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Old 02-14-2008, 10:09 AM   #26
Josh Reyer
 
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Re: Kanji Etymology

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Erick Mead wrote: View Post
It cannot be denied that Japanese culture has seen itself reflected in the mirror of Chinese thought -- even when it most strenuously tried not to perceive itself in that way.
I don't think even the most ultra-nationalistic right-wing anti-Sino nutjob in Japan would deny the tremendous cultural influence China has had on Japan. Forget the Kojiki, which the vast majority of Japanese have never even read (outside of childrens books with the Kojiki equivalent of "bible stories). The Japanese vocabulary is littered with idioms directly borrowed from Chinese classics. The primary cultural engine in Japan is not Zen, not Bushido, not even Shinto, but rather Confucianism, a fact regularly owned up to. One can hardly swing a cat without hitting Chinese influence on Japanese culture.

The problem is, none of that has anything to do with the component parts of kanji. Because unlike most non-native speakers of Japanese, the Japanese learn their language first, and then learn how to write it. So rather than deriving understanding of a kanji's meaning by breaking down the kanji etymology (a favorite practice of learners of Japanese as a second language), they are simply learning the orthography for concepts they already understand. Japanese schools spend very little time on kanji etymology beyond the very basic first-and-second grade kanji (e.g., days of the week, numbers). The primary reason being because kanji components generally aren't really the simple kanji they resemble. Breaking them down would take up too much time. Instead, having learned basic bulding block kanji, the Japanese then put these together to form complex units, much like spelling. These are then practiced over and over to build muscle memory.

The common kanji mistakes the Japanese make are phonetic. For example, writing a kanji that has the same reading (but different meaning). Or, writing the phonetic part of a kanji correctly, but using the wrong radical. So, for the Japanese population that aren't Japanese professors and teachers, the etymological arrangements of kanji, arranged by Chinese millennia ago and which have been altered by orthographic and linguistic shift, are unknown, and thus offer no more insight into the Japanese mind than the French phonology of rendezvous provides into the Australian mind.

Josh Reyer

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Old 02-14-2008, 01:20 PM   #27
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Re: Kanji Etymology

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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
... the Japanese learn their language first, and then learn how to write it. ... simply learning the orthography for concepts they already understand. ... the etymological arrangements of kanji, arranged by Chinese millennia ago and which have been altered by orthographic and linguistic shift, are unknown, and thus offer no more insight into the Japanese mind ...
Respectfully, I beg to differ. The fact is that the concepts inform the Japanese mind and culture, and Japanese minds structured and adapted the Chinese system to their purposes. What we have here is not a debate about etymology but an unspoken dispute over epistemology. You, and Prof. Goldsbury, seemingly take the "Humpty-dumpty" theory of language, i.e. -- the word means what I say it means, because I am the master of the word. Thus, the history of language is irrelevant so long as we all here now agree on what we all mean. But it is not so, at least not substantially so.

The converse approach is that meaning and language cannot be divorced i.e. -- that we mean what our language and linguistic concepts allow us to mean, and only with difficulty find the cross-categories that are exceptions to and prove the rule. IN this respect the language controls the boundaries of and connections among our concepts. For which, thank God, because otherwise we would have to preface every "Good Morning" with a logician's definitional premise. The latter point is but to recognize that the first approach is not wrong, per se, but that it is also not without its own price in terms of limits on communication of meaning, and its own rules.

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Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Have you any thoughts on how the development of the alphabet from Phoenician onwards to Danish helps us non-Danes to understand the 'Danish mind'?

When considering your answer, pay special reference to the use of homonyms in Danish poetry and look especially for any evidence of a code in the poetry that relates to supposedly secret teachings from some parent culture. Josh Reyer studies Beowulf in the original, so he might well have some comments here.

Actually, I think this thread should be called Kanji Ideology.
You mock. But is that really justifiable?

"Etymology" Gr. -- etymos + logoi = true + word (study). The equivalent in Japanese is "Shingon" "True Word" which introduced tantric word power into Japanese culture. Kotodama ("word spirit") has also been informed by that tradition, and wit hwhich aikido is powerfully associated. Etymology is absolutely NOT outside the bounds of useful inquiry, even if there is an ideological component to the examination. Certainly, that is true of Norinaga .

