III. “The hero on the Path of Personal Spirituality,” by Charles A. McCarty

A. The Nature of the Spiritual Path

There is a popular “mythology” (in that term’s usual usage) about spiritual mastery. The mystic or spiritual master is often visualized as an aged recluse, sequestered in a mountain cave. His earthly goals include the conquering of the body and of all physically limiting circumstances, the setting aside of possessions and of physical desires and the achievement of a state of bliss, nirvana or heaven on earth. Ultimately, at physical death and release from the grinding wheel of life, the master enjoys the fruits of his labor in a setting envisioned, both in Eastern and Western tradition, as a lush garden in which all comforts and desires are attended to.(8)

This sort of a viewpoint regarding mastery tends to reflect concerns with the material rather than the spiritual, the appearance rather than the essence of the state of mastery. As in most stereotypical viewpoints there is some truth in the preceding statements, but they accurately reflect neither the purpose nor the process of spiritual mastery.

First, it is insufficient to approach the subject as a matter involving the things that spiritual masters do (ascetic practices, secluded life, etc.) and have (nothing—save, perhaps, a begging bowl). There is a far more crucial aspect to mastery, that of being. Being is the source of what is done and had, rather than the outcome. It is what masters are internally and naturally, the core from which all else comes. This core of being is the distinguishing factor which marks the master.

Before expanding on this, it may be wise to tackle some of the popular misconceptions about what masters of spirituality do and have, for these views limit and distort the individual’s perception of the meaning and form of commitment to service.

The image of the lonely vigil in a place far from society is not necessarily typical of the spiritual life, though in many of the best known examples (Christ, Buddha, Mohammed) it has been a stage in the process of growth. This appears to be time for preparation for return to the world of man with a newly discovered orientation to it, for it may be that others cannot be truly served until the self and its relationship to others has been privately examined and illuminated. Withdrawal from a community for a lifetime of contemplation is apparently neither necessary nor, perhaps, advisable for spiritual growth. The monastic setting, as well, is not one of total solitude, but of community and cooperation, as well as service in the fields of philanthropy and academics.

The issue of possessions is another source of general estrangement from
have historically been an aspect of the lives of many spiritual masters, in its healthiest form it has been the product of the spiritual orientation, not its source.

Further, the spiritual life is a reflection of detachment from material possessions, rather than the denial of it. It is a matter of ownership, rather than being owned. An attempt to advance spiritually by active denial is to own the most subtle but demanding of possessions—nothing. When “nothing” as an indication of spiritual advancement becomes a possession, it is more damaging and difficult to get rid of than all the riches of the world.

This returns us to the concept of service as an essential indicator of spiritual progress, for concerns with the development of the self, the limited self that we associate with body and consciousness, can take us only so far on the spiritual path. An expansion must take place—an expansion that begins to involve the immediate others in our lives and relationships, the community, the nation and all humanity in the process of enlightenment. This expansion is service, the orientation, the way of being from which the actions and appearances of spiritual attainment flow, in all their variety.

The East embodies this in the concept of the bodhisattva, the Buddhist saint who delays his own accession to nirvana until he has assisted all of creation to precede him. Christ graphically demonstrated such commitment by washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, prior to offering his own life for them and for all humanity. The swordsman does not concern himself with matters of life and death, but allows his sword to move freely in response to the needs of humanity, and in the service of both life and death. The common thread is transcendence from the limited wants of the individual body and consciousness, towards a concern for the wants and needs of others. The demonstration of this, the physical manifestation of it, is service.

Service is not an alien term in our society, but is one for which there is a great deal of ambivalence. This ambivalence is reflected in the dichotomy which comes to mind when we envision the antonym for servant—master; a familiar term, for it is mastery which is being examined here. This has led me to propose that the way of mastery is found in the way of service.

This is a paradox, a dynamic tension; resolvable, as I have said, through myth. Such a resolution is found in the parable of the prodigal son, who is served upon his return, thus demonstrating the spiritual mastery of his father.

