Thursday, December 11, 2008

Aikido, the Martial Art of Vigilant Sheep?

Plastic flowers did not kill Ikebana.
The ballpoint pen did not kill shodo.
Lipton did not kill Chado.
The AK-47 did not kill Iaido.
UFC will not kill Aikido.

Why in my neighborhood do we cultivate certain flowers and maintain our yards just so when clearly those plants that we call "weeds" have the evolutionary upper hand?

It's clearly an aspect of our own evolution as a species that we do---or have the inclination to do---things like this. There must be value to our species as a whole in our behaving this way. This is not to say that the best strategies for the species collectively are also the best strategies for the individual on any particular day; after all, as an individual, my best strategies might include rape, pillage, theft, murder, hoarding, and so forth. Indeed, there are such places where this is a way of life. If I am there, I should probably cultivate my abilities to do those things and to defend against others' efforts to those things to me.

In Suburbia, U.S.A., and elsewhere, though, the community would likely thrive optimally if we all behaved as vigilant sheep. If we were all vigilant sheep, we could individually spot and collectively handle would-be wolves, leaving us free to munch on our lawns and pretty flowers, keeping our society (i.e., local species) strong.

You could argue from a certain perspective that the most watered-down versions of aikido teach us the principles of being vigilant sheep. We can be taught to have: unquestioning loyalty to organizations and to those individuals ranked above us; responsibility to peers and those ranked below us; absolute discipline; faith; cooperation; some physical exercise to work out aggression and to keep us healthy; and so forth. Throw in the uniforms and maybe a reading from O-Sensei's collected works each morning over a bowl of rice and we're ready for a fully functional life in a family, company, government, and the larger society!

All of that is not necessarily a bad thing. It simultaneously reflects and benefits a certain type of society. After all, societies evolve too. Consider that there are arguments that much of the Japanese samurai-associated code and arts came from warriors with too much time on their hands living in a newly peaceful society. I have the opportunity to ponder these things and write this note because I have a roof over my head, a locked front door, and no ninjas are scaling the walls!

But, if you're a cabbie working in areas with different rules for society, maybe the previous type of aikido is not for you. But, there are people who are teaching and learning interpretations of aikido that may very well be suitable for you. I personally have a very zennish perspective, and my aikido reflects that. If you want to call it a spiritual pursuit, that's fine with me---but for my view the pursuit requires challenging training in line with a martial path.

Maybe there is a "middle way" after all?

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