In light of the Beowulf comment, a similar school of thought exists in English philology. It is best typified by Tolkien (also a Beowulf scholar). His influence in the practical uses of his theories on language and meaning in his popular cultural works far outstrips the acceptance of his technical contributions, which are themselves not small. He set out to "make myth" for the English from recovered strands of meaning in language. A man who can tell a tale of fundamentally Catholic teaching with deeply pagan imagery and cultures, without any Church, Christ, or any of the accoutrements of explicit evangelization ever appearing, even in allegorical form, has mastered profound aspects of the root of the language and meaning. His project has aspects that hearken directly to the effort of Norinaga, to rescue root meanings of Japanese culture from the Chinese gloss, despite that fact they were unavoidably communicated through it.

True Word.

Tolkien like Norinaga, achieved that profound command of the language not by fiat, but, as Bacon said, by closely obeying the manifested history and nature of the language. mAybe Norinaga is right and the Chinese concepts are corrupted in comparison to his "purer" or "divine" racial stereotype, maybe not. Maybe he was wrong and they point to deeper meanings that may be commonly foudn across languages. Whichever is ultimately true, the effort to deal with the Chinese elements is not irrelevant, from either perspsective.

You have impliedly mocked the history of the written language in which Kojiki was recorded. It carries the root informing concepts of Japanese culture according to both Norinaga and Ueshiba. It maybe narrowly irrelevant to the incidents of current usage. And maybe that is defensible in common usage. But there is nothing common about a system of knowledge that takes kotodama seriously. In this context etymology and the orgins of words as the carriers and delimiters of the "concepts in the mind" of the Japanese is not so easily dismissed

Last edited by Erick Mead : 02-14-2008 at 01:24 PM.

Cordially,

Erick Mead
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Old 02-14-2008, 01:46 PM   #28
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Re: Kanji Etymology

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Well, Jan, think about it. Have you any thoughts on how the development of the alphabet from Phoenician onwards to Danish helps us non-Danes to understand the 'Danish mind'?.
- I would still rather recommend the use social sciences in understanding the Danish mind. But I could of course be wrong

Quote:
When considering your answer, pay special reference to the use of homonyms in Danish poetry and look especially for any evidence of a code in the poetry that relates to supposedly secret teachings from some parent culture. Josh Reyer studies Beowulf in the original, so he might well have some comments here.
- Interestingly enough then the tale of Beowulf is not very commonly known by Danes. Hopefully the movie will change that.

I don't doubt that many relations can be shown between the Old English of Beowulf and later Danish language, however I strongly doubt that these relationships tells very much, if anything at all, about the Danish mind.

I agree fully with Josh Reyer's conclusion:
Quote:
So, for the Japanese population that aren't Japanese professors and teachers, the etymological arrangements of kanji, arranged by Chinese millennia ago and which have been altered by orthographic and linguistic shift, are unknown, and thus offer no more insight into the Japanese mind than the French phonology of rendezvous provides into the Australian mind.
Brgds

Jan
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Old 02-14-2008, 02:26 PM   #29
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Re: Kanji Etymology

@Eric

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The root Shinto text Kojiki was written by people using a Chinese idiom, a fact that it took Norinaga half a lifetime and forty-two volumes to try to more thoroughly "nativize" from that text -- and that is their own mythology. Despite Norinaga's avowed desire to eradicate just those sorts of influences, Japanese kanji are still read in both onyomi (Chinese sound) as well as kunyomi (Japanese sound). It cannot be denied that Japanese culture has seen itself reflected in the mirror of Chinese thought -- even when it most strenuously tried not to perceive itself in that way.
- Even if we for a moment assume that the Kanji for "Bu" was selected mainly because of its composites and less because of its semantic & phonetic values, when compiling Kojiki, then the character was still constructed in China, way before, from an idea that, I agree, may say something about the Chinese mind at that time, and it hardly tells us anything about the Japanese mind.

Brgds Jan
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Old 02-14-2008, 02:59 PM   #30
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Re: Kanji Etymology

Erick, I'm sorry, but I can not figure out for the life of me why someone so intelligent consistantly remains so obtuse on these types of issues.

I suggest a margarita and a long holiday...

Best,
Ron (maybe it's just the lawyer in you... )

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Old 02-14-2008, 03:32 PM   #31
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Re: Kanji Etymology

Speaking of swinging a cat, when I was there cats were so plentiful where I was staying that on warm days the stench of 猫の糞 was unbearable. Don't know why that comes to mind now...

-Doug Walker
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Old 02-14-2008, 06:12 PM   #32
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Re: Kanji Etymology

I have a question for people who think that kanji etymology and composition offers some sort of insight into "the Japanese mind". How do things like abbreviations and substitutions affect this? Do people who write "sai" (years of age) as 歳 conceive of age differently than those who use 才? Does the thinking of people who use either change with which they write? Has the Japanese conception of bears changed now that it's more commonly written as クマ instead of 熊? Did people conceive of countries differently when the kanji was 國 instead of 国? What about ateji?

