Aikido is referred to as “The way of harmony” because it is dedicated to the preservation and betterment of all life. O’Sensei’s many years of studying many different fighting styles of budo and his experience in the Russo-Japanese war left him with the troubled feeling that most martial arts were for only focused on destroying the opponent in order to win. O’Sensei was an ardent learner and he was passionate about trying to understand the true nature of budo. He studied day and night looking for an answer. It was only after a period of assiduous study that a chance meeting the religious leader, Onisaburo Deguchi helped O’Sensei realize that the true nature of budo was non-violence. His philosophy of non-violence is similar to the Indian philosophy of ahimsa.
Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Second Doshu, has written about how the O’Sensei came to the path of non-violence:
Ultimately, Master Ueshiba concluded that the true spirit of budo is not to be found in a competitive and combative atmosphere where brute strength dominates and victory at any cost is the paramount objective. He concluded that it is to be realized in the quest for perfection as a human being, both in mind and body, through cumulative training and practice with kindred spirits in the martial arts. For him only such a true manifestation of budo can have a raison d’être in the modern world, and when that quality exists, it lies beyond any particular culture or age. His goal deeply religious in nature, is summarized in a single statement: the unification of the fundamental creative principle, ki, permeating the universe, and the individual ki, inseparable from breath-power, of each person. Through constant training of mind and body, the individual ki harmonizes with the universal ki, and this unity appears in the dynamic, flowing movement of ki-power which is free and fluid, indestructible and invincible. This is the essence of Japanese martial arts as embodied in Aikido.
From Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s assertion of, “The unification of the fundamental creative principle, ki, permeating the universe, and the individual ki, inseparable from breath-power, of each person,” we can see this idea of ahimsa, the concept of non-violence is only understood when one can realize the oneness of humanity. The commonality of all humanity is that we all suffer. If we are all one then to harm another is to harm one’s self. If we are all one then one person’s suffering is our suffering as well. To alleviate the suffering of another doesn’t entail increasing their suffering by maiming or killing them. Anyone can hurt somebody else, but it is only the truly strong individual who refrains from causing more harm.
Understanding that every person is suffering then we can understand that they attack because they are suffering and are often times unaware of the true cause of their suffering. Once we realize this truth then we realize what they need is really kindness, compassion and forgiveness and not destruction for their transgressions. Only by showing them compassion do they have the chance to change — only then do we have the chance to change as well.
In order to grasp O’Sensei’s understanding of non-violence it helps to realize that:
- Every person is good and only doing the best that they can.
- Every person is suffering and going through their own stuff.
- Every person is human and humans are not perfect and apt to make mistakes.
- Every person is unaware of the true reason for their behavior.
- Every person deserves kindness, compassion and forgiveness, just as we all do.
True compassion is very difficult to manifest. To be compassionate and adhere to the O’Sensei’s philosophy of non-violence, requires technical precision which is born out of diligent and disciplined training of both the mind and the body.
Kisshomaru Doshu further elaborates on the need for training when he wrote:
Through the genius of Master Ueshiba the first principle of budo, as formulated by him — the constant training of the mind and body as a basic discipline for human beings walking the spiritual path — was transformed into a contemporary martial art, Aikido.
O’Sensei created Aikido as a shugyo, which generally translates as “austere training.” Furuya Sensei defined Shugyo as “regular physical practice taken to an intense level in order to transcend the body and reach a high state of spiritual awakening or awareness.” O’Sensei considered training to be spiritual because the discipline of training improved one’s inner self as it developed your outer self. O’Sensei said, “Never cease forging your mind and body to refine your character through training — this is the first principle.” Similarly, Aikido training represents what Buddhists call jiriki (自力), meaning that Aikido practice can be an avenue toward our spiritual enlightenment.
The true genius of Aikido is how O’Sensei incorporated his philosophy of non-violence into the Aikido techniques. Generally speaking, the techniques in Aikido follow the same path of harmony, change the orientation of power, create alignment, and redirecting power.
The philosophy of non-violence can be seen in the movement of Aikido and can be generally summed up in these four steps.
Beginning with calmness when attacked, which is really a sense of harmony within one’s self, the Aikidoist harmonizes with the other person’s power or attack.
Change the Orientation of Power
Once the Aikidoist harmonizes with the other person’s power then they change the focus of the energy.
As the Aikidoist harmonizes with and changes other person’s energy, they create an alignment with this power. This is also where the Aikidoist obtains the opponents perspective.
After harmonizing, changing and aligning, the Aikidoist brings the other person’s power and body into their own movement in order to redirect that energy into a throw, joint lock or pin. Taking in consideration the attacker’s perspective and the philosophy of Aikido, the Aikidoist uses the proper technique with just enough force to cause the least amount of pain or injury.