Where is the Baby?!
Modern Man has desacralized the world, or rather his experience of the world. At the time he was desacralizing the world, he did not exactly know he was doing this, as he mostly sought to overturn pre-modern economic systems that were tied to religious institutions and their underlying epistemologies. Modern Man, at the time, thought he was merely being “scientific,” or, more accurately, he attempted to arm himself with the very weapon the Church was developing: the objectivity of truth. In doing so, he sought to hide from himself his own equally subjective Will to Power, disguising it within a discourse he called “scientific.”
By what he hid from himself, he also made himself unconscious of what all else he had lost. Thus, he did not see that the baby was gone with the bath water. It is only until recently that he’s becoming somewhat aware of the loss he has suffered in the gains he achieved. Aikido, as an art, was born within this crisis, and as such it suffers its negative effects and does so proportionately to how unconscious we remain of this history.
As once a cultural historian, I find it telling that the shihan that spread Kisshomaru’s Aikido (which has come to be Aikido for the majority of the world) could not grasp nor wanted to grasp aspects of the art the Founder felt to be the most central and the most real. Additionally, I find it telling that when Osensei noted Shioda’s fighting capacity, he dismissed it as a preliminary stage, one that was to then be followed by another stage he described as “becoming a kami.” Shioda’s reply to Osensei’s directive, in essence, “I don’t want to be a kami. I just want to fight skillfully.” Here, in this exchange, I would suggest, we are seeing one age speaking to another age, and in the end the two talking past each other. The impossibility and pointlessness of one age became, at no fault of either man, the possibility and point of another age. This all happened not as a result of some advancement, no evolution in thought or in technique, but rather it happened from a loss, from a gaping hole that begged to be filled.
Osensei’s Aikido, and Osensei, belonged to a premodern time, one that had not so sealed the fate of what Mircea Eliade and others called “Homo Religiosus.” Instead, for Osensei, homo religiosus, held a psycho-physiological practicality, one that the aforementioned shihan did not know and could not know. By such beliefs, homo religiosus armed himself with anchor points, points upon which his emotional self gained stability and a means by which to navigate those aspects of life that today lead Modern Man into nihilism, suicidal tendencies, hopelessness, anxiety disorders, depression, and other forms of mental and physical unwellness. In essence, for Osensei, as for Premodern Man, there was a kind a power, a kind of durability, toughness, grit, that rested on the other side of physical or tactical proficiency, one that would be sought by anyone truly interested in the latter skills. This calls to mind Merton’s caveat: “God does not wrestle with the weak.”
To gain this power, Premodern Man sought to live as much as possible within and with the sacred, and there is no better way of doing that, no more complete way of doing this, than gaining communion with the sacred or by becoming the Divine itself. Through a pre-modern episteme of concentricism, Premodern Man sought to make every place he found himself sacred, every act he did sacred, every word he uttered sacred, and every thought he had sacred. For him, it was this reality, this sacred reality, that was real, the most real. It was not, as it is for Modern Man, the profane that rests in the delusion-free. For Premodern Man, as for Osensei, the profane held no real meaning because it held no ultimate meaning. The profane was plagued by transitoriness and relativity - the things that today make us Moderns mad. For example, I can imagine Osensei thinking to himself upon hearing Shioda’s own thoughts: “You have no idea what power is truly.” “And, do you believe you will always be the most powerful?” “Do you believe that such a person actually exists?” “And, what will you do when you grow old, frail, and weak?” “Where will your martial ability be then?” “What will your martial ability actually do for you upon your deathbed?”
It is my position that to understand Osensei’s Aikido, one needs to cross over the epistemic gap that separates his thought from Modern Man’s thought. To do this, it is helpful to realize that a history has occurred, to make oneself conscious of that history, and to realize that our best interest need not necessarily rest in our continuing unconsciousness of that history. Eliade writes, “It should be said at once that the completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit...it is enough to observe that desacralization pervades the entire experience of the non-religious man of modern societies, and that in consequence he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man (“Homo Religiosus”).
Do you know how to make your art sacred? Do you know how to make your dojo sacred? Do you know how to become a kami? Or, are you just exercising?