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Taoistic Aikido
Taoistic Aikido
by Stefan Stenudd
10-23-2008
Taoistic Aikido

I was introduced to Taoism by Toshikazu Ichimura sensei, who was the national aikido instructor of Sweden at the time. It was in 1974, when I was 20 years old and absolutely mad about aikido. I lived it, I dreamed it, I was a raving fanatic about it.


Tao Te Ching: The Classic about the Way and Virtue

Ichimura sensei was complicated, but most generous. He also gave me my first iaito, the practice sword for iaido. He had his own timing for those and other gifts, very sensitive to what would trigger my development at that precise moment.
I spend my aikido life trying to repay him, through my own aikido students.

Anyway, one of his gifts was the charming though sometimes far from literal translation of the Tao Te Ching made by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, illustrated by calligraphic versions of the chapters, as well as grayscale photos with motifs from nature. The book is still around:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0679776192/

Desire

Of course, I devoured the book with the same eagerness I had for aikido, and it was love at first sight. Already the first chapter impressed me in a way that was spiritually liberating. Especially these lines:
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
This was the early 1970's, when every adolescent had decided to break free of the paradigms and morals of old. The two lines about desire impressed me because they seemed to make no moral judgment. Desire is not condemned. Instead, it is needed in order to perceive the world. It is one side of the coin.
Adolescence is certainly full of all kinds of desires, so I was quick to embrace the Tao Te Ching approval of sorts.

Yielding

But that was surely not Ichimura sensei's intention with giving me the book. Reading it in its entirety, I realized that Taoism according to Lao Tzu is very close to the ideas forming the base of aikido. The Tao Te Ching preaches yielding, and acting minutely instead of bombastically. The ideal of wu-wei, doing nothing, might not be immediately applicable to a martial art, but doing as little as possible is indeed related to the aiki solution.

The soft surpasses the hard in both aikido and the Tao Te Ching. The book argues repeatedly for yielding solutions, for example in its 78th chapter, which uses water as an illustration:
In the whole world,
there is nothing as soft and yielding as water.
Yet, nothing is better against the hard and strong.
Nothing can take its place.
Therefore:
The weak surpasses the strong
The soft surpasses the hard
And in the 76th chapter, the same is said by using other elements in nature:
All growing plants are soft and supple,
at death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the hard and unbendable belongs to death,
while the soft and bendable belongs to life.
I was quickly convinced that Lao Tzu, the legendary writer of the Tao Te Ching, would have approved of Osensei's aikido. They may even have enjoyed each other's company, like sibling souls.

Choosing peace

Lao Tzu was as far from the martial arts as can be fathomed, and surely no advocate of war. He expressed it quite bluntly, with words that modern man can easily relate to (chapter 73):
The one with the courage to engage in battle shall perish,
the one with the courage to refrain from battle shall live.
There is courage in both cases, but Heaven prefers one and not the other. Lao Tzu claims not to know why, although it is plain to see: The violent one will not meet a natural death. An aggressive solution causes tragedy, and is often the cause of the next aggression. It goes on and on. Lao Tzu insisted that the conqueror should follow the ritual of funerals, since war is cause for grief, even if it is won. There is only one battle worth winning, and this is well known by practitioners of all the traditional martial arts (chapter 33):
Vanquishing others is strong,
but vanquishing oneself is mighty.
Only the one who does not challenge is without error, and will not meet resistance. That's aikido in a nutshell.


Lao Tzu, the legendary author of Tao Te Ching

The Way

But the Tao Te Ching goes on. Avoiding challenge and battle is merely a consequence of living according to the Way. This Way is the true quest. It is the law on which the whole universe is based, the mother of it all. So, if you adjust to it you become one with the universe.

In the Japanese traditions out of which aikido has sprung, the Way, do, is a personal path for the individual to reach what we in the West would call self-realization. The way to self-cultivation and fulfillment. It is of minor importance what particular way is chosen, but a person who tirelessly pursues it will thereby have an instrument by which to reach mastery. We pursue our ways in order to become as skilled and refined as we possibly can.

But to Lao Tzu the Way is much more. It is the inner essence from which the whole universe has emerged (chapter 25):
There is something out of chaos,
completed before Heaven and Earth.
Quiet and still, pure and deep!
It stands alone, unchanging,
ever-present and inexhaustible.
It may be regarded as the mother of all.
I do not know its name.
I call it Tao.
And in chapter 42 he describes the emergence of the universe as one giving birth to two, giving birth to three, giving birth to all things, which then carry yin and embrace yang. They reach harmony by blending ch'i (ki).

So, whatever direction a person chooses in life, the Way is the same. Adapting to it demands the same. Yielding, softness, and reluctance to interfere apply to everything, since those are the foremost characteristics of how the universe was arranged according to the Way.

