Aikido - The Way of Life

Katarina Obradovic (ex Novakovic)

Katharina Novakovic, AC "Zemun" - Aikikai Serbia

Be grateful even for the difficulties, defeats and evil people. Overcoming of these obstacles is the essential part of exercising the Aikido.

Morihei Ueshiba

About 3 years ago, the Aikido entered my life. In that period I found out about anew field of discoveries, newly founded, affirmed by Moris Godelie, which he called ". The cultural conceptualization of a body and idea of a body" This represents an effort to examine human body as socially and culturally formed - he tried to "read and understand cultural and social interactions which are inscribed in the idea of body"*


My personal experience in the Aikido, my perception and discoveries in the field of conceptualization of a body, prompted me to write this article.

Marsel himself tried to define and classify body techniques in his book "The Sociology and Anthropology" - "A phrase body techniques implies ways in which people, in various societies, traditionally use their body".1

The Aikido is a body technique and it originates from Japan i.e. as being a part of traditional Japanese culture it is a part of martial arts. It has its founder, Morihei Ueshiba**, and its form which is standardized, thus the very technique is institutionalized and spread all over the world.

To train the Aikido means to dedicate oneself to mastering one particular form of a body technique (a technique of martial arts), which a student learns in a training. During the years of learning, the student repeats it, and eventually, more or less successfully, masters it when the moment for taking the kyu degree and day degrees comes.

There is one distinctive material form of body techniques in the Aikido. I have no intention of accurately listing or describing them, but I would like to deal with a question: how to maser a manifested form i.e. how does one learn a technique?

Namely, when a student starts to exercise Aikido, he\she comes to a master (instructor) of a technique. The maser represents the authority in a gym (Dojo). A concept of teaching prevails in all techniques of the use of a human body. But I have to add to this concept also a concept of imitating, for which a tutor is necessary. For an instance, students observe the tutor's demonstration in training. Every student goes through the same training process, and according to his/her abilities the student successfully imitates the performed technique by the authoritative person whom he/she trusts (in this case it is a master- Aikido instructor). Thus, Aikido instructor, by giving his example, shows ideal-typical performance of the technique which all students imitate.

Thus, this action is given externally- from the top. And here one can see asocial element of the Aikido. On the one hand there is a person who teaches some legitimate approved and standardized technique ( e.g. ikkyo) and on the other hand there is a person who practices it. In this sense the Aikido is a social category or a method for socialization of our body. In the Aikido our body learns the language of this technique and simultaneously there is a tutor who teaches us by giving his personal example.

On the other side the Aikido is the technique which can be interpreted on several levels, and in which is incorporated besides material, formal level and social and spiritual element; thus, this technique has been existing both as the way and philosophy of life.

Body technique should serve as some kind of methodical assistence during the process of becoming aware of latent social and spiritual dimensions of life- of which Morihei Ueshiba taught so much during his training Aikido and on which he insisted a lot in his verbalizing of the Aikido.

I am here mainly interested in emphasizing and pointing to one "social body" which Aikido forms in a person, and which creates a radical transformation in that person.

Social dimension

Since the Aikido techniques are performed by a pair of people it should be emphasized that people enter a kind of social interaction on the tatami a (and in a room for training).

The first interaction which can be noticed is of reciprocity. During a exercising of a technique alternately is repeated a role of tori-uke. Uke is a person who has a function of an attacker and who gives his/her body to tori that then, by his assistance performs a hold. The person, who has been in a place of tori, undertakes the function of uke after a couple of times of repeating. Thus, during the exercise, one learns simultaneously 2 positions: the position of uke-giver and of tori- receiver. There is a clear dialectical relationship between these 2 positions. My tutor used to say during the training that "the path which leads to a good master is one which leads to a good uke". By saying this he implied that the position of a great person (a wise master) is the position of giving. If the great Erich From2 had been alive he would have agreed on this.

The second interaction is of hierarchy and equality. The wisedom is the only worth of hierarchization; it is emphasized and one should feel special inner respect towards it. Personally, I am especially interested in concept of visualization of knowledge hierarchy.

Students exercise in trainings, dressed in kimonos, which in away represent a type of ritual clothing, and thus visual difference does not exist among them.

Persons with a master degree differ visually from the rest of students: they wear black belt, and hakama (traditional Japanese trousers) with a kimono. By this clothing is emphasized the power of wisdom on a semiotic*** level and there lies the reason why masters are those who are on the top of the knowledge pyramid and beginners at it’s the bottom. Within this pyramidical interactions there is a mechanism of mobility and its essential principle is the knowledge.

The thing I find the most fascinating, when we are talking about the knowledge in Aikido, is that the knowledge is not just evaluated by a standard criterion, instruments, scales or grades. It is the incredible experience which cannot be described by means of words; it is something that one should feel himself; there is a difference in technique quality if one practices it with a master "who has just put on hakama" and a master who has been wearing it for 10 years!

Also, in these hierarchical interactions one could notice one type of reciprocity. My tutor has been always telling us that "he can be a tutor only to those who has accepted him as a tutor", thus the wisdom should not be vanity and that a tutor should never underestimate anybody, not even a real beginner "because I learnt the most precious things from my students".

The third interaction which is simultaneously the most important is of responsibility.

Previously listed interactions we forced and imposed externally because they are the rules of the Aikido. Interaction of responsibility one must learn alone and there is no mechanism for sanctioning of irresponsible behavior towards a partner. This interaction comes from the inside and it is a result of maturity. For successful mastering of this, one needs a great tutor.

In the Aikido technique, as previously mentioned, one exercises with a partner. His/Her body is in the hands of his/her partner so the responsibility of the one who is tori is clearly enormous because the techniques are very dangerous. The essence of the techniques is in their concept - the idea is that one should defend himself/herself from an attacker and not hurt the attacker. In this way by the simplest example it can be showed the senselessness of any kind of violence. The concept of defense from the violence by anti-violence is very close to Christian idea "turn the other cheek" . Responding to the violence by positive reaction is common for the both philosophies.

By repeating the form of the Aikido it becomes automatic reaction as eating, speaking or walking. The mentioned social relationships are in symbiotic relation with this form, and as the time passes they become a part of our life, acquired habits. It is necessary to become aware of them and to apply them to other social relationships in our life.

To be affectionate, responsible, to respect hierarchy and to know your place in it, and simultaneously to treat all people equally- FOR ME IS THE WAY OF LIFE.

I have dedicated this article to my sensei Sasa Obradovic, whom I owe a lot- thank you!


* E.g. socially and culturally established way of giving birth (common or traditionally generally accepted) is a lying position and in some African tribes is a standing position. Similar to this is traditional walking on knees in the Aikido or traditional sitting position in yoga during meditation.

1 Marsel Mos, the Sociology and Anthropology, 1, bibliotheca 20.vek, Prosveta, Beograd, 1982.
** Historical development of Aikido is not relevant for this article. More information can be found on ( )

2 See in "the Art of Love" - From says that position of giving is actually a position of power!

***sociology is the scientific Eeld about "general discoveries of signs, especially non- linguistic", see Pier Oiro, The Semiology, biblioteka 20. vek, Prosveta, Beograd, 1983