The Essence of Aikido…

as a martial art

Aikido is a Japanese Martial Art created and developed by Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969) which emphasises harmonisation over contention when dealing with aggression and conflict. What does this mean in practice? That our intent, and consequently our actions, in dealing with aggression (whether physical, verbal or otherwise) is not to take a position of resistance or struggle but rather join with the force of the opposing party, making it our own before leading it into a resolution where it’s energy and ideally, it’s own aggressive intent, has been neutralised.

This ideal of moving from a situation of conflict to its harmonious resolution must be realised through our whole being and reflected in our actions and particularly our actions when under pressure which is when they are most critical. Through confrontational and physical training we learn gradually to let go of our reactive tendency to defend, block and struggle and instead open up to the power of being open and undefended.

In remaining open under pressure we are in a far better space to ascertain more accurately what is actually the reality of a given situation and in remaining loose and free from fearful defensive postures we are in a better place to respond with greater flexibility and freedom of choice.

The direction of development in Aikido is thus from blind reactivity which is limited and controlled by our basic sense of self survival and to awakened responsiveness where we understand that in simply winning or defeating the other we are ultimately defeated ourselves.

It is this ethical dimension in consciousness that makes Aikido unique as a martial art – and so relevant to our daily lives beyond the technical practice in the Dojo.

Morihei Ueshiba Shomen Photo


Wa Kei Sei Jaku (harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity) are traditionally used as the four principles of Chanoyu (Japanese Tea Ceremony) as left by tea master Sen Rikyu (1522-1591). They are the principles that practitioners of tea endeavor to integrate into their daily lives. These principles are a reflection of the pure spirit and soul of Sen Rikyu. While not a true zengo (Zen phrase) these four simple words can be realized after much practice. The principles are commenly associated with the Tea Ceremony practice but are also an approriate guideline for the practice of Aikido and the attitude whilst training inside (and outside) the dojo…

Wa (harmony) is the ultimate ideal for human beings. It is the positive interaction between the host and the guest in a tea gathering or among people in any situation in life. Tea is the sharing between the host and guest and is not a solitary pursuit. Harmony extends to nature, as well, and to tangibles such as tea utensils, everyday utensils and life itself. True harmony brings peace.

Kei (respect) is the ability to understand and accept others, even those who we may be in disagreement with. When we are kind to others, and can humble ourselves, we can receive respect. In tea the host thinks of the guest and the guest of the host. It is this continued sharing and consideration that makes the tea gathering both memorable and successful. Ideally, all are of the same rank in the tea room. It is important to treat everything and everybody with the same respect. Treat utensils of various pedigree the same. The price of an object should not dictate how it is treated. Extend a pure heart and true respect can be realized.

Sei (purity) is the ability to treat oneself and others with a pure and open heart. This is really the essence of tea training. This purity is not one of absolute cleanliness but one of pure heart. With a pure heart, harmony and respect can be realized. When the tea garden is cleaned ones heart and soul are also being purified. When one wears clean clothes this purity also exists. A pure heart is not showy but natural. Sen Rikyu’s ideal of purity was the natural look of the garden after it was cleaned and a few leaves from a tree fell onto the freshly manicured moss.

Jaku (tranquillity) is the point in ones training and practice where a level of selflessness is reached. While on the one hand it is the ultimate goal, on the other it is the beginning once again. A true master reaches this highest level and then putting the ideals of harmony, respect and purity into practice, begins again with a fresh and enlightened heart. At this point the endless possibilities of life can be realized.