My experience is that Japanese think in kanji no more than English speakers think in letters. As Josh has pointed out, Japanese learn their language in sounds, then learn kanji (sometimes) to put to them.

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Old 02-14-2008, 06:59 PM   #33
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Kanji Etymology

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Erick Mead wrote: View Post
You have impliedly mocked the history of the written language in which Kojiki was recorded. It carries the root informing concepts of Japanese culture according to both Norinaga and Ueshiba. It maybe narrowly irrelevant to the incidents of current usage. And maybe that is defensible in common usage. But there is nothing common about a system of knowledge that takes kotodama seriously. In this context etymology and the orgins of words as the carriers and delimiters of the "concepts in the mind" of the Japanese is not so easily dismissed
With respect I beg to differ. The only thing I have mocked is too facile an association with kanji analysis / etymology and something called 'the Japanese mind'. I have not mocked anything else, even 'impliedly'.

I have great respect for the writer of the Kojiki and for Motoori Norinaga and the basis for my respect is the experience of reading both in the original (however, I admit that I need a modern Japanese crib, in the form of a scholarly edition with commentary and footnotes, since I am not very good at kanbun) and teaching the former to several generations of Japanese university students.

I have come to my studies of Japanese writing from a few decades of studying the Greek and Latin classics, especially Homer, and seeing how a master of language like Plato grappled with the same issues as Norinaga in his Cratylus, a dialogue that is often (wrongly) dismissed as crude and satirical.

My students have to read the Cratylus and also Wittgenstein in Japanese, since they cannot read Greek or German. It is here, not in kanji etymology, that the interesting questions arise about meaning and the 'Japanese mind': how a Japanese translator struggles to render concepts that we take for granted, but which are clearly opaque to my Japanese students.

I know Josh studies Anglo-Saxon and I think that both of us have a certain sensitivity to the use of words, whether in prose, poetry, or even Internet discussion forums. This sensitivity cannot be captured by a 'theory of meaning', Humpty-Dumpty or otherwise, which anyway I think you are in no position to impute to me on the basis of my contributions to this forum.

Best wishes,

PAG

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Old 02-14-2008, 10:02 PM   #34
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Re: Kanji Etymology

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Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
With respect I beg to differ. The only thing I have mocked is too facile an association with kanji analysis / etymology and something called 'the Japanese mind'. I have not mocked anything else,... a certain sensitivity to the use of words, whether in prose, poetry cannot be captured by a 'theory of meaning', Humpty-Dumpty or otherwise, which anyway I think you are in no position to impute to me on the basis of my contributions to this forum.
Done and done, then. I no more believe that analysis (facile or otherwise) gives true meaning to individual expressions, than I take it that you do. I do believe that analysis helps understand the things that we have meant in saying or writing them. The whole is never exposed in full when they are made, and rarely even after third or fourth observations. I do believe that collective meaning is made up of individual expressions of a type but then recursively informs individual understanding and must do so, This process is always outrunning both the collective assumptions about it, and the individual expressions of any part of it. Which is why it remains fascinating.

Cordially,

Erick Mead
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Old 02-14-2008, 10:52 PM   #35
Josh Reyer
 
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Re: Kanji Etymology

Professor Goldsbury is exactly right. You give battle on dubious ground, Erick (to borrow a phrase from Tolkien). Tolkien's ideas of language are quite attractive to me, and his "ear" for language is justly celebrated in circles of Anglo-Saxon studies. It is one primary reason why I prefer words of native English (or Germanic) origin in English, and yamato-kotoba in Japanese. Those are the words of power in their respective languages. Further, I'm quite onboard with the related idea of kotodama, the influence of which is still strong in Japanese society today.

The problem is, kanji only obscure the kotodama. A prime example being the "koto" of "word" 言 and the "koto" of "thing, event, aspect" 事. Two different and unrelated kanji, even though the "koto" of both is related. This what I mean when I say Japanese people already understand their language before they learn to write it. These connections are already internalized.

I have no idea what the hell "Humpty-Dumpty" theory of language is supposed to mean, but rather than let you define my beliefs for me, I'll simply spell them out. Context reigns supreme. The idiom is everything. What this means is not that "words mean what I say they mean", but rather that words mean what they mean. While I really like Mark's ideas on 武, unfortunately it is not at all universal, or even moderately widespread. If I walk down the street with a gun or a sword, the Japanese cops will still arrest me, even if I try to argue that, while I have a 武器 buki (a "vessal for 'bu'"), "bu" is for stopping spears, or stopping using spears, so ergo I'm completely harmless, even a benefit to society...well, to them "buki" is a word that means "tool used in fight", and how it's written is simply orthography. I'm still going to jail/be deported.

