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by Jaan Sunderlin - Shidosha - Zantoppa Kai, USA
Morihei Ueshiba, O-sensei of Aikido, was a very adept and sagacious practitioner of that which the Western World calls the Martial Arts. Yet beyond that, and more significantly, he was a practitioner of Budo, The Way of Stopping the Weapons of Destruction. The importance of this latter to the aikidoka is that it gives him of her the opportunity to realize the true nature of Aikido; what Aikido is or is not!
To begin developing a feeling of the essence of Aikido, one must experience it. To begin a discussion of whether or not it is a martial art, one must have that experience and must also know the meaning of the word martial. A dictionary defines it as meaning "of, or suitable for war" or "showing a readiness or eagarness to fight." Interestingly, and perhaps disturbing to some aikidoka, the techniques of Aikido are suitable for use in war; for destruction! How then is it then that Aikido might not be martial in nature? To answer this question, one must first ask another question which pertains to that preceeding statement, which some may find disturbing, that Aikido techniques are "suitable for destruction." That other question is -- How is this so? O-sensei achieved, through much effort and tribulation, a high sense of compassion towards, and understanding of life. He then developed and presented Aikido to the World for the purpose of upholding honesty, kindness, respectfullness and sincerity as those ways of acting which are amoung the best for the development of the human character; yet he knew well also that one must be prepared for, and able to defend against, the violence risen from inequity which exists in this world. Therefore, he understood the necessity for physical (and mental) technique which would be useful for the defense of self.
Now to delve further into what Aikido is, one needs to understand that Aikido is a discipline. But what is a "discipline"? To begin, a dictionary defines it as being "training that develops character." Think clearly now, and understand this -- that which defines any discipline is created by the proponents of that discipline and through sheer power of the will they adhere to that which defines it. That which defines the discipline is labeled the philosophy of that discipline and it is acted out by its proponents. Men and women, the proponents, choose by their actions the definition of their discipline (and their actions may, on occasion, go contrary to the philosophy of their discipline; thus changing, upon the deviance, temporarily or permanently, the very essence upon which the discipline had been based). The proponents of Aikido choose not to war, not to wantonly (nor thougthlessly destroy); and they choose also not to be eager to fight. Therefore, they do not practice a martial art and therefore Aikido is not a martial art! If they do choose to fight or war, then they revert to the martial forebearer of Aikido and they are no longer aikidoka.
So, what then is Aikido? Aikido is a 'clear and straight path' to Budo, The Way of Stopping the Weapons of Destruction; and it demands from its practitioners, aikidoka, a way of action which exhibits a high morality: one where the aikidoka is directed to act in a manner which protects, sustains, and enhances human life! Aikido teachers present this code of morality through the concept of Aiki -- spirit harmony/spirit meeting. To protect human life means to defend it against premature death -- and therefore, aikidoka must always be based in self-defense and must always be functional with it in life beyond the dojo. To enhance human life means to reject fighting and war, and instead, replace it with that which causes good relations, health and happiness amongst humankind. Herein is found the pleasant and truly wonderful nature of Aikido!
Aikido is a discipline of movement which gives the practitioner the opportunity to transcend the martial attitude so that he or she may develop a true Budo character and live a healthier, longer and more fulfilled life!
See the book Understanding Aikido: Essential Information and Perceptions for an in-depth but complex discussion about the discipline of Aikdo.
Copyright © 1991, 2015 Jan Sunderlin.
For further thought, consider: Force and Violence, Aikido's oxymorons, and Ueshiba's Shobu Aiki.