Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What is Hidden in a Martial Art?

Naturally, on hearing the question, one tendency will be to consider what techniques, tactics, or strategies that are not being taught to you within your own art, perhaps before you are initiated into some inner circle of understanding. Another interpretation will be to ask what principles and techniques are hidden inside some martial art's kata. But what if an art claims that there are no hidden techniques, that everything is right in front of you?

It is more than simple fortune cookie wisdom that many martial arts are understood to be paths to not fighting and onward to peace. While the physical practice is undoubtedly fun and what is learned is hopefully effective when it's needed, each art's path is very easily lost if we pursue such an art with the sole goal of some kind of invincibility in physical conflict.

Aikido's founder, in particular, was very explicit about this. In some cases, in particular in his doka ("songs of the way," his own poetry about aikido), the founder wrote very esoterically, in a way familiar to students of zen and other mystical traditions. It is all too easy for an ordinary fellow looking for simple martial arts practice to dismiss such writing as senseless ramblings of a lunatic.


This thread on AikiWeb inspired the following post:

I wonder to what extent we can know O-Sensei's understanding of or intent for his aikido by virtue of understanding his doka?

Consider: Would we assume that O-Sensei put less effort and meaning into his poetry about his art than he did in demonstrating the physical aspects of his art, and would we then dismiss the former as inaccessible while claiming any understanding of the later?

It seems that O-Sensei wanted others to see the universe as he saw it. If so, then that's what's hidden; and, if so, since there is this "aikido" thing he taught and all of this poetry, presumably it's only hidden by our own lack of understanding, not for his lack of effort or any attempt to obscure it.

But this is speculation.

1 comment:

Janet said...

I figure that like most people, smart or stupid, prosaic or inspired, he assumes that if he can think and articulate it, its perfectly clear for anybody to understand it. Therefore, no secrets.