The Art of Peace: The Philosophy of Aikido and Surfing

"When you bow deeply to the universe, it bows back; when you call out the name of God, it echoes inside you" -Morihei Ueshiba Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

“When you bow deeply to the universe, it bows back; when you call out the name of God, it echoes inside you” -Morihei Ueshiba.

“The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your innate enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.” –Morihei Ueshiba (The Founder of Aikido) 

Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) is known as one of the greatest martial artists to have ever lived and the founder or “Prophet” of Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese form of martial arts that’s physical practice is grounded in defense, redirecting the momentum of an attacker with minimal force and also in a manner that will do little physical damage to an opponent. Rather than using direct opposition, an Aikido practitioner directs the flow and force used by the attacker into defensive throws and joint locks.

Although I have studied martial arts in the past as I’ve mentioned in previous articles (Bruce Lee, Surfing, and the Concept of No-Mindedness), I have no training in Aikido and at the moment have no martial arts practice. What drew my interest towards Aikido was not the physical practice, but the spiritual principles behind the art itself. I came upon these principles when I happened upon a copy of the book “The Art of Peace” which is a collection of spoken and written teachings of Ueshiba as compiled and translated by John Stevens.

I first read the book about seven years ago or so. I was dividing my time between working in a kitchen and managing a surf shop that were located next to one another on a boardwalk overlooking a fun beach break. On the down times in the kitchen or what seemed like the eternally dragging winter days in the shop, I would look out the windows gazing at the waves, then I would slowly bring my attention back to the verses from “The Art of Peace”.

"Create each day anew by clothing yourself with heaven and earth, bathing yourself with wisdom and love, and placing yourself in the heart of Mother Nature." -Morihei Ueshiba.

“Create each day anew by clothing yourself with heaven and earth, bathing yourself with wisdom and love, and placing yourself in the heart of Mother Nature.” -Morihei Ueshiba.

Witnessing the flow of the ocean, the breaking waves, the myriad of ways that nature was manifesting itself before my eyes and the few surfers picking waves off the once uncrowded jetty, I felt the words of Ueshiba resonating with the essence of surfing. I found that his words need not only apply to the practice of Aikido, they brought forth great questions and understanding when it came to being in the ocean and riding waves.

“One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right here where you are standing and that is the place to train.”

After reading the second verse, I witnessed a surfer pull into an immaculate tube, fluently exiting after a lengthy cover up and gently kicking out the back of the wave. What came about after was an affirming realization: surfing is not simply a physical practice, on a much deeper and more meaningful level it is a very practical spiritual path.

"Always keep your mind as bright and clear as the vast sky, the highest peak, and the deepest ocean, empty of all limiting thoughts." - Morihei Ueshiba

“Always keep your mind as bright and clear as the vast sky, the highest peak, and the deepest ocean, empty of all limiting thoughts.” – Morihei Ueshiba

I began to read verse one and two over and over back to back, the words reverberating throughout my entire being.

“Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow.” 

A suitable path to follow? Surfing!

“Heaven is right here where you are standing and that is the place to train?” 

The place to train? The Ocean!

In much of my writing, I philosophize on the spiritual dimension of surfing, while making connections and viewing wave riding through the paradigm of various spiritual traditions. Now I fully understand that many in the surf community think that such things are hokey or it’s a bunch of hippie bullshit. I can accept this and take no issue with people only seeing one dimension of the surfing experience. After all, I think many of us are drawn to surfing to escape being defined by others and to avoid societal dogmas. Therefore, I don’t wish to bring dogmatic philosophy to the realm of surfing, it would only serve to limit and stifle our own personal understandings.  But I have found through my own personal growth with surfing that the seeds for a much more significant comprehension are being planted all the time. It’s inescapable, as the communion with the divine is the very nature of surfing itself.

"The Art of Peace originates with the flow of things-it's heart is like the movement of the wind and waves." -Morihei Ueshiba

“The Art of Peace originates with the flow of things-it’s heart is like the movement of the wind and waves.” -Morihei Ueshiba. Surfer: Author Shawn Zappo

As surfers, we are constantly interacting with nature, and we become privy to her various faces as they are revealed to us over countless sessions. So I tend to feel it impossible for even the most hardcore and aggressive surfers to miss out on the moments in which “God winks at us” so to speak.

“The penetrating brilliance of swords, wielded by followers of the Way, strikes at the evil enemy, lurking deep within, their own souls and bodies.” Morihei Ueshiba

When I’m surfing, I find that at some point within every session I come face to face with my ego. I can be surfing well or I can be surfing poorly, in either case my ego always seems to pay me a visit.

“You’re killing it today. You’re getting all the set waves. You’re one of the best surfers in the water right now”. Or the conversely, “You’re surfing like shit. What the fuck is wrong with you? You surfed so much better ten years ago.” 

I find that no matter what the situation, my ego brings out the worst in my surfing. If my ego is pumping me up, I can become overzealous, thinking I’m the only one in the water, and unknowingly start to infringe on others enjoyment. If my ego is bashing me, I will become set even more off balance and a session that was going badly already will almost surely take a turn for the even worse. On either end of the spectrum, the ego seems to be a friend who is a bad influence.

"A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within." - Morihei Ueshiba

“A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within.” – Morihei Ueshiba

The above quote is relative when it comes to surfing and the ego. Although written quite poetically, I think the message is clear. The evil enemy lurking deep within is the ego, and those who want progress on the path must subdue or vanquish the ego as it becomes a stumbling block. I find my best surfing happens when very little thought is happening, my ego is under control, and I am at peace. When I find myself in this balanced state of mind and being, my surfing lines right up, nothing is forced, and a good flow comes naturally.

For those who are moved to draw and connect the spiritual lines of surfing, I recommend the reading of “The Art of Peace”. I’ve found that each verse can easily be related to surfing, just as what we encounter in the sphere of surfing can correspond within our various engagements in everyday life.

Surfing is an art that is best practiced from a state of peace. When we do so, our best session will occur and we will receive the greatest amount of joy from our pursuit.

All photos: Christor Lukasiewicz (http://christor.photoshelter.com)

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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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