There exists in the parable a tension between the apparently fulfilled obligations of the father and the continued needs of the profligate son. The resolution is typically unexpected, for the “common sense” response to such a reappearance might be minimal hospitality or rejection. Celebration and feast, the affirmation of love as a dynamic orientation apart from demands on reciprocal behavior, is the response of selfless humanity.

Our ambivalence toward service may stem from an inner recognition of the degree to which mastery is demonstrated by service, in tension with the popular view that mastery requires displays of power and dominance. Those who serve are simultaneously highly regarded and honored, and accorded low social status and pay by those they serve. Service industries are in great demand, and have difficulty filling those demands due to this dichotomy of implied recognition and actual acknowledgment. Individuals engaged in service derive either great satisfaction or intense frustration from such activities, depending largely on the particular viewpoint from this polarity which they have internalized.

Service is, in fact, a very personal act, and its rewards and costs are also highly personal. Part of mastery is not only serving, but experiencing satisfaction from the way of being from which service flows. Unless that is the case, neither satisfaction nor mastery are perceived as being real, and the individual’s orientation is likely to shift from the sort of “satisfaction” that is derived from the fulfillment of only personal needs. This is not mastery, though power may be part of it. Such “mastery” separates and alienates us from others, and is reflected in competition, selfishness and the subsequent frustration of the great majority.

If this sounds like a familiar scenario, it is because that is what the world looks like now. The prevailing operating principle for the individual and society can be summed up as the belief that if others win, I (you) must lose. It is as though satisfaction and fulfillment were subject to chronic scarcity, and must be secured and hoarded in competition with others. It can be argued that true satisfaction cannot be experienced when others are dissatisfied. Apart from arguments in favor of morality and selflessness, it is becoming increasingly clear that a disparity in the distribution of material goods and benefits as well as the sense of inequality between individuals and nations contributes to our insecure and unrestful existence.

If spiritual mastery is to have significant effect on such a world, it is not through withdrawal from society, or necessarily by the singular influence of outstanding leaders in spirituality. The latter may exemplify part of the phenomenon of increasing interest in the transcendent which seems apparent in the West today, but meaningful progress can best be measured by the availability of the transcendent to all; by a sense of mastery as a part of life. When mastery is related to service, it can be seen that in a population aligned to service the problems we deem literally insoluble today would no longer exist; for nations, systems and individuals would interlock their skills and intentions to create a state of sufficiency and a sense of fulfillment as a natural outcome.

Thus, the concept of spiritual mastery is meaningful only if it is fully accessible to all, rather than to an elite group. It must be attainable by a path consistent with social existence in the modern world, and serve to express a core of being which has its source in service.

None of the foregoing qualifications are particularly unique among a variety of available paths and disciplines, except perhaps the last; that of service. This is merely a matter of semantics, however, for in most settings the term used for this aspect of mastery is love. I have chosen to emphasize the word service in order to suggest that it is an active orientation, one out of which the doing of actually serving others naturally will flow as a manifestation of love.

Love as a concept, or even in its execution, may be internal, contemplative, implied or ephemeral in manifestations. To put the same way of being in terms of service suggests the expression which love must take in order for it to be effective in a society in which the true expression of mastery is universal concern for the fulfillment and satisfaction of all.

B. The Way of the Warrior

One of the characteristics of human social development is the tendency toward division into groups or strata on the basis of function, with consequent social and behavioral distinctions. Once a culture has advanced from a hunting and gathering tradition, in which each family unit is more or less self-sufficient, there is a tendency favoring development of increasing specialization and stratification, and resultant cross-dependency of individuals and groups of individuals with a shared function. Each distinct functional group will establish its own niche in the social structure, accompanied by a tradition which perpetuates all that is unique and of value in regard to that tradition. Social, political and spiritual institutions serve to perpetuate these elements of tradition; usually to the benefit of individual, group and species.

One of the more persistent and universal of these groups is that of the warrior class, or what we would call professional soldiers. The source of both order and disorder in every century of recorded history, the members of this specialized and powerful social stratum embody in their position and behavior one of the most troubling aspects of human character—the propensity to violence and aggression.

