A Response

Dear All,
These are my thoughts in reply to a letter I received from my students after they read the letter from me entitled ‘A few things to know about aikido’.

The purpose of my original letter was to tell students that you can train in aikido with only one feeling, and that is the intention to do true aikido all the time. If one minute you have to attack thinking of being an attacker and the next you must think of being calm and defending (with no bad aggressive thoughts), you will never become at one with aikido. This is because the aim of aikido is only self-preservation, not fighting back. If you learn and feel both sides, you can never become complete.

O Sensei was a fighting man at first, but when he found true enlightenment he called it Aikido.

Of course you must look after yourself when taking ukemi, but many students still try to win even while they are receiving the technique. This is wrong and is not O Sensei’s way. (I know this because I was that fighter for too many of my training years.)

When we start aikido we do not all know why we start. We have many thoughts. From birth we learn to think of how we can survive in the world, and this makes us attack and defend, but you can never be fast if you have two thoughts. Many martial arts teach both attack and defence. Aikido has only one thought: To receive all and to become a better person so we can live a life of freedom from all that is bad in our lives, to flow with nature and in turn become at peace with the universe. If we go against this, we will not reach the great height that is possible.

When we are the attacker, we attack one hundred percent but we learn to take good ukemi. This is harmonising. It is not making the attack unreal; it is only unreal if you know that you have changed your thoughts and you are no longer being true. If this happens, the change has come from you and not the other person. Once the movement has started, it becomes a dance and unreal only if you make it that way. What we think as the person being true and honest will take time to develop. It is how we approach our training that matters, only then are we thinking the correct way.

I think that most people who train in aikido are not doing true aikido in the real sense of the word, but who are we to judge and tell them not to train? In time, they may change and become a better person than us.

As teachers, we can only offer our thoughts to others and hope that while we train we will understand the true way ourselves. We must train hard to destroy the bad in us. This will take time — it can take all of our life.

We will not like everyone we meet and sometimes, as a teacher, we have to ask a student to leave the mat because we feel that their energy and ours is not in harmony. This is normal in all life. As a student, we cannot always ask the other student to leave; sometimes we have to go another way ourselves.

If you are a teacher, it is normal that you will not get on with all the other teachers and their way of teaching. This is just human nature, and it happens in all walks of life.

If you keep thinking that other aikidoka are wrong and your way is the only true way, I am sad for you. If this happens, then you must leave the feelings inside you and wait to see if you can change; if you cannot change, you must make your own new path.

I myself have looked at many teachers around the world and I had many thoughts on their approach to the way they teach and train. I have thought that most are not doing aikido as I think it should be, but this was my own opinion, and was very judgmental. Over the years, this way of thinking has made many dislike me because I was too outspoken and I should have kept my thoughts to myself. If I had been more patient and waited, perhaps I could have seen their point of view and I would have more friends.

It is only now when I have nothing to gain in grades or the winning over of students that I can look back on my aikido life and know that I was wrong to judge. For this I am truly sorry. My own ego would not let me look at bad aikidoka, but if this was true out of the hundreds of thousands that train in this art, only a few will become truly humble and this is now my own path. I do not think in this life I will succeed in this mission, but I will try. So to all that read this, be careful what you think, and be careful what you say, because you will be judged on this at some stage of your life by others; you will see them disliking you and you will observe it in yourself as you become more enlightened, thus giving you concern that you cannot undo what you have done.

On the subject of confusion about the world going in all different directions now that Saito Sensei has passed away, it is not hard to see why this is so. The things I have said in this letter may answer some of your questions in this respect.

We must all chose our own path. If Saito Sensei’s passing was a way to allow us to break away and become true to what we think, then yes, aikido will change around the world once again. But it may be for the better because it may reveal a new O Sensei, something I am sure we would all wish to be, but have found the challenges too difficult so far in life. By teaching, we may find that student who is true.

To judge is to criticise; this means thought, thought means you have made a decision, and in making that decision time was used wrongly when it could have been used to look at beauty.

Sensei Sargeant