One of my earliest conversations after moving to Japan started with asking Endo sensei about how the teachers in Japan never seemed to talk. I tried to stab at this topic more than once with him, and one of the times was around my noticing (and being somewhat bothered by) teachers talking only about technical matters, where the teachers in California used to often talk about energy, philosophy, and abstract matters. Apparently what came to Endo sensei’s mind was a distinction between ‘gihou’ (methods relative to technique) and ‘shinpou’ (methods related to the heart/mind).
I never reached a conclusive and distinct end to this line of questioning. However, there probably has been a consequence, namely my grasping that these matters were inseparable and didn’t require exclusive attention. And, on a more personal level, if I valued ‘shinpou’, then regardless of whether I ever heard the teachers talk about it, it would show up in my practice (eg as criteria, as a factor, etc.). Vice versa, if there was an absence of talk about the technical aspect, then it’s not as if giving attention to the heart/mind absolves me of all the technical requirements of reality. It’s a matter of emphasis.
More recently I’m running into the possibility that it is also a matter of personal choice. I’ve always leaned more toward a heavier emphasis on heart/mind, but compared to most of the people at this end of the spectrum, I value and delve into the technical aspects also. (I guess I tend to be the black sheep relative to any group I might be lumped in with.) In the past few years, and particularly early this year, I’ve been working on mainly the technical aspect. I believe I reached a threshold where it’s clear that there is A LOT of technical matters to study and incorporate if I am to consider myself serious and even close to competent technically. But this path is not my original inclination. What to do?
I could simply abandon or de-emphasize it at some point, but I doubt I will reach such a point that would leave me satisfied with my choice. For the moment, I’m considering what it would imply for me to pursue the technical emphasis and presume that I could work on it all, both the technical and heart/mind aspects. And so I see another reason why I have been possessed in recent months by the questions, “What am I doing? What am I trying to get at via my practice? Why am I doing it? What’s the point?”
If I were to keep with a practice that looks like regular aikido practice, a) it would be spending time on that rather than the skills that would naturally need to be honed if I were to emphasize the technical aspect and b) it would possibly involve spending time and energy on movements that don’t/may not have that much technical meaning. It would also be more inclusive, more accessible, exercise-oriented, and fun-looking.
If the practice were to be more technical, I think it would be simply practicing something very very similar to Daito-ryu and other traditional jujutsu. Do I want to simply practice Daito-ryu? If I prefer “aikido”, then, knowing what I know now, wouldn’t it be Daito-ryu lite? I.e., a Daito-ryu that’s more fun and less deep?
“What am I trying to get at via my practice? Why am I doing it?” In the back of my mind (but closer to the forefront now that I’m conscious of it) is the idea of my being compulsive – needing “more”, needing to be competent “enough”, “strong enough, skilled enough, knowledgeable enough, etc.” Compulsive also relative to letting go – aikido is my “territory” after all. I have little trouble letting go of all the other leads that potentially have depth e.g., Systema, Chinese martial arts, Feldenkreis, etc. So, considering Daito-ryu and other jujutsu, all of the technical depth they offer, depth that seems poignantly relevant to “my” aikido – to choose ignorance seems bitter and unbecoming, right now anyway.
Going the other direction, there are presumably many traditions that offer depth relative to matters of the heart/mind. To pursue them and then “just” do aikido as a different manifestation – this also feels like the aikido piece is an add-on.
I wonder if I’m having some kind of loyalty issue – with regards to that which has become my “territory”. It feels like it… こだわり. A “hang-up”, an attachment. To simply seek to enjoy aikido-ish movement/practice feels pollyanna-ish and ignorant. But even that is an attachment I am just now getting over – to look down on those who apparently seek to do aikido on a shallow level (despite stating that they are interested in the depth). To be continued…