From Power of Muscle to Power of Breath
Stanley Pranin: A while back you published a book with us called Budo no Genten (The Foundations of Budo), and recently you’ve followed that with a second work titled Bujutsu Karate no Chi to Jissen (Knowledge & Practice of Karate as Bujutsu). What was your overall thinking, or point of departure, in writing these two books?
Kenji Ushiro: It’s said that as we enter the new millennium our world is very much in a state of transition, and that we’re coming to some important turning points in terms of politics, economics, and in so many other areas. It’s important to consider how these things should change and in what directions such changes should take us. I think there are a great many things about our world that are truly in need of reform at a very fundamental level.
These days the world around us is like a bold relief of light and shadow. Standing out in the light areas we see, for example, a Japan that has done well economically and developmentally, with the Japanese people enjoying relatively affluent, full lifestyles. Underneath in the shadows, however, on a more global scale we find negatives like environmental destruction and a kind of general dehumanization. On top of these we have an ongoing recession. So I wrote the latter book with the idea that both bujutsu (martial arts) and the culture associated with bujutsu have an important role in working with these light and dark aspects of our modern world.
One element of this is bujutsu training’s use of kata (forms). One characteristic of kata is that they have a kind of immanent energy within them, capable of making manifest that which is latent. The haiku poet Basho called this the essential philosophy of “immutability and temporal modality,” that is the movement from fundamental, immutable form into flowing, creative modalities in accordance with specific times and instances.
For example, one area in which we might start seeking change is the way we think about power and energy. I propose a kind of “zero power” energy that does not rely on physical power. This is fundamentally different from the conventional view that understands power in terms of muscle strength.
I also talk about the idea of “parts vs. whole,” and in particular explore the importance of understanding and working with things in a holistic manner instead of just chasing disparate parts of things, which is generally the conventional approach.
Here’s a concrete example: in sports and bujutsu alike, the abdominal and back muscles are both very important, so people use physical training methods aimed at strengthening the muscles in these areas. But in bujutsu, instead of relying on physical training alone, we also develop these areas using our breathing (kokyu).
This “breathing,” or kokyu, is not so much the kind of breathing that involves respiration by bringing air in and out through your nose and mouth; it’s more the kind you do with your body as a whole. If you can cultivate that kind of kokyu, then energy (ki) begins to flow through your body and that flow of energy helps you develop abdominal and back strength. (Because this strength is created through the breath I refer to these as abdominal and back “power” instead of abdominal and back “strength.”) This process leads to a kind of “zero power,” that you can use, say, to neutralize the power of an incoming punch by just making light contact with it. Even if your opponent comes in with a strong, sharp attack, you simply absorb that energy. And if you absorb it with more energy than he is coming in with, he is suddenly and momentarily deprived of his breath, which immobilizes him there for a moment.
Striking using this kind of kokyu is also very different than striking that relies on the power of strength. A strike done with kokyu extends more than one done with muscle power, and it also doesn’t incite any particular urge to block it in the opponent.
In Shindo-ryu karate we use kata to cultivate this kind of kokyu.
Moving from reliance on muscle strength into the realm of kokyu is an incredible turnaround, a wholesale change of method and effect. You could say that this is a kind of energy or potential inherent in traditional kata.
Kokyu in Universal Application
Things would be different in the political realm, too, if politicians were to embrace this concept of non-reliance on power.
I think so, too, and in fact in Bujutsu Karate no Chi to Jissen I do touch on that kind of wider application of bujutsu teachings.
Basing things on physical power alone has implications for aging as well. For one, muscular strength inevitably declines as you grow older. And, emphasizing physical strength can also lead to an unbalanced “part-by-part” approach to training. The eventual result will be that your technique, too, will start deteriorating along with your muscles. On the other hand, if kokyu is the foundation of your training, then you can continue cultivating it until your very last breath. It’s also true that breathing brings a kind of constant, unified awareness to your whole body, to the extent that if one part wants to stick out, as it were, your breath sends a “No!” signal to that part, bringing it back in for you. In this way kokyu functions like a sheepdog herding its flock, always watching over and controlling the whole.
