V. “The Influence of Formal Religions,” by Charles A. McCarty

A. The Influence of Shintoism

The most basic influence on Uyeshiba’s spiritual growth may have been Shinto, the native faith of Japan. It is often regarded as the embodiment of the national spirit of Japan and the Japanese. It is more than a religion or a set of observances: It is the product of several thousands of years of attitudes, ideas and actions that have become the integral and characteristic personality of the Japanese people. It is both a personal faith and a communal way of life uniting the Japanese People as a nation under the Imperial family.(67)

Shinto as a belief system is as old as the Japanese culture itself, though until Buddhism was introduced in 552 A.D., it did not have a name, for it was simply the way of life unique to the people of these isolated islands. For the first 200 years after the introduction of this foreign religion and the additional influences of Taoism and Confucianism (all arriving at about the same time) there was strife between Shinto and these Korean, Indian and Chinese imports. The court and warrior classes were the most taken with the more sophisticated new faiths, while Shinto retained its strength with the common people. It was so deeply ingrained in the character of all the Japanese, however, that it influenced the local expression of Buddhism and the other new faiths.

Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism (also discussed here) ended the strife by reconciling Shinto and Buddhism through the introduction of Ryobu, or double-aspect Shinto. The Shinto and Buddhist pantheon and beliefs were mutually absorbed in a harmonious union which lasted for over 1,000 years. Not until 1868 was pure Shinto revived as a renewal of the assertion of the Emperor’s divine ancestry and revival of nationalism as a counter to the influence of foreign traders, sciences and religions. Buddhist influence was somewhat diminished, but the separation was amicable and the religions remained co-existent and complementary.(68)

The observation of Shinto is characterized by an acceptance of life after death and the lack of specific moral teachings, the only dictum being to “follow the genuine impulses of your heart”. Consistent with the personal faith and morality reflected by such a flexible moral code, there are no rewards or punishments imposed by an external force awaiting the follower of Shinto.(69)

The word “Shinto” literally means “Kami Way”, or the way of spirits, deities or “beings placed higher”.(70) The kami, which are the objects of worship in Shinto, are noble and sacred spirits which include the Creators and first occupants of the Japanese islands; qualities such as growth, fertility and production; natural phenomena such as wind and thunder; natural objects such as the sun, mountains, rivers, trees and rocks; some animals; and ancestral spirits. Living people also are regarded as kami, but are not worshipped.

The creation and continued function of the world depends upon the harmonious action of all the kami in their diverse abilities. Even the greatest of them depends upon the others for cooperation and contribution toward the accomplishment of its mission. The Japanese people facilitate this and make their own needs known by intuitively and silently communicating with particular kami, usually before a public or household shrine.(71)

The veneration of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, and her relatives and descendants are central to the practices of Shinto. These number 8 million or more, for the Shinto world of kami is nearly as populous as that of men.

The simple practice of Shinto includes, aside from silent or spoken entreaty and veneration of the kami; obedience to the Emperor, who is regarded as a direct descendant of Amaterasu and acts of purification of body and spirit. These are frequently performed by ablution, though exorcism or abstention may also play a role. The priesthood, responsible for observation of purification rites and the maintenance of the generally simple and unostentatious Shinto shrines and temples, are bound by few rules, whether of celibacy or other restriction.

The worship of Amaterasu and other deities placed in Shinto shrines is not to be taken too literally. As in Buddhism, symbolic figures are meant to rationally represent forces and presences which could not easily be represented or experienced without metaphor.(72)

Such is the worship of Susano-no-mikoto at the original Aiki shrine established by Uyeshiba at Iwama. Susano, or “swift impetuous male”, is the Storm god of Shinto mythology, one of the progeny of the beings who created the Japanese islands and closely related to Amaterasu. He is generally known as a troublesome character, being addicted to rather mean pranks and mischief as well as the source of storms and other destructive forces. He nevertheless has many redeeming qualities and his descendants have been given the authority and powers of the “hidden” world, including the occult and spiritual. Susano is also associated with mountain forests and healing arts. Many of his exploits required courage and cunning. He is believed to have killed an eight-headed dragon after getting him drunk on eight cups of sake. In addition to saving the life of a young lady, he discovered in its tail a sword which was to become part of the Imperial regalia, a collection of divine objects bequeathed to the Emperors of Japan by the Gods.(73)

Susano was banished from Amaterasu’s domain after repeated conflicts with her. Once he defiled her throne by defecating on it, so severely distressing her that she withdrew to the seclusion and safety of a cave, darkening the world until she was lured out by the humorous and possibly obscene dance of the Mirth Goddess.(74) However, Susano tempered his outrageous acts with expressions of kindness and concern. On one occasion he was treated well in his travels by an old man. Susano repaid the kindness by telling his benefactor how to ban the Plague God from his home by hanging a braided straw rope across the entrance, a custom which persists today in some areas.(75)

Rev. Deguchi, whose Omoto sect will also be discussed, urged that Susano be venerated for his role in assuming the sins of mankind and thereby redeeming humanity.(76) This injunction may have influenced Uyeshiba’s choice of Susano as a deity for his shrine at Iwama.

Among the deities, or kami which populate the folklore traditions influenced by Shinto beliefs are the tengu, the bird-like creature after which Uyeshiba was nicknamed during his youth. The tengu are ambivalent in their nature, much like the god Susano venerated by Uyeshiba. They are both hero and fiend in alternate guise, a reflection of the changing motivations of Uyeshiba’s commitment to the martial arts as a life path.

