The spirit of selflessness and charity
O’Sensei was an avid martial artist, having originally trained to proficiency in Daito Ryu Jujutsu under the style’s headmaster, Sokoku Takeda Sensei. A strong and powerful martial artist, Ueshiba Sensei began teaching Daito Ryu Jujutsu in his home town of Tanabe, but following a series of political and religious adventures, he refined his martial techniques through his spiritual training and insights regarding the nature of conflict itself. Wishing to avoid conflict and violence, O’Sensei engaged in strict ascetic purification practices to train his body and mind, while retaining a vital connection to the world around him. Observing the world of international conflict around during World War II, O’Sensei sought a holisic, worldly enlightenment, and felt that martial arts training, when undertaken in a way directed towards the cultivation of harmony over disharmony, reconciliation over strife, could, in his words, ‘heal the world.’
At the time of Aikido’s genesis, Japan still retained a ‘frontier’ spirit, as smaller villages and towns, often considerable distances apart, strived to develop their local communities and economies. O’Sensei’s contribution to the development of his home town, Tanabe, was considerable, owing both to his tendency to selfless philanthropy and his legendary strength — all the more impressive for a man of such diminutive form (O’Sensei was only 5 feet tall, but there are abundant testimonies of him display a strength attributable to several, much larger men). Whether helping the townsfolk with construction work or farming (of which he was particularly fond, and encouraged as a complementary discipline in the Iwama Dojo) or protecting the travelling frontier groups from bandits (who were quickly lifted from their feet and pitched out of the way), O’Sensei moved towards the centre of the communities he encountered, guiding and aiding without arrogance or covetous political motives.
The spirit of selflessness and charity persists as an ideal in Aikido, which eschews competition and violence in favour of training towards a traditional ethics of martial awareness and self- improvement. There is no competition in Aikido, and no fighting; Aikidoka train in search of a mastery which extends beyond victory over others.