I asked a friend of mine, who is a prominent aikido instructor, how he would answer the impossible question of what aikido is. "Healing," he said. I think that I agree.
There's not much sense spending all those keiko
hours on learning self defense, which might come in handy but not enough so that it deserves a lifetime of devotion. Nor is there any point in practicing it as some sort of obligation to its founder of conserving it for the future, at least not if that would be the whole point of it. Aikido must carry its own reward, or there would be no reason to keep it around.
If that reward is only the good the physical exercise does to one's body, then it's a very elaborate way of keeping fit, not to mention the odd gear in which we dress up to do it. No, the reward must be something more, something beyond mere cardiovascular spin and muscular swelling. There has to be some inner satisfaction, reaching the core of what we regard as a meaningful way to spend the limited time we have in this existence, whatever the true nature of it may be. For a lack of better words, I call that healing.
The term has been misused by all kinds of superficial exploitations of the profound and the mysterious, but it doesn't mean that we should abandon it, or the ideas behind it. Healing is more than curing. It's reaching the state where it becomes meaningful to have been cured. It's health, and then some. Beethoven might have called it joy.
Practicing aikido promotes joy. If it doesn't, then we're definitely doing it wrong. That's easy to conclude, but Beethoven would have pointed out that the real trick is to find out what actually brings joy, and not the superficial kind that's over as quickly as a sugar rush or the laughter at a blunt joke. True joy, the one that keeps a tickling sensation running up and down the body, comes from joining the needs of the body and the mind, by finding the dimension where there's no difference between them. Where they as well as their urges are united.
Music is at that place. The 9th Symphony touches the soul, but also the heart and the spine. It invades us through our ears and quickly conquers the chest and the belly. It even brings sparks to the tops of our fingertips and toes. Just like aikido, when we do it like Beethoven played his piano.
That's healing. That makes us bear the burdens of existence, where the wondrous delight of birth is always mirrored by the sad halt of death, and shadowed by the many ups and downs in between. That fills the span of a lifetime with meaning, like the beverage fills the bottle, and the head, such as it is, fills the crown. The dance of aikido moves in swirls that oddly and primordially fill our beings with meaning, as if it were the enactment of the inner workings of the universe. I'd like to think that somehow it is.
So, when we practice aikido, we are healed in the sense of being fulfilled. That may seem like an overly religious way of looking at it, but there are quite profound reasons for it. Aikido movements are natural -- to the body, and to the situation the two or more practitioners put themselves in. The aikido techniques are congenial solutions to the situation, fitting one's own prerequisites as well as those of the interaction with others. The fulfillment lies in doing what comes the most naturally.
I think that the 9th Symphony is kind of the same. Each tone follows its predecessor handsomely, immediately convincing the listener that no other tone would do it better. Otherwise there's just something wrong with the composition. When things follow one another in an order that we find no objection to, but regard as optimal, we get drunken by fulfillment. Therefore, the orchestra playing the 9th must feel the ecstacy of a perfectly performed taninzugake
Back to aikido. In the normal practice of a duo, exchanging attack and defense techniques, the perfection of what should naturally follow something is the music played. But here, it starts with a bad note, a dissonance, since the attack represents unwillingness to find the harmony. The defense technique, the actual aikido movement, is what brings this rebellious instrument back into the melody.
Keeping the musical analogy, aikido techniques are methods to tune the instrument that is uke. Tori brings uke into the natural order of things, like gravity sticks the cosmos to the harmony of the spheres (although their form differs from what Pythagoras imagined). This is the healing of each aikido exercise. What momentarily lost its direction is brought back to the harmony of all.
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