Sometimes thought to be descended from Susano, the tengu were respected and feared, and belief in them still exists today. They are often described as being red in color, with cloaks of feathers or straw and small black hats. Denizens of colonies in trees on mountainsides, the tengu served as retainers to a grand “king” tengu, more human in form than the rest.(77)

The tengu are masters of swordplay and were occasionally known to share their knowledge with humans. Yoshitsune was an historical figure and mythic hero who was the recipient of such favor. He was a member of the Minamoto clan, then in conflict with the Taira clan during a period of epic warfare. Intent on revenge for the defeat inflicted on his family by the Taira warlords, Yoshitsune practiced as a small child on a remote mountainside, using a toy wooden sword he had fashioned himself. The principal tengu was impressed by the determination shown by the youngster and arranged for his retainers to teach him swordplay, strategy and tactics. As a result of this background Yoshitsune’s future exploits had a supernatural character to them.(78)

Many years later during the more peaceful years of the Tokugawa shogunate, a samurai writing about tactics and philosophy used an alleged eavesdropping on a lecture by the tengu king to his retainers as a literary device to present his own views on the form and value of martial discipline.(79)

It is the motivating essence of the kami and all other inhabitants and manifestations of the universe which has contributed the greatest influence to Aikido from popular Shintoism. This is the concept of a universal and undifferentiated life force, known to the Chinese as ch’i, and to the Buddhist and Shinto followers of Japan as ki. The Buddhist concept had early been incorporated into the native Shinto religion, for it agreed so readily with their own concepts. (It is discussed here because it was more popularly disseminated within the framework of Shintoism than Buddhism.)

Ki has been described by Aikido master Koichi Tohei with these words:

In the Orient we apply the word “ki” to the state which is also the real nature of the universal. Pursuing this condition even farther we find a point at which the sun, the stars, the earth, humans, animals, plants, water, air, everything is the same thing. From “ki”, the real substance of the universal, came movement and calm, joining and breaking apart, tensing and slackening, and many mutual actions which gave the present universal its form.

“Ki” has no beginning and end; its absolute value neither increases nor

Tohei likens the flow of ki to the process by which electricity is generated. The essence of electricity, in the form of existing electrons, is activated by a generator and the resulting force is transmitted to various machines in order to accomplish different tasks. The existing essence of ki is similarly activated by our minds and bodies, creating human spirit and ki energy that moves our bodies.(81)

Thus ki is not a special energy cultivated only by masters of the martial arts. It is our ground of existence, literally a web of potential energy which is drawn upon and directed by the intensive effort of mind and body, regardless of the discipline. It is the basic ground of undifferentiated potential which is the source of the duality of existence. Continuous and interconnected, it not only activates all expressions of existence, it relates them Shinto recognizes the existence of this spirit energy in apparently inanimate objects and in all forces of nature. These spirits could acquire an increasingly independent and powerful nature through the outflow of similar energy directed by the intensive and purposeful will and action of human agents.(82)

Japanese swordmakers use incantations, consecrated tools and an intensified state of mind in order to give their products the character and independent powers of resident spirits. These swords are thought to have personalities; as despotic and cruel, or humane and life-giving. The samurai considered their swords to be manifestations of their own souls. They named them and cared for them as possessions beyond value. The samurai cultivated a state of “no-mind” which allowed the sword to act literally as an independent agent.

An acquaintance owns several Japanese swords, one of them forged during the last great period of wars of the cruel Ashikaga epoch. It has been sharpened and re-sharpened to the point that it now bears its final useful edge, and on its gleaming surfaces are the characteristic lines of corrosion of blood left too long in place. He reports that for years he was uncomfortable around the weapon—to hold it unsheathed was an intense and frightening experience, for he seemed compelled to strike with it—at anything. Others, even those who did not know where it was stored in a chest would appear nervous or report feeling “hot” when sitting close to it. Visitors tended to gravitate away from that end of the room. My friend finally had it examined by a Buddhist priest skilled in the martial arts, who pronounced it “evil”. With a simple ritual he exorcised the evil character of the sword, leaving only a hint of its former presence, and ending the discomfort of my friend’s visitors.

The same web of ki energy which enlivens both man and sword can be detected by one who is sensitive to its subtleties. Classical martial arts training is believed to activate an ability known as “kan-ken futatsu no koto”, a subliminal sense in which both the eyes and the mind serve as mechanisms of “sight” in times of danger. Ordinary sight is only as good as the eyes, but this intuitive sight penetrates to the essence of a situation and is strong and reliable. The warrior uses this awareness to adapt expertly and unconsciously even to unseen dangers. The presence or absence of this ability is considered a true measure of the mastery of a martial artist.(83)

D. T. Suzuki, perhaps the most authoritative English language writer on the spirit of Japanese ways, reported events similar to telepathy or mind-reading arising out of the “sixth sense”. He cited an incident involving Yagyu Tajima no kami, a swordsman highly developed in both martial skills and spirituality.

