Aikido: The Path of Love

Aikido in Japanese Calligraphy over flowing water

Aikido is not about fighting, it is about love.

In Japanese, “Ai” translates to “love or harmony,” “Ki” is the same as “Chi/Qi” in Chinese, AKA universal life-force energy, and “Do” means “the path.” Broken down, Aikido could mean the path of harmony with universal life-force energy, or perhaps, the path of love. To me, there is not really a difference between these two translations. 

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido, said that "Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy. It is a way to harmonize the world and make humanity one family."

Terry Dobson, the first American Aikido Master trained in Japan, wrote a story about an experience he had that demonstrates this concept perfectly:

Our narrator is a young Aikido student, training 8 hours a day in Japan. The story opens with him on a commuter train when a belligerently drunk, angry man dressed in laborer's clothes gets on and starts throwing punches and kicks at innocent passengers. The narrator sees this as an opportunity to finally use his Aikido skills out in the real world, to be a hero, and save the day - but he had to wait for the drunken man to make the first move. He stands up and blows him an insolent kiss to tempt him into an attack . . . Just as they are about to get into it, they hear a very loud “Hay! Hay!” with a “strangely joyous quality to it.” They both turn to see a sparkly “little old Japanese man well into his seventies; sitting there, immaculate in his kimono.” Beaming at the laborer, he invites him to come sit and talk with him. The laborer walks over to him, and the old man asks him what he’s been drinking. Still full of rage, he replies . . . The old man says with shimmering eyes that he likes Sake too, and tells a story of him and his wife warming up a little bit of Sake every evening to drink while they sit by their persimmon tree. The drunk man begins to soften, and his fists unclench — he says “ya, I love persimmons too.” The old man says “I’m sure you have a lovely wife too.” The laborer says “no, my wife died,” and he begins to sob. He expresses to the old man the shame and sadness that he feels about his life. “And the tears rolled down his cheeks as a spasm of despair rippled through his big body.” As our narrator gets off the train, he turns to see “the laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap; the old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair.” The old man softly sympathizes and invites the laborer to tell him about it. Terry concludes the story sitting on a bench, reflecting upon what had just transpired. “I had just seen Aikido used in combat and the essence of it was love.”

This story is a profound reminder that anger is an expression of pain, and that kindness is far more powerful than adding fuel to the fire.

Heart Chakra Mandala

It can be easy to forget this simple truth as we are all dealing with our own wounds and perceptions formed by countless outside forces. 

In the physical practice of Aikido, we become more sensitive to this flow of universal life-force energy, and learn to guide it instead of attempting to control it. That is exactly what the old man on the train did, except all he used was his heart and his words. 

My Sensei, Keith Hummel, of The Aikido Spirit in Mount Shasta, once said “I see Aikido as a self-expression more than a self-defense. I believe that all our practices lead us to a greater ability to connect with our true nature, and the nature of the universe, by shedding our egos’ descriptions of who it says we are.”

This element of self-expression that Sensei Keith refers to, rings so true for me, in that I believe that we are all the Universe expressing itself. By practicing Aikido, we are becoming more connected to our ki, our universal life-force energy, thus strengthening our conscious connection with our true nature, and with all beings. By strengthening this connection, we begin to dissolve and loosen our grip on notions of who and what we have been conditioned to believe we are, of being separate. By strengthening this connection, we can more easily see the beauty in all parts of ourselves and other beings, and step more fully into embodying love.

Aikido may not be for everybody, but if we could each find at least one practice that allows us to explore our connection to ourselves and the world, we may all finally know peace. 

White Lotus Flower


  • Ah! aikido . . . One of my favorite practices from many moons ago. It still is. As much as I enjoyed and valued the physical skills, I have been even more drawn to how aikido trains us to focus on balance in relationships. The principles of aikido work beautifully in communication.

    Although aikido is not truly a “martial” art (it is more a “way of being”), it shares values common to many martial arts. For instance . . .

    A student once asked Bruce Lee: “You teach me fighting, but you talk about peace. How do you reconcile the two?” Lee calmly responded: “It’s better to be a warrior in a garden than to be a gardener in a war.”

    When you need to neutralize an attack, it helps if you know how to do so. Aikido teaches us that.

  • I am honored to have my name in such a beautifully written peace, and to have you for a student, you teach me as well. Thank you!

    Keith Hummel

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