O sensei didn’t practice Aikido

Monsieur, you used an atemi during your lesson… I don’t understand. Because I don’t want to practice a martial art, I want to practice Aikido.

And here I stood, a bit stunned, like a swimming teacher a student would tell: “ but I don’t want to go into water, I only want to practice swimming”. I can't thank enough that young practitioner who came to tell me this at the end of a seminar. It’s a wonderful sentence. It’s impossible to better summarize the misunderstanding created by Aikido’s spread in the Western world. Around Woodstock festival time, after may 1968, one could read on some practitioners' keikogi “make love not war”. Aikido is love and harmony therefore I can’t deliver an atemi. Aikido is love and harmony therefore I can’t manipulate that sword which, in my fantasy, is still dripping with blood, right from the battlefields of the past. Here is the new credo.

But unfortunately, there is an abundance of pictures in which O sensei can be seen delivering atemi or symbolically cutting his opponent in two. “Testimonies of an archaic, immature, unachieved Aikido” tell the Love adepts while turning their heads away. They forget one thing: the same pictures were taken all his life long, at 50 or 80 years old. That fact makes all discourses, which explain these atemi as a clumsy exploration or a testimony of youth’s inexperience, just plain irrelevant.

So what? Until his death, the Founder of Aikido symbolically hit his ukes (and sometimes for real) with his fists, his sword, his staff! What must be concluded? The answer is very simple: since in Aikido, one can’t deliver an atemi and since O sensei delivered some his whole life, O sensei didn’t practice Aikido

Here we are. Obviously, O sensei was an aggressive and brutal individual. We, who are civilized, we who have opinions, we who escape violence, we who practice in warm rooms (with showers) an art of Peace. Is it so difficult to understand? When one thinks about it, we probably are mankind’s luck. Without us, nobody would have known what is Aikido.

Can one see where intellectual constructions can lead if we follow them all the way?

One should use a safe and healthy dose of humility and avoid backing judgments with prejudices. Aikido raises true questions but why seek answers in the mess of preconceived ideas? I would like to tell that young practitioner who stumbles on that notion of an “art of Peace”, that there is a very simple way to solve that paradox: let’s just trust O sensei a little, let’s follow the path he showed us, even with a sword, a spear or an atemi.

Let’s practice faithfully what the Founder gave us as an inheritance and a method, Aikido’s view on the world will come out of it and it goes far beyond the trivial capacity to chop a head, of course. However, one needs to learn how to chop that head. Before the achieved man’s paradise, one needs to go through hell. There is no initiation otherwise. That is the path of the warrior. The warrior needs confrontation. It is not knowledge but involvement that, down the martial path, will allow him to understand the vanity of destruction and the uselessness of combat.

Sure enough, “he who does not fight, no one can fight with him”. Misinterpreting that classical Tao teaching would be so easy if it was only speculative, if it wasn’t the fruit of experience. If the true warrior does not fight, it does not mean it has become passive. On the contrary, he fully fights for he has reached the domain of authentic and pure action. He does not solve conflict with that opposing force he has patiently forgotten but with the respect of the laws of the Universe he has learned to identify.

He reached the clear conscience that the most refined and talented strength of opposition is actually a dead end because it always comes down to the same limit: to destroy or be destroyed. If the true warrior triumphs, it’s not because he (or she) is stronger, faster or better trained, he triumphs because he positions him / herself in such way in the flow of the world that the result can’t go any other way. And for that reason, the triumph is not the destruction of an enemy but the preservation of the balance between Heaven and Earth. Through him a strength expresses itself, far greater than any of those which usually allows to throw your fellow human being on the ground…

If an art is excommunicated for the way it looks, what meaning should be given to the notion of transcendence? To transcend, is it not using a tool and make it produce fruits which seemed way beyond the apparent capacities of that tool? To transcend a martial art, is it not precisely making it produce what common sense would have never thought it would or could?

But in order to reach that result, one needs to accept the offered path. Morihei Ueshiba did not become O sensei by law, he achieved a path, he went from war to peace, progressing on that path, using martial art, its characteristics and respecting its rules.

Unless one is struck and enlightened by grace itself, one does not reach truth with truth but with mistakes. Happiness with tiredness and pain. Nature is exuberant, it constantly creates new forms, new landscapes but that capacity comes from the fact it destroys mountains, dries oceans and kills without hesitation. There is no creation without destruction. Life feeds on death - death feeds on life. The interdependency of opposites is that obvious reality the world continuously puts under our eyes. In the cycle of eternal return, all things feed and create their opposite. Therefore what is so surprising that Aikido,, an art of peace, was born from an art of war? Wasn’t it a necessity? Could have it been otherwise? Buddhism, the way of renouncement was born in the luxury of a royal palace. Siddharta Gautama was prince of Sakya, the son of a king. Who takes offense of that fact? But then, who understands its deeper reasons?