This man, accompanied only by a youthful retainer, wandered in a reverie through his garden one day, absorbed with its beauty. As he did so, a thought briefly passed through the retainer’s mind: “How easy it would be to strike him down in such an unguarded moment!” Yagyu stopped, looking all around, but saw only his attentive retainer. He wandered in distraction, finally rushing back to his quarters, where other retainers noted his agitation and became concerned. When one asked what the matter was, Yagyu reported that he had suddenly sensed a murderous air in the garden, and as there appeared to be no threat he feared he was losing his mind. In remorse the young retainer ashamedly reported the thought which had passed through his mind. Yagyu was much relieved and thanked the young man for making this admission, for now his own mind could rest easy, his distraction accounted for.(84)

Similar anticipation of intent has been displayed in on several occasions I have witnessed personally or heard of from Aikido instructors. I once participated in a game called “walls and doors”. One person stands in the center of a ring of people, some of whom think “wall” and some of them conceptualize a “door”, while all stand in the same neutral manner with impassive expressions. The person who is “it” can escape only be selecting one of the two “doors” from among the dozen participants.

By prearrangement with another participating Aikido instructor, the two designated “doors” were to fail to open even if selected. The other instructor who was “it” first correctly chose one “door” which stood still as if a “wall”. Frustrated, he then correctly chose the second “door”, which also failed to open. He wandered in apparent confusion within the circle, constantly coming back to the two he had already selected. He then announced that if those two weren’t doors, he didn’t have the slightest idea who was. Like Yagyu, he was relieved when told the truth.

A story is told concerning Saito-Sensei, one of Uyeshiba’s last pupils and the instructor and caretaker at the Aiki Shrine, where the master of Aikido had spent most of his last years. At a party, one of Saito’s students noticed that his instructor was getting more than a little tipsy, and a thought passed through the student’s mind that he could probably at this moment get the advantage of Saito. The latter fixed him with a stare and announced, “Training is training, but this is a party!”.

Incidents such as these, both amusing and serious in their implications are regarded as paranormal in our culture. In the traditional Japanese culture, however, they are not so much paranormal as the expected result of the cultivation of the potential everyone has to master ki energy. This is the web of energy and relationship upon which the Shinto swordmaker calls to activate and enliven his creations; it is the invisible tie which connects the swordsman or contemporary aikidoist with his partner; it is the source of the subtle “sixth sense” which allows a warrior on the battlefield to step over unseen obstructions as he struggles with life and death in the balance. The rigorous and lifelong training engaged in by the martial artist has the purpose not of creating something new and unique, but of awakening oneself to the existence of a universal life force and developing the abilities necessary to direct that force constructively. A master is one who so skillfully and unconsciously directs his own ki and interrelates with the ki of his partner that events unexplainable by scientifically recognized laws of nature occur routinely in the course of life and training.

B. The Influence of the Omoto Sect

The meaning of Omoto (also known as Omotokyo) is “The Teaching of the Great Origin”. One of the relatively new religions of Japan, it was founded in 1892 by a farmer woman named Deguchi Nao. A victim of endless sufferings, she experienced a mystical vision while on the brink of despair. In the vision she was told by god that the final destruction of the world was at hand, that a messiah would be sent by God to save the world and that after the day of judgment the Kingdom of Heaven would be established on earth.

This uneducated farmer’s daughter was unable to give her message the strength of doctrine or organization, but she soon encountered Kisaburo Ueda, who she proclaimed to be the Messiah she had predicted. He was a highly talented man, trained in the literary classics of China and a veteran of years of ascetic practices, during which he claimed to have been fully enlightened to the workings of the universe and to his own role as the savior of mankind.

In 1989 Ueda was adopted into the Deguchi family, becoming Kisaburo Deguchi, which he later changed to Onisaburo. Nao and Kisaburo began a religious sect which soon evolved into the Omoto sect, characterized by shamanistic practices and miraculous healings. The Omoto sect stressed that religion must be apart of all activities. This contributed to conflict with the government, and ultimately with the Imperial family, which felt threatened by the anti-war doctrine and claims to sovereignty over the coming Kingdom of Heaven which Rev. Deguchi made. He was imprisoned in 1921, but released after four months under the general amnesty which followed the death of Emperor Taisho. His escapade in Mongolia as a result of the attempt to politically hasten the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven has already been described, and resulted in further worsening Deguchi’s relations with the Emperor and the Japanese government. He continued to engage in activities considered disrespectful to the Imperial family, such as riding a white horse, a right reserved in Japan for the Emperor alone. In 1935, by which time he had 2 or 3 million followers, Deguchi was again imprisoned, his headquarters dynamited and he was convicted of disrespect to the Emperor. A post-war revival faltered when Deguchi died suddenly; but the sect, though small, exists today.

The basic doctrine of the Omoto sect holds that God is the all-pervading spirit of the Universe, and man governs the physical world. By striving toward unity with God man could attain unlimited power and authority. This union required the observation of natural phenomena and the order of the Universe, and also penetration of the workings of the mind, in which is reflected the soul of God.(85)

In order to take part in the establishment of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth, a man must realize that he is one with God. This realization is facilitated by Chinkon kishin, an unusual meditative method, often coupled with fasts lasting up to ten days.(86)

Chinkon kishin involves sitting with the arms outstretched, the hands together, fingers making a small opening. Through this opening the meditator gazes at a small black stone resting on a stand about two meters away. While in this posture the participant enters a trance-like state, concentrating on a phrase such as “I am a God” or “I am the Maitreya Buddha”. During this practice the individual’s sense of self and separateness evaporates into an experience of unity with God and Creation.(87)

Involvement with Rev. Deguchi is likely to have influenced Uyeshiba by providing him with both positive and negative role models and a set of valuable disciplines which served to increase his realization of unity with the Universe and to focus and preserve his energies. There is a certain amount of sensitivity among some of Uyueshiba’s disciples about his association with the Omoto sect, probably because of the legal and political repercussions surrounding Deguchi’s career as well as the unusual nature of the charismatic religion which he headed. It is apparent that Uyeshiba did greatly respect Deguchi and his teachings, however, and these beliefs and practices were not inconsistent with the religious training Uyeshiba had already undergone. Much of the Omoto sect doctrine is simply a restatement of Shinto and Buddhist teachings with a greater emphasis on personal involvement and responsibility. Though Uyeshiba may have never formally joined Degushi’s sect, he possessed until his death the only complete set of volumes by Deguchi outside of a set preserved by the leaders of the religion itself.

