The Bodhisattva Sweet Spot


As Aikido became westernized, as it moved away from the spiritual religiosity of the Founder, as it became open to and and structured upon secular-materialism, it began to organize itself along market or consumer paradigms. This co-dependently arose with a finite-in-nature pedagogy and a concretized understanding of the teacher’s position and of his/her practice of the art. Hence, today, driven by capital accumulation, whether it is material, social, or cultural, deshi experience a growing anxiety over whether they are below their teacher, equal to their teacher, or above their teacher within the given market paradigm. With the teacher and the teacher’s practice of the art made finite, which is very much the resultant of a materialistic understanding of the art, “good” deshi and “good” instructors either seek a socialistic economic understanding of the involved capital or a capitalist understanding of the involved capital - be that capital material, social, and/or cultural.


For example, the “good” deshi will operate along a thought or stated motive of “The best thing I can do as a deshi for my sensei is become more skilled than him/her,” and the “good” sensei will operate along a thought or stated motive of “The best thing I can do as a teacher for my deshi is train them to be more skilled than me.” This is a capitalist understanding of the involved capital. A socialist understanding (which ironically is a philosophical extension of the Christian gospels) of the involved capital would have both the “good” deshi and the “good” sensei striving toward peership - an equity of capital.


Of course, neither the discourse of “good” nor the meta discourse of capital accumulation accurately describe the power games truly driving the whole of the given society, and nor do they accurately describe the reality of the sensei/deshi relationship as it relates to the sensei’s own practice. This is particularly true when the art is understood not through a secular-materialism but through a spiritual religiosity akin to the one held by the Founder.

Contrarily, and prior to the westernization of martial arts like Aikido, the problem non-western pre-modern deshi were most anxious about was not whether or not they equaled or surpassed their teacher’s skill and/or practice of the art. It was instead whether they were able to gain an accurate understanding of the art from their teacher prior to their teacher’s practice of the art becoming so sublime that he/she could no longer impart it to people not equally sublime in their own practice of the art.


Because a pre-modern art was not understood nor practiced through a philosophy of secular-materialism, the teacher’s practice was not finite in nature but infinite in nature. As a result of this infinite reality, there arose the generation of a “sweet spot” for when one should be a deshi or not. This “sweet spot” rested (on the low end) between, the teacher’s art being sublime enough to be worth wanting, and (at the high end) it was not so sublime that it was incomprehensible and thus untransmittable. Whether one met his/her teacher in this sweet spot or not, and mostly whether it was about to end or not, is what had pre-modern Asian deshi the most anxious.


Relatedly, because the Asian pre-modern teacher’s practice was not confined to market/consumer models he/she did not sell his/her practice, and nor did he/she have a practice that was able to be purchased, for it was not a thing so concrete, not a thing that could be packaged and sold. Instead, the Asian pre-modern teacher's practice was a deeply personal thing, and as such and by default it resisted transmission. As such, there was none of the surety, whether imagined or real, nor the associated formality, that comes with understanding training through an act in consumerism. Instead, Asian pre-modern training was extremely informal and tranmission functioned predominantly through proximity and osmosis alone. As such, far from a surety of transmission which is needed to raise issues of social concern over hierarchical placement in a given society, Asian pre-modern training more pedagogically and accurately held that transmission would likely not take place.

Obviously, this is exactly what happened with Osensei and the deshi that could not understand what he wanted, what he was saying, what he was doing, and how he was doing it. Those deshi had missed the “sweet spot.” However, one can see Asian understandings of this real pedagogical problem going back centuries. A clear example of this “sweet spot” understanding is the development of the Bodhisattva concept in Buddhism, where due to environmental circumstances a Buddha was now considered too sublime in his/her understanding of and skill at the Dharma to transmit that teaching. What was needed instead was a not-as-sublime-but sublime-enough-being to disseminate the Dharma to people: The Bodhisattva, a person not yet a Buddha, but Buddha-like enough offered the "sweet spot." Today, in the traditional martial arts of China, in China, as another example, this “sweet spot” is still of primary concern to the serious martial arts student, the student holding the assumption that it is only a matter of time before their teacher’s practice, itself continuously developing, becomes too sublime for transmission. Their concern is not whether they are peer or superior to their teacher. There concern is to find a teacher in the sweet spot, and then to be most concerned with making onself a vessel capable of receiving the teacher's understanding of his/her practice and get as much information as possible before the teacher's practice becomes too sublime to understand - END OF TRANSMISSION. From this point of view, who and why would anyone study with a teacher that is capable of being equaled or surpassed in understanding by someone starting later than they? 🤔