Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not a Sport

One thing Hikitsuchi sensei stressed constantly at the Shingu dojo was that aikido was not a sport."Aikido wa supotsu de wa arimasen!" he would say. This was something that Osensei was also said to be very much behind. So what is aikido if it is not a sport?
What is the difference between a martial art and a sport?

Sports tend to be about competing. About winning and losing. Aikido is unique in its emphasis on being non-competitive. About its emphasis on personal growth and transormation as opposed to the strengthening of the ego around the concept of winning.
Sports tend to inflate the ego around victory. After all, what is the fun in losing?
When told that there is no "I" in the word team, Michael Jordan once replied, "but there is in win". A very telling concept for this culture. I used to really be into sports. Especially following the greats such as Bonds and Jordan. Then it occured to me that, though these people have access to unbelievable levels through the body, that they were not very developped people. There were dimensions in them that were immature and even incomplete.

The mind tends to be the ultimate drug. And the mind can become obsessed with winning and push the body in certain cases to unbelievable levels. And a very mind based culture creates icons out of this mix. The whole Tiger Woods situation is a reflection of this. Because he has come to represent winning to many people he has become very marketable, the first billionannaire athlete. Wealth, fame, victory tend to be very attractive to the mind and the "I". And it is not surprising that with the recent turn of events and disclosures of what is going on beyond his corporate image, people have turned against him. Both he and the people who now criticize him are both equally part of a very mind-based culture. It is ironic that it is largely out of things like defeat and set-backs like this that people actually grow and develop. And in some cases transform.

Aikido to me is not a sport, but it shares with sports the empasis on body and being through the body. However, its emphasis is on true victory being a victory over the "I" makes it very different indeed. Masaka(true victory) is Agatsu(self-victory, victory over the "I") and leads to Katsu Hayahi(speed which transcends time and space, or the aikido that can't be seen with the human eye). Aikido may offer quickly some very important insights, but it is something that must be experienced through time to be truly meaningful. And it is about the harmony of mind and body. I think of it as being more a vitamin, ie natural, than a steroid(ie mind/drug).

Aikido's main challenge is to remain a viable transformational art through the body. Much of it's philosophy and con-competitive nature makes it very appealing to a certain level of mind. The two places where aikido has become very successful is as a model for conflict resolution on a mental level and as a positive vehicle for people to come together socially. For it to continue to move forward, however, the key concept is its transformational potential through the body.

After saying that aikido is not a sport, Hikitsuchi sensei would then state that it was True Budo, therefore not a sport. I think it would be pointless to try to describe True Budo. But I will relate a story about a visit I made to see Tojima sensei at his house. This was sometime late 1974 or early 1975. For some reason the conversation turned to Anno sensei. Tojima sensei said that the reason he really respected Anno sensei was that Anno sensei was the only person through aikido that he had seen really change, ie transform. He had seen others develop and some grow strong. But Anno sensei was unique in that he had truly changed through his training. Anno sensei had to deal with many difficulties and even misfortunes. He was semi-paralyzed for some years and unable to get on the mat. Then upon returning to training he had to deal with the loss of strength in his arms and upper body. To see him now you would never know what he had been through. So making of oneself a living trophy of this victory over the self is more important than impressive technique or even professional success.

Now I don't believe overcoming that level of hardship is necessary to transform. But it is also a sobering thought that there is transformation and also depth of transformation. Quite a lot, hopefully, to mull on..........


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