David M. Valadez
Here are the four problem areas I see in Aikido today:
1. The politicization of the art: Wherein practical manifestation was first subsumed by an economic system meant to exchange cultural capital for material capital but that has now, like the gold standard of old, lost all use for it beyond that of unspoken assumption. This is seen in the art’s ranking systems.
2. The insularity of the art: Wherein the art's self-legitimating and self-reifying delusions combine with individual egos and unquestioned moral and tactical philosophies and thus work to restrict its viability to only the most contrived and orchestrated of environments. This is seen in the art’s prioritization of kihon over jiyu and in the art’s satisfaction with demonstrations over real-world applications.
3. The secularization of the art: Wherein the epistome of resemblance, which philosophically is at the very heart of and makes possible mystical union, was without awareness replaced by the logic of symbol, metaphor, and analogy, and thus making impossible what the Founder felt to be the apex and purpose of the art, Oneness with God, replacing it with the poor and impotent (in terms of addressing Man's wellness) substitute of a class-based (and supporting) form of accepted conduct. This is seen in the art’s positing of itself as being non-violent and of it being a symbol of nonviolence.
4. The de-athletization of the art: Wherein an accepted weakness of body allowed onto the mat the un-forged mind and the un-forged spirit, and thereby had the art lose all requirement for high levels of commitment, endurance, and authenticity, attributes that come from regularly taking the body beyond what the intellect has fathomed as the limits of physical performance, and that thereby made a practice that was originally based upon a mind-body inseparability an academic exercise.this is seen in the soft, frail, and flabby bodies that populate today’s mats.
Everyone knows that stress negatively impacts performance. Hence, if your sole goal is to measure the transmission and acquisition of technique, it is better to teach and train in a stress-free environment. However, if your primary goal is to address the degradation of performance when stress is applied or present, or if you have deeper aims, such as to spiritually acquire what has been called an unfettered heart/mind, or to emotionally develop the coping skills necessary to keep one well and sane, or to physiologically cultivate an inoculation to stress, then the last thing you want to do is teach and train in a stress-free environment. By looking then at how a class is designed and ran, noting whether stress is present, generated, and utilized, or not, the deshi knows what the teacher is trying to teach, trying to address, or has left completely off the table. In the same way then, when the instructor sees a deshi that seeks only stress-free environments in which to learn and practice the art, he or she knows what that deshi is opting to leave completely off the table and how shallow they wish their training to be.
Try to understand, we are after a kind of toughness, physically it's a kind of hardness if you will. It's developed by what can as a whole be summed up as a kind of hammering of our person - like the way iron is forged into steel, by a harder object hitting a softer object until the desired refinement is achieved. Physically, fitness is only a part of this process, such that you can be fit but not hard, and thus you have not achieved what we are after. Physically, in terms of conditioning, this process can and should involve the literal act of hammering, movements like in suburi training, movements wherein you move a heavy object through arcs in space, like in the kettle bell workout, but it also involves a "hammering" of our inner selves, which takes place by doing things that are emotionally and/or psychologically stressful to us, and doing them over and over again. This is integral to the development of the Warrior.
Do not confuse a fighting tactic with a training tactic. Aikido seeks paths of least resistance in combat, but in training Aikido requires you to work your ass off. It is train hard, fight soft. It is not fight soft, train soft. Be ready to work or be ready to leave.
Ultimately, your art should have no name.
It's not a basic if you can't or won't build upon it, if you can't weave into something greater and/or more sophisticated and have it become almost invisible but to others who can do the same. A basement or a foundation with no floors above it is no basement or foundationat all. If there is no architecture above it reaching up to scrape the sky, it is just a one-story building. It is unimpressive.
Learning "skills," such as communication skills, can never get to the heart of the matter. Character, the lack of it, is the heart of the problem for all that ails you socially. Character can't be taught in a classroom or on a chalkboard. You can't make it yours by reading it in a book. It has to be burned into your person by someone greater than you, by someone with more character than you.
It's true, training, the practice, brings with it a wisdom. But, the point of this wisdom is not understanding. The point of this wisdom is more practice
Mindset isn't going to make you a master. It's not going to by itself get you home from a dangerous situation or encounter. Mindset is what you weave through an application of highly developed technical skill and strategy. Without this weaving, and without this highly developed technical skill and strategy, "mindset" is really just self-delusion.
Training is not just a philosophy. Moreover, any philosophy outside of training does not exist. You can't just think or feel the warrior's way. You have to act it out in every way and on every day. This applies to all aspects of life: with the company you keep and what you do with them, with those you fail to connect with and what you have lost for having done so, etc. Budo is not a theory. Budo is a practice. This is training.
I see it as a plus, a positive effect, when deshi quit saying, "He expected too much commitment." There's no way to have an elite program without having people quit, without having most quit. There is a formula to this, one by which you can inversely determine how much compromise your training regiment contains by the ratio of how many deshi you draw to how many deshi you retain. This is more telling than even the developed skill of your deshi, as such is American culture today, where everyone wants to be a warrior, a samurai, without doing the work, without the suffering necessary to attain it.
We are all replaceable. To the awakened, this is both obvious and irrelevant. To the unawakened, this is the end of the world. To the awakened, the end of the world is also obvious and irrelevant.
Do not worry about "blindly following a master." The one plagued by such blindness can only follow the fears and habits of his pride and ignorance. As he cannot see the master, the master will not see him. "To blindly follow a master" is an oxymoronic phrase, an impossibility. One follows the master only with the clearest of vision, one that begins and ends with a clarity of self. Without this, the Master remains not only invisible but undetectable.
- Live a simple and unified life.
- Eat a non-stressing diet (ie. low calorie and low carb).
- Sleep 8 hours minimum per day.
- Stretch daily.
- Train daily.
- Have Right Perspective (ie. Impermanence).
- Pray, sit in silence, and talk to God always.
The cycles of culture, as with the tides, has both yin and yang aspects. At a time when great atrocities were waged against humanity by Man, the message of peace, harmony, and communion uttered to a world set on combat effectiveness brought hearts and minds perfectly to the core of Budo. It was the right yin to yang ratio. But now, speaking to a world filled with the self-entitled, the narcissistic, the undisciplined, the impatient, the undedicated, and the emotionally and physically fragile, that same message, that same yin perspective, is sure to lead more astray from the core of Budo than not. Now is not the era when budoka can filter their martial viability through a practice of spiritual cultivation. Now is the era rather when budoka must filter their spiritual cultivation through a martial viability. Now, before you give birth to "The Sword of Life," you should first ensure you are holding a sword.
Enlightenment is not an ecstatic religious state of being. Enlightenment is a necessity of everyday human wellness.