The attitude which consists in preferring only one aspect of things and rejecting the rest, thinking that one can have life without death, happiness without the necessary pain, that attitude has a name: dualism. It is the state of ignorance. That dualism does not exist as such in the world but only in our relation to the world, it is only a stage, probably necessary, of our rudimentary conscience.

Aikido does not reject dualism but offers to refine our conscience with the discovery that the diamond of Unity is hidden under that dualism: Aiki is the return way to unified ki. But no diamond without mud. Love is the other face of hate. Softness does not exist without violence. Peace without war. Temperance without excess.

The ancient Greeks had personified these competing forces in the opposite and complementary figures of Apollo and Dionysus and they had symbolized them in Janus, the two-faced god. On the money coin where man’s fate is written, there is not heads or tails but both… And if one doesn’t like heads, he can try to cut the coin in two, there still will be heads and cross.

Mankind’s natural tendency is towards easy pleasure and immediate happiness. We are attracted to love as we are by sugar, because it’s sweet and pleasant. But feeding on cookies only will lead us to diabetes. Unbalance brings death. Any being is a balance and love makes no exception. A balance is made with complementary forces and respecting that harmony is not easy. But we can’t fake it, the art of non-resistance implies resistance and if uke falls on its own, Aikido’s true meaning is lost. The possibility of death and life is essential to Aikido’s way, the possibility of death and the possibility of life. In that respect, Aikido is archetypal of what the Founder called the true martial art, Bu as Truth. That art martial can be used for its capacity to create and protect everything in the universe and O sensei understood it that way, as Takemusu, and it is that meaning any true practitioner should aim at. But if universe itself can’t create without destroying at the same time, how one lonely man could do otherwise? Irimi tenkan is the principle that illustrates this truth, The sword, the spear, the atemi are symbols that remind us of fundamental aspects of things.

In other words, how can I hope becoming the universe and find the place where all things are solved in the unification of contraries if, before beginning anything, I reject a part of that world? If I declare war on violence on account of an idea? The solution does not consists in negating or excluding violence but knowing what to do with it. Noble things come from mediocre ones. Water flows in the dirtiest places before reaching the ocean and feed mountains with pure water again. Aikido’s greatness comes from martial art’s misery. Aikido is the unification of light and shade, love and hate, war and peace. Rejecting one single thing, even violence, in the very name of the most legitimate and unquestioned moral principles, means opposition and that, O sensei explained, is not longer the divine heart. Here is the very core meaning of Ueshiba sensei’s sentence : “don’t make of problem of such relative things like good and bad”.

In other words, try to reach beyond good and bad, for these concepts are too human, try to reach what he called satoshi gokoro: the divine conscience. Jesus didn’t say anything else when he claimed that: “the Kingdom of Heaven is in you”.

Whoever is aware of Aikido’s true goal will understand that putting it under the authority of any Ministry of Sport is a gigantic joke. Aikido is not a sport of course, even if one sweats. The view is spectacular but it requires a little bit of altitude to embrace it, one can’t evaluate it by staying in the valley before the first step up the hill… There must some marvel on top the mountain and one only needs to start walking with patience and trust on the path O sensei walked before us, for us. For one must give before receiving. “Kepler and Newton must have had a deep trust in the world’s understandability to be able to unveil the cosmos’ cogs” once wrote A. Einstein. If she does feel trust, Isis keeps her veil.

When morals, on account of a biased understanding of harmony, condemns and bans one of the elements that give Aikido its balance, morals destroy that balance and create chaos. In the name of unity, dualism is created. In the name of Aikido, Aikido is destroyed. Instead, a kind of enactment, a sport, a dualistic work out is being done, probably not worse than most others but something that shouldn’t be called Aikido. Many enthusiastic and sincere students practice that sham. And, of course, when they really find Aikido on their path, they can’t recognize what they are used to. The most honest among them - and I sincerely salute my young friend who gave me the matter of this article – quite logically assume their conviction. They accept the idea that Aikido has nothing to do with martial arts and therefore they don’t want to hear about martial art. The most inconsistent ones, who are always ready to any compromise to avoid questioning, pretend that all differences are a matter of style and that all styles are equal. As if "styles" could co exist in Aikido! Are there many Pythagoras' theorems around?

Sure enough, this article will be said "Iwama "style"… !

Philippe VOARINO, Antibes August 25, 2006

What is Traditional Aikido?


Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.

Where to practice Traditional Aikido?


The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.

The weapons of Aikido, aiki ken and aiki jo


In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.

Aikido, a martial art or an art of peace?


Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.

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