The idea of conflict resolution is one of the core underpinnings of East-Asian martial arts. Many martial traditions, developed many centuries before aikido, have stories about a teacher elegantly subduing an attacker with a writing brush, a twig or a turn of the wrist. The meaning of radicals within the Japanese character, 武 ("bu") is "to stop the spear." It is legitimate, therefore, to ask how well the pedagogy of aikido, be it that of Ueshiba Morihei, or the versions of his successors, supports that goal. One cannot "stop a spear," unless one is more skillful than the attacker wielding it. Beyond that, the means deemed legitimate to resolve conflict are not apart from the social context within which they reside. Therefore, if we consider conflict resolution for people in any modern civil society, what would be the most effective and useful martial art: 1) An apparently chaotic amalgam of neo-Shinto, esoteric Buddhism and shamanistic rites, with a complex and detailed technical corpus as well as sophisticated training methods that may take years of dedication to master, all of which is taught within a closed dojo environment to only a few individuals with whom the instructor has a deep personal relationship; or 2) A martial practice that eschews the spiritual rituals for a more general metaphoric stance based on ethics, with a less demanding system of physical culture/martial arts practice, accessible to millions, a practice in which one can achieve a fairly high level of skill with only a few years? Which really fulfills the goal of 武 in the world within which we live?[xi]
Well, you are in good company, for Morihei Ueshiba himself states much the same thing in Aiki Shinzui
真の武人、すなわち武道家は宇宙より賦課されたこの有意義な大使命を果たすことによって聖い世界を形成させることができる。これは和合であり、小さな人間の固体の内に宇宙 そのままの姿が表現されている。」(『合気神髄』, pp. 35-36.)
John Stevens gives the following translation.
“All living beings originate and are manifested by love. Aikido is the purest expression of that love. It is a means to bring all people of this world together. In order to bring people together, to unite human beings with the divine, to co-evolve, we need to tap into the unlimited creative power of existence. Bu helps us do this. Etymologically, bu means “to stop the spear,”and that is what a true warrior strives to do.
A true warrior is always conscious of his noble duty to create an enlightened world. This is harmony. A single tiny human being contains the immense universe.” (The Secret Teaching of Aikido
, p. 30.)
The relevant statements are in bold and you will see that Stevens does not give a precise translation. I have given the context to stress the strong Omoto flavor of the passage and to suggest that the ‘peaceful’ interpretation of BU fits the postwar idea of aikido. The discourses in Aiki Shinzui
were first published in the Aikido newspaper and I have heard Hombu shihans stressing the ‘peaceful’ nature of aikido, in comparison with other martial arts, by stressing the unique meaning of Morihei Ueshiba’s ‘budo’ and pointing to the radicals as evidence of this.
Your connection of the bu
radicals with conflict resolution reminded me of a discussion in E-Budo. Since E-Budo is not available and it is unclear whether there are any archives, I have found the relevant entry in Kadokawa’s Gendai Kanjigo Jiten
“BU Kaii (= a character formed from meaningful components). Combining 止 (a person’s footprint) with 戈 (hoko – a weapon), shows military advance holding a weapon. The original sense is ‘warfare’. A derivative meaning is ‘courage’. In the distant past, there was the explanation that ‘stopping by the use of a weapon’ was the base meaning of BU ( = courage), but this was a mistake based on a different interpretation of the meaning of 止.” (『現代漢字語辞典』, p. 1279.
There was some discussion in the E-budo thread as to when the different interpretations were made, of course, by the Chinese. But this discussion would have to have happened well after the character became a word in the language, with a definite meaning. To see the fragility of the reasoning here, consider another example.
In the passage by Morihei Ueshiba, quoted above, another term appears, which is composed of the same radicals as BU. The compound word is 賦課 FUKA and the dictionary definition is ‘levy’ or ‘assessment’. So we should be able to give a similar analysis to the first character, FU, which contains the BU combination of radicals, 戈 and 止, plus one other, 貝, which means ‘shellfish’ or ‘shell’. FU means ‘tribute’, ‘payment’, ‘installment’. But how do we analyze the combination of radicals? Shellfish stopping spears? Stopping spears with shellfish? The character appears on p. 1278 of the same dictionary, but, alas, there is no analysis comparable to the one I quoted for BU