Infinite in the finite

In the Dojo where we practice, we dedicated the last three years to building a vast archive of the technical program, now available on YouTube.

An intense work, which to date allowed us to draw a first perimeter, a framework to the purely formal aspect of the practice of Aikido. So far, we have cataloged about 1652 technical expressions.

There are certainly others and, most likely, others will arise from further research and study.

What is the point of all this, beyond providing the community of practitioners with a tool for learning about formal performance? The greatest result, in our view, is to be able to say that the Aikido vocabulary is made up of more or less 1600 “words”.

As in languages, words are however “finite”: a dictionary may contain a large but not infinite number of them.

However, with a “finite” number of words, an “infinite” number of sentences can be constructed and, through them, meanings, narratives, expressions…

So what is Aikido? A language or one among other languages? Furthermore, is it really necessary to know all the words?

Linguistics and neurolinguistics teach us that language is a characteristic common to every human being, regardless of the culture they belong to. A child, born in one place and raised in another culture, is capable of developing the language of the culture that welcomes him/her.

Languages are grafted onto this skill that each of us has, so to speak, pre-installed at birth. For some researchers, such as for Prof. Andrea Moro, they have a similar behavior to flu viruses: they are learned by contact and are used to organize communities, define their boundaries and roles. In a sense, languages are a protection from the chaos that humanity would fall into if it spoke a single language.

So what is Aikido? It is certainly one of human languages, with its rules, its grammar. Expression of a very specific culture, it has spread throughout the world. As languages are, it’s alive. And if it is alive, it necessarily becomes contaminated over time. As much as we try to preserve the root, contact with other cultures, other times and other needs slowly and inexorably modifies its terms, pronunciation and sentences. This is how styles are born as well as those expressions that so scandalize the purists who grew up with tears and blood with the first instructors sent from Japan.

At the same time it has the characteristics of language. As we said before, it allows you to create an almost infinite number of situations: even a beginner can go on and on receiving and returning a shomenuchi kotegaeshi, for instance…

Furthermore, as it happens for language, it has elements that do not depend on the meaning of what we want to say. When we played at creating new words as children, we used them to construct sentences that made “sense”, even if actually they meant absolutely nothing. Thus in the exchange during practice, tori and nage can meet even if sometimes the technical sense of the exchange has no value, for example from the point of view of combat (let’s remember Mike Tyson’s astonished expression in front of ryotedori).

Finally, in language, humans are the only living beings who can say what they want regardless of the context. A blackbird will whistle for twenty hours a day during the mating season but never during the cold winter. The human being is capable of producing the “Divine Comedy” while remaining closed in a closet during an exile, as Dante actually did in 1304.

This is what happens in a discipline like Aikido, where the meeting of tori and nage gives to every chance. In that moment the couple “co-creates” not only the technique and the form, but the expression of the entire inner world, making the moment unique and unrepeatable.

According to researchers, it is estimated that an Italian graduate has come into contact with around 30,000 terms of the Italian vocabulary during his/her student life, knows around 6,500 of them and uses more or less 2,000 of them.

All within approximately 270,000 words contained in the vocabulary of the Italian language, which give rise to almost 2 million words and expressions that create the entire heritage of the Italian language.

Is it necessary to know 1652 Aikido techniques to “dialogue” on the tatami? Certainly the more terms we know, the less our sentences will always seem the same. Who among us doesn’t have friends, relatives and acquaintances in our circle who, when they speak, always say the same things, always using the same words?

On the other hand, as in languages, the more terms we know, the more we risk making the meaning of what we say obscure. Who among us has not had encounters with people who spoke so politely that, in the end, we struggled to understand what they had told us?

In the growth process, our desire for something “more”, for infinity, is the spark that ignites the desire to learn, to do, to create and tools such as martial disciplines are excellent allies for experiencing infinity even in the confines finite that confines us in time and form.

Disclaimer: Picture by Pixabay

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