The Skills the Art and the Path

Japan has a long tradition of the arts of war. The study of a warrior attitude is entwined with the history of Japan and its art. Simplistically the Japanese term for warrior or war is Bu (:ぶ),. The idea of a study or a path or way that one studies is Dō (long o pron. doe) (:どう).  The study of the realm of a warrior spirit is termed Budo and the term Budo is translated by some people as martial arts.

In the western traditions the art of war or arts in the domain of Mars the god of war are termed martial arts. However the concept of a ‘Do’ or a ‘Way’ implies something more, as is often the case with the Japanese language.

Most martial arts are competitive studies and competition that becomes all about seeing who is better. It loses the original etymology of striving ‘together’ and focuses instead on developing a mindset, of forces in opposition.

Whereas in a Do especially Aikido, at least for some of us who study, we are a community, working together to make us all better, as a clan did for its mutual benefit.

I see studying a ‘way of being’ very different from learning the skills of the art whether it be war or dance, painting, pottery or fighting. Developing one’s self for ‘the completion of the universe’ has a different flavor, different intent and ultimately a different outcome, from a competitive approach in which people are trying to conquer or defeat others.

It seems people often have a hard time understanding that distinction and so don’t see a value in the practice of harmony. As such they miss the value in the practice because they are studying fighting and winning over others. O sensei said, “Winning means winning over the discord in your own mind.”

I taught a blending exercise to some Bosnians after the war. One woman said when I showed it to her, she couldn’t make any sense of it or the why. Once she experienced the energy of it, she was totally intrigued. It made sense only in the experience of the difference.

I understand we may find ourselves in opposition to one who does not respect our right to be who we are. If it is a physical challenge, in that moment defeating another may be a path, the only path, to survival. Also, I respect everyone should follow their own heart or interest, whatever it is, to complete their bestowed mission.

Mine is Aikido specifically because it is not about fighting but rather helping develop an attitude of ‘reconciling the world’.

As the founder said, “Aikido does not call relative affairs good or bad but keeps all being in a constant state of growth and development and serves for the completion of the universe.”

Which is why I love it.



  1. This from Wikipedia:

Budō is a compound of the root bu (:ぶ), meaning war or martial; and dō (:どう), meaning path or way. Specifically, dō is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit mārga (meaning “path”).[4] The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a ‘path’ to realize them.[5] Dō signifies a “way of life”. Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one’s ego that must be fought.[6]

Similarly to budō, bujutsu is a compound of the roots bu (武), and jutsu (術:じゅつ), meaning technique.[7] Thus, budō is translated as “martial way”,[8][9][10] or “the way of war” while bujutsu is translated as “science of war” or “martial craft.” However, both budō and bujutsu are used interchangeably in English with the term “martial arts”. Budo and bujutsu have quite a delicate difference; whereas bujutsu only gives at/tention to the physical part of fighting (how to best defeat an enemy), budo also gives attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself.


4 thoughts on “The Skills the Art and the Path

  1. Post author

    Bill Gleason is an old friend. We met when we were in our teens. He and my brother were close as kids. We learned to play the guitar together. When we reconnected, we had both found our lives immersed in Aikido. He is exceptional on every level and here are some thoughts and comments he offered me in response to this post and has allowed me to share.

    Bill i thank you for your generosity and the tremendous contribution you have made to the art of Aikido.

    ” It’s a nice piece you wrote and I am glad that you support the understanding that Aikido is more than an art of self-defense. There is a great deal I would like to write about this subject but perhaps that will be another book before my time is up. Suffice it for this email to just touch on a few points.

    First of all, we should make no mistake that O-sensei created a martial art and was undefeated using it as a defense against many martial artist of different styles who later became his students. Secondly, there is no doubt that if the aikido of the founder had not been as formidable as it was, we would never even have heard the word aikido. This is also true with the relationship of our aikido and future generations.

    From the opposite side, O-sensei was one of the most powerful martial artists in Japan before he created Aikido. This is because he understood the principle of Aiki that he learned from Takeda Sokaku of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu. Why then did he create it? The principle of these two arts is exactly the same, only the form is different and that is a huge difference. The jutsu is contained within the Dou (Tao) but the Dou is not contained within the jutsu.

    Obviously, as you say, he wanted to create an art that would serve for the development of individuals of higher character and a way of peace. The sticking point is that Aikido is based on Aiki, which is ki (intent) manifesting as yin and yang. If physical technique is not practically effective, the principle of Aiki hasn’t yet been grasped. Lacking this intuitive understanding there is little value, either martially, or spiritually. In a word, these are two sides of one principle and neither exists effectively without the other.

    I don’t believe you will find any contradiction in anything I am saying with the various quotes of the founder that you included in your article. In any case, once again, I am gratified that you continue to search for truth and deeper meaning in aikido and in your life. Much of what has been translated of O-sensei is not good translation. I know this because I have read the original writings. I recommend you to the web page of Chris Li (Sangenkai). He is also an aikido teacher and has done a lot of valuable work accurately translating and correcting the mistakes of other translators .

    All the Best. Bill Gleason”

    And let me add to Bill’s suggestion Chris Li’s work is exceptional and i encourage everyone to look at what he has shared with us. My thanks again to Bill and Chris both for helping, in O Sensei’s words, “Aikido bear fruit in this world.”

  2. David Brown


    Excellent “lay-out” of your perspective on the nature of “Do”, its contrast with “Jitsu”, and its particular manifestation in the Art of Aikido.

    At the same time, I must also point out that (IMHO) O’Sensei understood some things about the nature of the Universe and the nature of Human Beings that both the “knuckle draggers” and the “childlike idealists” of Aikido miss … utterly.

    Human beings are a fascinating embodiment of and manifestation of a peculiar dualism. We are matter and energy. We are physical and spiritual. We are body and mind. We want to “stand out” and “fit in”. We manifest a connection and unity with Source by means of an individuality arising from an ego centered persona. We crave to create and project a sense of “meaning” for ourselves on a Cosmos that has no inherent meaning other than “to be”.

    Add to this, what I personally believe to be O’Sensei’s living example of the dualism “peace through strength”.

    Such a cultivation of virtue and vision is as rare as diamonds. And, like diamonds, is only brought to the surface by means of great labor.

    Call it the “Goldilock’s Phenomena” … Not too soft and not too hard. Just right.

    Now this requires a level of intelligence and finesse not commonly found.

    Birth brings conscioussness and, at the rudimentary levels of the individualized psyche, our experience of duality.

    So, with consciousness comes pain and with duality comes fear, sadness, and anger. In short, to have a persona is to feel pain. To believe that we are only a “persona” is to suffer.

    The challenge for a human being is to reconnect consciously and deliberately with Source all the while living the “event that is our existence” on and in the material plane.

    Thus, the Paths, the Ways, the Do’s.

    ~David Brown

      1. David Brown

        Ironic isn’t it that “spam” spelled backwards is “maps”.

        Well, whatever …

        Glad it made it through.

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