In the mid 1990s during a seminar a great teacher told he something that changed my relationship with the art. He said, "Aikido is the physical embodiment of a philosophy."
I believe that you do not read a book, or have long discussions on ethics, Aikido philosophy will transmit simply through the act of practice. Unlike the practice of formal Zen which seeks to quiet the mind through the act of seated meditation, dynamic non-action, Aikido engages the mind and body in dynamic action. Each motion of it slowly working to reprogram the nervous system and the mind/body reaction to stimulus.
For many practitioners the movements of the art become a constant source of learning, inspiration, bio-feedback and self reflection. The physical expression of Aikido techniques are mimicked in patterns and relationships in the practitioner's life. Aikido transcends mere techniques and becomes an overall strategy for conflict resolution for the artist.
We stare deeply into the mirror of ourselves as our ego is challenged with varied issues as social rank, approval and failure. We are always painfully aware of of physical limitations. In the tempering conflicts of practice we are brought to a physical and mental state where we are forced to submit - and we learn to trust the people who are our classmates with the welfare of our physical frame. All of these factors have a tremendous influence of the evolving ethos of the student.
Of course many of the devoted students of the path also speak of the philosophies that drive our practice. The movements that arise out of conflict make us openly question our ethics. We ask ourselves many 'what ifs' as we put ourselves in the role of warrior. We write books and blogs as we continue our practice in our search for....whatever it is we are looking for.
The great Zen master Dogen wrote,
"Practice is the expression of an enlightened mind."
While my personal enlightenment is still lackluster, I will hand it to myself - at least I am trying. I am trying to embody of philosophy that I struggle to understand. At least I am practicing what I am not good at. I seek improvement.
Perhaps the goal of training is not stunning enlightenment or illumination. Perhaps the driving philosophy the the constant practice of self improvement. Perhaps it is not a philosophy of perfection, but of making something beautiful.
In truth there is no one philosophy that drives Aikido practice. It is an ever changing organic philosophy that grows as we nurture it. While Aikido is the physical embodiment of philosophy, it is physically embodied in untold thousands of Aikido practitioners, each walking the path at their own pace.
And for those that doubt us Aikido fellows are always defining and redefining our practice, I will leave you with the words of Nick Ushin Lowry, who sees the practice through the lens of a Rinzai Zen priest.
"The principle of aiki transcends victory and defeat, steps out of the dualistic frame of reference and expresses a non dual reality where in buddhist terms we could say that samsara is nirvana, form is emptiness ... As nev sagiba put it recently, Primordial chaos is inherent harmony. This is the place where the whole world can become one family. Self and other loose the hard edge of separation and the spontaneous play of the whole operates through the medium of the players. We do not use the principle of aiki, it becomes embodied in us."