“Do we know what Aikido truly is?”, by Francis Takahashi

It is mind boggling, and a bit disheartening for me to see the reams of questionable, and often grossly erroneous “facts” written about the Founder, his theories on Aiki, and on Aiki’s constant role in shaping his Aikido over the entire period of his lifetime. It is especially so because I can recognize very few “experts” with proven knowledge, training experience, and research credentials sufficient for the task.

Rather, I witness a boatload of suspect individuals who freely admit to having little or no respect for the history, tradition or values of the Founder’s true purpose, and of his welcoming spirit of openness to all who study his creation. It is equally appalling to me that such unwarranted and misguided drivel continues without an equally vociferous and reasoned rebuttal and counterpoint from the seemingly established and very senior group of mainstream Aikido leaders, who appear comfortable in remaining mute and aloof.

There are exceptions, of course, with stalwarts like George Ledyard, Peter Goldsbury, Nev Sagiba, David Lynch, and Stan Pranin, to mention a few, who have courageously, consistently and knowledgeably spoken out on Aikido principles, purpose and legitimacy as a genuine martial art and cultural phenomenon.

I have found that there is astoundingly little genuine and hard research and verifiable discoveries made to date by such smugly overly optimistic, marginally qualified, and seemingly authoritative individuals, who actually have no proven credibility or history of accurate, competent and relevant research. How can we justify such a dichotomy, and how can we honestly feel confident that we are doing real justice and proper honor to the memory of the Founder, and most of all, to our collective faith in the essence of his gift of Aikido to the world. Are we really ready to walk our own talk, and not act as mere recordings and parodies of the incomplete and insufficiently researched teachings of others.

Why do we tolerate the unfashionable emergence, and unquestioned authority of those who contribute unfounded and misguided drivel about Aikido training today, from “5th kyu shihans” to those self proclaimed experts on matters martial. Have we made these individuals accountable for demonstrating little honor, respect or even proven knowledge of the established traditions and time honored examples of Aikido teachings and practice? Why do many of these shadowy critics expectorate their vehement hostility unopposed by those in the know, as they denigrate unopposed the right of people to appreciate and practice the Aikido of their choosing. Isn’t such a right for each person to choose their method of demonstrating their take on Aiki principles exactly what the Founder and the late Doshu constantly avowed, and established as the basis of legitimacy for Aikido expression and practice for the aikido world?

The Founder had no illusions that the vast majority of those who studied and practiced his creation would eventually understand his purpose to any large, or even minute degree. He was content, as were the late and the current Doshu, to simply enjoy what they could of the vast potential of training in Aikido. How many times did the Founder humbly admit to merely being in the “first grade” of appreciating the potential of Aiki, and viewing his Aikido as an unending work in progress. He knew that it would take future generations of faithful and diligent stewards of his original vision and design, to continue fulfilling their respective roles in its ongoing construction, expansion, via hard won discoveries and constant training, and to become a worthy resource to mankind that would keep on giving forward in every sense of the word.

What this signals to me is the existence and unintentional perpetration of a fundamental fallacy, a myth if you will, regarding Aikido’s real identity and significance. Let’s face the facts. Aikido is not a finished product, not even close. It represents, at best, the heroic and singular attempt by a flawed human carbon unit, to dare to dream the impossible dream of unconditional love for all things in the universe as he saw it. It represents the culmination of a lifetime of tragedy, travail and triumph in seeking to make sense of that burning ambition within his soul, to create a martial art perspective unlike any other fashioned to date. He did not, at any time, intimate or suggest that his was a fully developed template, an inviolate blueprint for what his dreams suggested or demanded of him. Therefore, it is not up to lesser folk like you and me to assume otherwise, and to inappropriately hold his creation up as an arbitrary standard against which to measure any other such creation or interpretation. His was, and remains a continual work in progress, one where the diligent and faithful students of his vision would do their part in turn to continue the inevitable refashioning, restructuring and refinement of the original model. It was his dream to have his Aikido become something more than he himself could ever visualize or conceive, and to rely on the fundamental truths of Aiki to guide this multi-generational project, and to ultimately validate the unending work of his successors.

