If we took away the philosophical or spiritual roots of a combat art... Wouldn't it actually end up being BETTER?

Anarax

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I mean look at Judo. Who cares what Dr Kano taught about morality and gentleness? Just use Judo to hurt enemies and to defend yourself. At the end of the day, it is a self-defense system and an Olympic Sport designed for violent confrontations and athletic exhibitions.

I spent a good number of years playing Japanese roleplaying games, and a common theme on those games is this concept of a weaponless fist fighting character who is often labeled as a "monk". But look around you. That's not how it works in reality. Yi Long is the only actual Shaolin monk to ever reach a high level in competitive fighting and even then, he fights just like another violent kickboxer.

For me, the way I see it, my personal philosophy in martial arts is that all apes, humans included, must learn healthy ways to express aggression. In an age of conquest, this would have been appropriate through militaristic adventures. But we don't live in that age anymore. Instead, our heroes in this modern age are hollywood actors and athletes, so we make do with what we have. Instead of rallying our own troops for a literal war, we instead channel those ugly emotions through athletic pursuits. Combat is just another sport for me. There should be nothing spiritual about it. It's just another tool, like how Zen Meditation can help boost your mental faculties even if you are actually a Christian.

Please discuss!
Fantastic question and interesting discussion. There's a spectrum on the degree and the level of spirituality martials arts has, thus I think there are different layers to this dynamic.

I've had many martial arts instructors over the years, all had various types of professions, experiences, backgrounds and education. However, the ones that I got the most valuable lessons from(for on and off the mat) are those that learned more than just how to be violent. I've had instructors that applied very little to what they learned from the martial arts to their lives'. They lacked self-control and discipline off the mat and it led to some serious problems in their lives', some of which they never recovered from. Using your example of professional fighters, look at how many of them, champions and top contenders, destroy their own lives with poor decisions. Would some lessons in spiritual-ish elements like self-control, discipline and focus could've helped them? Most likely. I think it's difficult to completely separate or draw a line on where spirituality, values and mental-peace end/begin.
 

Jared Traveler

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Fantastic question and interesting discussion. There's a spectrum on the degree and the level of spirituality martials arts has, thus I think there are different layers to this dynamic.

I've had many martial arts instructors over the years, all had various types of professions, experiences, backgrounds and education. However, the ones that I got the most valuable lessons from(for on and off the mat) are those that learned more than just how to be violent. I've had instructors that applied very little to what they learned from the martial arts to their lives'. They lacked self-control and discipline off the mat and it led to some serious problems in their lives', some of which they never recovered from. Using your example of professional fighters, look at how many of them, champions and top contenders, destroy their own lives with poor decisions. Would some lessons in spiritual-ish elements like self-control, discipline and focus could've helped them? Most likely. I think it's difficult to completely separate or draw a line on where spirituality, values and mental-peace end/begin.
The MMA example you mentioned is a great example. Culture definitely matters in a gym. This is part of why I would likely never do MMA, or boxing, it's the gym culture I want to avoid. And even though I may strong Christian in my beliefs, I'm also feeling my water bottle right now to go to Muay Thai class.

Muay Thai is every bit as violent as MMA, but the culture is still mental control, and extreme respect.
 

Gerry Seymour

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The MMA example you mentioned is a great example. Culture definitely matters in a gym. This is part of why I would likely never do MMA, or boxing, it's the gym culture I want to avoid. And even though I may strong Christian in my beliefs, I'm also feeling my water bottle right now to go to Muay Thai class.

Muay Thai is every bit as violent as MMA, but the culture is still mental control, and extreme respect.
What about MMA or boxing precludes an atmosphere of mental control and respect?
 

Tony Dismukes

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Definitely not a requirement for these gyms, but has been my personal experience with them overall.
It may be due to the fact that MMA is a young sport, but there seems to be considerable variation in gym cultures. I haven't been in as many pure boxing gyms, so I can't speak to that.
 

Gerry Seymour

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Definitely not a requirement for these gyms, but has been my personal experience with them overall.
I dont have a lot of experience with MMA gyms (and none with boxing gyms), but the ones Ive been to has atmospheres similar to some of the TMA schools Ive been to - energetic, friendly, and supportive.
 

punisher73

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Quite the contrary, claiming that aikido was designed from the outset to be ineffective makes for a convenient excuse for one's own technical flaws. It's actually a common rationalisation : "it doesn't work because it's the will of the old wise founder".

But however you look at them, facts are facts. Morihei Ueshiba was never a pacifist (the idea is so far from the truth that his son laughed to tears when he heard that in an interview) and never adapted neither his rhetoric nor his techniques to pacifist ideals (and this can be verified by first-hand testimonies, pictures and technical manuals from different periods). The technical changes were made by later generations (this has also been confirmed by testimonies, including by the current head of the Aikikai).

