Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The system vs. the thing itself



I'm feeling philosophical today...
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Morihei Ueshiba is quoted as saying something to the effect of, "When I move around - that is what aikido is." Ueshiba defined and refined this remarkable, amazing way of moving that made him absolutely magical when people got into conflict with him. But he was reputedly pretty bad at teaching this amazing aiki to others. Many of his direct disciples are quoted as having said. "No, we never really knew what in the world he was trying to say to us."
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Tomiki came along and said, "I can organize and systematize this amazing thing that Ueshiba is doing. I can create a teachable model of this unteachable thing." Through the years, Tomiki's model of aikido has been passed down through my teachers, occasionally being tweaked to their preferences, until it passed to me.
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But there's this funny thing about aikido (not just Tomiki aikido and not just our particular lineage) - the thing we are studying and learning (the teaching model) is not the thing itself (the amazing, remarkable, aiki). We have been given a beautiful masterpiece painting, and all we can handle studying is the frame and the shipping crate and the packing peanuts.
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Don't get me wrong - the system is pretty darn cool! In a lot of ways, the model is just as remarkable, just as worthy of study, as the masterpiece being modeled. The packaging is certainly larger and more complex and exquisitely interesting. Many of us can do some pretty amazing things with it. But few of us have transcended beyond the packing peanuts to get to the masterpiece - the actual aiki.
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I have been thinking about this conundrum for a while - the difference between the system and the thing itself, and occasionally it makes me frustrated. Even though my students and I are making remarkable progress in our skills and knowledge, sometimes it doesn't seem like we're studying the thing itself.
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Today I was reading G.K.Chesterton's book, Orthodoxy, and came across this passage that I thought was interesting and to the point ...

...Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called "The Loves of the Triangles"; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless.

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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