I recently had an opportunity to spend some time away on a course with my good friends Les Baker Sensei and Carl Hughes Sensei.
We had lots to discuss but the conversation often returned to: What is the essence, meaning and purpose of Aikido and its objectives as a “Budo”? The answer to this would depend on who was asked the question. But what many may agree on is that in this age of quick fixes and instant gratification and the sanitisation of the martial arts through the development of “a martial arts industry”, the soul of what “Budo” really is could be lost and replaced by a purely sports or aerobics class type of mentality.
As always these are my own thoughts so feel free to disagree with anything I say.
“Bu” is often translated as “martial” which is a useful working definition but from my research, the Japanese characters for Bu are constructed from the same characters for violence or arms of war.
Budo therefore may be known as “the way or skills in the arms of war”.
So true Budo is a martial philosophy of the arms of war and the “Do” which is path or way, indicating this is an ongoing journey. If followed correctly it includes the concept of unity of mind and technique.
Through training we attempt to discipline ourselves and so develop skilled technique, a resilient spirit, etiquette, and unity of mind and body.
As a point of interest, Bushido is translated as “Way of the Samurai” and despite common myths there was never a truly codified set of rules set in law. Although people often quote Inazo Nitobe, “Bushido, The Soul of Japan”, this was written at the turn of the 19th century during the Meiji period by a man who was a scholar of western ways who lived in an isolated Christian culture.
The Samurai were a class of warriors from a given time and place. So even though we love and follow Budo, it does not make us Samurai.
We can however take some of the higher ideals of the Bushi such as justice, courage, and fortitude and apply it to our practice.
This brings me back to the point I initially started with, practicing Aikido for me is a Budo, a “Way”. To be true to this one must practice with an outlook and spirit that reflects this, paying respect to the linage and tradition of the art. When my Sensei talks about Aikido, he says, “it has got to work”. By that he does not mean that practitioners have to go out and pick a fight and win. Anyone can pick a fight and some of the most successful street fighters I have come across didn’t train at all. It was just in them. This means self-defence is more of a mental condition and resilience than learning a load of techniques.
To me “making it work” is Uke and Tori being true to each other. The technique works because it is applied correctly with Kuzushi (breaking balance) and using posture and the centre correctly and with the correct spirit.
Practice should be done in a harmonious atmosphere with respect for everyone whilst recognising the origin of our Arts.
“Take Aikido seriously but not yourself” may be a good maxim.
As I’ve said, many martial arts and specifically some aikido schools are now becoming like an aerobics or an exercise class and whilst this may have its place; it should not be “sold” under the guise of something else, such as a self-defence class or some magical Jedi mind power class.
As time goes on we must guard against losing what Budo is; “the way of arms of war” and by preventing watering down or introducing unrealistic claims for this beautiful art, ensure that Aikido can continue to be a “Way” that can help us develop physically, mentally and spiritually.
Following Sensei Les Baker’s direction I am sure we will never lose this. But it is for each of us to reflect on what Aikido means to us and to practice and train in a way that respects the oral transmission of Aikido of our Sensei and his Sensei through the lineage of the teachers as they stretch back in time.