View Single Post
Old 06-22-2007, 12:05 PM   #1
Dojo: TNBBC (Icho Ryu Aiki Budo), Shinto Ryu IaiBattojutsu
Location: Seattle, WA
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 927
Evaluation of "Spirit of Aikido"

It's my hope that this thread will be a place for those who have read Ueshiba Kisshomaru's "Aikido no Kokoro" or the English translation, "Spirit of Aikido." In particular, I would love for those fortunate (or is that obstinate?) enough to have read OSensei's "Takemusu Aiki" to offer some opinion as to how well you feel that his son was able to represent his ideas and wishes. My Japanese is not good enough for me to be considered literate, so I'm still limited to translations and all of the errors and biases that introduces. I really appreciate texts like the recently released book on Katori Shinto Ryu offered by Koryu Books that included the full original text in Japanese next to the translated text. A properly motivated student can easily find what words were used by the author. I'm sure for a lot of us, there are many terms that we simply don't bother translating into our native language, as we have been able to appreciate some of the complexity of meaning that comes with these words such to the extent that they simply exist as words in ‘our' language. I do not hear "maai" and think "spacial timing distance interaction" for example, I simply think, "maai." I would particularly appreciate the comments of those people in a position to offer a more scholarly opinion (Ellis Amdur, Peter Goldsbury, Chris Li, many others I'm forgetting…) I'm not particularly interested in ‘your' Aikido, or ‘your teacher's' Aikido. There are plenty of venues for that discussion.

First some background. I must admit something of a bias against Kisshomaru Ueshiba. My first Aikido school was founded by one of the last uchideshi to OSensei who left the Aikikai with Tohei. However, shortly after that, he decided that founding his own small school was the best way to fulfill his duty to OSensei. My teachers (his direct students) did not have a very high opinion of the Aikikai or Kisshomaru (referred to hereafter as Doshu(2)), and he was generally portrayed as someone who was a good administrator but who simply didn't get what his father was doing. So while I certainly don't hold with much of anything from that dojo, I cannot deny that some of their attitudes affected my approach to the art. Further, and at the risk of offending, I have simply never seen any footage of Doshu(2) that impressed me in the slightest. I'm sure this stood to reinforce my early teachers' opinion despite the fact that I have been estranged from them for over a decade. What brought me around to this text was actually the thread on aikiweb based on the poll about aikido being possible without any physical component. Chris Li repeatedly brought up the untranslated text, "Takemusu Aiki" and frustrated with my inability to access the text in any way I started digging through my library. Someone gave me "Spirit of Aikido" years ago, I don't honestly remember who or when. It went straight onto the budo bookshelf and was not read until recently. I came away genuinely impressed with the clarity that Doshu(2) was able to impart to just what it was that made Aikido different and what it actually was the OSensei changed to make Aikido truly different from those arts that spawned it. I have struggled for years with what exactly it was that made Aikido different, having found much (if not all) of what most professed to be unique about it in other arts, frequently at higher levels of refinement. I have also railed against many of the common teaching paradigms and methodologies found in Aikido. If in fact this book is an accurate representation of what it was that OSensei taught and thought, I feel that I have a much better understanding of how these issues came about. Actually, since it could be argued that Doshu(2) had as much (or more) to do with the defining of Aikido philosophy and waza as his father, that even if it is not a correct paraphrasing of his father's teachings, it could be considered the definitive word on what exactly Aikido is and how it should be practiced.

With apologies for such a long introduction, let me state what I took away from the text (please keep in mind that I'm merely trying to paraphrase the text, not convince anyone of these positions):

1) What made the "aiki" of OSensei unique was his conceptual splitting of the term. As has been pointed out, the idea of "aiki" exists in many older arts, but as a relatively specific and understandable concept. One might define "aiki" as taking optimum advantage of the maai of a combative encounter, such that the desired result feels nearly effortless. OSensei took "aiki" and formed "ai" and "Ki". Putting it another way, while one could pseudo-translate "aikijujutsu" as "jujutsu done with aiki", Aikido would need to be translated as "the way of harmonizing with Ki." There is a fundamental shift here. The traditional usage of aiki is non-religious and can exist without any assumptions beyond the specifics of the combative interaction. OSensei elevated Ki (in keeping with his religious convictions) to a unifying life force that creates and binds the universe together (to paraphrase Yoda…), and the goal of Aikido, to join intentionally with that life force. To my thinking this pre-supposes a certain religious/spiritual Truth.

