Aikido and the Rat Race

By David Lynch on November 24, 2021
Can you have a martial art that is not aggressive? After all, “martial” means “warlike." Where is the fun in doing something when you have no chance of winning?

With permission from Sensei David Lynch, I am republishing articles from a periodical he ran from 1995 to 2005, called Hakama Magazine. David Lynch practised in Japan for 18 years under some of the great pioneers of Aikido, and returned to his native New Zealand to teach there. I believe his writings offer valuable insights into Aikido at the present time when there seems uncertainty about its identity and direction. - Gerald Lopez

(January/February 1996 — "The Year of the Rat”)

It is easier to say what aikido is not than what it actually is.

Thanks to the lack of precedent for budo (martial ways) in our culture, we virtually have to describe our art in negative terms like “non-competitive”, “non-aggressive”, “not a sport”, and so on. For many people these statements are puzzling and contradictory. How can you have a martial art that is not aggressive? After all, “martial” means “warlike”. And where is the fun in doing something when you have no chance of winning?

For most of us who practise aikido these questions resolve themselves in the course of training, whether we can verbalise the answers or not. They become insignificant and, on the contrary, it strikes us as rather strange that people should take them so seriously.

This is particularly so when you encounter arguments over which martial art is “the most effective” and international competitions pitting one martial art against another in search of "the ultimate."

Some people will never be persuaded that a creative and non-competitive approach is realistic and will argue that society is based on competition and anyone thinking otherwise would be seriously handicapped in the competitive world, i.e., the “rat race."

I wonder if it occurs to such people to question whether their great competitive society has been an unqualified success, given the number of ongoing wars, the pitiful plight of vast populations of have-nots and the threat of total annihilation posed by the “ultimate” weapon?

Ueshiba Osensei founded aikido after deeply studying questions like this, rather than searching for the ultimate in “effective” (i.e., destructive) technique.

He had been down that road and found it wanting.

The art Ueshiba passed down to us is the product of a profound insight from which he was able to affirm that “aiki is love”. This should be our guide to what aikido is, rather than a narrow focus on its martial techniques alone, much less technical comparison with other martial arts.

It is easier said than done, no doubt, but by sticking to first principles we can at least see clearly what aikido is not, and so not have to waste our time on side issues.

There is more to life than the rat-race.

david-lynch
Article written by David Lynch

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