That's basic stuff and I did learn it but what is your point?

Not that it was "designed" to be ineffective. Ueshiba changed his focus after the war. Even if things weren't "removed", they weren't really taught/emphasized either. Thus, the general teaching idea of what most people view Aikido as today.

Never claimed that Ueshiba was a pacifist. But, you can't deny by reading his own writings that his view of "conflict" was to blend and harmonize with an attacker to avoid violence and resolve it. It was this spiritual focus that put a different emphasis on the techniques. Morihiro Saito taught as he directly learned it from Ueshiba at the Iwama Dojo (also nicknamed the "Hell Dojo"). Saito was often accused of changing Aikido because his approach was much more "martial" in application and this was very different than what was being taught as a whole in Aikido. It wasn't until years later when books about Ueshiba's techniques started to be published (like Budo) that people saw that he was teaching it as he was taught.

You claim that it's "basic stuff", but if you have been around Aikido for a long time (1990's or before) you would realize that this "basic stuff" was NOT a part of most schools Aikido training. It has been "rediscovered" or added back into the techniques BECAUSE it wasn't usually taught or emphasized in the majority of schools. Much like Karate "rediscovered" its applications in kata because they weren't generally taught. At the time, the "atemi" weren't taught as actual strikes when performed by Tori, they were "feints" to get a reaction from Uke and you weren't actually hitting them. The only real "strike training" done was to perform the attacks as Uke, but not on a real application of using them yourself and even at that the strikes were usually only the "sword based" motions.

So, to claim that "its always been there" is both correct and incorrect. Yep, was never formally removed. But, at the same time most didn't know about it because it wasn't taught. Also, read the interviews from early students. They often said that what Ueshiba said and taught was different that what he told them to do.
 

O'Malley

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Not that it was "designed" to be ineffective. Ueshiba changed his focus after the war. Even if things weren't "removed", they weren't really taught/emphasized either. Thus, the general teaching idea of what most people view Aikido as today.
Three points are getting mixed here. 1) What Ueshiba taught; 2) what his successors taught; 3) what people view as "aikido" today.

I was originally discussing the claim that "Ueshiba himself changed the techniques to fall in line with his philosophy in the creation of Aikido. Look at his earlier art before he called it Aikido, it was VERY different. So, while you might not learn his philosophy separately, the ideas are imbedded into the overall philosophy and technique execution itself."

So this is about Ueshiba, not whatever later generations have been teaching, which can differ wildly.
Never claimed that Ueshiba was a pacifist. But, you can't deny by reading his own writings that his view of "conflict" was to blend and harmonize with an attacker to avoid violence and resolve it.
On a political level, Ueshiba was actively involved in a terrorist organisation which attempted at least once to overthrow the government; he and his students provided shelter and personal protection to war criminals; and he taught in an ideological school directed by the Japanese equivalent of Joseph Goebbels.

On a technical level, here is his approach to physical conflict in his later years (1960s from the look of it):


I am not aware of Ueshiba mentioning "blending" as a technical concept. That came later.

It was this spiritual focus that put a different emphasis on the techniques.
Again, this has been debunked years ago based on historical research (as opposed to hearsay).

Morihiro Saito taught as he directly learned it from Ueshiba at the Iwama Dojo (also nicknamed the "Hell Dojo"). Saito was often accused of changing Aikido because his approach was much more "martial" in application and this was very different than what was being taught as a whole in Aikido. It wasn't until years later when books about Ueshiba's techniques started to be published (like Budo) that people saw that he was teaching it as he was taught.
IIRC the Hell Dojo was actually the name given to the Kobukan in Tokyo before the war.

Morihiro Saito learnt directly from Ueshiba in Iwama and lived with him as his attendant from 1946 to his death in 1969 (so post-War). "Budo" was written in 1938 (pre-War) and the technical instruction is indeed identical to what Saito learnt and taught. This is actually proof that Ueshiba taught the same things before and after the war. That topic is discussed in detail in Ellis Amdur's book "Hidden in Plain Sight" and in the following articles:


You claim that it's "basic stuff", but if you have been around Aikido for a long time (1990's or before) you would realize that this "basic stuff" was NOT a part of most schools Aikido training. It has been "rediscovered" or added back into the techniques BECAUSE it wasn't usually taught or emphasized in the majority of schools. Much like Karate "rediscovered" its applications in kata because they weren't generally taught. At the time, the "atemi" weren't taught as actual strikes when performed by Tori, they were "feints" to get a reaction from Uke and you weren't actually hitting them. The only real "strike training" done was to perform the attacks as Uke, but not on a real application of using them yourself and even at that the strikes were usually only the "sword based" motions.