By the same token, if I read a medieval text written in kanbun, I can't simply use modern meanings of kanji and native Japanese vocab. The context is different, the idiom is different. They are my guiding lights, and I defer to them. Change is an inevitable part of language. Etymology does not equal "meaning". The paramount question of any communication is not "what does word mean now?" nor is it "what did this mean in the past?" but rather, "what does this mean here?"

Josh Reyer

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Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
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Old 02-15-2008, 08:20 AM   #36
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Kanji Etymology

Context, context....

CONTEXT...

B,
R

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Old 02-15-2008, 10:26 AM   #37
Erick Mead
 
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Re: Kanji Etymology

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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
Tolkien's ideas of language are quite attractive to me, and his "ear" for language is justly celebrated in circles of Anglo-Saxon studies. It is one primary reason why I prefer words of native English (or Germanic) origin in English, and yamato-kotoba in Japanese. Those are the words of power in their respective languages. Further, I'm quite onboard with the related idea of kotodama, the influence of which is still strong in Japanese society today.
My favorite definition of English is bad German spoken by Welshmen with a Latin inferiority complex. The Japanese had the option freely offered in 1947 to abandon kanji -- and didn't -- instead they simplified them like the Chinese did ten years later. and have gone on with their own version of the universally messy proposition of language. I agree that English has a certain power in its eldest and least modified forms, as does Japanese or any language. They have power, but the power is at odds with your immediately "contextual" approach to understanding it.

"Then he came, a horse bestride, piercing them with glint-edged eyes." You need no context to see that the foregoing is not modern. For all of the power in the older English and its fondest of implicit meter -- we tend to speak a more Latinate prose now. No one speaks that way except in explicit poetry. The power in it exists because because there are deeper layers of meaning that we do not often use, but which reaches us at levels below our conscious understanding (the "thrill" of good oratory which sadly the politicians so routinely attempt badly or else abuse). But it shows that there is unconscious tradition that is deeper than immediate utilitarian context, but still operative through it.

That helps resolves the category paradox of Cratylus referred to by Prof. Goldsbury. The phenotype cannot discard the relatively static genotype for complete novelty -- and the genotype cannot be preserved except though the recurring novelty of passing phenotypes. "A Turin Turambar turun ambartanen." Master of doom by doom mastered. And doom and dharma come from the same root.

And in things like the Doka, which are the main point for such exercises in unraveling kanji for me in the aikido context, that kind of dwelling on the writing of and play of ideas is as fully warranted as with the "swan-road" in Beowulf.

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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
This what I mean when I say Japanese people already understand their language before they learn to write it. These connections are already internalized.
The saem is true of any language You are a native English speaker, as is the professor, as am I. The genius of Chinese writing, for all of its complexity, is that it is NOT phonic, and thus can be a bridge between different spoken languages -- which has always been its primary appeal in the polyglot mainland. Where words (like kanji) have NO set phonological reference, they are free to operate in a different mode of language in connection with -- but not dictated by -- any particular spoken tongue. Norinaga, for his part, hated this fact, and viewed it as a source of corruption of his "pure and divine" yamato-kotoba. What he did was invaluable; but his opinions or reasons for doing it may be questioned.

A English speaker is not less privileged to address the constituent elements of kanji, or to dwell on their meaning consistent with their history and tradition (a large "We" to call upon) than is a speaker of Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese or Putong-hua, Hakka, Guangdong-hua, Fujianese or any other mainland tongue. The kanji remain a relatively flexible bridge, even here and now. -- Dare I suggest -- a floating bridge?

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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
I have no idea what the hell "Humpty-Dumpty" theory of language is supposed to mean,
It is the more modern allusion for the same basic discussion in Cratylus referred to by Prof. Goldsbury--
Quote:
Through the Looking Glass wrote:
* "My name is Alice, but — "
"It's a stupid name enough!" Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. "What does it mean?"
"Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
"Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: "my name means the shape I am — and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like your, you might be any shape, almost."

* "When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."
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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
Context reigns supreme. The idiom is everything. What this means is not that "words mean what I say they mean", but rather that words mean what they mean.
Words do not exist in any meaningful way outside of actual persons trying to communicate with one another. Sometimes the persons communicating are far sundered in language and by intermediaries, as with Plato communicating to me in Cratylus through a (hopefully) well-meaning translator -- or me hacking my way through the Greek. Words mean what WE believe they mean. The question is always, "Who is the 'we' doing the believing?"

