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On Zen and Budo
A Lecture by Toyoda Sensei
Zen is Zen, Aikido is Aikido. These are two different traditions. That is why I don’t
force regular students or instructors to do Zen training at my dojo. I encourage them, but
some of them don’t have an interest or just can’t take it. I understand. Zen training is
difficult. That’s ok.
But my uchideshi are required to do it, because they came here to learn my Aikido. If
they want to learn my Aikido, then they have to do Zen training. In all of my classes, if
you know about Zen, you will hear me say familiar things. I’m using Zen stories and
words all the time when I talk about Aikido, simply because that’s my background.
Zen is part of the tradition of Buddhism, but we don’t get stuck on it as a religion in the
Western sense. To us, it’s a training method. Even Shakyamuni Buddha said not to
believe what is handed down from the past, but to find things out through your own
experience. Zen has this spirit. So it doesn’t matter what your religious background or
beliefs are. You can still get benefit from Zen training. Just sit, just go to the zendo, just
go to sesshin, and you will find out for yourself.
In Japanese Budo, martial Ways, and in Japanese culture in general, there are a lot of
influences from Zen Buddhism. Not all samurai practiced Zen, like some people say.
Other forms of Buddhism were more popular at different times. Some samurai even
became Christians. It’s probably accurate to say, actually, that the true religion of the
samurai was loyalty to one’s lord and clan…to the way of the samurai, in other words.
You can read this history if you want.
But for many people Zen has provided an understanding of the deeper elements of martial
arts training. Especially in Aikido, we have very deep philosophy and very high goals in
our training. O-Sensei practiced various forms of breathing exercises and meditation that
come from Shinto. However, he didn’t pass these on to anyone. Whenever I heard him
speak about these things, I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. He always
talked using old stories form Japanese myths. No one really understood what he said,
and mostly we didn’t care. We just knew that we liked how he moved, that he was an
amazing martial artist.
But he had that deep internal training. Because it wasn’t something he systematized and
passed down to us, I believe Zen is the best way to fill in that gap.
The famous saying of O-Sensei is masakatsu agatsu. In English, people translate this,
“the best victory is to win over yourself.” What does this mean? To win over yourself
means to see yourself for what you really are, to see your true nature.
That true nature isn’t different from the nature of the entire universe. When you can see
this, then you understand that no one is really your enemy. In the martial arts, the enemy
is you! And a real enemy, another human being trying to harm you, is also you in the
deepest sense. You are not different from each other. This is literally true, not just a nice
O-Sensei also said, “I have no enemy.” I think that is what he meant. From his
standpoint, with his realization, there was no such thing as an enemy, because there was
no separateness.
To have this realization, we do Zen training and martial arts together. Martial arts
training can help you develop intensity and sharpness and a life-or-death urgency. This
improves our Zen. Without this urgency and awareness you can’t progress in Zen. At the
same time, Zen develops deep calm and insight and compassion. This makes us true
martial artists, the kind of people who can be useful to society.
This is my understanding of how the “sword that takes life” can become the “sword that
gives life”. Through our training and discipline we cut ourselves. We cut the ego, which
is to say that we see ourselves for what we truly are. Then we can wield the great sword –
our existence, our life – correctly.
– Recorded by M. Moore


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