Some More Thoughts on Aikido

Though aikido is enmeshed a densely literate web — one has only to think of the tanka and other writings, not to mention the calligraphy of the Founder O Sensei himself — its primary mode of learning is physical.

It you are looking for an advance rational explanation, you are wasting your time. This is because aikido aims at inscribing its logic into your own bodies, where it will lodge until you transpire, or at least as long as your body responds to your mind.

That is the dilemma I in particular face returning to aikido in my late seventies. My thought moves faster than my body, though It too is destined to decay. Already is.


There is admittedly something here of the zen master’s twacking with a stick the novice  monk who is meditating rationally about the meaning of a  koan.  But aikido is not zen, zen is not aikido.

More Thoughts on Aikido

An open runnIng page with comments  inspired by my tentative return to the practice of akido after 17 years. For context, see my earlier Thoughts on Aikido


There is a tee-shirt which reads, “Touch me and your first lesson in aikido is free”.

This is decidedly not the public ideology  of aikido. But it does reflect some of the underlying passive-aggressive emotion whch is part of its pacific stance toward the world. The reason it remains plausible for aikido to claim it is an ethically different martial art is that all of the techniques start with, indeed cannot occur without someone touching another person, in the strong sense of the word ‘touching’,: hitting, grabbing, assaulting with a weapon.. 


Aikido is spun off from Japanese feudalism and part of its attraction is that it enables us to retrieve, if only within the comparative safety of the dojo, the sense of nobility among equals samurai or budo warriors practiced.

Outside of the dojo things are, alas,  much more democratic.


When I suggested to a Russian-speaking resident of Odessa, now definitively Ukrainian, a friend with whom I practice aikido, that both sides in the current war might look to the lessons of aikido, he replied, yes, but unfortunately Putin’s preferred martial art is judo.

What this might mean can be seen in an excerpt from Paul Wildish, Principles of Aikido: p. 63:

[The difference between aikido and]  judo and other jujitsu styles, is that in the latter, uke [the attacker] is most often held down on his back by the weight and pressure of nage’s [the defender’s] body on top of him,  restricting his movement and ease of breathing..

To supplement these physical hold downs there is a sophisticated range of choking  and strangling techniques designed to cut off the supply of blood to the brain and ultimately bring unconsciousness.  This requires considerable exertion  on both nage and uké’s part and is a contination of the close grappling character of judo on the floor.

Aikido has discarded this element of classical jujitsu or judo techique from its curriculum, eschewing any grappling or contention on the floor, [relying] instead on techniques that can be applied from a standing or kneeling position to keep uke pinned face down to the floor.

Not clear what this metaphor means in terms of the Russo-Ukrainian war, except that after three months of less-than-successful engagement Putin, a black belt in judo, has decided to draw his adversary into a ground game.






Is a Gentle Death Possible?

Dear M…,

Just an installment in an epistolar meditation inspired by your own meditation of yesterday.

Although I was intrigued by Zen as a young man (almost anything arcane was to my taste at 21), I  didn’t really start “to get it” until I spent  five years getting my black belt in aikido (wiki :  ; my page :

The first Zen “master” I read was Sokei-an ( He espoused vegetarianism, though would seem to have been more of a flexitarian or reducetarian per the info you linked, because he did not absolutely rule out meat.  The principle to which he referred was the Buddha’s about not eating anything you have chosen to kill or have killed for you.

In the Jivaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya #55), Jivaka, a disciple, asked the Buddha about the consumption of meat. The Buddha’s reply was that meat would be unsuitable if the living animal had been chosen by the disciple, if the living animal had been mistreated or mishandled, if the intent was the animal was slain specifically to feed that monk, if the living thing was frightened, or if knowing any of these things to be true the disciple/monk consumed it anyway. In any of these instances either the consumer, the provider, or both would engender negative karmic consequences

The dilemma boils down to what it means to be killed “for you”. I like to frame the argument around the meat counter at, say, Albertsons. Obviously, the meat there is not killed for you in particular — but presumably your choosing to eat meat implicates you in bad karma. On the other hand, if there was no choice involved, you could eat any meat served you or that you found if were hungry or in need.

Obviously a wide open field for sophists (with all due respect, S…), who could devise a string of arguments about who chooses, how one chooses, etc., arguments which lead to another question: what does it mean to choose for someone else, etc. Also, note the Buddha’s injunction against terrifying animals you might then eat.

Is a gentle death even possible?

For record, I don’t consider myself either a true adept of Zen or even have a developed philosophy of any one “-arian” stripe or another. But I do appreciate the force and import of the discussion. In practice I still choose to have meat, either by buying it already prepared at the butchers or willingly eating it when served it.

(At one point I was willing to argue that you should only eat meat you had killed yourself, but that was a silly, atavistic posture. I was taught to hunt as a boy and there is a macho side deep within me who believes that killing game is clean, albeit only if you are intending to eat it yourself, or provide it to others to eat.)

On the other hand, I now find myself eating less and less of everything, so that I probably am under the maximum for the vulnerable items in the Small Planet diet. I can’t claim virtue for this, rather a slowing metabolism, one preparing me for the worm and bacteria who will soon enough consume my own flesh, my own karmic fate  🙂

Thanks again for spurring this discussion on.