“Cultivating a Martial Spirit,” by Stanley Pranin

Everyone beginning aikido practice is motivated by a particular purpose or set of goals. Among the most common are a desire to learn self-defense, develop physical fitness, or seek companionship. Over time these initial goals take on a different meaning as one begins to experience the transforming effect aikido has on one’s life.

Since aikido—and martial arts in general—are disciplines that teach techniques capable of injuring and killing an adversary, they should be practiced with a sense of seriousness and attention to minute detail due to the inherent risks involved. Training in such a focused mental state leads progressively to the cultivation of what might be described as a “martial spirit.”

We use the term “martial” here in the same sense as the word “bu” in Japanese as interpreted by the Founder, from “budo,” usually translated as “martial art.” “Bu” encompasses two key concepts. First, it connotes an Oriental system of fighting skills with classical origins primarily aimed at teaching self-defense. Bu also incorporates the notion of an activity or pursuit intended to lead the practitioner along a path of spiritual advancement. Both of these ideas are contained in aikido as conceived by the Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

Training with a martial focus

The bu or martial element is so vital a part of aikido training that to remove it would be to reduce the art to a mere exercise system or health method. It arises from an awareness of the inherent dangers of training thereby introducing a kind of mental tension during practice that in time produces a state of heightened sensitivity. Here are some of the dojo processes that promote the development of this martial mindset.

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  1. …of course I only read in translation, but in one of the Japanese sources I found a quote to the point: “The first and last lesson of budo is courtesy.” If you think about it, in most social situations, continuous attention to courtesy will avoid the trigger which shifts a dispute into the realm of physical conflict. By contrast, consider the process of “picking a fight”. That’s normally an escalating series of provocations until the objective is obtained…

  2. Rick Post says:

    Sensei Pranin,
    Thank you for publishing the articles on Aikido. They are inspiring for those of us who just started studying the art of Aikido. Looking forward to the next article.

  3. Very good article.
    Thank you very much

    • God bless you all with the wisdom of Peace,

      May I state the following…..

      My former teacher Sensei Otani, Tomio, founder of Yodokan Budo, gave me this information – ” in Japan the first line of defence is courtesy….”. Tomio was an excellant swordsman who visited many parts of the World to give demonstrations and courses until his death in the early nineties. He was accredited to be born to the sword. He imparted a great deal of practical and valid information with his teaching of Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu, Weapon training. This statement was the first actual philosophy in action in his practical martial arts system, and wholeheartedly would support Mr Stanley Pranin Sensei`s article.

      Thank you to Stanley Pranin for instigating and perpetuating his quest to record, that which our predesessors of martial arts, would have shared with us, and an even larger thank you to the founders of Aikido now passed to that one great dojo.

      Thank you for reading this.

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