William Little is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria and an Open Learning Faculty Member at Thomson Rivers University in Canada. He practices Aikido at Sanshukan Dojo in Victoria. His research interests include social theory, the sociology of violence, healing practices, and media and popular culture. His work on the theme of violence has been published in New German Critique, the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, and in several edited collections.
This paper will address the theme of ‘truth in the martial arts’, a phrase from Mitsugi Saotome’s recent reflection on his relationship as Uchi Deshi to Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. I will frame this theme sociologically, exploring it as an aspect of the martial arts as contemporary practices of the self. What is distinct about the practice of the martial arts in this context is their sustained reflection on violence, not simply as violent contest, but as a condition of irreducible insecurity per se. I would like to propose that Aikido (not unlike other martial arts) offers a response to violence by articulating a form-of-life – ‘a life that can never be separated from its form’ (Giorgio Agamben) – that is centred on the understanding that complete martial fluidity is immanent to life. The martial arts are therefore very interesting contemporary practices of the self because their paths to knowledge address key biopolitical issues of life and power through a freeing relation to violence. I would also like to propose that the framework of transcendental empiricism, which Gilles Deleuze develops to describe the dynamics of affectual as opposed to representational (i.e. mediated) experience, is both promising to characterize the experience of martial fluidity and to expand the self-understanding martial artists themselves. Martial artists are uniquely positioned to decipher Agamben’s and Deleuze’s theoretical texts because of the deep, embodied knowledge that emerges through practice.