In everyday life, we are faced with different conflicts all the time. Most of these situations require us to respond, and depending on our response, we are faced with the consequences of our actions. These consequences are subjectively categorized as either good or bad, or winning or losing, or victory or defeat; depending on the quality of the circumstances.
The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei once said:
“Masakatsu Agatsu… True victory is victory over oneself.”
What does it mean to be victorious? If we look at O’Sensei’s words, it seems as if he wants us to defeat ourselves. The common understanding of Masakatsu Agatsu is to be able to control the self is true victory. Are we to fight ourselves? Why are we fighting ourselves? How can we be victorious if we defeat ourselves? What does it mean to be victorious over ourselves? What does it mean to control ourselves, and from what? What is the “self”?
I will now pick out some concepts from other fields of study to try to dig at the heart of Masakatsu Agatsu.
According to Dogen, the founder of Zen in Japan, he once conceptualized the study of Zen philiosophy and training similarly:
“To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.”
According to the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15:
“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”
According to Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Psychology, he observed that:
““…behind every good boy one may find a spiteful brat.”
In light of the above concepts from different fields, They all seem to imply that there is a battle within ourselves. I will say simply here that what these three concepts have in common is that the “self” is indeed “self”-ish . And further, in order to triumph over the “self”, there must be a shift within us, moving from “self”-ish to “self”-less. And in being “self”-less, we can find our true self, the person we truly are, the soul within fully expressed in the body.
In a conflict situation, it can be applied that instead of acting in the duality of winning or losing, one must go beyond that dynamics and move from a more superior platform. This platform is realized when we understand that in any conflict, to look at the differences is to aggravate the situation and reinforce the dualism of winning and losing.
There should be a change from a heart that takes to a heart that gives.
The goal of Aikido therefore is not to look at the differences, but to look at the commonality, respecting the opposition, and adapting to change with compassion. Even in the martial techniques of Aikido, this concept of kindness should be instilled in performing all waza; understanding that the intent is not to harm, but instead live together in harmony. I think this is what O’Sensei meant by Masakatsu Agatsu.
He meant for us to get over ourselves. He meant for Aikidokas to not be part of the conflict but instead part of the solution: to be instruments of peace and of love. In doing Aikido, let us work on doing techniques not out of the intention to injure or “win”, but out of the intention to reconcile which is true victory. And, in living our lives, let us respond not out of selfishness but out of love. This can only be done by digging deep, and removing the barriers that prevent us from loving.
Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan in one of his seminars said that: “Ki should always be directed outward”. This is truly in line with Masakatsu Agatsu; because love or compassion is always giving and not taking, or always directed “outward”, to the other not to the self. Masakatsu Agatsu means: Victory over selfishness is the true victory (which is to be selfless). Only then can we practice Budo with compassion. In the words of O’Sensei:
“Aikido is non-resistance. As it is non-resistant, it is always victorious. Those who have a warped mind, a mind of discord, have been defeated from the beginning.”
(Want to know More? Please also see: “Aikido and the Ethics of Self-Defense“)