Ep20: Practical Principles
Practical From The Classical
Samurai martial systems are relevant to those who would protect liberty today. Training needs to be practical not only for self-defense but for the rule of law and the evolution of human well-being.
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Gleason Sensei's Post: https://shobuaikidoboston.blogspot.com/2018/10/aikido-as-martial-art.html
Your training in Japanese martial arts and the study of human action is not just in isolation. There is a larger context to your training, fitness, and readiness that reverberates outward to generate positive effects in your life, your community, and the world.
There is a saying that “no man is an island” and this is certainly true when you look at ancient philosophies as well as modern science.
The Hindus referred to Indra’s Net, the concept that the entire universe is a giant web of connection with jewels at each intersection that act as mirrors. Whenever there is movement, action, and effects, the tugging on any one string in the web moves the entire latticework and every appearance is reflected in the jewels at every other juncture.
In this way, everyone and everything is impacting everyone and everything else in existence. Knowledge, for instance, is never acquired in a vacuum, yet builds upon the foundations laid by previous generations. So too, is the production of wealth and the benefits of civilization.
It’s important to remember that civilization requires building, it is not embedded in the fabric of reality, indeed it requires human action and effort. It is also not inevitable. Human progress does not go in straight lines ever upward. There are helps and hindrances in the march toward human well-being.
In modern society, it is very easy to forget the fragile nature of justice, as well as the cultural factors that give rise to material and social well-being. Freedom does not naturally occur within a society without an evolution of consciousness, one that recognizes the interconnectedness of humanity and the need to deliberately notice the differences in each one.
Indeed, we are all one, however, in order to live in peace and freedom, it is essential that each individual respect the boundaries that give rise to order and the conflict-free exchange of resources. This is why Sun Tzu rightly pointed out that one cannot but consider the Art of War.
In order to arrange for a state of peace one must understand its opposite, one must realize the contrast between peace and war. Ensuring peaceful circumstances requires that one must be ready to make war upon those that would transgress the boundaries of order and the rules upholding civilization.
Further, in order to realize the contrast between where we’ve come to where we are right now, in a modern society replete with tremendous material advantages, it is necessary to look at what allows for the creation of wealth.
Many people forget that while the universe might be infinite, the availability of usable goods at any one given time is always finite. All action involves trade-offs. If you are familiar with the rock band Rush and their signature song Freewill, you will recall the lyrics, “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”. Choosing to act, or even not act, in any given period of time collapses all other possibilities.
Acting to destroy something precludes the possibility of gainfully using it in the future. Choosing not to act, or as economists would say choosing to consume leisure, leaves off the possibility of creating something for future use. The singer philosopher Rod Stewart once wrote that, “time is a thief when you are undecided.” Young Hearts Be Free Tonight.
This means that there are consequences, or better still to think of them as costs, for inaction or lethargy. In order to change your current circumstances you have no choice but to choose new modes of behavior, new endeavors, and it begins in consciousness or, in other words, a presence of mind.
The mindset of the warrior protector, informed by an awareness of how peace and prosperity are the universal gifts of freedom, knows that production creates wealth, and a necessary prerequisite to productivity is private property.
People must feel secure in the things they have in order to make the efforts necessary to transform them into usable goods. In the absence of such security they have little incentive to invest their time, energy, and ideas towards the transformation of the present state for the possibility of a perceived greater state of well-being.
This is what the science of political economy is all about, understanding how social interactions can “allow” for the production of greater material well-being. It just does not happen automatically.
If you want to understand the contrast between the natural state of things and the wonderful abundance that we experience today, simply experiment in your own mind with what would happen if people would simply stop working. Again, the universe might be abundant but it requires human action in order to transform all of that potential into usable and readily consumable goods.
Even in a world where machines do most of the labor, human action is required to program, supply, and maintain them.
The natural state of things is poverty. Early stages of humanity were about hunters and gatherers scratching at the earth and scraping out their sustenance from what they could find in the wild. This was a “hand to mouth” existence where failure to find game that they could kill or fruit that they could forage meant starvation.
