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Ueshiba Aikido e-Reflections
ISSN 1712-2341
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Jun 10, 2011

"One who is truly enlightened
will have no need to draw his sword rashly.

O Sensei Ueshiba Morihei

Generally, the reason a person enrols into martial arts classes is to learn self-defence techniques to subdue and overcome potential assailants. The harder, the better. Discussions with friends and enthusiasts will eventually include comparisons between martial systems and on what works and what doesn't. Invariably, discussions will gravitate toward popular fight competitions and how powerful some systems are in the ring.

Youngsters involved in brawls or picking fights to test their skills are akin to martial artists visiting martial schools to horne their skills and test themselves. However, the interesting outcome, if these exponents are not killed or maimed, is that they develop a gentler approach to their technique in later years. Personalities from the Eastern tradition who exemplify this include Miyamoto Musashi, Yamoaka Tesshu, Kano Jigoro, Gichin Funakoshi, and Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei, to name a few.

As peaceful and non-aggressive as Aikido is, being Budo and not a sport, practice and training is rigorous enough to prepare the student for potential unsolicited vicious and violent encounters. As such, it can be viewed as one of the few traditional martial ways in the world that requires patience and persistent dedicated study and practice to transform the student holistically.

At the risk of sounding cliched, self-defence really does begin with the self: overcoming perceived shortcomings, selfishness, arrogance, impertinence, etc... This requires self-awareness: to be sensitive and standing apart to observe oneself. When my sensei started an Aikido self-defence class for women, rather than just techniques, the first lesson consisted of personal behaviour, attitude, deportment, and dressing appropriately. Invitations (to attack) are seldom unsolicited. Being mindful of how one presents oneself to the public, and what you communicate by your presence and attitude are of initial importance.

The way inward to self-awareness, self-consciousness, and eventually self-realisation does influence the quality of a student`s development in Aikido. This journey toward self-discovery begins with the physical warm-up exercises through to the basic movement and techniques of Aikido. It can easily be missed if the student does not fully engage in being self-aware each time a breath is taken, or a movement is executed. 'Knowing thyself' is itself multi-layered, the ultimate is self-realisation; true self-realisation that fulfills and surpasses the others. This is a personal experience in which a teacher is only a guide, and which the student will have to unfold into.

Will this encroach and be contrary to personal religious and spiritual practices? I think the contrary is true. There is no religious or spiritual pre-requisites to attaining a higher level of competence in Aikido, nor would the student need to observe specific Aikido-centric 'spiritual practices' to achieve a state of Mushin or Samadhi. It is, however, historically true that O Sensei was a religious and spiritual man, resulting in Aikido being the way it is. That was O Sensei's journey. You have your own journey to undertake and fulfill.

What I do find from years of practice and teaching is students do become better citizens, better children, better community leaders, better students in school, and more sincere and fervent in their own religion. In the spirit of Aiki (harmony), integrity, and alignment, I would say: seek to be the best Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Sikh, Hindu, or whatever religious denomination you belong to. That will help you on your journey. The inner peace and alignment will reveal itself in your interactions with family, community, and in your Aikido technique. People will feel comfortable being around you.

This is the first level of self-defence, to get oneself in order.

In that state you will be able to demonstrate a similar saying: "The best place for a sword is in its sheath."

See you in the Dojo.

In peace and harmony,
Rafael Oei Sensei.

(© Copyright June 2011: Rafael Oei)

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