Aikido: An Inisde Look - September 2006 - Aikido Talks

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Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), whom most students of Aikido respectfully call O-Sensei (meaning “great teacher”). Among the many teachers who influenced O-Sensei were Sokaku Takeda and Onisaburo Deguchi. Takeda, who was tried for battling a group of hostile construction workers with a samurai sword, was master of a traditional fighting system, Daito Ryu. Deguchi, who is famous as a calligrapher and artist, was one of the founders of a religious sect, the Omoto Kyo. It seems hard to imagine two teachers with less in common. Yet O-Sensei managed to synthesize what he learned from these two men into a single art, which he called Aikido.

            The connection that O-Sensei saw between Daito-Ryu technique and Omoto-Kyo philosophy had to do ­ at least in part ­ with the principle of Ai. As it appears in the name  “Aikido,” the term “ai” means “confluence,” “(seamless) joining,” or “proper fit.” One of the technical ideas of Daito Ryu Jujitsu is that it is possible to “fit” with an opponent’s motion so that one can throw or apply a joint lock without clashing with the opponent’s energy (or ki). And one of the tenets of Omoto Kyo is that we can “fit in” with natural patterns, enabling ourselves to live harmoniously with each other and with our environments. (According to Omoto Kyo teachings, what makes such “fitting” possible is love. A Japanese character meaning “Love,” though different in etymology from that meaning “confluence,” can also be pronounced ai ­ a “coincidence” that was not lost on O-sensei.)

            Traditionally, the point of studying martial technique is to gain skill in hurting, dominating, or defeating another. Accordingly, in his attempt to combine a philosophy of love with Daito Ryu technique, O-Sensei had to develop a new conception of martial art (or Budo). This new conception came to him in sudden bursts -  in moments of inspiration or enlightenment. About one such incident he wrote,

            I felt transformed into a golden image, and my body seemed as light as a feather. All at once I understood [that] the Way of the Warrior is to manifest Divine Love, a spirit that nurtures and embraces all things…. I saw the entire earth as my home, and the sun, moon, and stars as my intimate friends.


At another moment, about 15 years later, he came to the sudden realization that the martial techniques he had learned “were vehicles for the cultivation of life, knowledge, and virtue, not devices to throw wand pin people.” “The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood as a means to kill and destroy others,” he wrote some years later. “The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter ­ it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”


This conception of martial art differs so greatly from traditional conceptions that there is some controversy about whether Aikido should even be counted as martial. Regardless of how this controversy should be settled, it’s clear that many who study Aikido today do not do so primarily to improve their ability to fight or to defend themselves. In some way, Aikido is a spiritual art, an art of self-transformation.


From Aikido Talks

>Read Previous Artcle (Remebering O-Sensei)