The slow transition to agriculture meant that human beings increased the predictability of how and what they would have available to survive on. This, of course, required delineating a plot of land to cultivate. It also required that the particular land under cultivation had to be protected from any intruders that would destroy the efforts being made.
Rather than having to merely protect the day’s catch, farmers needed to increase their sphere of security in order to see the fruits of their labor.
So, as civilization advances and productive methodologies become more complex, so too does the need for security. Yes, with modernity and even into the future, the warrior protector acting as a bulwark against antisocial behaviors, increases.
With the advance of trade, specialization, and the division of labor comes the need for ever-increasing security measures. The farmer that wants tools to increase their productivity will naturally find common ground with a toolsmith that produces a plow or hoe.
If the farmer or smith are from separate tribes, they must have a degree of trust before feeling confident enough to engage in trade. This is why having a common understanding of acceptable behavior is so essential to the deepening of commercial ties.
Economists talk about the essential ingredient to increasing living standards as being an intensification as well as an extensification of the division of labor. Meaning, that people rely more and more upon others to handle tasks that distract them from their most productive activities and, simultaneously, doing so over ever-increasing distances.
Again, this all depends upon shared values, leading to trust, and security in the belief that people will do what they have agreed to do in respect to each other’s property.
The need for the warrior protector increases as societies advance and become more interconnected, and will continue to do so, so long as people value themselves with dignity and the quality of their lives.
Far from being merely a selfish endeavor, private property is, on the one hand, a necessary component for human flourishing, while on the other and even more so, essential to the advancement of civilized society.
Discovering what rule sets allow for human flourishing at the individual and communal level, is exactly what the science of political economy has been about since its inception.
While philosophers and scientists have been pondering these questions since the beginnings of recorded history, Adam Smith in his seminal inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of Nations, stated:
“Political economy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects; first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and, secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.”
Here again, we see the parallel, the science of proper government is as the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about in his Politics, the foundation to living happily for our own sakes as individuals, yet also within a community.
Aristotle also noted that property is an “instrument to living” And while he allowed for things like slavery that we find abhorrent today, and Adam Smith also had tremendous errors such as the now defunct labor theory of value, such contemplative works have been the basis by which science has evolved.
This is akin to constantly checking our assumptions, both in the dojo as well as in our social theories. In both sword and brush, we must maintain a razor sharp edge.
And we don’t have to try to guess what is good for the whole of the community in our every single action. In fact trying to do so will probably model our thinking and create perverse outcomes. We cannot get tangled in the hierarchy of needs for abstract bodies, such as society or the community.
We actually have to dispense with these notions as we look for greater precision in our thinking. In reality, only individuals act. Only individuals can decide. And only individuals can demonstrate their preferences.
The benefits to the collective body of individuals known as a community or a society are tangential to individuals enjoying private property, secure in their holdings, and free to act upon their highest vision of possibility for themselves. People might feel good about altruism and being in service to others, yet ultimately these our internal states that can only be perceived by individuals. Economists call this psychic profit.
If you consider the most altruistic, benevolent, or philanthropic person in your awareness (and setting aside anterior motives such as tax credits, etc), such as Mother Theresa, you must admit that ultimately, she did what she did for her own reasons. She did it because it made her feel good to improve the lives of the poor people of Calcutta.
I personally have a policy of tithing and suggest you look into it as well. This means I give 10% of whatever income I receive to charitable causes. However, I choose to give to only those charitable causes from which I derive spiritual nourishment. I give to religious and civic organizations that align with my values, assist those I care about, and promote a world that I want to live in.
It makes me feel good knowing that I am promoting the efforts of others that are doing work I would do on my own if I had the time, energy, or resources. They are acting as my surrogates and I derive great pleasure in giving that which I have in return for the increased realization of my ideals. This is true for every act of charitable giving.
