My Aikido training has been the driving force of pretty much anything I’ve done and continue to do. Following on the footsteps of my older siblings, I began training in 1995 at the age of 14. I spent my teenage years at the dojo training almost every night, traveling to seminars and attending other dojo social gatherings. By age 18, Aikido had become an integral part of my life. Aikido training opened the door to other interests such as Zen training and Japanese Calligraphy. There was a lot I wanted to learn, but I was by myself. There wasn’t anyone in my dojo who had formal training in any of these arts. In 1998 I made the bold decision to hop on a plane and fly to Chicago, IL to train at Tenshinkan Dojo (headquarter dojo of the Aikido Association of America led by the late Shinan Fumio Toyoda) as a Kenshusei for the summer. This experience transformed me; cementing further the role of Aikido in my life.
In the beginning Aikido for me was just a past time. Understanding the application of Aikido was easy. If someone grabbed my hand trying to rob me, I could grab their wrist, pivot around them and twist their wrist until I had them on the floor, kick them and run away. But this scenario never really happened and the probability of ever happening was very small; I live a rather peaceful life and avoid getting myself in situations where a physical confrontation is necessary. Then, why train? Why practice day after day these self – defense movements if I’m not going to put them into practice one day? These questions are asked by many students and the answers don’t lie within the fabric of Aikido itself. To understand not only how Aikido can be applied to our daily life, but why devote our entire lives around this practice, we need to zoom out and look at the big picture. It is critical to understand what Aikido is and how it relates to BUDŌ (martial way).
Aikido techniques are based on traditional Jujutsu practiced by the founder (Morihei Ueshiba) during the years prior to World War II. Consequently, Aikido’s philosophy was born from a post-war Japan.
After fighting what was practically a suicidal war, Japanese society rejected anything, martial arts included, that carried a militaristic spirit (Pranin, 2016). As a result, many other martial arts turned into sports, but Aikido didn’t. Instead, Aikido became “the art of peace”.
The founder’s techniques were effective, and his training was martial in spirit and practicality. The war had a huge impact on the development of Aikido, and eventually led the founder to conclude that the true spirit of BUDŌ was not found in combat. Aikido was set to carry what the founder considered to be the true purpose of BUDŌ: to achieve victory over oneself. Aikido became a vehicle to perfect our humanity, develop our mind and bodies, and become useful members of society. This level of personal development was to be achieved through rigorous training with kindred spirits in the martial arts (Ueshiba, 1984).
These concepts put forward by the founder were difficult to understand and many of his students even said that his teachings were incoherent. How can there be real BUDŌ training without fighting? Can we really apply the principles of Aikido without a life-threatening conflict?
The development of BUDŌ extends beyond the battlefield as well as the application of Aikido extends beyond the mat. BUDŌ training is not just about knowing how to fight; it is about dealing with transcendence. Conflict, war, and violence are real ways to come face to face with transcendence, but this is not the only way we can be enlightened about life and death. These are all destructive behaviors and activities, and if anything, they only deal with death. What about life? What about training that encourages the preservation and enhancement of life?
Students of martial arts need to strive to see past the fighting aspect of BUDŌ and realize that unless they are dealing with the question of transcendence, they are not practicing BUDŌ. Training this way encourages not only to practice effective martial techniques but also to take the values learned from these techniques and apply them to our daily lives (one that is not lived in a battlefield) so they can become better members of society.
If we practice martial arts with the goal to learn self defense, we should ask ourselves: What is the self we are defending?
If we say: I defend my house, my wallet, my car, etc. those are material things, they are not the manifestation of your true self. If you say you are defending your life, well, death is inescapable. So what do we truly need to defend?
The deeper meaning of Aikido as BUDŌ is martial, spiritual and artistic training used to realize the meaning of life and death and how we transcend from one into the next.
When we look at Aikido training through these eyes we then realize that there is no end to training. There is no completion, no technique to discover or rank to achieve; but the daily manifestation of practice what it is important. I did not know this early in my training, for sure, but now I know why Aikido training was so central to everything I did and continue to do. As a chef, I can only better explain it in cooking terms. If my life is a pot of soup, Aikido is not another ingredient, saying the onions, the stock or the seasoning, but the pot itself holding the soup and handling the transformation of all its ingredients into one coherent and delicious dish.
Pranin, S. (2016). The man who shaped modern aikido in his image. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from https://aikidojournal.com/2016/03/10/the-man-who-shaped-modern-aikido-in-his-image-by-stanley-pranin/
Ueshiba, K. (1987). The spirit of aikidō. Tokyo: Kodansha International.