Bushido and Aikido

Chairman's Corner History

I have been practicing aikido for over 50 years now, and one of the aspects of aikido that I find tremendously attractive and engaging is the philosophical and moral underpinnings, for we practice a morally principled martial art.  The samurai code of conduct known as Bushido and the practices of Zen Buddhism permeate aikido, and the purpose of this series of articles for the TAA Newsletter is to explore that relationship.

The word Aikido literally means the “Way of Harmonizing Spirits,” and the ultimate goal of aikido is to be able to protect ourselves and our loved ones without maiming or killing our attackers.  Doing so, however, takes tremendous physical, mental and emotional control.   How do we develop those traits?

Tomiki Sensei provided the answer in his seminal article, Jujutsu and its Modernization.  He used the following aphorism often heard in the world of budo (martial arts): “The act of perfecting our techniques is equal to and achieves the act of perfecting our minds.”  

In other words, by practicing our techniques diligently we are able to train our minds and our emotions to achieve the goal of harmony.  Another way of looking at that can be seen in one of the fundamental statements that we use constantly in Tomiki Aikido: Mushin, mugamae.  I.e., no emotion and no stance. Being without emotion allows us then to envelop the emotions of others, including our attacker, and use those emotions, coupled with the attacker’s own energy, against him. 

Bu-shi-do (武士道)literally means Military-Knight-Ways.  As Inazo Nitobe, the tremendously gifted author of the seminal book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan,” put it, bushido means “the ways which fighting nobles should observe in their daily life as well as in their vocation; in a word, the ‘Precepts of Knighthood,’ the noblesse oblige of the warrior class.”  

Bushido was never codified but rather evolved from several sources including Buddhism, i.e. Zen Buddhism to be more precise, which emphasized a calm trust in fate and a stoic composure in the face of danger and death.  For, after all, on the great Wheel of Life as seen in Buddhism, we will be reincarnated eternally until we achieve enlightenment and enter into Nirvana.

Zen Buddhism was especially well suited to form the religious and moral foundations of Bushido because it “represents human effort to reach through meditation zones of thought beyond the range of verbal expression.”

In the next article, I will discuss other sources of Bushido.