The Secret of Aikido is love?


愛:植芝盛平

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s Calligraphy for “Ai” (“love”)

Takashi Sasaki on the Gokui of Aikido

Takashi Sasaki (佐々木貴) entered Aikikai Hombu Dojo in 1962. He completed a Master’s program in commerce from Waseda University in 1966, and with a Ni-Dan in Aikido from Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei he departed for Germany, to work and teach Aikido. Returning to Japan in 1977, he was promoted to 7th Dan Aikikai in 2003. He is the author of “Budo Wisdom for Business” (ビジネスのための武道の智恵), and the founder of the Sasaki Aikido Institute (佐々木合気道研究所).

武道の知恵

“Budo Wisdom for Business” (ビジネスのための武道の智恵)

This is an English translation of some thoughts by Sasaki sensei on the nature of love in Aikido. There are many interesting articles on Aikido and Aikido training by Sasaki sensei available from the Sasaki Aikido Institute website

佐々木貴・合気会本部道場

Takashi Sasaki sensei at Aikikai Hombu Dojo

The Secret of Aikido is love?

(English translation by Christopher Li)

Those training hard in Aikido devote themselves to their goal each day, but they do so while constantly entertaining doubts as to whether the goal they are seeking is the correct one, whether this path will take them to that goal and which path they ought to choose.

There are important matters that are difficult to understand, but that all Shugyosha (修行者 / a person involved in austere and rigorous training) must question, worry and ponder upon, and what they all have in common is that their resolution is not simple. That which enables you to resolve those problems can be thought of as “Gokui” (極意 / “secrets”). Among these vital but difficult to understand problems there are greater and lesser matters, so there are also greater and lesser “Gokui”.

There is an absolute requirement in “Gokui” that if you do not follow them then the issue will not be resolved and you will not be able to move forward. For example, a “Gokui” for when you are unable to apply technique well is “technique is used in a cross” (技は十字でつかえ). If you categorize this as a lesser “Gokui”, then a greater “Gokui”, perhaps the greatest “Gokui”, is that which permits us to achieve the goal of Aikido. What “Gokui” is necessary in Aikido for this purpose?

合気神髄

Aiki Shinzui / 合気真髄

The Founder said:

合気道の極意とは、己の邪気をはらい、己を宇宙の動きと調和させ、己を宇宙そのものと一致させることである

The Gokui of Aikido are to cleanse oneself of evil intent, harmonize oneself with the movements of the universe and to make oneself one with the universe itself

(from Aiki Shinzui / 合気真髄)

When we break this down, these things are necessary to achieve the goals of Aikido:

  • Cleanse oneself of evil intent: cleansing oneself of evil intent, purifying your heart and mind.
  • Harmonize oneself with the movements of the universe: applying technique in accordance with the principles of the universe – that you must cultivate technique through the use of the body.
  • Make oneself one with the universe itself: harmonize with all things in the universe (for example, the four seasons, the breath of Heaven and Earth).

In other words, the “Gokui” of Aikido is “make oneself one with the universe itself”.

However, “make oneself one with the universe itself” is not a simple thing, and for that reason the Founder said “you must make the spirit of the universe your own spirit” (「宇宙の心を、己の心としなければならない」). Let’s call this a “Gokui” as well. We do this because if we don’t understand what “the spirit of the universe” is then we won’t be able to move forward, so this becomes a prerequisite. However, since “the spirit of the universe” is a Gokui, it is also difficult to understand.

Thankfully, we are taught by the Founder “the spirit of the universe is the greater ‘love’ which fills all corners of the universe, in all directions, in all times” (「宇宙の心とは、上下四方、古往今来、宇宙のすみずみにまで及ぶ偉大なる『愛』である」). In other words, “the spirit of the universe” is the greater “love” of the universe.

To summarize this interpretation, “you must make the spirit of the universe your own spirit” means that you must make yourself one with the universe, and train and live with the love of the spirit of the universe.

However, although the word “love” is used here, this “love” is different than “love” as it is commonly used.

