The man who founded Aikido once wrote that the Art of Peace, or the philosophy behind his martial art, “is to fulfill that which is lacking.”
Morihei Ueshiba came to this conclusion after a lifetime of training in Japanese martial arts, Zen meditation and an esoteric Japanese religion called Oomoto-kyo.
But despite his wisdom and expertise, or perhaps because of it, O’sensei, as Ueshiba is known, understood that there is always something lacking.
In other words, there is always room to move forward.
After nearly five years of Aikido practice, I may soon be able to call myself a beginner, or Shodan.
This is a major milestone, but it comes along an unending path.
As long as I continue to train, there will be something new to learn. And for that I am grateful.
Yet the question remains: What is Aikido?
Aikido is based on the notion that there is an intangible force called Ki that flows throughout the universe and inhabits all things.
But because it’s impossible to see, smell, taste or hear Ki, and since we live in a world that draws a bright line between the physical and spiritual realms, many of us have trouble recognizing and connecting to this type of “energy.”
The goal of Aikido, in this sense, is to develop a deeper awareness of the world by opening our minds and attuning our bodies to the presence of Ki.
As such, the practice requires a combination of mental concentration and physical relaxation.
It’s impossible to do Aikido effectively if your mind is elsewhere, focused on what happened in the past or what could happen in the future.
The challenge is to be “in the moment,” accepting and responding to whatever is happening without preconception.
This state of mind is personified by body movements that are soft and fluid, rather than tense and rigid.
Aikido techniques are designed to absorb or capture the momentum of an attack, and redirect it in a way that the attacker becomes unbalanced and can be thrown or pinned.
While Aikido can be incredibly powerful, the techniques are impossible to do without a hostile move from someone else.
This goes to the heart of Aikido, which is a martial art that rejects violence and embraces compassion as the best way to resolve conflicts.
Aikido is also about harmony, with others and within yourself.
O’Sensei believed that harmony was the natural order of things and that discord exists because “people have forgotten that all things emanate from one source.”
The nature of this source is open to interpretation. But it is a place where the things that divide us - selfishness, anger, violence - are overcome by the thing that unites us, which is Ki.
Aikido challenges us to accept that there is something out there that is bigger and more powerful than us that we can never fully grasp. In exchange, it offers an opportunity to see a more complete vision of the world.