Contradictory to most popular statements, violence is not unique to human culture. What is unique is the effort devoted within that culture to soul-searching, rationalization and argument regarding that phenomenon. At the most basic level of cultural development, it would appear that most acts of individual aggression relate to territoriality and hierarchy within the limits of a given physically or functionally defined territory.(9)

Behaviors of societies reflect this preoccupation with territorial acquisition and preservation, though with important differences. The processes of reason provide human activities with obscuring rationalizations; spiritual, political and economic; for warfare. The ongoing concern for national territorial stability has devolved to specialists, and hostilities are often carried out at long range and in an impersonal fashion. As a result, there is a growing alienation from the consequences of aggressive behavior to the lives of individual human beings.

This denial of and distance from overt aggression in the lives of most individuals is seen as a positive trait in a civilized nation. The presence of apparently constant warfare at some point on the planet, and usually several, would seem to be a denial of this, but on reflection it is clear that the average individual spends only a small part of his lifetime, if any, directly embroiled in an actual war. Physical confrontation between individuals is also relatively rare (when did you last assault, or were assaulted by another?), despite the rising figures in crime statistics. This does not mean, however, that aggression and its effects are unfamiliar to us. War and crime, even if sporadic in occurrence, have an incredible impact on our lives and their course. The indirect effects of fear and expectation may well be as great as the physical and emotional trauma of direct victimization. Of significance to the spiritual life of the individual, every contact with other human beings bears the potential for aggressive interplay, whether realized or not, for aggression cannot narrowly be considered as only physical events. We may consider aggression to be any action, or failure to take action, which may result in physical, psychological or spiritual injury to an individual.(10) The subtle outcome of interactions between relatives and strangers, anonymous agencies and impersonal businesses, may be as great as the direct impact of overt aggression.

The presence of this pattern of aggression is hidden, submerged within and woven into the fabric of our society, so thoroughly integrated that it might be considered to be the basic operating principle of the society. Simply stated, it is the principle of “you or me” or “them or us”. Competition, rather than cooperation, is the functional basis of our society. It is so prevalent that there develops a gradual conditioning toward competition and the unconscious denial of the fulfillment of others. Every victory by another seems a threat to our own well-being, as our achievements may equally be resented by others.
Such life patterns are so prevalent as to be largely invisible, except perhaps as we view the lives of others. The results are plain, however, even if dissociated from the causes, in the stifling of human potential, the tragedies of human strife, the large and small frustrations of daily living.

Though warfare, killing and physical domination may be the farthest thing from one’s own intentions, the traditions and related forms of the martial arts may uniquely prepare those living in a world of tension, competition and uncertainty to respond appropriately and healthily to life situations, whether mundane or catastrophic in nature. The positive benefits may be most clearly apparent in dealing with those rare but arresting moments of great danger or immediacy. Stress is placed in Western society on rational existence and response. It is the emergent situation which best expose the shortcomings of reason.

Matters of life and death may present themselves with a suddenness and impact which does not lend itself to rational consideration or submission to a committee. The unexpected or fear-inducing incident or confrontation literally “stops” the mind, arresting the rational processes and resulting in either disastrous inaction or the institution of automatic protective responses. In infancy or early childhood these may be atavistic and instinctual gestures; in the adult the culturally conditioned responses learned through the trial of life and education. Their success is measured by survival of the individual, the family unit and society.

Emotional issues present another barrier to the effective function of rationality in group settings or introspective thought. Belief and attachment to a position are common reactions to the uncertainty of existence, lending firm footing in a realm of shifting values and positions. Individually, humans become emotionally committed to the people, possessions and territory immediately about them; as cultural, religious or racial groups we become attached to the context which expresses our identity. In defense of those things which we have and do, individuals, neighborhoods and nations are capable of reacting with irrational ferocity, the processes of reason serving only to justify paths already committed to.

Strongly felt personal issues are further capable of diluting and clouding the appropriate application of reason in the resolution of problems. Objectivity is considered essential to observation and decision—since that state is often unattainable (the new physics suggests that it in fact may be nonexistent)(11) we may seek instead to be fully aware of the nature and extent of our subjectivity. Even this process tends to be both misleading and incomplete. Our consciousness is layered, and the inner layers are generally impervious to the processes of introspection and self-realization.