直江兼続

Armor worn by Naoe Kanetsugu (直江兼続), 1560-1619
the “tatemono” (“crest”) on the helmet reads “Ai” (愛 / “love”)

“Love” is something that seems to have great importance for Aikido. For instance, the Founder would say things like Aikido is “Ai (Love) kido” (「愛気道」), or that Aikido is “the Budo of Love”. Further, he wrote many times that “the Gokui of Aikido is love” and “you must make the spirit of the universe (‘love’) your own spirit”.

However, the “love” of Aikido is different than “love” as it is used in daily life.

If you check the dictionary for the common definition of “love”, the following is what appears:

  • A movement of feelings towards what is recognized as precious. Also, the appearance of that feeling.
  • Feelings towards someone that is cared for.
  • Feelings of wishes for the best for someone.

The “love” that is the Gokui of Aikido can be contained in the above definitions, but since, as written above, the “love” of Aikido “fills all corners of the universe, in all directions, in all times”, and because this is “the spirit of the universe”, there must be a different definition.

Incidentally, “all directions” (上下四方) is all of the space in three dimensions, and “all times” (古往今来) is all time past-present-future. In other words, the universe.

“The spirit of the universe” is “love”, this love is not tied to the time of the past-present-future, and fills every corner of space. Looked at in the micro scale, this may mean that there are no openings in your movement of in your ma-ai.

This is a special characteristic of the love of the universe, but another is that while the universe gives love it demands nothing in return.

The kind of love above also exists in everyday life. Looking at different cases, for example, there is the love between parents and children. When the children are small this is mainly something given from the parent to the child. This kind of natural love can be said to be instinctual. However, when the child grows up, if the parent demands some kind of return for their love, that love will come to change.

The love between a married couple is something that the couple gives to each other. It may be that there is some expectation of return, and appropriate give and take is the basis for harmony in marriage. At the least, it is good when gratitude is returned.

From these examples I would like to define “love” more simply. The explanation that comes out from my simple mind is “love is to think of standing in the other’s position and behaving that way”.

If you only behave while thinking of your own position the other will think that they are being ignored, and it will cause trouble. If you can stand in the other’s position, you know that if you do this then they will become happy, if you do this they will become sad, if you do this then they will be come angry. It’s the same with flowers, or a tree, doing what you think is best for them. This is love.

I think that it may be that the reason that Aikido is called the Budo of Love is because we think of standing in the position of the other as we apply technique. For example, if we do this than the other will be injured so I won’t do that, the Uke must be in pain because they are not very flexible so I’ll stretch it out a little bit, or the other does not know how to use their body so I’ll guide them along.

植芝盛平

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei in his later years
from “Ueshiba Morihei Monogatari”, the Manga version of O-Sensei’s biography

Aikido is the Budo of Love does not mean that you just practice without any strength in order to avoid making your practice partner feel uncomfortable. This is Budo, so in order to feel the intensity of Budo you and your partner must practice to your limits so that you can train in a way that you can both become better. It is thought that through training to your limits that true “love” comes forth. Becoming better means getting closer to your goal, so in order to become better you must have a goal.

Since the love of Aikido is the love of the spirit of the universe, as I wrote earlier, it must fill the universe without regards to time or empty space, and must not expect a return. Of course, if you are teaching Aikido for a living then there must be some return, but even then love is necessary. However, in that case, as the Founder said, first you must give love. As a result there is some return. Putting forth “love” with an expectation of a return can not have a good result.

When we unify these meanings of love and meanings of Aikido, one more definition of “love” comes forward.

In other words, love is the spirit of aiding the universe in it’s process of positive development, and the spirit extended to the objects of that development. In other words, this is because “positive development of the universe” (宇宙生成化育) is ‘the spirit of the universe”, “the spirit of the universe” is “love”.

Aikido as something that aids in the the positive development of the universe, as the Budo of Love, and as “Ai (Love) kido” (愛気道) are all connected. There is a kind of love called “platonic” love (純愛), but perhaps the love of Aikido can be said to be the love of the Universe, or “planetary” love.

-Takashi Sasaki, 2013


Christopher Li – Honolulu, HI      

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