Recently, the Swedish Budo Federation held its very first Martial Arts Gala, where several of the most prominent Swedish martial artists were rewarded for their achievements in 2009 -- sort of like the Academy Awards, but in a modest scale. Still, the stars of the event were just as impressive as any Hollywood lineup.
We were 300 present, having an excellent three-course meal prepared by a chef from the famous New York restaurant Aquavit, and enjoying the show. Almost all the successful fighters and martial artists of Sweden were there. So was Dolph Lundgren, the Swedish movie star, who is highly respected among us for his devoted lifetime training of the martial arts. He knows how to do it, also off-camera.
Now, many of the martial arts seem to be quite different from aikido and its context, particularly the newest ones, like submission wrestling, shootfighting, and MMA. But when I have met the champions of those arts, I have found them to be filled with quite the same mentality and humility as what we cherish in aikido. I like to call it the budo spirit. They have it, too, most definitely.
They salute their teachers, they are devoted to fair play and to noble performance even in the heat of a match with very few rules, and they show deep respect for their fellow practitioners. Also, it is clear that they are devoted to a quest that is something completely different from just beating opponents and winning tournaments -- even though that sure triggers them, as well.
The budo mentality remains to be winning over yourself, primarily, wherein your adversary is the helpful assistant, and not at all the enemy. As far as I have discovered, they have that mentality in all the martial arts. In some situations they may even have a lesson or two about it for us aikido students, especially when we wallow in our own elevated excellence.
We had a truly great time at the gala. The big hall was full of the same joyous atmosphere that tickles our bellies at really good aikido keiko. The champions of MMA, Thai boxing, and all the other very competitive martial arts, proved to be as pleasant and positive as any aikidoka. And their passion towards their art is also the same. They pursue it with a wholeheartedness and sincerity that would make any aikido shihan sentimental. They also show great respect for all the martial arts, whether they practice them or not.
I have always felt that what we do in aikido is budo, not something isolated and fundamentally different. Of course, aikido has its own strategy, principles, and conclusions, but it remains budo, and therefore it has things to learn from as well as teach the other martial arts. We should make sure to stay respectful and perceptive towards the other arts, because they deserve respect and there is a lot we can learn by keeping our eyes open to what they do.
I know that I would love to have these noble champions as my students, and also that I would learn a lot from being their student. So, what we practice must essentially be the same.
I'll give you two examples from the gala of what I regard as budo spirit. The aforementioned movie star Dolph Lundgren held a short speech on stage, when handing out one of the awards, using all his words to praise his karatedo teacher of many years, Brian Fitkin, careful to address him every time as shihan. His admiration was evident. Later, the most senior of Swedish martial arts teachers, jiu-jitsu elder Kurt Durewall, who is 85, was handed a very prestigious "lifetime achievement" award. He spent his speech praising the karatedo senior Attila Meszaros, who was also present. Isn't that aikido?
Oh, and the internationally merited MMA fighter Alexander Gustafsson confessed to us all that he suffers from stage fright, which is probably why he had to get up on stage to receive not one but two awards. That man with dynamite punches is a model of modesty. It can't be said about every aikidoka, although what we study should foster just that.
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