This was first published in 2005...
True Self Defense
Let us look at the nature of “Self Defense”. There are two kinds of self defense and one is merely a distortion of the other. The first Self Defense is authentic. It is the evolutionary, biological right of any animal to defend its life and those of its family or social group. With humans this involves the development of certain skills coupled with the addition of technical development. The skills and technology of True Self Defense are simply an extension of those developed for survival over hundreds of thousands of years. So True Self Defense is the defense of the physical body when under some threat.
The distorted form of Self Defense is not authentic and is the result of illusion. It is based on the instinct for self preservation on which authentic Self Defense is founded but it is distorted by the illusion of self identity under which most people operate. In other words from the time of our birth we develop a series of self images which we put forward as “who we are.” These self images or “primary selves” are who we consciously believe we are and reflect the ways in which we have learned through our personal experience to exist in the world.
The problem is that this is not really who we are. There is a whole series of “disowned selves” who from infancy we have learned to put away from our consciousness. The more we identify with these “primary selves” the more energy it takes to maintain that incomplete self image, that illusion of who we are.
So what we do as human beings is to devote most of our energy to trying to maintain our false, conditioned construction of ourselves. Anything that threatens that sense of identity feels like a threat to our very survival (whereas it is only a threat to the survival of the false identity). We seek out companions and experiences that support our false sense of self and yet at the same time there is a counter drive for us to look inward towards our deeper nature.
All aggressive behavior that is not True Self Defense is the result of this false identification with the mental constructs that create our “primary selves” and the fundamental reluctance and fear we have to recognizing that we are not who we maintain we are. We will distance from, attack, divorce, etc. anyone who threatens our fundamental sense of who we are and we tend to seek out people and activities that reinforce the identity we put forth to the world (and ourselves). To have this sense of self threatened is experienced as a survival issue by the conditioned self.
So most of what we see as “Self Defense” is the distorted use of aggression in defense of false notions of who we are. This can lead to personal violence or it can manifest as violence between social groups, fighting to maintain their collective self illusions.
So the only way that we can be sure that we engage only in “True Self Defense” is to get in touch with our True Selves, the unconditioned essential Identity that underlies all these “primary” and “disowned” selves. Only when we cease falsely identifying with our illusions of who we are can we be free of the need to “defend” the false self.
O-Sensei’s vision of what Aikido should be is just this. He looked to create the true “Spiritual Warrior.” He stated that “True victory is Self victory.” This victory is nothing less than experiencing who we really are, not as separate little identities which require constant defense to maintain but as our True Selves which are an integral part of the undifferentiated Universe.
Aikido practice is designed to teach “True Self Defense” while it simultaneously seeks the cessation of the distorted False Self Defense. It can only do that if there is an internal component to the practice.
Students can not, as most tend to do, seek out training that merely acts as a reinforcement of who they already think they are. Many dojos are nothing more than mutual admiration societies which allow like minded individuals to not experience the discomfort that comes with the need to let go of the false self images that we al carry. At the same time other dojos are merely places in which fearful people mutually develop an illusion of strength through tough martial practice but never confront the fundamental need to let go of these defense in order to make fundamental change.
So even as we study the techniques of True Self Defense we must simultaneously be putting our attention on developing the direct experience of our True Natures. Until the time at which all human beings have experienced their true selves there will be a need for the martial techniques of True Self Defense but it is only as Spiritual Warriors who have done battle with their own internal demons that we can operate on this level which is the “Spirit of Loving Protection” of which the Founder spoke.
- George Ledyard