By accepting this and adapting to it, our lives become easy and delightful. We live according to nature instead of in conflict with it. In chapter 50 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu declares that those who are desperate to fill their lives will hurry toward their death. But the one who knows how to live will walk through the battle without getting struck by any weapon. He has no opening for the blade.
Why is that so?
Death has no room in him.
Not that joining with the Way is an easy lesson to learn, or one that attracts us all (chapter 41):
The foremost student hears about Tao,
practicing it diligently.
The average student hears about Tao,
keeping some and losing some.
The inferior student hears about Tao
and laughs out loud.
Without the laughter it would not be Tao.
Ichimura sensei, who gave me my first copy of the Tao Te Ching, used to say that aikido is for a mere one in a hundred. Judging from the figures of the aikido community, one in a thousand is probably closer to the truth -- at least so far.

And from many others we certainly get that laughter.

Taoistic

Through the years, I have been more and more impregnated by the thoughts of Lao Tzu, in my aikido as well as in my life in general. I can't call myself a Taoist. I don't even know what that would encompass. There's no God to worship, and no church to visit. But I dare say that I have a Taoistic tendency.

I guess it's true for every aikidoka.

Stefan Stenudd
Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido
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Old 11-17-2008, 10:22 AM   #2
Dazzler
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Ai Ki Dao.
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Old 11-18-2008, 04:47 AM   #3
Stefan Stenudd
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Daren Sims wrote: View Post
Ai Ki Dao.
In that case, maybe:

hé qė dāo

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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Old 11-18-2008, 10:46 AM   #4
Josh Lerner
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Stefan Stenudd wrote: View Post
In that case, maybe:

hé qė dāo
I'd be careful with that. hé qė (aiki) is actually a Taoist term dating back to around the 2nd century, but it refers to sexual rituals in the early Taoist communities. The term refers to "mingling and joining the energies." But you're probably safe; I'm pretty sure very few people even in China today would even know about that use of the word. I'd hope so, at least, for the sake of the Chinese aikido community.
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Old 11-24-2008, 03:39 AM   #5
Stefan Stenudd
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Josh Lerner wrote: View Post
hé qė (aiki) is actually a Taoist term dating back to around the 2nd century, but it refers to sexual rituals in the early Taoist communities. The term refers to "mingling and joining the energies."
That's quite interesting.
Also, doesn't it fit in somewhat with Osensei's increased use, in his later years, to substitute the kanji with the 'ai' meaning love

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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Old 11-25-2008, 08:50 PM   #6
nagoyajoe
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Excellent post, Stefan. Thanks a lot.

何よりもわかりやすいことは
自分も死ぬ人間のひとである。
(金子大栄)
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Old 12-01-2008, 06:59 AM   #7
GeneC
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Nice post. I too am reading Tao Te Ching. Lots of good concepts to live by. Particularly verse 42.

Only between a single breath is Yin/Yang in harmony
Emotion is pure energy flowing feely thru the body-Dan Millman
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Old 02-04-2009, 10:17 AM   #8
Stefan Stenudd
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

I saw that verse 42 is discussed in the Voices of Experience section, where I have no clearance to post - so I do it here, instead

It must be noted that the verse commences with a cosmogony, to which the yin and yang part belongs. Roughly translated, it reads:

Tao begat one, one begat two, two begat three, three begat the ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They reach harmony by uniting in the life spirit (qi).


The rest of the verse talks about other things, and was probably once a separate verse.

Although the lines above should be read as sort of a creation story, they obviously fit aikido quite well. Uniting in the life spirit - that's pretty much what we do. Also the pair of yin and yang can be compared to that of tori and uke, needing to find balance together, and being quite incomplete without one another.
Indeed, a good verse to contemplate in one's aikido.

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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Old 02-06-2009, 06:48 AM   #9
Dazzler
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Stefan Stenudd wrote: View Post
Although the lines above should be read as sort of a creation story, they obviously fit aikido quite well. Uniting in the life spirit - that's pretty much what we do. Also the pair of yin and yang can be compared to that of tori and uke, needing to find balance together, and being quite incomplete without one another.
Indeed, a good verse to contemplate in one's aikido.
Hi Stefan

Rather than just being a good fit perhaps it could be argued that the Tao is the significant part of the name/description of our art -AiKiDo...for many the simplistic adaptation of 'the way' may suit...but I would wonder why O'Sensei in 1942 would suddenly want to call his art simply 'the way of ai & ki'.

It doesn't really seem a significant change at all.

However, to suggest that he took the existing techniques of Daito Ryu Aiki-jujitsu and linked them to a form of martial training following the laws of the Tao.....that would perhaps be a much greater leap and would definitely merit a change in name and approach to training.

I wasn't there so only suggest what I've read and heard in training with Pierre Chassange of France whom I hold in highest regard, nevertheless it may be of interest.

Regards

D
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Old 06-18-2009, 01:24 AM   #10
Jean Michel RiHET
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

One of the first post i'm discovering on this site... .
There's, really, no coincidences : i'm at the right place, here.
Thanks to the author.
Jean Michel
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Old 06-18-2009, 05:53 AM   #11
Carsten Möllering
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Hi
Quote:
Daren Sims wrote: View Post
...but I would wonder why O'Sensei in 1942 would suddenly want to call his art simply 'the way of ai & ki'.
Ueshiba didn't find or choose the new name. He just accepted the name which was given to his art when it was integrated into the dai nihon butokukai in 1942.

