Bowing Back In
Reuniting with aikido — an art that gives me wings (and can potentially change the world)
The Japanese martial art of aikido was a huge part of my life years ago. (I won’t go into the whole story of how I got into the art here, but you can read it here if you’re interested).
I will say that it’s one of the most unique and profound martial arts out there and, if embraced (and marketed) as robustly as Yoga or Crossfit, I know that it holds the potential to change the consciousness of the world.
That’s a big claim, I know. But I really do believe it to be true.
I’m no historian, but in case you’re wondering what this strange martial art is all about, I’ll give you a super-quick rundown to provide some context.
A brief history of aikido for the uninitiated
Morihei Ueshiba (widely known as O’Sensei), the founder of aikido, was born in 1883. Growing up in an extremely violent time in Japan, he trained in many different martial arts and served in the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese war.
O’Sensei stood only 5 feet 2 inches tall (legend has it, he regularly hung from trees by his knees to stretch his body to meet the minimum requirement for the Japanese military) and was known as being extremely good with the bayonet… In short (no pun intended), the man was a badass.
One thing we must understand is, back in those days, martial arts weren’t just focused on winning some flashy cage fight in a shiny casino or for ego aggrandizement. They were based on survival and the focus was in killing your attacker, not just “tapping them out”.
Aikido was born out of three epiphanies O’Sensei had in his later years.
The first happened in 1925, after Ueshiba had defeated a naval officer’s bokken (wooden katana) attacks unarmed and without hurting the officer. Afterward, he walked to his garden and had a spiritual awakening.
I felt the universe suddenly quake, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one. At the same time my body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the creator of the universe.
At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budō [the martial way] is God’s love — the spirit of loving protection for all beings …
Budō is not the felling of an opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms. True Budō is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature.
His second experience occurred in 1940 when engaged in the ritual purification process of misogi (purification meditation).
Around 2am as I was performing misogi, I suddenly forgot all the martial techniques I had ever learned. The techniques of my teachers appeared completely new. Now they were vehicles for the cultivation of life, knowledge, and virtue, not devices to throw people with.
His third experience was in 1942 during the worst fighting of World War II, when he had a vision of the “Great Spirit of Peace”
The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter — it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.
So, basically, over time, O’Sensei created a martial art that had an extremely lofty goal. In aikido, when you’re physically attacked, the highest attainment of the art comes when you can bring your attacker to the ground while not hurting him.
It turns a very lose-win (or lose-lose) situation into a win-win. But it’s extremely hard to do. It’s much easier to fight. Our primal instinct when attacked is to fight or flee. In aikido, you center, relax, move with the attack, and redirect the force to create a peaceful resolution.
This is why there can never be any competition in aikido. Because aikido isn’t about a sporting match or a contest of machismo. It’s not about ego aggrandizement. It’s about peace.
A martial art. Based on peace. How amazing is that?
I mean, yoga’s great and UFC is fun to watch (if you’re into blood and stuff), but THIS is paradigm-shifting.
O’Sensei saw his art, not only as a way to effectively defend yourself. But as a way to change the world.
Dusting off the gi
When I was into it, I trained 4–5 days a week. This went on for a few years. I got my black belt fairly quickly and even served as a live-in student for a few months where I slept on an air mattress in the rafters and did various chores and tasks around the dojo like cleaning bathrooms, welcoming guests, and training students.
And then, my dad got sick and passed away, Alex and I started our own businesses, we had Rory, and I stopped training.
Lately, I’ve felt like something’s been missing. Something has been lacking.
In my meditation periods of late, I’ve been revisiting things throughout my life that have lit me up.
What I realized is that aikido is one of the top 3–4 things in my life that have done this. And it’s absent from my life right now. That will change.
Last night, I swung by the dojo to catch up with Vince, my teacher, and see everyone. As soon as I walked in, it all came back to me (as did the smiles and hugs from old friends).
The smell of the wood rafters.
The raw ki energy flowing off of the Shomen.
The clean, white walls.
The all-familiar fluidity and circular movements of the art as people glided like ghosts across the mat and rolled without a sound through their falls.
Next week I start again. And I can’t wait.
I also can’t wait to start writing about the art again.
My very first blog, which I started back in 2010, is a blog called AikiLiving. It was a labor of love. I started it because I was so moved by the art and its usefulness off the mat in daily life.
The other day, I went back to it. I hadn’t checked it out in quite some time. Now that I’ve been writing professionally for a few years, I thought I’ve advanced sooo much in my craft that the posts would be mostly unrecognizable.
To my surprise, they weren’t. In fact, I was struck by how… good they are (if I do say so myself).
I have to attribute this to my enthusiasm for the art that reflected in the writing.
So, if you care to follow my aikido writing, here’s a few things you can do:
- You can check out the older posts here if you’re interested.
- New posts (like this one) will go into the new Aiki Living publication that I created here on Medium. Here’s the link to the Aiki Living publication if you care to follow it.
- If you’d like new Aiki Living posts emailed to you, subscribe for free here.
I seriously can’t wait to start training (and writing) in the art of aikido again.
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