O’Sensei is Human

ueshiba5There have been many stories about Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido. Training in different Aikido dojos, I have seen many Aikido instructors and how they teach their classes. Some of them were more focused on martial efficiency and technique, while others emphasized philosophy and harmony. Still there are those who try to balance both.

I will share this scenario:

A beginner is interested in doing Aikido. He has some experience in striking arts, and would want to experience what Aikido has to offer. He goes to a dojo and the instructor rightly first requires this aspirant to observe an Aikido class before he is to join. After observing a class, the beginner decides to begin training, and he does. After having been introduced to the dojo rules on etiquette, this beginner has now entered the mats.

He is first taught ukemi so he doesn’t hurt himself. He is then introduced to different Aikido forms. He partners with other students, his seniors, and together they train these forms. He is taught to learn ukemi and follow.

happy 2After class he asks the sensei:

“I am having a hard time with ikkyo ura…”

He then adds that he has found weaknesses in the basic forms, and is wondering how to make it effective. The teacher then quotes O’sensei (in one way or another, but the meaning is the same):

“Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family. Just practice”.

The student goes home confused but determined. Trusting his teacher he continues to train. He starts to enjoy Aikido, and trained for many many years. He even got his black belt. But he never got his answer to ikkyo ura. However, this doesn’t bother him anymore; he is ok with it. All because

Aiki is not a technique to fight or defeat an enemy…Aikido is love.”

Has anyone experienced this?  

In my opinion, this way of training and understanding of Aikido philosophy is troubling. I believe that reconciliation in any form cannot happen without the presence and the understanding of conflict. In training, shouldn’t we create a “simulated”, albeit controlled, conflict situation through the roles of tori and uke?

It is in this controlled environment that forms can be explored, where openings are understood and prevented, and where the concept of Aiki is slowly being discovered. What makes Aikido special is that unlike other martial arts, the goal should always be the ability to neutralize effectively without harming each other.This is how Aikido builds character and the dojo becomes a place where we can learn how to make the different forms effective, without injuring.

I find that in the scenario above, there was nothing to neutralize because there was no conflict situation to begin with. They have learned the steps but not the application. The years spent in training was perfecting the choreography.

We learn Aikido through cooperative training. But in my understanding, there are many ways of cooperating with each other.

Is cooperation really about following steps? Maybe cooperation can also be about helping each other discover the applications of Aikido. I know Aikido can be done without harming the assailant, just look at videos of O’Sensei in action. It is my understanding that one of the purposes of training is knowing how to do this ourselves.

Ueshiba6Aikido has a very sophisticated and beautiful philosophy. However, let us not forget that it is also a martial art. The founder is a great martial artist. There are many accounts of his martial prowess, and his great combat skills. But, having seen violence, he opted for peace, and Aikido was born. Throughout his life as a martial artist, he has been challenged many times, and triumphed. He was unmatched using Aikido. I have never heard an account of him saying to the uke, “now you should fall down here”. He simply does waza.

He is also human.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei was a visionary and someone I deeply and sincerely respect. I am grateful that he has left Aikido as his legacy to the world. If he can do Aikido the way he did, don’t we also have the capacity within us to do the same as well? Just like the founder, we should train to be effective while still upholding the virtues which make Aikido unique. This is what makes Aikido both interesting and difficult at the same time. It teaches the Aikidoka to be able to face conflict, while acting from a heart of peace and compassion. It is this intention that makes the difference.

Let us not be lazy. Instead, let us train harder to improve ourselves as practitioners of Aikido. The goal of training is to build character by striking down ego and to sincerely face conflict using peaceful yet martially sound means. It is not deluding ourselves that the conflict does not exist. Aikido then, is a martial art of non-harm and non-injury, but a martial art nonetheless. It remains the Budo of Love and the Art of Peace.


 (Please also see: “Aikido: Kata is NOT Waza“)


2 thoughts on “O’Sensei is Human

  1. We all do out best to avoid conflicts and violence, but once we face it, we have to be able to handle it, no matter what. Aikido is about love, harmony, peace, but Aikido is also a martial art and it has to work, otherwise it is a waste of time.


  2. I wouldn’t really say waste of time.. The philosophy itself is a stand-alone.. However, I agree that it can be pointless for some to train on the mats if the effectiveness of the techniques are under-emphasized. I believe there is always a better way to train both the body and mind beyond “paired exercises”.


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