“Ethics, an Aiki perspective,” by Francis Takahashi

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba practices the Aiki Ken with his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba in Iwama c. 1957

“The Founder’s admonition is that Aikido is True Budo, with the obligation to protect all of life, and to be in harmonious co-existence with our environment and all its elements.”

Per Wikipedia, Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior.

Major areas of study in ethics may be divided into 3 operational areas: Meta-ethics, about the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions and how their truth values (if any) may be determined; Normative ethics, about the practical means of determining a moral course of action; Applied ethics, about how moral outcomes can be achieved in specific situations.

Each of these areas include many further sub-fields of study.

Which begs the question, are there identifiable and quantifiable elements of both morality and ethics in the art form we call Aikido? Is the subject field we refer to as martial arts itself subject to independent scrutiny using these two lenses of human discrimination and of societal evaluation? If so, how do we then objectively and subjectively begin to analyze, scrutinize, qualify, quantify and otherwise identify those elements of Aikido philosophy and application that may be honestly and appropriately vetted for us to wisely consider, and to incorporate into our daily activities?

For this article, we are focusing on what role that ethics can and should play, if any, in evaluating, and more accurately determining and defining the benefits that the study of Aiki and of Aikido actually promises to the committed student, and to the seeker of truth and for personal achievement. Further, we definitely need to research how best to introduce more discussion, debate, and planning, to effectively bring true awareness and applicability of ethics and morality into our teachings, our training of instructors, and to our overall goal of appropriately introducing Aiki Principles to the rest of the world. In the real world, things are not bought or simply sold. Rather, it is the benefits of using these things that actually convince the buyer into following through with the transaction. Let us then focus on demonstrating the benefits of Aiki thinking, of Aiki Principles, and of Aikido training. We must learn to do so in the context of what the world acknowledges and accepts as ethical and moral gospel.

Although the Founder of Aikido was wont to expound on Aiki theory in mostly esoteric language and terms, using metaphors and almost mythical allusions to established Shinto doctrine in his teachings, it may be safe to extract certain references to the presence of and connections to the need for ethical considerations and activities in our practice. Chief amongst the many to be cited, would be the Founder’s admonition that Aikido is True Budo, with the obligation to protect all of life, and to be in harmonious co-existence with our environment and all its elements. Then too, we have the example of Kisshomaru Doshu, who set the bar quite high in personal conduct, consistently behaving in a considerate and compassionate way in both teaching and writing, and in his interpersonal relationships, not only with those in the Aikikai family, but with key leaders in other disciplines and organizations, including but not limited to his ongoing relationships with Masters Gozo Shioda, Minoru Mochizuki, Kenji Tomiki, and others that the public can substantiate and provide. It was not by accident that Aikikai Foundation was able to obtain and retain the uncompromising support from the Japanese government, leading to similar support from the governments of other countries throughout the East and West, thus allowing for the unprecedented spread of Aikido unto the international stage. This is where Aikido now enjoys its greatest testament and living proof to its ethical and moral foundation, as well as to its Budo heritage, and its oft maligned legitimacy. “Take that, Bainbridge scholars!”

Today, we can well appreciate how the Western image of Aikido is one of real and compassionate regard for all in the human family, and a clear voice for harmony in all human dealings, both politically and socially. Yet, we can also acknowledge that we have miles and miles to go before we can sleep the good sleep of good conscience, and of accomplished harmony amongst ourselves. We are still plagued with divisive rhetoric, unkind commentary, ego driven behavior against any who would challenge any perceived status by simply being truthful, and the constant proliferation of separate, but sadly underpowered attempts to study and represent the true legacy and teachings of the Founder. It is no secret that in such manifestations, we see a severe and unfortunate lack of ethical behavior and of moral conduct, with no apparent relief in sight. How the rest of the world, especially that of the martial arts community, might well be chuckling in their Starbucks or Seattle’s Best.

With all the emphases on martial integrity, traditional relevance, and of unsupported claims of breakthroughs in correctly translating the Founder’s past works, when will we begin the much simpler, yet infinitely more challenging task of representing the foundation of true and consistent moral example, and of the kind of ethical behavior we need to foster towards one another in speeches, writings. When indeed will we choose to regularly engage one another in face to face interactions that can foster true understanding and amazing friendships?

