Aikido Principles Transposed Up Into the Realm of Spirit

C. S. Lewis wrote of transposition, of how complex systems can be "pared down" when brought down to lower systems. Here's my understanding: As an example, a three dimensional cube can be drawn in two dimensions, or be represented as a square, but it loses something in the process. A symphony can be reduced to a single instrument's piece, but it loses something in the process. The two very different feelings of fear and romantic love can both be described in physical terms of pounding heart, faster breathing, and so on to the point where they look the same at the physiological level. In fact, a study has shown that men on a precarious bridge are more likely to find a woman they meet there attractive ... because their mind mistakes their physiological symptoms of fear for symptoms of romance!

And so it is that the spiritual can be described on the mental and physical planes, but it loses something in the translation. In other words, if the spiritual is the "highest" realm, then bringing/translating spiritual principles down into lower realms like mental, physical, and (dare I say it) the psychic will result in mental, physical, and psychic principles that are like simplified reflections of the original. Conversely, if we find a reliable/demonstratable mental/physical/psychic principle, it would seem to have a higher spiritual counterpart. (Note also the projection of one higher dimensional item onto a lower dimension can have multiple different appearances in the lower dimension, when in fact they are all the same item viewed differently.)

Aikido is a lot about unifying body, mind, and spirit, but it usually deals with them on the mental and physical "plane." In other words, it's about how to establish spiritual things like peace and harmony within the framework of the physical world -- like how to physically stop an attacker coming at you with a sword in a way that keeps both of you from getting hurt. Aikido winds up drawing from the spiritual and mental levels, but at first glance, it looks like the whole point is to establish peace in the physical world.

In this page, I try to list aikido principles and lift them to the spiritual plane (well, the spiritual plane according to my current understanding of it), where the things that matter are not based on time or space, but are based on attitude, intention, and thoughts. In other words, I'll (try to) translate the physical and mental aspects of aikido into their spiritual equivalents.

(I realize that aikido was really meant to apply to all levels of life, including spiritual, but out on the practice mat, this is not necessarily obvious. So, when I concentrate on the mental/physical aspects of aikido and see what they mean in terms of higher spiritual principles, let me not neglect to add that many of these higher spiritual principles are already present in aikido philosophy!)

(Terminology/Source Note: The "spiritual" terminology is monotheistic, though substituting "Universe" or "the Tao" for "God" will make it understandable to a more Taoist-oriented aikidoka. The aikido terminology is based on the Ki Society's vocabulary. What few aikido principles I've learned I owe to instructors and students at the Virginia Ki Society, especially from 1993. I have personally experienced most of these principles in that dojo, at all known levels/planes of being -- including the spiritual level.)

  • Italicized text is the aikido principle or lesson.

    Plain text that follows is my attempt to describe the higher spiritual version of the principle or lesson.

    The Four Principles Translated

  • "Keep One Point." Keep your attention focused on a single spatial point; the smaller and closer to a mathematical zero-dimensional point, the better. This improves one's balance and stability immensely.

    Keep your attention and focus on God. The more you focus on the point of perfection of God, the stronger you become spiritually.

  • Extend Ki. This means to be alert, compassionate, and to be a source of energy.

    Have the right spiritual attitude, and all else falls into place. You become a source of spiritual understanding and light to others.

  • "Keep weight underside." Let the body relax as if all your flesh were liquid. Let the weight all settle down at the lowest points possible, and you will be much more stable and your movements far more effective. When the brain stops trying to control the body's individual parts, and when the flesh obeys the laws of physics and is now relaxed and no longer divided into tense divided sections ... the result is a unified whole that has amazing results in the physical world.

    Let things go to where they are ideally supposed to go. Have the spirit listen to God and stop trying to run a fractured life purely on its own wisdom. A spirit at rest (relaxed and faithful) in God's Spirit will have spectacular results in the spiritual world.

  • Relax completely. Relax vibrantly, such that you are filled with energy but yet have no tense muscles. Relaxed yet alert attitude and mind, and relaxed yet alert body. Relaxation allows energy to flow freely through the body.

