A number of people have suggested over the years that I publish a book. So far I have always refrained from doing so for several reasons. First, I have always considered myself simply another follower on the path, in a position neither to serve as a model for others nor to assert my views on budo technique.
However, having grown older, and having already mourned the passing of such teachers as Seigo Yamaguchi, who held my highest respect from the very beginning of my aikido career, and Morihiro Saito, who worked so tirelessly to transmit the Founder's aikido in its purest possible form, I began to consider what will happen to aikido from this point on.
Aikido is a "budo," a "martial way," and therefore inextricably rooted in "jujutsu" or "martial technique." Yet when I look at the aikido world today, I see very little "budo-ness" being expressed in technique, and I wonder if people haven't begun to forget these important roots. While people often say things like, "Aikido is sword technique…" and "throws and pins are actually strikes….," there is rarely any explanation of such ideas. There are even some who claim that aikido has no need for things like striking and weapons techniques. In many settings these days, aikido is becoming little more than a kind of health exercise pursued by the elderly and women and children.
It was in light of these considerations that Aiki News Editor Stanley Pranin once again approached me to publish a book, and I finally agreed with the caveat that I would simply be expressing my own thoughts on training.
I often tell people who come to train with me my view that the value of a budo is determined through comparison with other budo; even if you're superficially mastered techniques like ikkyo and nikyo, these are pointless unless you can make them work in the context of other budo. Judo, kendo and karate all have their own stong points and we must study these too. Budo techniques are not permanent and unchanging; if other things change, then naturally budo change in response. What does not change, of course, is the spirit of aikido as it was taught to us by the Founder.
As the goal of my training I have always strived to realize even one of the Founder's teachings. He taught, for example, about a certain universality inherent in aikido: With a sword this technique becomes a sword technique; with a jo it becomes a jo technique; it can become all things." He also said, "the conflict is finished even before first contact is made." Such teachings are the kinds of things I have strived to study in the course of my daily training.
The result, while still imperfect and incomplete, is that I am now able to express my everyday empty-handed aikido training using the sword (ken) and staff (jo).
Before starting aikido I had dabbled in both karate and judo. When I later heard it said that "aikido is the sword," I took up studying swordsmanship as well. My subsequent practice has confirmed that idea, to the extent that I now doubt it is possible to understand aikido fully without some understanding of swordsmanship.
The sword in Japan has an undeniably bloody history. The sword of aikido, however, steps back from that use of the Japanese sword as an implement of death and attempts instead to restore it to its true, original nature: namely, as an ideal tool for rectifying that which is wrong in the world, for cutting a path by which humanity can live, and for perfecting the self.
Nowadays, I strive to use my aiki sword and jo to control my opponent from the moment just before contact would have been made between our weapons, attempting from there to embody forms in which cutting is superseded by mutual coexistence. In this sense, I consider aikido a morally principled "Yurusu Budo," that is, a "budo of acceptance," and a manifestation of what the Founder meant when he said that "aikido is a path of loving and protecting, generating and forming, and bearing and cultivating everything in the universe." Before the Founder passed away thirty-four years ago he told us, "This old man has brought [aikido] this far; all of you must take it from here." In light of these words, I think it is insufficient—unforgivable, in fact—for us to simply maintain the status quo.
I don't think budo is something that can really be understood by reading books or watching videos; true comprehension can only come through actual experience. Accordingly, putting it all into words here will undoubtedly make for difficult reading. Nonetheless, I offer this publication in hopes that subsequent generations of aikidoists may find it of some small use, both as a genuine view of budo and as a pointer toward some of the worthwhile forms that aikido training might take.