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"Chiba Sensei 'In His Own Words' & Aikido Journal's 'Special Report'" Transcript - Episode 44

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"Aikido is, in a sense, very fragile. It can be forgotten, it can be destroyed, it can be diluted by ignorance and self-indulgence. Teachers have to take precautions and measures to preserve our art very carefully. Aikido, our art, does not have any means to protect itself.”

[00:01:03] These are some of the departing words from Chiba Sensei.

[00:01:20] They're good pointers, I think, for how we should relate to, think through, think with our art, both at a social level and of course, and perhaps more importantly, at an individual level. I think they're always working in that capacity. But in light of a study that Aikido Journal just presented to us, I think they're even more important. I'll provide links to a video wherein Chiba Sensei states this sentiment and also links to this study done on Aikido demographics in the United States. And there's a few facts from that study that I want to point out. So, the study carries data from a survey done related to Aikido demographics and some of these things that really stood out for me are the following. One: in the United States, only 4.8 of practitioners are under the age of 30 years old. Two: “only 1.9 of our U.S. survey respondents are aged 25 or younger, with 81 percent over the age of 40.” One more point: Since 2004, Aikido, in terms of Google interests, so search, searches for Aikido, Aikido-related stuff, since 2004 has decreased 93 percent.

[00:03:42] I think the survey shows what a lot of people knew and observed empirically. Mats, especially at large seminars and camps, are not as populated as they once were. And those that populated are generally older. While there may be in some areas, new Aikido schools opening up, they tend to consist of either a few classes per week, maybe even less than that, taking place in some building not belonging to the dojo, such as a community center, made up of one to two hours of class time, and only a handful of students on the mat, all of which never fully commit or mostly don't.

[00:05:12] When you see a new Aikido school opening in your area, it's usually that kind. If they appear to be productive and healthy, business-wise successful, it's usually the kind of deception made possible through social media where a school can look more than it is. And if that's not what you're seeing, then you're seeing old established schools closing down due to being unable to afford rent, due to low numbers - low numbers of students able to contribute to a rent. Or, relatedly, you see. social media attempts to have non-members pay for that dojo existence. Either way, it's a sign that the art as a social practice, as a social construct, is dying. And in that sense, Chiba Sensei's words are very telling.

[00:07:13] It points out that such a death is possible, that the art itself is fragile and frail and capable at all times of this death, that there is nothing in the art itself that will make it immortal. That instead, it is prone to be forgotten, prone to being destroyed, and prone to being diluted. There is no guarantee, in other words, of transmission. That rather, it is up to each individual to bring integrity and anti-fragility to the art. There's an individual responsibility. And if each practitioner does not take on this responsibility, the art will die.

[00:09:12] I think it is important to realize that there is no, there was no institutional conscious or unconscious effort to so dismantle the art. But rather, it is a series of individuals, one by one, who let it be destroyed and deluded. And I think Chiba Sensei is deadly accurate when he describes the means by which such things happen: ignorance, and self-indulgence. For me, ignorance is vital in terms of the continuation of the art, in the sense that it's through our ignorance that the art loses the very means of anything existing: It's practicality; Its usefulness. Things that are useful, will continue to be used. Things that are continued to be used, are things that continue to exist. Something that has become useless is unused and forgotten and abandoned. And Aikido usually bounces back and forth in terms of its understanding, in terms of the practitioners' understanding of Aikido, usually bounces back and forth between the martial and the spiritual. And if you look at this great oncoming extinction of the art from the point of view of utility, you're going to see that in most places it is unusable in either one of those senses. It cannot be used martially; it cannot be used spiritually.

[00:12:39] In the face of this un-useability, I think you find the platform that many current practitioners now try to adopt by explaining their Aikido outside of any sort of utilitarian reasoning. It becomes abstractly, just, “Aikido is what Aikido is.” Some sort of circular reasoning that frees it from usefulness. Or that hides it in personal preference: "I just like Aikido, that's why I do it." That very statement is telling you there is no use to it. Or people look for uses outside of these two poles or these this spectrum made up of these ends martial and spiritual people find value in: The social aspect; The conditioning aspect; The stress release, stress relief. All of these things are just telling you the art for most has no martial use and no spiritual use. It does not function in these capacities. And so, it must become something else. This is at the heart of much of the rebranding efforts that are happening. And they make sense to people. But it's because they open themselves up to Chiba Sensei's second criticism: It makes sense to them because it's in their wheelhouse. It makes sense to them through their own self-indulgence. In the absence of any martial usefulness or any spiritual usefulness, rather than reapplying themselves and rediscovering that usefulness, rather than changing them, they changed the art to fit what they're already doing. Rather than gaining a martial viability, Aikido is just “something they like doing.”

