VIII. “Aikido as a Contemporary Path for the West,” by Charles A. McCarty

It once could validly be said that “form follows function”. The obvious, the visible and the apparent express essentially all that is meaningful about an activity, item or other tangible. Worship has form, based on specifically spiritual purposes; devices have a shape and composition conducive to certain desired outcomes; physiology of man and animal are geared toward survivability in a specific range of environments. Buckminster Fuller has pointed out that we have now entered an age of the invisible, in which perhaps 99% of all that is critical to human advancement is invisible to the un-instrumented or non-intuitive human senses. Electricity, gravity, metallurgical and chemical characteristics and the wave-particles by which communication is extended are all essentially invisible to us, and yet affect us increasingly, for better or worse.(137)

Human institutions tend to continue to operate as though all were visible and tangible, as a reflection of historical distrust for that which cannot be seen and demonstrated. Paradoxically, the scientific orientation and institutions which have discovered and tapped the realm of invisibility have contributed to disbelief in all that cannot be seen, felt, or similarly experienced by a panel of impartial observers.
The realm of symbology, of invisible forces and hidden meanings, of myth and mythological figure once inhabited only by those disenfranchised from society and exoteric religion, have been invaded by hordes whose only gods are electromagnetic. These new idolatrists claim to worship objectivity and reality, but without their instruments they are as reliant on faith as any medieval Christian. Worse, could not the consistent flickering of their dials and meters be but the whimsy of a non-objective God?

In their own peculiar and distinctive expression of faith, modern men consistently put greatest value in the realm of appearances, regardless of the world of mystery which we casually call upon each time we flip a light switch or greet an associate on the telephone. Ultimately, the only proof that man unaided can cite for events metaphysical or electrical is his experience of them. That which is experienced when the techniques of meditation are employed is unity; that which is experienced when technology is commanded by the flicking of a switch is light.

Symbols, the subjective interpretation of apparent phenomena, bridge the gap between the experience and the actual phenomena–whether of God or electricity. What we find is that we are increasingly dealing not with the apparent, but with that which the apparent represents as blueprints communicate to an engineer, but only suggest the actual essence of a structure or system. The electrostatically embossed representation has only symbolic relationship to the physical manifestation, though in fact it must precede, represent, mold and define the ultimate physical structure.

In such a way the physical form and practice of the martial arts seems to have little to do with harmony, with successful and peaceful human relationships or with enlightenment and transcendence. These practices seem to relate exclusively to human conflict, to death, to separation. If we are to review history (Oriental history is representatively if not overwhelmingly turbulent in its character) the warrior’s craft seems to be less than an honorable one, involved as it has been, and is, in so much destruction.

The “common sense” response to such an historical observation is to counter the spread of violence by repudiation of all that is related to the practice of warfare and violence, and elevation of all that fosters brotherhood, love and harmony. The historical results of such an approach are abysmal, for the very organizations, spiritual and secular, religious and governmental by which we have sought to curb aggression have often become facilitators of it, even as the homilies of brotherhood are being mouthed.

That there is another way, a way of balance, is demonstrated in the practice of the Way of the Warrior. The spiritual practice of the martial way counters conflict by training in a ritualized conflict setting; a laboratory in which the futility of power and aggression are independently discovered and experi-enced by each practitioner. The mode of action has become transformed into the realm of the invisible or implied, rather than the obvious and the apparent. As in blueprints of the details of a structure, the essence is hidden except to those whose study has lent them insight into the nature of that which is projected and implied.

The key to reading this blueprint for self-development is to recognize that the emphasis is on that which we do not readily see. The orientation is internal and personal rather than external, and that the path to insight through the martial arts is gained by practice, by repetition and by confrontation, not with others, but with ourselves.

Aikido is one such. personal martial way which has evolved out of a synthesis of mystical Eastern religions, influenced by the cultural assumptions of a race which regards life and death as illusory and the practical needs of a country long torn by civil war. Unless it can be integrated within the paradigmatic framework of our Western society it will of necessity be limited, for many in this society will be uninterested in a discipline that requires the rejection or restatement of the foundations of their own culture. It may be possible to find, however, that it is unnecessary to step outside of our own culture in order to assimilate the benefit of Aikido training.

