The role of Aikido in modern society and personal life.

“In the Hagakure an early line is “Bushido is learning how to die.” Ōsensei would say ‘Aikido is learning how to live.’ “— John Stevens, author of The Art of Peace

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The world is a place of darkness in so many ways — especially within the realm of human relations. By our own hand we have rested upon, for a century, the brink of our own annihilation. That sort of stress takes a toll on the psyche; in the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age), this becomes a point of fascination — locus of deep and primal fears shared by all members of a society. We see this stress manifest in many ways but one of the most prominent is within our arts and entertainment. Our popular culture often reflects our deepest fears.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a talk by John Stevens, author of The Art of Peace a collection of Morihei Ueshiba’s teachings on Aikido. Known as Ōsensei (Great Teacher), Morihei believed that the way to bring about an end to conflict in the world was one of awareness of the unified nature of reality —Aikido is that method of expanding awareness beyond the old paradigms of violence that have ruled the world for so long.

A few years ago, The Art of Peace was featured in the television series The Walking Dead where the character Morgan is seen using it as a guide for a pacifist existence in a post-apocalyptic world. The question, then, is: can we learn to use Aikido to solve the source of our fear? And, if so, how? Is it possible to experience the sort of psychological shift that allows us to deal with our generational dread by learning to blend with it?

The first thing Aikido teachers its practitioners is situational awareness. Aikido’s strength is not in its practical strength against trained combatants but in its worldview — in the way it opens the practitioner to a different sort of experience of life, one not grounded in the pursuit of violent victory. Ōsensei, who was himself a soldier in the Japanese army, grew weary of bloodshed and feared for the age where weapons of mass destruction could level entire civilizations in a matter of moments. He wanted to create a way of experiencing life that could identify aggression and teach people how to deal with such experiences in a way less likely to bring further pain to the world.

Our first step, then, is to observe the signs of distress in the world.

What are we afraid of and how is that fear manifesting itself? When we view our lives and the lives of those around us, what appears to us as “normal?” The first step toward understanding our own unconscious state, and the unconscious state of the society, is by observing those things which appear to be absolutely natural. Popular culture is an excellent place to begin this exploration because, as I pointed out earlier, what we see in popular culture is usually a symptom of our deeper psychological state as a society. So, find something that has gone unquestioned: the style of clothing that’s “normal” to wear; the brand of shoe which is preferred by your peers; the shows that you and your friends like to watch; observe these things and ask yourself “why they are popular.”

Aikido is the way of “heaven and earth,” which means to exist in a place of balance between extremes. We must, therefore, learn to balance our lives both structurally and psychologically. By becoming balanced; by seeking the way of balance, we become more capable of dealing with the situations around us — and less able to be swept away by the furious and shifting passions of the culture we live within. Practicing self-awareness and situational awareness, we can learn to see our situation clearly. Then, it becomes possible to act with a far greater degree of freedom — but only if we remain balanced and refuse to be drawn in by the whims of our own passions or the passions of those around us.

Morihei Ueshiba in 1922. 

Freedom comes from awareness and balance.

As we learn to practice awareness and balance, we can begin to enter into the heart of Aikido — the full experience of life, as it is, right now. Aikido is not about withdrawing from the experiences of life — not about abusing ourselves by refusing to admit our own feelings and experiences, or the feelings and experiences of those around us. Rather, it is about blending with our feelings and experiences. Instead of meeting hot anger head-on, Aikido teaches us to accept the anger and allow it to flow around us without causing us, or anyone else, harm. In this way, we can remain unharmed by the violence of an emotion even though we have no choice but to experience it (either within our own person or as directed at us from another).

It does no good to ignore a force which is directed at us. Awareness helps us recognize when some force is acting upon us, balance helps us remain centered within our life despite the push and pull of such engagements, and the ability to blend allows us to use the incoming force to our own advantage.

As we go about or life, we can use Aikido to help us create harmony within our own existence. But, when we use Aikido during our interactions with others, we also show that there is a different way to behave: the world may contain conflict — that is simply part of nature — but we do not need to meet conflict with violence; we can learn to handle conflict differently than is our cultural wont.

“The Art of Peace is the principle of nonresistance. Because it is nonresistant it is victorious from the beginning. Those with evil intentions or contentious thoughts are instantly vanquished. The Art of Peace is invincible because it contends with nothing.”
Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

Odin Halvorson is a writer, director of the Pacific Zen Institute’s AV department, and an advisory board member of the Democracy Cafe. Odin’s work was included in the 2016 science fiction anthology “From the Ashes, Rise”. He is also the author of three poetry chapbooks: “Hart Haiku: Pieces a Changing World”, “Hart Unedited”, and “Wist”, all of which are available on Amazon. You can learn more through his website.Visit Odin at OdinHalvorson.com.
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Odin Halvorson is a writer, director of the Pacific Zen Institute’s AV department, and an advisory board member of the Democracy Cafe. Odin’s work was included in the 2016 science fiction anthology “From the Ashes, Rise”. He is also the author of three poetry chapbooks: “Hart Haiku: Pieces a Changing World”, “Hart Unedited”, and “Wist”, all of which are available on Amazon. You can learn more through his website.Visit Odin at OdinHalvorson.com.

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