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BOOK REVIEW
The Philosophy of Aikido
John Stevens, author

by Cheryl Matrasko




published by Kodansha International Ltd. Tokyo, Japan

The book: “The Philosophy of Aikido” by well published author Professor John Stevens is an excellent educational examination on the development of the philosophy behind the training and discipline of Aikido, the martial art.

This book is not your typical book on Aikido or martial arts, but rather lifts the reader or Aikidoist to other levels of understanding of Aikido. In doing so, it expands your perspectives, tickles and peaks your understanding of Eastern thought and philosophy.  

Stevens introduces many other religions and philosophies to illustrate some of the similarities and differences in philosophical thought that influenced Aikido. While we find that many other cultures, philosophies, and religions have many differences from one another, we are also reminded that there are as many similarities. 

The book is well sectioned, giving you the theory behind the philosophical influences of Aikido, and then explains the theory at work in the practice of Aikido movements, stances and weapons. 

Theory
Essential Principles  -
Stevens introduces us to the following Aikido principles
:

  • Four Gratitudes - basic things we should feel grateful for.
  • Four Virtues – Are gifts to humankind – making our earthly existence with the Four Challenges livable and pushes us towards a greater being in the universe. 
  • Nine Pillars - many of us will recognize these as basic and essential training techniques, dealing with directional, blending, control, various encounters, which relate to the Aikido techniques that are currently in practice such as tenchi, shiho, kaiten, irimi, etc.
  • Muteiko - Stevens uses other authorities such as Taoism, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Christianity and their own principles of non-violence, to convey give more depth to the meaning of muteiko.
  • Masa katsu agatsu katsu hayabi - which essentially means that true victory is won when one is victorious over one self. 

Aikido, Nature and Health, Stevens points out that nature is the lifeline of Aikido, and he ties in the various characteristics of human nature with the universe, and how they function together as one.

  • Ichirei shikon sangen hachiriki, the principle that nature plays an important part in Aikido - one spirit, four souls, three fundamentals and eight powers.
  • Hachiriki, or Eight Powers is described as the forces that give the universe its life: movement, release, contraction, unification, calm, solidification, expansion, and division.
  • He also explains that musubi is the force that brings the forces of Ichirei shikon sangen hachiriki together.

Aikido as Tantra – or the realization of where you fit into the grand scheme of nature and the universe. John Stevens sees the Aikido and Tantra path as similar, and that both paths involve both physical and mental training. Repeated exercises in weapons, techniques, kototama, kamae (stance), misogi (cleansing or purification of both mind and body), chinkon (meditation) are all necessary to keep the individual mentally and physically fit.  

Aikido and Art – In this section, we are introduced to several authorities such as Onisaburo Deguchi, Reb Elimelekh, Dante, Sir Thomas Aquinas, to name only a few, to provide the reader with an understanding of the kinship of Art and Aikido. This is done through discussing the relationships between Art and truth, Art and God, and Art and beauty, Art and religion, and Art through the perspectives of it’s creator at a particular point in time. An excerpt from Stevens' book:

In true art, a pleasant harmony exists between the artist, the art, and the viewer (or listener). (59)

Aikido and Global Society – Aikido is reminded that it has a definite relationship and responsibility between itself and it’s universe (Tantra). When we practice Aikido the martial art, we only use the martial aspect to maintain peace and harmony, within our universe. Most of us are aware that Ueshiba was ever so serious of his commitment and devotion to the welfare of society, that he was arrested and shackled with Onisaburo Deguchi, in Manchuria.

Practice
In this chapter, John Stevens sums up everything, for the reader in actual practice, using both photographs and explanations. While he explains that this book is not a technical manual, it is technically outstanding because he is able to bring the theory and the principles of Aikido together for reader to understand. For instance, the Four Gratitudes and Nine Pillars, e
tc., are illustrated in techniques.  An assortment of photographs of Morihei Ueshiba, Rinjiro Shirata, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and Stevens himself, show the fine points of the Aikido principles in kamae, iriminage and kaiten (of the Nine Pillars), Aiki-jo and bokken, etc. 

It is my usual practice in reviewing/reading new material to give it a preliminary fast scan. At first glance of John Stevens work, I knew this was a good educational book for the serious Aikido instructor and Aikido student. I was more thoroughly convinced of this as I read through the book, taking notes for this review. It is not your usual Aikido literary work. It gives its readers a good foundation into the soul of Aikido, meanings behind the training, techniques, and the development of the Aikidoist. I found it particularly appealing because Stevens uses internationally famous authority figures of the past, present, with vastly different religious and philosophical backgrounds to create a bridge of communication to his diverse audience. This book is an excellent educational tool into the study of Aikido, its principles, lifestyles, roots, and philosophy behind Aikido, the martial art.   

Thank you to Professor John Stevens and his editor Elizabeth Floyd, of Kodansha International Ltd., Tokyo, Japan.

*****

Permission received to display book's cover and quotations used for this review from Kodansha International Ltd.,  
and are Copyright
© by Kodansha International Ltd. 


© 2001, Aikido World, Inc.  All rights reserved


Cheryl Matrasko is a Network Analyst for the department of Networking and Communications at a prominent Chicago hospital. Formerly the LAN Administrator for Northwestern University Medical School - Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and assistant LAN Administrator to the previous MIS of the School of Law. 

She started Aikido in 1965, studying under Isao Takahashi as her first instructor. She enjoyed working out under many well known Aikido instructors during her tenure with Takahashi Sensei, and thereafter following his death in 1971. Cheryl has dedicated time with instructors in Northern Shaolin Long-Fist, Seven Stars Praying Mantis, and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu to extend her martial arts education and perspectives. Currently, she is instructing Aikido at Northwestern University's Chicago Campus and supporting Aikido World Journal.


Literary materials, film clips, and pictures are copyrighted by their respected authors and owners. Permission in writing to the owners must be made for any duplication, display, or reprint.

    
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Michio Hikitsuchi 10th Dan 1978
(C. Matrasko as uke)
© 1978 C. Matrasko

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9/17/2001