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Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
By the same token, if I read a medieval text written in kanbun, I can't simply use modern meanings of kanji and native Japanese vocab. The context is different, the idiom is different. They are my guiding lights, and I defer to them. Change is an inevitable part of language. Etymology does not equal "meaning". The paramount question of any communication is not "what does word mean now?" nor is it "what did this mean in the past?" but rather, "what does this mean here?"
Here is the rub . You read for a purpose differently than Mark or I or Jennifer does in regard to aikido. Here is a key difference that you are missing in your context, because of our own. You seek the meaning understood by others communicating with one another, and thus objectify the use of language. The Doka do not do that.

Aikido is explicitly a process of constructing new meaning -- at every engagement-- and has been since the Founder started it. We cannot ignore, as you say, what a kanji means "here and now", nor should we ignore its tradition of uses, but we can deploy what it meant in its history of development to enlarge and enliven what it means in a "there and then" that is yet to come.

Budo, as a concept, means something now that it did not mean in 1300. Japanese thought does not any longer unilaterally dictate the meaning of the term, because it is now a part of a larger conversation. Kanji are the most ready bridge of that conversation, and have been for a couple millenia. We should not cut off meaning from its origins, but it is going places it has not been before. If it is do so with any integrity, the depth in its wells of meaning should be explored, not just the last two buckets drawn from it.

Last edited by Erick Mead : 02-15-2008 at 10:41 AM.

Cordially,

Erick Mead
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Old 02-16-2008, 11:01 AM   #38
Mark Uttech
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Re: Kanji Etymology

I'd like to clarify something radical about aikido. Usually, when someone begins aikido, they have this idea that they are going to be able to stop a fight. Then when they learn that what sensei is saying to them is: "hey you, stop fighting!" A whole another world opens up. That, is what I originally meant by the two translations
1) to stop the thrusting spear 2) to stop thrusting with the spear.

In gassho,

Mark

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Old 02-17-2008, 04:41 AM   #39
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Kanji thinking

I am fascinated by the perspectives of kanji etymology - but then I'm a writer, so I would fancy a world being both created and governed by words...
We sure have it in the Western tradition, from the "Fiat!" of Genesis to the "logos" of John.
I have noticed again and again that Japanese teachers give significant meaning to the kanji used in aikido, and their etymology. Whether this is done accurately from a linguistic standpoint or not, I am sure that it plays a role in how aikido is practiced and taught. So, it is rewarding to study.

My first Japanese teacher Ichimura often pointed out that bu (in budo) means to stop the halberd, i.e. put a stop to war. I have heard that the oldest meaning of the kanji is to be understood as a speared foot soldier - but the "pacifist" interpretation of the kanji might be very old, significantly more than a thousand years, maybe two. If so, how should the kanji be understood today?

Anyway, I indulge in interpretations of kanji, and I find this very helpful in studying the ideas and philosophy of aikido and other budo.

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Old 02-20-2008, 05:15 PM   #40
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Re: Kanji thinking

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Stefan Stenudd wrote: View Post
I am fascinated by the perspectives of kanji etymology - but then I'm a writer, so I would fancy a world being both created and governed by words...
We sure have it in the Western tradition, from the "Fiat!" of Genesis to the "logos" of John.

I have noticed again and again that Japanese teachers give significant meaning to the kanji used in aikido, and their etymology. Whether this is done accurately from a linguistic standpoint or not, I am sure that it plays a role in how aikido is practiced and taught. So, it is rewarding to study.
... Anyway, I indulge in interpretations of kanji, and I find this very helpful in studying the ideas and philosophy of aikido and other budo.
The Logos is a fundamental connection between the West and O Sensei's though on language and Aikido. I think we do grave injustice to the study of the action that language represents by not taking at least as much care in deciphering the language as we do with deciphering the movements. Operative contemplation of language, the limits of its meaning and the associated meanings of the signs that we use to render it are not random or arbitrary associations without consequence or connection. They are organic pieces of a whole joined by the fundamental nature of all human minds.

From the Takemusu Aiki lectures.

"Kirisuto ga ‘hajime ni kotoba ariki' to itta sono kotodama ga SU de arimasu. Sore ga kotodama no hajimari de aru."

‘In the beginning was the Word', spoken by Christ is this kotodama SU. This is the origin of kotodama.)

Cordially,

Erick Mead
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