Though traditional science has long failed to provide any basis for the serious acceptance of such “mystical” phenomena as ki or an otherwise designated source of life and interrelationship, theoretical or “new” physics does; rediscovering and restating principles described long ago by mystics and warriors. We have long trusted that that which is solid is real; and that which cannot be seen or otherwise sensed is unreal. Thus we must postulate a consciousness, force or transcendent personality acting upon our reality from the outside of it, such as an Almighty God in Heaven, in order to explain the phenomena of life and order. Events which we cannot explain by our physical senses and which we do not ascribe to the actions of God are categorized as “psychic” or paranormal in nature, or are simply denied.

One hundred pounds of force are presumed to do one hundred pounds worth of work. Mass and energy are considered to be separate, immutable and calculable. Acceleration and speed are governed by complex but predictable and uniform laws of mass, energy and inertia. Every body in a given field of energy operates under the same set of conditions. Effects have a cause, and only a lack of knowledge of all natural laws or of the immensity of data prevent the implementation of full determinism in the universe.

These are the operating tenets of our Western culture with its heritage of scientific empiricism. The phenomena of Aikido and other martial arts, however, come out of the context of a culture which has traditionally shown little interest and less respect for the ways of discreteness, finity and predictability. Life and reality are seen in the East as a flexible continuum, in a relationship which empowers the individual in a universe which he creates as a personal illusion. Time and space are not concrete and objectively definable–what matters to the individual’s experience of life is the way in which his interactions influence both himself and that with which he interacts.

Recent decades have seen a meeting of the disparate concepts of the cultures of East and West, to the potential benefit of both. One expression of this exchange is the growing popularity of Aikido and other Oriental disciplines of spiritual and artistic nature. Our fascination with these arts may stem partially from the attraction inherent in their mysterious and paradoxical character.

The synthesis proceeds in other fields, however, and within both the radically new, the ancient and the contemporary expressions of tradition we may find explanations for the actions characteristic of mastery in the martial arts which will ultimately prove acceptable to both cultures, or to the uniform and rich culture which may yet evolve from the two. The disciplines and traditions of modern nuclear physics, parapsychology and religious mysticism all must be considered, for they all contribute to the explanation of phenomena which a single paradigm would be sore-pressed to account for without the alienating many. Ultimately we may find that there is basis for more unity in these various world-views than is usually suspected.

The Einsteinian breakthroughs in conceptualization of matter, time, energy and space within this century have created the possibility of providing a common ground from which to examine the phenomena of the universe; a ground which negates none of these positions and gives new meaning to each.
The existence of solid and immutable forms as physical matter has been found to be illusory, for ultimately all matter is simply a manifestation of vibratory energy, expressible only as a wave motion or a probability. In fact, that which we perceive as solid and therefore real, that which we count on to support, sustain and define us simply has a high degree of probability; and further is expressed by vibratory energies which are in the rather limited range which we can detect and interact with.(138)
The vibratory energies or wave patterns which are our thoughts and physical bodies are capable of radiating their essence at practically infinite velocities across a continuous web of vibrational energy in the universe, which may be the lingering resonance of the “big bang” of creation.(139)

It has been discovered that coherent waves of light (light with wave energy that is uniform and in phase) bounced off a three-dimensional object and recorded along with a “reference” beam of light on a photographic film will record an apparently formless image which, when projected by the passage of another beam of coherent light, will reproduce a fully detailed and three-dimensional image. Remarkably, if the piece of film is cut in half, or quarters, or even hundredths, each fragment of the film will be capable of projecting a complete image, losing only resolution as the percentage projected decreases.(140)

The wave patterns projected by our minds and bodies carry our individual thoughts, emotions and physical characteristics throughout the universe, forming an interference pattern with the constant web of resonance across which it is transmitted and with the characteristic patterns of other psyches. Every point in the universe thus contains a subtle vibrational “hologram” which contains all of the knowledge and information in the universe. This holographic pattern is the “universal mind” which is potentially a channel of communication and inter-relationship of a continuous and instantaneous nature, by which every conscious entity can be aware of and interact with other conscious entities and with matter, which has a rudimentary “consciousness” through its vibrational patterns.(141)

