I have studied half a dozen martial arts, though mainly Aikido, for over four decades. In my primary discipline, music, I’ve studied multiple approaches, from classical to rock, jazz to folk, Indian and western music. Is one of them right? Is one of them wrong? Would we argue over whether, opera, musicals, drama, tragedy, comedy, stage, screen is the best form of theater? If you watch TV are you going to hell? (Is that a joke?) Would, should we kill each other over which cuisine is right, French, Chinese et al.? Should we outlaw American food? Ok, that is a joke, but as my friend Wavy Gravy says, “If you lose your sense of humor, it’s not funny!”
So, let’s take the question to absurdity. If I like vanilla better and you prefer strawberry, should I say to you, “you don’t know anything about ice cream, or food, or eating.” Then to press the point, consider a potter saying pottery is better than painting. Well, you are right, if you want to make a bowl that you can eat from, or an urn to carry water. If, however, you want to translate or transform emotion or explore new synaptic connections, maybe not, maybe it is the opposite. So before we jump on the ‘better’ thing, we probably should explore the purpose for which someone engages in an art.
Generally in cuisine, music and the performing arts, we appreciate, learn from and build on each other’s disciplines and knowledge, to create something new or ‘more original’. Somehow when we get to beliefs about religion, race, and lines on a map, there seems to be insanity. People denigrate each other up to and including murder on an immeasurable scale, often, over trivial issues. Sane? I don’t see it that way.
Maybe the award goes to football fans. They riot and kill each other over a game, the outcome of which matters almost not at all, to the conditions of their lives. But here is what is of value. It is not the issue. That is just the excuse. People are victim to their reactivity, which if it remains unconscious, ends up expressed as fear and aggression. Welcome to the human condition. That’s why I study.
What we think is thinking is mostly reactivity. As my friend David Brown said, “This life-or-death, black-and-white approach is just fight-or-flight on a different level. We become ‘identified’ … not just with a body and physical existence … but with a point of view, with a set of beliefs, values, and customs, etc.”
We are indoctrinated into belief systems long before we have a chance to understand the implications. Problematically, our mindset, confused with emotionally charged affect, has usually solidified long before the ability to reason develops. Then, without the power to see how fixed we are in these beliefs, we have even less power to question our assumptions. What we think is thinking is mostly reactivity. That’s why I study.
As I look at the religious and ideological wars, going on since time immemorial, haven’t we, ‘been there, done that’? Yet, in the face of increasing population, diminishing resources, and a world moving towards greater proliferation of thermo-nuclear weapons in the hands of ever less responsible entities, we find ourselves following a zero-sum mentality to its illogical, out-telligent end. Does something seem out of balance to you here? That’s why I study.
In the world of martial arts, some practitioners endlessly argue, often with unbelievable hostility, about which is the ‘best’? People totally lose it over this conversation, maligning other arts and anyone who studies them. If we are training to survive a life-threating situation, shouldn’t we be looking for what has value in each and any system rather than closed mindedly defending one as being better?
Can someone in that ‘who’s better’ mindset, really understand Aikido, which, in its modern essence, is much more about making everybody better. What they think is thinking is mostly reactivity. That’s why I study.
My bestowed mission is music and harmony, which is probably why in the world of martial arts, and I’ve practiced many, Aikido was my great love. I would rather create a spirit of listening, a world where people are friendly, and cultures understanding. My prayer would be a world where we support each other’s explorations, learn together and work together to make all of our lives and the society we live in better.
I’ve spent decades studying various fighting arts, with world champion teachers. I’ve never been in a fight. Have I wasted my time? I’ve studied Aikido for 45 years. I’ve never been in a fight. Have I wasted my time? I don’t feel that way. Not fighting was what interested me. Really, I don’t even get into arguments. And I loved every minute of training, well almost.
People do understand and train Aikido as a fighting art. Yet, O Sensei said so poetically, “Winning means winning over the discord in your own mind. The enemies we have to defeat are the devils in our own heart. Aikido is medicine for a sick world.” That is why I study.
Think about the world we might live in, if all the time, energy, resources, and creativity that had gone into all the wars, throughout history, had gone into art, education and commerce. That is why I study.
Whatever art you train, you have my best wishes. And of course you’re welcome to your attitudes, including the snotty and hostile ones. Still, if you were willing, may I invite you to consider, how healthy they are, how much they enrich your life, and whether or not they help ‘create a beautiful world’ for all of us.