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Understanding Aikido

by Lynn Seiser

The article below does not necessary reflect the point of view on Aikido of our club Aikikai Gent. However, we think these articles provide really ‘food’ for deeper thought on Aikido and it’s value.
This article appeared on the forums of aikiweb

Breathe in, understanding
Breathe out, understanding
Aikido

What is your understanding of Aikido?

When I think of this question, it appears to me it has three parts. The first is what is understanding. The second is what is Aikido. The third is what is my understand of Aikido.

What is understanding?

understanding: a verb, to grasp or comprehend the meaning, nature, significance, or explanation of something and to show a sympathetic or tolerant attitude towards it.

Understanding is often used as a noun or a statement about what one knows as truth or fact. Understanding is an active verb, a mental cognitive process of making sense of something. Linguistically we often say that the mental map in our minds is not truly the territory it was created to represent. However, it is how we often negotiate that territory. Many people live more by the map in their minds than in the actual reality territory on which they live. Therefore, we have to understand that we do not know or experience the true nature of anything. We can accept and appreciate the limited understanding our understanding brings. Something is not true simply because we understand it and it is not false simply because we do not.

What is Aikido?

Aikido: a non-violent non-competitive non-confrontational martial arts developed in Japan in the early 1920’s by Morihei Ueshiba after a life of martial arts training and spiritual discipline. Aikido (officially named in 1941) is often translated as the way (Do) of harmonizing (Ai) energy (Ki).

Aikido is Budo, the way of the warrior. Not just a warrior that confronts external enemies, defeats them, but also the internal enemy of ignorance, and finds victory in self-development.

The first part is the Aikido is a martial art. It is rooted in a long tradition of Aiki-jujutsu (especially Daito-ryu) as a fighting art. It is meant to be an effective and efficient means of defending one’s self and others. The strategy behind Aikido’s physical tactical techniques use relaxed circular motions to enter and blend with an attack rather than resist it with opposing force, connecting with the attacker, taking their balance, and ultimately ending the conflict by either harmlessly throwing the attacker or immobilizing him. Understanding the physics and psychology of Aikido is often the easiest undertaking. Putting them into daily disciplined practice is much harder.

As a way (do) of self-development, Aikido is an opportunity for intense training in which the physical principles are practices with the purpose to defining and refining a sense of self as a personally and socially responsible participant in contact and contributing connection with humanity, nature, and the universe. Understanding the higher philosophical, meta-physical, religious, and spiritual truths of O’Sensei’s Aikido (with its Shinto and Omoto influence) may be beyond what most of us will ever fully intellectually and experientially pursue. Yet, it is a direction and perspective worth pondering.

What is my understanding of Aikido?

my: relating to a separate individual self or me as a possessor or agent of an action, holder of a belief, or owner of an object.

The concept of my understanding of anything brings into scrutiny and question the concept of a personal self beyond the learned ego identity. Let us just say the real or imagined, good or bad, constructive or destructive, permanent or temporary conceptualization of a personal self (identity or ego) is useful in daily discipline and discussion.

When people find out I study Aikido, I am often asked what it is. People have some ideas about Karate, but most have never even heard of Aikido. Because it is often their only frame of reference, I sometimes ask if they have seen a Steven Segal movie. If they have, I point out the throwing and pinning he demonstrates. It is something like that. And let it go at that. It is not something I can explain.

Aikido is not a spectator sport. People see it and think it is one thing. People show up, dress out, and bow in and they find that it is something completely different. That is how it was for me. I had seen Aikido in books and demonstrations. I like what I understood from that position. When I finally found a place to study, I also found out I did not have a clue what Aikido was. In those days, even when I saw it, felt it, and did it, I still had no understanding of what Aikido is. I know my understanding of what Aikido is today, and that understanding changes on an almost daily basis.

One of the things I do not like about being a writer and author is that I am often confronted with what I said so long ago that I have totally forgotten what it was I wrote or what my thinking behind it was. I hope that as I have continued my training and studies, my understanding has changed.

It is said that Aikido follows the laws of nature and the universe giving it a very metaphysical or spiritual perspective. However, it is my understanding that nature and the universe just are and do not necessarily comply or obey any imposed laws. Rather, we create laws to describe what we perceive in nature and the universe. Therefore, we never actually know nature or the universe but rather we know our own mental mind maps and believe they are reality.

Perhaps I understand Aikido best as a tool and an opportunity. As a tool, Aikido is a set of physical techniques and psycho-philosophical attitudes. When Aikido is spoken of as body-mind unification that means the body and mind are congruent in their task. The body is relaxed and the mind is calm, both focused on a singular intent.

As an opportunity, Aikido is a context in which to practice. Aikido is what we make it to be. Aikido is a set of techniques and principles that when applied to circumstances of conflict, chaos, and confusion can lead to peaceful resolution.

Understand Aikido? Why would I want to understand the unfolding of a mystery? Do I read the last page of a novel first? With each level of understanding, I only uncover another level of ignorance and misunderstanding. I begin yet another journey of introspection, exploration, and discovery. It is enjoyable and exciting that way. Perhaps it is how I maintain forward momentum and look forward to each training session.

Admittedly, I do not understand Aikido and perhaps I do not really want to. Perhaps like a Zen koan, the answer is only truly understood in dropping the question (the search for intellectual answers and understanding) and just enjoying, and appreciating the experience of the moment.

Breathe in, not understanding
Breathe out, not understanding
Aikido