Once you’ve put your breathing and body movement into agreement, your body takes on a kind of self-integration, to the extent that it seems to almost disappear from your consciousness. Combatively, this is advantageous, because from your opponent’s perspective, there is very little about you to “read,” and this helps you be able to move inside your opponent’s defenses more easily. This is the state that helps you with the “getting the initiative” (saki wo toru) that is so important in bujutsu. All of this comes from learning to use the power of the breath.
Have you ever met anyone outside of martial arts who has mastered such breathing skills?
Ushiro: I’ve never met her, but I’ve seen pianist Fujiko Hemming on television and she gave me that kind of feeling. Apparently there was certain period in her career during which she became unable to hear for some reason. Nonetheless, she was still somehow able to “hear” things, not necessarily as sound but as something else, and she has said that some of her strongest growth as a pianist came during that time. I think that must have had to do with kokyu.
Similarly, in bujutsu we’re often able to “see” things that we normally would not be able to, for example that “instant of manifestation” (okori) in which our opponent is about to generate his attack or technique. This, too, is because we are tapping into kokyu. Zaha Sensei says: “The eyes are a mirror; reflect your opponent in your own eyes, but observe him with your brow (brain).” This teaching I think points both to a kind of intuition and to the power inherent in kokyu.
I heard one music teacher make the comment that “if you want to play music well, you have to be able to read the music score.” In fact, though, there are plenty of people who cannot read music, yet who still produce world-class musical performances. Violinist Narimichi Kawabata (who lost his sight when he was a child) is a prime example.
Looking usually means looking with the physical naked eye; but in bujutsu, seeing only with the physical eye will not bring you to the level of being able to control your opponent.
That which you “see” by feeling it through your breath, and by being moved by it in your body, these are the things that I think are real, that represent the truth or reality.
Parts & Whole
I think the nature of sports is destined to start changing. Sports that continue to develop along the lines they’ve followed so far are eventually going to hit an impasse. They need to be re-evaluated and revised at a fundamental level. They need to be reformed, and I think bujutsu holds some important clues about how to effect those needed changes.
Specifically, I think the concept of kata, as it is found in traditional bujutsu training, will be of some use. I’ve discussed my thoughts on this in the two books we were talking about earlier, so I hope people will have a look at those if they’re interested in reading about this in more detail.
To give an example, though, at chain-style family restaurants in Japan the wait staff tend to be trained to greet and handle customers according to a manual that delineates all of the supposedly necessary procedures for such things. But many times I’ve seen wait staff who, while certainly going exactly by the book, are completely lacking in sincerity, or who don’t know what to do when something unexpected or out of the ordinary happens. This sort of thing makes it clear that the emphasis is all wrong. Instead of training staff according to a manual, it is more important to educate and cultivate them as people. Simply teach them to deal with customers sincerely, from the heart, in a natural way, and leave the details of how they do that up to them. People trained like this can apply such skills not just in that specific job, but throughout the rest of their lives as well.
The main problem with any by-the-book approach to training is that manuals tend to be geared toward only one particular situation; and while the explanations and solutions they offer may be practical for that situation, they may lack the necessary link to a broader, more useful kind of common sense.
This sort of thing needs to change. Simply put, if you’re training staff to greet customers, all you really need to do is give them a sense of attentiveness and sincerity and the details will sort themselves out easily enough according to each particular personality. In contrast, interactions with customers delivered strictly according to the manual may come off sounding completely insincere or lacking in real feeling, and so the original point—making customers feel welcome—is completely negated. It’s in this sense that kata, as they are traditionally understood and used, can offer important lessons.
Kata are regarded as very important in Shindo-ryu. Instead of simply letting you go about things in your own way, they provide a mechanism by which you start from a fixed, rigid form and gradually make that form your own. Using the previous example, greeting customers should be slightly different in every case, because greeting involves interaction, and people are all slightly different. But if the way to greet customers is fixed in a manual, then already such greetings have nothing to do with any specific (and perfectly acceptable) personal form an individual might give them if allowed to do so.
Another example, this time a positive one: when Ms. Chiba on your staff designed the book jacket for Bujutsu Karate no Chi to Jissen, I simply communicated to her my thoughts and ideas about it and the result I think was very good. The same happened with the book jacket before that. Both of these jacket designs emerged as a personalized execution of form by Ms. Chiba, but nonetheless still based on a more constant, changeless underlying form.
