I have always enjoyed both playing and watching sports. The combination of physical fitness, mental
focus, and emotional commitment makes all great sports into wonderful activities. Of course, the greatest
athletic exhibition in the world is the Olympic Games.

The games originated in ancient Greek perhaps in 776 BCE. Originally they were held to pay tribute to
the gods, Zeus in particular. The ancient Greeks believed that the deities that controlled their lives looked
like them except that they were all physically perfect and much larger than humans. Therefore, to display
one’s honed body in a struggle for perfection was something of a religious act. As a result, the Greek
athletes trained and competed in the nude.

The games brought together citizens of the various city-states that were united by language and religion.
There was no such thing as Greece in ancient times. Hellas was a shared culture, not a political
union. But the military conflicts between Athens, Sparta, Corinth, etc., were put aside to allow athletes
and spectators from all over to come together every four years at Olympia.

The ancient athletes were crowned with laurel leaves if they came first in their respective events. There
were no prizes for finishing second or third. But an Olympic victor was often rewarded with dozens of
beautifully decorated pots of expensive olive oil. There might also be room and board for the rest of their
lives in their home cities in exchange for some minor coaching and refereeing duties. Some champions
had statues erected to them and poems of glory celebrated their fame.

The modern Olympic Games came into being in 1896 CE when Pierre de Coubertin sought to bring
together a divided world through what he thought were the ideals of the ancient contests. Since then, the
most terrifying and destructive wars ever known have taken place. From that perspective the games have
been a failure, perhaps. Yet, when I see the many young people from around the world gathered together
in the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremonies, my naïve hope rises again.

Aikido too is an activity that demands physical, mental, and emotional dedication. We can and should be
inspired by the efforts and achievements of the Olympians. For Aikidoka, however, there is no trophy or
medal at the end. In fact, there is no end. The path of the harmonious spirit is the process itself. Whole-
hearted commitment to mastering the techniques of throwing, pinning, and falling is the method. The
goal is a life led with determination, courtesy, and empathy until those qualities become natural and


The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games, Tony Perrottet, 2004
ISBN 0-8129-6991-x

The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years, M.I. Finley and H.W. Pleket, 1976
ISBN 0 7720 1026 X

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