“Aikido and the Universal Spirals,” by Marco Rubatto


“In Misogi no Jo, O-Sensei claimed to perform a “purification” of the mat from “evil spirits” and it is clear that he did that through spiral movements!”

In recent times, several scientists, both physicists and mathematicians, are realizing the importance and the deep connection of spiral forms in our universe.

Finding empirically such a geometry in the world around us is rather natural: in nature, spirals are very common. Draining water in bathtubs, tornados, and whirlpools are all clear examples of the spiral form that arises from these phenomena.

But there are spirals almost everywhere, even where we wouldn’t expect to find them. If we take the image of a match just lit, we can spot in the early moments the natural geometric behaviour of smoke around it and we can see that it assumes clearly a spiral shape!

But that’s not all! Galaxies are spiral-shaped too, which suggests that we find this occurrence both in the infinitely big as the infinitely small. There are spirals formed by the pistils in the crown of a sunflower, as well as in shells or in the arrangement of the petals of a rose.

Again… we intuitively know that the human body is full of spiral forms. The ear lobe, the lines of our hands, etc. We have even found that there are spirals which approximate quite well the spontaneous nature of human profiles. In the specific case, spirals derived from the logarithmic function that makes them, in turn, the geometric shape more similar to the numbers of the convergent and famous Fibonacci sequence, containing the equally famous “golden ratio” which our entire universe seems to be built upon.

But this is a different story and for our purposes we should look beyond. The key question is: why is this ubiquitous geometry so important?

In physics, it seems that the energy might have been transformed into matter through a spiral shape in the first instants of the Big Bang as it now appears that matter goes back to its energy state (and possibly has been ejected in some other dimension?) through the well-known phenomenon of black holes.

Therefore, there are essentially two kinds of spirals, each of them with a different pole. The first kind is able to focus a dense critical energy built around its center and throw it to the periphery (Big Bang), while the other is able to attract the energy from the outside and concentrate it around its center (as in the black holes).

And this is something more than a theory. It is in fact well known and accepted by everyone! Hurricanes are formed by spirals of “positive polarity” and can lift objects they encounter on the ground and throw them in the air, tangentially to their rotation.

On the other hand, whirlpools do exactly the opposite: they attract boats or whatever floats in the surface of the water and sink them. This is an example of a receptive spiral motion that we could call of “negative polarity”.

All this proves that energy seems to be better dispersed or concentrated by a spiral movement rather than through a straight or circular motion. By definition, in fact, a spiral is the result of a rotational and a rectilinear motion integrated together!

But what have physics and mathematics to do with Aikido? Plenty of things apparently. Newcomers and outsiders often are “captured” (Black hole!?) by the circular movements of our Art. But in truth these movements are not so circular.

They are coiled, that is, they develop in space as translational and rotational movements, with the latter increasing or decreasing their frequency so as to dissipate the energy of the attacker, similarly to the destabilization that can create a hurricane, and then focus it in a specific point of immobilization and/or projection. In the same way, a whirlpool in the ocean works!

What follows is that there are situations where a technique aims more to the destabilization of the kinetic energy of the attacker or of the potential energy given by body weight, and others in which this energy needs to be channelled after being “freed” by the attack that generated it, and available to be transformed and reused for a different scope.

Even looking at the techniques themselves, it is rather clear that some of them use a centripetal principle while others are better characterized by a centrifugal motion. On top of that, there are a variety of harmonic combinations of these two opposing principles.

Just as flowers and the ear are nothing more than “receptors” able to receive through their spiral shape the cosmic energy and the sounds respectively, so the spiral movements on the tatami are the best “receptors” of the energy of the attacker. This is what physics help us to understand, that is, that the energy must be upheld in order to be processed and transformed rather than stopped on his way.

Some of you may observe that there are several movements that seem purely straight in our practice.

That’s true, but you can imagine that they are simply curves of a spiral with a very large radius such that they can effectively be approximated by straight lines.

In fact, Aikido should be the art of transforming energy. Through it, the energy can change state and switch to a higher stage, possibly by raising or changing one’s vibration from a purely physical level to something more mental, emotional, even spiritual. If spirals are a “door” through which we can transform energy, then Aikido is full of “doors”!

O-Sensei himself exposed this theory in metaphors as well as movements in order to express the implications of it at its full magnitude. In Misogi no Jo, he claimed to perform a “purification” of the mat from “evil spirits” (that is unwanted forms of energy that were better directed elsewhere). And it is clear that he did that through spiral movements!

Tai no Henko is nothing but a movement with which we align the energy of the opponent, apparently with a rotation around our wrist. But it might be in this case too a section of a spiral motion.

Equally obvious is the importance of being conscious of what we practice, since the architecture of our universe and the nature itself can teach us the enormous difference in terms of efficacy between a circular motion and a spiral one!

We are inclined to believe that O-Sensei was aware of this and had purposely peppered his practice and his teachings with this particular structure in order to dictate what he thought to be the universal rules behind all his discoveries. From this perspective, he did not create anything new, but understood how to apply principles as old as our universe to the martial arts, in the sense of making them some sort of transformative practices of the physical energy and consciousness of the practitioners themselves.

Translated by Alberto Cassetta

Click here for the original Italian version of this article.

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  1. nev says:

    Well said, Marco and thanks for bringing this aspect forward. A good read.

  2. Carlo says:

    Very Interesting!
    Thank You Marco!

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