This quote is attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the martial art Aikido. Aikido is commonly translated as “The Art of Peace.” While literally the meaning is “Harmonious Energy Way.” What that means changes with your understanding so, I’m not going to bother. This is about the quote itself. Someone made the comment that this quote seems too “New Age-y” and asked “How do you actualize it?” This led me down a train of thought, and I came up with this answer. Fair warning, I’m not an expert in this art yet, and my interpretation is just one of many. I base it on my knowledge of language as much as the art, my ability to look into literal, contextual, and metaphorical expanses to determine the humanistic and complex thought process behind a seemingly simple statement. It’s a creative writer’s view on a specific statement given by a specific human.
It’s a state of mind, a focused awareness towards that goal. You actively redirect conflict and lock it out (IE, mental Nikkyo). You take principles of Aikido and apply them outside the dojo. Got a conflict with a co-worker? Create harmony. How you do that is totally subjective and dependent on the scenario. But, resolving that conflict peacefully and amicably is possible.
It’s not that a small number of Aikidouka are going to lead the human race to it’s salvation. It’s that principles of Aikido, when applied, lead to harmony and peace. I come from Iwama-Ryu and Takemusu Aiki (roughly “natural aikido”) is a huge part of what we do. When you apply this principle outside of combat, what you find is that your nature creates its own ripples and new conflicts arise. You attune yourself as a person to be in harmony with the world around you. Not the whole world, mind you… just the part to which you’ve chosen to expose yourself.
In another martial art, this could be using direct opposition (as in blocking) to create a harmonious response (IE counter-attack). In an overly-employed workplace, this could be adjusting everybody’s schedule so no one gets thrown off and everyone gets their allotted hours, while using the excess flow to create net growth for the employer. In a rowdy bar, it’s offering to buy that drunkard a beer or a meal, rather than letting it build up to fight. Or it’s leaving the bar before conflict develops, if you don’t wish to be part of it. If it does become a fight, you have your combative skills. Lest we forget, O-Sensei said that Atemi is 70% of the solution, technique is 30%. Atemi is roughly “Distracting strike.” In combat, a punch in the face is a good distraction. If they block or evade, they’ve changed their position while you haven’t and you have control. If they haven’t, you punched them in the face. Either way, it creates space and time for you to execute a controlling technique to end the conflict. In non-combat situations, this is changing the subject if it’s too heated, this is getting minds off the failure and onto the next attempt, and this is studying only as hard as you need to get the grade you want.
The point isn’t that Aikido is a practice that creates peace. It’s that this is a practice that leads to peace. You forge your mind, body, and spirit towards self-improvement and towards conflict dissuasion. Not evasion. You don’t want to hide from the conflict when you have the ability to end it. Instead, you want to use your mind, your non-linear thinking, your general ability to reason, to enact peace and harmony in your wake. Of course, sometimes there is no other option than conflict, and matching the intensity and ferocity of an opponent can be Aiki in it’s own way. Matching spirit is just as important as matching literal energy.
Take this outlandish, but potentially real scenario… In a bank heist, two men with guns. I (in this fictional world where I am not a lowly fourth kyu) have the power to, alone, deal with them one at a time, control one gunman to keep the weapon outside of me and the body in line with the potential second shooter, his friend between us. However, I can’t control both of them, even in the best scenario, without risking another person getting shot. What I can do is stop someone near me who keeps balling his hand in a fist from actually taking the hero’s charge and getting other people killed. I can do this either with words of reason or an applied lock. My goal isn’t to stop the robbers, it’s to keep everyone alive and as safe as possible. If someone gets shot, it becomes my job to save them if I can and then to prevent more people from getting shot. Standing in the bullet’s path is cliche, but you might choose to do it and you would not be wrong for protecting others. This whole idea is crazy, but it makes the point. Knowing Aikido wouldn’t stop the heist, but being able to apply redirection to either gunmen or hostages to prevent bloodshed is a peaceful solution. Making the thing occur requires you making it happen.
As for O-Sensei as a pacifist… the man is reputed to have had numerous conflicts. You can’t develop a system of combat without a lot of combat experience. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t peaceful, it just means he didn’t go out of his way to find fights. He went out of his way to find solutions. Also, when I look at videos of his technique, it’s much more Aiki-jitsu than Aiki-do. But, that’s not really too important in the face of the message that you can have the influence to make change. Aikido as a martial art is just a physical manifestation of that. The Aiki-minded individual naturally seeks to damage all parties as little as possible while simultaneously getting the most result from a minimalist approach. The reason no one elaborates on this is because it becomes innately understood in time, through temperance, and revealed when you’re given the opportunity to define yourself.
To paraphrase Bruce Lee, the way you fight is a reflection of the person you are.