Smile Politely

Happy Birthday O’Sensai

I have had an affinity for Aikido since the late 1990s when I studied it briefly at a dojo in Champaign. And although my lack of practice and discipline in recent years has made me rusty at the physical moves, the philosophy behind Aikido has stayed with me.

Unlike some of the more popular and “hard” martial arts, such as Karate and Tae Kwon Do, Aikido is a “soft” art that involves no punching or kicking. Instead, Aikido utilizes a variety of circular movements that enable the student to evade punches and kicks while blending with and redirecting an attacker’s energy so that, hopefully, neither person gets hurt.

Unfortunately, there are not many places in the Champaign-Urbana area to study Aikido. One of the few and better-known local dojos where one can study this martial art is Central Illinois Aikikai located at 122 W. Main Street in Urbana.

I have never understood why Aikido is not more popular. It is a beautiful philosophy that can be applied not only to physical altercations, but in one’s everyday life. The word Aikido comes from combining three Japanese words Ai (harmony) Ki (spirit) and Do (the way), so Aikido could be literally rendered as “the way of spiritual harmony.”

Perhaps Aikido is not so popular because kids today aren’t interested in spiritual harmony but just want to learn how to kick some ass. Or perhaps it is because Aikido is a relatively new martial art, founded only in the last century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969).

Ueshiba, or “O’Sensai (great teacher)” as he is called by his followers, is one of my heroes ranking up there with Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The philosophy of each of these individuals was the same: to face oppressive force not with violence but with peace and love.

One of the earliest stories about Ueshiba tells how he got into an argument about martial arts with a naval officer who was also a fencing instructor. The officer picked up a wooden sword and attacked Ueshiba who simply evaded the blows until the officer dropped from exhaustion. By using the circular motions which he later developed into Aikido, Ueshiba was able to avoid the attack without also hurting or even touching his attacker. He later wrote:

Budo (the Martial Way) is not felling the opponent by our force; nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction with arms. True budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect, and cultivate all things in Nature.

Sunday, December 14th, was Morehei Ueshiba’s 125th birthday. After a century, his philosophy of spiritual harmony continues to live in the scattered dojos across the world that teach Aikido.

Happy birthday O’Sensai.

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