Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Harmony and Imperialism in Aikido - 22 January 2014

Right. Time to break the silence again and take this place over. Or not. And this is what I want to write about today, I mean the 'taking over of a place'. Let me explain..

This has been going around in my head for a while, so let's see how well I'll be able to put it together, it might be quite simple actually. There seems to be an idea floating around and stubbornly persisting in the world of Aikido, that one way in which Aikido might claim the subtitle of being 'the Martial Art of Peace' is by 'bringing people together'. In and by itself, I think this is a nice notion, but it seems to me that most times what is meant by that is really the notion that bringing people together is a matter of more and more people practicing Aikido together. These practitioners, often referred to as 'from all walks of life', by virtue and through the process of 'peacefully practicing together' consequently and in an almost too good to be true kind of way 'become friends' and magically, we have more peace. Now don't get me wrong at this point, I am not all dismissing the value of getting together to practice together and I have made a great number of friends in Aikido over my years in it that I don't ever want to miss (and if you are reading this, I hope you are well and I can't wait to catch up and train with you again!). 

Nonetheless, I don't feel comfortable with the above idea of bringing peace to the world via Aikido (or any other martial art for that matter - and this idea is also around in many others). It seems to me that bringing peace to the world by having more and more people 'convert' to Aikido is a story that has been repeated in history far too often in all stories of imperialism, colonialism, missionary endeavours and all other avenues of violent or non-violent assimilation. As such, this process has been looked at and critiqued from all kinds of angles already, including even sic-fi stories like Star Trek, in which the heroes of the story frequently fight against and resist the Borg's repeated attempts to 'assimilate' ever new colonies. Not that I'm a huge Star Trek fan, not at all actually, but I'm sure you get the reference..

So I guess what I am trying to say is that this idea of 'peace and love' is maybe subliminally, but ultimately just as or maybe even more aggressive than any other. Firstly, we are simply not making peace by converting more and more people to our Way. Unfortunately though, this is a notion that seems to be supported by some systems that award particularly grades after technical examination (in Aikido commonly 5th Dan upwards) and in the criteria, implicitly or explicitly reward the 'missionary success' of the person being awarded the respective grade, or else don't grant the grade if the respective person has not shown to have carried Aikido forth (promoted its culture, enrolled more students, tested more Dan grades, etc) into the world sufficiently. This I believe is a terrible practice and should have nothing to do with grades, but I don't want to go into the whole grade silliness again anyhow.

So secondly, we are also not making 'new' friends by meeting new people that also practice Aikido. These people are, in a certain sense, already our friends anyhow, or at least we are already unified by the common ground we share. There is no argument, no difficulty, no resistance, only immediate connection. Going back to a reference that I have recently used, what we find here is merely that which MLK described as philia: 'a sort of reciprocal love: the person loves because he is loved' (King, p.121). Imagine someone telling you "I like you, because you are like me, because you do what I do and are of the same opinion". I mean how does that sound to you?

Everyone involved in Aikido knows for a fact that even this 'love' is not easy to find in Aikido. Practice in anyone style/school of Aikido for a while, then go and practice somewhere where people practice who think and train Aikido otherwise than what you are used to and see what you find. See what you find inside yourself. I have said this before, but let me repeat that I myself am no saint when it comes to bringing love into the world. It is not easy to open your heart and mind to anything that is 'other'. Nonetheless, I think that this is the challenge that Aikido's presumable ethical orientation brings.

Bringing peace to the world via Aikido has nothing to do with everyone practicing Aikido at all. On the contrary, training involves a deep engagement with ourselves and our reservations, fears and resistance towards that which is 'other'. This practice asks of us not that we hide in the safety of those that we get along with and slowly grow those circles, but that we get out there and think about ways to make friends (or peace, truce, love, or whatever you like to call it) and learn to cooperate with those that are, think, look, ... different than we do and possibly occasionally even seem to want to harm us for whatever reasons. In a sense this is also about finishing the martial artists favourite silly talk and nonsensical endless debates about which style or art is the best, but anyway. So training is much more about making ourselves more ready for peace or friendship, undoing our own assimilatory tendencies, our efforts to take over a place, push our views and opinions on others, etc etc. If this is something you are interested in working through and Aikido is a way in which you like to engage in it, then obviously, I can't think of anything better than getting together and doing so. And if not, that's fine too, training continues nonetheless.

It would be easy to expand on this much more and might get back to it some other time, but I hope this is enough to bring the gist 
of the point across. And if it isn't and you still need convincing, just remember that one way or another, 'if it's not Ameri-do-te, it's bullshit anyhow...
Train soon,