Aikido: A Legacy from the Past, a Vision for the Future by Stanley Pranin

“What is special about aikido is that its spiritual core is manifest
in its physical movements and integral to its techniques”

From Aikido Journal #100, 1994

The publication of Aikido Journal 100 is a landmark for this magazine. It is the first issue bearing our new name, one that is much more appropriate, given the present content and direction of the publication. Our new name and format also happen to coincide with our 20th anniversary. I, perhaps more than anyone, am amazed that this publication has survived for so long. In fact, it has become my life’s work. I would like to take this occasion to thank you loyal readers for your interest and support and to reaffirm our commitment to producing as fine a publication as we are able… and then some!

As you know, our concern in Aikido Journal is with aikido as a body of techniques and a tool for achieving the peaceful resolution of conflict. This means that our starting point is the art formulated by Morihei Ueshiba, with its inseparable humanistic premises. This is the standard by which we measure the content of technique and the morality of behavior. The aims of aikido also constitute our vision for a future world in which peaceful interaction in society is achieved through the presence of a skilled sword that remains sheathed. Strength, skill, and foresight are required to forestall violence, not merely a “desire for peace.”

I have often been a critic of the present technical content and almost casual practice of aikido seen in many schools today. The reason for my dismay is the fact that aikido practiced in this way is a debased form of the martial art bequeathed by the founder. Certainly, all are free to practice as they wish, but I question the validity of calling much of what is seen today “aikido” when it represents little more than a hollow shell of the real art.

Having said this, I wish to point out a remarkable phenomenon. Aikido, even in this diluted form, has proven a phenomenal success both in Japan and abroad. It is one of the major martial arts practiced worldwide and has become a household word in most developed countries. Unlike judo, karate, or kendo, aikido has achieved this distinction despite the fact it has not been transformed into a sport and therefore lacks competition as a means of generating interest. But if the techniques of aikido as practiced today are weak and ineffectual in self-defense situations, if it cannot count on competition (except for Tomiki Aikido) as a lure to attract the young, then where on earth does its broad appeal lie?

I have given this enigma a great deal of thought in recent months and have come up with two compelling reasons. The first is simply the exceptional beauty of aikido techniques. The circularity of movement of two partners who hold no violent intent is a wonder to behold. There is a flow and gracefulness about aikido techniques that is not seen in its precursor art, Daito-ryu aikijujutsu. The other characteristic of aikido that has contributed to its wide acceptance is the innovative concept of a martial art as a tool for achieving peace. This is not to say that the classical martial ways, or modern ones for that matter, do not stress the development of the individual. They surely do. But what is special about aikido is that its spiritual core is manifest in its physical movements and integral to its techniques.

The situation as I see it is thus as follows: Aikido itself and the concepts it embodies are so appealing that it has survived and thrived even in a degraded form. If this is the case, what then might be the impact of the art on society if the techniques and concepts of the founder were to be re-infused into the art? Such an aikido would surely be revolutionary and have far-reaching consequences!

Yet we cannot reassert our link with the founder simply by declaring that aikido is a “spiritual martial art.” Instead, leaders and teachers of the art must exemplify this spirituality in all aspects of their lives, not solely on the training mat. Nor can we succeed in convincing people that aikido is an effective martial art simply by demonstrating light, dainty movements where the attacker is in obvious collusion with his partner. We must show convincing techniques where all openings are covered, where our movements are powerful, but controlled and applied with compassion Only then can we do justice to the intended form and meaning of aikido.

Our challenge as a magazine devoted to the study and propagation of aikido is then to dearly and repeatedly articulate this message of hope. I think the challenge to you as individuals and aikidoka everywhere is to reassess your involvement in the art. I would suggest that you start by reading up on the founder. There are a number of books in English today that cover the subject. Aikido Journal has, in its earlier incarnation as Aiki News, published literally hundreds of articles dealing with every aspect of his life and art. Moreover, serious aikidoka should take a good look at the founder’s technique, which has been preserved on film. Last year we released a six-volume set of videotapes documenting the founder’s art from 1935 up until his death in 1969.

Finally, I would ask that you make a special effort to rejuvenate your own practice. If you are going to invest your valuable time to learn a self-defense art and engage in a form of exercise to improve your health, do you not owe it to yourself to constantly test your limits? Aikido has such potential as a discipline for personal growth and the improvement of society that it seems a shame not to practice it in line with the founder’s original intent. You, have in your hands the power to do so. Please do your best… and then some!

Here’s wishing both you and Aikido Journal another successful twenty years!

Stanley Pranin is editor-in-chief and publisher of Aikido Journal, which he established as Aiki News in 1974 in an attempt to provide accurate in formation for English- speaking aikido practitioners. He began his aikido training in 1962 in Lomita, California, and is now 5th dan. Since 1977 Pranin has lived, trained, and worked in Japan and publishes the Japanese magazine Aiki News, as well as a variety of aikido-related books. He is the author of The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido, editor of Aikido Masters, and co-author of The Aiki News Dojo-Finder and Takemusu Aikido: Background and Basics.

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