Similarly, I do not give to those charities that promote socialism, central economic planning, or dependency. That would act contrary to the kind of giving that makes me feel good. It would not provide me with psychic profit.
Recall that, in the physical realm of time, space, and form resources are finite. This means that one must direct immediately available means to their highest valued ends. It is not a question of giving all to everyone, because that is simply not an option afforded to individuals, or even humanity, in the manifest world.
One must make choices, even if the choice is to consume leisure because time is also a finite resource. Each one of us must choose in each moment compels a choice of how we will direct our time.
This is why the communist phrase “to each according to their needs” can never be realized. It does not matter how needy an individual is. The world does not render unto individuals finished and readily consumable products from the state of nature. It requires human action to transform natural resources into finished goods and people have competing interests as to how those resources and goods will be used.
Competing interests lead to conflict and up until the evolution of the Enlightenment, natural law theory, and the Declaration of Independence, solving conflicts was a matter of might making right. The strongest prevailed over the weak and rules were imposed through the arbitrariness of power.
John T. Kuehn in his Military History of Japan, writes of Taira No Kiyomori , the first military regent governing on behalf of the imperial family from roughly 1160-1181, as leaving a legacy ensuring violence as an “accepted political tool”.
This was always the case throughout history. Aristotle justified slavery in his writings. Yet military dictatorships have been the clearest outward manifestations of force over reason. The Enlightenment, sometimes known as the age of reason, is when philosophers began to really think about the true nature of justice, universal standards applicable to everyone, and how to implement them in a practical way.
The declaration of independence and the formation of the United States through a Constitution was, for what it’s worth, the first government attempt at putting the principles of justice into operation. It put the people as sovereign for the first time in human history.
It is not merely coincidental that Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations in the same year, 1776, that the American colonies seceded from their British master. The framers of the Constitution, while not all speaking in unison, mostly understood this new science of political economy.
They understood that individual liberty was more important than serving under the arbitrary rules of an anointed dictator. They understood that by placing the individual at the center of political analysis, every other good thing would follow, including material prosperity. They can only do this in practice through the security of individual property rights, knowing that ultimately the community as a whole would benefit.
Adam Smith sums up:
“…by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”
The “invisible hand” theory has been much maligned by the current movement of anti-free-market voices. In trying to justify collective ownership of the means of production, socialists of all stripes (and it really doesn’t matter what they call themselves) are also appealing to unworkable abstractions.
Prior to Aristotle, Plato was calling for benevolent dictatorship over resources in which an enlightened body of philosopher-rulers would distribute goods according to the needs of the people. Aside from being a sure path to tyranny and human impoverishment, socialists have been glossing over the details in hopes of justifying their command.
Despite the overwhelming empirical evidence, from New Harmony to North Korea, one need not look any further than the praxeological science of political economy to demonstrate the impossibility of socialism as a vehicle for human flourishing. The inability to rationally allocate resources to their highest valued ends, according to consumer demand, is sufficient to obliterate collective ownership of the means of production.
This is identical to not meeting to get your arm chopped off to demonstrate how flesh and sharp steel cannot coexist in the same space at the same time. These truths are axiomatic or a priori, meaning this truth exists prior to experience. We need not test the theory any further, so our efforts are better directed toward implementing what we know does work. That is the security of private property, freedom of contract, and the ever-expanding division of labor.
In other words, we are better at evolving the science of justice and the practice of government based on universal rule sets, implemented by warrior protectors in service to liberty.
Are you ready to step up and safeguard the blessings of liberty for yourself and your posterity?
Yes, it is for your own benefit, yet the invisible hand guides us to that greater good, for all concerned, because of our willingness to promote a private property social order.
Unfortunately, the martial arts community appears to have forgotten this. Because aikido is the most prominent, and most accessible, manifestation of samurai-related martial art, I was somewhat taken aback by a blog post I read recently, particularly because it comes from someone I respect and admire.