[00:16:52] I can see two things happening from this trend. One: they actually succeed. In the face of the arts' un-useability, martially and spiritually, the very tenets of Budo, they turn Aikido into something else. They find a useability in something else, one that meets their self-indulgence. Of course, by that very act, this thing they invented has the same name “Aikido,” but of course, it is something radically different. It marks a rift from what Aikido was, what Budo was: It is a reinvention. And in the very reinvention is the extinction of Aikido. In the keeping of the name is the losing of the art. Or, two: they continue with this self-indulgence, but they're not successful at it. They will do what they're doing now, which led to those statistics that marked the death of the art. And they will just continue down this path until the art is no more.

[00:19:16] I think that's very possible because of the highly unlikelihood that they will be successful in convincing the non-practicing public, the population pool from which you would draw new members, that either Aikido is not a martial art or Aikido is not a Budo, or that Aikido is a martial art and is a Budo but is fine having no martial usability and no spiritual usability. I think Aikido has been trying this for at least the last two decades. I think they've been trying in the face of their martial ignorance, for example, to say that a lack of martial capacity has either nothing to do with Aikido or is not what Aikido is about or should be de-prioritized. You can say that all you want to a group of people who have no martial viability within them, to justify their self-indulgence, to justify them not seeking and gaining such a martial viability, but you're not going to convince the non-practicing population pool that that makes any sense at all.

[00:21:22] You can play all day long with “martial,” with language games, about what “martial” means, about what “conflict” means - all these academic practices; you can develop specialized languages, but they don't make sense to the non-practicing population pool. And so, you're not going to draw the numbers you need. It is true these self-indulgent ends may be what motivates you to practice currently, but you cannot be a martial art that is martially impotent and gain non-practitioners looking to train in a martial art. And now, you're back to step one: Let's rebrand Aikido. But in doing so, should you prove successful, you will have killed the art.

[00:23:28] More interesting to me is how this functions at the individual level. How ignorance and self-indulgence dilutes and makes impotent our own practice. Again, as at the institutional level, at the individual level, there is no conscious decision to make one's practice impotent, to make one's Aikido useless. Nobody comes into the dojo like that. And yet there would be no need for Chiba Sensei's warning if it did not happen nonetheless. What he's pointing out is not really an institutional problem, although it does take shape by those means, but it is a human problem. It is what we do. We self-indulge. We changed the world to fit within our ignorance rather than change ourselves to gain wisdom. This is the human dilemma. If it did not exist, the social or the institutional problem would also not exist.

[00:25:25] But it does exist.

[00:25:41] This, then, is not a modern problem, it is not a problem of the Internet. It is a human problem. And as such, it is the very problem, the very stressor, the very means by which we create the adaptation of self-transformation. If there was not this risk, at the individual level, this possibility, or this will, or this aim to self-indulge, Aikido would actually not function as a Way. It is in the face of self-indulgence, it is in the face of our tendency to warp reality to fit within our ignorance that we resist self-transformation, that self-transformation is actually possible.

[00:27:19] Oftentimes in explaining the cultivation practices associated with Budo, there's an analogy drawn between the sharpening of a sword and the sharpening stone. The analogy is that the stone is harder than the steel. And when the two come in contact, it is the sword that changes shape. It becomes sharper. What a self-indulgent Aikido practice looks like is, if you could imagine the stone or the sword saying, "I don't want to change, can I get a softer stone, a stone with less integrity that I can actually cut with my dull edge?" As a sharpening stone, this wanted stone, this soft stone that can be cut by the dull edge, as a sharpening stone, that is a useless stone. It is no longer a sharpening stone. You're going to have to rebrand it. You're going to have to talk about how “sharpening” is not all that important. You're going to have to revalue “dull blades.” When Chiba Sensei is raising the problem of self-indulgence, that's what he's talking about. It is the degeneration or the deforming of the art to meet one's comfort zone, to meet the things that already make sense to the practitioner as he or she is now. The opposite of this would be you don't change the art, you change you. You leave the stone hard. You leave the stone uncuttable by the current you.

[00:30:56] One thing the Aikido Journal study did not go into, but we know from other studies, is who actually makes up this geriatric population. When you do that, you see other tendencies particular to this population: They are more educated; they have disposable income; they live in affluent areas; they hold and participate in particular understanding: there's no use for violence; violence is left to specialized populations such as the police and the military. They tend to be more secular, more materialist, more individualistic in their mentalities, more academic, more intellectual. It is no coincidence, then, that the Aikido that is being practiced today, the one that cannot draw from the non-practicing population that's looking to train in a martial art, is a less physical Aikido, a more intellectual Aikido, a more academic Aikido, a more secular Aikido, a more therapeutic Aikido. You're looking at an art that has been thoroughly warped to fit the population that practices it. And the rebranding efforts are just that population continuing its self-indulgence. But everyone does this. We're human. And our parents are human. And in all likelihood, especially as a modern American from the First World, we have been taught that we should avoid pain and discomfort, that we should self-indulge.