2) The genius of OSensei's teaching was that one did not need to study technique in order to be a great martial artist/human but simply needed to learn how to perceive and unify the self with the Ki-flow of the universe, (thus all of the "I am the Universe!" quotes…). He was not teaching a martial art, but rather was offering an environment where his students could hope to find the same underlying sense of connectedness as he had found. Ki was the key (sorry, couldn't help myself…) to everything: happiness, health, mental focus, martial competence… It was therefore useless to offer specific physical corrections/teachings since once the student was truly aware of Ki, everything would become clear.

Those are what I consider to be the most important assertions/distinctions of the text. I'm sure many of you are thinking, "Well duh…" but frankly, I've never heard these points made in such a clear and distinct manner. If one looks at many of the "What is Aikido?" FAQs on dojo websites or Wikipedia entries, many focus specifically on the old meaning of aiki that, at least according to my reading of "Spirit of Aikido," is specifically what is DIFFERENT about OSensei's art. Some excerpts from the Wikipedia entry for example:
"Aikido (合気道 aikidō?), translated as "the way of harmonious spirit", is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Ueshiba's goal was to create an art practitioners could use to defend themselves without injuring their attacker.
Aikido emphasizes joining with an attack and redirecting the attacker's energy, as opposed to meeting force with force, and consists primarily of body throws and joint-locking techniques. In addition to physical fitness and technique, mental training, controlled relaxation, and development of "spirit" (ki) are emphasized in aikido training."
Later, from the same article, "Aiki is a martial arts principle or tactic. It describes an idea of joining together in the midst of combat."

This distinction is pointed out in the aikiweb wiki article on Aikido:
"One interpretation of the word "Aikido" is that the word is made up of three Japanese characters: Ai 合 - harmony; Ki 気 - spirit, mind, or universal energy; Do 道 - the Way. Thus aikido has been called "the Way of Harmony with Universal Energy."
Some do not agree with this interpretation as the character for "ai" 合 itself does not connote "harmony" in Japanese but rather "to fit or to match." As such, "Aiki" 合気 may also be interpreted as "accommodation to circumstances"; this interpretation avoids certain metaphysical commitments and is an attempt to describe both the physical and psychological facets of aikido in everyday language."
Looking at "The Encyclopedia of Aikido" (hyperlink to from, there is no reference whatsoever to what Doshu(2) presents as the uniquely defining aspects of Aikido:
"A modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei UESHIBA incorporating joint-lock and throwing techniques applied in self-defense with the intent of not injuring or causing only minimal damage to the attacker. The techniques of aikido derive mainly from the DAITO-RYU AIKIJUJUTSU of Sokaku TAKEDA. Philosophically, Ueshiba was greatly influenced by the views of Onisaburo DEGUCHI, leader of the OMOTO RELIGION. The art evolved gradually during the late 1920s and 30s under various names. Its modern name was officially adopted in 1942 as a result of the reorganization of Japanese martial arts by the DAI NIHON BUTOKUKAI. Its emergence as a major martial art and its spread outside of Japan took place after World War II."

So, my question to you is how well do you feel that the English translation represents the concepts presented in the original Japanese, and further, how well do you feel these views are representative of OSensei's own thoughts and teachings? I would encourage posters to avoid posting *their own* views of what Aikido is/should be or critiquing these concepts. I would like to get there eventually, but please attempt to limit the discussion in THIS thread to the text in question.

Thank you all in advance.

Chris Moses
TNBBC, "Putting the ME in MEdiocre!"
Budo Tanren at Seattle School of Aikido
Shinto Ryu Iai-Battojutsu
  Reply With Quote