Before I get into that let me tell you the importance of a Mindfulness practice the benefits of not only peace of mind and physical health but also for releasing stress in dealing with the near-constant bombardment of negative influences that seem to be coming at us from all directions these days.
When Japan was invaded by the Mongols in 1274 and 1281, Hojo Tokimune ask his advisors what he could do to help his warriors face battle resolutely. From this, he encouraged the practice of Zen meditation.
Everyone knows that meditation is good for you, but who really has the time to spend hours crossed leg it in navel gazing? I know I don’t, what about you?
This is why technological breakthroughs are so helpful in realizing your goals. You can get an hour’s worth of high-level meditation in as little as 12 minutes when you go to www.everydaysamurai.life/Zen12. I’ve arranged a free sample for you to witness the power of this awesome technology and what it can do to deliver all the benefits of meditation in a short amount of your precious time.
Now, William Gleason is the author of The Spiritual Foundations Of Aikido and lived in Japan for number of years before establishing Shobu Aikido in Boston. He teaches seminars all over and is someone I have admired for number of years.
In October he published this blog post entitled aikido as martial art.
Aikido as Martial Art
“It has been said that Aikido is neither “Martial” nor “Art,” yet this is a very cynical, and also short-sighted, statement. The study of “Aiki” is the study of nature’s principle. As such it is the study of the self, which is the highest art possible. The study of Aikido also nourishes adaptability and strength of both mind and body, the essential foundation of good martial art.
To apply the principle of Aiki to the sophisticated techniques of Aikido is an incredibly sensitive study requiring a lifetime to master. The techniques of Aikido were never intended to be used for real self-defense. Aikido techniques are tools for the development of an Aiki body, the very foundation of Japanese Budo. Since ancient times it has been said that the person who embodies Aiki is undefeatable.
If one were to follow the criticism that Aikido is not a martial art, we would also have to say that no form of barehanded training qualifies as such.
Against a weapon such as a knife, your chances of success are certainly not guaranteed. Against a gun, your chances are much less. Against military force, you will instantly be annihilated.
Being clear about these things we should begin by acknowledging that we study Martial art for the purpose of gaining wisdom and insight into the principles of life and nature. This has been the case in Budo, since the end of the Kamakura Era in Japan when swords and barehanded combat ceased to be used in real battle.
The object of our training is to challenge ourselves as human beings and to create a better environment, and world, now and in the future. In today’s often dishonest, and completely competitive society, it has become difficult for people to grasp such noble concepts, yet without them, we are most certainly doomed to great misery, if not total destruction. “
I take Gleason sensei’s statement at face value and assume that he intends the very best with his comments. Yet at the same time, I must take extreme issue with a few of his assertions. The first of which being that aikido techniques were never intended to be used for real self-defense.
While those of you that have listened to this podcast from the beginning, or are familiar with Igensho: The Book of Dignity, you will recognize that Gleason is at least partially correct. I agree that martial art is more than merely self-defense, it is the practice of good government, this includes, as we discussed earlier, the rule sets oriented on peaceable living in human society where people are secure in themselves, their property, and in their interactions with others.
If you are not familiar with Igensho, I recommend you get the free PDF outline I prepared at www.everydaysamurai.life/dignity. Karasuma Kantaro, the pen name for the author of Igensho, a long time aikido practitioner, also said that Igensho was a martial art for, meaning aligned with, the principles of the American Republic, a government derived from Natural Law and established for the security of a individual. I also encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to listen to the earlier episodes where the author of Igensho expanded on these concepts.
In any a case, the security of life, liberty, and property is the proper function of government and the reason for developing martial capacities. In the English rendering martial derives from Mars, the god of war. War is the ground of life and death, the way of survival of extinction. In war, things get broken and people die. War is, by its nature, destructive. War is politics by other means and political power grows from the use of arms, the barrel of gun as Mao Tze Tung rightly pointed out.
When aikido people put the spiritual in front of the martial they spread delusion through a belief in immaculate war. By deifying the founder of Aikido and set aside his nationalism, his use of weapons, or vital strikes, they are collapsing the totality of potential offered by this modern derivation of samurai tradition.
