Aikido is a truly unique martial art. Its name: Ai-Ki-do, literally from Japanese: harmony-spirit-way; suits it well and as such, invites comparison, not only from other martial arts, but many religions. Aikido complements these well, but truly stands as it’s own fully formed way. When Aikido is approached, not through the practice of Aikido, but through the lens of religion, its message is distorted, watered down, and twisted into something it’s not. Fundamental points are missed, even as homage might be paid to them.
I was very excited when I began Aikido. I started practicing, learning about my center, blending, extension, timing, and balance. I learned how to join my energy with another’s and guide it in such a way that it is released harmlessly. The spirit of Aikido is found in its techniques. Once the techniques are learned, the philosophy begins to appear.
Aikido is concerned with the development of your spirit, your body, and your mind. It teaches you how to be concerned with others and defend yourself even when you’re under attack. You learn how to transcend the win/lose paradigm and let go of a combative spirit. Aikido harmonizes one’s right of self-defense with other’s right to life.
As a Christian, Aikido makes a lot of sense. Aikido physically applies many Christian principles including: turn the other cheek, love your neighbor, care for the sick, and many others. However, Aikido is not Christianity. Spirit in the eastern sense, is not spirit in the western. They can be connected only after experience with both. The path of harmony transcends many religions, providing common ground. This is because Aikido is a path, not a faith. People of many different faiths may sometimes walk a same path.
When the path is confused with faith/religion, the tenants of the path can easily be perverted. Things that should be emphasized are neglected and other things that are not so important are stressed. Aikido represents a blending of the physical and the spiritual. If the Sensei stresses faith/religion over the Aikido, the Aikidoka becomes lost because the Aikidoka attempts to connect faith/religion to the physical technique. Spirit in the Aikido sense has a physical manifestation. Aiki spirit is not based in faith or religion. It is something real, that you can manipulate and use. In Aikido, without spirit (ki), the techniques are ineffective. Instead, when the Aikidoka learn a technique, without imposing faith or religion, an Aiki spirit can be developed. Once the student learns ki and practices Aikido, a comparison to faith/religion can be made.
Aikido is a journey of self-discovery. However it is a journey that can only be made with the help of others. By teaching proper Aikido without imposing any outside religious/spiritual practices upon it, the Aikidoka can learn the fundamentals of the path. Once the fundamentals are learned, the student has the basis to find the philosophy, walk the path, and apply them to all parts of his life including his faith.
I recently witnessed Aikidoka practicing kata as a fundamental portion of their training. This confuses me as Aikido is about practicing harmonizing with others. Kata training is good and works well as a fundamental to other Martial Arts because form and technique are intertwined. In Aikido, the form exists, but without practice in a uke/nage (thrown/thrower) relationship (other words, with another person), it is unknown if you are practicing good technique. Without the partnership, the technique is meaningless and proper form becomes extremely difficult to achieve.
Watching the class, this became obvious as the Aikidoka were asked to demonstrate some of the techniques from their kata. Some motions made little sense even during the demonstration. There was much hesitation in the techniques, even of the advanced students. Connection was poor in between uke and nage. Worst of all, all students paused in the middle of each technique as if unsure or fearful of carrying through. The problems carried on during the rest of training. The student’s practice, that night, showed a lack of understanding in the practical principles of hara (center), connection, and redirection.