There exists, however, in what has been called the “Way of the Warrior” or the “Path of the Heart”(12) a process, technique or way of existence which, without denying the role and value of reason, nurtures an alternative and complementary source of ethical action in the world. It is a skill which can be cultivated, refined and trained to result in culturally and situationally appropriate responses. It is characterized by detachment from life and death, freedom from arbitrary and limited personal value judgments and accordance with universal principles, rather than limited interests of time and location. When developed, it is instantly available, invariably appropriate and particularly applicable (though not limited to) emergent and unpredictable situations.

This way of life is known universally, but has been developed and systematized most thoroughly in the East, particularly among the Japanese hereditary warrior class known as the samurai, a term which literally means “to serve”. A unique potpourri of cultural, religious and historical circumstances combined to create a class of individuals highly trained in the techniques of war and death, whose ethical standards were directed toward life, individual spiritual development, social order and service.
The native Shinto religion of Japan contributed a base characterized by respect for all animate and inanimate nature as living and sharing in the same basic vitalizing energy. Zen Buddhism provided the warrior with a severe discipline and unbending will, and detachment from life and death, good and evil. Confucianism readied the samurai for the challenge of even administration and social responsibility, tempering the warlike spirit with an ethical emphasis relating the martial way to the interpersonal situations of nation, society and individual.

The Way of the Warrior was rooted in the turbulence of prehistoric and medieval Japan. The very act of creation of the islands of Japan was accomplished by the action of an implement of war—for drops of oily water dripping from the point of Izanagi’s spear congealed to become the first solid land of Japan. This Shinto deity, whose coupling with Izanami gave birth to the Japanese people and all of their deities, was evidently in the warrior tradition.(13)

At a time when Chinese philosophy and culture was reaching its peak, the first pottery artifacts, crude but vital, were being created by the illiterate inhabitants of the Japanese islands. They depicted armored warriors clutching swords, often astride a horse.(14) These early “haniwa” figures of prehistoric Japan suggest the early development of trained and well-equipped warriors. Many of the mythic figures of Japan are warrior-like native Shinto deities adopted and adapted from the deities of Buddhism which were introduced from Korea in the 6th century A.D.(15)

The primitive Yayoi culture which preceded this period of cultural assimilation and development apparently revered the sword, establishing a tradition extending from those ancient times to today. The bronze ritual swords which they used in their religious ceremonies to symbolize the mysteries of life and death were to become a national symbol as well as the predecessors of the sophisticated weapons which later warriors considered to be the embodiment of their souls.(16)

Early unification of Japan under the Yamato clan in the 7th century B.C. was accomplished by military might, establishing a precedent to be followed many times since. During the course of centuries of alternate periods of cultural development and violent inter-clan and national warfare, a distinct warrior class of great power developed, became institutionalized and finally asserted itself as the strongest political and most prestigious social grouping in the country. Even the emperor was more powerful in principle only, while actual power rested with the Shogun, or military dictator, and many lesser generals heading regional clans. These regional leaders clashed in endless disruptive wars until the first Tokugawa Shogun succeeded in forcibly uniting the country at the beginning of the 17th century.(17)

Zen and the profession of the warrior share the concept of liberation from life and death as representative of absolute values, as well as a high regard for a state of mind which results from this detachment, and not from recklessness or suicidal abandon. Actions are committed to with unconditional surrender and complete selflessness, directed by the spirit of Zen Buddhism.

Confucianism stressed social order, loyalty, filial piety and absolute submission to the master. As a result it became pivotal in the ethic of Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. As Zen sustained the fighting spirit, Confucianism sustained and defined the morality and social consciousness of the samurai.

