The "ai" of aikido is, in my humble opinion, best translated as joining. Indeed, this is what aikido practice stimulates. We join on the tatami, brushing our differences aside, finding joy in the fact that we can meet, blend, and create something together. It's so beautiful, a cynic would puke. Also, it's an excellent compass for where to go on our aiki way.
I go here and there in the world, meeting aikido students on and off the tatami. Some impressions stand out and get sharpened, the more I see of aikido practice and practitioners.
True, aikido develops into different "styles" and directions, some so different from one another that the general public could not fathom it's the same art. But it is. All those students strongly feel that they are passengers or the crew on one single vessel -- that of aikido as founded by Morihei Ueshiba.
There's magic in the name aikido. It contains a conclusion, a principle, which we all share, although we interpret it in so many ways on the tatami. Plato might have called it an ideal.
I am often surprised by the warm intensity by which aikido students anywhere embrace this mystical one, and the sense of traveling on that single vessel. What we do is not just training, but a joint work towards a goal we agree on, although we're not able to specify it exactly with words.
I don't think it should be defined in words. That would diminish it. It's enough that it inspires us all and gives us the sense of partaking in a grand quest, where each individual somehow, by each ikkyo and shihonage, carves the mountain, until one day the sculpture is completed and everyone will say: "Yes, that's what we intended."
Maybe that's true for mankind as a whole. Sort of what Norbert Elias meant by the civilization process, but with an artistic twist. The process made into a song -- or in aikido, more like a dance.
So, whatever organization or style we might belong to, we share this undefined but strongly sensed common goal. In my mind it means that we should really, somehow, also belong to a common worldwide body. Maybe not an organization, I don't know, because that seems to diminish the vision, like blinders on a horse. A community?
We feel that we belong to the same community, so there should be one to which we all feel that we can belong.
At this point I have to mention that I'm in the Directing Committee of the International Aikido Federation, which is sort of aspiring to be that community. Maybe it can be. It makes sense to me. But if it can't, the need remains. The world of human interaction must be formed according to how we want to interact.
Aikido is joining. So, we want to join. Organizational structures should conform to this, or they will fade away.
Maybe we are so far unable to accomplish any more than a party, a great gathering of people from all parts of the aikido world. Good enough. We'll have fun. We'll be delighted at the discovery of having so much in common. But we need to manifest this fundamental urge to join.
When I practice aikido in a particularly inspired mood, I feel that by each ikkyo and shihonage I contribute to the building of the web. As if I were a spider, but one cooperating with every other spider in extending the web around the globe. Oh, that might sound like a horror story...
So, another metaphor: Norse myth describes the future as a web woven by the three norns Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. The aikido community is sort of doing the same. We all participate in forming the patterns of the future. That's no magic. We are what we do, we become what we experience, we preach what we have learned. Practicing aikido, we experience and act on the world accordingly.
Now, it starts to sound like a cult. We have enough of those. The antidote to cults is openness and common sense. Again, it's reason for a world community where all aikido students can and want to belong. A cult is only possible within a minority, a limited number of people accepting to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.
The more we practice the principle of joining, the less there will be of cults and animosity. If it's naive, let's be naive together.
It's the lesson of "styles" in aikido: We can focus on the differences or on the similarities. By each year of practice, everyone of us develops a personal version of aikido. That's nothing to be bothered by. We are different, so we interpret and do things differently. But still, to a much greater extent we are the same, and what I do looks a lot like what you do, in the eyes of someone else.
So, we join by training aikido, whether we strive to do so or not. Just by accepting that fact we also join the world community we long for, whatever we call it. Now, I'm reminded of a song by Eric Burdon & The Animals, from way back in the far-out sixties: "We're all one." Yup.
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