As a positive example Uyeshiba took to heart the goal of world peace and unity stressed by Rev. Deguchi, and restated this as the purpose of Aikido. He was likely disillusioned by the outcome of Deguchi’s attempt in Mongolia to bring this about through unification with political and military factions. After this experience he seems to have rejected the idea of a “world government” or “Heavenly Kingdom” as the source of human love, harmony and peaceful existence. His emphasis shifted to one of individual transformation through adherence to a disciplined spiritual path of self-endeavor. It was the development of the inner spirit rather than the imposition of external forces which constituted his new vision of world order.

Additionally the mystical practices of Chinkon kishin undoubtedly contribute to Uyeshiba’s realization during the period of his oneness with the universe, and to the experience of incarnation as the Maitreya bodhisattva, the savior of the world. Deguchi preached that God, Buddha and the Maitreya were all elements inherent in and accessible to the experience of all men in their union with the universe. Uyeshiba not only experienced this; he began to live it.

C. The Influence of Mohism

Donn Draeger has suggested in his book, Modern Bujutsu and Budo, that Uyeshiba was influenced in the development of Aikido by the philosophy of Mohism, a Chinese system of thought advanced by Mo Ti during the age of Confucius.(88) I have found no other source to directly support this statement, but Draeger is known to have personally interviewed O’Sensei before his death, and it may be assumed that his information is factual. It is unclear at what point in his life the founder of Aikido may have encountered Mohist teachings, though it may have come from conversations with Rev. Deguchi, who was a scholar of the Chinese classics and may have been heavily influenced by Mo Ti himself.

Uyeshiba’s spiritual philosophy indeed bears marked resemblance toward at least the best known and most popular aspects of the teachings recorded in the Mo Tzu, the book written by Mo Ti of his disciples. It may have displaced the more commonly known concepts of Confucianism to provide a general framework for the society which Uyeshiba envisioned for the world.

Mo Ti preached an altruistic love for all, based on teachings of love and righteousness derived from the belief that heaven (T’ien) is an omnipotent spiritual power which exercises a will toward benevolence and righteousness. The worship of spirits was encouraged, for the Mohists held the universe to be fraught with spirits.(89)

This universal all-embracing love (chien ai) requires that all human beings treat all others as their own families; eliminating war, improving economics and education and promoting justice toward the end that the greatest amount of benefit be realized. The belief in Heaven and the sprits was to be encouraged as a religious sanction of government measures and in order to promote the general welfare.

Confucius argued against Mohist principles as Utopian. He felt that love is important to human relations, but that it requires a social structure in which it may be applied. Additionally he felt that love alone as an emotion would result in a dull and monotonous existence.(90) Author’s note, 2007: Some historians now believe that Confucius (or Kung-fu-tzu) did not exist as a real person, but was a construction of the Jesuits residing in China centuries ago who sought to organize the thoughts and principles they encountered there, and attributed to them to one fabricated source.

It has also been pointed out that these celebrated attributes of universal love and general welfare are only the best known of the Mohist teachings. Mo Ti was a scientific utilitarian who felt that music, poetry and the arts were unnecessary and wasteful; that one’s national enemies were to be given no quarter; and that mutual espionage within families and communities should enforce laws within the state.(91)
These injunctions were either ignored by or unknown to Uyeshiba; if in fact Mohism had any part in the formulation of his personal philosophy. Both Confucius and (despite his criticism) Mo Ti proposed a social framework and government structure by which society and its welfare would be molded and served. Uyeshiba concerned himself little with the structures of government or religion, concentrating rather on the development of an individual state of mind by which violence and aggression were to be discouraged and ultimately eliminated. He apparently saw this as something which could take place within the existing institutions of social order.

Mohism considered as a whole seems absurd in some aspects, contradictory in others. (Universal love, for all but one’s enemies?) The social structure which Mo Ti proposed seems both untenable and undesirable. That aspect of his vision for a new society which Uyeshiba shares, however, is admirable as a basic principle, or heuristic by which an existing society may be transformed into one characterized by love, service and responsibility.

D. The Influence of Taoism

The ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, transplanted into Japan along with Buddhism and Confucianism, has been absorbed selectively within the Japanese culture, and has had a characteristic influence on the martial arts developed within Japan. The principles of harmony and balance in nature are the Taoist contributions most evident in an art such as Aikido.(92) The Taoist penchant for paradox also provides the concept of stillness in motion, now thoroughly pre-empted by Zen Buddhism and infused through that channel into the martial arts.

