View Full Version : "Spiritual" Practices In The Dojo

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Richard Harnack
08-03-2001, 04:54 PM
Over the years I have travelled and trained in Aikido at dojos in California, Washington state, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and elsewhere.

I have always been impressed with the diversity of Opening & Closing ceremonies. I have witnessed everything from barely a bow to the shomen, to complex rituals involving recitation of O'Sensei's doka or some other's words.

I have also read with some sympathy Gaku Homna's books wherein he states there is no such thing as "ki".

For myself, I tend to shy away from overly ritualistic practices in the dojo. I do encourage my students to train in Ki Breathing and Kiatsu. I also discuss with them the larger principles underlying the philosophy of Aikido.

So here are my questions to all of you.

What place do the "spiritual" aspects of Aikido hold for you?

What place do the "spiritual" aspects hold in your dojo?

Are you comfortable or uncomfortable discussing these?

Lastly, which principle from Aikido has meant the most for you in your life?

08-03-2001, 05:14 PM
Originally posted by Richard Harnack

So here are my questions to all of you.

What place do the "spiritual" aspects of Aikido hold for you?

What place do the "spiritual" aspects hold in your dojo?

Are you comfortable or uncomfortable discussing these?

Lastly, which principle from Aikido has meant the most for you in your life?

1. An important place
2. At my present one, uncomfortable :(
3. Comfortable
4. I would say Ai, more than Ki, at the moment. But life is short, and nothing is forever ;)

08-03-2001, 08:23 PM

The "spiritual" aspects of Aikido hold little to no place at all in my life. I was never interested in the "spiritual" aspects of Aikido when I began studying the art, and personally feel that some take this part of the art a little too far. O Sensei was a very spiritual person, however I'm pretty sure that he never received any formal training in ministry. O Sensei often said that Aikido was not a religion and my understanding is that he did not expect his students to follow in the same religious path that he followed. I believe that O Sensei wanted his students to live their lives in harmony through the practice of Aikido, regardless of what religious values they held. Of course this is what I believe, which means it is in no way based on fact.

The "spiritual" aspects of Aikido hold no place in my dojo. We do show respect to the founder by "bowing" during the beginning and end of class, however this is a bow to show RESPECT, not worship or any such nonsense. In fact, students who are uncomfortable with doing so, are exempt. We do bow to each other as a sign of respect. Students come to my classes to learn Aikido techniques. Some of the "spiritual" aspects are inherent in the art, however Aikido can be learnt without emphasizing the "spiritual" aspects of the art. Students do not come to my classes in order to receive a sermon about the metaphysics of Aikido or O Sensei's religious beliefs. I leave that part of my students lives to those much more qualified than I, like ordained Ministers, Reverends, Fathers, etc.

I'm comfortable discussing my beliefs on these issues so long as those people I'm discussing them with are comfortable as well. Personally I believe there are a minimum of three things that should not be discussed in the dojo; Politics, Religion, and Sex. I feel this way because most people have very devout feelings on these issues and discussing these issues with others who do not feel the same as you can be an unpleasant experience. Training should be a pleasant experience.

I believe that all four of the main principles of Aikido have played an important role in my life. Focusing on one point has enabled me to more clearly define my goals and not try to accomplish too much at once. Keeping my weight underside or maintaining balance in my life has helped me to realize that some things are more important than others; do I stay an extra hour at work or do I go home early for my anniversary? Relaxing completely has shown me that some things require more finess than others (like changing that tricky oil filter on your car, if you're too tense, you'll never get it on right). Extend Ki (or the concept of "ki") has provided me with the knowledge that some things in this universe come about because of as yet unknown circumstances.

I too have read much of Homma Sensei's work. I believe that Homma Sensei is saying that "ki" is not the magical force that some people like to believe it is. Rather that "ki" is the culmination of practice, good technique, and having the right attitude. Homma Sensei has an excellent article concerning this on his website.

Well, this post is way too long. Have a good day!

08-03-2001, 10:53 PM
I see spirituality as distinctly different from religion. I don't see a need for religion in the dojo (but didn't have problems with the one I attended that mixed religion).I do see a place for spirituality, perhaps because that is an extremely important part of my life. Just like I guess those who feel self defense is a really important part of their lives think that should be central to Aikido. I'm a bit between dojos right now, but in some I've been in it was important, some not. One sensei talked about it a lot, but his actions were not always consistent with his words (which is understandable, we are all human). Another never really talked about it, or very little, but was the kindest, gentlest teacher I've ever seen. I learned from both.
I'm comfortable talking about just about anything, at length :rolleyes:
hmmm hard for me to choose a principle, I know I don't know exactly what you are meaning by that, but my interpretation: that Aikido is love; how different everything can be when you look at people and their actions through the eyes of love.

Richard Harnack
08-04-2001, 12:10 PM
I have deliberately left out any precise definition as to what constitutes "spiritual". This is to encourage the broadest discussion possible.

