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Old 07-20-2010, 08:26 PM   #1
OwlMatt
 
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Aikido: more than a martial art?

I have heard from many aikidoka (including one of my senseis) that aikido is "more than a martial art" or "not just a martial art". The explanation for this is often that aikido is a way of life and a spiritual discipline, not just a method for physical fitness and self-defense.

This is certainly true, in and of itself. But when used as a justification for setting aikido apart from other martial arts, it seems to imply that other martial arts are not spiritual disciplines or ways of life. And that is a sentiment which would sorely offend practitioners of kung fu, kenpo, iaido, and many other arts.

My question is this:
Virtually all traditional martial arts claim, like aikido, to be spiritual disciplines and ways of life, more than just fighting methods. When we say, then, that aikido is more than just a martial art, are we refuting those claims made by other arts? Or are these other arts equally worthy of being called "more than a martial art"? And if so, if the term "martial art" is one so widely transcended, why use it at all?

In short, (A) do we claim that spirituality, philosophy, and life lessons are exclusive to aikido in the martial arts world, and (B) if not, what is the basis for our claim that aikido is "more than a martial art"?

This figure of speech is often used but rarely explained at length and it's starting to confuse me.
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Old 07-20-2010, 10:44 PM   #2
niall
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Hi Matthew.

Martial art means technique for war. Not many people learn martial arts to use in war. Going to war means to going to win - if necessary by killing or destroying the enemy.

Aikido is different from other martial arts and martial ways and martial sports because it doesn't use concepts like win or opponent and it doesn't rely on destruction or damage or death. Aikido like many other martial arts can also be a philosophy or way of life if you want it to be.

But people who do aikido or any martial art sincerely don't look down on other martial arts or other martial artists.

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Old 07-21-2010, 06:31 AM   #3
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

I've never had a single spiritual or philosophical teaching from any Aikido instructor. The entirety of my training has consisted of technical instruction with the aim of subduing an attacker.

For me therefore Aikido is just a martial art. I think we can settle all this with another question: "Would you go to your instructor for spiritual advice?" My money is that the vast majority of us haven't even considered the possibility of going to our instructor for spiritual advice.

That's not to say that Aikido doesn't have it's spiritual uses because it does; they're just the usual ones found in all arts.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:12 AM   #4
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Alex Lawrence wrote: View Post
I've never had a single spiritual or philosophical teaching from any Aikido instructor. The entirety of my training has consisted of technical instruction with the aim of subduing an attacker.

For me therefore Aikido is just a martial art. I think we can settle all this with another question: "Would you go to your instructor for spiritual advice?" My money is that the vast majority of us haven't even considered the possibility of going to our instructor for spiritual advice.
I think that inherent in the technical instruction you have recieved, is vast spiritual/philosophical teaching.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:06 AM   #5
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Nope, it's just a martial art, IMO. People try to make it more than that because Ueshiba Sensei was a spiritual man who had a very positive message. This also makes Aikido a good gateway into other practices (misogi, etc), but it inherently offers no more character building than any martial art, IMO.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:06 AM   #6
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Hi Matthew.

Martial art means technique for war. Not many people learn martial arts to use in war. Going to war means to going to win - if necessary by killing or destroying the enemy.

Aikido is different from other martial arts and martial ways and martial sports because it doesn't use concepts like win or opponent and it doesn't rely on destruction or damage or death. Aikido like many other martial arts can also be a philosophy or way of life if you want it to be.

But people who do aikido or any martial art sincerely don't look down on other martial arts or other martial artists.
So, your take is that aikido transcends martial art by transcending winners and losers, which you percieve to be an essential element of most martial arts? Assuming I am understanding you correctly, that makes a lot more sense to me than some of the other explanations I've heard.

Quote:
Graham Jenkins wrote: View Post
I think that inherent in the technical instruction you have recieved, is vast spiritual/philosophical teaching.
I would agree with this. But I'm not sure that this by itself means that aikido transcends martial art.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:26 AM   #7
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
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I think that inherent in the technical instruction you have recieved, is vast spiritual/philosophical teaching.
It could also be a recipe for noodle soup. Until someone explains it to me I'll never know.

I learned several technqiues in Jujutsu before I learned them in Aikido such as kote gaeshi, shiho nage, nikkyo and their use in Jujutsu predates Aikido by several hundred years and apparently the vast spiritual/philosophical teaching was missed by the several million people exposed to those techniques.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:33 AM   #8
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Yeah that's the first point - no winners and losers. In aikido your most difficult opponent is yourself.
You can compare kyudo say.

