having a kamidana is a nice way to do it.

For me though, the Kamidana isn’t a Shinto thing. I know that’s its roots, but I don’t know anything about Shinto really. I’m not interested in studying Shinto, I like to study Aikido. The culture of Aikido has become independent of Shinto (for me any ways). I like the Japanese flare that comes with Aikido, but do I know a lot about Japanese Culture. But I do know plenty about Aikido culture. And that's what I train, Aikido, not Shinto or Japan.

So I’d feel like a hypocrite talking about Shinto stuff that I don’t know about. While I’d like to know some more about it, it’s not a priority for me. So my Kamidana is separate from organized religion, and is simply a part of my martial arts training.

Sorry for the long post guys.

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Old 07-28-2007, 01:23 PM   #41
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Quote:
Chris Hein wrote: View Post
Hey Josh.

Hmm, it's really hard to get at what you're saying when you're talking about this kind of stuff (probably why it's best experienced and not talked about...)

But I know what you're saying, and I really don't think there is any discord in what we are saying.

Ignatius Teo brings up some interesting stuff. Sure you could train with out a kamidana, and I'm sure you'd get good, and would become a better person. And it's good to be able to free yourself from unnecessary trappings.

However I can also live without ice in my water. I can eat food that is good for me but not tasty. I can look at pictures of nature and see what a tree looks like. I can drive the most economical car. Sure you can do all of these things, but it gets kind of...lifeless.

The kamidana is one of these kinds of things. It adds color to my life. It adds a ritual that I choose to be a part of. It add some spice. Why not have it, if I enjoy it, and it adds to my practice?

I can get snippy with all kinds of things. I can criticize someone for drinking a beer, or using too much salt. I can state facts that show why I'm right, and how these things are just not since able. But that's pretty damn dull, and not how I want to live my life.

My kamidana has a little spirit in it, the spirit of bu. He is in there every time I'm in the room, I put him there. But it's hard to get at what I'm saying on an inner net forum. Do I logically think there is a little floating man, no. But is the spirit of bu in my dojo, yes. How do we make an expression of that, well having a kamidana is a nice way to do it.

For me though, the Kamidana isn't a Shinto thing. I know that's its roots, but I don't know anything about Shinto really. I'm not interested in studying Shinto, I like to study Aikido. The culture of Aikido has become independent of Shinto (for me any ways). I like the Japanese flare that comes with Aikido, but do I know a lot about Japanese Culture. But I do know plenty about Aikido culture. And that's what I train, Aikido, not Shinto or Japan.

So I'd feel like a hypocrite talking about Shinto stuff that I don't know about. While I'd like to know some more about it, it's not a priority for me. So my Kamidana is separate from organized religion, and is simply a part of my martial arts training.

Sorry for the long post guys.
Kind of summed it up nicely, though.
The same is essentially true for me as well. As an observation of 'Shinto', the practice is not necessry to me. But it does represent, in essence, even by way of 'shinto', the need to see all things from all directions, as in nature. Arguabley, the basis of shinto, but definitely the basis of my practice. A practice that trancends all religion yet brings them to their completion. Bowing is a reminder of my place in the natural order of things.

Jennifer Paige Smith
Confluence Aikido Systems
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Old 07-28-2007, 05:27 PM   #42
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

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Giancarlo DiPierro wrote: View Post
This is a very traditionally Japanese way of looking at things. Of course, traditionally in Japan you really didn't have any other choice but to just blindly copy everything the teacher did and hope that you eventually learned something. If the teacher didn't answer your questions, it wasn't like you could easily go ask someone else. Luckily now we have things like the internet where we can go ask other people, some of whom might have a better understanding of the subject than whomever our teacher happens to be, and who, perhaps unlike that teacher, are willing to share this information publicly.

While you are free to reject this information and go back to just blindly copying your teacher because that is the "traditional" way, you will have a hard time defending the argument that this is also the best way to learn a martial art. If you don't have any other information or options, then obviously you will have to just copy and learn what you can, but given the increasing availability of high-quality information today it would be foolish to suggest that we should throw this information out because it is not the traditional way of learning in martial arts. Those who do will fall behind while the rest of us keep learning from each other and advancing.
On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia. Frankly, I don't see how flapping your gums on the internet teaches much aikido. Entertaining, yes. But learning aikido is done on the mat, not on the screen.