My impression is that your Aiki News staff has not been trained based on any manual; rather it has grown as a cadre of individuals all who all share a passion for the growth and development of aikido, and who have developed as a team through practical experience working toward that end. Whether you’re working on a book or the magazine, the way your staff functions has not been “manualized” and that is exactly what makes it effective and good. There are other publishing houses at which everything is controlled from the earliest planning stages according to manuals specifying precisely how everything has to be done. I don’t think the kind of personalized design Ms. Chiba gave my book jackets could have emerged at a place like that. The fact that it was able to do so here suggests to me that Aiki News has become a functioning kata—in other words, a specific form from which a greater diversity of applied forms can emerge.
Continuity Attains the Whole
In the American technology sector, many people seem to take pride in having worked for many different places, and more and more people are switching companies practically every year. But I personally wouldn’t really feel like spending my time trying to accomplish something together with people who switch jobs so easily, just to get slightly higher pay.
The same thing is happening in many of the so-called developing regions of the world. Many Japanese companies are making business forays into China, for example, because the labor is cheaper there; but in many cases, as soon as the workers have acquired whatever technology the Japanese company has provided, they quit and move to another company where the pay is slightly better. It’s the same.
The value in pursuing a single path is in coming to understand the depth that something has to offer. Professions like Shinto shrine—building (miyadaiku) offer a good example. The complexity and perfectionism inherent in shrine construction means they have an extremely high “mountain” to climb. And the higher a mountain is, the broader its base will also be. The result is that by aiming at a single high mountain, you inevitably will broaden your base.
It takes time for a mountain to grow tall. A mountain that stops growing after gaining just a little height and then starts growing again from the beginning will never get tall. The better approach is to pursue a single path that lets your single mountain grow. The higher your mountain grows, the broader its base becomes, and in fact is may even wrap around and absorb smaller mountains. This means always “building starting from the whole,” because simply adding things piece by piece will make your mountain broad but not tall. The base will spread, but that wide base will still be fundamentally different from the wide base of a mountain that is tall.
“Communication” Should Equal “Causing Action”
Talking about things that are “whole”, the Internet offers a realm in which many different types of media—including print, sound, images, and video—can be integrated as a whole instead of being kept separate. There is great power in the way the Internet attempts to integrate all of these and send the result out across the whole world. For the upcoming Aiki Expo we’ll be taking advantage of that power by presenting the messages from the various participating teachers on our website, in order to share these with as many people as possible.
That’s the kind of idea I don’t think you’d be likely to find among many Japanese people. Japan is too conservative in its thinking in that way. One thought I’ve had about the future of information communication is that it would be good to make conventional printed books available in a set with practical seminars on the same topic, thereby bringing together the two realms of “knowledge” and “practice.” Instead of just publishing a book, put it together as a set with some kind of practical action that puts the content into practice. For example, if you’ve written a book about how to ride a bicycle, why not accompany it with an actual bicycle-riding lesson based on that content? If you’re going to expound on the usefulness and enjoyment of riding bicycles, you should also offer some opportunity to experience these first-hand. In other words, communication in the sense of offering information should be the same as causing action to happen. I think this is exactly what your Aiki Expo is about—an event that backs up an idea with real action. And without that clear message, without that clear statement of purpose, I think it would probably end up being all talk and nobody would ever actually get together. But since the message and opportunity you’re offering is a very real, sincere one, I think the Aiki Expo has great potential to stimulate and expand a sense of unity and harmony within the world aikido community. I hope people will view it as a great opportunity to expand their perspectives. People who let themselves get stuck in that mode of thinking where they’re so focused on comparing who is more skilled than whom will have little chance to grow. You can see where a person is at technically just by watching them. What’s more important, though, is to be able to learn from the way such capable practitioners think, from the way they approach things, and to have interaction with them.
That is certainly my hope. Some years ago we organized a series of four “Friendship Demonstrations.” In light of the importance of “harmony” in aikido thinking, the idea of these was to gather aikidoists of all kinds together under one roof, putting aside factional differences and unified by a common origin in founder Morihei Ueshiba, to demonstrate the art that he created. The upcoming Aiki Expo will follow a similar precedent of avoiding affiliation with any particular organization. Probably some people will be unhappy with this, but I have to emphasize that our intention is certainly not to ignore organizations or downplay their importance; rather, what we’re trying to do through the Expo is offer an opportunity for teachers ordinarily involved with different organizations and styles to observe one other’s technique and interact and talk in a decidedly friendly environment. This is the intention, and I think it will be a stimulating experience for all those who take the opportunity to participate.