Next point - at the highest level of aikido - don't do any damage. Just show the attacker that it's foolish to continue attacking. I don't think there's anything you can compare to this. That's where aikido transcends jujutsu or judo or karate or kenjutsu or daito-ryu or anything else. For me anyway.

And the spiritual and philosphical underpinning of aikido was from O Sensei so it's not surprising noone knew about it before he introduced it.

Last edited by niall : 07-21-2010 at 08:41 AM.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
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Old 07-21-2010, 09:24 AM   #9
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

IMHO, Aikido is just a tool to be used.
Its what you bring to the training that makes the difference.

Is it more than a martial art?
It can be but it doesn't have to be.

Lynn Seiser PhD
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Old 07-21-2010, 09:35 AM   #10
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

My thoughts on this are:

In the book The Art Of Peace, O Sensei is quoted as having written:

"The Art of Peace has no form - it is the study of the spirit."

This is, for some, the "secret or heart of Aikido." It seems to be interpreted very differently by many people in the Aikido community, and understandably so.

For me, the deeper truth in Aikido lies in where you are inside: what you are conscious of, what you are experiencing, what you are sourcing, and how you are externalizing and expressing that. I believe this was one of O Sensei's ultimate points.

In that light, someone once asked me:

"Does one need a strong spiritual life to "master" Aikido?"

My reply was:

"If one person finds the spirtitual depth and spiritual experience in Aikido, then yes.

If another does not, then no.

But between the two people, what they end up 'mastering', although it may at times look similar, may indeed be two very different things."

Just something to think about.

Larry Novick
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ACE Aikido
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Old 07-21-2010, 10:29 AM   #11
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

If it's not in the curriculum it's not part of the art. I could say all the same things about Judo or Karate or any other art. In Judo are you defeating an opponent in randori or are you learning to harmonise with them?

I can just pick the latter and suddenly my opponent becomes my partner and fighting becomes harmonisation. At the highest level I could bring someone down without hurting them and I could do it much easier than with Aikido.

If we stick to what is actually taught by instructors there is no philosophical or spiritual side.
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Old 07-21-2010, 02:26 PM   #12
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Graham Jenkins wrote: View Post
I think that inherent in the technical instruction you have recieved, is vast spiritual/philosophical teaching.
I'd like to believe that aikido is chock-full of all this great stuff, but unfortunately this is an unsupported assertion at best. Furthermore, Alex has the counterargument: if "vast spiritual/philosophical teaching" is inherent in what he's been taught, then it must also be inherent in the teaching of the same techniques under the label of "jujutsu". Make sense?

I think the truth is that human beings often integrate experiences of all kinds in ways where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, or at least appears to be. In the course of being taught something, you may learn or grow or change in ways that are beyond the instruction. When this happens, I don't think this makes the activity either universal or unique: not everyone in aikido experiences this, nor do only aikidoka experience this.

In particular, it's misleading to say that such learning or experiences are part of aikido, because as Alex has pointed out, it is very rare that an aikido sensei will teach philosophy or spiritual practices -- I'm not talking BSing over beers, here, or the ten-second token "moku-so" at the beginning and end of class, but actual teaching. Those who practice aikido and who experience growth in some spiritual or philosophical or esoteric realm may have a mutual understanding of what it means for these experiences to be "part of aikido", but to an outsider, the statement would seem to imply that these things are part of the aikido curriculum -- and they're not. For one person, aikido may be one of many practices that can serve as a catalyst for positive change that goes beyond the practice itself -- such that they attribute this change to their aikido practice. Another person, who comes to aikido hearing these claims and believing that he/she will be taught spiritual or esoteric practices in the course of aikido instruction, will be greatly disappointed.
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Old 07-21-2010, 09:17 PM   #13
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

