“Budo: from Force to Gentleness” by Nick Lowry


“Violence will solve some problems, but gentleness
will solve all of them” — Tibetian Buddist wisdom of what underlies our lives and choices, what hides out beneath the surface of what we think and do is fear. And much of how we respond to the fear and anxiety is by reverting to force. We seek to change the piece of the world we perceive as threatening. We seek to neutralize the threat and stop the fear; all the while missing the point that the real source of the fear we are experiencing is not really out there at all—In truth we carry our anxiety around with us and project it on the world. And so no matter how much we fight or win, how many enemies we vanquish, we still wind up back at that same ole ground of insecurity.

Force has its place, we do achieve effects but employing violence, that much is undeniable, but when the use of force becomes adopted as the default strategy for responding to anxiety, then we fall prey to a pernicious and avoidable cycle. Force begets force. Our actions have unintended consequences.

Patterns develop. Habit and conditioned reflex take over. More of the same — violence ad infinitum
Budo, taken on as a deep study and practice — not as a sport, nor as a fantasy fulfillment, nor as a means to the end of becoming the ultimate bad-ass — does offer a corrective. It is important to sort this out, otherwise one may go a long way down the path only to discover that one’s life has become a hollow imitation of the real budoka. A sad and disappointing revelation.

Real training, real practice invites us to embody principle. It invites us to shape ourselves around different values, not winning points or even winning wars, but values that transcend and include violence and that over time reward this devotion to principled activity by endowing us with competent efficiency and dramatic dignity in the face of anxiety.

As we train in the principles of aiki and ju we find that the training turns this cyclic activity around a bit, and gradually we learn to dance with the anxiety and fear and uncover different strategies, no longer trying to force change but working with sharp perception and uncluttered awareness we fine tune responses toward lighter and lighter touch.

The possibilities of gentleness unfold. “There is timing in the void,” the sword saint said. This is an altogether different strategy, with its own timing and its own rules. The development of gentleness, its actualization, is deeply dependent on self–awareness and on bringing our internal world into different order and smoothness. Our own off balance, that dreaded fear of falling, of failing, of losing, of dying becomes a useful tool. We become imbued with a different energy, a different feel and a different psychology, for now rather than fighting with our fear, or on behalf of our fear, or trying to escape our fear, we turn toward it, lean into it and thereby transform it. In gentleness we are less separate isolated fearful individuals and more a conduit for the energy of the whole – and over time we learn to no longer be driven by the cyclic fear but rather by a new found faith in lightness and precision and mushin.


  1. Thanks Nick…

    I would like to add that Nick is Dojo Cho of the Windsong Dojo in Oklahoma City, and is author of the book “Aikido: Principles of Kata & Randori” which is an invaluable resource to those of us who practice Tomiki/Fugakukai style of Aikido.

    To paraphrase Michael McVey’s comment back in July, “This could be a part of a much needed book. Please write more…”

  2. Sort of a game of karmic whack-a-mole. I suppose in the greater scheme of things success is whacking ’em until you’ve succeeded raising your family. ‘Cuz, it seems, this is all about dancing with death. Btw-‘the resolute acceptance of death’ is elementary samurai (Hagakure). Aikido, ‘be attached neither to life nor death’ (O Sensei), is more advanced and assumes that you already have the basics pretty much under control.

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