Hello and thank you for visiting AikiWeb, the
world's most active online Aikido community! This site is home to
over 22,000 aikido practitioners from around the world and covers a
wide range of aikido topics including techniques, philosophy, history,
humor, beginner issues, the marketplace, and more.
If you wish to join in the discussions or use the other advanced
features available, you will need to register first. Registration is
absolutely free and takes only a few minutes to complete so sign up today!
The whole concept of spirituality and its effect in our lives is difficult to talk about in a coherent fashion because the topic can encompass religious beliefs, ethics, cultural norms, etc. So, for instance, I'm a rather religious person, so my sense of ethics is rooted largely in my understanding of and belief in a certain expression of faith. But, there are atheists who would agree with me on many, if not most, of those ethics, and other people -- some within my church congregation -- who would strongly disagree with me. So, one's religious practice is not necessarily directly linked to one's ethics.
Where does this leave aikido in relation to my ethical, moral, and religious values?
Peter Goldsbury's two essays on aikido and religion (found at the Aikido Journal web site) have been exceptionally helpful for me in answering the question above. Peter provided a lot of historical background to put O' Sensei's views on the topic in context. Three truths really hit me from the essays: (1) O' Sensei saw aikido as a religious practice, (2) he did not require his students to do the same, and (3) his son took the essence of his father's teaching, but placed far less emphasis on the religious underpinnings of those teachings. Much of this can be found in Kisshomaru Ueshiba's book, The Spirit of Aikido. But even second doshu's explanations are the spiritual side of aikido are a bit "out there" compared with much of what I read and hear today. For instance, the concept of ki seems different today than what appears in The Spirit of Aikido -- less an idea of the energy of the universe, and more a metaphor for body mechanics and physical energy (at least in my dojo).
In my experience, religion is never discussed on the mat, but we do, at times discuss what might be called the "practical philosophy" of aikido in relation to technique. This is where O' Sensei's ideas come into play.
We work from the basis that aikido is meant to be a way of resolving physical conflict in such a way that we harm our attackers as little as possible while still dominating the confrontation (and staying unharmed ourselves). An example of practical philosophy is with something like ikkyo or gokyo; we could break the elbow, but that would mean losing the connection with our attacker that allows us to control him an therefore control the confrontation. By protecting our attacker's vulnerable elbow, an act of compassion, we end up with more effective technique. I think these observations are consistent with O' Sensei's teachings.
I've not been in many physical confrontations, but I have been in a lot of non-physical ones. I think aikido can serve as a good model or metaphor for dealing with non-physical conflicts, but it's not the only model. I find the principles of being open, blending with an attack instead of clashing with it, and acting with concern for the attacker as good ways of dealing with both physical and non-physical attacks. Those concepts also complement my religious beliefs to a certain extent. But, aikido has limits on the spiritual side. For instance, aikido is good when you have somebody who is clearly oppositional, but what about somebody who is being passive-aggressive? They don't offer a clear attack, and while aikido principles may still come in handy, that's not what they're designed for.
Where we really get into trouble is when an instructor or student will extrapolate the spiritual lessons of aikido so that aikido becomes their only spiritual filter. I don't think O' Sensei had much to say about aikido's relationship to sex, drugs, and rock and roll, for instance (though I may be wrong). This is where an instructor can really get in trouble, especially if his or her personal life is in opposition to what he or she espouses.
For me, aikido is a tool for implementing what I consider to be right or wrong, but not for determining right or wrong. Aikido is a good tool for resolving all sorts of conflicts, but not the only tool. O' Sensei and second dushu's views on the spiritual aspects of aikido are very important to me -- especially in providing historical context -- but they are not the last word on the matter.
When I started this essay, I pointed out how an atheist and a Lutheran (me) could hold certain values in common. I think this is because those values (the injunctions against killing and adultery, for instance) have become a cultural norm or are seen as expressing a universal truth. I think the same can be said of aikido principles, but on a smaller scale. Regardless of their source, or the religious/ethical orientation of the practitioner, aikido principles provide a clean model for dealing with many kinds of conflict.