The Taoist classic Saikondan suggests that the often frenzied apparent motion of a martial arts master may in fact conceal a state of calm within. “The stillness in stillness is not the real stillness; only when there is stillness in movement can the spiritual rhythm appear which pervades heaven and earth.”(93) Koichi Tohei raises a useful metaphor regarding the paradox of motion:

Tops that children often play at spinning approach a state of calm stability the faster they spin. We might say that their most perfect state of calm is reached when they move at the greatest speed. The truest calm must contain the nature of the most rapid movement…Strength of action is born from inner calm.(94)

The absolute stillness cultivated in seated meditation is also the goal of the aikidoist, though his stillness is of an internal sort, rather than the overall calm cultivated in most forms of meditation. At the highest state of the art, the aikidoist may appear to be moving at a blinding rate of speed, yet he is still calm at the center, sharing the same state of mind as the monk who has not stirred for hours.

Harmony for Uyeshiba implied a balance of opposites, as in the Taoist concepts of yin and yang, or receptive and projective. The balance and constant interweaving of these roles is given physical expression in the interaction between uke and nage, the attacking and defending roles of Aikido training.
The uke represents yang initially, as he delivers a sincere and vigorous attack which provides the energy his partner can draw upon. The nage is first receptive, blending with and receiving the attack. If the action ended here the attack would have been avoided, but not resolved for either party. Now the nage projects his own energy and the energy captured from the uke in order to control the attack and contain the attacker, while the uke becomes receptive and flows into the pin or throw, which will be compatible with his motion and energy in a properly executed attack. There is not only a balance achieved between partners, but even within each partner in the practice of Aikido.

It is incorrect to assume that the role of the nage (defender) is the only important one, for the uke (attacker) is of equal importance. One does not represent good and the other evil, nor is one a symbol of aggressiveness and the other of passiveness. They are not at the poles of a dichotomy.

The attack is delivered out of love expressed in a desire to assist in the self-perfection of the other, and the defensive technique is performed out of a love expressed in the empathic receipt and resolution of aggressive energy in a constructive and harmless way. In each encounter both partners alternately receive and project energy in paired synchrony, and in each training session the roles of uke and nage alternate nearly every minute. Rather than being at the poles of a dichotomy, aikidoists spiral tightly around its center, experiencing both roles and establishing a sense of balance and appropriateness between them.

The Tao of Chinese thought, which has been rendered as do by the Japanese, is this path or way of constantly shifting balances between the extremes, in sum appearing settled and constant; quiet and still. Within and behind that appearance, however, is the dynamic of life, always shifting, never totally comfortable or certain. This is the Tao of Lao Tzu and the do of Uyeshiba, the art of harmony and balance while treading the path of life, aware of the extremes, and yet not captured by them.

E. The Influence of Shingon Buddhism

Shingon (True Word) Buddhism, which came to Japan about 800 A.D. with Kobo Daishi, is still one of the largest Japanese religions. The body of the Buddha Mahavairocana is thought by the Shingon Buddhists to be the universe, divided into two complementary constituents; the passive, mental “womb element” and the active, material “diamond element”. This doctrine arose from the right-handed Tantric practices of the Chinese Mi-tsung school, which represented the properties by the use of two mandala. Contemplation of these mandala were thought to give an insight into the character of the universe, in which in the highest sense the two properties are identical.(95)

Kobo Daishi foretold the coming of Miroku, the Maitreya bodhisattva. He is reputed to be still waiting in a state of ecstasy within his tomb, expectant of the arrival of Miroku.(96) The Maitreya bodhisattva exists outside the earth’s space and time, and will be the next incarnation of Buddha. He is the enlightened being who has postponed his own union with the Absolute until he has aided all creation to reach a state of enlightenment. The Japanese sometimes represent him in statues of Kuan Yin, or Kwannon, his calm face and subtle gesture suggesting quiet wisdom and infinite compassion.(97)

In conjunction with the influence of Rev. Deguchi’s doctrine that each human being contains within him the essence of God, Buddha and the Maitreya; Uyeshiba’s early exposure to the doctrine of the Maitreya through training in Shingon Buddhism may have influenced his interpretation of the ecstatic moments in the garden, when he first recognized that he had a mission to spread love in the world.

The precepts of Shingon may have given a name and a framework to identify this sense of universal purpose by equating it with the historical figure of Miroku. Deguchi’s influence could have been to make such a realization acceptable, for implicit in the Omoto belief system is the statement that each man is the Maitreya unrealized. Uyeshiba, a spiritually humble man, could only have experienced incarnation as the Maitreya if he felt that the same realization was potential in every man. To that end he created Aikido as a path by which any committed individual could develop the sense of total responsibility for the universe which is held by a bodhisattva.

The mandala elements of the Tantrism in Shingon may have had an influence on the development of the basic principles of movement which are characteristic of Aikido; the triangle, the circle and the square.(98) These are also the basic elements of the mandala. (To draw a direct connection, it must be admitted, would be highly speculative. There is more likely a parallel devel-opment under the influence of universal principles.) In various combinations these basic geometric forms are arranged to form objects of contemplative meditation from which insight can be gained into the workings of the universe. All practical and theoretical knowledge may be contained within these basic structures and combinations of them.

As such, they are a form of heuristics, or problem-solving principles which serve to simplify the discovery of solutions to various and changing problems. The heuristic approach to system design uses principles to provide guides for action, even in the face of unanticipated situations and in circumstances for which no formal model or analytic solution is available. In this context, a heuristic is any principle or device that contributes to a reduction in the average search for solutions. Within any given heuristic system a great variety of structural arrangement is possible if it can be demonstrated that no violence is done to the principles or heuristics.(99)

In parallel with the spiritual purpose of the mandala, the physically oriented heuristics of Aikido include the triangle, the circle and the square. These geometric figures are not intended to preserve ancient secrets by mystifying the student, but to graphically represent the mechanics of proper Aikido technique (and, we will later see, to imply its philosophy).

