William Little 2016

Truth in the Martial Arts: Aikido, Violence and the Practice of the Self

William Little

Adjunct Professor in Sociology

University of Victoria, BC, Canada


My 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 centered 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 language 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 form-of-life of martial fluidity and to expand the self-understanding martial artists themselves. Martial artists are uniquely positioned to decipher Deleuze’s texts because of the deep embodied knowledge that emerges through practice.



William Little is an adjunct professor in sociology at the University of Victoria, BC, Canada. He has practiced Aikido for the last twelve years. His research interests include contemporary social theory, media and popular culture, political violence, and the biopolitics of healing practices. 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.