Is it fear? Is it lack of motivation? Is it the lack of visionary leadership that currently leaves us in the lurch? Whatever it is, like the dismal economy nationally and internationally, it is up to us, the people class, to work to turn the tide of complacency and make a real difference towards our treasured goals. We must find common cause, mutual points of interest, and commit to achieving them in the Way of Aiki, together. Let’s at least get started by having open ended, meaningful, and courteous dialogue, and perhaps the momentum generated will be carried forward by our students, and their students, and forever forward. Why not begin again now?

Contact Aikido Academy USA


  1. Thank you for another excellent thoughts provoking and thoughtful article Takahashi Sensei, it is always a real pleasure for me to read your posts, enjoy them while translating and thinking about them meanwhile doing so.
    Yes, Kisshomaru Doshu was a great example to follow, therefore I chose to ignore “divisive rhetoric, unkind commentary and ego driven behavior”, and to keep training every class the best I can, attend every seminar I can with my alike thinking dojo mates and tell everyone who like to listen to me about the wonderful gift O Sensei left us.

  2. Joe Peterson says:

    Here is the problem I have with this fine and well thought out article, the organic inherent nature of man. We live an a universe governed by opposites, polar opposites. It is a fact that polarity is a dominate concept in our universe. We as humans are ruled by that fact, both externally and internally, and can’t escape it.

    In relation to Aikido and Osensei’s message of love is an attempt to eliminate the opposite pole. Love is a concept debatably inherent to humans, as well as hate. Both are equal in power. Love would not exist without hate. You can’t have love with out hate, neither exists in the absence of each other. Osensei mission to turn a violent world into to a peaceful utopian world can’t take place, and has not taken place. Because it is against the man’s nature, and the universal law of polarity. His message and mission have failed due to the inherent organic nature of man. And also working against the universal law of polarity. You can’t eliminate hate or hateful people, no more than you can eliminate people who love. We humans will go through cyclic periods, as we have in the past, of violence and peace. During these periods neither love nor hate will be eliminated. It is impossible for Osenesi to have his dream become reality.

    The failure of Osensei’s message started with his Uchideshi. His apostles governed by their own organic inherent nature and interests, either abandon Osensei’s message or were unable to carry it on due to their own students’ high level of non acceptance. Not saying any of these people where violent and evil, rather the supporters where out numbered by those who didn’t support Osensei’s message. This was because in part I believe Osensei’s message was too hard to comprehend. When something is too hard to comprehend it is abandoned by most.

    The impetus among people to take up Aikido making it so very popular and spreading around the world, wasn’t love, sadly. Aikido’s appeal defaulted to a personal utility for fulfilling individual needs, due to the difficultly of Osensei’s message. Another organic inherent thing about the nature of man, individual needs are fulfilled first over the group. People being motivated to Aikido was not solely because of Osensei’s message of love or his spiritual views. Osensei’s writings and philosophy are very difficult to understand, as pointed out in the blog entry. Even his uchideshi found Osensei’s spirituality perplexing and confusing. People are motived to Aikido out of personal needs. When people hear about Osensei’s message, they pick something easily relatable to their personal views and needs. People’s inherent organic nature is to champion their own individual views and personal interpretations. The most translatable and universally identifiable people pick out is Osensei’s philosophy of love and peace. They do this absent the whole package Osensei put it in.

    To wrap this up, the appeal for Aikido is out of personal individual need fulfillment, and not for the global efforts of world peace. That is our inherent organic nature, that exists within a universe of polar opposites. Where one pole will never exist alone without the other. The complexity of Osensei’s philosophy makes it very easy, due to its difficulty, to misunderstand it, or abandon it. In our struggles to understand Osensei’s philosophy, we recognize familiar concepts of love and peace that we already support; we shape Osensei’s love and peace into a context that wasn’t his. Or we simply abandon them, and replace that spiritual gap with something else or nothing at all. Osensei’s dream sadly was doomed from the start.