An attack is met by removing oneself from the line of attack and establishing a new line toward the attacker, forming a triangular pattern. The symbol is also reflected by the triangular stance adopted by the aikidoist awaiting attack. The energy of the attacker is captured and contained by circular movement, the defender pivoting at the center of the circle while the attacker orbits about the radius. The circle is further expressed in the characteristic placement of hands and arms to capture the attacker in a circularly shaped trap. The square is a symbol of solidity and completion, and it is with this symbolic form that technique is completed. Aikido techniques end with throws or pins, with the body of the defender in a solid posture, feet flat on the floor, body erect, trunk and arms squarely over the legs. There are endless variations to Aikido technique, yet these basic elements of geometry will always be recognizable in them.

Each complete technique is a mandala in motion, a problem brought to resolution or an insight achieved by the application of the basic principles of the triangle, the circle and the square.

F. The Influence of Confucianism

Though Uyeshiba was apparently never formally trained in Confucianism, Confucian principles are implicit in much of Japanese society, of which the hierarchy, training techniques and etiquette of martial arts in Japan are a reflection. During the 1600’s and 1700’s Confucianism vied with Shinto and Zen Buddhism as the most directly influential of the major philosophies on the action and art of the warrior, for the samurai of this period was as much or a bureaucrat and petty official as a soldier or adventurer. Modern Japanese society separates the statesman’s craft from the warrior’s more than in previous generations, so the apparent influence of Confucianism on the Way of the Warrior may seem somewhat diminished. This is more a measure of the degree of the successful incorporation of its principles into the fabric of society and martial ways than a reduction of their influence.

The major contribution of Confucianism to the practice of martial arts in the contemporary world is its infusion of an emphasis on practical and ethical matters through a reliance on correct form. In complement with the spirit of Shinto and the intuition of Zen, the intellectual and rational qualities of Confucianism help to ensure that the process of socialization and education out of which unconscious mastery can eventually be expressed is built on an appropriate and healthy base. The problem lies in the need to express the abstract; i.e., the universal principles, through and within the concrete; i.e., the physical world in which we are born, live and die.

The universal principles themselves have no form, and yet because of their very formlessness they cannot be known unless they are expressed through form. Further, they cannot act except through the medium of some form. The swordsman uses his art, that of weapons and combat, as a form by which to express the universal as a system of movement and ethical response.

By tracing some of the basic concepts of the sword as presented in Reinhard Kammer’s translation of a late 17th century classical treatise, it may be possible to demonstrate the progression of abstract to concrete, of pure essence to physical expression which the follower of any Path takes as his task.
The basic and formless motivating force of the universe is Principle or li; essence, unalterable, eternal. Principle is seen as the source of morality, encompassing the Confucian concepts of humanity, jin; justice, gi; propriety, li; and wisdom, chih. An individual can attain perfection only when in harmony with the Principle.

Life Force, or ki, is a more material manifestation of the Principle, thought to be tied into the breath of man. It is through manifestation of the Life Force that men can bring themselves into harmony with the Principle. However, proper development of the Life Force alone is not enough, for it must be used as the foundation on which form or manifestation may be built in accordance with the Principle.(101)

The general or universal aspect of the Life Force is supplemented by Heart, or shin, which is a non-material aspect of the Life Force expressing the personal relationship with the Principle. Originally neither good nor evil, it can, unlike Principle, come to express either of these states. By nature, there is an intuitive awareness of good (alignment with the Principle) which must be cultivated ad expressed through a Path. If this does not occur, evil actions will be undertaken unconscious of their nature or effects, serving what we perceive as our interests. When Heart is developed one will react naturally, instantly perceiving the correct response to every situation so that stimulus and reaction become simultaneous phenomena.(102)

Consciousness, or ishiki, is the archenemy of detachment form life and death and of the unhindered appropriate response so vital to the swordsman. Consciousness in this usage is the process of judgment, of rational considera-tion, of the weighing of good and evil. By following the clarity of the Heart, it is possible to bring the Consciousness into harmony with the Principle, free from the self-entrapment of limited knowledge, or “understanding”.(103)

The Path by which the Heart is expressed, Life Force is manifested, Principle is realized and Consciousness is tamed is represented by Form. In balance with spiritual endeavor, correct knowledge of technique (Form) is essential. Form gives reality and expression to what would otherwise be empty idealism. In Confucian terms: Form means correct order; correct order means propriety; propriety means ethically correct behavior; and ethically correct behavior is basic to true swordsmanship. Form arises from action in concert of Heart and Life Force. Though training in form may be rigid and unbending, true Form transcends this, once mastery has been achieved, expressing itself as flexible, free and unrestrained by rules.(104)

The progression implied here, of a paradoxical freedom from Form through initial adherence to a rigid set of forms, is expressed in Aikido training by the typical trend of training activity which an Aikido student will undergo as he or she advances in rank and skill.

Initially the emphasis is generally on very basic postures, foot and hand positions and simple repetitive techniques; usually commencing from a static and/or stylized attack. At a later stage the attacks and techniques are more fluid and varied, as the skill of both nage and uke at correctly throwing and safely falling increases, until they move as a single unit, smoothly and precisely, but still within the limits of form.

