What Is Aikido?
by Dennis Hooker
I travel a lot and have for years in relation to Aikido, either as student or teacher. (That may be redundant in this phase of my life, as I learn more when teaching than when being a student.) Inevitably when flying or on a train someone will, in an attempt to be friendly I guess, ask where I am going and why. I used to tell them straight out, to study or teach Aikido, whichever the case was. Then I would spend the next hour trying to explain or answer questions about Aikido. This would generally end with the other person relating a story about a prodigy relative who, at ten years old, held a fifth degree black belt in some Korean martial art.
So now I say I am a professor, as I am generally en route to a university to teach. I say I teach Applied Eastern Philosophy as it relates to the modern application of the ethos derived from the Bushido period of Japanese history, and how this philosophy was applied by the renowned Professor Ueshiba. This usually brings about silence, which is, at that moment, my most cherished desire.
In the dojo I generally call for one of the 3rd or 4th dans, as they have a much better handle on the issue than I do, to answer questions about Aikido from prospective students.
What Ueshiba O-Sensei meant and understood is beyond me. Fortunately for me, I am just an old man in his dotage who knows no better than to believe in the unbelievable, and to believe I see and know things others tell me are not real. Knowingly or unknowingly O-Sensei set in motion a process that changes lives.
I have had several Aikido teachers in my life. Principle among those who had the greatest influence on me was Isao Takahashi and his main students. I saw what they did and how they interacted and their ability. I judged that against my fighting and social skills of the time, which I considered above average and well-tested, and found myself somewhat lacking both in effectiveness and moral rectitude. I wanted to be where they were. When I saw Saotome Sensei for the first time, I saw the evolution of where I wanted to go. When I felt his technique for the first time I knew I had chosen correctly. Aikido is what it is in my life now after 35 years or more of training in the art. It has been influenced by Judo, Karate, Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu and by having been a minister in a Christian church. It has been shaped by Myasthenia Gravis, jumping out of airplanes, 34 years of marriage, two Bachelors Degrees, being given up for dead, and laughter. By a daughter’s tears as hot as napalm on a near-dead man’s skin, a son’s love as strong as steel, and a loving wife’s resolve.
I do not believe Aikido to be an art of war. I think it transcends that. I studied arts of war and I lived through one. I don’t want to go back there. The Aikido I learned took me beyond that. It seems to me some people are trying to drag it back down into the dirty realm of kill-or-be-killed combat. Perhaps it is because they are trying to mask their own fears of inadequacy because they have never been tested and resent that, or because they believe O-Sensei did not transcend the combat arts he studied to develop something new. Perhaps I will be proven wrong, and will be shown to have lived a lie. If so, it has been a good lie.