Ueshiba specifically stated that one does not have to practice shinto to do aikido. Some of his top students were into zen, others were atheist, others followed Omoto Kyo...it just depended on what they found in these different paths. I believe some of the words used by Ueshiba were "aikido is not a religeon...it unifies all religeons..." or something to that effect.
Ron (say, whatever happened to the spell check...I really need that little bugger... JUN!!!
Indeed. A rather well-known story is that of André Nocquet, the first foreign uchideshi.
André Nocquet wrote:
[One day] I said to Ueshiba Sensei, "You are always praying, Ueshiba Sensei. Then aikido is a religion."
"No, that's not true. Aikido is never a religion, but if you are a Christian, you will be a better Christian because of aikido. If you are a Buddhist, you will be a better Buddhist."
I thought it was an amazing response. I really liked his answer. Since he was a Japanese I was afraid he would say that Christianity was nothing. Ueshiba Sensei had a great deal of respect for Christ. I was living in a four-mat room in the dojo and he would knock on the door and enter. He would sit down beside me and there was a portrait of Jesus Christ. He would place his hands together in a gesture of respect. I asked him one day if there wasn't a similarity between his prophecies and those of Christ. He answered, "Yes, because Jesus said his technique was love and I, Morihei, also say that my technique is love. Jesus created a religion, but I didn't. Aikido is an art rather than a religion. But if you practice my aikido a great deal you will be a better Christian."
Then I asked, "Sensei, should I remain a Christian?"
He replied, "Yes, absolutely. You were raised as a Christian in France. Remain a Christian."
If he had told me to stop being a Christian and become a Buddhist, I would have been lost. My heart was full of Ueshiba Sensei because he had a vision of the entire world and that we were all his children. He called me his son.
I daresay that Ueshiba would say, if you are an atheist, aikido will make you a better atheist. Overall, I think the key thing to take from aikido, the thing that makes aikido distinct (although perhaps not unique), is that it's about misogi
, purification. And what needs to be washed away depends on the person. For a very psychologically minded person, this might jealousy and envy, anger at someone, insecurities and things like that. For a religious or spiritual minded person, this may include sin. I certainly think for a Christian, aikido should be a time for communing with God.
As for bowing, here's how I see it. There is a particular way of bowing: bowing twice, clapping twice and bowing once. This is a Shinto ritual, and is meant to summon the good will and protection of the relevant kami
, or spirits. Doing this to kamiza
, or a picture of Ueshiba is meant to summon his kami
. I think it would entirely proper for a devout Christian to refrain from this ritual.
OTOH, there's the simple bow, whether standing or from seiza. This is a bow of respect, nothing more and nothing less than shaking hands. It is no more and no less than the courtly bow of gentlemen to ladies in bygone days. If someone has a problem doing this, then they should take off the keiko-gi and hakama, stop referring to their teacher as sensei, stop using Japanese names for techniques, and train in a "gym" and not a "dojo". I'm not saying they shouldn't do aikido; just that I think it's better not to play dress-up. Etiquette is an integral part of budo, and an important part of Japanese culture. I've said before that the whole of Japanese culture is not in the dojo, but in as much one calls one's practice space a "dojo", and wears traditional Japanese exercise gear, and uses traditional Japanese terms, then IMO they should at least participate in basic Japanese etiquette.
But that's me. I'm all about the idiom.