The warrior class was set at the peak of the rigid hierarchical structure of the time, with responsibilities for providing continuing government and security for the society. The farmers were next, not because they enjoyed a favorable position of life, but because of their importance to the economy. Artisans followed, of low rank, but acknowledged because they produced articles important to the internal economy. Merchants were regarded as of the lowest class, for they produced nothing. Nonetheless they were to gradually grow to have power far exceeding their rank, due to the fortunes merchant families were to amass. There was generally no upward mobility in the classes, and employment, dress, living areas, entertainment and travel were strictly regulated for each class, and enforced by a system of spies and secret police.(19)

For the samurai class in particular, there was also a system of self-regulation based on ideals much like the “arête” or virtue of Plato’s concept of forms. The warrior was expected to conform within narrow limits to high levels of obedience to Emperor and Lord, filial respect, honesty and devotion in public service, artistic and literary development, technical martial ability and fearlessness in combat.(20)

In earlier ages the warrior was more likely to be physically faced with a life and death situation from day to day. The samurai had tended to be rough and unlettered men, fearsome in war but superfluous in peace; even a hazard, as their warlike tendencies were irrepressible. The samurai of the Tokugawa period harnessed the energy of the spirit to give meaning and intensity to lives that would otherwise have been experienced as worthless in a time of peace. Martial ability was thus maintained in a delicate balance, without unleashing the violent energy inherent in men, and without negating a tradition which was older than the recorded history of the land.

The formalized expressions of Shintoism and Buddhism failed to combat the spiritual malaise which undermined the samurai class of the Tokugawa period. The warlike bujutsu (martial techniques) evolved into the life-giving budo (martial ways). These were a form of flexible Zen, a practical living religion concerned with the of the self rather than of an external enemy.(21) The exercise of discipline, not unfamiliar to the warrior class, contributed to the cultivation of self-awareness toward the same state of self-realization which other forms of Buddhism would approach more circuitously through the mind or emotions.(22)

This process of increasing emphasis on spiritual development accelerated greatly during the relative peace of the Tokugawa Era (1600-1868), when the warrior’s skills were discouraged or simply unnecessary. The techniques of correct swordsmanship, divorced from military demands, became a vehicle for the attainment of enlightenment and selflessness. Sword, warrior and techniques became blended into one whole, absolute and without judgment. The newfound unity and national identity following the unification wars of around 1600 were expressed through Confucian ideals expanded now from the limited loyalty to the Lord, encompassing the state and ultimately society and mankind.
The lives of the samurai, even the relatively cultured warriors of the late feudal centuries were oriented to action rather than complex belief systems. The nature of Zen Buddhism was uncomplicated and direct, and recognized that the transience of physical life required that it be experienced directly and fully in the immediate present.

Conceptualization, mediation and interpretation get between the individual and his experience.(23)This focus on direct experience is an expression of the basic Buddhist teachings of impermanence, suffering and non-existence. Unadorned by the later pantheon of gods and theological interpretations of various other sects, the Japanese Zen practitioners deemed it vain and foolish to become attached to the material aspects of life, or even to life itself. Life is short, cyclical, endless and unstoppable in its progress; suffering is the fate of unenlightened men; and the individual soul exists only in its own imagination, a drop on a long and solitary voyage toward reunification with the ocean of the One. The enlightenment which is the only relief from the endless suffering of the cycles of life and death can be achieved by adherence to the eight-fold path, the final element of which is right meditation—the warrior’s interpretation of which is the “direct way” of the martial arts.(24)

The samurai were caught in a moral dilemma between their traditional role as technicians of death and that of public servant in a time of peace. They still, by rank and law, carried two swords; the use of which were forbidden except when public good or personal honor demanded it. The sword became a metaphysical tool designed to cut the wielder’s own attachment to life and materialism, rather than to take life in anger or calculation. The sword of death, controlled and consecrated by the warrior no longer attached to his own life, but committed to honor and duty, became a sword of life.(25)

It is not a matter of conventional morality by authority, consensus or convention; but a matter of art which decides the fate of the swordsman and the movements of his sword. Morality is regulative, art is creative. The former restricts, the latter expands. One is introduced from without; the latter expresses that which is within. Zen has always been associated with art, rather than morality; with direct expressions of intuitive truths rather than frozen law of regulation.(26)

The martial artist strives by perfection of technique to the level of unconsciousness and by absolute detachment from life and death to respond instantly and appropriately to any situation. His responses have a morality, if it can be called such, which is both art and ultimately practical, because it arises out of the individual’s experience in a given situation. It is thus ethical on a personal spiritual level, regardless of its appearance on the material level.(27)

