And yet, if you look up the word "harmony" in a good Japanese/English dictionary (like Jeffrey's Japanese<->English Dictionary Server at http://www.df.lth.se/cgi-bin/j-e/dict)
, you'll get many returns, several of which include the same kanji for "ai." So I think we have to allow that there is justification for including "harmony" as an equally valid interpretation.
Let's look at those a little more closely. Nothing against Jeffrey's J/E dictionary, but it has quite a kitchen sink approach.
和合 - wagou - harmony, unity
釣り合う - tsuriau - balance, matching
配合 - haigou - combination, compound
四部合唱 - shibugasshou - four-part harmony
"Tsuru" is a verb meaning "to hang on a line". The idea of "tsuriau" is that of a set of scales. The two scales (tsutte-iru, held on a line) hang together, matching, in balance. So again, the "au" here refers to "matching", not to harmony. "Matching scales" may be considered to be a type of harmony, but that's a higher order interpretation.
Similarly, "haigou" means "to distribute together, to combine together". Again, the "au" here represents joining, and matching together.
"Shibugasshou" is something of a false hit, because while the English phrase uses "harmony", the Japanese phrase is actually "four part chorus". The harmony is implied.
"Wagou" is a key word, because if you look through those entries and count the kanji most used in "harmony" context, you'll see most are either 調 chou, or 和 wa. Indeed, "to harmonize" (as in 四部合唱 ) is 調和する chouwa suru. Here, the "au" again means "matching, meeting". If we have 和 together
, we are in harmony.
Ueshiba Morihei indeed talk often about harmony, and when he did so, he used the words 調和 chouwa and 融和 yuuwa. Sometimes, 和合 as well, I'm sure. 和 is, for me, the
word for harmony in Japanese. A great example is Robert Whiting's book on Japanese baseball, "You Gotta Have Wa". When Japanese people worry about harmony, they worry about "wa".
The reason I tend to be picky about people referring to 合 as "harmony" is two-fold. One, "harmony" is not a core meaning of the kanji. When combined with other words or kanji it can, depending on the context, create a word that means "harmony" or relates to harmony. It does not mean that by itself.
Second, the word, in this specific case (aikido) does not exist by itself. It is attached to "ki". The two form a compound word that can exist independently of "do". That word, at least, has a history, an idiom of usage. In Daito-ryu, it was a noun: 合気をかける aiki wo kakeru
, "to apply aiki". Which means that that the "ai" here modified the "ki", like an adjective: "apply matching ki (energy)".
In Ueshiba aikido, it is often verbified: 合気する "to do aiki". Here, the nuance slightly changes. Rather than "apply matching energy", it's more like "do matching energy". That is, at least, what the word translates to. (Linguistically, there probably is not much difference, cf. denwa wo kakeru
and denwa suru
, "to place a phone call, to call someone". We'll leave differences in the actual mechanics of the two arts to another thread.) Now, if one wants to go from "match energy" to "blend energy", and from there with combining Ueshiba's lectures to say "harmonize" with an opponent, well, that's fine, I think. As long as when makes clear that's a higher order interpretation
The problem, as I see it, is that all too often people say, "Ueshiba talked about harmony with the universe. His art is called 'aikido'. 'Do' means 'way', 'ki' means some kind of life-force or energy, so the harmony must be in 'ai'! The meaning is close enough." This ignores that a) the word "aiki" predated Ueshiba's art, and b) that Ueshiba didn't come up with the name "aikido" for his art. "Ai" is a meaty word in Japanese, with heavy and frequent use in everyday life, and its own full history and idiom. To be a little melodramatic
, it makes me sad to see all that thrown out for a narrow interpretation based on English translations of Ueshiba's teachings, which used another set of words entirely for "harmony". Plus, students don't learn a useful bit of Japanese culture: the word 和 "wa", which means "harmony, accord, peace, cooperation", and just so happens to be the word the Japanese use to signify themselves. So it's not fair to 合 to deprive it of its core meaning and add this other meaning, and not fair to 和 to give all of its core meaning to 合 and then ignore it altogether.
Therefore we should not expect any short, simplistic interpretation of "aikido" to be satisfactory.
Personally, I think any short, simple interpretation (translation) of aikido that sticks with the core meanings of the elements is satisfactory. "The Way of Matching Energy". Aikijutsu "Matching Energy Techniques". Are those complete, perfect translations? No. But they provide the minimum necessary information, faithful to the idiom of both languages. There's not much more you can ask for in translation. Everything else has to come out on the mat.