Keep bowing. Eventually, the answer as to why you bow will come to you, because it is essentially an individual answer. Or, as I pointed out, you bow because you bow, and maybe there doesn't have to be a reason.

Avery Jenkins
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Old 07-28-2007, 05:40 PM   #43
Janet Rosen
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Chris, your posts on the subject really resonate with me.

It is similar to an exchange I had a number of yrs ago w/ an aikido friend who was supervising creative people. He understood that there is a "state" we get into and he wondered, as a painter, how I do that. I explained that when I walk into my studio, I change from streetclothing to painting clothes. I lay my paints out in a particular order on my palette. I arrange my brushes. If I need to premix colors or tints, I do that. Then I'm ready to paint.
It is a ritual that serves to transition me from "not painting" to "painting"
Similarly, putting on my dogi, bowing in informally prior to doing some breathing and moving and centering, then bowing in with my instructor and classmates serves to transition me from "not in the dojo doing aikido" to "in the dojo doing aikido."

Janet Rosen
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Old 07-28-2007, 06:07 PM   #44
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
True, but as far as bowing goes, the important point, IMO, is that a Japanese person knows why they are bowing to shomen, or to a tokonoma, or to a kamidana.
Sure, in the case of etiquette a Japanese person would understand these things because of their cultural upbringing. But let's consider a Western teacher who tells students to follow these matters of etiquette because that is the "traditional" way to do things or because that is how he learned to do it but he doesn't really understand why these things are done or what they mean. What then are the odds that this teacher is doing the same thing with regard to technical matters? It's an almost trivial step to go from saying "bow to the kamidana because that is what sensei does (or says to do)" without understanding what a kamidana is why or people bow to it to saying "do tenkan now because that is what sensei does (or says to do)" without understanding what purpose a tenken serves in a martial application or when it should be used. In fact, the poster to whom I originally responded equated those two same examples himself. Obviously, from a martial perspective the second problem is much worse than the first, but would say that anyplace you find the first you will almost certainly find the second.
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Old 07-28-2007, 06:26 PM   #45
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

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Avery Jenkins wrote: View Post
On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia.
Actually, aikido has only been around for a little over 50 years. Prior to the creation of judo about 100 years ago, Japanese martial arts were taught in small, local, usually independent dojos that were run very differently from the way most gendai budo dojos are run. In fact, much of the dojo etiquette that many people assume is "traditional" in martial arts actually has its source in Japanese pre-WWII nationalism.

The notion of large worldwide martial arts organizations is a very modern phenomenon. We tend to take the common availability of Asian martial arts in the US for granted today, but as recently as 20 years ago this was not the case at all. I think it's safe to say that the experiment of importing of these practices and their accompanying cultural baggage into an unfamiliar region is still a very new one.

However, since you believe it's impossible to learn anything from this kind of internet "gum-flapping," you are welcome to disregard this post and go back to your dojo, keep bowing, and never ask any questions. Maybe you will eventually come to understand something about what you are doing and maybe you will not, and even if you don't maybe you won't care.

Last edited by G DiPierro : 07-28-2007 at 06:29 PM.
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Old 07-28-2007, 07:32 PM   #46
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Quote:
Avery Jenkins wrote: View Post
On the other hand, you could also assume that there is a certain value in learning this way, which is why it has existed for millenia. Frankly, I don't see how flapping your gums on the internet teaches much aikido. Entertaining, yes. But learning aikido is done on the mat, not on the screen.

Keep bowing. Eventually, the answer as to why you bow will come to you, because it is essentially an individual answer. Or, as I pointed out, you bow because you bow, and maybe there doesn't have to be a reason.
I disagree... learning (MA) isn't a solely tactile experience. Logical analysis of theoretical foundations, discussions, research etc. also form the basis of inquiry.

It is one thing to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas regarding rituals, customs and tradition. It is quite another to simply follow blindly in the hope that "one day" you'll figure it out.

