Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Think, Compare and Reason

Firstly, lets remind everyone reading my blog that this is a continuous and winding journey that I'm writing about. Don't take my wisdom and make it yours without scrutinising it for a bit. I've said it before and I'll say it again. My understanding of Aikido, martial arts, life, whatever... will change with time. There's a famous sensei who refused to write anything about Aikido because he didn't want to come back to it in his later years and deal with all the mistakes and presumptions that would inevitably be there. Even Osensei was reluctant to stamp his mark on what is Aikido until his later years. For us greenhorns, its highly presumptuous for us to say, this is the way to do so and so, or this is what so and so means, and this is the secret of blah blah and blah. I'm guilty of sometimes writing that way occasionally but I reiterate that it should be taken as only my understanding at that point in time. Each one of us will have a different understanding at any point in time, much like the six blind people asked to described the elephant he was touching. Each man described accordingly to which part they touch. A pot (the head), a winnowing basket (the ear), a plough (trunk), a granary (the body), a pillar (foot), a mortar (the back), a pestle (tail) and a brush (tip of tail). Only one who is not blind or has gone to all the stages of touching every part of the elephant would know the animal for what it truly is and even then... only to an extent.

Look at this wisdom, its nothing new. Its been around Buddha's time and oft repeated by knowledgeable men. Such is the point of knowledge that it could last lifetimes and guide men to a better way. It is to this standard that anything of worth should attest to.

When we study Aikido, we sometime gloss over the needful things. Part of the problem lies in that Osensei did not structure a one and true method towards learning Aikido. Be reminded that as he began teaching he first taught Aikijutsu as per the Daito Ryu style to a bunch of people who already had years and dan grades from other arts. Even so, he taught it the way he understood it and ingrained within it his other martial knowledge. Some would counter with, how much knowledge could he have gotten from other arts when A. He did not learn them much or that many arts and B. He lost to Takeda using those aforementioned arts.

Well the simple answer to me lies in the man. As a person first studying a martial art and only that art he has one view in life. After studying two, he has two views... but as he journeys further and trains more, his two views become 4, then more and more. A newly minted black belt in Tae Kwon Do may think highly of his speed and high kicks, whilst a travel worn senior would as soon as throw him on the floor and be done with it. The saying, ripe with age, is not without reason.

So yes Osensei lost to Takeda when he was young and unbeatable. Already he was a remarkable man at a young age to be undefeated. To be defeated by an older and wiser man, and then to learn from him shows Osensei's thirst for knowledge and understanding of the value that Takeda's art has to teach him. Taking that knowledge and splicing it with his own is the mark of a master. Some people like to comment on Bruce Lee's idea of taking the best of everything and making it into a single comprehensive art. The problem I see there is that, that single comprehensive art is now going back to a single view of life. Anyway, that's one possible reason why Aikido has a neglected structure. Osensei first taught Aikijutsu, that later became Aikibudo and finally found its way to Aikido much much later. His students find issue with the change in name. What exactly is Aikido and what is Aikijutsu.

Much of what was taught earlier in his life became more and more refined in his later years. Some techniques have changed completely and some were taken out altogether. In any event, Osensei kept on and on about not looking at the techniques but the spirit of Aikido to understand it. Aiki no kokoro was what he was driving at. To learn the heart of Aiki. Yet this was not taught in DR Aikijujitsu and those guys had Aiki! In fact, there were indications of various high level martial artists in Judo and Karate who had Aiki even at that time, and they didn't have to think much about this Aiki no kokoro thingey. So what's so great about understanding the spirit? Surely its all techniques and secrets? Certainly, Osensei taught his students in layers. Definitely, Aiki is not contained in Aikido alone, because its secrets were in DR Aikijutsu long before Osensei used it in his life. And just because DR is famous for its Aiki, we cannot say high level masters elsewhere does not have the same knowledge.

Our beliefs is that Knowledge is a gift from God. Its not meant to be kept under lock and key by men, nor is it to be purchased. Knowledge can be learned not just from men alone, but through nature, through observation and thought. The mind is a gift for men. The mind of men is unlike any other. Not only do we have minds to to think with, we have ego to flavour our decision, we have virtues to guide us. Osensei's training seeks the betterment of mankind. To learn to harm, even under the guise of defending the weak, flirts very closely to the ego of wanting to be better than others. Nothing wrong with wanting to be better, but a lot of wrong when you seek to prove it, and more wrong when you use your fist to do it. Thus his guiding principle is to defeat a person by not wanting to defeat the person. Instead to control him, by seeking harmony and balance.

