I hold there are two reasons why Nietzsche is important to Aikido practitioners. First, there is the implied assumption underlying all of his ideas, that there is an underlying agency and creativity to oneself, to one’s ideas, and thus to all ideas that have ever existed. And, second, he is important because of his concept of Will to Power.
The former idea is important for Aikido practitioners because we are moderns practicing a premodern system. In other words, we are people with one system of thought and practice trying to understand another people’s system of thought of practice. The biggest mistake an Aikido practitioner can make today, and one that is made almost all of the time, is trying to understand or know Aikido with or through modern systems of thought and practice. Nietzsche’s thought allows for the possibility, the equal possibility, of a system of thought and practice that is different from our own and yet functions. And, that possibility allows us the option to investigate Aikido’s system of thought of practice as its own and not necessarily ours. This in turn allows Aikido’s system of thought and practice to exist as an alternative to our own modern one. Nietzsche’s position frees us from the revisionist history that plagues our art and that works to support its current power games – games based upon our current ignorance of its history. It is through this ignorance, for example, that we have come to misapply metaphor and analogy, which are modern possibilities only, to Aikido praxis; it is through this ignorance that we have come to see and understand our art through secular-materialism – things alien to it. However, through the possibility posited by Nietzsche, if we can re-grasp and adopt pre-modern understandings, understandings that function, we can bring to Aikido its proper functioning and its proper means of functioning.
In Truth, it is through this ignorance of different systems of thought and practice that we open ourselves up to Nietzsche’s other important idea: Will to Power. Depending upon how deep one wants to apply and understand Will to Power, the idea ranges from a metaphysical rule explaining all of creation to an aesthetic act of agency. In the latter case, it is often understood as a person actively achieving his/her full potential in the face of other forces working to the contrary: In the former case, it is often understood as all things existing through this same field of contrary forces - it is existence itself.
What is key to note in Nietzsche’s Will to Power is that it is derived empirically. It is what he observed, but in this way, it is like the frog at the bottom of a well in the Zen story that describes the sky without knowing he’s only seeing a small part of it. Pre-modern systems of thought and practice understood creation as consisting of two energies, not just one, not just the energy of competing and overcoming. There was a second energy, that of uniting and communion. When for example, Nietzsche looked at the Christian Church of his time, a modern institution, he was right in observing multiple and competing wills to power, all that had the subject as their field of operation. However, he was wrong in not seeing that the teachings of Jesus presented another worldview, a pre-modern one, another option for agency and for the aesthetic of the individual: Communion.
Nietzsche’s Will to Power is an observable aspect of life and of living, but by pre-modern standards it represents creation’s separating and destructive aspects of the universe. It exists in a concentric relationship with death, distance, darkness, and most of all fear. It is in contrast to life, intimacy, light, and love. But, as Nietzsche’s insight was empirical, as it was what he saw, it is what we can be and likely are most of the time. Even the ancients acknowledged this. Meaning, and using the pre-modern understanding, most of us experience life through fear, and through that fear we manifest an “I,” an “I” that comes to feel threatened by every thing “non-I.” Life then becomes dichotomous, split between “I” and “non-I,” divided between those things that threaten “I” and those things that support “I.” In this state, we come to delude ourselves by believing that if we could overcome every “non-I,” if we could gain power over every “non-I,” we would finally feel safe, secure, assured – we would reach our full potential – we would be free of the fear and anxiety we feel, the fear and anxiety we believe is caused by others, caused by the will to power belonging to others: We would be able to enact and manifest our own Will to Power.
While Will to Power functions within the universe, pre-moderns saw it as only one way of being, a lessor way of being. They surmised that aligning with the universe’s other energy, communion, solved for the problem of competing Wills to Power and did so more completely and efficiently. Pre-moderns solved for competing Wills to Power not by overcoming them but by not competing against them. Through non-contestation, through communion, defeat, or losing to a competing Will to Power, became impossible. All of Jiu-jitsu, including Aikido, is based upon this position.
But there’s more: One has to undo, also concentrically, the Will to Power construct in order to practice communion and non-contestation truly. This is where and why all pre-modern technologies of the self, including Budo, Jiu-jitsu, and Aikido, problematized the “I” experience. “I,” fear, the delusion that more power over others is the solution, the dichotomous experience of all creation, etc., are themselves a kind of enslavement, but one that dissolves with the dissolving of the self. Today, most Aikido is practiced, however, from a Will to Power, from within a state of fear, and not from a dissolving of self. And, this remains true whether we are seeing Yang-Yang clashes (like we almost always do), waza that only works for bigger, heavier, stronger men, or whether we are seeing choreographed Uke provide Nage with romantic experience of violence and of invincibility.
There is no Aikido within a functioning Will to Power. There is no Aikido outside of a release of self.