So, to claim that "its always been there" is both correct and incorrect. Yep, was never formally removed. But, at the same time most didn't know about it because it wasn't taught. Also, read the interviews from early students. They often said that what Ueshiba said and taught was different that what he told them to do.
In Iwama aikido, atemi are part of "kihon waza", which literally means "basic techniques". According to Gozo Shioda and Morihiro Saito, Ueshiba taught that "aikido is 70-90% atemi". So I think that, at least as far as Morihei Ueshiba is concerned, atemi is a key concept.

I wouldn't know about "most aikido schools in the US in the 1990s" and that was not my point. I understand that many aikido instructors imbue their teaching with pacifism and spiritualism but it is different (on both the technical and spiritual levels) from what Morihei Ueshiba taught. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that, when discussing history, we should try to be as accurate as possible.
 

jmf552

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I have not read this whole thread, but I found the OP's question thought provoking. I've thought about it for a couple of days (not constantly, of course, I do have a life!) and I thought I would give my take.

First, I would be amazed if the OP actually found a school that teaches real spirituality or philosophy. And that is no dis to the OP. In 25+ years of training in various arts with various instructors, I havent really found one either. I have found a lot of them who play like they do, with seated meditation and Yoda-like sayings, but nothing of any substance. If that is what youre talking about, yeah, training would be better without it.

Second, I think it depends on what you want out of the martial arts. If you just want to be a badass and go out and beat people up, you could skip spirituality, although I would opine someone who wants to beat people up really needs some of that. And I have been in a school for a short while that was openly like that. They encouraged their students to go out and get in street fights. I found that distasteful in the extreme, so I left. If you want sport, that stuff is irrelevant also.

If it is keeping yourself safe on the street, though, strangely enough spirituality and philosophy can be important. One bit of philosophy I got from a very street-wise teacher was, The purpose of martial arts is to be able to walk in peace, unafraid. I think that is a great goal and it is philosophical. I recommend reading Facing Violence by Rory Miller and Violence of Mind by Varg Freeborn. Because of their backgrounds, they have each been in dozens of brutal fights with hardened criminals. Miller was a correctional officer. Freeborn was a violent felon who did time in max security. Both of them talk about the mental aspects of fighting as being more important than technique. Some of the mental aspects include situational awareness, when to fight, how to overcome fear in a fight, how to use actual violence, not just fancy technique, and handling the aftermath. And they both opine that it is rare to see that kind of thing taught in martial arts schools. And I would hope that if a martial arts school did teach philosophy/spirituality or whatever you want to call it, it would be something like that.

Another point of reference I though of is a bit of philosophy from Jordan Peterson. He says, "A weak man cannot be a good man. A good man is a dangerous man who has it under control." In my martial arts career, I had anger management issues, now under control. So I had more difficulty keeping myself under control than in leaning to be dangerous. I wish I had had the control aspect drilled into me more in the martial arts, which would have been more philosophy than technique.
 
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Gyakuto

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By better, do you mean easier to follow/understand?
 

Taiji Rebel

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Yeah him and Koichi Tohei. Part of the reason was to find a niche for aikido ("the peaceful martial art") and to make it more accessible for mass training.

IIRC when he met Deguchi Onisaburo in 1919, he'd been training in Daito Ryu for four years and he really started teaching in the 20s-30s.
This happened to a lot of the systems in post-war Japan. Here's a quote from Teruyuki Okazaki relating directly to this point:

"Before the war, nationalism was everything. During the war, it was militarism and brainwashing. After the war, there was a 180 degree turn to pacifism, and wholehearted attempts to copy the United States"
 

JowGaWolf

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Sometimes it's good to take a step back. I'm not sure if anyone has brought this up. But the reality is that even if a fighting school doesn't teach religion or morality. Fighters seem to eventually find themselves in that place.

By nature, I don't think it's possible to do this: "If we took away the philosophical or spiritual roots of a combat art" those who train to commit violence will eventually have to find a way to come to peace with that violence (with exceptions).

We often see world champion fighters with philosophical or spiritual roots. Not sure why this would be seen as something that should be ripped out of Martial Arts training.

If you were training with me, I would never preach to you or share my religious views. Religious is personal, but you'll get a lot of philosophical and some spiritual stuff (not specific to any religion). The philosophical stuff will come as normal on how to fight. The spiritual stuff will only come when you lose hope, hit a wall, lose, or doubt yourself. Those things often happen when we are alone, the most that I can do is give you the tools you'll need to win those internal fights of doubt. The only proof that you'll have that the tools will work, is that I believed it enough in myself to share those tools with you.

I just don't think anyone can be good in Marital Arts without the philosophical or spiritual roots. For the most unless you are Atheist, you are probably bringing your own spiritual tools and philosophical roots into your training. If you aren't bringing those into the training, then you'll probably pick some up from one the people you train with.
 

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