Many people start learning aikido after encountering some particularly impressive teacher. They become inspired by that encounter to start practicing themselves. They attend classes, train enthusiastically, and eventually find themselves devoted wholeheartedly to their training. Their efforts are rewarded with technical improvement, and eventually they go (or are sent) outside their own dojo to teach elsewhere, for example to become a teacher at a company aikido club. And after a while they move from taking ukemi all the time to a situation in which they’re mostly just explaining to others how to throw the opponent. Gradually it becomes just like any other job—they go somewhere, teach people, go home again. And when that continues for twenty or thirty years, they start losing their youthfulness, their flexibility, and more importantly, their enthusiasm. Passion for hard training becomes a memory of their younger days. When people become teachers, they often seem to forget the excitement and passion they had as beginners. All of this is something we need to think about, and stimulating people in this regard is one of the hopes I have for the Aiki Expo.
That’s the kind of idea I don’t think you’d be likely to find among many Japanese people. Japan is too conservative in its thinking in that way.
One thought I’ve had about the future of information communication is that it would be good to make conventional printed books available in a set with practical seminars on the same topic, thereby bringing together the two realms of “knowledge” and “practice.” Instead of just publishing a book, put it together as a set with some kind of practical action that puts the content into practice. For example, if you’ve written a book about how to ride a bicycle, why not accompany it with an actual bicycle-riding lesson based on that content? If you’re going to expound on the usefulness and enjoyment of riding bicycles, you should also offer some opportunity to experience these first-hand.
In other words, communication in the sense of offering information should be the same as causing action to happen. I think this is exactly what your Aiki Expo is about—an event that backs up an idea with real action.
And without that clear message, without that clear statement of purpose, I think it would probably end up being all talk and nobody would ever actually get together. But since the message and opportunity you’re offering is a very real, sincere one, I think the Aiki Expo has great potential to stimulate and expand a sense of unity and harmony within the world aikido community. I hope people will view it as a great opportunity to expand their perspectives. People who let themselves get stuck in that mode of thinking where they’re so focused on comparing who is more skilled than whom will have little chance to grow. You can see where a person is at technically just by watching them. What’s more important, though, is to be able to learn from the way such capable practitioners think, from the way they approach things, and to have interaction with them.
Another problematic area that I think needs to be addressed is that the kinds of attacks used in aikido training are often very weak and ineffectual. One reason I’ve invited you, a karate teacher, to the Expo is to give people a chance to see and experience for themselves what a real punch can be like. I think such an opportunity will profoundly affect how people approach their aikido training, and certainly for the better.
I once attended a large aikido demonstration and one teacher was demonstrating throwing four or five opponents at once. I noticed that during the technique one of them had simply stopped his attack in mid-strike, because at that point the demonstrator was still busy dealing with the others. I could see him wondering what to do, and eventually he ended up simply throwing himself. In other budo it would be unthinkable for an attacker to throw himself like that.
That said, we of course also have to consider that aikido is essentially based on techniques that if fully executed would put the opponent straight into the ground, to the point that taking ukemi from them probably wouldn’t even be possible. We always have to keep in mind that there is this certain vagueness about aikido technique, and that both sides are always adjusting somewhat for the sake of continued good training. Throwing techniques may be fine for demonstrations, but I think people may need to reconsider what should be going on when they train.
Knowing Your Teacher in the “Ri” Stage of Shu-Ha-Ri
The throws in Shindo-ryu karate come from the Zuisen-ken system that was practiced during Okinawa’s Ryukyu period. Karate essentially involves reading your opponent’s attack the moment it occurs and instantaneously countering with a decisive technique of your own—typically a punch or kick—with little or no space or waste in between. Our throwing techniques are done along similar lines, simply substituting a throw instead of the usual punch or kick.
Watching the five video tapes Aiki News has released on Morihei Ueshiba, I found it highly informative to see how Ueshiba Sensei’s techniques evolved as he got older. Particularly in the fifth tape, which shows the jo and bokuto techniques he was doing in his later years, I think we get a good glimpse of techniques solidly grounded in strong bujutsu.