  3. Kisshomaru made many great achievements (although not without some important trade-offs), but I’m not sure what you mean by “obtain and retain the uncompromising support from the Japanese government”.

    In any case, with regards to ethics, Hiroshi Tada made some interesting points regarding ethics, and the differences between ethics and Budo in the “Budo Body” interview, part 5.

  4. The love O’Sensei put forth as possible balances the extremes of peace and war into a realizable possibility. It’s another evolutionary step, not utopian, just another step. O’Sensei was not a guru. He was a warrior and understood practical considerations. This is inclusive of both personal need and also the greater good, is entirely possible and can be begun now in this era of terrible mental damage, suffering and gross human dysfunctionality. What better time? If we as a species are to have the tools to climb out of it this silly world we have currently espoused and made for ourselves, we have to begin somewhere. It will not be an overnight thing. It could take a few generations.

    I’m not sure why people may be having difficulties hearing O’Sensei’s message. Perhaps they are listening with ears blocked full of egotism. It’s a simple message. The Aikido paradigm requires a person to be neither bully nor victim in a world of bullies and victims (most hope you are not noticing their behaviours). But to rise above base simian tendencies and simply realize the humanity we already contain. It’s a choice. It requires working tools and attitudinal changes. Aikido may help. If there is hope then it will rub off by example. If not, it does not matter. Hell in a hand basket is an option too and great nature does not care.

    Mass extinctions have happened before. Nature simply tries again with a new species. Humans are not that special. What Takahashi sensei is saying is entirely valid in my view and if we don’t give it a try we’ll never know. If we do, at least we will not be participating in cycles of folly. O’Sensei – eminently practical and doable. Takahashi sensei’s rendition – equally so. Easy? Not necessarily always. The choice? Continue going round in circles that arrive nowhere and downhill or, give the Aiki attitude a go, refine it in training and see where it leads to. What is there to lose?

    The planet is on the brink in so many ways. We face right now more refugee input than nations can handle (and somehow propaganda makes it look like it’s the refugees fault you are incompetent in prosecuting your life and society properly – but idiots will believe it). The ecologies are not only collapsing but are continued to be assaulted by raging madmen with no concern for the future, the economies are sinking because of gross dishonesty, mental illness is all around, immense suffering, death, atrocities and deprivation in war torn countries exploited by pirates, terrorism is a growing industry, animals and oxygen bearing forests are being destroyed, tortured and exploited, species are disappearing at a rate like never before (these are the life support systems for us “special beings” chosen by “god”.) The oceanic oxygen bearing plankton are clogged by plastic waste dumps the size of Texas (no, not an exaggeration- go find the facts!) What do you reckon? Do you want me to go on? That was a very short list. Well, we can just bury our heads in ignorance or we can, despite the hopeless scenario give it a try. There are only two options. We may turn things around. Or, we may become as extinct as we are striving, as a species, to make ourselves. It sure won’t do any harm trying. And if do we sink with the rest of the unconscious, uncaring mass, from weight of numbers, we may just do so a tad happier. But at least we gave it our best shots. What else can a person hope to do?

    • aikido, as bu-true bu is just such a tool–as a budo of oneness, it frees humankind from old bu, which you have called victim-bully. there is no good and bad in aikido; there is no other; yet it is true bu, it deals with power and humankind’s relation to power… it does not find the answer in power as haku, but in love as kon. …as an emanation of ushi-tora-no-kon-jin, it has appeared in the world to model practically, for all humankind, true bu., IN THIS TIME.

  5. Thank you Joe, for your kind words, and your detailed explanation of your views.

    We may all agree that mankind was never meant to be perfect, and would consistently behave in inconsistent, self promoting, short sighted and seriously flawed ways in regards to respecting the environment. The concept of “entitlement” can only be applied to one species, in my opnion, and that is mankind. We too are responsible for extreme notions of “Love” and of “Hate”, both utterly nonexistent in the rest of nature.

