Aikido and Religion

Shintō (神道, "Way of the Gods") in Aikido

Recently, the German magazine "SPIEGEL" published an article entitled "Does yoga lead to overconfidence?" The reason for this would be the spiritual component. The same question can be asked for Aikido. It is an occasion to have a look again at the ideas of the founder (see video below).
Ueshiba Morihei lived in his religious world. Also today, some Aikido schools still practice the ancient Shinto rituals. Yoshigasaki Sensei taught for example Ki Musubi, Te Musubi and Misogi, typical Shinto practices. However, these exercises are not associated with the obligation to adopt the world view of Shintoism.


What is Shintō?

An early description of an explorer:
Quote: "For the whole Sintos Religion is so mean and simple, that besides a heap of fabulous and romantick stories of their Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes, inconsistent with reason and common sense, their Divines have nothing, neither in their sacred Books, nor by Tradition, wherewithal to satisfy the Inquiries of curious persons, about the nature and essence of their Gods, about their power and government, about the future state of our Soul, and such other essential points." (Engelbert Kaempfer, 1692).

Further descriptions of Shintō can be found in Wikipedia and in a very informative article by Bernhard Scheid from the University of Vienna (German).
The meaning of Shintō for Aikido is covered in a detailed Essay by Peter Goldsbury of Hiroshima University in Aikido Journal 2012.
But what were Morihei Ueshiba's explanations?

Words of the Founder

"Aikido is not a matter of merely acquiring physical strength or technique. Its founder Morihei Ueshiba conceived of his art as a discipline for purification of the self and as a means for converting the sword into a lifegiving instrument. For Ueshiba O-Sensei the techniques of Aiki represent an expression of divine will. This is the key to understanding Aikido's deeper purpose beyond selfdefense. In its larger sense, it is a path leading tho the merging of man's spirit with the workings of the Universe. The secret of Aikido lies in uniting ourselves with the universe by purifying ourselves and harmonizing with the movement of the Universe. [Words of the Founder]. For those who master the secrets of Aikido the Universe lies within. Thus may I say: I, who am the Universe."

"First we must cultivate the self. Then we must put our own homes in order. Next we must build our nation and finally enter into harmony with the Universe.
True budo is the cultivation of a power of attraction capable of absorbing the opponent's entire being. Therfore it is enough for me to merely stand in this way.
Aikido renders its service by penetrating, breathing and caressing the Ki of the Universe. Aikido serves the path of completion of all things. It is not mere swordplay. Swordplay leads to cold war due to the reverberations produced when bodies come into contact with bodies and things with things. We must seriosly reflect on the history and geography of Japan. There are history which tell all about the strategies of warfare of Japan. Classics such as the "Kojiki" dicuss these subjects. Although everyone dislikes them, the teachings of our departed imperial ancestors themselves are strategies. Fighting has long persisted in the world. We have to use the strategy of Ki, in other words, the spirit of Aiki. The world up until now has been in a solid state dominated by physical power. The world is now entering a soft phase. My movements are soft in nature. That's why I throw with Ki, even without using my hands. Somehow I lead my partner as my spirit wishes. Martial arts are not something you do by choosing a form. Techniques differ depending on the particular distances.
Interviewer: American aikidoka Terry Dobson (1937 - 1992).
Techniques of Ki, bridled by the spirit! May the Kami of Heaven and Earth guide our acts of purification! All of the acts of man reveal the subtle workings of kotodama. It is the echoing of sounds which will lead you to an understanding when you truly examine yourself. Aikido, especially, is born amidst the echoing of sounds.
If we look inside and gaze at our bodies with our inward eye, we see that the history of the divine world flows within us. The past and the future are played out in a single lifetime within us. All of activties within reflect the history of the divine world. This is Aiki.
In a word, the principle object of Aikido is to build a paradise on earth by creating harmony in the world and making friends. Let's make friends so there will be no enemies. This is the principle of nonresistance. I have everyone listen to my ideas in order to make this a reality. Only when people realize that this old man, Ueshiba, has taught them about Japan's good points will they express their gratitude and consider me of value.
Invite him to approach, a breeze stirs. Slice it through! Polish your spirit immersed in the love of the Kami!"

Kanchu Misogi in Fukui-shi

Kanchu Misogi Fukui-shi

The following video shows excerpts of a Kanchu Misogi in the city of Fukui in central Japan. Kanchu 寒中 means "in the depths of winter", i.e. in the coldest time of the year. The ritual is Shintoist. There are Aikido schools in which exactly these "warm-up exercises", for want of a better term, are performed with exactly the same vocal support as Hitoriwaza at the beginning of the Aikido lessons.
The original video was published by It can also be found on Youtube (4:30 minutes). GENJAPAN.COM is a video website operated by Japan System Bank, which is headquartered in Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture.
Quote: "We will tell you about the charm of our hometown, culture and nature, and about people and groups who are active in Fukui-shi."


1. Entering with ES-SA
2. Funakogi with IE-IEI
3. Singing to the kami "we are doing MISOGI"
4. Funakogi with EHI-HO and ES-SA
5. Kibarai with EI IEI
6. Open - Close
4. Cold water Misogi
5. Finishing with Funakogi ES-SA

Misogi in Tokyo

1. Calling the kami
2. Udemawashi undo
3. Tekubifuri joho undo
4. Funakogi
5. Cold water
6. Temusubi
4. Funakogi