To detect and utilize such subtle media requires the stilling of sensory and thought activity through such means as meditation or the martial arts, for the welter of high energy stimuli with which we are bombarded in daily life screen out the subtle signals of universal consciousness. In order to direct meaningful signals of information by means of the vibrational web most effectively, it is necessary to create a signal of coherent energy from our minds and bodies. The intensified mental states associated with certain emotional states, or more constructively through the directed energy of the creative process, generate such signals. The martial artist cultivates the simultaneous effective operation of both these modes, projecting his own energy and receiving that of his partner. He moves toward the recognition that he is a holoid, a representative fragment of the entire universe, both individual and universal, having consciousness of self as separate, and of greater Self tied to the whole universe through a web of relationship.(142)

Clairvoyants and psychics operate within a similar paradigm, or more correctly within a similar set of paradigms. Both mediums and religious mystics recognize that there is a material level on which all of us must operate in which we are individuals with separate bodies, unaligned minds, and conflicting views.

This is the level of duality, without which we cannot exist, but which can serve as a trap as well as a home. Lawrence LeShan has called this the Sensory Reality.

He further describes another level to which religious mystics, mediums, and I believe, masters of the martial arts aspire. This he calls the Clairvoyant Reality. Within the Clairvoyant Reality there is no separateness, no individuality, and no disagreement. All is in a state of relationship and of constant communi-cation and exchange. As it has been observed that there can be no observation without influence by the observer,(143) on this level of reality the ties are unbreakable and pervasive, all existence influencing all other existence.

Both realities are constant and, within the framework of the limited human physical life cycle, inescapable. Those who live only for the material world are still influenced by the clairvoyant or mystical or astral world–they may deny it or fail to recognize it, and see their lives as being as random and meaningless as a wind-tossed leaf in the midst of a storm. Others–mediums, mystics, and spiritual warriors–suspect that there is a level of experience on which all is related and meaningful, and it is this awareness they seek.(144)

Through rigorous training and intensity of mind the martial artist seeks to operate within the Clairvoyant Reality, within a web of harmonious relationships, timelessness, and unity. His body is in the Sensory Reality, and his motion reflects the Clairvoyant. The pattern already exists–it is he and his partner’s unalterable duty to complete and fulfill it.

To the viewer, the attacking and receiving pair of aikidoists remain individuals, momentarily close and then separate as before. Unless he is also an exceptional adept, the viewer does not directly experience the sense of rela-tionship which the partners may be aware of, and which can exist throughout the exercise, even as one is whirling erect, and the other sailing upside down through the air. Once the connection is made, it exists until it is willfully broken, or lost through the misdirection of intention. Though subjective to the participants and invisible to the average onlooker, it is nevertheless of persuasive reality to those in its vortex.

Within the Clairvoyant Reality matter, time, and space are of less importance than relationship; transcending the natural “laws” we have come to recognize. Out of awareness and direction of the energies inherent in states of higher consciousness there occur within the Sensory Reality events we term “paranormal” due to our limited vision. The striking and unexplained events which martial artists and observers of the martial arts have reported may represent operation on the level of Clairvoyant Reality, unexplainable when the rules of Sensory Reality are exclusively applied.

These remarkable powers may prove to be an obstacle when viewed out of context of their source. The martial artist, as well as the religious mystic, the clairvoyant and the physicist, must remain always aware of the ultimate goal of what they are doing–unity. The physical powers are a side-effect, a distraction and a veil which separate us from truly experiencing the unification which exists at the level to which Clairvoyant Reality contributes.(145) The martial artist may become obsessed with power, leading to conflict; the mystic with skills which distract him from the next step on the Path; the medium with the control and prestige which can come with public acclaim; and the physicist so obsessed with the energy of the atom that he fails to heed the dangers inherent in the attempt to harness that power.

In martial arts as in other spiritual disciplines the aim is not to develop great physical powers, but to polish the soul at least to the same extent that the body is polished and perfected. As there is a danger that the spiritual seeker will become trapped at the level of miraculous powers, so the martial artist can be trapped and stopped in his development by an obsession with physical feats.

One measure, however, of the skill of a martial artist is his mastery of the physical skills of the body and weapons. Many of these skills are difficult to account for by a purely mechanical paradigm. Separated from the whole which a serious student attempts to develop, the simplest of these are little more than Aikido “parlor tricks”, but they are often used to illustrate the untapped potential which can be developed in anyone. “Weight underside” is one such exercise, in which the participant visualizes himself as a huge tree, with deep and solid roots extending far into the earth. Gravity and mass remain unaffected, but another person will find it difficult or impossible to lift someone who is correctly performing this exercise. By contrast, if the visualizations are shifted to an association with flight or lightness, or no particular thoughts are entertained, the person will feel of a normal weight or exceptional lightness.