    To unequivocally state that O Sensei’s message “failed” is to assume way too much from the dreams of a single, admittedly flawed carbon unit. He is not alone in the history of mankind in wishing for the stars, while bathing only in the faint rays of their ghostly shadows, millions of light years removed. I believe that we can be much kinder in appraising and appreciating his noble gesture for world harmony and balance.

    So too with his direct disciples, themselves quite ordinary people with quite ordinary scholastic and intellectual backgrounds and credentials. They were not the only ones confounded by the Founder’s genius, doing well enough to learn what they actually did. Even today, with our wealth of exponential discoveries, more focused interest by professional researchers, and the instant power of communicating via the internet, we appear to be no closer in identifying and understanding the puzzle of his thinking, the profound depths of his spirituality, or of any epiphanies he enjoyed, but did not reveal.

    Yes, mankind has proven to be quite a selfish animal, consistent with the natural processes that govern all living things to survive at any cost. Don’t we all listen to the same radio station, WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me?”? It is abnormal for the common person to think altruistically, in fact, and therein lies the rub. You are correct in surmising that other factors come into play, and the mystery of how a man thinketh continues. Only mankind can fathom, let alone attempt, ethical and moral behavior.

    I do not share your view that O Sensei’s views and vision are too complex. Rather, I find it quite simple and easy to assimilate and to appreciate. It is the execution of those same Aiki Principles that is so damned hard.

    It is not up to us to fulfill any utopian dreams of the Founder. Neither are we individually accountable to measure up to someone else’s ideal or goal of life. Rather, I take the Founder’s example as an affirmation that I too can build my life on the building blocks I find in my own corpus, mentality, and spiritual gifts. I am quite confident and enthusiastic that the best is yet to come.

    Thank you, Chris Li, for the amazing references and access to Tada Sensei’s memories and teachings.

    Thank you Nev, for your indomitable enthusiasm, keen insight, and love of Aikido.

    And thank you, Joe, for giving me the opportunity to respond.

  6. Joe Peterson says:

    I am strongly criticizing Osensei’s approach to how he delivered his message. And Takahashi Shihan’s blog entry is spot on. No criticism intended on his views.

    Osensei because of the way he choose to deliver his message (did contain ethics in context to the Japanese) was not inline with other leaders message of Budo ethics at the time, like that of Funakoshi, Kano, etc. If you do a reasonable amount of historical study during that period of Japanese you see that codified Budo ethics in dojo kuns that state clearly and understandably the Budo code of ethics. If Osenei’s language was clear and direct on his Budo code, like his peer budoka did, we would not be in discussion on this subject.

    I think Osensei seen himself as a Kama, yes I mean Kama (Sanskrit) and not Kami (神). Though Osensei thought of himself as a Kami (神) and functioned as a spiritual leader, a status he pursued. One he sincerely styled himself as such, and is reflected in his esoteric writings. A pursuit equivalent within the context of Japanese culture to as say the likes of a Joel Olsteen. Osensei was not simply satisfied with the status of sensei as his peers. Osensei wanted to spearhead social change in a way that was highly regarded and revered by the Japanese.

    Words are powerful tools, and Osensei knew it. But, his writing style interfered with the message. A problem that still plagues Aikido, because it is hard to define and understand his Budo ethics and how he wanted them to function. That wounded Aikido deeply.

    Takahashi Shihan’s blog entry, as I see it, is trying to rectify that issue, and present what Osensei didn’t state clearly. That is to establish the recognizable and comprehensible codified ethics of Japanese Budo for Aikido. 

I support Takahashi Shihan’s efforts, though I see many barriers to achievement. I could be wrong and ignorant by not understanding the finite politics and nuances of Japanese culture associated to Aikido when I say, this Doshu or his father should have just written down and establish a dojo kun for Aikido. Then take the important components of Osensei’s philosophy place them in the proper context and make them understandable universally by dropping the stylistic prose that complicates the understanding. As of now, we are arguing over personal interpretations (that has become issues of politics) for a very long time. We should be practicing clear and well laid out universal ethics of Budo, without argument.

    • o-sensei’s style did not interfere with his message; it is simply highly concentrated thought expressed somewhat poetically, carrying not ethical, but spiritual truth, similar to for instance, the writing of r. buckminster fuller, or tibetan anu yoga and ati yoga tantras. there is no ethics as such in aikido, there is only truth, which is revealed through practice, practice defined by o-sensei as misogi.

