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The Spirit of Aikido: Learning, Feeling, and Transmitting the Essence

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by Kanshu Sunadomari

Published Online

“Bu(do) is love. The true martial way of Japan is a spirit of peace which strives to pacify conflict before it arises. This is (the way of) Aikido.

In ages past, the way of the martial arts was a tool used to kill and conquer. Yet when it was all said and done, such a way was misguided and led to self destruction. Aikido, however, is (the way of) harmony, it is a manifestation of the fundamental vast spirit of the universe. Without understanding this spirit it is impossible to progress in Aikido and (practicing it) has no meaning. By fostering this spirit, Aikido also becomes a method for self-defense, as well as, a regimen to maintain health and beauty.” - Words of the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba

This excerpt is taken from an interview of the Founder on May 26, 1961 during his visit to Kumamoto.

A Lifetime of Training: Pursuing Technique that Touches Our Partners’ Hearts

The following are excerpts from Sunadomari Sensei’s instruction at the 351st Blackbelt Seminar which took place on January 23, 2005 in Kumamoto City, Japan.

The Practice of Taisabaki (Turning of the body)

In cases where our partner attacks from a distance, taisabaki is of the utmost importance. Without being able to properly pivot or turn the body correctly, it is impossible to absorb your partners’ attack and you will inevitably conflict with them. Turning and pivoting from the hips is extremely important. It is essential to harmoniously connect with our partner rather than try to knock them down. By releasing strength and tension from the body and just turning from the hips we can evade our partners attack. Through the practice of this type of taisabaki, we can continue to train and perform technique throughout our life even as we grow old.

Endeavor to Develop Technique which Conveys your Spirit

We must develop technique that embodies and expresses our spirit. As we grow old, technique that fails to transmit the spirit through the physical body has no meaning. Preaching about love without being able to transmit it to others is fruitless. We must reach a point where we physically manifest the spirit through the physical body. Just what is the Founder referring to by his words “Aiki is love” and “transforming an enemy into an enemy no more?” We must spend a significant amount of time studying how to incorporate these words into our physical technique.

Increasing use of physical power leads to self destruction

Taisabaki is most important when dealing with an attack from a distance. In the cases where your partner is in close proximity, you must not rely on physical power when being grabbed or touched. To do so only creates a struggle between yourself and him/her. If you are stiff, you will be defeated the instant the attacker makes contact with you. Maintaining a feeling of entrusting yourself to your attacker is essential. By maintaining this state of heart and mind you can deal with your partner freely. The instant that you are touched, you must take hold of him/her by connecting with him. (One may think that) against an attacker grabbing strongly, you will be stopped. On the contrary, against hostile attackers, the techniques of Aiki Manseido will toss them with a force proportionate to the force that they put in. The more physical force that one uses the more harm one does to themselves. This is one way in which we can convey the spirit through the physical body. In such a way, we can clearly demonstrate to others that relying on physical power will lead to such ends. I feel that it is important to train Aikido throughout our lives with this purpose in mind in addition to training to improve our spirit and maintain our health.

The Physical Body is a Vessel for the Spirit

Recently there are increasingly more and more incidents of violent crime noted in the newspapers on a daily basis. I interpret this as a sign that peoples’ hearts are fading away. A “person” is a spirit encompassed by a physical body. (In Japanese, “hito”, the word for person, can be written with two kanji characters meaning “spirit/soul” and “to fix”, “fasten” or “to keep”) Throughout our lives, our aspirations and the purpose for which we do things shape us and can either serve to elevate and improve our spirit or allow us to fall prey to the temptations of evil.

Setting Our Sights on the Realization of the Founder’s Vision of “Heaven on Earth”

We must unceasingly train ourselves and transmit to others the spirit of Aikido which the Founder left for us. The Founder said that the mission of Aikido is to create a heaven on earth. Furthermore, he states that: “the martial arts are a way through which we fulfill our divine mission by making the spirit of the universe our own and fostering within us a spirit of loving protection for all things.” A spirit of loving protection for all things points to a feeling of brotherhood among all people on earth. There is no such thing as an “enemy” or an “ally” By training with this feeling and spirit a wonderful world will be born.

At each and every seminar, participants line up and Sunadomari Sensei allows each and every one to grab his wrist and feel his technique. This method of practice allows us as students to feel his kokyu power and to ‘catch’ the sensation of the mental/spiritual state that he has developed as a result of over sixty years of training. The instant that one grabs the power to fight disappears and an energy equal to the force of your attack returns back to you. In the fraction of a second being sensitive and perceptive enough to grasp the essence of Sensei’s movement is an extremely difficult thing to do.

During this past seminar Sensei spoke in particular about “the significance of having a well-defined purpose for our actions” Previously he has also mentioned “the importance of acting in the moment while one is still at an age where we are able to move about freely.” As a member of society in my late twenties, these words struck a chord. For young adults like myself, an age in which we will be faced with numerous social problems and must step into the leading role is quickly approaching. With this in mind, I strongly feel that now is the time to learn from the wisdom and experiences of our elders and deeply consider our purpose going forward in our adult lives.

The above text was edited and translated by Dennis Clark.