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  • Writer's pictureTyra Leesman

Aikido: The "Compassionate" Martial Art

When is it acceptable to hurt someone? Punching, kicking, or otherwise inflicting pain on one’s opponent is the backbone of martial arts and self-defense classes. The worst parts of such classes are the risk of injury and the failure to offer anything but violence as an answer to an attack. The art of Aikido transcends these issues with compassion and the clever use of physics over brute force.

While de-escalation is the best route to peace, it is foolish to expect kind words to work as a defense against a bully who is determined to get physical. Likewise, a polite conversation won’t stop a woman from being pulled into a van while jogging. How then, is one supposed to defend oneself in such scenarios without resorting to unnecessary force?

“Aikido is the art of peace,” said Chief Instructor Elliot Freeman of Three Rivers Aikido. “The answer to violence is in having both the ability to return that violence, and maintaining the conscious choice not to do so.”

Founder Morihei Ueshiba distilled Aikido from the various martial arts he practiced in the

beginning of the 20th century. The resulting style uses an opponent’s strength and momentum against them. This sets it apart as an art, and makes it a more intelligent choice for the young, those lacking in brute strength, and the very old, like Ueshiba himself. His only book, The Art of Peace, poetically describes an art that chooses calm and compassion over rage and violence.

“In choosing something, there are always at least two options. Otherwise, you didn’t choose; the choice was made for you,” said Freeman. “When the technique allows you to neutralize the attacker without hurting them, you’ve made a compassionate choice.”

In the 1970s, a young, not-yet-famous Steven Seagal picked up Aikido. As his practice progressed, Seagal added his own, more practical, modern flair to the still somewhat-esoteric art. Tenshin Aikido, a brand of Aikido that stresses realism and efficiency, emerged from the fifty years he has devoted to the practice. This is the style of Aikido practiced by Sensei Gordon Green, Chief Instructor of Sacred Sword Martial Arts in Saint Louis, as well as his own teacher, the aforementioned Master Freeman.

“You can’t choose not to hurt someone with a punch,” said Green. “But you can choose not to hurt someone and still stop their physical attack with Aikido. That is why it is considerate the ‘compassionate’ martial art.”

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