When a swordsman has established the condition of detachment from the material in his life and actions, he experiences all that he does and that others do to him as karma and correct. The Zen adept thus appears to live life as a constant flow, events both tragic and uplifting flowing around him as leaves in a stream will flow around the supernaturally sharp edge of a master swordmaker’s blade. (A common edge will deflect a leaf, a very sharp one will cut it; while the master’s blade seems to redirect its path.)(28)

When dualism has been abolished good and evil have no meaning other than as reference points by which to gauge the popular morality. The sword wielded by the master is neither good nor evil; it is no more a tool of killing than it is of life. When the karma of swordsman and opponent is served by death, death is the outcome. When life is appropriate, life will be the outcome. There are those whose lives are served spiritually by fulfillment of karma in this lifetime, rather than by an “average, “normal” or “model” life.

That this may mean an end in violence or tragedy is reflective, in the Buddhist view, only of the weight of karma which presses down on us from previous incarnations. The man, however, who acts as a polished mirror to the world around him, detached from live and death and not a victim to his own emotions generates no karma for himself or those he interacts with; even if his role is that of executioner.(29)

And yet such a relationship is flawed in the actual weight of circumstances if not in principle. The highest ethical development of a martial art is expressed through a life led such that one never attacks and is never attacked. This is not a condition of paranoia in which all interaction is avoided, nor of a reliance on strength or threat; both of these are ways of being in the world which will actually invite attack by those seeking to take advantage of the weak or to prove themselves. A martial artist whose goal is to perfect himself and live in a manner reflective of the harmony of the universe will appear loving, open and totally invulnerable at all times.

This form of positive action within the proven spiritual promise of the East has been made available to an increasingly violent culture in the West. Our situation seems to us unique, and yet benefit may come from further commitment to the spirit of the true martial arts.

The feudal warrior of Japan saw himself not as separated from society, but as both an expression of it and responsible for it. There is a Japanese saying; “Issai no koto mina shikari”—“so it is with all things”. All activities are subject to the same universal principles and demands. Each has its individual form, and yet each is part of the Tao, or universe.(30)

The samurai operates from a set of ideals such as to ensure, among other things, the preservation of a peaceful society. The reality was characterized as much by treachery, injustice and unconscionable violence as by adherence to the ideals. The Way of the Warrior nevertheless provided an invaluable stabilizing and governing force to direct the seething energies of the armed warrior class, as well as a path for individual transcendence and realization.

C. Aikido as a Modern Martial Way

Aikido is a spiritual and physical discipline developed in the twentieth century from systems of sword and unarmed combat dating from the turbulent years of feudal Japan. The founder, Morihei Uyeshiba (1883-1969), studied a number of classical disciplines in his youth, becoming a master of each. To phenomenal physical skill developed early in his life was added a profound spiritual enlightenment which came to modify and dominate the martial art form which Uyeshiba began to teach after the tragedy of the war in the Pacific. Consistent with the tradition of Eastern paradox, the fighting form was replaced by peaceful coexistence, for conflict was substituted harmony and the business of death turned to the promotion of life.

The term “ai-ki-do” literally means “the Way of Harmony with the Spirit of the Universe”. Its circular movements and non-resistant qualities echo the cadence and flow of the universe, putting the practitioner in direct contact with phenomena that are beyond words, and can only be experienced for full understanding. Since Aikido is based on exact and demanding physical forms, it follows that intuitive understanding requires years of discipline and commitment to physical endeavor under the guidance of a master.

An art such as Aikido differs from the traditional bujutsu, or martial techniques, largely in emphasis. The bujutsu may simply be described as combative systems designed by and for warriors to promote self-preservation and group solidarity. Aikido and other true budo are spiritual systems, not necessarily designed by or for warriors, for self-perfection of the individual. Both definitions are derived from Draeger, a Westerner who has deeply immersed himself in the martial ways of Japan. He further explains and distinguishes both by indicating that the relative placement of emphasis is as follows: The bujutsu stress combat, discipline and morals, in that order; the budo place first emphasis on morals, then discipline and finally aesthetic form.(31)

