Aikido and Ethics


By Steve Kanney


What does Aikido teach us about ethics?


As a practitioner of Aikido who also works full time, this question can be quite challenging. As I understand things, O'Sensei created Aikido so we could find true peace. Each one of us then goes back into society to share the peace we have created for ourselves through the practice of Aikido. In this way, we can all work to create a more peaceful world - not through organizations such as the United Nations, but by sharing the genuine peace we discover in our own hearts with our fellow human beings.


For those of us who are employed full time, the workplace is a wonderful testing ground where we can attempt to pass on what we have learned through our practice. However, having spent over 20 years on Wall Street, one can only imagine the number and degree of difficult situations one might face. The environment is a breeding ground for the young, the power hungry, the greedy, the slick, and the deceitful. What must one do in order to succeed? Some of the headlines coming out of the financial industry at this time only offer a small glimpse of the character of the real world.


Can one find peace by acting unethically at the same time? Does lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating others for selfish gain and trying to control people through the exercise of power lead to peace within oneself? Not being that knowledgeable about Aikido, I can only answer this question for myself. I believe I can say with some authority that I have noticed a significant increase in the disturbances in my mind every time I engage in the behaviors mentioned above.


However, what does one do if their environment demands that they behave in such a manner in order to succeed? Well, the issue is complicated by one simple fact: unethical behavior itself does not lead to success, but failure over the long run. For anyone who needs convincing, the senior managers of Enron, and several "top" Wall Street Analysts are good examples.


I think all of the questions raised here can be answered in a lesson Tamura Sensei saw fit to teach me about 8 years ago. I was practicing with someone who was known for being significantly disturbed emotionally. In fact, a number of years later he was thrown out of the NY Aikikai. Tamura Sensei came up and trained with both of us, doing Kokyu Ho. This particular individual immediately raised himself up nearly into a football stance and attempted to mow Tamura Sensei down. He shortly found himself on the mats. Before he moved on, Tamura Sensei leaned over to me and essentially said, "Here, try to help him." I spoke with him after the class and he raved about how Tamura Sensei was cheating in Kokyu Ho. I tried to help him, but could do nothing.


I believe the important lesson here is not that Tamura Sensei expected me to be able to help him. In fact, he was unable to help this individual himself. On the contrary, the lesson is that the practice of Aikido is to try to help others, even if we have no expectation or even hope of succeeding. Taking this important lesson and applying it to Wall Street, we know unethical behavior leads to failure over the long run, and not success. If we become fixated on short-term success for ourselves and behave unethically, not only will we ultimately cause problems in our own organization, but we will also lose the peace O'Sensei wanted us to find through our practice. On the other hand, looking to the long run success of all involved, we may behave ethically ourselves and encourage others to do so as well. Good, clean competition among professionals trying to do their best in their work and promote their organization can be a powerful machine in the business world. We should try to help others to succeed the right way, even if we know we will fail. The practice of Aikido is in the trying, not the success.