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Home > Spiritual > Is Aikido Spiritual?
by Alan Drysdale <Send E-mail to Author> - February 22, 2002

Alan Drysdale teaches at Enmei Dojo in Titusville, FL.

Mariana asked:
Why is Aikido such a spiritual art? Is it really all that, or do we just put the spirituality into it? In other words, is Aikido spiritual because the people who choose it and stick to it make it that way, or does the practice of Aikido eventually change the person who practices it? Do we make the art, or does the art make us?

Alan replied:

Any collective effort has to have some gestalt, some corporate culture, some identity, so why should aikido not have spirituality? After all, I assume O Sensei meant it was something spiritual when he called it the "way of harmony and spirit". I guess he could have meant that as the old idea of aiki, which seems more technical than spiritual, but there are a lot of stories that he meant it as something related to but different from religion. So I guess I think that the original nucleus of the idea of aikido as a spiritual martial art was his. His students took whatever he gave them (which is difficult to determine now, decades later). They took what they brought with them (just as difficult to determine, maybe more so). And they passed it on to their students and to us, directly or indirectly. We liked some parts of it, and emphasised them, maybe just by the stories we perpetuated, maybe by other ways both conscious and subconscious. We like to de-emphasize the story about how he was asked to give a demo to the emperor and broke the arms of two of his three ukes. We like to emphasise the Terry Dobson on the train story. Most dojos have a picture of the late period O Sensei in the kamiza - the "nice" white haired old man. I have yet to see a dojo that used a picture of him in his thirties or fourties when he looked like he could eat nails for breakfast. (I was tempted, but one of my students donated the picture we use.) We perpetuated the spirituality.

The gestalt, that does of course vary from dojo to dojo and organization to organization, affects who joins and who stays. The people that join and stay affect the dojo, and thus the organizations, and all of aikido. So it is like the chicken and egg issue. But I think that aikido will continue to progress much the same way as it has in the past, and that people that want a more aggressive art will do something else, like koryu, like karate, and a lot of us on this list will continue to dabble in lots of stuff.

The people who continue to practice will become more aikido-like as they progress, because that is what they are practicing. We all get older, and mostly more mellow. I like to think that mostly we also get wiser, so as we grow to influence more people, we will also promote a more spiritual atmosphere. (On the other hand, I'm also taking karate, which is arguably pretty dumb for somebody well past 25. But I never liked being one of the crowd.)

So, yes to all of Mariana's questions.

Chuck doesn't think so? Well he has every right to his opinion, of course. However, there is not just Dennis' aikido, and Saotome's aikido, and Ikeda's aikido, though they do have distinct styles. There is also the aikido that we all hold in common. Just as we all (AFAIK) do ikkyo (whatever we might call it), so there is also the same concern for spirituality I see in Chuck himself. If we all brought it with us, well, why so many with that leaning attracted to aikido?


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