The do, or “way” is not a religion in itself, but has its historical roots in the Chinese cultural superstructure of belief systems and ritual. The emphasis of the Japanese on human relations prevented the concept from becoming more religious in outlook, but gave it the metaphorical meaning of an endless and profound “road” filled with numerous difficulties, a means of self-cultivation leading eventually to self-perfection. Culturally speaking, the do forms enable a man to engage in wholesome relations with others; metaphysically they promote the understanding of all life through a fragment of it; spiritually they provide a vehicle by which a man may achieve self-perfection by defeating his worst enemy, self-deception.(32)

The key to the success of Uyeshiba’s budo, Aikido is that the principles which are expressed in the practice of the martial art form are intended to be applied to all aspects, public and private, of the life of the aikidoist. Uyeshiba taught harmony and accord with the movement of the universe, non-resistance and reconciliation. These principles are expressed within the techniques of Aikido by graceful circular motions, by a blend of attack and defense into one flowing motion and by a merging with the energy of the partner. The aikidoist does not meet force with force, attack with counter-attack. His hands are not clenched, his posture is relaxed, his mind open and aware.

All of these attitudes are to be carried with the individual when he leaves the training hall. The principles of harmony, non-resistance and reconciliation are fully applicable to situations in everyday life; most obviously but not exclusively those involving relationships with other people. The harmony contributes to a smooth and flowing life, without the disruption or domination of the lives of others. Non-resistance in the context of Aikido is not submission, but the achievement of appropriate ends through mutual design rather than violence or deceit. Reconciliation requires the recognition that those who would be your opponents are instead misguided partners whose energies can be redirected into consonance with universal principles. Lives guided by harmony, non-resistance and reconciliation move in synchrony and in imitation of the dynamics of the universe; like flawlessly performed Aikido technique that follows circular movement in a natural rhythm, a free flow of unfettered expression offering no conflict with nature.

The founder’s expressed love of all human beings and the practical use of Aikido technique do not conflict if it is understood that the intent of Aikido is to remove all thoughts of aggression from people’s minds. Techniques are applied with control and care to avoid injuring or killing the aggressor regardless of his intent, and the characteristics of Aikido dictate that an attack against its practitioner must be launched before a technique can be effectively applied.(33)

The ethical qualities of Aikido are implied by the defensive nature of the art and its emphasis on harmony and the stress placed on love for all human beings. Looked at simply as a system of effective techniques, however, even Aikido has the potential for abuse. Uyeshiba rejected some of the classical elements of the bujutsu in order to reduce this hazard. Principal among these was the concept of kobo-itchi, the use of defensive attack, in which physical initiative of attack is regarded as synonymous with a purely defensive attitude. This has been criticized as a weakening of Aikido as an effective martial art, thought the rejection of such a potentially convenient excuse for offensive action is acknowledged as an effective adjunct to spiritual development. The renowned commentator on Zen, D. T. Suzuki, stressed the traditional stance of the warrior in the following passage:

To be always on the offensive in a single-handed engagement means that one’s mind is always bent in any circumstances on striking the enemy regardless of one’s own safety, absolutely free from the thought or fear of death.(34)

Given a circumstance in which conflict seems inevitable, the traditional view expressed in this passage and held in the cultural tradition of Japan would recognize no difference between offensive and defensive strategy. This mentality contributed to a climate in which the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was regarded by their government and military strategists as defensive in nature, for circumstances were felt to be such as to make war inevitable within a short period of time.

Possibly influenced by this very example, and certainly by its outcome, Uyeshiba felt that an essential part of the practice of Aikido is the ability to draw in the attack at the proper moment. Thus appropriate control can be achieved, but without the spiritually defeating burden of instigation.