I truly believe that the Founder would genuinely appreciate the dialogue taking place today of incorporating the invaluable lessons obtainable from careful and goal oriented cross training in parallel martial arts systems and philosophies. He would surely applaud, not the incomplete understanding, or the often misguided conclusions and misconceptions held by many who claim to follow his example, but the very courage, vision and persistence to even try.

Please make no mistake, I am not in any way discrediting or discounting the worthy and vital contributions of those qualified and invested individuals who respectfully, sincerely and with great talent and integrity, choose to correctly do the due diligence of proper research, to verify sources of information and provenance, and to accurately and humbly share their findings with the Aikido faithful and other interested parties. Many of these amazing adepts may, or may not ever be formally linked to the vast Aikido family. There is no question that the ongoing work of fulfilling Aikido’s vast potential will depend mightily on the honest contributions of these same devotees of Aiki, along with other scholars and researchers we are privileged to encounter along the Way.

Even now, we are unwilling witnesses to the shallow, misguided and agenda driven attempts by some who portray the Founder, his creation, along with those very flawed but courageous students of his Aikido, in an unfavorable or misguided light. Perhaps they would choose to lighten up and give these folks a chance to add their efforts, perhaps found inadequate at times, to continue their respective training regimen, and perhaps develop unique applications of their incomplete but daring understandings of the Founder’s message and vision. We must stop targeting these sincere “messengers”, and strive to better understand the messages themselves, to the humble extent that we are individually and collectively able and willing to do. Aiki is about building connections, not about maintaining discriminatory separations and disconnects.

I do have faith in the Founder’s vision, messages of compassion and hope for future generations, and the fundamental power of Aiki Principles to help anyone to survive, thrive and be truly alive through the practice of Aikido. I humbly invite those who feel the same as I do, to join me in making it so.

Click here to view original article on Aikido Academy USA


  1. Fantastic post! My blog for this month was in-line with yours as well. I find the most tragic of all, is a lack of honest discourse and a steadfast refusal by some, to actually have to put their words into actions. There is a lot of room under the umbrella of Aikido. Honest words and honest actions in an atmosphere of mutual respect and humility can help us to appreciate the varied and valid manifestations of Aikido.

  2. Alister Gillies says:

    The internet allows hitherto unlimited access and opportunities for information of all kinds – including opinions of various forms and complexions. On a highway that is not regulated – and there are arguments on both sides for greater or less regulation – there will be frequent pile ups and debris strewn all over the place. Moderators do have a part to play, but again they come in all shapes and sizes.

    Stan is a particularly good and responsible editor and moderator. We should count ourselves fortunate to have him at AJ. Aikido is part of the world. It is located in an environment from which it derives both sustenance, and contributes nourishment. Readers, contributors and editors all have the freedom to operate within the same environment and exercise discernment and judgment – we have choices.

    Aikido, if it is to be any use to anyone, should help us find our way in a world that is less than perfect. Each of us needs to find his or her own way. We cannot do that by changing the world to suit us. Peace and harmony in the Dojo is fine, but what worth is it if we are at odds with colleagues, friends, relatives and those with differing opinions. An insistence on absolute standards in a relative world is bound to lead to disappointment, but Aikido offers us the opportunity to train and find a measure of equanimity in our lives. Each of us has to find this – Aikido cannot give it to us.

    There is nothing new in the tensions at the root of this article. A piece of Chinese mirror verse from the distant past tells us that it is both an age old problem and also that it is always possible to find a way – though not always an easy way.

    Equality without discrimination is poor equality; discrimination without equality is poor discrimination.

  3. Yes a brilliant post indeed, thank you Takahashi Sensei for your articles and for all you are doing to transmit our beautiful art. My sensei, dojo mates and I agree with you. In our humble dojo we train every day honestly and joyful and invite everybody who like to try to several free classes, we also comment about Aiki principles and what a marvelous martial art Aikido is, to everyone who likes to listen, so that more people should know and feel it by their own. We support all those who are honestly practicing aikido by attending their seminars and spreading them as much as we can.We know that it is just a grain of sand in an extense desert. But every path begins with just one step.

  4. Maybe you can add this in my previous comment Stan
    translation of this article in spanish here
    and in german here

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