Language, customs, ritual and social etiquette serve to create shared identity, and establish group norms. The original poster is right to question the meaning and purpose of such ritualistic behaviours. It is part of the process of learning and inquiry and hopefully serves to better one's understanding of the practice and reasons for its practice.

Not all learning takes place on the mat - a balance between theory, practice and analysis is, I think, mandatory. Just as not all learning takes place in places designated as schools or institutions of learning.

Last edited by eyrie : 07-28-2007 at 07:38 PM.

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Old 07-29-2007, 01:17 PM   #47
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Well it is good to see so much good discussion going on after my original post. Hopefully it has promted people to think about what they do.

I have to agree with Ignatius. Much learning takes place off the mat. If it were not so, we wouldn't see the plethora of aikido books, or forums like this or the innumerable "conversations over a beer". What O'Sensei, first and second doshu have not put in print, we will not know except by remembered experiences from their students and by rational speculation. We all rediscover. Hopefully we move forward and aren't just marching in the same place.

Looks like bowing has as many varied reasons to as many people. That's ok. Even "because sensei does" is good for the newcomer. Hopefully over the years of practice, the essence of the technique is revealed to each of us, as is the essence of the other stuff we do.

Great discussion.
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Old 07-29-2007, 02:31 PM   #48
Greg Jennings
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Complimentary questions to provoke thought:

You're invited to a Roman Catholic wedding. Everyone is genuflecting. Do you or don't you? Why? Some people stand at certain times during the service. Do you or don't you? Why? Everyone goes to the front to receive communiion. Do you or don't you? Why?

Now, same thing at an Episcopal/Anglican wedding.

Regards,

Last edited by Greg Jennings : 07-29-2007 at 02:32 PM. Reason: cut and paste cut off.

Greg Jennings
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Old 07-29-2007, 06:24 PM   #49
eyrie
 
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Thanks for reminding me why I don't go to Church anymore, Greg... and why I try to avoid weddings and funerals if I can help it...

Rituals are an integral part of the socio-anthropological development of human culture, ranging from the religious, psychological, social and fraternal. Apart from providing a basis for shared values, beliefs and identity, ritual also provides structure, order, a sense of progression from one state to another (real or otherwise), or, more commonly, an initiation into a stage of one's life.

The question is whether such rituals have any real or symbolic meaning for you. As Chris suggests - the act of bowing to a ritual object or artifact, has both a real (change in mental/psychological/emotive states) and symbolic (i.e. the "spirit") value to him.

The other question, which I think is what Don initial proposition was, is whether the abandonment of such rituals detracts from the wholistic practice of aikido itself? Are there any inherent dangers in so doing? If so, is there a need to substitute a more culturally aligned ritual that reinforces a similar "spirit", ideal or meaning - real and/or symbolic? Would it make it more or less appropriate?

Some socio-anthropological researchers have suggested that such cultural displacement (e.g. impact on aboriginal society by early white-settlement policies) and lack of modern day rituals and passage rites, has led to societal breakdown and fragmentation, and may be the root cause of gang formation - a primal response to satisfy certain primitive, tribalistic urges.

Is there such a thing as an "aikido identity"? What is it? And are we in danger of losing it by supplanting established rituals and artifacts, or discarding them entirely?

More questions and stuff to think about...

Ignatius
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Old 07-29-2007, 07:28 PM   #50
Don
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Re: Bowing to Kamidana/Kamiza

Hmmm invited to a Roman Catholic wedding, or any wedding for that matter, where there is an unfamiliar ritual. If I have no knowledge of what is going on and I am only there one time.....eh when in Rome do as the Romans do.....On the other hand, if I am seriously contemplating joining a denomination which has practices I am unfamiliar with, I would ask what in the heck is going on before I joined (personally). Maybe someone else doesn't and begins doing these things without any knowledge of them. Hopefully if they are serious about whatever church they join they will make a serious inquiry. Or maybe not. However, the attending the wedding scenario is more akin , in my opinion, to a one time thing where as joining the church is more akin to sustained aikido practice (religious aspects aside).
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