Discovering Ikigai Through Martial Arts
Discovering Ikegai Through Martial Arts
Written by: Emptymind
Oct 14, 2023

Finding Harmony: Unveiling the Spirit of Martial Arts

Discovering Ikigai through Martial Arts came to me as I was walking in the early evening in the peaceful outskirts of a small village in Japan. I walked past a shrine set back among a manicured garden and as the full moon rose up among dark clouds, a beautiful structure appeared among the lush greenery. It was a dojo and the outside sliding screens were wide open, spilling light across the path. A group of martial arts enthusiasts were gathered inside on a white tatami floor, their spirits ignited by the teachings of their Sensei. Their voices rising together… Ichi… Ni… San…!

This was not a dream. This happened when I visited the Aikikai Dojo in the Ibaraki countryside, about 100km from Tokyo. At that moment I understood why martial arts had been my passion for so long. This scene became the opening sequence in Episode Three of Warriors of Budo.

Warriors of Budo

Aikido students in seiza before Miteru Ueshiba at the Aikikai Ibaraki Dojo

The Philosophy of Japanese Ikigai

At its core, Ikigai is the art of finding joy and purpose in daily life. It is the intersection of what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs, and what we can be paid for. This philosophy encourages individuals to discover their true passions and align them with their skills and talents. By doing so, one can find a profound sense of fulfillment and a deeper connection with the world around them.

Japanese Ikigai emphasizes the importance of being present in every moment and finding meaning in even the smallest tasks. It teaches us to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for the simple joys that life has to offer. By approaching each day with a sense of purpose and mindfulness, we open ourselves up to a more fulfilling and harmonious existence.

Discovering Ikegai Through Martial Arts

Karate master Morio Higaonna in Okinawa, is a perfect example of Ikigai

Inner Balance: Uniting Ikigai with Martial Arts

Martial arts, with its discipline and focus, serves as a natural companion to the philosophy of Ikigai. The practice of martial arts requires dedication, perseverance, and a strong mind-body connection. By uniting the two, individuals can embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

Through martial arts, practitioners learn to cultivate a deep sense of discipline and focus. They develop mental and physical strength, as well as resilience in the face of challenges. These qualities enable individuals to better align their passions and skills with their actions, thereby creating a greater sense of harmony in their lives.

Moreover, martial arts also instill a profound respect for oneself and others. The practice emphasizes the importance of self-control, humility, and compassion. These values not only contribute to personal growth but also foster harmonious relationships with others. By combining the philosophy of Ikigai with the practice of martial arts, individuals can discover a path to inner balance.

Gennie Asessor, Marc Ekasala, Jon Braeley with Kanazawa sensei, 2002

Jon Braeley (with his film crew) and Hirokazu Kanazawa. 2002

The Realization of Ikigai in One’s Life

Now if you are thinking I have gone soft and lining our dojo mat with scented candles (maybe a good idea), that’s not the case. I still come home from Karate training most nights feeling battered and a little bruised. I grew up in a poor working class neighborhood in the North of England and you expected a beating the moment you left home and walked down the street. I started Karate training at the age of sixteen to defend myself, and I still believe that a martial art that cannot be used for self defense is lacking. I never practice or teach technique that would not work in a real situation.

What I didn’t realize back then, is that I would be still training in Karate today, many decades later, with just as much passion. About eight years ago I discovered Ikegai and it all made sense. It is to continue martial arts practice, not only for self defense, but because this journey will never end. As Gichin Funakoshi the founder of modern Karate, once said, “Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.” So I keep training and I keep enjoying it more each day. This is my Ikigai.