"Modern Aikido"


The phrase “Modern Aikido” is meant to denote two things: 1) A departure, negative in nature, from the art practiced and developed by the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba; and 2) The subsuming of the Founder’s art by a culture different from his culture. A “culture” here is understood as a systematic (by which I mean mutually reifying) collection of discourses, practices, and institutions that comes to produce an economy and that is mutually participated in by a given population.


The reason I call this cultural departure of the art “Modern” is that the aforementioned subsummation is itself part of the larger cultural subsummation commonly called “Modernity.” The words “Modern” or “Modernity” are themselves part of this cultural subsummation, in that they use a scientistic understanding of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to make various plays for power in the aforementioned economy. This understanding is “scientistic” and not scientific because it makes use of a circular or talismanic pseudo-logic (i.e. magic) to innately describe its discourse as “advanced” or “evolved” merely because it takes place later in the historical timeline, and thus by default deems its own discourse “correct” and thereby beyond question. It is by this scientistic use of Darwin’s theory that such a discourse gains the delusion of objectivity, placing said discourse outside of the subjectivity of time and/or of history, while all other discourses are reduced to cultural acts (i.e. take place within Time and Space) and are thereby easily discredited by Bulvaristic arguments. The phrase “Modern Aikido” could be replaced by “Scientistic Aikido,” or “Americanist Aikido,” etc., since all such phrases reference an “Aikido different from the Founder,” or “Not Aikido,” but an “Aikido made to function within the Modern economy.”


There are several things to note here with such a position, but first and foremost is this: Thought has a history; or no thought can be separated from its cultural workings. Secondly, the Founder’s thought, therefore, has a history: To note the Founder’s thought is to note the history of that thought. To note the history of that thought, one cannot from the outset dismiss it as “less evolved,” “irrational,” or as “impractical” – as the Americanist-Scientistic and Modern Aikidoka would have us do so.


What was the history of the Founder’s thought? It is a thought uniquely positioned in the history of thought for two interdependent reasons: 1) The Founder lived at a time when his surrounding area was undergoing the paradigmatic shift that allowed for a burgeoning Japan to participate in the growing global culture commonly referred to as “Modern.” While living during this time, however, the Founder’s thought participated greatly in pre-Modern educational and discursive institutions. In a way, he was a man soon to be fossilized. And 2), the Founder lived during a time and participated in the paradigmatic backlash that always accompanies a radical cultural break or shift in the dominant epistemology. That is to say, the Founder was culturally a member of what simply can be called “pre-Modern culture,” and he was also a participant in the cultural pushback against the paradigmatic shift that moved Japan as a nation-state into a global culture of “Modernity” at the turn of the 20th century. (Note: This is how the Founder’s flirtations with fascism should be properly understood, as a partially-informed and loosely-organized political alliance made in an effort to stave off the then-observable and predictable dis-eases of modern thought and practice past people have rightly predicted.) The Founder’s thought, and his art, rested on the losing side of culture war. It is still on that side.


While noting that no culture war ever establishes a complete victory, the Founder’s thought can be characterized by the pre-modern episteme of concentricism. Concentricism stands in contrast to the Modern episteme, which is dualistic and dichotomous in nature. Concentricism is best noted in Nargarjuna’s tetralema, and holds the possibility of reality being both singular and non-singular simultaneously. The modern episteme allows for no such possibility. For those that are versed in East Asian history of thought, Yin/Yang Theory is an example of such concentricism, or for those better versed in Christian mysticism, an apophatic understanding of the Divine is also an example of such thought – both in which Osensei was trained. It is important to note here: Such understandings of the world were not so much understandings of the world, such as the Modern episteme posits itself to be, but rather were templates by which to understand our experience of the world.


As thought is always a way of thinking, and therefore always historical and thus always cultural, Osensei’s thought cannot be separated from the practices he performed nor from the results said practices were designed to produce. Likewise, the inverse is also true, and this is why Modern Aikido is so problematic. As Modern Aikido broke with the thinking of Osensei, with how he thought, it inevitably distanced itself from his practices, and thus from the results of those practices. This is why Modern Aikido can no longer produce the mystical experience, why it can no longer cultivate the art’s internal aspects, and why it can no longer demonstrate a true spontaneous expression of the art both on and off of the mat. Having adopted the modern episteme, Modern Aikido is neither martial nor spiritual and yet cannot solve the paradox which the presences of both aspects generate. Having become based in dualistic or dichotomous thought, Modern Aikido’s worldview is in essence secular-materialist or mechanical and the nearest it gets to the Founder’s religiosity is the euphemized “spiritual” or a kind deism or naturism – which are materialist/mechanical. Plagued now by an underlying materialism the Founder simply did not hold, with no alternative to ever be otherwise, this is also why Modern Aikido emphasizes the practicing and reproduction of forms and why it can only understand said forms as “if/then” templates. It is also why the study of these forms has taken on a excessive use of the intellect and the utilization of academic settings. Because Modern Aikido can now only reproduce forms, it has become overly isolated and insulated, inbred, and this has equally contributed to its inability to gain or maintain a practical end. As a result, being unable to serve a professional end of any kind today, now incapable of any practical end, Modern Aikido’s ranks consists overwhelmingly of those having a surplus income. It is like this, through this demographic’s participation in an economy capable of producing a surplus income and the time to participate in an Aikido that can only be considered a luxury, that Modern Aikido repeats and continues to repeats both its reproduction and the destruction of the Founder’s Aikido.