    Have no fear. Do not fret. Do not worry. Do not be anxious. Don't let your mind or body overrule your spirit, and don't let your spirit overrule the Spirit of God. Let your spirit be calm and peaceful and alert to God's will, and this will allow God to act through your spirit. (An oft-used analogy is the stillness of a pond's surface as it reflects the moon; a choppy pond cannot reflect the moon well.)

    During an Attack

  • The foundation of the self-defense aspect of aikido is the act of redirecting the attacker's energy, rendering it harmless or even beneficial.

    Turn the negative situation into a positive one, a curse into a blessing.

  • For every attacking energy, there is a way to redirect it.

    God opens a path for us, even if the outcome isn't what we expected or wanted.

  • When presented with an attack, say "Thank you," with a genuine smile as you neutralize the attack. This gives the aikidoka a real "boost" in effectiveness.

    When presented with what looks like a problem or a negative situation, keep a positive attitude and say "Thank you" to both God and the cause of the problem. (Thankfulness is also said to be a trait of spiritually advanced people.)

  • Put yourself in your opponent's place, sometimes by physically moving closer to him so that you can better lead him.

    Seek first to understand. Love your enemy. And know your enemy. If you do this, you can see how to help him (with God's help), and you can often bring him spiritual peace before he can slide further down into anger or hate.

  • If you use your muscles, the opponent will resist and it becomes a strength contest. You must lead with Ki (mental attention, mental direction, and energy).

    If you try to force someone to do something, the person will resist and it becomes a battle of wills. You must lead with your spirit -- better yet, the Spirit of God. God does not force.

  • Don't think of the other as Someone Else. Think of both of you as "us." It is easier to "lead us" than it is to "move you."

    Realize that you are connected to the other, and that what you do will affect both of you. See others as part of a whole. Seek the path that leads BOTH of you to a good outcome, rather than trying to just force an outcome upon the other. Once you have everyone's best interests truly in mind, try to convey in your thoughts and actions that genuine desire to help all parties involved, and things will tend to roll along more smoothly. Moreover, compassion for others is God's way, so you also get God's help. Another component of this is: learn to make God's will your will. Unify with the Universe; be one.

  • Move out of the way of an attack. If a sword is headed your way, move out of the way (even if it means stepping toward the attacker). If a Mack truck heads your way, move aside.

    Avoid negativity and the influence of evil when it comes your way; instead, move to a safer place (mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) and work from there. Even spiritual principles cannot always avert an occurrence that is simply unavoidable, so instead avoid the negative effects upon your own attitude.

  • If you become a very good aikidoka, you often simply "see" the right thing to do.

    As you grow closer to God, you will likely be inspired to do the right things, as surprising as they might be.

  • Move with confidence, joy, and even enthusiasm. Confident movement helps ensure good energy, leadership, and good results; joy and enthusiasm can break us out of difficult holds, free us from oppression, and yield surprising results.

    Have deep and loving faith in God, have the belief that God will see you through any and all difficulties, have the joy and enthusiasm that is God's nature, and you will move through your difficulty.

    More Aikido Principles

  • The way to learn aikido is to practice with a good teacher and many other students, and to keep at it. It is something one can keep improving all one's life.

    The way to progress spiritually is to learn from God and God's other children, who share our world with us... and to keep trying, observing, getting up after falling down....

  • If you lean on something (or someone else), you must still maintain your own center (balance), or else you (and in the case of someone, the other person as well) are unstable and can be pushed over.

    If, in your life, you lean on something (like a pastime/hobby) or someone else (like a spouse or a friend) for support, make sure you are centered in God and that the thing or person you are leaning on is also stable (and centered in God), or else you are in a precarious position that could bring down not just yourself, but others as well, and vice versa (that which you are leaning on could fall and take you down, too).

  • Move from the center of your power. In the physical world, this means the first part of your body to move should be the center of mass, which should be roughly within your hips if you are physically relaxed and have "weight underside." Hips move, and all else follows.

    Move from the center of all power: that is, God. Move in the Spirit, with divine intentions and attitudes.

  • Unify mind and body. Mind sets the tone; the body responds. Energy links all the parts together: even the pinky finger can be used to defeat an attacker if mind and body are acting as a cohesive, unified whole. Together they can do amazing things.

