Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Question "Why?"

In a separate Aikdio discussion group thread, someone asks first about the prevalence of bowing in this martial arts practice, and later about some traditions surrounding the handling of the hakama, the pleated pants worn over the training gi.

The questions were honest. Some of the responses seemed unusual, or at least telling. It is amazing how much we do routinely or simply accept and integrate into our own thought and practice without the slightest bit of examination. But then the novice, the child, or some other beginner's mind, looks at you and asks "Why?" The single word from outside yourself is an opportunity to re-examine your situation. It's a wake-up call, or it's a nuisance---that's up to you.

My reply to the thread follows. It's written for Aikido, but look deeper: The same might be said of religion, politics, business negotiations, and even relations in our own homes.

My thoughts are these:

Aikido transcends rituals, symbols, and cultural decorations.

An instructor may skillfully use rituals, symbols, and decorations---such as bowing, testing, wearing gi and hakama, folding a senior's hakama, clapping, ringing bells, burning incense, and so forth---to help students find Aikido, to point to Aikido.

When the student achieves a certain understanding, though, the student sees Aikido's principles everywhere. Consider this passage from the Art of Peace: "Do not fail to learn from the pure voice of an ever-flowing mountain stream splashing over the rocks." What sees the principles in the stream at that moment is not concerned with whether or not the attached body is wearing a hakama.

With that understanding, though, the student should neither desire nor have an aversion to bowing---or to any other of the rituals, symbols, or cultural decorations. If a student begins with this understanding, even if incomplete, he or she can learn the techniques of the physical practice from anyone, even those who have not attained the same understanding.

Try to never lose the question "Why?" Constant re-examination is at the root of engaged life.

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