It’s important to see where teachers end up in their later years. When they are still young they train very hard and often, then eventually become teachers in their own right. And once they become teachers then mostly they only teach and no longer do their own training. At that point they enter what you might call the “dog days” of their career, that is a kind of stagnant period. Of course it’s different if they’re continuing their own training “behind the scenes,” if you will, but if they’re not then they start to lose some of what they’ve achieved. What I would say about this is that even once you’ve become a teacher yourself, you still absolutely need to continue seeking further instruction from your own teacher.
This is why I say “know your teacher later in his life.” When you’re 40 years old your teacher will be 70, and when you’re 50 he’ll be 80; the age and experience gap between you never changes.
Among the teachings of budo we find the concept of shu-ha-ri. “Shu” means learning and faithfully following the fundamentals as they are taught to you; “ha” means pursuing your own research and study; and “ri” means separating from your teacher and standing independently on your own. But in many cases I think the separation that characterizes the ri stage comes too early. What real significance of this “ri,” this separation, is that the more you separate from your teacher, the more you should come to understand how important the fundamentals he taught you in the “shu” stage really are; and I think if you don’t take advantage of this realization to make a return to those fundamentals, to that “shu” stage,” then you’ve missed the potential benefits of the ri stage altogether. Another way to put it is that “shu-ha-ri” is about realizing that what you have become is thanks to your teacher and the fundamentals that he originally taught you. The closer you come to ri, the more you realize the importance of shu, and the more you realize how important your teacher is. That, I think, is how “tradition” can be maintained from one generation to the next.
From the perspective of tradition, single individuals play a very small, limited role. And when you’ve got a teacher who has been following a given tradition for say eighty years, someone with only fifty years under his belt in many ways is still just a fledgling, relatively speaking. I think if everyone followed their teachers into their later years, then it would be much more unlikely for so many factions to splinter off and go their own ways. It just wouldn’t be possible.
If you withdraw from the guidance of a particular teacher, then your training with that teacher ends then and there. And with that end you deprive yourself of the chance to achieve a depth of training that allows you to truly understand the significance of the fundamentals you’ve learned. If you leave your own teacher, then you shouldn’t be surprised if someday your own students leave you, too. So I think it’s more important to pursue one thing, and in doing so to realize the true depths that one thing actually has.
It’s fine for people to have various different ways of thinking. But it’s also important to be able to come together as one instantly if the need or opportunity arises. If you’re talking about aikido, then Ueshiba Sensei is the point of origin, and I think it would be very good if people were able to gather around that point, that sense of common origin, with a feeling of unity.
The karate I practice and teach is completely different from aikido, but I like to recommend to my own students that they watch that video of Ueshiba Sensei in his later years, as a way of emphasizing to them the importance of sticking with your teacher long enough to see what he becomes later in life. That video is a valuable reference in that sense particularly.
Erasing Conflict & Moving Toward the Absolute
We’re happy to have published it!
I think aikido’s spread so far and wide internationally has had less to do with skillful organization and management than with the simple fact that the original techniques and spirit demonstrated by Ueshiba Sensei himself hold such a great appeal for people all over the world. These days, however, I get the feeling that aikido is being emphasized more in a form considered appropriate or attractive to our modern times, and while I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that, we still should not forget the original source. The genius of aikido and the excellence of the philosophy underpinning it are not to be found so much in the modern as in that original source.
Yes, and I would say that compared to other budo, aikido has the potential for even more amazing continued development and growth. One reason is that from the very beginning it seeks that which is “absolute.” The fact that it doesn’t include competitive matches is a good example of this.
To really pursue “bujutsu” as martial technique I think would require a complete rethinking of the match system typically found throughout the budo world today. Competitive matches inevitably put things in the realm of relativity and comparison, and everything becomes a matter of winning or losing. And techniques focused on victory and defeat. In other words, techniques that are relativistic and comparative, are fundamentally different from techniques that are absolute. Aikido, in pursuing the realm of absolutes, has spread around the world, and I think this is quite understandable.
Competitive matches are fine as one way of verifying technique. But pursuing strength based on the criteria of performance in such matches puts you in that relativistic, comparative world, and the further you go down that road the more difficult it is for the original, absolute techniques to continue.