    Unify spirituality with all aspects of your life: mind, body, actions, thoughts. With this unification, you can move mountains! (Unify all aspects of your life with God: bring God's compassion and courage to the workplace, home, commute, and hobbies, and watch the parts merge together into a glorious whole that sustains life far more powerfully than any one part by itself.) Note: a community that is unified like this is also extremely effective, and even a small child can effect a great deal of positive change.

  • Move from what is free. If only your pinky finger is free, let it lead the rest of you (through unification) to freedom.

    Like the Buckminster Fuller quote about the tiny trimtab (which changes the course of a ship), in society and life and in spirit, that part of us which is truly free can bring the rest of us to freedom - if we are willing to let "a little child" lead us.

  • As your focus shrinks, your awareness grows.

    As your mind focusses on God and the point of perfection, your awareness and compassion for others grows out into infinity. (Side effect(?) of doing both is that space (and possibly time) ceases to be meaningful or binding.)

  • Keep your mind on your destination and move toward it, and you will move right through your obstacles. If there is someone trying to block your way, keep your eyes on a point beyond him, think only of that destination, and you'll move right through him.

    Keep your mind on God and move toward God (or your inspired destination), and you will move right through your obstacles.

  • Lead your body with your mind. If you cut something with your mind first, it makes it tremendously easier for your hand or a sword to cut through that space right afterward.

    Lead the mind with your spirit; lead your spirit with God's Spirit. If you go where God leads, you will find it easy to go through even "impossible" situations.

  • What the mind envisions determines success. If you envision energy flowing through your arm and out your fingertips, your arm behaves as if there is energy within it, strenthening it. If you envision a break in the flow, your arm is correspondingly weakened. If you envision it whole again, your arm is strengthened once more.

    If you envision and dream something first, it will tend to become reality. If you envision and dream it with the Spirit's inspiration, it will become reality.

  • Don't hoard energy; if you relax vibrantly, you are automatically refilled with energy. Someone who depends on the energy within himself will quickly run dry and pass out in times of great stress.

    A correct mental attitude and attunement to God will automatically bring you the strength to accomplish "difficult" tasks. Rather than depend on your own limited wisdom and power, turn to God's limitless wisdom and power.

  • Move with and within the energy; do not try to control the energy. This makes a person invincible.

    Move within God's will; don't try to control God. This makes the impossible possible.

  • (Same as pinky finger example.) If you are caught in a grip, move that which is outside of the other's control, and you can move yourself.

    If you are "trapped," you will still have at least some part of you that is yours to control, even if it just your soul, and that will move you.

  • If you are moving forward against an opposing force that seems unyielding, move your body or just your mind and you can then move through the obstacle.

    If you are stuck in a rut and everything is frozen in place, change something internally, within your thoughts and attitudes, and then move forward again. Something within you must change if you want to get anywhere.

  • In a contest of aikidoka stability, he who presents any stiffness/rigidity is the first to fall, because the stiffness closes off part of the body from the stability of the body's center as well as offering a rigid, manipulatable "weak point" to the attacker.

    In a situation of struggle, always stay relaxed, faithful, confident, and open to God's spirit in all parts of your life. Don't shut out Spirit from any one area, or else you will be weak there and an attacker will swoop upon the flaw.

  • If you look upon others with compassion, you strengthen both that person and yourself.

    To bless others brings blessings upon yourself

  • When you hold a sword or jo, hold it lightly, as a baby grips an adult's finger. Do not grip it hard with strength. Extend ki through it, and it will spring back into place when hit, rather than being pushed out of line. Say, "This is mine" with confidence. But, conversely, be willing to let go if the situation demands it.

    Don't hold onto things in your life with greed and fear. Calmly claim what is yours, and extend God's peace onto them from your own peaceful center. Then they are less likely to be used against you. But sometimes you must let go if the situation changes.

  • Imagine yourself floating and detached from the ground while maintaining One Point and Weight Underside, and you will become more stable.

    Detach from the pseudo-supports around you, keep your will aligned with God's, and you will become stronger.

