The term Aikido has been interpreted in many different ways. According to the Collins Dictionary, Aikido means “the way to join or receive spirits or forces”. The Oxford defines it as “the way of adapting the spirits”. An aikido website, Aikidofaq.com, states that Aikido is “the art of unity with the ground”. Richard Moon in his works defines Aikido as simply “the way of spiritual harmony”
1. From all of these remarkable definitions, I wondered which one most closely represents what Aikido truly means. As my research continued, my list grew longer. Source after source showed me nothing but their unique definition of these three Kanji words.
Eventually, I decided to take a daring step, by referring back to O Sensei’s philosophical works. I wondered whether his works would help me to satisfy my curiosity. I was fully aware of the consequences of doing this. His wisdoms might be beyond my spiritual comprehension and I would be lost even further. However, I believed that one should look back to the point of origin to get a better view on things. There was one book about O’Sensei by John Stevens, published in 2005, that particularly caught my attention. With O’Sensei’s family’s permission, John Stevens was able to translate and compile many of O’Sensei’s talks and writings during the time when he was introducing Aikido to the world. The title of this book happens to be the very meaning of Aikido described by O’Sensei himself. And the title of that book is “The Art of Peace”. In the book, O’Sensei highlighted that “if we have not linked ourselves to true emptiness, we will never understand The Art of Peace”. What does this mean?
When I started training in Riai Aikido, I always tried to dissect every technique into smaller components and practice them the way I saw fit. It was not until I reached my 4th Kyu that I realised that Aikido is so much bigger than performing the techniques correctly. I found that the more ambitious I was, the worse my learning had become. Through practicing basic techniques over and over, I began to pick up some valuable lessons that I now believe O’Sensei was trying to point out to us in his “The Art of Peace”. This is also where I could start to relate to Richard Moon’s point on Aikido as the way of spiritual harmony. Now, before I train, firstly I need to make peace with the ground that I am standing on and the surrounding that I am in. The ground is where I set my foundation to build my posture, center and balance. The surrounding is where I draw my energy to perform the technique. Without a solid connection with these elements, my technique would be ineffective and weak.
Secondly, I need to make “peace” or “harmony” with myself. My spirit must be free, or should I say empty, from any preoccupations that would hinder the training process. Hence, our Dojo etiquette is to leave our footwear facing away from the mat in order to symbolise our intention to leave any troubled thoughts behind and be mindful of the training. Also, we must not premeditate the moves and the outcomes of the technique. As Richard Moon puts it, we must allow ourself to realign as the technique unfolds naturally. Premeditating the course of action would interrupt the natural flow of the technique.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I have to make peace with my training partner. I have to be able to accept my training partner and accommodate myself to their strengths and weaknesses. I have to overcome any prejudice that would interrupt the “spirit” connection between the two of us. If the connection is solid, then the whole technique and experience is much more effective and enjoyable for both parties, and it will stimulate better learning.
I dare to say that Aikido is truly a martial art that is not only defending us from any external threats, but is also protecting us from the “demon” within ourselves. To really appreciate and understand the art, I believe we must first conquer our own self. The art simply would not flow within us if there was too much negativity within our mind. To accept the true meaning of the art, one must find peace with emptiness. I believe this aspect contributes to the reasons why some find it hard to stay on the Aikido journey. Perhaps not everyone is prepared to let go self ego and surrender themselves unconditionally to receive the art. Maybe in some cases, people are merely looking for an adrenalin fix and attracted to more “aggressive” arts. O’Sensei was a product of multiple martial arts which were aggressive in nature. Around 1925, he distanced himself from these arts and began to develop Aikido
2. The philosophy was to create an art that would enable an Aikido practitioner to extend love and care to those who intend to harm others. At the time, it was considered to be unorthodox and going against the mainstream. Aikido simply cannot be mass-produced and commercialised for instant learning. Nor will it ever be a sports channel highlight. According to O’Sensei, it has to be passed down from one “peaceful” spirit to another “harmonious” spirit directly
3. I believe “The Art of Peace and Harmony” chooses us, not the other way around.
On this note, I have decided to come to peace with myself, and not pursue one single definition of Aikido. I believe it is only foolish to continue to do so. Rather, I should focus on achieving the goals that all Aikido definitions have in common, and that is to achieve harmony, unity, and peace with both myself and others through training and performing the art. It is truly a privilege for me to have the opportunity to train with everyone in our club and manage to go this far. Our dojos have become my place of peace and sanctity. My sincere gratitude to all my Senseis who have lit the path through my Aikido journey, and to my brothers and sisters in arms who have helped me to get where I am today.
Domo arigato gozaimashita
Roban for Shodan Grading, 28 September 2013, Riai Aikido, Crofton Downs, Wellington Dojo
Aikido in Three Easy Lessons, Richard Moon, Aiki Press 1996
Morihei Ueshiba, The Development of Aikido, Wikipedia
The Art of Peace, Morihei Ueshiba, Translated & edited by John Stevens, Shambala Publications 2005.