The Three Substantial Marks of Aikido


The three substantial marks of Aikido are the skill in producing the mystical experience, the skill of internally generating a separating energy (Kokyu) and a uniting energy (Aiki), and the skill of spontaneous application of the art (Takemusu Aiki). Using the phrase “substantial marks,” I mean to suggest that there is no Aikido where these skills are not all present and all present simultaneously. The use of the concept of simultaneity is introduced here to posit that these skills are concentric to each other: Meaning, one can do them all or one cannot do any of them; meaning, if one can do them all, one is always doing them all at the same time; meaning, the means of producing any of these skills is the same for producing all of these skills. At the heart of all of these skills is the skill of releasing the self; meaning, the skill of producing the mystical experience, the skill of internally generating separating energy and unity energy, and the skill of spontaneous application of the art are all derived from the skill of releasing the self. This and this alone is why Aikido is a Budo. Hence, one can also say that any Aikido that is not a Budo is also not Aikido.


Here, I would like to talk about the skill of spontaneous application of the art. Paramount to this skill is the absence of environmental limitations, and as such there is no Takemusu Aiki if the art can only be produced here or there but not elsewhere. Likewise, there is no Takemusu Aiki if the art can only be produced against this or that attack but not other kinds of attacks. This is because, in essence, Takemusu Aiki, through the skill of releasing the self, is the transcendence of the art or the universalization of the art. Meaning, there is no place, even combatively, where the art cannot be manifested, and any understanding to the contrary is noted as a lack of Takemusu Aiki and ultimately as an absence of the skill of releasing the self.


As these substantial marks no longer identify contemporary Aikido, having been displaced by other things, lesser things, the means of cultivating these skills have also been abandoned by current practitioners. Currently, anyone set on cultivating, for example, Takemusu Aiki, is going to have to rediscover these technologies of the self by forfeiting the beaten path for the islands or hermitages where the now-dominant Aikido culture was unable to gain prominence. This is significant for, of course, the obvious reason that one cannot find anything by looking for it in a place where it is not, but this is doubly significant because all of these technologies, for centuries, have shared one thing in common: The utilization of an accomplished mentor to prime and/or confirm the skill being sought: When you are searching thusly, you are searching for a person that already has these substantial marks in his/her Aikido.


As the reader can now surmise, there is indeed a structural relationship between contemporary Aikido’s moving away from these substantial marks, its forfeiting and losing of the technologies of self that were designed to cultivate these associated skills, and the replacing of the accomplished mentor, as well as the mentor/disciple relationship, for the “class leader,” coach, friend, and/or the “nobody-special-sensei.” With this, of course, comes contemporary Aikido’s caveats of “cult,” “Kool-Aid drinkers,” and the extremely popular positions that the art is simply exercise, void of all potential to cultivate wisdom, and that it can be learned in one’s spare time, by simply thinking about it metaphorically, requiring no more than a few hours per week.


Who then can she be that rediscovers these technologies of self, that enters these hermitages, that regains the required relationship with the accomplished mentor, and that reidentifies her art with these substantial marks and the skill of releasing the self? Can she not only be “lost,” “freak,” “in need of help,” and “risking herself by placing herself in danger”? Indeed, yes, of course this is her now, as she can no be none other, but I would put before you that this has always been she.