Aikido & MOGO: The Art of Peace is the Art of Wise Response to Conflict

My Aikido sensei (teacher) was discussing Aikido with us after class last week, and he shared some thoughts on the translation of Aikido as “the art of peace.” Although some do translate Aikido this way, the literal definition is open to interpretation. The word breaks down this way: AI - harmony, KI - spirit, mind, or universal energy, DO - the Way.

My sensei pointed out that as a martial art, Aikido is based on the reality that life includes conflict. After all, we can only practice Aikido when someone initiates an attack of some kind. What makes Aikido unique among martial arts, however, is how the Aikidoist responds to conflict. Although an Aikidoist could easily harm an attacker by meeting conflict with force and aggression, those trained in Aikido choose to use the energy of the conflict to dispel it. The Aikidoist neither allows herself to be harmed nor harms her attacker. In my sensei’s interpretation, Aikido may be more accurately understood as the art of responding well and wisely to conflict rather than as the art of peace.

But if one translation of peace is the absence of conflict, and if the elimination of conflict is impossible, then peace must be understood as a perpetual process, not a static endpoint. We may strive for peace (both inner and outer), but conflicts continually arise. How we meet those conflicts ultimately determines whether or not we create peaceful outcomes.

Seen this way, Aikido can be viewed as the art of peace as long as we recognize that conflict underlies its existence and understand that Aikido is the art of creating the most peaceful, healthy, and kind response to that conflict. In my mind, Aikido is a MOGO martial art – a way to meet conflict by doing the most good and the least harm.

Like my sensei, I do not believe we can put an end to conflict. The MOGO principle, to do the most good and the least harm to ourselves, other people, animals and the environment, provides a philosophy replete with tools – like Aikido techniques – to create the greatest possibility for peaceful, harmonious, healthy, and humane outcomes over and over again.

And as with Aikido, we must practice to become adept at MOGO choicemaking. It takes many years and much commitment to practice to become a good Aikidoist, just as it takes a great effort and commitment to the MOGO principle to truly manifest its potential in our lives and the world.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

Image courtesy of marius.zierold via Creative Commons.

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