Samurai had empty-handed techniques to be sure, for their duties involving arresting people or dealing with sudden armed attacks, or combat in extreme close quarters.
For Gleason to claim that swords and barehanded combat ceased to be used since the end of the Kamakura Era is simply false. Aside from training in Iwama style Aikido, I practice Tennen Rishin Ryu, a comprehensive martial lineage, mostly focused on the sword, that was put into practical use at the end of the Tokugawa period.
The fourth inheritor of Tennen Rishin Ryu, along with several members of his Shiekan dojo would go on to form the Shinsengumi and engage in numerous close quarters battles on the streets of Kyoto.
An important point to keep in mind for those of us looking at the current state of affairs is that when the decrepit, bureaucratized Tokugawa Shogunate was slipping into irrelevance and impotence, it turned to active martial practitioners and private militia to restore order in the capital.
This is what the Shinsengumi did and I’ll perhaps explore this in further detail at a later time. It is true that ultimately the Shinsengumi was on the losing side of history because they were fighting on the side of a military government that had grown ineffective in its bureaucratic monopoly. However, they were not annihilated instantly and one member, Saito Hajime, even survived to become a Tokyo police officer during the Meiji period.
The point here is that the sword was indeed actively used in close combat and in the assertion of law throughout the Tokugawa and Meiji periods. Training in the sword is what allowed the Shinsengumi members to be effective in their work, and this is undoubtedly true today as it was then.
I like to say that studying edged weapons engagements is the best way to learn combat geometry.
I agree with Gleason that martial practitioners must “challenge ourselves as human beings…to create a better environment, and world”, yet this will not come about by denying the need to uphold the boundaries of social order with force if necessary. In other words, we cannot ignore the importance of securing individual liberty and private property, skipping over these essential details to put the “environment” or “the world” first. This is putting the cart before the horse, or a better analogy may be like trying to have a forest without any trees.
Individuals make decisions on the margin, or from their little slice of reality, and only individuals act, not abstractions like society or the environment.
The legal “environment” that affords a “world” that works for everyone already exists, yet is largely ignored. A Constitution conceived in liberty and derived through natural law remains the Supreme law of the land. It is what ushered in a new order of the ages, one that put reason before privilege, and contract before status. It dispelled the divine right of kings and made governments dependent upon the people themselves to assert political authority.
Merely developing an Aiki body for one’s own selfish reasons may justify the practice of aikido. Yet this is short-sighted. What does one do with this body? What actions or inactions will one choose to do once embodying the principles of Aiki?
Recall, that poverty is the result of inaction and human flourishing requires human action. Building a better world, a more secure, peaceful, and prosperous world, depends upon a social order that promotes these actions, as we’ve learned from Adam Smith’s ideas on political economy. Inaction is not an option for those promoting a “better world” as Gleason hopes.
Hope is not a strategy and even if one has no interest in politics, politics certainly has an interest in acquiring more control over resources.
In the current era, there are American politicians justifying instant annihilation through the use of nuclear weapons to disarm citizens; simultaneously denying them the right of self-defense, private property, and due process. Yet using mass effect weapons against modestly armed insurgents has failed repeatedly in foreign conflicts. Talk about these firepower advantages to the Taliban or the Vietcong.
In other words, all political actors are threats to private property when left unchecked. This is why the US Constitution declared the whole body of the people, trained to arms and organized to execute the laws, is “necessary” to the security of a free state.
This is why aspiring tyrants need never have a moment’s peace, particularly those living under the jurisdiction of a free state, where an armed equilibrium ensures the boundaries of order delineated by private property.
Taking one’s training in samurai related martial arts into the world and upholding the principles of law is a baseline contribution to self-defense. However, in the larger sense, it is the minimum price of citizenship. It not only promotes one’s own well being but, guided by some invisible hand, assures the wealth of nations.