Giri and On - an Aiki perspective
“Giri” (Sanseido dictionary) denotes an “obligation, duty, justice” and an obligation to be ”faithful” and “conscientious”.
“On” (Sanseido dictionary) describes “a favor. kindness, a debt of gratitude”. It relates to being “profoundly grateful” to a benefactor, to be under an “obligation” to one whose kindness deserves such reciprocity and honor.
As a traditionally martial art system, Aikido is likewise known to command elements of both Giri and On from those who claim to be faithful and intimate with the history, and who possess personal experiences with such traditional Aikido relationships. Actual examples vary, both in form and intensity, and especially when contrasting Japanese traditionalists vs. Western examples of similar interpretations, customs and actual applications of these ideals.
It does not appear that the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, actually required or even demanded such strict and uncompromising behavior from his legion of disciples and students over the decades of his predominance and teaching. Rather, it seemed that the degree to which he did receive such exalted regard depended on the students themselves, their own sense of debt and gratitude, and their own respective egos.
When one studies the character and behavior of such giants as Mochizuki, Tomiki, Shioda, Tohei, Hikitsuchi, Yamashita, Nishio, Shirata, etc. there was undeniably an unfathomable well of gratitude and unconditional respect for the Founder from these and other worthy students of Ueshiba Aiki, and for the Founder’s Aikido.
Perhaps a valid case may be made that their individual sense of “Giri and On” translated into the uniquely personal degree that they each took the Founder’s direct teachings, transforming such lessons into stand alone systems of their own. In this fashion, the Founder’s principles and ideals were surely and undeniably thus greatly enhanced by the amazing interpretations and variations thus created.
Indeed, this may also be a timely warning to those of us who truly respect and appreciate the unique value of those remaining direct students of the Founder, along with the current leaders of the various existing systems they created, to take steps to document and preserve such treasures for present and future students of Aikido.
Isn’t there a way for current leadership to express our own “Giri” and “On” to our own proven and treasured senseis, who may well possess that special direct or indirect connection back to the Founder’s original purpose and invaluable discoveries? If so, when should we begin?
Yes, martial arts study is primarily for the seeker of mastery and personal enlightenment. Yet, isn’t there a basic human need or characteristic, to share and carry forward a living legacy to future generations, those truths and discoveries that will ensure the preservation and vitality of the Founder’s mission and example? Doesn’t this debt also apply as well to our own personal students and supporters?
The history of human legacy creation and maintenance amply justifies such efforts to do just that.
Let us resolve to keep the faith in our training, and demonstrate our lasting gratitude for the invaluable lessons of the past, as well as accept our obligation to maintain and preserve these core values for ourselves, and for future generations to come.