How do you teach a want? How do you structure a method for grinding the ego? Sure, you can teach the techniques which is the outer form much like the skin of the elephant. But would they help in understanding the inner? The dilemma of it all. But as a martial art there can be no ifs and buts. To think about a counter to every single attack in the world is to have you sit safely tucked in bed without the need to venture out into the dangerous world. So, techniques are taught a certain way. The spirit, well lets leave the spirit alone for now and hope that the kids will grow up the way I did. Yet, such is life, that no child ever resembles his father 100%. Some saints bring up devils in their midst and vice versa.

In our quest to learn Aikido, we find a teacher who can teach us the outer form and hopefully inner essence. We abide by his instructions so that we don't have to make a journey mirroring Osensei's life. For even were we to travel the river road, the water has passed us by making each journey different. But interpretations of a good teacher will retain the essence of an earlier journey, much like a photograph or a narration of poetry would capture the spirit of the moment.

For us, we use our minds to compare and reason, and to think. But if we jump start this, we will miss the narration. For how can we understand the tragic of Romeo and Juliet without first understanding their love for each other or the hatred that their families harbours for the other. In class, we must concentrate first on getting our techniques right, because in practising good techniques as uke and nage, our questions would be answered. The techniques are tools for learning and are not the goal onto itself. They are tools, that we use to learn about the inner aspect of Aikido. But if our tools are chipped and unaligned, it would be very difficult for us to discover the inner aspect of Aikido. Think about it like a sculpture that we have to uncover from this big block of rock. Using our techniques we chip away at the block. Using our eyes, we rough hew the rock to a shape. Using our heart, we divine the sculpture from that shape.

Let me recap for the moment, for I am known to be a wordy person. I lack structure in my writing because I think and write in the fly. I like to write this way because of the spontaneity. I don't know what I would be writing even as I put the title to this piece, but gradually a picture comes to being.

Aiki is not the sole provenance of Aikido or Aikijutsu or the Japanese people. The Japanese do regard Aiki as their natural heritage though. Aiki is knowledge created by God for mankind to discover and use much like any other knowledge. In silat as we have seen from Cikalong, they too have Aiki in their practice. Don't talk about Ki... almost all arts utilises Ki to various extent. Remember the famous Budo instructor. A feudal lord seek a teacher to teach his guards Budo and called for a contest. The teacher came and said he did not want to fight. He called for the strongest guard to hold on to his arm whilst he wrote a calligraphy smootly and without hesitation. The strongest guard could not endanger the masterful strokes much less prevent the teacher from moving his hands at will. This is Ki and it can be manifested in many forms.

Knowledge too. Einstein didn't pick up a book and learned relativity. He dreamed it all up. Of course he had an exceptional brain to begin with, and an exceptional education. But so had his teachers since they taught him! Yet, the theory was his to discover.

We have not gone over the study of Shu (traditional wisdom and to obey implicitly) Ha (detachment, to break away from this rigidity and one life view) Ri (transendence or takemusu aiki, becoming one) in our classes. Perhaps next week when we meet up with Sensei we will ask him to discuss about this. Certainly, even if we don't teach it formally, we practice it by enforcing Kihon genri and waza first. Genri is atypical of Shu, since within the principles one must follow a form. But even so the principles provide us a way to break away from the physical Shu i.e. to move away from Kihon waza but retaining the use of our genri. Later, much much later I would assume, we will come to a new understanding of our genri, allowing us to breach Ri. True formlessness.

Lastly, going back to this Aikido structure. These techniques... its not just waza alone that I'm taking about. Even Aiki to me is a tool, albeit a high level tool, but still a tool nevertheless and not the ultimate goal in Aikido.


  1. Mr Teh Beng, u wrote...Aiki is knowledge created by God for mankind to discover and use much like any other knowledge...

    i was expecting the completion of d sentence..Aiki is knowledge created by God for mankind to discover...

  2. Hahahaha... that's true as well. But Sensei says, slowly. If I say it, its meaningless. Some things you have to discover on your own for it to be of worth. Have you read the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind? Why don't you read it until you reach the book when Richard has to discover how to marry Kahlan without help.