“Martial Arts, Aikido and Peace?” by George Ledyard

The article below by Seattle-based George Ledyard Sensei has been selected from the extensive archives of the Online Aikido Journal. We believe that an informed readership with knowledge of the history, techniques and philosophy of aikido is essential to the growth of the art and its adherence to the principles espoused by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

“What is at the heart of this violence? Fear; pure and simple. No matter how complex the reasoning is behind some individual fight, societal conflict, large scale war, the basic cause can always traced to fear. Fear of what one might ask? Fear of everything, really. If we essentially cannot come to terms with the nature of reality, then almost every aspect of that reality can cause us to be reminded of what we are trying so hard not to acknowledge.”

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  1. Great article George!

    But I don’t think that an involuntary emotion like fear is necessarily a bad thing; it can be accommodated and channelled as an energy in a productive and creative way, with training and skill. Fear of fear, on the other hand, together with an unreflective attitude can be very damaging at all levels – micro and macro.

  2. bruce baker says:

    Why would anyone think the human race has a clue as to why we, the human race, exist .. let alone .. have a clue as to how fear drives so many of the events in history?

    Why do human beings even exist? We are nothing more than a transport system for Bacteria and micro-organisms. When human beings time of existence is done, some other animal will take our place and do our job.

    Ya want to solve global warming? Some of that is because there is not enough plant life to create the environment for animals, and some of it is just the uncontrollable forces of nature!

    All the answers are in the past, and all the problems are in the future. What human beings need is a diversion, and a tool, that allows their body and their mind to come together to overcome fear as well as find a means to solve their problems.

    At every point in civilization there are lunatics that come up with the actual answers to solve problems but the general population can’t break their social, cultural, educational programming to see the answers, so .. of course, fear takes over and there ya go .. PROBLEMS!

    Some people realize, that if we interact, if we find a common thing to bring us together, whether it is a physical exploit or intellectual pursuit, we will learn to over come our fears and find answers.

    It just so happens that Aikido … in its simplicity of distilling martial arts techniques of warriors into a practice that teaches a shorthand of martial skills .. seems to be one of them thar pursuits that brings people together and helps some of us to overcome our fears, let alone put some positive input back into our individual neighborhoods. WOW ..

    Most intellectuals are so distracted, and using distraction, that they put so many facts in the mix .. not even they can see the simplicity of it all. That is .. until some idiot like me says … oh look .. the only purpose of human beings is to spread pollen like bees … and the rest of it .. we made up as we went along.

    Shut up and go practice .. you will figure it out. Work through your fears, confront them, and then use the positive energy to find the middle-ground when the negative energy, events, circumstances, or bad luck seems to be in charge.

    My vote is to use fear as a tool, put it in its proper place to be used as it should be used, as a tempering tool to find the middle-ground that keeps things in their proper perspective. You should learn to control your fear .. not let your fear, or anyones fear, control you … does that make sense?

  3. Brett Jackson says:

    The fruit of a life-time of training, thought, and aiki-digestion. Thanks very much. Just to repeat some of the lines I like the most:

    “Safety actually lies in acknowledging our essential connectedness.” [Yes, on a physical level the butterfly effect.]

    “Communication is the beginning of conflict resolution.” [Yes, it lays the groundwork; like saying onegeishimas at the beginning of practice.]

    “One will never be able to be peaceful with others until he is peaceful within himself.” [Yes, you can’t purchase peace so it has to grow from inside.]

    “If he has dealt with his fears enough to not let them produce tension in his body, he can accept the attack and join with it physically….” [Yes, which can only be honed and established though tons of sincere practice as uke-nage.]

    “The relaxation of the mind that is required is very difficult to attain.” [Yes, and interestingly that relaxation is also imtimidating to potential attackers.]

    “If one is connected on this level with another person it becomes almost impossible for them to move faster than you can respond.” [Yes, unless that person is your Sensei. *Smile*]

    “An attacker who is highly skilled might even recognize that someone who is that connected isn’t actually open for an attack.” [Definitely, I’ve experienced that in “attacking” my Sensei; there was no opening so I backed off from the uke-attack, which he acknowledged — communication was there.]

  4. The universal need of government, whether you’re a collectivist or individualist, is protection, which may take the form of vengeance, from those who can and would do harm against those who choose to be, and are accepted as, members of the organization. Therefore, the arguments such as “we spend on war but not health care” is a collectivist argument.

