What is Aikido?
Aikido is a non-violent Japanese martial art strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. While teaching an effective form of self defense that does not inflict serious permanent injury, it demonstrates a way of achieving harmony with nature. In this instance one learns to harmonize with an attacker’s force. The Aikido student learns a calm, balanced way of being that can be generalized to include all aspects of life. At more advanced levels, Aikido practice has been described as “meditation in motion.”
It is an art that requires very little physical strength since an attacker’s force is never stopped. Instead it is redirected into a circular path where the attacker is then easily unbalanced and then either thrown or immobilized with various twisting movements of the arms and wrists. Since physical strength is not emphasized, women, children, and older adults can gain the benefits of Aikido training. In place of physical strength, mental strength is developed which is similar to that of the hypnotized subject. This is an aspect of the meditative training and may be described as “extending the mind throughout one’s body.”
Our Institute offers another dimension of training; a study of why the individual techniques work. This requires slowing the practice to a snail’s pace so that the effect of each motion can be determined. For example, the angle in which an elbow is turned towards an attacker’s face will determine the rotation of the body. This rotation directly effects balance. There is a world of difference between controlling a balanced and an unbalanced attacker. A strong attack cannot be delivered from an unbalanced posture. Self defense requires being stronger than one’s attacker; a comparative relationship. One can be physically weaker, however, unbalancing the attacker places him in a relatively weaker position. In fact, the attacker is often so unbalanced, he finds himself hanging on to the Aikido defender to keep from falling. This makes Aikido appear “phony”; as if the aggressor is only cooperating.
Understanding why a technique is effective leads to an appreciation of Newtonian Physics and solid geometry. The direction and speed of the attacking force must be met from some angle; a head-on confrontation is won by the more powerful of the two. By harmonizing, or joining the line of attacking force, the attacker is led into an unbalanced position, The Aikidoist then becomes the center of a spiral, with the attacker led helplessly on the circumference. A functional knowledge of anatomy is also learned. Muscles and joints normally work together so that a great deal of strength can be directed in some directions, but there is no power to resist being led in other directions. Thus, various wrist and elbow techniques can easily immobilize a much stronger attacker. After years of repetitive practice, the movements become automatic, done without conscious thought or effort. At this point the Aikidoist can focus on more advanced aspects, such as inner bodily sensations. I am referring to feeling one’s center of gravity in the lower abdomen and extending energy throughout the body from this point. This center has many names; the Japanese call it “Hara,” the Chinese call it “Dan Tien,” and Hindu Yoga refers to it as the “Third Chakra.” Focusing attention (the mind) at this point is an important initial point in meditation, as well as improving balance. Moving the mind from the head to the Hara is important in Zen meditation as it “short circuits” the thought processes. What is left is pure, clear perception – leading to spontaneous Aikido techniques appearing almost instinctively. In Zen, this state is described as Mushin, or no-mind.
There are at least two major benefits to this “peculiar” state of consciousness. Without thought there is nothing to be feared. One becomes calm and fearless; able to respond instantaneously in a dangerous and violent situation. Simultaneously, the sense of a separate self is lost, but all the functions of that self remain. By losing the feeling of a separate individual identity, one merges with everything, becoming one aspect of an integrated interdependent totality called life. This is described as transcending the dualistic approach which divides everything into two categories – “self” or “not self”. Here is a state where there is nothing alien to be feared. Gone are the categories of attacker and defender. What remains is a single circular flow of energy to be experienced and enjoyed. As a famous Japanese Zen Master, Dogen, stated in the Thirteenth Century, “…every existence is a flashing into the vast phenomenal world. Each existence is another expression of the quality of being itself” 1. This is an Eastern answer to the mystery and purpose of existence; instantaneously merge into all phenomena and sensation and become totality – resting in the fullness and completeness of each emerging moment.
SOURCE CITATION: 1. Suzuki, S., Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, p. 104