When a correct and solid foundation has been established by years of training in both static and flowing movements, the limits of form are transcended in the expression of takemusu aiki, a fountain of techniques which never goes dry, that is without specific form.(105) At this level of achievement only the principles on which Aikido is based guide the activity, unconsciously and invariably correct, in what can only be called an act of creation.

G. The Influence of Zen Buddhism

Zen is inextricably entwined with the traditions of the samurai and the early martial arts which formed the foundations of Aikido. Buddhism, however, is known as a religion of compassion, and as a result many people consider it odd that the Japanese warrior should rely so heavily on Zen. In fact Zen does not incite the warlike spirit but sustains it morally and philosophically. Zen is a religion of the will, and morally teaches the warrior not to look backward once a course is set upon. Philosophically. Life and death are treated with indifference and intuition is valued over intellect. Both of these traits appeal to the warrior’s mind.(106)

The following quote from D. T. Suzuki will help to illustrate this:

What makes swordsmanship come closer to Zen than any other art that has developed in Japan is that it involves the problem of death in the most immediately threatening manner. If the man makes one false movement he is doomed forever, and he has no time for conceptualization or calculated acts. Everything he does must come right out of his inner mechanism, which is not under the control of consciousness. He must act instinctually and not intellectually.(107)

It is clear that this emphasis on the instinctive response served the swordsman more than the analytic or intellectual bent characteristic even of other forms of Buddhism. The simple, direct, self-reliant and self-denying Zen discipline appealed to the military mind. Unencumbered by intellectual doubts, the fighter was able to go ceaselessly forward, sustained by the iron will of Zen.(108)

The morality of any art which deals with the techniques of death and injury must still be questioned. Swordsmanship undeniably involves means of combat, the apparent subjection of another’s will to your own. Such an inter-pretation is based solely on the physical activity, rather than the dynamics of the respective states of mind of swordsman and opponent. Suzuki took note of the subtle, dynamic sphere:

The fact is that the art of swordsmanship distinguishes between the sword that kills and the sword that gives life. The one that is used by the technician can go no further than killing, for he never appeals to the sword unless he intends to kill. The case is altogether different with the one who is compelled to lift the sword. For it is really not he but the sword itself that does the killing. He has no desire to do harm to anybody, but the enemy appears and makes himself a victim. It is as though the sword performs automatically its function of justice, which is the function of mercy.(109)

Such an emphasis on the subjective or hidden meaning of an apparently straightforward situation is characteristically Zen and Japanese. The sword, a weapon of war, acquires in this context the power to open an avenue by which life’s secrets are exposed to us, rather than simply serving the function of indiscriminate killing.(110) It becomes the embodiment of life rather than death. True, it has the potential to destroy all that opposes the will of its owner—this is the sword that kills of which Suzuki spoke. There is a second function, however; that of the sacrifice of all impulses arising from the instinct of self-preservation. When controlled and consecrated in its first function by the spirituality of the second it becomes a sword of life.(111)

Essential to the study of swordsmanship is detachment from life and death. The instinct toward self-preservation can paradoxically doom the martial artist, for the slightest feeling of fear or attachment to life hinders the fluidity of motion and lightning rapidity of response essential in threatening confrontations. Though recollection and anticipation are admirable human qualities and distinguish the human mind from that of the lower animals, life and death situations require a mind fully unhindered by fear and inhibition of the situation is to be mastered.(112)

The workings of the unconscious mind in preserving life despite this apparent detachment from it are illustrated by this short quote from Suzuki.

When life is not intellectually and therefore consciously conditioned but left to the inner workings of the Unconscious, it takes care of itself in an almost reflex automatic fashion, as in the case of the physiological functioning of the organic body.(113)

It is most important to realize that this by no means fatalism, as it is frequently interpreted in the West. Far from abandonment of life and acceptance of death it is the lack of attachment to either. In such a situation the instinctual commitment to survival within the human spirit can be counted on to react appropriately to the emergency, whatever its nature.

Uyeshiba spoke also of this detachment with a simple statement characteristic of his deep spiritual commitment.

I am calm however and whenever I am attacked. I have no attachment to life and death. I leave everything as it is to God. Be apart from attachment to life and death and have a mind which leaves everything to Him, not only when you are being attacked but also in your daily lives.(114)

Despite the fact that the Aikidoist may seldom face death “sizzling at the eyebrows” as surely as a feudal swordsman, it is evident that the same principles can be applied to the practice of Aikido, and ideally to every encounter in life. With assiduous devotion to discipline and study it is to be hoped that the unexpected death-dealing encounter will be received with the same relaxed calm with which is faced the controlled attack of a partner in the training hall.

Despite the stress which is placed in Zen on the subjective rather than the objective details such as technique, almost all classical disciplines as well as Aikido place a great deal of emphasis on the correct and effective use of a multitude of complex physical techniques. Takuan (1573-1645), a Zen master who directly related the study of Zen and the sword as a vehicle to spiritual enlightenment, elucidated the need for such specific and lifelong training:

When the ultimate perfection is attained, the body and limbs perform by themselves what is assigned to them to do with no interference from the mind…The principle of spirituality is to be grasped—this goes without saying—but at the same time one must be trained in the technique of swordplay.(115)

This statement expresses an insight similar to that of Suzuki regarding the automatic reflex toward survival, and further suggests that the appropriate reflexes are to be acquired only by commitment to rigorous physical training. Takuan makes it clear in a letter he wrote to another warrior swordsman that “knowledge of a principle alone cannot lead to the mastery of movements of the body and limbs”. The perfect man must attain the highest stage of training possible, and then abandon all consciousness of it to the reflexive activity of the body.(116)

