The person to talk to here would be Gleason Sensei but he is busy trying to relocate his dojo I believe.
Anyway, I'll take a brief shot at the question. Asian spiritual systems are based on the essential unity of everything. Most systems for developing a direct awareness of this unity attempt to bypass the thinking / logical Mind in order to get to a more fundamental level of Consciousness that includes the thinking mind but goes well beyond in to the realm of direct perception of the Truth.
If you look at the Hindu / Buddhist systems that went from India through Tibet, then China, then to Japan picking up elements of the local archaic syatems as they went, you will see that they have practice methodologies that strive to use the senses rather than ignore the senses in their meditation practice.
In Sanskrit there are the terms are mantra, mudra, and mandala. Mantra practice is the repitition of a particular sound or phrase which serves to give direction to the senasation of speech. Mudra are the handsigns which you see on various statues but are incorpoarted into living practice as a sort of macro which directs the Mind (the older Classical Japanese martial arts like Katori Shinto Ryu and Ninjutsu have these in their training).
Mandala are the spiritual geometric designs which symbolically represent Reality and utilize the visual perception to aid in meditation. A mandala is created sequentially and is meant to be a symbolic creation of the Universe. When it has served its purpose in ritual or meditation it is destroyed symbolizing the cycle of creation and destruction which all of Creation goes through. This is the same thing done with Native American sand paintings.
As far as I can tell O-Sensei viewed Aikido practice as something combining elements of these traditions. Certainly we know he did chanting every day but when he was on the mat you could see elements of each of these threepractices in his Aikido. Physical technique to O-sensei was a symbolic creation of the world. The differing energetic elements are brought into harmony within a technique. Each physical movement represented an element like fire, water, earth, etc. In the Kotodama each element (based on the old Chinese Five Elements theory) is associated with various other characteristics such as color, sound (vibration), etc. Each of these energetic characterizations has a divine being or Kami associated with it as well.
Originally, the Universe was one undifferentiated whole. Then at the moment of creation you got a split into yin and yang. This differentiation continues in to the Five Elements which in turn combine in various ways to give rise to further levels of differentiation.
O-sensei's Aikido was a form of moving meditation which combined these elements. He utilized kiai to manifest the power of sound or vibration, also kokyu or breath also has certain sounds associated with it. The techniques of Aikido each contain very specific combinations of the elements and from a meditation standpoint they take on the function of mudra or physical representations of of the process of Creation. The phrase "Take Musu Aiki" contains this creative or procreative principle.
Further, there is the larger movement of Aikido. O-Sensei referred to Aikido as containing the movements of the Universe. In that sense when you are executing the movements of Aikido you are using your own body to create a mandala of sorts. It is a form of Scared Geometry in a sense.
This was the way O-sensei thought about what he did. Only a very few teachers have tried to duplicate his understanding of Aikido. Sunadomari Sensei was an Omotokyo follower if I am not mistaken as was Inoue Sensei (O-sensei's nephew). Hikitsuchi Sesnei is a Shinto priest and has this basic frame of refernce in his Aikido as well. In the postwar period most of the deshi did not have a classical education containing exposure to the great Shinto works. They simply did not have the knowledge of the Shinto symbology to understand what O-sensei was talking about.
A few, like Saotome Sensei, had spiritual expereinces through their training which gave them acess to some of the insight which O-Senseireferred to on a daily basis but they had to work backwards towards a description of what they had experienced rather than the other way around in which the description shaped their exeperience. Saotome sensei's book, Aikido and the Harmony of Nature, is a good example of how this process worked for him. He took his own direct experience (developed during physical training with O-Sensei and solo misogi exercises learned from the Founder, combined it with his understanding of what O-Sensei had been saying and created his own description of what is inside Aikido practice. It is not Shinto but is more directed to a modern students with general scientific backgrounds.
For myself, I continue to develop myself as an Aikidoka, putting a strong emphasis on the martial side of the practice. But I am always aware of the various ways in which the teachers who went before me viewed what they did. It enriches every moment of my practice to understand that even the simplest of movements and exercises could be seen to contain the most esoteric and profound truths. I think it is this awareness that goes a long way towards ensuring that Aikido doesn't devolve in to mere fighting technique. It is clearly far more than that. But each of us coming from a different culture and generation from O-Sensei has to work out his own way of describing what is really happening within the physical techniques.
Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 08-13-2002 at 05:15 PM.