Showing posts with label michi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label michi. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

Is it still Aikido (Iaido/Jodo?whatever) if you take away the Japanese clothes, the bowing and the etiquette?

Someone asked on a discussion board “How important (or unimportant) do folks here feel Japanese customs are important to learning Aikido?  It stuck me recently that a lot of the behaviours carried out during training have nothing to do with learning Aikido, but more to do with Japanese culture.  Bowing on entering the hall, learning the names of the techniques in Japanese, folding a hakama in specific way, bowing when picking up a bokken, I'd even add shiko/knee walking to this list or even wearing a gi for practice.  None of these, to my mind have anything to do with learning aikido, its like thinking you have to wear a beret to learn how to speak French properly.  Most of us don't train in Japan and are not Japanese, so I don't know why we do these things any more. “

My short answer is, “If you strip all that away from Aikido, it’s not Aikido anymore.”
A Way, an artform, is more than just the discrete techniques that are taught.  If Aikido is reduced to just the techniques, and the expressions of etiquette and tradition are removed, you’re making something else.  A Way is all the parts that come together to make it a whole system.  The aspects of Japanese culture inform the techniques and the values of the system.   They are as important to learning Aikido as learning ikkyo is.  This is true not only of Aikido, but of all of the Japanese ways.  

A Way, a DO 道、is so much more than just the individual techniques. The etiquette teaches us how what we study relates to other people, and how we should treat them when we interact with them.  I’ll stick with Aikido because that’s the example I started with.  Aikido is about complex interactions between people.  The etiquette that permeates training is all about how we interact with people.  The techniques of Aikido are not Aikido.  They are a means for learning the path and the way of thinking and acting that express Aikido.  To paraphrase the old Taoist saying yet again, the techniques of Aikido are like the finger pointing at the moon. They aren’t the moon, we look where they point to be able to see the moon.  If we get stuck on the techniques of Aikido, we will never learn Aikido.  This is true of any budo, of any Way.  The techniques are tools for learning the Way, but the Way is far more than the techniques.

In the dojo, pretty much everything is a lesson about the Way you are studying.  The etiquette teaches lessons, the techniques teach lessons, the kata teach lessons, learning the names in their original language teaches lessons.  If a person wants to jettison all of these parts of an art, they should really ask themselves if that Way is appropriate for them.  Why should the etiquette be removed from Aikido?  The etiquette regulates action in the dojo and makes it a safer place to train.  It teaches respect and a different way of thinking about human interactions.  The bowing and respect are critical to the ideas of Aikido and the way they are expressed during training is essential to the Way of Aikido.

Aikido comes out of Japanese culture, and the concept of DO 道 that has developed in Japan for more than 1000 years.  To summarily remove all these aspects of Japanese culture would be to create a very different art, a different way that leads somewhere other than where Aikido leads.  There’s nothing wrong with creating a new martial art, but you should be aware that’s what you are doing.  The learning atmosphere, and the higher lessons about life, the universe and everything that are pointed to and taught by practicing a Way are very different when you change the etiquette and the clothing and the language.   

All that bowing and using Japanese to describe what you are doing set a frame for your practice and establish a particular set of expectations about what you are doing, what the goals are, and how you will do it.  Aikido, and other budo, are not ultimately about learning to use a particular set of techniques or how to do a particular kata.  The techniques and the kata are tools for teaching students about principles of the art.  The etiquette, language and clothes are also part of that.  

Mastering the techniques of Aikido, or any Way (Do 道), no matter how good one is at them, does not mean that you have mastered the Way.  The techniques are some of the tools by which you learn the way, but they are not the Way.  It is quite common to mistake mastery of technique for mastery of a Way, regardless of whether it is a martial way or a flower arranging way or a calligraphic way or any of the other ways that abound in Japan.  

