Aikido Philosophy: A Budo Life by Michael Aloia

A short essay relating aikido’s philosophy with the concept of a budo life.

Over the years as the Art of Aikido has grown and reached new generations of practitioners and followers, many interpretations of its definition as well as its philosophy have been offered.  Some maintain a vague reference, whereas others have delved into the depths of the human psyche. Each appears to have significant meaning or purpose for the greater understanding of that particular individual’s relationship to the Art – as it should. The Art itself is designed to be individualized, explored, and new discoveries made; to not just further enhance the Art but more importantly to enhance the individual. Philosophy, by its nature and as a whole, is subject more so to opinion than actual available concrete evidence – much rooted in speculation and or personal experience. This essay will focus primarily on my own personal experiences with the Art and how it has been integrated into my life as a whole on a philosophical level: as a Budo, a way of life.

The general definition of Aikido, in itself, describes or defines the fundamental nature of the art’s philosophy – love and harmony. At first glance, this may seem to suffice as a catch all phrase to the general public, however, there is much more involved. Aikido, the art of love and harmony does not completely embrace and describe what truly all lies underneath. Though this basic definition can depict and conjure thoughts of a world united in complete happiness and synchronization, its real meaning lies further down the rabbit hole.

Three distinct kanji, or characters, are employed to create the term “aikido” – “ai” meaning love or harmony, “ki” meaning spirit or life force, and “do” meaning the way. These characters and their meanings pre-date even the Founder’s embryonic stages of Aikido’s development as they are enriched with a cultural essence and ideology that set the foundation of a people and their relationship and belief in that of a higher power – within and without. Each character is a story unto itself, and combined, these characters create not only a specialized art form coined by Morhei Ueshiba in 1942 but a way of life that anyone can make as their own.

Working backwards, “do” in this context is not simply a way of doing something but rather the way one chooses to do it – a path followed – a direction that encompasses a series of choices one makes to live a better, more fulfilling life that enhances all they come in contact with – a way of doing, a way of living, a way of being.

As we continue, “ki” is essentially the key component of the ensemble. It is the link that unifies what is harmony and what is the way – it is the conjunction between thought. Without its inclusion we have only the “love way.” But how is the “love way” achieved and what does it really do for the individual? The interpretations could be endless, outlandish, and possibly in vain without the linkage of the “ki” character. With the inclusion of this crucial character, point and purpose have been provided – whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is a unification, offering the immeasurable, tangible achievement of surmounting one’s own self spirit – the true conquering of our worst nemesis – our own personal, self-imposed or otherwise, fears, doubts, and preconceived shortcomings of self and the world around us. The grasping of the meaning of this “ki” character brings to light the reason for and placement of the “ai” character at the top – through the love of self (spirit) can we find the way to harmony. Harmony of spirit is the destination and through the way of love, anyone can achieve it. If we are not truly content with who and what we are, we can never truly be content with the world around us.

The meaning of “love” with regards to Aikido and its relationship with the defining characters of its name can easily be misconstrued as a “hippie” era movement or something similar.  However, as the meaning and philosophy of Aikido have layers so does the notion of love. Love can be viewed as an openness to difference, and eagerness to grow and experience and a willingness to be flexible to change. Love expressed here in the Art, as a viewpoint, seems to encompass an overall magnitude of enrichment and the embodiment of cooperation which is so grandly conveyed as the crook of the Art itself within the context of Aikido’s training methodology – the relationship developed and expressed between uke and nage – one of giving and receiving; hence the idea of blending. Love who you are, love what you do, love those and that which is around you – love for love’s sake.

Love makes the world go round” is a common generational sentiment shared by all walks of life. This being more than just the notion of puppy love, crushes, or sexual conquests, love is the notion that with a pure and open heart, anything can be overcome, and harmony can be achieved if we simply choose to follow that path.

Teaching the Application of the Aikido Philosophy

Once the concept or perception of the Aikido philosophy is established to the individual, the next step becomes making it a functional part of the individual for use on a daily basis. This ideal is addressed on the mat as practitioners encounter a variety of scenarios, solely with the belief that what they are learning is purely for physical defense measures only. However, frequently and unknowingly, this methodology spills over while the individual is off the mat and engaged in life.

The teaching philosophy of Aikido often displayed during class, or at least the impression many instructors hope to convey to their students, that also alludes to the deeper meaning of the “way of life” philosophy, and which was briefly mentioned early in this essay, is to blend. The concept of blending, initially on the surface, appears to be as simple as going with the flow or not getting in the way or just moving at the same rate and speed as our partner. Though these are essential factors of the blending concept, there is more.

Blending is the mainstay of our training. Blending affords us the opportunity to avoid harm and maintain a safe and harmonious status. It is based on the concept, and yes, the philosophy of movement. In layman’s terms, blending can easily be translated to not resisting. To be in movement is to be without resistance. To move is to be in the now and go with the flow, thus, being in a proverbial state of harmony; “naka ima,” to be present, at this very moment mentally, physically and spiritually. To resist is completely contrary to even the most generic definition of Aikido. Resistance often tends to lead to more resistance. Blending then is the ability to be flexible to change whereas resistance is simply not. Over time, and with consistent training, practitioners begin to foster the Aiki idea and learn to blend.

Conflict is often a result of some form of resistance – best exampled as a tug of war; each person holding their own as the tension builds at the center – no movement is had, no progress is made.

To better understand blending, picture someone on a swing and a person standing behind them pushing. That person pushes with the flow of energy, not against it, only to enhance the overall motion, thus, increasing the effect of the movement – the swing goes higher. Timing is involved. Attempt to stop the swing’s motion and everyone involved is displaced. Yet the movement of the swing is not completely halted, just thrown out of whack until it is either allowed to flow again naturally or forced to stop.

This is Aikido’s philosophy in a nut shell: find the ebbs and flows of the energy with the movement and all is in harmony; find the ebbs and flows of life with all that we encounter and all is in harmony. This is Budo. Seek love and we shall find it. Give love and we shall receive it, which in turn provides us more to give. Love is a never-ending cycle of harmony. This is the Budo life.

To find out more about aikido and its history in America, click here.


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