[00:36:07] The rule that I have for myself and transmit to my students is that training and life will present forks in the road, crisis, two doors. One door is easy, one door is hard. One door is in your comfort zone, one door is out. Go through the hard door. Always. The goal with such an understanding is to make a problem out of self-indulgence, to discover, “Why is that door hard?” which cannot be done if all you're doing is looking for comfort, a softer, sharpening stone, one you can cut through and remain dull by.

[00:37:38] I imagine at some level, ignorance does play a role, but I really think it's this self-indulgence which is the biggest problem. Meaning, I imagine, at this point, it is very difficult for Aikido as an institution or as a social practice to turn around and find its martial useability. For too long, people have been stuck in forms and seminars and chasing belts and certificates, and have made use of choreographed ukes - that's been going on for too long to have any kind of widespread reversal in direction. That’s too many people that do not know what it actually takes to find that martial useability.

[00:39:11] But even then, it's possible. But not when the self-indulgence is there. Because what you see then when somebody without knowing how to be martially viable tries to become martially viable, when they're self-indulgent, they reach the conclusion that “Aikido sucks.” They won't reach the conclusion that “Their Aikido sucks.” They won't choose the harder door of starting all over, of sucking. People don't want to suck. It's uncomfortable.

[00:40:30] And a self-indulgent population that has already rebranded itself or come up with arbitrary reasons to replace things like martial viability, things in line with their own cultural discourses, they're going to want to suck even less. So, to be sure, of course, there is a lot of widespread ignorance. That is very much related to how an art becomes martially inviable. There is ignorance in the practices necessary for moving one from form to non-form. There's ignorance in fighting strategy and fighting tactics. There's ignorance in the tendencies associated with violence. There's ignorance in modern weapon use. There's ignorance even in just what works and what doesn't work, or what works under what conditions and what fails under what conditions, what is high percentage, what is low percentage. This is not known widely in the Aikido population. It has for too long no longer preoccupied itself with such concerns. And there is ignorance even in terms of superior force outputs - output engines. It has for too long become satisfied with what techniques are done instead of how techniques are done. And that kind of widespread ignorance is not going to have any kind of huge reversal. It will only be a few people who say, “Enough is enough.” But that same rarity, again, happens at the individual level. Can we walk into the dojo every day and find the two doors? This door leads to martial impotency and this door leads to martial viability: “What am I doing most of my day?” “Becoming largely impotent or marginally viable.” “What am I doing right now in this rep?” “Am I just self-indulging or am I truly being sharpened by a harder stone?” This is not so easy a process and inertia is on the other side.

[00:45:33] For countless centuries, across countless cultures, this fork in the road between, in this case, changing the art or changing yourself, is described as a constant battle. It is that constant warfare that cultures across human history have eventually given some sort of idealized understanding towards the title "Warrior". It is a battle with one's self: Do you self-indulge or do you not? Do you take the harder door? Are you trying to find a so-called sharpening stone you can actually cut and remain untransformed by? It is seeing one's training through the lens of a war, a war happening within oneself, between that self-indulgence and that self-discipline, between ignorance and wisdom, between comfort and doing what's right - doing what you know you're supposed to do. There is no Way, there is no Path outside of this.

[00:48:35] Self-indulgence is the non-path. It is the way of the world. It is the way the status quo stays in place, it is bondage and self-enslavement. It is the way we pass on, we inherit and pass on, the neuroses of our parents, of our species. It is the virus of spiritual immaturity.

[00:49:51] So, let go of the big social understanding of “Aikido.” Keep things to the individual level. Keep the art what it is, a Budo. Keep it usable. Re-find its useability. Keep it both martially potent and spiritually potent. And realize every second of every day you can veer from this, that your practice is subject to the same frailty. That if you are not ever on guard against it, your practice will become impotent: Keep this guard. Find the Fudomyo in your own self. Be the guardian spirit of your own practice. Do not waiver in the face of discomfort or pain or doubt or darkness. Hold the course. Stay true.

[00:52:24] Surround yourself with others who are doing this. And people in that non-practicing population pool will come to you, of all ages, of all ethnicity, men, women, professionals, non-professionals. And together your dojo will be a light for the Martial Way: A place for warriors. Your dojo will be a den of lions.

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