Aikido and the Ethics of Self-Defense


Ethics is defined as is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. It is often interchangeable with morality: what is upright, commendable, or even noble. The right thing to do is the ethical puzzle, as we do not have, in general, a holistically objective parameter to ascertain what truly is beneficial.

But in Aikido, we have adapted a portrait of moral conduct in a martial situation, which I will share with you now. Let us remember that Aikido is not about who wins or who loses. It is about the reconciliation of aggression, to neutralize, and eliminate the threat of harm.

Aikido acts with respect, even with his aggressor, acting with a clear head filled not with rage, but with compassion. These illustrations of the different martial situations are from the book, Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook. Here, different levels of the ethical ladder will be shown and explained, with Level 1 being the most unethical and Level 4 as the ideal ethical action:

Level 1


Above the man on left, without provocation and on his own initiative, attacks the other man and kills him. Ethically, this is the lowest of the four levels unprovoked aggression in the form of a direct attack.

Level 2


Above the man on the left has not directly attacked the other man but he has provoked the other man to attack him. It may have been an obvious provocation, such as an insulting remark or the more subtle provocation of a contemptuous attitude. In either case, when the other man is invited to attack and does so he is killed. While the first man is not guilty of launching the actual attack, he is responsible for the other man to attack. There is only a shade of difference ethically between this example and the earlier one.

Level 3


The man on the left neither attacks nor provokes the other man to attack. But, when attacked he defends himself in a subjective manner, i.e. he takes care of only “number one”, and the other man is killed or at least seriously injured. Ethically, this is a more defensible action than the other two examples. The man still standing was in no way responsible for the attack, neither directly nor indirectly. His manner of defense, however, while protecting him from possible harm, resulted in the destruction of another man. As you can see the result in the three examples is identical: a man is killed or seriously injured.

Level 4


In this last example, we have the ultimate in ethical self-defense. Neither attacking nor provoking an attack, the man on the left defends himself in such a way, with such a skill and control that the attacker is not killed. In this case he is not even seriously injured.

ImageThis last and highest level is the goal of the Aikido as Budo. Though It requires skill; the result of intensive practice of the technical means of defense devised by O’Sensei, it requires more than that. The most important prerequisite to be able to attain level 4 is the sincere intention to defend himself without hurting others.

This is the goal of Aikido: to be equipped with skills needed to defend oneself and eliminate the threat of harm without injury to the aggressor. It is my hope that every Aikidoka tirelessly trains in their dojo with this intention, so as to fulfill the true intent of Aikido in self-defense. Only then can we be able to rise beyond the dynamics of destruction and hate and move to the higher plane where peace and compassion abound.


(Want to know more? PLease also see: “Masakatsu Agatsu: Aikido and Victorious Living“)


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