Ei Mei Kan - November - 2006

Aikido: Past, Present, and Future

by Chris Mooney

Aikido's beginning was in the world of its founder, O Sensei, the Japanese world of the 1930s. In that world O Sensei, as a practitioner of the warrior's path, was not led by others, but remained true to his own convictions, formed through his own research, and subsequently inspired others to follow in his steps. He chose his path and gave us an example of how to learn. Now we find ourselves living in a highly competitive society, mainly driven by the desire for money, power and fame — un-virtuous behaviour to be avoided by any martial artist.

O Sensei's disciples have gone on to develop the spirit of Aikido in their own distinctive ways, but their message remains the same — centre, contact, commit, while keeping one's integrity (and not selling out).

That Aikido has its distinctive roots in Japanese philosophy is a view with which nobody can disagree. It is taking root within many cultures throughout the world. At times it has been threatened with commercialisation and the introduction of a competitive element, which would surely mean an end to the essential values laid down by the founder.

Whilst Aikido has grown in popularity, it is in danger of being cheapened by showmanship and self-gratification, merely feeding the ego. At times dojos have become places where people meet, learn a few tricks and gimmicks, burn a few calories and socialise, not unlike a conventional sports and leisure centre.

In modern times we have seen the breaking down of some traditional values, for example, that of the master and apprentice or the student-teacher relationship, based on a mutual sharing of knowledge and labour and a heart to heart connection. The apprentice studied under the master carpenter, farmer or artist until he had understood the basic form, before being ready to make his own way in the world. The apprentice's job was not easy and hard work was expected of them. In return they had the opportunity to watch and learn from their master and “steal” their master's secrets. The system ensured that knowledge passed from one generation to another without necessarily being kept within the family.

This approach to teaching and learning requires a great commitment of time from everyone involved. They need to proceed with patience, diligence and the enquiring beginner's mind (shoshin). Modern life and its pressure on our time can discourage these natural processes of learning, but the dojo is one place where such traditions can be preserved.

Whole worlds can be created in books, on TV, in movies or in modern computer games. People can become immersed in these worlds, creating and destroying, with the player, viewer or reader being given a feeling of power and superiority that has no physical grounding in reality. These worlds are not, however, whole experiences which can create a lack of focus, and commitment to self cultivation in people's lives. By contrast the martial arts such as Aikido, Batto-ho and disciplines such as Zazen face reality as it is.

In the modern world there has been a “sanitising” of bloodshed and pain — switching on the TV news can show a succession of dead bodies without the viewer being truly engaged with the suffering. In the study of martial arts, the individual is more truly in touch with conflict and its consequences.

In this changing world we have gurus in the West and people in the East watch TV while traditions get lost. In Aikido we seek to preserve the tradition of our own practice, in particular the student-teacher relationship. This heart to heart transmission of teaching is part of the natural principles used by O Sensei in establishing his path and our way.

Organisations have become a necessary part of our Aikido world. They are needed so that we can share our knowledge and polish each other, although often they cause confusion and ineffectiveness, as they are often not based on natural principles. Of course, organisations can be cultivated along natural principles and incorporate both horizontal and vertical axes — autocracy / democracy — without compromising the student-teacher relationship, or indeed the master-apprentice relationship. We can “steal” [borrow] from the ancients for guidance and adapt their work to our modern times:

“Being and non-being create each other
Difficult and easy support each other”

Kohai and sempai define each other
Teacher and student depend on each other
“Before and after follow each other” (adapted from Tao Te Ching)

How can Aikido develop in the modern world? If we were all given smart, bright new dojos in some idealistic plan to improve the health of the population, would those dojos set its students on the path to freedom sought by any true warrior, or would they be just another form of domestication? Would such dojos awaken the spirit of Aikido in its students? Is a dojo a place of mechanical education, or should it grow its warriors in a more organic way? How can our modern dojos encourage the journey of learning that the traditional apprentice had to follow? How can dojos in our modern times provide a balanced organic learning towards martial virtues?

Aikido has a past, present and future. To preserve training in the future requires the application now of the basic traditions of the past. The lineage of O Sensei's tradition is preserved through physical training and the forms given to us by our own teacher. The etiquette of Aikido is such that the mutual respect within the dojo should be reflected in our path, and mutual respect for all human beings must be part of our practice. This is the spirit of O Sensei's practice. Most people would agree that the civilised society is one which cares for its weakest members. This same spirit is essential in the dojo.

We all discover Aikido for ourselves through training. Seeking it in the here and now, means fulfilling the spirit of the tradition instead of merely copying it. How can we honour the past, except by cultivating martial valour in our own hearts through our practice now, and for the future?

“The way of the warrior is based on humanity, love, sincerity. The heart of martial valour is true bravery, wisdom, love and friendship. Emphasis on the physical aspects of warriorship is futile, for the power of the body is always limited.” — O Sensei


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