“Sensei, which Martial art is the best?”

That depends.

“I know it sounds silly, but there seems to be endless debate on such questions”

Endless debate arises from confusion.

“So what is your perspective? Is there an answer?”

Which key on your chain is best?

“There isn’t one, they are all equal in that sense”

And yet only one will be useful to unlock the next door.

“That’s true…”

Martial arts are a lot like your keys, they can unlock things that you seek.

What then are you seeking?

“Questions like that are tough to answer!”

Are you familiar with the Zen Enso?

“Yes, that’s the circular brush stroke right?

It’s a simple yet powerful symbol. Where the brush first touches paper, the stroke is strongest, fading as it moves until it finally disappears.

“Yes…I know the one”

Just like life; a birth and a death. Everything is like this.

“So it’s also related to my first question!”

When the brush, full with ink, first touches paper, it arrives as an explosion; in Martial arts this represents war. It is an extreme expression. Here Martial arts are born as skills of death and destruction; they take life mercilessly.

As the brush moves on its path, the stroke’s intensity fades; this is where combat and war have softened to become sport and recreation. The Martial arts become matters of civilised competition, exercise and entertainment. Born of war, these arts are now refined in their expression to enrich life.

As the brush stroke fades further, Martial arts recede from competitiveness and turn to introspection. They may still retain a competitive element, however, this is not the focus. The development of one’s character and constitution is the goal.

Ultimately our brushstroke disappears. Aikido appears right here; sitting as the threshold. It seamlessly binds the end of the brushstroke with the emptiness of the page; the seen with the hidden.

This is the life giving expression of Martial arts; revitalising and reinvigorating those who wield its way. Death is also here, though, it has nothing to do with the body. Those without eyes will see the stroke as weak and lacking as it comes to an end. Few will recognise its great fertility as it overflows with emptiness.

Martial arts are at one end an instrument of death and at the other a method of transcendence. Life taking and life giving in the same stroke.

“It is very Yin and Yang or, In and Yo and they say in Japanese”

Each point on this circle is like a key on your chain, opening a different door for you. Selecting the key to access the journey you are ripe for is the trick – you will develop effortlessly on such a path.  Just as different plants flourish in differing soil, so too does each person according to their needs.

“Yes I understand – that is very beautiful Sensei. How can one ensure they pick the right key?”

This is where the confusion arises. If people are sincere with themselves, they will select a door that opens to a path on which they can find their way according to their nature. No point on the circle is superior to another and all ultimately flow to the same destination; just as all rivers eventually find their way to the sea.

Some long for an experience closer to the beginning, others are drawn to its end. One can move in both directions on a circle. There is of course the question of efficiency; but life is yours to spend as you please. Just in case you lose your way, nature fixed it so that you are ultimately always heading in the right direction.

Your finite life is the larger circle on which you move. One way or another you are making your way to its end.

Peter Koussoulis, Shinzenryu Aikido