About six hundred years ago in Okinawa, during the Sho dynasty, the rulers of what was then the Ryukyu kingdom made the decision to rid the land of weapons as a way to protect and preserve the kingdom. The thinking was that being a small island very close to the Asian continent, they could not afford any kind of internal conflict, since it would leave them that much more vulnerable to larger neighbors. They figured that the best way to create a unified front would be to eliminate weapons of war from the land, and this policy was put into effect.
With no weapons around, people who did happen to get involved in physical conflict had to rely on their bare hands to defend themselves, and that became one of the starting points for the karate we have today. Or, in place of the standard weapons, they started finding ways to use the everyday tools they had on hand, for example carrying poles, which developed into bo (staff) techniques. So there was still some conflict from time to time, but overall the amount of fighting was limited; people would wait until it was completely inevitable, enduring as long as they possibly could before letting things come to blows. It’s a strong contrast to, say, the American idea that everyone should have the right to bear arms.
Terror & Expo
The world used to be a lot simpler, and it was much easier to know who your enemies were. As the recent terrorist attacks have shown, in many cases we no longer clearly know who our enemy is, or how or when they might attack us. These things have all become very vague.
I think the recent terrorist attacks were essentially an act of religious war, or at least religion was their basic origin. Different religions foster different values, and also completely different views about death. For some it may even be entirely conceivable to use biological or nuclear weapons.
But as Albert Einstein said, “The splitting of the atom was discovered as a matter of science; but it would be a great mistake for this discovery to be used to wage war.” Einstein worried about the destructive potential of atomic fission, but he and many of the other scientists of the day also realized that it would be impossible to conceal the discovery forever, since given the nature of scientific progress it would eventually be discovered by someone else anyway. So they went ahead and announced it, but at the same time also proposed the formation of a union of world scientists in opposition to the use of nuclear chain reactions in weapons.
Einstein also seems to have been very fond of Japan. In 1922 during a visit here he made the following statement:
“There is nothing more precious than Japan’s family system (kazoku seido). Education in the West emphasizes winning the struggle for personal survival, which leads in turn to extreme individualism, and from there to infighting and internal discord, with the only goal of work being the accumulation of wealth and attendance to the pleasures of the senses. Familial bonds are slackened, and art and deeper virtue become separated from everyday life. The difficult struggle for existence causes the sense of peaceful coexistence to be lost, materialism becomes the basis of thinking, and the hearts and spirits of people are oppressed by loneliness.
“Japan has just a small amount of individuality, and while the legal protections normally associated with individualism are thin, the bonds of family that endure through the generations remain solid, and through mutual assistance, humanity’s essential goodness and gentleness of spirit are maintained. I am thankful that God has seen fit to preserve this noble nation as Japan on the face of the Earth.”
Einstein also said that he didn’t know how a third world war would be waged, but that the fourth world war will be waged with rocks and sticks. If we devastate the world—and our civilization along with it—with nuclear weapons, then sticks and stones will be the only weapons we’ll be capable of using anymore. Nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy everything we have, and if we use them it will be the end of everything for us.
The kind of “reform” that simply repeats destruction over and over again is of no use. If you can no longer grow the same crops in the field you’re using, don’t just give up on it. Instead, revitalize the field by giving it a rest for a while, or by rotating in some other type of crop. This kind of thinking is important.
I certainly agree. The September 11th terrorist attacks gave me a lot to think about in terms of going forward with the Aiki Expo. What I realized is that now more than ever we need to have such an event, because the real value in our bujutsu training is to be found in how we live our everyday lives. Events like September 11th have the potential to make us behave very passively: we start avoiding travel; we don’t go out to eat as often; we’re a little nervous in public places, and so on. But if we allow ourselves to fall into that kind of behavior in reaction to hypothetical or suggested threats, then how are we going to react if confronted very directly, for real, by someone with a knife or gun?!
Given the current world political scene we do need to exercise a certain amount of caution about things, but we should also take the opportunity to reconsider why we train in budo. I think the terrorist attacks and the new world situation they have precipitated provide a good opportunity for that.
For me personally, I fully intend move forward by going on with the Aiki Expo, undaunted by the threat of terrorism.
