Aikido and the Christian Life
by Raoul Branda
Christian Pastor, Switzerland
What is Budō?
Budō is a compound of the root bu (武:ぶ), meaning war or martial; and dō (道:どう), meaning path or way. Specifically,
dō is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit mārga (meaning "path"). The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a 'path' to realize them. Dō signifies a "way of life". Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is
the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one's ego that must be fought(state of Muga-mushin). Similarly to budō, bujutsu is a compound of the roots bu (武), and jutsu (術:じゅつ), meaning
technique. Thus, budō is translated as "martial way",or "the way of war"while bujutsu is translated as "science of war" or "martial craft."However, both budō and bujutsu are used interchangeably in English with the term "martial arts".Budo and bujutsu have quite a delicate difference; whereas bujutsu only gives attention to the physical part of fighting (how to best defeat an enemy), budo also gives attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself. Modern budo uses aspects of the lifestyle of the samurai of feudal Japan and translates them to self-development in modern life.
What is Aikido?
Aikido (Japanese: 合気道, Hepburn: Aikidō?) [a.i.ki.doː] is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying (with) life energy"or as "the Way of harmonious spirit."Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.
Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of theattacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical strength, as the aikidōka (aikido practitioner) "leads" the attacker's momentum using entering and turning movements. The techniques are completed with various throws or joint locks.
Contemplation and Compassion
Increasing numbers of liberal Christians like me are interested in Buddhism. Many among us are interested in what Buddhist meditation offers our faith, believing that it might help us recover its lost contemplative side.
For us, Christianity is an active religion that tries to incarnate the love of God in the world. We know that anyone who wants share love with others needs to nourish an inner sense of love for God, and this requires a quietness of heart and a capacity for attentive love. Only then can love be genuine and open. The forms of Buddhism that attract us are those what can help find this quiet attention.
Nevertheless, even those among us who feel sympathy for Buddhism sometimes find that Buddhism is a little too passive. We know that there are many forms of socially engaged Buddhism, but these sometimes seem to be exceptions, not the rulre. Perhaps this is a misperceptionon our part, but the perception persists, rightly or wrongly.
It seems to us that Buddhism offers mindfulness and equanimity, which help to see this world as itis, but that these qualities can lead to a sense of distance form the world, too.
As Christians we seek a balance and coalescence of activity and receptivity, of equanimity and action, of stillness and motion. The early church theologians and spiritual leaders emphasized this,too; many said that the active life and the contemplative life go together. Perhaps here, too, we can learn from East Asia. Perhaps Aikido provides a key.
A year ago I began to take lessons in Aikido. It is a form of Budō. Budō is an art of fighting created by Samurais. You can read about it on the left. It is a martial art, and while its ostensive aim is to assist in actual fighting, it contains two elements that resonate deeply with Christian spirituality. One is the idea that the ultimate enemy is not external but rather internal: the ego. And the other is that the ultimate aim is to create the perfect act: that is, an act that is in harmony with the way things truly are: the Absolute.
From Warfare to Spirituality
These spiritual ideals shaped the development of Budō.
During the Edo era (XVII-XIX), a long period of peace reigned in Japn. During this period Budō was creatively transformed from an art of fighting into a means of personal development with an affinity towards spirituality. Many samurai became Zen monks and continued to cultivate their art.
The swords of the samurai were no longer a means to death but a means to live. For Christians influenced by process theology, this is the very kind of transformation where we see God present. God is present as a lure toward creative transformation from violence to peace, from hatred to compassion, from the art of fighting into a means os perosnal development.
An important concept in this search is the Japanese term of “nen.” Morihei Ueshiba the founder of Aikido stressed the importance of this concept as the most important side of Budo.
Nen is the moment when the Budoka is completely present in his act, completely in harmony with his partner (that is no more an enemy), and in synchrony with Body and Spirit. The influence of Zen Buddhism is clear.
Through meditation, Buddhism tries to realize this harmonization between body and mind, and between the self and the universe, here and now. It is also called Buddha-Nature. The difference in Budo is that this realization is with the Absolute, and it is obtained not through meditation but through action. Aikido is sometimes called Moving Zen.
Zen is the Everyday Life
Some Zen Masters were influenced by this new evolution and extended the Zen mind to every action of life. Especially in the Rinzai School the Zen forms adopted by the Samurai, masters like Hakuin and Sosan, said the Zen-mind has to be lived not just during meditation, but, especially, in every duty of the life. This idea of spirituality in everyday life is close to the heart of a Christian believer with a contemplative spirit. He or she knows that the Christian life is contemplative and active, and that the place of activity is daily life - the place where God is found -- is in the kitchen and the marketplace, at home and in the workplace. Spirituality and daily life need to be two sides of a single coin. If spirituality means the guiding -- the Reign -- of God in one's life, then the the guiding must be here-and-now, if it is to be real at all.
In the last part of his Dogmatic the Christian theologian Paul Tillich writes about the Reign of God in relation with human life. Tillich proposes that the Reign of God cannot be achieved in full by any human being, but that moments of the Reign can be realized by each human being and all human beings in the particular circumstances of their lives. These moments are moments of Kairos: moments when action is in perfect harmony with the Spirit of God, reflecting the reign of God on Earth.
What is Process Theology?
Process theology points in a similar direction. Process theologians can be Christian or Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu, Muslim or Bahai. In this website one of the most prominent Jewish process theologians -- Rabbi Bradley Artson from the United States -- offers many columns.
But I myself speak out of the Christian tradition, and I am grateful to the Christians process theologians for helping me think about the Reigh of God. You can learn more about their ideas in this website if you are interested: John Cobb and Marjorie Suchocki, Monica Coleman, Bruce Epperly, Catherine Keller, Jay McDaniel. Indeed, I, too have published several articles. See, for example, my Zen and the Bible.
Process theologians emphasize different things, but they all propose that God's own aim for harmony in the world is enriched and requires our cooperation. At a spiritual level, so they say, we need to grow into people who can do God's will on earth, and in doing that will our egos need to drop away so that a marriage occurs between heaven and earth. We need, as it were, the nen spirit.
In a moment of nen, the practitioner is an incarnation of the universe, he or she is one with the absolute interconnectedness of things. The spirit of compassion -- of doing the right thing -- emerges naturally out of which onenness. It is not forced; it is spontaneous. That is close to what either Tillich and Process Theologians say about the relation between the fellow Christian, the spirit of God and his Reign.
Praying at All Times
It might seem as if I am trying to bulld a bridge between contemplation and action, but in truth there is no bridge to build; the connections are already there.
Contemplation is the action and true action exists only in contemplation. They are together like yin and yang.
This is close to what Paul means when he sayd, “Pray at all times.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Christian actions can reflect the Reign of God only when they are lived in perfect communion with God and in harmony with the Spirit. If we are Christian, we we discover on the tatami (mat) of a Dojo can teach us how to be more mindful and present in daily life. It would help to introduce some training in Budō. in ours seminaries. In a world increasingly complexified by cultural globalization, this is our hope.
In a Christian context the practice of Aikido can be complemented by worship and prayer, social service and fellowship, by Bible study and kindness. There is a time for solitude in life and also a time for community. The spirit of Aikido and other martial arts, when combined with a commitment to compassionate living, can be vessels of God's spirit.