In my opinion, ultimate success at Aikido is achieved by integrating the different aspects of human consciousness, from the physical to the spiritual. Often in training, the reality of the more subtle aspects of Aikido, like Ki, compassion, spirituality etc. are neglected for the literalness of the physical practice. This is limiting because the fullest expression of O-Sensei's art comes from realizing the subtle philosophical and spiritual principles behind and beyond the physical manifestation.
Clearly, this became his intention. He is quoted as having said:
"Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family."This implies a much greater depth of philosophy than simply martial practice. Aikido is designed around a martial art, so it is important to understand and integrate that level of performance/skill, but the true practice, meaning, and beauty of it only starts there.
Aikido offers different things for different people. One thing Aikido practice provides is an arena for constant feedback as to whether or not one is able to function in the experience and awareness (consciousness) of Aiki, or, being in harmony with Ki/energy. But Ki and therefore Aiki can mean different things at different levels of subtlety, perception, and personal and spiritual development.
In terms of physical practice, if one feels a lot of physical reference, that is, pushing, pulling, forcing, resisting, etc., one can assume that one is "out of harmony" with both oneself and one's partner, and therefore they are not integrated in terms of Aiki. Because Aiki starts within oneself and then moves outward to include one's partner, if, for instance, during the performance of a technique the uke feels discord, then something within the experience of the nage is working against the manifestation of harmony, and that is showing itself in the practice - in what both the nage and the uke experience.
At other levels of experience beyond just the physical, this sense of discord or harmony that starts within oneself, can be used to understand spiritual evolution in Aikido. We can use the esoteric perspective of the existence of different levels of energy within the human experience as a model for understanding the development of deeper philosophical and spiritual consciousness in Aikido as well.
To explain this, I will use a version of the Chakra system; a system of subtle human energy centers that essentially comes from Eastern esoteric and Yogic practices. This system consists of seven major energy centers running up the spine and emanating outward. Each energy represents the integration of a particular quality of human consciousness.
These seven energy centers, in basic terms, are:
1 - The Root Center, at the base of the torso, embodying the fundamental survival in the world of the individual being, the individual Ego and Personal Self.
2 - The Procreative/Sensual Center, in the lower abdomen around the same area of the Hara, embodying the sensual/kinesthetic experience and the external manifestation of action/energy in the world.
3 - The Emotional Center, in the area of the solar plexus, embodying the emotions and feelings we have both about ourselves, looking inward, and about the world around us.
4 - The Heart Center, in the area of the heart, embodying both personal love and a more compassionate and spiritual love. This is a natural dividing point in human consciousness because it embraces both personal and transpersonal experience and development.
5 - The Creative/Expressive Center, in the throat area, embodying the creative and expressive nature of both the self and spirit.
6 - The Mental/Perceptive/Psychic Center, at the area of the "Third Eye" in the center of the forehead, embodying the ability to "know" - that is, perceive reality through different methods of perception - through conceptualization, through imagination, through intuition, and psychically.
7 - The Crown Center, at the top of the head, embodying the Transpersonal or Higher Self; the soul and spirit beyond the individual and Ego-oriented entity that is manifested in the first Chakra.If we look at the opening and integration of each Chakra as progressively representing a deeper manifestation of higher consciousness, we can understand Aikido practice as a reflection, at each level, of our own spiritual development, or at least spiritual awareness. I don't presume that spirituality alone is the only goal of human consciousness, but rather a balance of all energies such that one's personal life and concerns are integrated with one's spiritual nature. To me, consciousness can positively embrace all levels. That is my own personal philosophy. Nonetheless, this is an excellent model for understanding the different aspects of conscious and spiritual evolution.
Each of the following Chakra levels embodies the integration of particular elements of consciousness applied to Aikido, allowing for an ever-deepening realization of Aiki:
The first three levels have to do with individual development and safety. Practice reflects one's sense of Aiki at the physical level.
1- The Root Center - embodies the learning of the physical elements of the art and how they are used to deal with an attack. One's proficiency increases as one becomes more familiar with the actual techniques. Of primary concern is one's own personal safety. This level of Aiki is about being in harmony with the other person's intention and movement. The process involves becoming aware of the unconscious fight-or-flight reaction, and learning about the inherent possibility of choosing to respond consciously.
