The Way of the Harmonious Spirit

The Way of the Harmonious Spirit

“Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family”

~ Morihei Ueshiba (Ōsensei)

Human Potentialities

As a coach – and a human being – I’m interested in seeing the world fully realise what some folks call “human potentialities“. In this I find I have much in common with George Leonard, and the folks at Esalen where he was President Emeritus for some years.


Dan Pink’s work on Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose seems quite widely known nowadays, at least amongst the Agile community. Less well-known, perhaps, are some of the roots of these ideas, including the subject of Mastery. I’m eternally grateful to my one-time boss Peter Moon, a forex futures trader, ex Pink Floyd roadie and close friend of the explorer Sir Ranulf Fiennes. Peter snuck me a copy of “Mastery” when I was working with him in Battersea. In some ways it changed my life, introducing me as it did to both the ideas of George Leonard, and the world of Aikido.

“How can I describe the kind of person who is on a path to mastery? First, I don’t think it should be so dead serious. I think you should understand the joy of it, the fun of it. Being willing to see just how far you can go is the self-surpassing quality that we human beings are stuck with. Evolution is a whole long story of mastery. It’s being real. It’s being human. It’s being who we are.”

~ George Leonard, Mastery


Joy and harmony seem like unwelcome interlopers in many of our organisations, and lives, today. I feel sad to contemplate how long this has to continue before we wake up and restore them to centre stage. Joy and harmony are common threads to many of the ideas I choose to study, including Seligman’s Positive Psychology, Zen and Buddhism, Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, Ueshiba’s, Dobson’s and Leonard’s Aikido, and Scharmer’s Theory-U, to name but a few.

“For the atom’s soul is nothing but energy. Spirit blazes in the dullest of clay. The life of every woman or man – the heart of it – is pure and holy joy.”

~ George Leonard


Many folks see martial arts as being about thumping people, e.g. violence. I can’t speak for other martial arts, but Aikido – the way of the harmonious spirit – was created by Morihei Ueshiba (Ōsensei ), in the late 1920s, as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. Given his history, this in itself seems remarkable. At the heart of Aikido is a concern for the well-being of all, and especially of the Uke or “attacker”.

“Aikido demonstrates [Ōmoto-kyō – the philosophy of love and compassion] in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.”

“O-Sensei’s Aikido was not a continuation and extension of the old [physical martial arts] and has a distinct discontinuity with past martial and philosophical concepts.”


Here is an excerpt on blending or the spirtual practice of love:

“What do you do when somebody pushes you?

“Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve posed this question to groups totaling more than fifty thousand people in workshop sessions, and the first answer in every case has been ‘Push back.’ I’ve heard ‘Push back,’ as a matter of fact, in four languages: English, French, German, and Spanish. From this experience, I’ve concluded that the practice of pushing back whenever pushed is ubiquitous in Western culture — and, I suspect, in other cultures as well.

“And here, of course, we’re not just talking about a physical push. It’s unlikely you’ll be pushed physically between now and this time next week. But the odds are pretty good that someone will push you verbally or psychologically. And if you’re like most people, you’re quite likely to push back verbally or psychologically. So let’s see what options you have, what outcomes you can expect, in case you do. It’s simple: You can win, you can lose, or there can be a stalemate — none of which is conductive to harmony and mutual satisfaction. If you win, somebody else has to lose. If you lose, it doesn’t feel very good. And a stalemate’s a big waste of time…

You can find the full excerpt from “The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei” here.

The Road Not Taken

“At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

~ George Leonard

If you’re looking for a point to this post, there is none, excepting maybe some pointers to some roads not (often) taken. I’d love to hear from folks who also follow such paths.

– Bob

Further Reading

Mastery ~ George Leonard
The Life We Are Given ~ George Leonard
The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei ~ George Leonard
The Concept of Ki in Aikido ~ Aikido FAQ
It’s a Lot Like Dancing: Aikido Journey ~ Terry Dobson
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us ~ Dan Pink
Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organisations and Society ~ Senge, Jaworski, Flowers, Scharmer

1 comment
  1. Interesting post, it has a lot of resemblance to a post I wrote just yesterday about “Tuishou” or “pushing hands”, which is practice used in many Chinese inner martial arts. The philosophy seems to have some common elements with that of the Aikido:

    I also wrote a post about Yi Quan earlier, which also has some common elements to this post:

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