“Winning with my Aikido,” by Francis Takahashi

Let’s face it. The main purpose of fighting is to gain a victory, or to prevent a loss. Perhaps an added purpose is to gain the “maximum benefit” such a victory would provide, which may be the total annihilation of the opposition itself. This has been, in my opinion, the main impetus for the development of martial technology, codification, implementation, as well as the necessary assimilation of its ethic into the existing social fabric of that time.

Of course, the underlying reasons for ongoing human conflict are far more complex, agenda specific, historically relevant, and the fodder for dissection and dialogue far beyond the scope of this article.

Fighting as a socially viable concept is a valid one, since mankind’s history, nay nature itself, is replete with proof that the truism of “only the fittest survive” is both intrinsically valid and proven fact. There is no real merit or appreciable gain to be obtained in denigrating the history of fighting, as it is quite possibly ingrained within our DNA itself, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Let us start there.

I do believe that when “fighting” is the best recourse at the moment, then to fight to the best of one’s best ability is both necessary and justified. Nothing less will do when faced with the threat of imminent destruction or harm to people, principles or property one dearly loves, and has sworn to protect.

Therein exists as well, a high sense of righteous purpose and nobility indeed.

Then, there is the example of enlightened military and political leadership throughout history, who chose to co-op the potential enemy, whether through intrigue, negotiation or subterfuge, without a single extra life being unnecessarily lost. Tokugawa Ieyasu successfully turned enemy General Kobayakawa Hideaki into an ally prior to a turning point at the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Iemitsu instituted the famous “Sankin Kotai” system in 1635, effectively rendering his potential opposition helpless. These, and other scenarios from different nations, represent the countless examples one may highlight as great pivotal points used to gain key advantage, and to achieve final victory.

Amongst the choices of martial art systems to study, Aikido stands apart in clearly and unashamedly proclaiming that victory over another person has never been the primary reason for its existence. The enlightened student of Aikido , when understanding and implementing the true purpose and vision of the Founder’s wish for his Aikido, will always choose self betterment over defeating another person in senseless conflict. What others may think, say or believe, is irrelevant to the true student of Ueshiba Aiki, and may never define or otherwise negatively impact his or her allegiance, respect and love for Aikido.

The real purpose for studying this art, or any art form, must understandably remain the business of that student alone. This viewpoint is consistent with the Founder’s statements that each person needs to discover their own Aikido, for reasons undeniably their own, and in the form they choose to build it. This right to choose is congruent with the fundamental premise that we are solely responsible for our own security, and the means to ensure it. If we elect to surrender this right to others, that too is a choice, and not to be made lightly.

True Victory is the victory we all seek over our own internal challenges, to affirm the very choices we may make, and to proclaim humble acceptance of the consequences of our choices. The greatest gain possible from Aikido research and training, is to eventually know ourselves fully, demonstrate respect for our environment, and for our peers, and to be grateful for the privilege of living and behaving in balance and accord within our environment.

With our study of Aikido techniques, body movements, internal balance and control, and the awesome benefits derived from our compassionate interaction with others, we pay homage, not necessarily to the Founder himself, but to the validity and wisdom of the Aiki Principles he gifted to us, and to the future generations of faithful students of Aiki. As stewards of his legacy and mission, we can do no less in clear conscience and commitment, than to create our exclusively own Aikido based on our abilities, perseverance and understanding.

In my inadequate study of the Founder, I cannot help but point out that he relinquished testing himself against opponents outside of himself, and chose to spend the remainder of his training to deal with the toughest opponent, the one within him. No, it was not that he was infallible as a human being, which he wholeheartedly denied. Rather, it was the herculean effort he expended over his lifetime to persistently deal with the challenges his humanity and circumstance placed before him. Included as factors were matters of ego, appetites, doubt, occasional flights of fantasy, and the desire to be strong and undefeatable in respect to others. Perhaps he did not succeed as he wished, but he went far enough to encourage and inspire me, and countless others over time.

So, since “true victory” is our ultimate goal, we who study the Founder’s Aikido must never waver from our self promise to reach beyond mere fighting prowess, of settling for the fleeting sense of “accomplishment” by defeating or being declared superior to others, or for the dubious distinction of being singled out as being the “best of the best”.

The spirit of Aiki, especially of Ueshiba Aiki, is to resolve to gain strength, security and sustenance from being “One with” our would be enemies, with our fragile environment, and with the inner self we seek to discover, nurture and to improve. When we are truly in accord with all of the above, the need to conquer another person becomes irrelevant, irresponsible and erased.

This is the Way of Aiki, to accept, to allow, and to appreciate with humble gratitude.

Training as we do, the physical dimensions of Aikido technique, we do so, not only with the aim of increasing our chances of successfully applying them to certain situations, but to somehow better understand the moment, to intimately know the interaction of intent, and to appropriately anticipate how our partners will actually react or respond to our intent and desire to maintain harmony and balance amidst the seeming chaos of movement and the interplay of training.

Perhaps we can then reutilize the actual implements of intended destruction or manifestations of violence, to then redefine their purpose, and to guide both our attackers and ourselves into calmer waters, into a safe harbor for needed repairs, and for mutually welcome reconciliation.

This would be my win indeed.

The original article on Aikido Academy USA can be viewed here


  1. …Even for those of us with less elevated spirits or objectives than O Sensei can appreciate the paradoxical value of his teachings. Leaving both life and death in the hands of God is probably the most effective way of entering a conflict. Train as you fight – fight as you train is the USMC interpretation of that. ‘Those who look at the sword are killed by the sword’ is a pretty complete summary of defensive thought and tactics. ‘When the enemy raises his sword to strike, I am already behind him’ is an excellent mantrum for irimi, that absolutely critical moment in any engagement. I’ve been working on appreciating that for decades, ever since Terry Dobson Sensei first validated my perception of it. The difference between irimi and aggression is a VERY fine line, possibly the same as that which marks ‘the life-giving sword’… In all events, aikido practice which ignores the reality of physical conflict could never attract someone like me who learned in youth that while it takes two to fight, it only takes one to kick your ass.

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