Yagyu Tajima (1571-1646), another renowned classical swordsman, is the author of a statement as relevant to the study of Aikido as it is to swordsman-ship. He writes concerning the pitfalls to be encountered in training:

The diseases or obsessions the swordsman has to get rid of are: 1) The desire for victory, 2) the desire to resort to technical cunning, 3) the desire to display all that he has learned, 4) the desire to overawe the enemy, 5) the desire to play a passive role, and lastly 6) the desire to get rid of whatever disease he is likely to be infected with.(117)

In response to the question of how best to deal with the harmful desires enumerated above, Yagyu states: “Let yourself go with it, keep company with it, this is the best way to get rid of it.”(118) This acceptance follows the same principles utilized in dealing with distractions of the “runaway mind” during Zen meditation. To actively attempt to eradicate distraction only transfers the mind’s obsession to the attempt itself. Effort can only be self-defeating.

Inevitably for a Japanese martial arts master raised and trained in the environment of post-feudal Japan, there is much of Zen influence in the genesis and form of Aikido. As has already been noted, however, there are some elements of traditional Zen and Japanese attitudes which Uyeshiba found it necessary to abandon or modify to ensure the ethical application of his unique expression of the warrior’s way. Uyeshiba found it insufficient to abandon the offensive orientation and detachment of spirit from the desire to overcome others. The Zen-inspired warrior could still become an agent and tool of carnage and suffering, regardless of his personal detachment. Uyeshiba saw, and probably contributed to, too much of this in his own lifetime for the comfort of his own soul. Just as Takuan sought to underlay spirituality with correct technique, Uyeshiba sought to underlay correct technique with a commitment to an ethical existence.

He sought to include within his adaptation of Zen in Aikido training an inbuilt set of ethics and personal responsibility for the well-being of the partner, regardless of the intent displayed. Just as the swordsman steeped in Zen trains until the lethal techniques of his art are rooted in his unconscious, the aikidoist ceaselessly trains in techniques which are mechanically suited for the resolution of attack without injury, at all times with the awareness that he has a responsibility to ensure that the attacker injure not even himself. The ethical mindset becomes as deeply rooted as the form of the technique itself; in fact ethics support the form of the technique, as the technique physically expresses and reaffirms the ethical system.

(67) Motonori One, Shinto, the Kami Way (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962), pp 3,4.
(68) Piggott, Japanese Mythology, pp. 44,45.
(69) Ibid., pp. 42,43.
(70) Ibid., p. 42.
(71) Ono, Shinto, pp. 6-8.
(72) Suzuku, Zen and Japanese Culture. P. 99.
(73) Piggott, Japanese Mythology, pp. 15,16,27.
(74) Ibid., p. 16.
(75) Ibid., p. 45.
(76) Harry Thomsen, The New Religions of Japan, (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1963), p. 136.
(77) Piggott, Japanese Mythology, pp. 61,62.
(78) Ibid., p. 95.
(79) Kammer, Zen and Confucius.
(80) Tohei, Aikido In Daily Life, p. 87.
(81) Ibid., p. 90.
(82) Piggott, Japanese Mythology, p. 42; Itzhak Bentov, Stalking the Wild Pendulum, (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977), pp, 73-75.
(83) Draeger, Budo, pp. 28,29.
(84) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, pp. 212,213.
(85) Thomsen, New Religions, pp. 127-135.
(86) Katsuhiko Ikeda, Stanley A. Pranin and Katsuaki Terasawa, trans., “O’Sensei’s Fame Spreads”, Aiki News, 2:4:5.
(87) Thomsen, New Religions, p. 147.
(88) Draeger, Bujutsu and Budo, p. 143.
(89) D. Howard Smith, Confucius (New York: Scribner, 1973), p. 111.
(90) Ibid., p. 174.
(91) Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God; Oriental Mythology (New York: Penguin, 1976), pp. 420-423.
(92) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 305.
(93) Nancy Wilson Ross, Three Ways to Ancient Wisdom (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966), p. 144.
(94) Tohei, Aikifo In Daily Life, p. 168.
(95) Conze, Buddhism, p. 179.
(96) Piggott, Japanese Mythology, pp. 47,52.
(97) Ross, Three Ways to Ancient Wisdom, pp. 109-113,124.
(98) Morihiro Saito, Traditional Aikido, vol. 5 (Tokyo: Minato Research and Publishing, 1976). P. 18.
(99) Robert Boguslaw, The New Utopians (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965), pp. 88,89.
(100) Kammer, Zen and Confucius, pp. 19,20.
(101) Ibid., pp. 20,21.
(102) Ibid., pp. 21-23.
(103) Ibid., p. 24.
(104) Ibid., pp. 31,32.
(105) Saito, Traditional Aikido, p. 22.
(106) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 61.
(107) Ibid., p, 182.
(108) Ibid., p. 62.
(109) Ibid., p. 145.
(110) Ibid., p. 160.
(111) Ibid., p. 89.
(112) Ibid., pp. 117,144.
(113) Ibid., p. 197.
(114) Uyeshiba, Aikido, p. 179.
(115) Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 100.
(116) Ibid., p. 197.
(117) Ibid., p. 153.
(118) Ibid., p. 165.


  1. This is excellent. I note, in reading Yagyu’s “Heiho Kadensho”, that enlightenment by the visitation of a Shinto spirit is also found at the foundation of that school.

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