We all have different approaches and different exeriences. But the danger in saying something isn't there is that even if it is there you're probably never going to find it.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
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Old 07-22-2010, 06:52 AM   #14
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
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We all have different approaches and different exeriences. But the danger in saying something isn't there is that even if it is there you're probably never going to find it.
I don't say it's not there because I don't want it to be there. I really do. I write for my dojo's website and I have written stuff which links Aikido in with taoism and buddhism.
That said I realise that it is me who is projecting my spirituality onto Aikido rather than Aikido providing me with spiritual teachings because I could write the same about any martial art you care to name and because when I discuss this with other people they have radically different ideas.
I'm sure you can find people from any spirtual or religious stance who find what they believe reflected in Aikido because we're all projecting.
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Old 07-22-2010, 07:46 AM   #15
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
We all have different approaches and different exeriences. But the danger in saying something isn't there is that even if it is there you're probably never going to find it.
I can state with absolute confidence that meditation instruction, philosophical discussions, and teachings on spiritual practice are not there in my aikido instruction. I am not worried about the possibility that they may be happening right in front of my nose and that I'm simply unable to perceive them.
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Old 07-22-2010, 08:23 AM   #16
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Just keep training. In ten years or twenty years if you're still doing aikido and you think all you've been learning is how to defend yourself - well hey that's something isn't it. Good luck.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
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Old 07-22-2010, 10:41 AM   #17
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
In short, (A) do we claim that spirituality, philosophy, and life lessons are exclusive to aikido in the martial arts world, and (B) if not, what is the basis for our claim that aikido is "more than a martial art"?
A. Some do. I assert that aikido contains foundational principles on which to base moral, ethical, and spiritual beliefs. Most other martial arts also possess these foundations however so I do not believe they are unqiue to aikido.
B. My understanding is that we use the phrase "more than a martial art" as a tag line to promote aikido; I do not believe a significant percentage of aikido people training today follow the path of budo in their daily lives that aikido may substantiate that claim.

A friend of mine once described the high philosophical road of aikido as "...something you say to explain why you can't fight." Budo is self-education, self-governing, and self-imposing. It is also a time and effort committment that many of us do not undertake in it's entirety. So here we say aikido is a life philosophy...that we only follow two days a week while we dress up and pretend to play fight games... It sends a confusing message.

I think a better claim is to qualify the statement for those training that should they wish to transcend the physcial and martial compenents of aikido, there are spiritual and intellectual components as well. Not everyone is capable of participating in the physical training aspects of aikido. Not everyone can devote the time and energy to understand the strategic and intellectual facets of aikido. Not everyone is cut out to be a master of aikido. However, I think aikido is more than a martial art because we will not prohibit students from trying to be any of these things.
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Old 07-22-2010, 11:13 AM   #18
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Lynn Seiser wrote: View Post
IMHO, Aikido is just a tool to be used.
Its what you bring to the training that makes the difference.
Amen brother!
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Old 07-22-2010, 12:16 PM   #19
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

One can find one's spiritual practice in aikido, doing the dishes, tending to the sick, contemplating the sea... or not. For me, it's there in aikido bbut I have had very wonderful training partners for whom it was "just" a martial art.

Janet Rosen
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Old 07-22-2010, 03:35 PM   #20
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Hi Matthew.

Martial art means technique for war. Not many people learn martial arts to use in war. Going to war means to going to win - if necessary by killing or destroying the enemy.

Aikido is different from other martial arts and martial ways and martial sports because it doesn't use concepts like win or opponent and it doesn't rely on destruction or damage or death. Aikido like many other martial arts can also be a philosophy or way of life if you want it to be.

But people who do aikido or any martial art sincerely don't look down on other martial arts or other martial artists.
This is how I look at it exactly. Niall said it well imo.
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Old 07-23-2010, 08:50 AM   #21
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

If you spend a lot of time being relaxed; moving naturally; practicing non-resistance; looking to understand others and yield to them; etc. etcetera, then this will mould your character thus.
Hence philosophy is inherent in aikido practice.

From what little I know of Zen and Taoism, this is where they fit into it, too: they are about alignment with our natural selves, which is obscured by acting unnaturally; so if we start to act naturally - which is what we do in aikido, as the movements of aikido are natural movements - we will come to understand nature, and ourselves.
I accept that aikido will affect people on this level to varying degrees - but it's undoubtedly untrue that what we do has no effect at all on who we are, and how we act subsequently: as Aristotle says: 'Character arises out of habit'.

It's pretty obvious to me that what we do, makes us who we are: if we spend a lot of time competing with others, then we will become competitive people; if we spend a lot of time ignoring others, then we will become ignorant; if we are very kind to others, we will become kind people; and so on.
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Old 07-23-2010, 03:32 PM   #22
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

I think it's fair to say that there is more to aikido than martial techniques. Any martial art with do in its name at least claims to be a path rather than just a method. The intent of this thread was not to raise the question of whether or not there are deeper truths to be found in aikido than martial techniques; for me, there certainly are.