Performed by a master, such exercises are stunning in their effectiveness. Several photographs I have acquired show Uyeshiba performing feats of immovability which cannot be comprehended, of a simplicity and directness which does not lend itself to fraud. Anyone can be taught a basic exercise such as this in a matter of minutes, and I have found that children invariably learn it incredibly well and quickly. They seem not to question, as do most adults, that changing your apparent physical weight is possible. They simply listen to the instructions, and do it.

It is this openness and trust, and willingness to perform miracles as part of our everyday lives that perhaps we must bring to the study of martial arts and of the remarkable phenomena which often are associated with them. Not naiveté, but acceptance of the possibility that events observed in our usual state of reality may be routinely influenced by another aspect of reality. The purely physical manifestations of the martial arts may be fully explained as the application of superb body mechanics and timing, developed after years of rigorous training. More difficult to explain in purely physical terms are the apparent abilities of some masters to anticipate both the timing and the nature of an attack; to move in relaxed, leisurely fashion in the face of lightning-swift attacks; and to present the attacker with a sense that he is “not there”, when observation by a third party suggests no discontinuity of presence.

To explain such phenomena we may ultimately be able to develop and firmly establish the presence of the web of relationship, the subtle Clairvoyant Reality, or higher states of consciousness in which duality fades away. The explanations propounded by the champions of physics, of parapsychology and of mysticism appear to have a common ground in the recognition that the reality in which we usually operate is complemented and interpenetrated by another, for which we strive. Through our openness to all of the positions which may be taken; physical, parapsychological, mystical or sociological; we may integrate our understanding and open the gates of experience to a fuller and more satisfying existence in the universe.

(137) Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Inteqrities, (New York:
Collier, 1963), pp. 274,275.
(138) Capra, Tao of Physics, pp. 138,139.
(139) Bentov, Stalkinq the Wild Pendulum, pp. 111,112.
(140) Ibid., pp. 16,17.
(141) Ibid., pp. 112-114.
(l42) George B . Leonard, The Silent Pulse, (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978), pp. 86,87.
(143) Gary Zukov, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, (New York: William Morrow, 1979), pp. 114-118.
(144) Lawrence LeShan, The Medium, The Mystic, and the Physicist (New York: Viking, 1974), p. 77.
(145) LeShan, Medium, Mystic, and Phvsicist, p. 60; Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 95.


  1. Enjoyed the exploration, quite a lot to mull over. Some thoughts on science and aiki…

    There seems to be a perennial love-hate of western science by faith and eastern based traditions. On the one hand as a tool it has helped explain many things, but at the same time its challenged more than a few sacred cows.Science is but a tool for understanding, a slow methodical tool at times, but it has made considerable progress over time. Because of that progress it has become something of a benchmark that we try to measure almost everything with, sometimes this is appropriate – other times it doesn’t work so well.

    One of the most common elements of science to be (mis)used in faiths and eastern thought is quantum and similar branches of physics, I think this is because this is where physics reaches its limits of understanding and so its an easy grey area to talk about, perhaps because so few understand it anyway. Interestingly as an aside Physicists working in this area have won major theological prizes for their work which suggests there is some important crossover work there.

    Less attractive for aikidoka though is that basic newtonian physics, physiology of perception, neural and path ways can help and enhance practice. This is perhaps because its all a bit, ordinary.


  2. YA!…but can it work in a real fight?

  3. think it was T Jefferson (who also discovered Global Warming a couple hundred years ago) who said “those who hammer their swords into plowshares, will plow for those who don’t”.

    there’s a lot of weirdness in modern physics, particularly at the uncomfortable junction between Einstein and Heisenberg. gravity is still pretty mysterious and stitching relativity to uncertainty is a work in progress. it is also spooky how fairly large and observable phenomena are being manipulated through quantum physics. all that said, explaining intuition as an electromagnetic phenomenon is problematic. there’s no measurable signal. explaining it as a quantum function would make Zen sense. everything is quantum entangled, therefore action at a distance (without a discernible signal) is not only ok but required. but, philosophically, how does this set with “free will”?

    all good topics for an evening of moon viewing. otherwise, i’m with Taisho (above).

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