"Chasing The Way "
Aikido – the literal translation varies from book to book - ‘the unification of mind, body and spirit’ or ‘the way of spiritual harmony’ or ‘the way of peace’ – all meanings that were lost to me until I started along its path.
I had no idea what was in store for me…
‘Do’ or ‘Way’ – what did this mean? This was just another martial art, wasn’t it? As a young boy I practiced Karate for some years, punching and kicking my way around the dojo, fighting with aggression, with little regard for your opponent. Even though I had little real life experience it was clear that this was probably what we all think a martial art should be – a deadly art perfected through life and death confrontation. Real fighting.
The ‘Way’ aspect had no meaning to me at that age and like most youngsters other things held my interest and my practice waned until it became no more than a memory.
Many years later whilst visiting friends I passed a local school and a sign at the side of the road caught my eye – ‘Aikido’. I’d heard of that, but knew little else about it so carried on driving and put it to the back of my mind. As time passed I began to find myself in a bit of a rut, each day seeming much like the last and work no longer really a challenge. After taking stock of my life I decided to take up a hobby, something to get me out of the house and meet people, a chance to learn something new – it was then I remembered the sign at the side of the road. Aikido! Why not? I’d nothing to lose by just going along and watching…
And it is here, more than five years later, that I find myself. On reflection, it’s clear to me now that I was looking for something other than just learning to defend myself. I could never have predicted what I was going to learn, not only about a martial art, but also of myself.
But more importantly perhaps I have glimpsed what the ‘Way’ is, or what the ‘Way’ means to me. Like most Aikidoka, I too have bought books on the art - some adopting a technical approach, some a more spiritual one – all written by masters who have forgotten more on Aikido than I will ever know. But surprisingly it was in the ‘Hagakure’, the book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, that I found a passage that, for me anyway, best describes the ‘Way’:
“It is not good to settle into a set of opinions. It is a mistake to put forth effort and obtain some understanding and then stop at that. At first putting forth great effort to be sure that you have grasped the basics, then practicing so that they may come to fruition is something that will never stop for your whole lifetime. Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, “This is not enough.”
I understand better now what the ‘Way’ is. I used to think it was something that you could achieve, a tangible goal, and an end product. But I could not have been more mistaken. The ‘Way’ is the doing, the practicing, and the effort. The getting it wrong and trying to get it right, then trying to improve upon it. To not give up in the face of adversity, to not accept that this is all that is manageable but to keep on.
One should not search throughout his whole life how best to follow the Way. And he should study, setting his mind to work without putting things off. Within this is the Way.”
Perhaps in the future I will have a greater understanding of what the ‘Way’ is, but I’m certain that it will not come easily. Maybe it’s better for that and I will appreciate it all the more. Time will tell…
I step on the mat with fellow students and instructors and look around me. I see people who have to juggle complex lives, people who have fought serious illness and those who have suffered immense emotional upheaval. But week in week out they still come.
I am truly humbled by them.
And, as far as I’m concerned, this is the ‘Way’.
Sensei Ian Macaulay