Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sample Position Paper

Students, below is an example of the kind of position paper discussed here; it is of average acceptable length for the assignment.  Use it as a model for the kind of writing you are asked to do in my writing classes, but keep in mind the limitations on its applicability due to the differences in media between the model and what you are expected to submit to me.

My study of Japanese martial arts began when I was in sixth grade.  On a field trip, I had been beaten fairly badly by classmates, and my family and I determined that I would thereafter have the means to defend myself from assault.  A friend of the family had made a long study of Korean taekwondo and Japanese classical jiujutsu and offered to take me on as a student in the latter discipline.  In the years since, I have studied Kodokan judo and Aikikai aikido, finding the latter particularly enjoyable.  In no small part, this is because of the difference I have observed among students of jiujutsu, judo, and aikido.  The first seek to be able to render others unable to attack again, the second seek victory in competitions.  Students of Aikikai aikido, however, tend to pursue something different.  The art attracts students who wish to enact a just and ethical peace in the world.

Aikido is a relatively recently developed Japanese martial art.  The English-language website of the Aikikai Foundation, which is hosted at the world headquarters of organized study of aikido, notes that it was "created during the 1920s by Morihei Ueshiba" and was "Officially recognized by the Japanese government in 1940."  The grandson of Morihei Ueshiba, Moriteru Ueshiba, is the doshu or head of the art and of the Aikikai Foundation, as its website notes, so it is only in its third generation,making it quite young.  The United States Aikido Federation, the major governing body of aikido study in the United States, reinforces the idea of aikido's relative newness, noting on its website that the first aikido dojo was established in 1927.  The time of its creation coincides with a series of world events that point up the problems of ethics and justice attendant upon attempts to dominate groups of people, those leading up to and at the beginning of the Second World War.  During that time, several nations were engaged in the systematic subjugation and destruction of peoples based upon perceived ethnic and racial differences, actions far from respectful of individual dignity and so neither ethical nor just.  Those problems were doubtlessly in the mind of the founder of aikido, commonly called O-Sensei, as he set up his school, and they therefore almost certainly exerted influence on his teachings.  As such, a desire for peace, which cannot exist save in the presence of ethical justice, is tacitly embedded in Aikikai aikido, and so it is those who seek peace who are most likely to study the art.

Moreover, the enactment of an ethical and just peace is an explicit goal of Aikikai aikido.  Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere is a standard textbook on aikido practice, and one written by two early United States students of Aikikai aikido (9).  The authors, Westbrook and Ratti, speak explicitly to the "ethical imperatives" of the art (33).  They note that the "ultimate in ethical self-defense," and the "goal of all aikido self-defense arts," is in neutralizing an unprovoked attack in such a way that the attacker is left alive and without serious injury (34).  The textbook is an influential one, reaching even outside of Aikikai aikido, and it overtly links the pursuit of peace--the neutralization of aggression--with ethical concern for others and an immediate, personal justice--the just and appropriate defense of self against attack (20).  Consequently, it embeds in much study of aikido an aspiration for an ethically just peace, and those who continue to study the art do so in recognition thereof.

Further, the Aikikai Foundation remarks that because "contemporary values stress respect for human life, Aikido is a highly relevant form of the Japanese martial arts."  This necessarily implies that aikido is respectful of persons, which concern is inherent both to ethics and to justice.  More explicitly, the US Aikido Federation notes "Aikido strives for the ultimate goal of peaceful resolution rather than defeat," that its performance works "to subdue and neutralize attackers without serious injury," done "without belittling others, without the intention of harm or fear of injury," but under a "premise of mutual respect and caring."  In emphasizing resolution rather than victory is a direct call for peace and tranquility.  In the goal of not inflicting serious injury is a recognition of the right even the errant have to the integrity of their own bodies, which is a remarkably high ethical standard with which to treat an attacker.  Similarly, in working not only to respect the other participant in the act of aikido (both by refusing to offer insult and to appreciate the potential of the other to enact harm), but to work to the betterment of that other--for what else is caring?--there is a degree of compassion that underlies the highest principles of just conduct.  Each is a fundamental goal of the art, and so each is presented as something towards which students of aikido are expected to strive from their earliest days on the mats of the dojo floor.  They are not easy things towards which to work, and so those who practice the art are necessarily those who have a strong desire to enact a just and ethical peace.