  7. Actually, Osensei did write down some dojo-kun –

    Looking them over, they’re not dissimilar to what Funakoshi wrote.

    Anyway, in my experience, there is just as much politics in Judo and Karate as there are in Aikido – in some ways Aikido is actually less fractured, so I don’t know how that argument holds up.

    • Joe Peterson says:

      How can I say this without sounding offensive, in a matter of fact way….how many Aikido students and teachers know the rules, what percentage know they exist? How many dojos hang the kun in their dojos? When I say kun it is more than just words, it is results and actions.

      Chris, I say it kindly, do these rules hang on your dojo walls, are they on your webpage? You found these rules on Aikido FAQ site. There are dojos that highlight a rule or two at best, usually as a tenet of Aikido. How many students, teachers, and dojos have a clear ethical/moral motivation and accomplishment? How many dojos discuss the dojo kun in terms of moral and ethics? Lip service and indirect allusion doesn’t count, so where are these hard pressed lectures and discussions on what are the Aikido ethics at the big Aikido events? If universal code of ethics where a strong part of Aikido then, Shihan Takahashi blog entry would not speak to the problem of ethics. Shotokan’s dojo kun has so much weight to it, it could be measured in thousands of tons. Osensei really didn’t focus his dojo kun on character like Shotokan did. Osensei placed that weight into the bigger global vision he had.

      Look at the questions laid out in the article that show there is an absence of sincere observation of ethics and morality, where, and how it plays a part in Aikido, “are there identifiable and quantifiable elements of both morality and ethics in the art form we call Aikido? ” and “what role that ethics can and should play.” Finally, “when will we begin the much simpler, yet infinitely more challenging task of representing the foundation of true and consistent moral example, and of the kind of ethical behavior we need to foster towards one another in speeches, writings.” If you have to say these things in this way and point, and I agree. He is more optimistic than I.

      Shihan Takahashi in his blog entry is saying there is a problem that needs to be addressed. If Aikido had a dojo kun which was widely implemented and taught at the forefront of Aikido, both clearly and concretely, instead of wrapped up in difficult spiritual poetic philosophy, there would be no issue. Like karate, Aikido’s ethics and morals represented by the dojo kun would be universally observed and discussed, known by every student and teacher of Aikido. If it where the case, the subject would not be argued/written about discussing ethics and morals.

  8. John Hillson says:

    The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. – General McArthur.

    Peace is important and desirable, protection of life is a worthy goal. Really, no one has a problem with that.

    But, from a Western perspective, contaminated by other images:

    Christ, willingly going to be hung on the cross and tortured, healing one of the soldiers coming to capture him after his disciple lashed out in defense.

    Gandhi, calling for nonviolent resistance, many of his followers beaten and injured, hunger strikes and eventually dying from violence himself.

    Vietnam era draft dodgers and conscientious objectors, and people marked as cowards in many centuries of conflict because of their desire for peace.

    Some students equate O Sensei’s call for people with other peaceful figures. These examples of peace are not the same as O Sensei’s I think. He wasn’t out to get crucified nor asking us to face this fate, nor do I think he was a flower child. I recently had an impressionable young man leave our dojo after his sister was attacked on the street by a homeless man. He had a warped idea that Aikido calls us to “turn the other cheek” and “forgive and forget.” While law enforcement is there to serve (society) and protect (life), the idea that a cop would ask a victim of violence to just forgive their attacker, maybe even submit to an attacker is crazy. This young man interpreted Aikido philosophy to mean that he shouldn’t have defended his sister if he risked hurting her assailant.

    The important part of O Sensei’s desire for peace was that he Chose it. A weakling or a coward also prays for peace, but has no choice.

    Shioda and Koga and others were able to train law enforcement – and not just to take a beating or get nailed to a cross.

    O Sensei apparently said farming and Budo are the same – and, farmers cull their herds, pull up weeds, stop pests and predators from destroying what has been built.

Speak Your Mind