Rationalization – the speed at which it works and the certainty/solidity it seems to have – is an indication of a defense mechanism at work. If we feel extremely certain, then it’s because we’re ignorant (we’re just overlooking something), we’re rejecting/denying something, or we’re truly enlightened and in satori-land. (Or maybe our threshold for feeling certainty is very low.)
I am really staggered by how many people are resistant to the idea that someone might know something they don’t. I suggest that O-Sensei might have a certain traditional knowledge or wisdom that would be worthwhile for us to understand. The next thing I know adjectives are being thrown in that I have NEVER used. I talked about wisdom, not supreme wisdom, not ultimate wisdom, not some level of insight that causes us to give ourselves over to some external power.
I suggest that we need to have O-Sensei’s insights and vision influence our Aikido, which I see as pretty much a no-brainer as he was the Founder of the art. The next thing I know we are talking about Jim Jones. How did we get there? What are people so afraid of?
If you don’t think that Aikido was created as a means to accomplish personal transformation of some type, what do you think it was created for? Does anyone seriously think that O-Sensei believed that he was creating a fighting style? Is the art about throwing opponents on the ground and pinning them, is it about cranking a nikkyo on someone to control them, is that the purpose? I can’t imagine that anyone but some new beginner might think that.
The underlying current at work here is that people don’t really want to change. Change is terrifying. Who would you be if you started to let go of what you hold on to so hard? So its way easier and far less threatening to take an art that was clearly created as a practice that would accomplish some sort personal transformation and turn it into a system of physical skills. We just practice and gradually acquire the skills. Nothing deeper or more profound is required.
But beware… it might just be that to get to the real goodies, you might have to start changing yourself. On some level I think this is why many people feel the need to devolve Aikido into some sort of fighting system. What they want is an art that doesn’t call for them to change. In fact what they really are looking for is an art that will let them be so powerful that no one can make them do anything they don’t wish to. If I can just be sufficiently powerful, I won’t be afraid any more. Then when Aikido shows itself to be less of a “fighting” system than some other martial art, the flavor of the month being MMA now, then we jump ship entirely or start to reshape Aikido to make it more like the other art so we can continue to feel safe and powerful.
O-Sensei asked us to stop approaching everything from a resistant point of view. To find the path that brought things together rather than keeping them apart. This is far more difficult to do than fighting. Quite clearly our entire human history would show us that fighting is our default setting. O-Sensei created an art that does not seek to suppress that essential nature but rather to transform it. The people who strive to make Aikido about fighting are simply wrong; it is about not fighting. The folks who take all the conflict out of the art and dance around being “peaceful” are wrong. That’s no more transformative than its opposite.
This whole idea that we can’t accord the Founder, or anyone else for that matter, any special knowledge and that we rely only on ourselves and our rationality to guide us is pernicious. I went to group counseling for a while with a bunch of other men. Working in a group like that taught me one thing more than anything else… our capacity to tell ourselves what we want to hear is almost infinite. We’d sit there listening to one of the members justifying some particular action or behavior and it was clear as day that he was telling himself his own story. We could see how dysfunctional he was. But to him, the story made perfect sense, at least until the group starting calling him on it and demanding that he take a closer look. And what was really shocking to realize that no matter how incisive a person’s perception could be about the others in the group, when it was their own stuff, they could be as murky as anyone else.
When it comes to the issues of personal transformation, I am often the last one I’d trust. The whole “I’m ok, you’re ok” thing was a huge copout. In the reaction against New Age fuzzy thinking, it later became “I’m ok, you’re not.” So Aikido divides in to these two camps. In one we create wonderful “feel good” dojos in which like minded folks tell each other that they are all ok. Everyone is happy and they love Aikido. In the other we focus on stronger and stronger technique. We introduce other martial arts as we realize that just Aikido alone won’t make us powerful enough. We train for conflict and we imprint a conflict mentality through our training.
In my opinion, one of the most important things we learn from Aikido is how to lose. Half our training is taking ukemi. The folks who talk about training with full resistance completely miss the point. In Aikido we commit fully and completely in order to connect. Then we take the ukemi. It’s ok to take the fall. To equate the uke role with the “losing role” is a complete misunderstanding of the whole process. In the classical Japanese martial arts, the teacher or senior takes the so-called “losing” role.
The moment you were born, you became engaged in a battle for your own life which you cannot win. You are going to die, period. Resistance to this fundamental fact causes huge suffering. Becoming a warrior doesn’t mean getting so powerful that one can defeat all comers. It means losing ones fear of death.
We hold on so tightly to this life of ours that we end up looking at anything that might cause us to change or to not have what we think we want as a threat to our own lives. Look at what we do to each other in the world because we think someone else is threatening us or even just getting something we don’t have. Someone else’s acquisition is somehow a loss for me.
It’s this thinking that causes so much resistance to O-Sensei as a teacher figure, to practicing Aikido as a transformative practice rather than a fighting style. I take the fall and I am losing, he is winning. I treat O-Sensei as a person possessing something I don’t have and I am less in doing that. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do or what to think. Well, the problem with not listening to anyone else is that you only hear you. If you think that you have reached your full potential as a human being and that you are totally content with who you are and how your life is going, how your relationships are, then you don’t need a practice and you don’t need a teacher(s). Write a book and go on Opra because most folks definitely don’t feel that way.
No one is saying that O-Sensei should be the focus of a cult. No one is saying that he or anyone else had “supreme knowledge” or that you should set aside your judgment or rationality. But there are all sorts of folks out there who know things you don’t, have experienced things you haven’t and they might have some thing to tell you, which you should hear.
O-Sensei was a teacher. He was an extraordinary man. For folks who have accomplished a fraction of what he did to think that they know enough to simply pick and choose what they think is worthwhile from his art, technical and spiritual is a bit arrogant. I’m not saying that we can become just like him, we can’t, nor should we try. But to understand what Aikido was created for, to make it everything for ourselves that it should be, O-Sensei is the starting point. You can’t even understand why techniques are done the way they are if you don’t understand his spiritual take on things.
The attachment to rationality over everything else is just another form of fear. Folks who have logical, rational, linear minds often find the intuitive baffling and even frightening. But the Japanese arts, martial and otherwise are about training the intuition. The body is brought into accord with this intuition not the other way around. This insistence on taking O-Sensei’s non-rational, non-liner, intuitive framework out of the art of Aikido guts it of its power to transform I think. Virtually all Eastern spiritual practice is about teaching the individual that letting go of the thinking mind isn’t a loss for the individual but rather it opens up a vast area into which the person can grow. You don’t lose anything here, you gain.