A long time ago, I found somewhere on
the web this story from Terry Dobson, a master of Aikido and conflict resolution. I
saved the text, but not its address, and I was not able to rediscover it. Anyway, I think
this page gives the clearest possible definition of Aikido, and so I put it on my web. My
apologies if anyone is offended.
THE TRAIN CLANKED and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a
drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty - a few housewives with their
kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty
At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet
was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into
our car. He wore laborers clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he
swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly
couple. It was a miracle that the was unharmed.
Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end
of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as
she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the
center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that on of his
hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I
I was young then, some 20 years ago, and in pretty good shape.
Id been putting in a solid eight hours of Aikido training nearly every day for the
past three years. I like to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. Trouble was, my
martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of Aikido, we were not allowed to
"Aikido," my teacher had said again and again, "is
the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with
the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to
resolve conflict, not how to start it."
I listened to his words. I tried hard I even went so far as to cross
the street to avoid the chimpira, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations.
My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an
absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the
This is it! I said to myself, getting to my feet. People are
in danger and if I dont do something fast, they will probably get hurt.
Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage.
"Aha!" He roared. "A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese
I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow
look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the
first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.
"All right! He hollered. "Youre gonna get a
lesson." He gathered himself for a rush at me.
A split second before he could move, someone shouted
"Hey!" It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of
it - as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he
suddenly stumbled upon it. "Hey!"
I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared
down at a little old Japanese. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny
gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed
delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to
"Cmere," the old man said in an easy vernacular,
beckoning to the drunk. "Cmere and talk with me." He waved his hand
The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet
belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels,
"Why the hell should I talk to you?" The drunk now had his back to me. If his
elbow moved so much as a millimeter, Id drop him in his socks.
The old man continued to beam at the laborer.
"Whatcha been drinkin?" he asked, his eyes
sparkling with interest. "I been drinkin sake," the laborer bellowed back,
"and its none of your business!" Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.
"Ok, thats wonderful," the old man said,
"absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night, me and my wife
(shes 76, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the
garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see
how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, and we worry
about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree had done
better than I expected, though especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil.
It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening - even
when it rains!" He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.
As he struggled to follow the old mans conversation, the
drunks face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. "Yeah," he said.
"I love persimmons too
" His voice trailed off.
"Yes," said the old man, smiling, "and Im sure
you have a wonderful wife."
"No," replied the laborer. "My wife died." Very
gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. "I dont
got no wife, I dont got no home, I dont got no job. I am
so ashamed of myself." Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair
rippled through his body.
Now it was my turn. Standing there in well-scrubbed youthful
innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier
than he was.
Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the
old man cluck sympathetically. "My, my," he said, "that is a difficult
predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it."
I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the
seat, his head in the old mans lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy,
As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted
to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen Aikido tried in
combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with an entirely
different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about the resolution of