“Aikido and the Individualistic West,” by Drew Gardner

I learned in twelfth grade psychology class that the major cultural difference between East and West is collectivism versus individualism. Although I have not traveled beyond the United States and its nearby protectorates, befriending Asian people has reinforced what my psychology teacher and accompanying textbook taught.

There is a tendency in the East, including Aikido’s homeland of Japan, to accomplish what is best for the group. This group may be limited to immediate peers, or branch out to an individual’s entire corporation or organization. It may even become national or encompass the perceived entire world.

This is the mentality in which Aikido was born and first succeeded. This budo’s fundamental concept of paired training involves elements of working together, and sharing. Ideally the “do” of Aikido is not one lonely person walking down a path; it is the concept of joining hands and experiencing mind states of gladness together. Far beyond the universal torment of loneliness lies the sought-after path of friendship.

As Aikido has become increasingly popular in Europe and the Americas, many Western Aikidoka strive to attain essential concepts of Eastern philosophy. As the student of Sigmund Freud and eminent psychologist Carl Jung believed, humans are born with a collective unconscious. Jung thought that – in each mind’s unconscious, every infant possessed all the knowledge of his or her ancestors. I vehemently disagree with this, but I do believe that with the incredible speed of observation and learning, a child makes itself aware of its environment.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a common cliché in America. I believe it is possible, but increasingly difficult as the person ages. Through great courage, I believe the Western “dog” must let go and open its mind to better understand Aikido, and to feel its true, beautiful philosophy.

When a Western Aikidoka, through his or her own deep thinking, realizes the uke-nage relationship is not a contest but rather a team, he or she is well on his or her way to grasping the essence of not only the art, but of collectivist thinking in general. I have played on many school and league basketball teams. Often the first thing a coach reminds us of is that there is no “I” in “team.” Then, without fail, the team smart guy says, “But there’s a ‘me’.” This may seem at first purely a joke, but there is individualism and personal ego behind it. In fact, what keeps people in an individualistic culture from feeling lonely are their egos. Aikido training and understanding are essential in dissolving all such delusion, bringing us back to a realm of reality that many of us never even knew existed.

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