This realization captures the feeling the founder had after the profound experience of gaining genuine insight into the discipline of his art. Yet, for most of us who read this statement, we will think of it in very idealistic terms. The founder’s realization, however, was anything but idealistic. If we take our ordinary state and smile lovingly at a mugger, we will most likely get killed. The point here is to transcend our ordinary state, which means the loving smile emerges from the depths of dealing with very real and extreme violence. The founder studied self defense in a traditional and realistic setting. He dealt with attackers who meant him serious harm. Out of THESE interactions, he looked beyond the immediate threat and realized the point of training was not petty hatred and vengeance, but to find love for this aggressor. With this love, he found genuine power, not of his own personal ego but emerging from universal forces.
O’Sensei used two key words in this line – Budo & love. Budo is the path of the warrior, defined in terms of mortal combat. Let’s be realistic for a moment. What would be our first reaction in the face of the threat of death? I recall speaking to a detective in the Eastchester Police Department, who upon hearing I taught martial arts, wanted to run his philosophy by me. He explained that when in a fire fight, if you are supposed to be protecting an innocent civilian, just drop them and do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. He felt this was the best way to insure his survival. He did not seem to want to listen to any other point of view, so I simply did not support his theory. But let’s think about what happens when we practice. Many of us have experience training against a knife attack in a dark room. If someone attacks fast in the dark and we are fearful, we generally have trouble assessing the distance and direction of the attack. Against a real knife, we would surely be killed. So the detective advocated hunkering down in fear to protect oneself, which is exactly what leads to getting killed.
Love, on the other hand, is the unconditional caring for the well being of others. Aikido is the development of unconditional caring for others (even the attacker) in the midst of mortal combat. Why does this make sense? We can see the problems with batting down the hatches in the midst of a panic attack. But dripping with love does not seem like much of a solution either. Here again we can investigate the matter. Imagine seeing your spouse threatened. If your life was threatened, you might be afraid. But what happens when you see your spouse’s life threatened? Are you still as fearful of losing your own life? Most of us would experience some reduction in fear for ourselves. (As a note, if we substitute fear of losing our spouse for fear of losing our own life, we actually accomplish no martial gain). In class, we know a reduction in fear for ourselves translates into an increased possibility of survival. As described above, suddenly we can perceive the distance, direction and speed of the attack with greater accuracy, and our reflexes are not so obstructed from immediate reaction.
So here we can begin to see the logic of the founder. Caring for others (in this case the attacker) gives us the strength to relinquish our fears for ourselves. With the reduction in fear, we are free to see and respond to an attack with greater perception and creativity in self defense. Our response time is faster and we don’t unbalance our posture out of fear. By extending this approach to ever increase our perception, we can discern the faults of the attacker and deliver to THEM the same sense of peace we learned to access ourselves. When we are peaceful, the attacker may not experience our peace through a gentle smile, but perhaps a stern strike or wrist lock delivered out of caring for their suffering and seeking to correct their imbalances. Again, the founder teaches that these skills do not emerge from our own limited ego or a wish to harm, but from more universal forces of compassion we are able to discover through this elimination of fear and increased perception. So by investigating our own practice we can begin to see the point of the founder’s realization that “True Budo is Love” is not at all idealistic, but fundamentally logical and actually the most efficient approach for real self defense purposes.