Thursday, June 17, 2010

Principles – the essential quality

So using the following 4 dictionary definitions of principles I continue on with exploration of discovering what are the principles of Aikido.

-a determining characteristic of something; essential quality
-a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived
-a personal or specific basis of conduct or management
-an adopted rule or method for application in action

So using the first definition, a principle can be a determining characteristic of something or essential quality. After pondering the words ‘essential quality’ for some time I have come to the conclusion that a principle might be able to tell us what Aikido IS and what it IS NOT. Perhaps this type of principle is simply a definition of the art.

Merriam Websters dictionary defines Aikido as, "a Japanese art of self-defense employing locks and holds and utilizing the principle of nonresistance to cause an opponent's own momentum to work against him".

I find myself feeling like this definition is lacking in capturing the essence of Aikido. How would this be any different from judo, jujitsu or Bujinkan? No I feel we must explore further.

Stanley Pranin noted Aikido author and historian tried his hand at defining the art and principles.

“-Aikido is a discipline based on the martial art and philosophy of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei- ---Aikido has a core of techniques which constitutes the physical manifestation of the art (ikkyo through yonkyo, shihonage, iriminage, kokyunage, etc.)
- Aikido is basically defensive in nature
- There exists in Aikido an ethical concern for the well-being of the attacker beyond a preoccupation with self-defense”

I think these are great points, and most of the Aikido philosophical world could get behind these. I do however have some questions about the ethics and defensive nature of Aikido. Is it a schools preference of is it universal in application? I will dive deeper into this topic later.

Lou Fernbaugh pondered this question and wrote a definition of aikido.
Training the subconscious, and nervous system
Based on Principles, not unique actions
Leading to a reactive mode of moving
Allowing a seemingly endless stream of adaptive variations."

If my memory serves me, a Jiyushinkai bumper sticker from the 90s read,
“Peace and harmony through non-violent action”

Jack Bieler offers,
“Aikido is one particular incarnation of a perennial mode of interaction with violence, with the typical Japanese cultural style of simplicity and artistic balance, organization and efficiency, which can be described as "elegance". That character may best define what is unique about aikido.” suggests Aikido is,
“A Japanese internal energy-based martial art. Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba in the 1930s from a unique blend of Daito Ryu aikijitsu (a form of jujitsu), sword techniques, and the teachings of a mystical Shinto-like religion that included mantra and sound work called the Kototama”

So looking at these definitions I can distill a few things. In order for the art to be formally Aikido the teaching must come through the lineage of Morihei Ueshiba. While I am not a devoted follower of Ueshiba I can buy this as a distinguishing characteristic.
Another characteristic is that it a martial art based on principles. But there I go defining principles with principles.
While the ethics might vary greatly I do feel that Aikido can be defined as having a strong ethical system, and a certain artistic style of model to which it aspires. Perhaps it is the elegance Bieler Sensei described.

Aikido FAQ offers probably the best definitions or
“Aikido -- The art of unity with the ground”
“Aikido: The way of blending energy The Aikidoka (one who practices Aikido) attempts to become one with the mat by being thrown into it repeatedly in the hope that s/he will merge with the mat. This usually doesn't happen, so the process must be repeated. Frequently.”


  1. This is a comment from someone with infinitely less hands-on experience than the writer of this blog, but I think there is something greatly lacking in the definitions given. Aikido's physical "principles" can certainly be summed up, and as a matter of fact, very well done by the sources given I think, but to go deeper is to find something beyond physical movement, and thusly closer to the root of the style of movement. This post does give attention to that, but I think it is more than "peace and harmony through non-violent action", more than "elegance", and more than mantras and sounds. I am at a loss to give an addition to the definition, but I wonder what you would say about the emotional energies that charge an aggressive attack, a "legitimate" attack, or an aikido-practised-pacifist. Is it important for a practitioner of aikido to believe in non-violence?

  2. this last comment by zacky is good. and aren't all the different arts based upon principles (albeit varying)? can one be non-violent in another art form? yet we all know aikido is its own form. hmmm. good post....

  3. I would say, no, an aikido practitioner does not have to "believe" in non-violence.

    Violence is not a thing to believe in or not. Violence is a part of nature. You can't really "not believe in lightning or tornados" any more than you can not believe in violence, or as you put it, "to believe in non-violence."

    I think violence is a hell of a great thing at times. I think that a lot of times we don't like the violent approach, we'd prefer a gentle, civilized, controllable approach. But at times violence is just maximally efficient use of power.

    Consider how well a non-violent approach would have worked for the forces and issues that led to WWII, for example.

    Was it Patton that said, "A good plan violently executed right now is better than a perfect plan sometime later."

  4. Yes the definitions lack. I am starting a journey here at the Kyuryu blog. It is a fool's errand. But the goal is to help us all define and redefine...then get beyond the definitions.

    This I hope will become my first book, and everyone;s contributions will shape it's form.

  5. Pat, your comment reminds me of a famous aphorism, from George Orwell, if I'm not mistaken. From memory, so might not be exact:

    People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

  6. I will not argue that violence or non-violence is always or not always good, because according a reality of constant change, which it seems many of us are concerned with, doesn't make sense. Sense and order as concerned with philosophy is not what I comment to concerning "belief". But it also doesn't just require one to say "OK, I believe now." And yet, I feel as though there CAN be a realm of conviction, away from confrontation, that stems at the root of someone's physical movement and emotional reaction to adverse situations. I wonder if someone more experienced in aikido, which is rank with such beliefs from the Founder, could affirm such a statement, or comment on it's legitimacy.