“Winning vs. Not Losing,” by Francis Takahashi

The promise of Aiki is potentially limitless in terms of applying its impact and significance to Aikido. Any viewpoint of its martial relevance to Aikido, whether deemed major or minor, is totally on the declarer to clarify and to justify. One can take as narrow, or as broad a paint brush to color in the shapes, hues and lines of their understanding of Aiki’s role in describing the Founder’s aikido, and realize that tens of thousands of others have done the very same thing. It is my opinion that it is not up to us to teach others of what Aikido is or isn’t, but to quietly and humbly allow Aikido to reveal its connections to Aiki principles to us directly over a lifetime of diligent training.

There is to be found a certain purity of purpose on the road of self discovery, and hopefully of some level of mastery, as one decides to devote mind, body and spirit to dealing with any worthwhile endeavor, struggle or challenge. This definitely rings true for the promise from general Aikido research and training, to the individual who commits unconditionally to do whatever it takes to stay the lifelong course of unrelenting study, focused training, and by incorporating subsequent understanding into meaningful behavior and results.

It is my sincere stance, that we should study Aikido primarily as a discipline to undertake, correct and refine our search for meaning within ourselves, and for the pursuit of excellence within our art. We should not study the Aikido of systems, techniques, and martial philosophy, simply to emerge victorious in any confrontation we may encounter. Rather, we should consider using any such confrontation as a self test to measure and appreciate how close, or how far we have progressed towards or from our stated goals of embracing fully the potential of studying this art called Aikido.

Rather than focusing on a “win,” which is no more than an event, we should resolve to endure and persevere by “not losing,” forging this concept into a lifestyle attitude and commitment. In essence, the notion of “not losing” totally rejects the need to control the win-lose outcome of any confrontational scenario, in favor of a mind set of achieving genuine “self defense,” where we successfully preserve intact all that we deem valuable and essential to continuing to live and to thrive in the manner we choose.

When asked about the true purpose of Shorin Ryu Karate, Master Yoshimitsu Onaga, 8th dan Kyoshi, stated that “The purpose of Karate is not to win. Its true purpose is not to lose.” Undoubtedly, he was referring to the mind set necessary to successfully do one’s best to emerge victorious in a confrontation. Yet, did he mean it only to apply for tournaments, sparring training, and the rare occasion of a physical altercation? I think not, as men of that stature surely think about their way of life 24/7, and look to be in the moment at all times. Their purpose is to be correct in all phases of their lives, and to live and act honorably, consistent with the traditions that bind them.

What are we then defending or preserving that is worth more than a “win”?

I would humbly submit that we must attempt to “not lose,” in no particular order, our personal sense of integrity of purpose, the respect and expectations from those close to us, and to maintain this identity unshakably against the negative words or actions of others. I would think that it is essential, not to lose our self respect, our hard won self esteem, and a healthy self image, and to continue being faithful to our ideals and our standards of personal conduct, of correct thinking, speech and behavior, to respect others, as well as ourselves, in our environment. Isn’t this what being a genuinely consistent leader is all about? Don’t we need to be aware of what we have to lose, vs. what we hope to gain? It is said that “the fear of loss is a greater motivator than the hope of gain”.

We must seek to be a part of the solution, and to not be a complicit part of the problem. This is what I see as the message from the Founder in his admonition to use the lessons of Aikido training to form and keep relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial, and to refuse any invitation to engage in “survival of the fittest” games with the misguided, the misinformed, and the mistakenly disingenuous.

Other considerations of value that I dare not lose are intimately tied to the Principles of Aiki as I understand them to be, and remain at the core of my own cultivated self image as a martial artist. These things that I hold so dear, do not in turn require me to collect “victories” over enemies, real or imagined. Rather, they require me to first attempt to clarify any misunderstanding, to resolve potential conflicts by compromise and reason, and to constantly be vigilant in speech, mannerisms and behavior that may be misunderstood by others.

In the interesting world of “modern Aikido” there is no lack of reasoned positions about what the Founder meant his art to be, nor to what extent succeeding generations may exercise “license” to interpret his mission and legacy for their own purposes.

A popular notion I often encounter is that “Aikido is not about fighting,” but to “win” absolutely via “Masakatsu Agatsu”. Really? While noble sounding, and echoing the Christian ethic of “taking the high road,” is it really the purpose of Aikido to choose passivity, and to avoid confrontations at any cost? No, I will not gently into any good night, thank you. I will not mistake the Founder’s example of integrity with that of the great Gandhi. I will stand strong for my principles, choosing to “not lose” my centering and my focus on what I hold important. The choice, if offered, is to do so in a non violent way. Nonetheless, we need to look no further than the Founder himself for the answer needed, as he abundantly demonstrated all the ways of appropriate response. You simply commit yourself to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.

Yes, I will do whatever it takes to “not lose” what I deem precious or vital to me.
So, if I can be sure that I am no longer in danger of “losing” what I cannot afford to lose, why, my antagonist is then totally welcome to any “win” left over from our encounter. Hopefully, we can both live with the results.

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