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The “Ai” in Aikido

The kanji character “Ai” at the beginning of Aikido is a pictograph that represents a bowl and a lid that fit together “just right”. It means that different things can come together in a perfect union.

Aikido's “aiki” is interpreted in many different ways, but in general, it has the meaning of technically matching the timing and movement of an opponent, and the spiritual meaning of being able to align with someone else’s intentions and feelings.

When I speak about practicing Aikido, I am often asked, "Is that the martial art that you can throw someone with just energy?" But I don't feel that this is the way that we are practicing Aikido in our style. The first time I felt that "maybe this is the meaning of Aiki " was at our intensive training camp in Kyoto a few years ago.

We were lucky enough to be holding this practice during the most beautiful season in Kyoto. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and we could open the doors of Kyoto’s Butokuden fully. We could all practice together with the feeling of the spring breeze blowing through the Dojo.

Because the doors were wide open, some man that we didn’t know suddenly entered the dojo. Sometimes tourists mistakenly try to enter the Dojo to watch a practice, but this man was definitely not a tourist. He walked into the Dojo and tried talking to different students. Kinefuchi-shihan saw this and immediately approached this man and spoke to him gently. I was watching this all happen from the corner of my eye as I continued to teach. Then this man started to demonstrate punches and kicks in the direction of Sensei. My husband quickly ran up to me and said “we should definitely call someone,” but after seeing Kinefuchi-shihan’s reaction to this man, I told my husband that we should wait a little longer and see what happened.

Kinefuchi-shihan kept talking gently to this man who had started to yell and get agitated and asked him to go outside of the Dojo together. I felt that he was talking to him for a very long time, but probably this didn’t last for more than ten minutes. After that, Sensei calmly returned to the Dojo as if nothing had happened.

I was curious and asked him, "What happened?" He explained that when this man saw all of us practicing martial arts, this man also intended to practice. Kinefuchi-shihan said to this man, "Let’s walk outside to see the beautiful cherry blossoms," and took him outside. There they talked about the cherry blossoms and Kinefuchi-shihan listened carefully to what the man was trying to explain. Finally, this man seemed satisfied that someone had carefully listened to him and left the Dojo to return home naturally and without needing to be escorted away.

It was such a short time that the students who were practicing with us that day paid attention this man’s strange behavior. This was because Kinefuchi-shihan acted so naturally and calmly while dealing with this issue that everyone could continue to practice without really paying much attention to this situation.

This story has become a legend among our senior students. How many people can actually act as calmly as Sensei when such an unexpected situation arises? If it were me, I would have gone up to this man and directly said to him "Can you please leave this Dojo because we are in an intensive training session right now?" I think most people would also try to deal with this situation in this same way.

I felt that our sensei’s behavior and actions that day clearly shows what “Aiki” actually is. Like a spring breeze, he could calmly accept another person’s feelings, and by getting close to him he could move him in the direction that he wanted without pressure or fighting.

Through our techniques, we learn the underlying principles of the martial arts. Then, by watching our teacher, we can learn how to apply these principles to the world around us.

If we can apply this meaning of “Aiki” to our dealings with other people, businesses, countries, nature, the universe and maybe even viruses, I hope that we’ll be able to make this world an even better place in the future.

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