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The Notebooks of Michael Riehle Blog Tools Rate This Blog
Creation Date: 02-09-2006 01:42 PM
My opinions, pontifications and general ramblings about Aikido
Blog Info
Status: Public
Entries: 14
Comments: 13
Views: 64,676

In General Aikido Faith Entry Tools Rate This Entry
  #2 New 02-21-2006 01:05 PM
I teach in a community where religion plays a major role in the lives of many of its residents. As a result, I've been forced to consider the relationship between religion and Aikido on a level where I'd rather not have had to go. Still, it's been an interesting journey.

I left a dojo years ago partly because of the emphasis they placed on Zen training. A lot of people argue about whether Zen is religion, but Zen is rooted in Buddhism and Buddhism is religion even if it isn't in the same vain as some other religions. It isn't that I have a problem with Zen, but I don't subscribe to it and it isn't what Aikido is about to me.

Later, in a discussion on Aikido-L I discovered I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the whole Zen-Aikido connection some people feel compelled to make.

In addition, there have been way too many discussions on the forums here about Aikido and religion. So I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. More than I wanted to.

So, the issue comes down to two things in my experience:

1) Is Aikido Religion. This one is easy for me to answer. No. But the issue of the spirituality of Aikido eventually surfaces. To me, the short answer is that your faith must be a factor in your training, but I, as a teacher, cannot impose my faith on you. If I had established the dojo as a faith-based dojo things would be different. But it's a secular dojo, so your religion is your business as far as I'm concerned.

2) Idolatry. The Shomen looks like an idol being worshipped to many religious people. This is not so easily addressed. For one thing, I've known people in Aikido who are every bit as guilty of that sort of idolatry as the religious types are concerned about. So I can't say it never happens.

But, is that what I encourage?


Even the picture of O'Sensei isn't about worship. It is about respect and gratitude. Maybe part of the discipline learned in Aikido is learning to be respectful and grateful without being worshipful.

The question always gets asked, "What about the bowing in ceremony?"

It's just a promise. A promise to train in sincerity. To follow the rules of etiquette and safety. To help fellow students train in sincerity and safety. To learn and help others learn. It is a solemn and important promise, but it's just a promise after all. The shomen provides a focus, but it isn't the object of the promise. The instructor and your fellow students are the object of the promise.

It's interesting how sensitive some of the most deeply religious people can be about this. But, not all of them, or even most of them are. Some of those who are very sensitive on this subject seem unsure of their own faith. I don't know how to help them, or even if I should try.
Views: 1773 | Comments: 2

RSS Feed 2 Responses to "Aikido Faith"
#2 02-22-2006 09:57 AM
gertninja Says:
Interesting topic, "It's interesting how sensitive some of the most deeply religious people can be about this. But, not all of them, or even most of them are. Some of those who are very sensitive on this subject seem unsure of their own faith. I don't know how to help them, or even if I should try." I am a radical humanist and also have trouble with some of the more 'religious' aspects of Aikido. Many years ago I trained with a Japanese Sensei in a very combat/competition oriented style of Karate heavily influenced by western boxing. Our coach, as He preferred to be called went to great lengths to divide traditions from what he saw as effective training methods. Gi's, bowing, kamiza, shomen etc. are part of Japanese culture and ‘not' part of martial arts or my particular cultural background. He believed as I do that Karate, Judo, Aikido and even Kendo could be quite satisfactorily studied in a western way. Having said that of course, in both Kendo and Aikido I observe all the formalities that the club requires because that's just good manners. However I can't help feeling that it's about as real as Masonic handshakes.
#1 02-22-2006 07:26 AM
MM Says:
Hi, 1. Aikido as a religion? I say, no. Religion in Aikido? I say there could be. In fact, any religion can be a part of Aikido. The founder was very religious (Omoto Kyo) and made that part of his Aikido, but if you read and do research, he never forced his religion upon any of his students. He would talk about it but he let each of his students find their own way in that area. I've read about all kinds of religious Aikidoka and how they've merged the two. Out of all the martial arts, Aikido probably comes closest to what most people envision of Christianity. Peace, love, respect. 2. Why do Catholics pray to Mary, mother of God rather than to Jesus or God? yes, they pray to all three, but why to Mary? Why the hail Mary instead of hail God? Is bowing out of respect to O-sensei and what he accomplished any different than praying to Mary for what she accomplished? What O-sensei did was God given and what Mary did was God given, is it not? Is there any difference in bowing down in front of the pastor and asking him to pray to God for you than bowing to O-sensei and thanking him for what he has done? Both are intermediaries to God, are they not? Bowing. It is a form of respect. A way of thanking the other person for what they've given in training. The US would shake hands while the Japanese bow. Nothing religious in nature. It is a societal custom. Not that bowing in Japan can't be of a religious nature, it just isn't used that way in the martial arts. My opinion anyway. Thanks, Mark

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