Information and Life in the Computer Age
Another feature of our modern world is that the Internet has expanded our horizons exponentially. We can now access whatever information we need almost instantly. The time it takes to access information has been greatly reduced, and we’ve even managed to physically minimize the size of information in order to be able to absorb more of it.
But this doesn’t mean that computers are making people lazy, because in order for computers to function well for us we still have to give them very precise instructions. In this way I think the integration of computers into our human lives will actually help people hone their powers of concentration and interactivity, not make them lazy.
Yes, and in talking about the Internet I would add that it’s not the information itself that’s important, but rather the way we put that information to use. Also, we have to keep in mind that with so much information flowing, some of it will be real and some of it is likely to be fake or false. We see this in the karate world when people who can’t actually do techniques talk and write as if they can. Such information can be considered false, because it’s not grounded in reality.
One reason that Ryoma Sakamoto [a pro-imperial activist near the end of the Edo period] was able to move Japan in the ways he did while remaining in his native home in the Shikoku countryside was that the informers he relied upon could be trusted to bring him only real information that accurately represented reality. It took a long time for those people to get that information to him, but when he did get it, it was of good quality and therefore useful as the basis for effective communications and actions.
Computers have reduced both time and distance, enabling us now to obtain information much more quickly than ever. The real problem now is not getting information, but rather ensuring that we’re capable of digesting such a large amount of it. We’ve become remarkably well informed, but what’s more important is to be able to convert all that information into some kind of wisdom, insight, or intelligence, so that we can apply it effectively or put it forth in some useful form.
I think one important way of bettering oneself as a person comes through having chances to meet and be stimulated by others with good qualities. Unfortunately, circumstances don’t always give us as many of those opportunities as we’d like. But using computers, including particularly the web and email, we can create a kind of “virtual society” that lets us communicate with people far away, including people we may have never met in person. I’ve made so many friends worldwide in this way, many of them people I’ve never actually met in person and maybe never will.
The two best things about the Internet are one that it allows you to get any kind of information you need almost instantly, and two that it provides opportunities for interactive communication with so many others. Still, you have to be careful about how you put the information you get to use. These days it’s almost required to be able to use a computer, but it’s also important to make sure that the computer isn’t actually using you!
Some people use their computers simply to get their job done at the office, but I think for people who have some firm goal or vision in mind they are a truly excellent tool.
Honne & Tatemae
I agree. In Japan we have a pair of concepts called “honne” and “tatemae,” which correspond roughly to “what you really feel” and “what you say in public.” The fact that these are still so clearly differentiated in itself suggests that Japanese society is not quite ready to go with honne alone. Bujutsu is much more straightforward: if you’re having a “conversation” in bujutsu, then you have to use the language of technique, and when speaking that language you inevitably are communicating honne. In society there is still a separation of the two, but in bujutsu things are much more straightforward, because technique speaks for itself.
I sometimes have a hard time using honne and tatemae with the same facility as the Japanese, and when it comes to business it seems I’m sometimes much too straightforward. The Japanese staff at Aiki News are always getting upset with me because I’ve ended up putting them in yet another awkward position! (laughter)
I think the way you deal with honne and tatemae changes with age, and in particular honne starts being more important. When I was younger, whenever there was a karate testing or other event I always used to go all out in renting a big public hall, even if it was too much or too far away, because I didn’t want to disappoint the various kinds of people I knew would be attending. These days, though, I just find a place nearby and it’s plenty good enough! (laughter) The place doesn’t matter at all; it’s the content that’s important. I realized that about a dozen years ago and changed my attitude toward such things. When there isn’t much content, people inevitably start relying on poses and posturing instead, and that’s when you get into the world of tatemae.
Of course, as part of business strategy there are certainly many instances in which you can’t afford to be so foolishly straightforward. (laughter) Still, here you are, editor-in chief of Aiki News, different in nationality, age, and thinking from your assistant editor Ms. Kimura and the rest of the Japanese staff, and yet you all get along so well! It’s quite admirable!
Yes, despite the fact that I’ve moved back to the United States—or maybe because of it?—the Japanese staff seem to be working more enthusiastically than ever! (laughter)
That must just mean that you and your staff have achieved some kind of harmonious fusion or unity in your feelings about what you’re doing. Having come to understand why you’ve made such strong efforts all these years, it’s probably become very easy for them to see what needs to be done, and to dive into their work with that much stronger conviction.