It is not that difficult to achieve mind-body coordination and a sense of oneness with the universe (however fleeting) through regular sitting in Zazen or some other form of silent, immovable contemplation.
The difficulty is to maintain this feeling of equanimity when one is up and about and engaging in the activities of daily life.
This is where the martial Ways come into their own and offer a unique dimension that may be hard to find through meditation alone.
Neglecting the body in any spiritual discipline is a doubtful proposition. In the same way, rejecting the spirituality of aikido and looking upon the training as entirely a matter of technique is to divide oneself into two disparate parts.
We are mind-bodies, and thinking otherwise is a recipe for schizophrenia.
At the end of the day (as the politicians love to say) it is up to each of us to decide how much importance to place on the (superficially) different elements: technique-vs-Ki, martial effectiveness-vs-inner understanding, “winning at all costs”-vs-exercising one’s innate compassion.
Some of these perceived differences may be more semantic than real, but when it comes to discussions about the “reality” of aikido (how “realistic” it is “in the street”) there are many ill-informed opinions, and a rather obvious “elephant in the dojo”.
Aikido is a defensive art, not a competitive sport.
There is no universal agreement on the meaning of the term “self- defence” but it is obviously not a matter of proving oneself in competition with wrestlers, boxers or karate experts. Most comparisons along these lines come from ignorant people comparing apples with pears and completely missing the “Way” aspect of personal growth.
Some critics pit one martial art against another on the basis of a hypothetical “street attack” without acknowledging the fact that most people who use their commonsense never encounter such situations. If the argument were based on the need for a degree of “life or death” realism in training for the purpose of gaining psychological insight, and sharpening up awareness, that would be a different matter, but it is generally more mundane—and far from realistic.
What are we to make of people who can’t tell the difference between aikido and Mixed Martial Arts?
Or those who cannot see beyond winning and losing and are convinced that “might is right”?
It should be obvious that important human and social values are completely absent from such one-sided thinking.
There isn’t much one can do to change public perception of the “martial arts” so why waste time arguing with people who have no idea of what aikido is really about?
We should look deeper into our own training to make our own evaluation, while remaining open to changes in perspective as the art reveals its beauty and depth to us over time.
This does not mean filling our minds with academic arguments. On the contrary, thought plays little part in understanding. Words do little more than point the way and are no substitute for training.
Most sensei I trained under in Japan emphasised training-over-talking and some hardly spoke at all during their classes! They obviously believed that actions speak louder than words.
But if appropriate words can help us to take action and bolster our faith in what we are doing, I’m all for them.
Just don’t let’s be one-sided about it.