In the world of martial arts, Aikido is the new kid on the block but deserving of a thorough exploration such as we find in William Gleason’s Aikido and Words of Power. Developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the early part of the 20th century, Aikido combines defensive movements and calm control of mind and body. Most importantly, Ueshiba designed Aikido to be a comprehensive practice that incorporates the physical and spiritual aspects of several earlier disciplines and philosophies.
Young as this system is, there is already mutation of the form that many find worrisome. In Aikido and Words of Power, Gleason laments
“Each generation becomes more estranged from the true spirit of Aikido and its practical application. So often today, Aikido is being practiced merely as a repetition of physical movements. This misses its essence altogether.”
The book focuses on kototama –that is, the ancient belief that words contain spirit and that supernatural power resides with the spirit in the words. Almost every form of martial art uses kototama to some degree, but Ueshiba’s form was developed with kototama at its core. Here Gleason explores many aspects of the kototama in relation to martial arts practice not only as it applies to technique, but also to life and awareness. He devotes much of the book, particularly in the final chapter, to the spirituality of Aikido and its correspondence to universal consciousness. “The primary intention of Aikido training,” he explains, “is the development of the human potential at all levels, not merely the mastery of technique.”
In Aikido and Words of Power Gleason devotes a full chapter to each of the five principles: Aikitama, spirit of universal harmony; Sangen, the principle of dynamic monism; Iki, breath of life; Shugyo, the spiritual aspect of technique; and Inochi, the spiritual path of Aikido. Breath, movement, form, and purpose are clearly demonstrated through the text and over 300 photographs. In addition, the appendix includes an exceptional glossary as well as ‘The Fifty Sounds of the Kototama.’
Gleason, who began his study of Aikido in the late 1960s, is considered by many to be the ultimate word in his field, and his earlier book, The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido solidified that reputation. Founder of Shobu Aikido in Boston, Gleason earned a 6th-degree black belt in 1998 after years of study with masters of the form, including Kisaburo Osawa, Seishiro Endo, and Kisshomaru Ueshiba. In Aikido and Words of Power, he continues his tradition of devotion to the original spiritual nature of Aikido, explaining the source, power, and use of kototama in Aikido practice. “Aikido,” he writes, “is a means of both realizing and manifesting the Kototama.”
Aikido and Words of Power is not an introductory manual, nor is it intended for the beginner or the dilettante. Even a seasoned practitioner may be overwhelmed by the depth of Gleason’s work, but as an addition to formal training this book provides insight into concepts that are fundamental to Ueshiba’s vision, and it is certainly a precious resource for the serious student.