As to what Aikido principles you have found meaningful, there are many expressed by O'Sensei, Koichi Tohei, Sensei, and many others. I am most interested in hearing how Aikido has affected your life outside of the dojo beyond knowing how to bring someone down with Nikkyo. :)

I am not asking your religious beliefs, though if they have been affected by your training or the other way around, how?

08-04-2001, 10:08 PM
What place do the "spiritual" aspects of Aikido hold for you?

For me, Aikido has enabled me to find my spiritual side. Nowadays, I am very spiritual. I also believe that the highest levels of aikido cannot be obtained without spirituality, like in the book Zen in the Art of Archery. However, spirituality and religion are 2 distinct things in my eyes as well. Spirituality is more about knowing yourself, and bringing yourself into harmony, while Religion involves a diety of some sort.

What place do the "spiritual" aspects hold in your dojo?

My sensei has talked about losing the ego, and stressed one point, but outside of that there isn't much spiritual within the dojo. Perhaps the breathing exercises and learning to become alert of everything around you could be considered along those lines, but that's the extent of it.

Are you comfortable or uncomfortable discussing these?

Very comfortable.

Lastly, which principle from Aikido has meant the most for you in your life?

The dojo library made the greatest effect on me, but at this point relaxation has had the greatest impact. Recently, with a sprained ankle, I discovered so much that was tense, that I had not realized despite being laid-back. I've relaxed to the point now that I've noticed my breathing is a bit rough... shocked me really. In time, I believe that one point will have the greatest effect.

Great topic to discuss,

08-28-2001, 10:42 AM
I thought Colleen made an interesting distinction both between religion and spirituality and between what we say and what we do.

Definately aikido introduced my to eastern philosophy but this was in no way due to my dojo training. My interest in Zen definately taught me how much more difficult it is to behave in a certain way compared to saying what you would do in certain situations - and I think this is definately an important part of aikido as well.

I try not to introduce any moralistic or religious practise into our aikido. Morality does probably seep in, by the way I explain techniques (in that the basis is not to permanently damage uke). Also, I think morality is always better taught by example than by words. However, when people specifically ask me about the spiritual aspects of aikido I will waffle on like everyone else.

(When I asked one of Ueshbas students what he was like - well specifically I asked if Ueshiba was mad, he replied that Ueshiba was a very religious man and prayed to God 6 times a day, so it was obviously a major part of his life but he obviously did not make his students conform to his beliefs.)

I do talk about ki, but only when appropriate. I think it is an important aspect of the dynamics in aikido since we deal with peoples intensions and the dynamics of the attack. Whether you believe in it or not I think it is more useful than trying to explain the mechanics of the combat.


08-28-2001, 12:34 PM
What place do the "spiritual" aspects of Aikido hold for you?

What is "aikido's spirtitual aspect"? O'Sensei's particular beliefs (bits of Omo-tokyo)? Or some implied spiritual philosophy from the basic tenets of technique (harmony, calm, etc.)?

What place do the "spiritual" aspects hold in your dojo?

At ACLA, we are in a somewhat interesting position. Sensei Furuya is an ordained Zen priest, but he specifically forbids any discussion of religion (particularly Zen) which could in any way be construed as solicitation. He doesn't want a reputation as an instructor who invovles his personal religion in his teachings.

Our dojo is very traditional, though, and as students we are expected to observe proper respect to O'Sensei and the shomen, etc. We also hold a memorial service every year for O'Sensei.

Are you comfortable or uncomfortable discussing these?

What's uncomfortable about it? :)

Lastly, which principle from Aikido has meant the most for you in your life?

Not really a principle, but... "just relax."

I think a possibly interesting corrolary to this discussion might be... has aikido prompted you to examine other avenues of spirituality? It was part of my getting into Soto Zen practice...


mariko nakamura
08-29-2001, 08:49 AM
Hi Richard.
I think this is a really good topic, makes you think a bit. For me, Aikido no longer has any seperation between "spiritual" or "technical". I guess all the aspects of Aikido are spititual. I say this because Aikido is everywhere in my life, and I consider myself a spiritual person although I dont feel very religous. I do believe that O'sensei intended for all his students to have some sort of spiritual reserve for Aikido. I think Aikido without spirituality could become dangerous because I cant see how you can teach about love without it. And without love, Aikido can kill.
In our dojo, spirituality is really all practice is about for those who can see it. Sensei is very suttle about it. Sometimes practice will be just about kotodama which could be considered spiritual I suppose. Or if your a technical person, kotodama is about breathing,posture,timing,relaxing. Its fire and water. Thats all Aikido is. It can be spiritual and/or technical anytime.
I suppose the reason why I study Aikido is balance. I dont mean physical balance, I mean in my life. It makes me complete. I guess the word is harmony. Feeling this way all the time no matter what happens to you. Just being able to stay focused and centered and relaxed. Feeling love for everything. Knowing that your always doing your best. Ichi go ichi e(hard to translate, kind of like do it right and be happy with it because any moment you can lose your neck.)

Thanks for the topic,