A teacher who is connecting aikido and daoism in an interesting was is Endo Seishiro.

Regards,
Carsten
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:06 AM   #12
Dazzler
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Carsten Möllering wrote: View Post
Hi

Ueshiba didn't find or choose the new name. He just accepted the name which was given to his art when it was integrated into the dai nihon butokukai in 1942.

A teacher who is connecting aikido and daoism in an interesting was is Endo Seishiro.

Regards,
Carsten
Hi

Yes - I'd heard that. Perhaps I should choose the word 'accepted'.

Nevertheless I have been taught that the Do part of Aikido has deeper significance than simply 'the way'.

For me I am happy to accept the teaching I've received and take this as Dao.

I believe the influence of Dao principles upon the primarily Daito Ryu techiques deployed within Aikido helps to define the difference between Aikido and Aiki jutsu.

Same techniques - difference teaching if you like.

Others may choose to interpret things differently.

Regards

D

ps. I think I've seen a few of your previous posts regarding Endo Seishiro.

The name is definitely on my radar !

Last edited by Dazzler : 06-18-2009 at 06:08 AM.
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:33 PM   #13
Charles Hill
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Carsten Möllering wrote: View Post
A teacher who is connecting aikido and daoism in an interesting was is Endo Seishiro.
Hi Carsten,

Could you write more about this? Back when I trained with Endo Sensei, he did not talk very much. It sounds like this has changed a bit, and I am eager to hear more.

Charles
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:37 PM   #14
Jory Boling
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Here is an interview with Endo Shihan regarding taoism and aikido

http://homepage3.nifty.com/aikido_sa..._Dou144-e.html

Jory
p.s. i need to reread it about 10 more times
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Old 06-23-2009, 02:35 PM   #15
Stefan Stenudd
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Jory Boling wrote: View Post
Here is an interview with Endo Shihan regarding taoism and aikido
http://homepage3.nifty.com/aikido_sa..._Dou144-e.html
Jory, thanks for the link. I have met Endo sensei many times through the years, and discussed many things with him, but I was not aware that he has pondered the Tao Te Ching so deeply. Now I know what to discuss with him next time we meet.

Tao of Lao Tzu and Do of Japanese thought have similarities, but also substantial differences. I lack the knowledge to discuss those matters at any depth, but maybe we can convince Peter Goldsbury to say something about it?

My impression of Tao according to Lao Tzu is a sort of <I>primus motor</I> of the universe and everything in it. The primal natural law. Do in Japanese thought, on the other hand, is more personal. One's way towards fulfillment of one's potential.
So, using Tao in aikido practice is not simply putting emphasis on the last syllable of the name of the art, but viewing it from another angle altogether. A Taoistic approach needs to look at what happens on the tatami from far beyond it, contemplating what marks the patterns of the training make on the world as a whole - which should be as minute as ever possible, and thereby have the most power to cause a change for the better...

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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Old 06-24-2009, 05:02 AM   #16
Dazzler
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Stefan Stenudd wrote: View Post
So, using Tao in aikido practice is not simply putting emphasis on the last syllable of the name of the art, but viewing it from another angle altogether. A Taoistic approach needs to look at what happens on the tatami from far beyond it, contemplating what marks the patterns of the training make on the world as a whole - which should be as minute as ever possible, and thereby have the most power to cause a change for the better...
Perhaps we are in agreement here but to clarify - if one accepts that the translation is Ai Ki Dao then labels such as Taoistic Aikido become superfluous as by definition Aikido is thus?

And yes - embracing the universe via Aikido allows an impact at levels far beyond the tatami...and far beyond my meagre comprehension.

You may be interested in a collection of oral teachings by Lao-Tseu which are in a collection called Hua Hu Ching. I believe they have been compiled by an american writer Mr Brian Walker.

Regards

D
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Old 06-24-2009, 05:40 AM   #17
Stefan Stenudd
 
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Daren Sims wrote: View Post
You may be interested in a collection of oral teachings by Lao-Tseu which are in a collection called Hua Hu Ching. I believe they have been compiled by an american writer Mr Brian Walker.
It seems that the book might be a "forgery" from around the 4th century CE. I checked it out a little, and I guess it could be regarded as a kind of commentary of the Tao Te Ching, in the form of a dialogue.

Frankly, it's enough of a headache to grasp the TTC
Actually, I made an interpretation of it in Swedish, and right now I am working on an English version of it. Wish me luck - I sure need it.

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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Old 06-24-2009, 06:19 AM   #18
Dazzler
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Re: Taoistic Aikido

Quote:
Stefan Stenudd wrote: View Post

Frankly, it's enough of a headache to grasp the TTC
Actually, I made an interpretation of it in Swedish, and right now I am working on an English version of it. Wish me luck - I sure need it.
You are a braver man than me.
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