The Ways teach lessons about the world and how to live in it, using ordinary activities as their foundation.   Each Way is a complete package, with it’s own etiquette and language and often even clothes that are worn for various activities.  Given the thought and consideration that has gone into these Ways, I would be very hesitant to monkey with one without decades of experience in that particular Way, even if it is one as young as Aikido.

Those funny clothes and funny words and weird behaviors have a lot more to them then just adding another layer of useless stuff to learn that gets in the way of learning the important stuff.
If all you want from something like Aikido is the techniques, you are missing the real treasures of what you are studying.  The techniques of any Way have only very limited application in daily life, but the Way of thinking, of moving, of being, that is something that can be used every moment of every day. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is Budo?

I wrote this in response to a question on an email list about "What is Budo?" and thought it was worth putting out for more public comment.

Shinto Muso Ryu, Shinto Hatakage Ryu, Judo, and Aikido all share combative function and technique as their core practices. This gets them lumped together as “bugei” (literally “martial arts”) or “bujutsu” (martial skill). “Do” or “michi” both written 道 is a much more involved idea. While bugei / bujutsu can refer to just the techniques and skills practiced, anything with the “do” 道 suffix implies a class of not just technical activity, but also a means of polishing and developing the whole self and one’s way of dealing not just with the literal techniques of combat, but with how we approach every action and non-action throughout the day. This is both an elevation of martial activity to philosophical/spiritual and a spreading it out by making it apply to everything thing we do from putting on our shoes to sitting in a chair to drinking tea.  Anything that can be done mindfully should be impacted.
       To me, the first thing that is required for something to be budo is that it must be effective at a technical level. If it’s not effective for what it is trying to teach at the most basic level, it can never hope to reach level of a michi. If you’re not practicing to be martially effective, you’re certainly not doing budo. Any michi has to
be grounded in reality.  It’s clear how ways such as sado (Way of Tea) and kado (Way of Flowers) are grounded in reality. You are making, serving and appreciating tea, or you are arranging and appreciating
flowers. I haven’t figured out a way to fake either one of those. Budo unfortunately is rather dangerous to practice, so it easy to deceive yourself about what you are doing. I do Kodokan Judo, hopefully as budo, but it is very easy to do it as nothing more than a sport by forgetting or ignoring the parts that aren’t comfortable to do or aren’t allowed in the sporting context. In iaido, since it is a solo practice, it is easy to drift away from the martial aspects of the practice and let it become just a series of beautiful movements.
With jodo, if you and your partner are not serious, and don’t practice with strong intent, it too can become a pretty, choreographed dance  sequence. Budo requires that the intent, practice, and practicality.
       Effectiveness is only a necessary component of budo though.  Just because something is effective doesn’t make it a form of budo.  Krav Maga is extremely effective, but I’ve never heard anyone argue that it
is budo.  For something to be budo, it has to have the broader application to all aspects of life, and not be limited in its practice to combative situations.  It needs to have a philosophical bent to it that allows this broader application. It must be bujutsu, but it must have an additional facet that is informed by the threads of Taoism, Confucianism and 1000 years of Japanese thought on the issue of individual development through the mindful practice of mundane activities. This is the tough part, and I suspect there is a PhD dissertation in there somewhere.  I’m not talking about religion, but a concept of what it means to be human and how to perfect one’s self. The practices that effective at a technical level for a narrowly defined practical activity have to applicable beyond that, to all aspects of life. There is in Japanese thought the idea that by developing the body to do practical things perfectly, the mind will be developed as well. This is why people revere masters of flower arranging, tea ceremony, and calligraphy. Through polishing a practical skill, they are polishing their whole being, and when they display outer mastery of a skill, it is seen as confirmation of their
inner development.  I’m not sure it always works, but that’s the idea.  The tales of simple people who have achieved true understanding of the Tao through perfection of a common task abound.  The tale of Cook Ting is a great example.  He has mastered the art of cooking and through that gained insight into the nature of the universe.
       If your art can be do that, and be effective, then it might be a form of budo.