Reflections on the purpose of aikido

Reflections on the purpose of aikido

Aikido is a martial art, but it is more than a martial art. Aikido is a way to practice transforming aggression into connection. I practice aikido to find peace in my own heart, to recognize that when someone  attacks me, I have a choice to respond with love and compassion. Such a response has the potential to  transform not only the outcome of the situation at hand, but the heart of the aggressor.


In Aikido, we work in pairs, and one partner takes on the role of aggressor, and grabs or strikes.  We call this person Uke.  The other partner responds through  compassionate redirection or neutralization of the attack, through a throw or gentle immobilization.   We call this person Nage.  In Aikido, Uke, the attacker, grabs or strikes  to gift Nage the opportunity to confront the heart of contention within and meet aggression with kindness, compassion, and empathy.  In this way, we train to  engage with those who mean us harm  in a way  that can transform a contentious confrontation into a compassionate interaction.  Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido,  says “The purpose of aikido is to rid the world of aggression and contention, and he also states, “ Aikido is the manifestation of Love.”     (From The Heart of Aikido: The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki, compiled and translated by John Stevens, 2013)


In the context  of Aikido,  and for the purpose of this blog, love refers to the practice of compassion and kindness. When we  practice aikido, we train to access the part of us that is in alignment with a loving universe.  This is a perspective that understands suffering, and the way that we inflict suffering on one another,  as failed efforts to connect, and as a state of existence that is cut off from our divine nature.   As an aikido practitioner, I think of love as a kind of spiritual fabric that connects us, rather than an emotional connection that includes some but excludes others.  In the face of the ways in which we hurt and reject one another, the loving practice of compassion and kindness gives  us the deep knowledge that we are all connected.


The need for love, and the capacity for love  is the one thing, and really the only thing, that unites humanity.   Lack of love makes us feel alone, and creates anxiety, and fear.  Feeling loved creates connection and safety.



Aikido at its very best is an act of love.  Skilled Aikido technique is love in action. At one point in my training, Mary Heiny Sensei, 7th dan (7th degree black belt), stated during a seminar, “In Aikido we teach our partner that violence is an act of self-destruction.  We do this without destroying them.”  And my primary instructor, Aaron Ward Sensei, 5th dan (fifth degree black belt) says that the same moment someone strikes us, they’ve cut off their connection to the divine.    Our connection to our partner helps them to stay connected to their own humanity.


Mary Heiny Sensei has also said that Uke  would never attack if they were not suffering in some way we cannot fathom, and the only appropriate response to suffering is compassion.


In Aikido, we have many choices when someone grabs or strikes, just as we have many choices in life when someone is aggressive or hurtful.


Uke grabs my wrist.  I feel stuck.  Trapped.  Someone is doing something to me, taking power from me. I might experience fear.  I might experience anger.  This experience is a flicker, just below the surface of consciousness, but many years of training have taught me to recognize it.   And many years of training taught me that I cannot and must not allow this inner experience to determine or  drive the outcome of the story that is about to unfold.


This is the dojo, the place to train.  In the dojo, Uke does not intend to harm, but to aid us in overcoming the desire to fight. We train to blend, connect, and redirect so that Uke’s intent is now to cooperate.   As Uke grabs or strikes, an inner shift must occur.  I must see not an individual who is determined to harm me, but an opportunity to improve myself as a human being. As my sense of personal injury abates, I take my attention away from the point of connection at the wrist  and notice the person. I can choose to meet this act of aggression with an act of love.  This is what we train for, and this is the purpose of our training.


We train to translate this attitude and intention  to our interactions with people who truly do mean harm.  That is the true purpose of Aikido.   The outcome is much less certain outside the walls of the dojo.  But we can set the intention to meet aggression with love in any situation  and give ourselves a chance at a peaceful world.


Aikido is ai. (Love.). You must make this great love of the Universe your heart, and then you must make your own mission the protection and love of all things.  To accomplish this mission must be the true budo. (Martial Way)


–Morihei Ueshiba


(From Journey to the Heart of Aikido:  The teachings of Motomichi Anno Sensei,  by Linda Holiday, 2013)