2 - The Procreative/Sensual Center - embodies the addition of the sensual/kinesthetic sense to the application of technique, and through that, the addition of Ki instead of just muscle. One's proficiency increases as the techniques begin to emerge more naturally by feeling and following the flow of Ki. This level of Aiki is about going inside oneself and being in harmony with one's own Ki, or energy, first, then being aware of and blending with the other person's Ki. The process involves learning to consciously let go and use Ki, instead of basing the connection on a reaction to vulnerability, thereby giving in to the unconscious inclination to muscle through a technique or go against the flow.
3 - The Emotional Center - embodies the addition of the emotional, or feeling component into the performance of technique and in one's sense of connection. One's proficiency increases as one's practice is brought to life through including positive emotional expression in the experience. This level of Aiki is about being in harmony with, and accepting of, one's own feelings and choosing how they will be expressed, that is, accepting our vulnerabilities and choosing to deal with our emotions in a positive way. The process involves learning to be emotionally present and empowered, and not giving in to the inclination to react out of fear, or just perform the techniques mechanically.The forth level is a natural "dividing" point, as it embraces both personal and transpersonal experience and development. This level begins to embrace more than just self-interest and reactive, unconscious, survival-oriented behavior.
4 - The Heart Center - embodies the addition of love and compassion beyond pure self-interest and survival. This level of Aiki is about being in harmony with the other person not as just an attacker but as a human being who is now "out of harmony" as expressed by their role, consciousness, and energy as aggressor. At this level, the physical well-being of both participants becomes an integral concern. The process involves learning to allow for a deeper feeling of compassion and concern rather than give in to the inclination to polarize against the attacker out of anger.
5 - The Creative/Expressive Center - embodies the creative aspect of flowing response, where one's practice is about the creative expression of a more loving, artistic, and transcendent experience. This level of Aiki is about embracing the interaction as a source for this creative experience and for creative self-empowerment. The process involves learning to open up to, trust, and have confidence in our own expressive spontaneity and creative flow in the moment, rather than limit ourselves to preconceived or unconscious patterns or ideas.
6 - The Mental/Intuitive/Psychic Center - embodies the realm of "knowing" and higher connection with the addition of the ability to perceive energy, intention, feeling, and thought in others. This level of Aiki is about being in harmony with the moment on the levels of the mental, intuitive, and psychic planes. The process involves learning to open up to the unfolding subtle connection through intuitive and psychic perception, rather than limit oneself to purely rational and empirical reality.
7 - The Crown Center - embodies and embraces the moment with the addition of the spiritual and transpersonal, where the goal of self-defense is no longer an issue and one embraces humanity and spirituality at all levels. At this point, the spiritual connection and oneness with the event, the participants, higher purpose and universal truth come into play, and the spiritual evolution and well-being of both participants emerges as a primary concern. This level of Aiki is about being in harmony with the universal process of the continual circular transformation of Ki from unconsciousness to consciousness, from discord to harmony, from aggression to acceptance, from negativity to love, from the physical to the spiritual, from Ego to Spirit, from duality to oneness. The process involves learning to open up to Universal Ki and the fullness of "spiritual consciousness, understanding, and action" rather than limiting ourselves to a purely worldly perspective of material survival and individual ego fulfillment through "winning."The highest level of Aikido philosophy views the attacker as someone stepping outside of personal and universal harmony, manifesting through the negative intention to attack another person. At this level of Aikido, the goal is to bring them back into harmony; not by defeating them but by changing the whole nature of the interaction. Thus, in this context, the result of the interaction depends on the consciousness of the Aikido practitioner.
When looking at either Aikido or everyday life from this perspective, we see a progressive evolution from physical empowerment to spiritual empowerment, from unconsciousness to consciousness, from pure self-concern to ethical thinking and behavior, from self-centeredness to generosity of spirit and heart.
"Aikido is love. You make this great love of the universe your heart, and then you must make your own mission the protection and love of all things."This expresses a deeply spiritual outlook, and, through the honoring of our needs at all the different levels, points to a way of self-development that brings this outlook into one's everyday life in a realistic, practical, and balanced way.