Anyone who studies Aikido for any length of time will one day stumble upon or eventually be referred to a phrase oft mentioned by O-Sensei, this is specifically “Masagatsu Agatsu Katsuhayabi” or “True Victory is Victory Over Oneself, In a Single instant”.
Like most esoteric phrases, it is impossible to capture this in any single aspect and the beginner student will doubtlessly take something different from it than the long-term Aikido practitioner. However, while an individuals interpretation of this, or any other training maxim will alter, it does not necessarily lessen from what was first realised. Instead the understanding will grow from that point of first meeting and assimilation of the phrase and it, like the student will change and reform over the years until what you have is the same, but intrinsically different in terms of not only meaning, but also application. Different, yes, but only in the way that we as individuals are now as different in this moment as from when we were first born.
Aikido, and the Budo philosophy that is contained within it, grows with us in every aspect of our lives. Often in very subtle ways in which we are not aware until a moment occurs where we draw upon either knowledge, thought, or technique to improve an issue or situation. Not merely in terms of combat, but in relation to life itself.
The Budo aspect of training is the first thing that many who enter into this most unique martial art encounter, and indeed is often the draw that encourages any one individual into the dojo in the first place. The need to know that one can protect oneself from danger. It is pure sympathetic nervous system response to perceived or real hazards and is a perfectly natural thing to occur, especially in the world we now live in where danger is prevalent at every turn, physical, material, emotional, and even social. The need to defend and protect, and the embodiment of a ‘warrior spirit’ is an enticing and exciting prospect and this is the greatest hurdle that many new (and sometimes old) students must overcome for the concept of what makes a good warrior differs greatly from culture to culture. Likewise what is expected from that culture as being a ‘real fighter’ is likewise affected.
How then can the beginning student relate to the eastern philosophical concepts within Aikido, and translate them into the cultural equivalent that gives at once both a sense of satisfaction, but also a sense of meaning with training. Particularly given that the majority of Aikido techniques take a great deal of time to develop to any degree. Failure is not necessarily an option, but is surely a likelihood should a new student attempt to make use of what is learned in any capacity close to what we use in the Dojo to practice.
This is where the understanding of the difference between Aikido and my other warrior arts begins to shine forth. Essentially Aikido seeks to subconsciously derail a students confidence from day one, breaking them down with lack of success, lack of understanding, and movements contrary to anything they had previously encountered. It becomes clear that this is not a ‘qiuck-fix’ course where a few simple punches and kicks will suffice and slowly confidence and even interest begins to ebb.
It soon becomes clear that Aikido is not a 3-trick pony but a complex system of movements, thought, and understanding that will not be easily taken into the real world for a considerable time. Added to this is the fact that in attempting to understand, assimilate and label these new movements it also becomes clear that to confuse a grown adult all one needs to do is ask them to move in a straight line while holding a wooden sword above their head and to cut down on a specific movement. In these moments there is no glory, no victory, no raising oneself above others, in fact we often leave classes feeling less masterful than we entered.
For the beginning student embarking with excitement on the Warriors Path, the way ahead seems extremely rock indeed and the Victory in any instant seems unfeasibly out of reach and grasp. Success seems always just out of reach.
Yet here is the first lesson and application of the path ahead. In being presented with the impossible task, does the student turn and walk away or do they continue? This is similar to the old adage of the student waiting patiently for days outside the home of a prospective Sensei in the hope of being accepted. In this case the student and Sensei are the same and so begins the first steps on the path to a self-enlightenment, where student and teacher merge into the same person and only they can choose to stay, or to go.
In this moment, fighting against all that their mind and culture tell them is what they want, they must instead understand what they need, and open that door to themselves. At that point, their true journey begins and the real trials and work can start to unfold…
To be continued in True Victory and the Warriors Path – Part 2