The Mysteries of Aikido

5. March 2017


The Mysteries of Aikido

It is often said that aikido is the study of the spirit but aikido is also a budo, a martial art. Aikido is a blending of the spirit with a martial quality; harmony between the physical and the spiritual; leading a potential harmful or deadly conflict to a peaceful resolution.  Concluding the conflict without harm or injury to either the attacker or the one who is attacked. O-Sensei, the founder of aikido, describes aikido as “ the art of loving attack and peaceful reconciliation. “Attacker” and “defender” joined together in a startling, seamless harmony that rendered violence harmless.”  For the defender, the choice becomes whether to use crippling power or not to use crippling power to defend one’s personal space. If the inner principles of aikido are understood and internalized within one’s body then crippling power or injury to the attacker is not required.

As a practitioner of aikido how is this possible? The answer to this question is complex and at times very elusive. Perhaps the best place to begin to reflect upon this question and to provide some insight is to comment upon how one approaches their aikido practice. To discover the inner workings of this mysterious art one must be fully attentive when on the aikido practice mat. The aikido practitioner must make a total commitment to his/her practice. When the aikidoist steps on the aikido mat he/she is dealing with life and death. The aikido practitioner must approach their practice and train with dead earnest as if their life depends upon it. The practitioner must be attentive to what is being taught and communicated verbally and visually.  As Hikitsuchi Sensei often stated, “An aikidoist must be constantly aware.”  The Japanese refer to this awareness and training quality as Shin Ken Sho Bu, dead earnest training.  “Danger is very uncomfortable, but it heightens our senses. If we channel fear into acute awareness the present moment expands. “Now” becomes immense . Fully alive.” It is in this sense that O-Sensei can state “ I am the universe” all possibilities are within. However, what does this mean for everyday aikido practice?

If one begins to approach their practice and to train with dead earnest intent one then has the possibility to see and feel their body move in ways not different but more grounded – stable and alive. This is possible by doing and receiving (practicing)  the various aikido techniques – partner to partner. The magic and beauty that arises from this experience comes about as one begins to focus and incorporate into their own body and practice the four inner essentials to aikido practice as described by aikido master Yoshimitsu Yamada 8th Dan Shihan:  Posture, Balance, Body Position, and Maai (distance).  If these essential elements are understood and incorporated into one’s body as they practice the art of aikido then the possibility of disarming a violent attack in a non violent way is possible. These four principles must come together in an instant,  in a blink of an eye – laser like focus.  It is these four principles coming together in a laser like focus that enable not only for the aikido techniques to work efficiently, but also to allow the aikido techniques to change according to the circumstances. As O-Sensei contends, “In aikido, the techniques are constantly changing, for change and adaptability are part of the essence of aikido.” It is the incorporation of these four principles that enable aikido techniques to appear in multiple possibilities as if they are magic and enabling the aikidoist to respond in the moment of conflict and resolution of that conflict.

O-Sensei often talked about the concept of inryoku no tanren – forging the “power of attraction” the power to draw in and absorb others. Rather than merely blending with the other person, you draw them into you – in accordance with his/her own movement – then in order not to fight the aikido practitioner guides them in a better direction – disarming a potential deadly conflict. Aikido techniques can be very devastating and destructive but the choice does not have to end by injuring the attacker.  In order to accomplish this it is crucial that the aikidoist train with the spirit of Shin Ken Sho Bu and when one does that then the four inner essential principles of aikido Posture, Balance, Body Position, and Maai coming together which enabling the spirit  and power of inryoku to occur the aikidoist is able to respond to a potential conflict in a more dynamic and positive way on and off the aikido mat. The task and goal of aikido as O-Sensei taught is to bring people together in friendship and harmony. We invite you to come and experience this wonderful art that we call aikido.

David J. Ross,4. Dan Shidoin, Certified United States Aikido Federation (USAF) / Sansuikai Instructor