My question was whether or not these deeper truths justify the popular assertion that aikido somehow transcends martial art, since my perception is that deeper truths can be found in any martial art and are not exclusive to aikido.
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Old 07-23-2010, 04:52 PM   #23
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Matthew Story wrote: View Post
I think it's fair to say that there is more to aikido than martial techniques. Any martial art with do in its name at least claims to be a path rather than just a method. The intent of this thread was not to raise the question of whether or not there are deeper truths to be found in aikido than martial techniques; for me, there certainly are.

My question was whether or not these deeper truths justify the popular assertion that aikido somehow transcends martial art, since my perception is that deeper truths can be found in any martial art and are not exclusive to aikido.
In a sense, this is a complicated subject, but to start, I would say, to anyone, look at any art and look at the desired outcome, and the process they teach to get there. Then define for yourself what "more than a martial art" means. What "levels" of experience and consciousness are you addressing. Then ask, how does it all fit together....

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Old 07-23-2010, 08:06 PM   #24
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

When you're fighting a war you don't use hands or feet against someone directly very much, even in relatively ancient times. You use guns, or in the past spears, bows, swords - that sort of thing. And you're generally wearing armour that would render a lot of the strikes and techniques in martial arts completely pointless at best and more commonly simply suicidal.

Aikido may be a martial art but martial arts does not mean techniques for war. Martial means warlike and arts means something like a practised skill. Warlike skills. Many of the body skills are easily transferred to weapons use, (although the differences are still significant.) And they provide a formalised container for a lot of the hostility and intention to mess the other guy up that war does without the weapons and killing.

It's that without bit that's important to this discussion I think, the bits of wartime knowledge that are absent. Martial arts are a compromise, keeping a certain level of pre-requisites for practical wartime techniques available within a society without people killing each other during the time it's not needed.

There are other words that can be substituted in on the side of threat relationships to conceal the underlying intention to take from others, but I don't seriously believe aikido doesn't trade in those concepts. The attacker has an objective, the defender has their objective, whoever attains theirs wins and in doing so cause the other person to lose what they wanted.

Of course in training you have mutually compatible goals, but that goes for many arts. Wrestling isn't about having someone's arm off either, in karate you partner up for pairs work and there isn't a winner and a loser. But only inside the dojo. Just as aikido is only undamaging inside the dojo. Falling onto concrete isn't exactly a comfortable experience, (your average untrained person isn't going to roll out of something.) Even joint locks rely on the fact that if the other person pushes into it they're going to break the joint.

Can aikido be used for more than tearing someone a new one? Yes. But that doesn't make it more than a martial art since martial arts are formalised systems for managing the tensions between the chaos of undirected violence and the long-term interests of society. Hence the excessive formalism in the MA world perhaps.
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Old 07-23-2010, 08:31 PM   #25
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Re: Aikido: more than a martial art?

Quote:
Matthew Story wrote: View Post
My question was whether or not these deeper truths justify the popular assertion that aikido somehow transcends martial art, since my perception is that deeper truths can be found in any martial art and are not exclusive to aikido.
I think that everything we do, as I said in my other post, has connotations for the character we build: hence competition in judo, say, fosters a competitive attitude/character in a person, and this is very deliberately why there is no competition in aikido - the thinking being that competition and separation from another is what leads the world into disorder, war, etc.
So there's a good example of how the practice of aikido transcends a martial art in the sense I think you mean it - i.e., a means of harming others, defending yourself, etc.

I recently read a book by Mitsugi Saotome, and in it, he said something that gave me an insight into what aikido, as a budo, is intended to be: I think that budo - 'the martial way' - as understood by o'sensei, is a way of protecting, and helping society/the human race; this is why we are exhorted to have compassion for others. There was also a switch in ethos during the times of feudal Japan(?) from 'the sword that takes life'(?), to 'the life-giving sword': and my understanding of this is that budoka should not look to kill - to harm - others through the martial arts; but rather, to help others through the martial arts.

And that's why we seek harmony, sensitivity, connection, and co-operation in aikido techniques: understanding of these principles is what aikido is practiced for the sake of - the martial techniques are only a guide/means to help us achieve this understanding.

I don't know much about aikido, though - and i'm even less good at doing it, so if any of that makes any sense...if it doesn't: sorry for wasting your time.
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