Don’t look at the opponent’s eyes, or your mind will be drawn into his eyes. Don’t look at his sword or you will be slain with his sword. Don’t look at him, or your spirit will be distracted. True budo is the cultivation of attraction with which to draw the whole opponent to you….I am one with the universe and I am nothing else. There is no time and space for Uyeshiba of Aikido—only the universe as it is.(35)

Uyeshiba’s commitment to the love of mankind went much further, however, than rejection of the offensive stance in martial arts. By his insistence on a profound and constant awareness of and commitment to a high level of ethics, Uyeshiba has taken the principles of Zen one step further, from detachment to dissociation from violence. The worst that could be said of Zen is that it allowed the classical martial artists a means by which, through detachment from life and death, they could perform the sometimes deadly functions of their heritage without assuming moral responsibility for the carnage they often left behind; for it was the sword that killed, and not they. In a state of waking unconsciousness, of the suspension of good and evil, the automatic response of a body and mind highly trained and quieted by years of discipline and training simply took place, neither willed nor resisted by the swordsman. The best that can be said of Zen is that such responses, when arising from a spirit freed of judgment, emotion and uncertainty by the discipline of Zen, are appropriate to the moment. On the other hand, deliberate and conscious ethical foundations underlie the discipline of Aikido, directing its unconscious action toward service and love.

It must be remembered that the primary purpose of Aikido training is not self-defense or physical well-being, though they are undeniably beneficial effects of its study. The primary purpose is to enhance a state of harmony of man with man, of man with nature and most subtly of man with himself. A state of harmony, or coordination if you will, is promoted between body and mind. Our lives exist in two elements; the body and the spirit; The body moves in accordance with the dictates of the spirit, and the spirit resides in and is expressed by the body. The two are inseparable, and life cannot go on with only one or the other. When they are fully joined together we are able to fully manifest our innate abilities.(36)

Though Morihei Uyeshiba was first a great warrior, undefeated in combat; he became an idealist deeply concerned with world unity and peace. He had the hope and belief that all the diversity and disagreement characteristic of the world community could be channeled to constructive ends by universal interest in Aikido; an art which promotes peaceful attitudes, a harmonious link between mind and body, relaxed awareness and general health. To this end he adapted that which he knew best—the traditional Way of the Warrior.

(8) Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, pp. 50,51.
(9) Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape (New York: Dell Publishing, 1967), pp. 120,121.
(10) Jeffrey Goldstein, Aggression and Crimes of Violence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp x,x1.
(11) Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (New York: Bantam, 1977), p. 57.
(12) Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (New York: Pocket Books, 1974), p. 107.
(13) W. G. Aston, trans., Nihongi (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1972), pp. 11,12.
(14) Bradley Smith, Japan: A History in Art (New York: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 26-28.
(15) Piggott, Japanese Mythology, p. 44.
(16) Reinhard Kammer, trans., Zen and Confucius in the Art of Swordsmanship (London and Henley: Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 1.
(17) Donn F. Draeger, Classical Bujutsu (New York: Weatherhill, 1973), p. 46.
(18) Kammer, Zen and Confucius, p. 4.
(19) Donn F. Draeger, Classical Budo (New York: Weatherhill, 1973) pp. 18,19,66,67.
(20) Ibid., pp. 31,32.
(21) Andre Sollier and Zsolt Gyorbiro, Japanese Archery: Zen in Action (New York: Weatherhill, 1969), pp. 23,24.
(22) Draeger, Budo, pp. 41,42.
(23) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 15.
(24) Sollier and Gyorbiro, Japanese Archery, p. 19.
(25) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, pp. 89,90, 145,146.
(26) Ibid., p. 27
(27) All Japan Kendo Federation, Fundamental Kendo (Tokyo: Japan Publications, 1974), pp 10,11; Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 27,28.
(28) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, pp. 91,92.
(29) Ibid., p.166.
(30) Kammer, Zen and Confucius, pp. 16,17
(31) Donn F. Draeger, Modern Bujutsu and Budo (New York: Weatherhill, 1974), p. 56.

(32) Draeger, Budo, pp. 24,25.
(33) Draeger, Bujutsu and Budo, p. 144.
(34) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 209
(35) Kisshomaru Uyeshiba, Aikido (Tokyo: Hozansha, 1974), p. 178.
(36) Tohei, Aikido in Daily Life, p. 21.


  1. Essential reading.

  2. …enjoyed Arjuna’s point of view in the Bhagavad Gita.

    oh. reading Heiho Kadensho – apparently it was well known, in the day, that samurai might experience the presence of deities instructing and supporting their efforts. O Sensei follows that tradition.

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