What is the Purpose of Aikido, both for Society and for Individual Self-Defense?
by Mitsugi Saotome
Note: The entirety of the text below is taken from "Aikido and the Harmony of Nature" by Mitsugi Saotome pages 122-144. Brackets and section titles are my own additions, either adding the appropriate context or providing relevant references to specific instruction provided by higher level masters of the art.
What is Instinct?
[O Sensei understood] Budo [path of the warrior] is the protection of all life. It is nothing but this protection and the divine love, and the divine will of God expressed in the movements of the human body, and in the original purity of the human spirit….There can be no enemy; the only enemy is oneself.
Because people have not understood this truth, the evolution of the human animal has been the evolution of violence and power struggles as we destroy ourselves, each other, and the very foundations of our lives. Our self-defense mechanisms have gone awry, and we are rapidly proceeding down the road to self-destruction. Many people believe that the violence of humanity is inevitable and expound that we are ruled, without choice, by the instinct of millions of years ago. But to blame the violence of today on animal instinct is a convenient escape from responsibility, denying the very thing that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom
The Purpose of Aikido in the World
O Sensei taught: "The concept of world harmony is not logic, it must be reality. Modern technology has given us two choices. With its help we can realize the dream of a great global family, all the people of the earth joined together in a great world community; or we can completely destroy this earth and all of humanity with it…We must study and understand the saving truth of harmony." [Aikido is a method of practice O Sensei gave to humanity to aid in bringing about world peace. True peace cannot come about through the efforts of organizations such as the United Nations. Instead it must begin within the hearts of each individual. Then through sharing with their fellow human beings, world peace can come to pass. Aikido is a path that leads to the discovery of the peace that is natural to the human condition, and promotes sharing both through training and interacting with others in all facets of one’s life.]
Martial Arts and the Training of Instinct
The process of training instinct is not an easy one and must begin on the physical level. All the familiar selfish ego defense mechanisms must be brutally stripped away before consciousness can be opened and made strong. The fear that blocks out the ability to reason and dissolves higher consciousness into panic must be faced again and again, and we must learn that there is no escape. In order to control and refine the responses of body and spirit until they become natural and instinctive, stress and panic must be encountered, faced and overcome. As you study the thin edge between life and death, your senses will expand and sharpen. Your lungs will fill with the incredible sweetness of the breath of challenge, and the intensity of a growing independence and self-knowledge will etch reality with a luminous razor’s edge of clarity. This heightened state of awareness can only be achieved by taking the body to the very limits of endurance and beyond.
An intimate knowledge of the limitations of the body and the frustrations produced by this understanding is of vital importance in forcing the application of power past physical strength to the refinement of movement, perception and intuition and into the realm of the spirit. A hard attack or hard ukemi [fall] will not itself help society. But the strong spirit that is developed through hard training can be society’s salvation. The study and digestion of human uniqueness result in the blossoming of human consciousness. The physical study of reaction centers life around action. If morality and compassion are confined to the intellect and extended only by beautiful words, you can have no effect on social change. But if morality, compassion and the passionate desire to help society are part of the instinct and deep consciousness, they will be extended through positive action and will help effect powerful change.
Love and Self-Defense
The mind of conflict and challenge is a mind that thirsts for the enemy’s blood. Though your hands never close about the enemy’s throat, though your hands are never soiled with another’s blood, if your heart is filled with hatred or the desire to win over another, to watch the other’s suffering, these thoughts will lie like death, decaying within your spirit, and you will never understand true spiritual power. The true martial way, Budo, is the way of adjustment, not destruction. It is social misogi [purification]. It seeks to correct a problem, not to judge or destroy a life.
True power is found in the spiritual world and true self-defense is the protection of the enemy’s karma. The movement of defense is not a game; it is a very serious reality. When the enemy tries to kill you, the only choice is life or death. If you are weak, you cannot defend your own karma or the enemy’s. Weakness is an excuse, an easy way out. If you cannot defend yourself and fall beneath the enemy’s attack, the enemy is guilty and becomes a murderer. But you too have sinned because of your weakness, for you've made a murderer. And the karma of the enemy and yourself is the same.
If the enemy attacks and you kill the enemy, then you are a murderer. The result is the same: a life is destroyed. The karma is the same. It does not matter who is right and who was wrong, for the enemy is your shadow. You and the enemy are one life. If you kill the enemy, you are committing suicide. There are no excuses. The way is very strict. You must defend yourself, and you must defend the enemy. This is your responsibility.
"True victory is not defeating an enemy. True victory gives love and changes the enemy’s heart." O Sensei’s great satori [enlightenment, realization] was the realization that love is true power, the application of the wisdom of God, not the narrow application of human strength. The great spiritual teachers have always taught that you must love your enemy; this is the highest love. If there is love and respect, there is no enemy. When you are no longer blinded by hatred and ego, the enemy becomes part of yourself. The enemy becomes a teacher to help refine your concepts and your technique, the necessary counterbalance that sharpens your senses. Unclouded by hatred, you can accurately reflect the other’s position and movement, and understand the other’s life and weaknesses. The most important point of Budo training is to understand the enemy. If you understand, you cannot hate. Only in this way can you discover the true path of harmony. This is not the weakness of sentimental love, but the strict power of universal love. Love must never be weak, for often the function of love is to discipline and give pain. Sometimes there is no other choice but to destroy a sickness…
Love of the enemy is a very strict love. Sometimes, for the protection of others, that love means destruction. This is not an excuse for wrongdoing. To take responsibility for destruction, nature’s cleansing system must be fully understood. The object of destruction must truly be a danger to social welfare…Society must be protected. The rights of the individual and individuality must be protected. The weak and the children must be protected. But personal ego cannot be involved. Group or national ego cannot be involved. Greed or prejudice cannot be involved. It must be an act of purification, of true misogi. Right or wrong, the destruction becomes your karma, and you must accept the spiritual consequences for the action. If you must kill the enemy, then first you must die. This is the only way. To truly destroy the enemy is first to destroy the self. This is pure. If you are worried about your own life, selfishly thinking about yourself while trying to kill the enemy, this is a lie. You must sacrifice your selfish ego. If there is attachment to selfish desires, there is no objectivity, and the health and harmony of society will be destroyed.