“One need not prepare for a fight, if one resolves
never to be near one or can walk away from one.”
Per Wikipedia, the following definition is one of many interpretations and beliefs, but arguably the most identifiable and accepted version by most cultures of what the notion of “martial arts” has meant over the ages, and what it means today.
The martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices. They are practiced for a variety of reasons, including self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual development.
The term martial art has become heavily associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, but was originally used in regard to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. An English fencing manual of 1639 used the term in reference specifically to the “Science and Art” of swordplay. The term is ultimately derived from Latin, and means “Arts of Mars,” where Mars is the Roman god of war. Some martial arts are considered ‘traditional’ and are tied to an ethnic, cultural or religious background, while others are modern systems developed either by a founder or an association.
Based on this definition, I cannot consider Aikido to be a “traditional” martial art, one consistently and primarily associated with combat, competition or comparative skills assessment. Since Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido, has repeatedly, clearly and emphatically denied that his Aikido was founded for fighting purposes, we need to take him at his word and cease trying to compare and contrast his Aikido to the combat efficacy, existing examples of martial integrity, or any history of success in battlefield conditions of other martial arts systems. We are comparing agates to diamonds, which is totally ludicrous, a waste of resources, and fully ignorant of what Ueshiba’s Aikido truly was intended for, or of why it enjoys the popularity it has genuinely earned.
For the 60 years that I have been involved with the study of the Aikido of the Founder, I have wondered almost daily as to whether the system I was studying would actually help me in a physical altercation or fight. Fortunately, I have never had to answer that question, probably out of dumb luck, and perhaps due to the fact that I was larger than most, and acted as if I was not an easy mark. Now, as I draw nearer to the end of my journey of self discovery, and can better assess what I have actually achieved, the answers are no easier to find than before. Nonetheless, the myriad questions and doubts themselves have dwindled quite a bit, disappearing to merely a few.
Although I feel that I have developed martial skills to some degree, this is far and away NOT the take away I have garnered after all these years of training. Among the most valuable results of my association with Aikido has been the wonderful contacts with the awesome human beings I have fortunately encountered and met. Their example of class, true grit, courage and tenacity merely living their daily lives, has inspired me to no end, and continue to do so.
One need not prepare to be a parachutist when one is on solid ground. One need not prepare for space flight if not an astronaut. One need not prepare for Phd exams, if one is not going for a degree. One need not prepare for a fight, if one resolves never to be near one or can walk away from one. I have already admitted to SH in my life, where Shit Happens, but I will not be enslaved or morbidly preoccupied with the possibility of violence while living my normal life. What comes, comes, and I will simply let it go on without me. My Aikido training and personal discoveries have given me the wisdom and strength to maintain the attitude above.
Then too, I recall my relationships with the Ueshiba family, the numerous top direct students of the Founder, the succeeding generations of devotees of the Founder’s art, all of whom I admire, not for their martial skills, but for their genuine knowledge of people, amazing sense of self containment and genuinely acquired confidence. They invariably have made peace with what they can do and what they cannot, living lives relatively free from unreal notions of negativity, and finding joy in their families, friends and the freedom to live creatively and free from unfounded fears.
To me as well, the need for my aikido to protect me in any potential conflict or fight, is mostly irrelevant as to how I walk my journey, and insignificant as to priority. What skills I do retain are imbedded in my very body, mind and soul, and I remain confident that this will be enough, even as it has for 69+ years. I will continue to enjoy the rigors of sincere training, knowing that mutual advancement is the goal of the day. I will smile constantly, and laugh when appropriate, for I am indeed amongst friends.
For those who think and act otherwise, I salute you for your uneasy decision, even as it was for me. The Founder’s admonition for each of us to define and develop our own interpretation of Aikido holds true, regardless of the choices made, especially when made with integrity and self honesty. I understand when strong beliefs and the need for exclusivity beckons, but I can also hope that we can still be brothers and sisters in Aiki, and towards the Founder’s greater vision of his fabled Silver Bridge.
Aikido is the way to make peace with one another, said O Sensei. How to do just that seems to have escaped the vast majority of those who profess to practice the Founder’s vision and his ideals. Do we not have to first make peace within ourselves? If Aikido training is to have any lasting purpose and utility, it has to be taken far beyond the tatami, and into the lives we live on a daily basis. The gentle politeness of maintaining proper maai in relationships, the taking of different angles in any conversation or argument to find yet another solution, the principle of irimi to meet the problem head on without passive compromise or useless denial, the ability to use kuzushi, not on each other, but on the obstacles to reasoning and true reconciliation, all are part of our training that desperately needs to be practiced daily, and with simple kindness and compassionate regard for one another.
Yes, Aikido can be a devastating martial art, but not in the traditional sense. For we can now allow that the real opponent does not approach from outside ourselves, but from within. It can very well be the misuse of ego, the succumbing to appetites, the unwillingness to listen and to comfort, the ignoring of real signs of imminent danger and threats to our loved ones and to ourselves, etc. We must find innovative uses for our martial skills in dealing with the internal struggles, conflicts and challenges we all must face each day. This, I do believe, is what is worth the training, the growth of character, and the necessary and uncompromising allegiance to the Principles of Aiki, and to our very own aikido.