Masakatusu Agatsu: True Victory is Victory over the Self

Masakatusu Agatsu: True Victory is Victory over the Self

Aikido, the way of harmony is both a martial art, and a practice that transforms aggression into connection. I practice aikido to find peace in my own heart, to recognize that in response to an attack I may choose to respond with love and compassion. Such a response has the potential to  transform not only the conflict but also, the aggressor’s heart.


 In Aikido, we work with partners, called ukes. Uke provides the energy of the attack and grabs or strikes.  The other partner, the nage, responds through  redirection or neutralization of the attack, with  a throw or immobilization.  The uke’s grab or strike offers nage the chance to confront their own reactive response and meet aggression with kindness, compassion, and empathy.


Today’s reflection is on masakatsu agatsu,  how I understand this concept, and how I try to integrate this practice into my life both on and off the practice mat.


The concept of masakatsu agatsu (translated as ‘true victory is victory over the self’) shows up throughout the teachings of  Morihei Ueshiba  and those of his direct students.   Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the founder of Aikido, is referred to as O-Sensei, (i.e., great teacher) by Aikido practitioners.


I often think of uke  as an individual who is suffering and lashing out, wanting  connection and needing compassion. Agatsu, then,  can be seen the choice to look at every negative interaction in this light. Self-victory is victory over the inner compulsion to respond to aggression with more aggression. Agatsu is a call to cleanse our hearts of contention, anger, and fear.


In my own training, masakatsu agatsu  has been not only a call to transform my wish to defeat or win or prove myself  but also to transform the self-doubt and self-criticism that often plagues me. Embracing  agatsu means embracing a peaceful and joyous heart.  A love  that includes self and other. Sincerity that is dedicated to connection and the well-being of others. In agatsu we appreciate  and respect ourselves, and in this way can appreciate and respect others.


When I think well of others, I don’t want to harm or defeat them, but rather help, protect, and support them.  This perspective rests on an understanding that whatever  struggles or difficulties someone has at a given moment, most people are trying their best and may need a hand to navigate their own stormy sea.  In my experience, we see others as we see ourselves. In my understanding, embracing agatsu requires  the acknowledgement  that all human beings are equally valuable, and suffering in similar ways.


I cannot develop and embrace agatsu  in a vacuum, but only in the context of specific provocations that challenge me.   How will I choose to react on or off the mat? Who will I  be in the face of adversity?   How will I show up in a chaotic, random and at times cruel world?   I try to ground myself by asking these questions.   And, when I find a way to show up   from a place of personal empowerment and compassion for self and others, I then have the capacity to foster agatsu, victory over the self.


On and off the mat, I commit to masakatsu agatsu. A commitment to myself, to cast out doubt.  A commitment to others,  to release my desire to fight, and meet every challenge with compassion, and a sincere desire to connect.