    Collectivists use coercion by government to impose their values on others. How that’s “harmonious” eludes me.

  5. Adam,
    Government exists to exercise “collectivist” power. It is fundamentally anti-individualist. Law is inherently coercive by its very nature. The citizens who agree make the laws and those that do not get coerced.

    The reason we need government is that various things needed by a society are simply too large for individuals or even groups of individuals to do. National defense is one. Protection against natural disaster and maintenance of large public works is another.

    Having a national health care system is very much appropriate as a responsibility for government. It is something that DIRECTLY benefits the welfare of the citizens of a country.

    On the other hand, if you were to look at the vast majority of the military adventures we have had during our history, especially recent history, it would be extremely difficult to see any benefit to the citizens of the country whatever, and could make a strong case for the idea that these various exercises of our power hurt the nation dramatically.

    “Harmonious” is a state of mind. A society can be said to be harmonious when its citizens are well cared for and reasonably prosperous enough that they aren’t in a constant state of rebellion against its government. Health Care should be a vital part of such a society. The military is simply a necessary evil that you need to have, but hope you never use. Its use is ipso facto a break in the harmony of a society. In fact, large scale use of the military only makes the need for large scale health care even more pressing.

  6. Alister,
    Human beings are programmed to have “fear”. In a survival sense it has a function. It is right to be afraid of a grizzly bear. It is natural to be afraid for your children’s safety. It is natural to be afraid for your life when in combat.

    But “fear” should be a short term reaction to a threat, not a state of mind. When people cross the line from simply being afraid of something that is a threat into “fearfulness” as a habitual state of mind it effects the whole society negatively. It negatively affects all of your relationships. It even effects ones bodily health negatively.

    There is nothing essentially positive about fearfulness.

  7. George,

    I did not say there was anything positive about fearfulness, unless of course it is viewed as an opportunity to develop skills of fearlessness, in which case it would become a source of motivation for say, confidence. There is always a positive way to look at things, if one chooses to look.

    Many people come to a dojo because they are either ‘looking for something’, or feel that something is ‘lacking’ in their lives. Personally I don’t believe that it is useul to set up admonitions or injunctions against ‘negative’ mind sets or emotions.

    If that was to be the case then our dojos, churches, temples, national institutions would all be empty.

    Fear, like other so-called negative emotions, if processed in the right way acts as a kind of compost – it is transformed through training to produce something of value. Didn’t O Sensei talk about the ‘forging’ process and the value of impurities?

    To deny fear or fearfulness is to miss an opportunity for personal transformation, and could lead to a posturing culture where people swagger around making ridiculous assertions that they can’t possibly live up to.

    As for fearfulness, the Middle East is full of idiots fearlessly blowing themselves, and others, to kingdom come – they could do with some fearfulness, it’s healthier.

  8. Aleksey S. says:

    With all due respect, the big problem with your point, George, is that you’re drawing parallels between stylized practice method of Aikido and reality.

    The thing is, when one uses Aikido to deal with realistic attacks, it does not look the way it does in the dojo. The abstraction falls off to the lower tier, it becomes Daito Ryu at best (if you’re VERY GOOD that is). For 99.9% of practitioners, there will be jerking, pulling, grabbing, there will be collision of energy, there will be conflict and strikes and damage.

    To sum it up…

    Aikido when applied in real conflict won’t be pretty, and Aikido applied in real politics won’t be pretty.

    Aikido applied in the idealized dojo matrix can be pretty, and Aikido applied in a political science class assignment at Berkeley can be pretty.

    C’est la vie.

  9. George,

    The following link will clarify collectivism vs. individualism. I’m not interested in arguing the merits of them or the way they manifest, only to point out that Aikido and collectivism have no inherent agreement.

    However, we are in agreement on harmony being a state of mind. The difference is that a collectivist believes that the individualist needs, in some form, reprogramming. The individualist believes he/she should be free from the collectivist’s coercive tendencies, but knows that he/she’s passion for life can be broken through force.


  10. Clarity of perspective, whilst not common, is good to find and to read. Thanks George for providing it. Here’s hoping enough people in the world wake up in time before even bigger changes overwhelm our fragile but deluded species.

  11. Bruce and Aleksey has it about right for me…..

  12. 2nd Tony’s comments…

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