Social media is a powerful beast and in modern society it plays an important part in shaping people’s views. So it’s disappointing when a significant part of what comes under the banner of the aikido community doesn’t seem to have an understanding that aikido is a ‘do’ and not a ‘jutsu’. Focusing just on the martial component of our art, misses the point and sells aikido short. The purpose of a ‘jutsu’ is to master a particular set of martial techniques, methods and skills. However, the purpose of an art labelled as a ‘do’ is a life path or way, where the goal is to develop one’s character, (or spirit if you prefer), for the better. What makes aikido different from the crowd is that it encourages students to not only consider themselves but the world at large. Students embark on a journey that allows them to make the most of their positive characteristics and to reduce the impact of their less desirable ones, (a lifetime’s journey, which will always remain elusively beyond us). Simply put, we should be walking a path that guides us towards:
Becoming better human beings that play a productive part in society and the world at large.
Knowing the difference between right and wrong and seeking to foster the former in our own lives and those we touch.
Being able to hold our own space, but also respect the space of others.
Fostering a quality of humility and a desire to overcome our own ego rather than an attacker.
Having a sense of gratitude for the opportunities that life provides.
Becoming more relaxed, aware and positive.
I am sure you might wish to add many other qualities.
Understanding the purpose of your journey and the destination you are seeking is essential if you want to make progress along your way. It is the first step, just like when you pick a destination for your holiday. If you don’t know where you are going, it is very difficult to make a plan as to how you might get there and then to measure your progress when you step out.
Within the aikido community we need to place a much greater emphasis on the ‘do’ and differentiate it from the ‘jutsu’, as when I ask students what is the purpose of their training, very few actually have an answer and if they do, it often goes no further than answers like:
I want to be able to defend myself
I wanted to get fitter
For the complete beginner this is okay, but with a good teacher’s guidance, students should come to see a greater depth and appreciate that aikido has so much more to offer. Indeed even before they arrive, our club and association websites need to be sowing these seeds. If we do not communicate the bigger purpose of aikido within our own community, (it is ‘a way to reconcile the world’ in the words of the founder), then it is no wonder that there is a complete lack of understanding with the public at large and with other martial arts.
In recent times, where being able to be able to destroy someone when conflict arises seems to be a virtue, aikido gets criticised a lot. And the result is that the number of students studying aikido is generally on the decline. At the same time, the number of people interested in things like yoga and mindfulness seems to be growing significantly. I would argue that the benefits of these studies can be found in abundance within aikido and can be experienced in a far more powerful and meaningful way. In addition, aikido offers so much more. This message is not getting out there.
Of course the exact direction of the path should be determined by each and every student, but it helps that they find a dojo that points out the possibilities and invites them to open doors for themselves, rather than being proscriptive about the journey. It’s important to avoid fostering a sense of ‘It’s my way or the highway’. None of us know it all and never will, so we need to encourage curiosity to explore wherever that inner voice directs. Other martial arts and indeed many other forms of study can achieve the qualities detailed above, and that’s why it’s useful to keep an open mind and sometimes to step off the aikido mat to see how other studies can inform our aikido journey. Many great teachers, including the founder did just this.
It can also be of great benefit to foster an atmosphere within your own club that allows your students to share what life has taught them. I can honestly say that my own students have taught me more than most on my own journey. And as I continue to put one foot in front of the other, I increasingly appreciate what I have learnt, but more importantly, how much there still is to find out. My sense of wonderment and awe deepens with the possibility of what lies ahead.
So, do you know your way? Is the path clear? If not take time to reflect on what you want out of your study as this will guide you to the path that leads where you want it to go. Then enjoy the journey as the destination lies elusively beyond!