Without such a desire, it is not likely that the student will remain dedicated to the art.  Yet Aikikai aikido tends to attract people who remain in study for decades.  A number of those at my own dojo have been on the mats for thirty years and more.  They would not have done so were there not something peculiar to Aikikai aikido to attract them and retain their interest through injury and child-rearing, relocation and economic worry.  The physical techniques of Aikikai aikido have antecedents and direct parallels in other martial arts (Westbrook and Ratti 30-31), and many of those arts are far more widely studied and accessible.  The uniqueness of Aikikai aikido is in its ethical imperatives, and so it must be in them that the students of the art find what they need to sustain themselves.

It is admittedly true that the initial intention of a thing does not always continue to guide it.  Jude Roberts, for example, argues at length that law is easily turned to ends for which it was never intended--and which can, in fact, be antithetical to the desires of those who frame the laws.  If so revered and solemn a thing as a nation's law can be directed away from its original intent, many other things may, as well, and it follows that a martial art may be similarly shaded away from its first thrust.  In fact, there are many sub-schools which have broken away from their origins.  Students of Aikikai aikido, however, overwhelmingly follow the ethical path established by O-Sensei.  My own study of the art has been influenced by senior practitioners who have told me that those on the mats, practicing the techniques of aikido, are all brothers and sisters, united almost as family in the pursuit of what the art can yield.  Although members of a family might come to strife, the family itself ultimately seeks harmony--and it is in harmony with the world that just and ethical peace is attained. 

In addition, one of the foremost instructors of aikido in the world, Yoshimitsu Yamada, remarks on the New York Aikikai's website that "one of [the] goals in studying aikido to emulate as much as possible [O-Sensei's] admirable characteristics," among which are compassion and the elimination of selfishness.  Both regard for others and a willingness to act in the interests of others rather than the self are often held to be primary ideas of both ethics and justice, and enacting them is likely to produce an active tranquility that can easily be called "peace."  Yamada continues to be in a position to influence thousands of students, both directly through his own worldwide teaching (the New York Aikikai's website reports his seminar schedule, which takes him across the Americas and Eurasia) and through his own students having opened dojo of their own (as noted in biographies of the teaching staff of the New York Aikikai).  Accordingly, his views guide much of the practice of aikido, and since his views explicitly speak to adherence to O-Sensei's vision, that initial vision still guides aikido.  Aikido, at least in its main thrust of the Aikikai style, therefore remains tied to the desire for a just and ethical peace, in its statements and in its students.

It is not the case that, in its techniques, Aikikai aikido is more or less effective than other Japanese martial arts--or other traditions of martial arts. The fact that the traditions have been transmitted for decades and centuries speaks to their effectiveness as techniques, as means to manipulate the human body and equipment to end individual physical conflicts.  The chief difference is in the intention behind the performance of the techniques.  Classical jiujutsu seeks to render the opponent incapable of further attack.  Judo seeks to render the opponent defeated, usually in a supine position in a prescribed tournament setting.  Aikikai aikido seeks to make the opponent not an opponent, to neutralize aggression in the interest of permitting people to find and maintain their best selves.  The enactment by more people of their best selves will lead to the improvement of the world in which they live, an improvement which is promoted through a peace founded on ethical concern for others and a justice born of compassion.  Aikikai aikido serves that end, and its study by those who seek that end is well worth increasing, to the benefit of all.

Works Cited
~"About Aikido." United States Aikido Federation. United States Aikido Federation, 2013. Web. 17 June 2013.
~Aikikai Foundation. Aikikai Foundation, 2005. Web. 17 June 2013.
~New York Aikikai. New York Aikikai, 2009. Web. 17 June 2013.
~Roberts, Jude. "'Circumcision: everyone's talking about it': Legislation, Social Pressure, and the Body." Journal of Gender Studies 20.4 (December 2011): 347-58. EBSCOhost. Web. 5 June 2013.
~Westbrook, A., and O. Ratti. Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. Illus. O. Ratti. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle, 2006. Print.

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