  • Shake out your body vigorously, and let the shaking decrease by half, then by half again, then by half, half-half-half-half, until you are still vibrating but so fast and imperceptibly that you are perfectly still - and you will be both relaxed and stable.

    Like a spinning gyroscope, vibrancy, movement, and motion ironically give us more stability. Many spiritual people report that higher vibrations lead upward to God. Musician Andreason reports that "God, the Creator, vibrates at an absolute level that is so fast that He is perfectly still." So, as high vibration brings stability to the body, so it does to the mind.

  • Extend Ki (energy and attention) in a particular direction, and you will become stronger against any attacks from that direction; hence, extend Ki in a sphere around yoursef to be strong against attacks from any direction.

    Extend spiritual principles and the love of God into all aspects of your life, and your life will become that much richer and more effective and immune to defeat. (This rule is already deeply imbedded in aikido philosophy.)

  • With most casual test pushes, one can redirect the energy into the ground without outwardly moving.

    Most little problems in life can be easily neutralized by simply maintaining one's centeredness on God.

  • The more complex or bigger the attack or test, the more one will have to move physically to handle the attack -- but all the while maintaining balance and centeredness.

    With some events, one might have to shift one's thoughts and attitudes somewhat in order to remain centered in God. With bigger, more complex issues, one might have to take extensive action, yet all the while remain centered in God.

  • With some attacks, it is best to let the other "steal" or "draw out" your energy rather than fight it; you just need to let a flow occur and replenish yourself by being relaxed and allowing energy in from outside.

    Sometimes it is best to let others take from you what they need/want, but you must replenish yourself from God's bounty.

  • If you let in a particular energy, its source tends to stick to you. If you let in energy from another's hand into your body, the other has an easier time keeping his hand connected to your body.

    If you allow a thought in, its source will gain some power over you (can be good or bad, depending on whether the source is bad, confused, or Divine).

  • If you keep out energy, its source tends to slide off of you. If you keep out energy from another's hand, that person finds his hand keeps slipping off your body.

    If you keep thoughts out, their source will lose their influence over you (can be good or bad, depending on the source).

  • If someone has you pinned against a wall, imagine it reflecting back; allow their energy to bounce back to them and push them off you.

    Negative energy can be put to positive use; in fact, there's no reason not to shape its flow so that it minimizes hurt and maximizes freedom and goodness.

  • Warning: it is harder to handle a soft, ki-based attack. Much training is required to withstand an attack like this.

    It is more difficult to stand one's ground in the face of heart-felt, sincere spirit than an offensive that is hard and pushy and closed off. If you are being attacked by something so sincere, then it will require serious training to remain centered in the face of it.

  • Aikido is the way of love and harmony. It is better to defuse a tense situation and avoid combat than to enter combat and win.

    True spirituality is the way of love. It is better to help those in need by way of Spirit than it is to rely on our own wisdom, which may make things worse.

  • Those who seek to attack others have already lost. They go against the will of the Universe. (OK, I've never experienced this myself, but advanced aikidoka say that an attacker always has an opening or weakness, while someone aligned with the will of the Universe/God has no openings or weaknesses.)

    God does not want us to be selfish and hurtful. The spiritual laws are set up so that we eventually learn that selfishness and hate weaken us. Those who live by God's will, those who are devoted to selflessness, compassion, and faith, are strengthened and made invulnerable in the long run. The closer to perfect love we grow, the closer to perfect we are.

    Ki Aikido demonstration of the effects of blessing vs. cursing
    Harry Eto Sensei's Lesson
    Terry Dobson's Aikido story

    (Lastly: I had wanted to get George Simcox Sensei's comments on this page, since I learned so much of this from him. I never got a complete set of comments because of his sudden passing. However, in August of 2000, a time of great trial for him, he took the time to email me after reading part of this page, in which he included the phrase "Good work!" -- so I have hope that I am at the very least a bit on the right track (for I believe that George was quite a bit on the right track :). He said he had some comments on the Weight Underside section that he never sent me -- so if anyone has an insight on what he might've wanted to say, I'd be delighted to hear it.)

    Text copyright 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 Eri Izawa (