a guest post by jeff black – part 3 “sound and breath essential in aikido”

Sound and Breath essential in Aikido

I have been reading interviews with Yoichiro Inoue the nephew of O’Sensei:

“Admiral Isamu Takeshita once told me the following: ‘Mr. Inoue your spirit of kokyu and motive power are different.’ I said that I never executed techniques through kokyu but rather through ‘iki’ (alternate term for ‘breath’ or ‘breathing’). His answer was: ‘Oh, I see. That’s why it’s different. Can you come to my place to show me what you call iki.’ We laughed then. It is only recently that I have begun to use the term iki. We breathe from the time we are born. This is what I said to my uncle while he was still alive: ‘Kokyu power is nothing. Things are created because of the existence of the iki of Aiki and your own iki. This is what musubi (‘tie’ or ‘connection’) is.’ Because these two iki are united things are created through musubi. It is this musubi that created the Great Universe and us with it. We should not forget that.”

It is a slow process during training to begin to see/feel this breath connection, perhaps that is as it should be. However I do wish there was more focus and training directed toward the breath aspect. Every master of aikido that I have read about has mastered the breath.

Rinjiro Shirata (1912-1993) was a 9th dan Aikikai shihan, and awarded 10th dan posthumously.

“Kotodama is not sounds. It is the echo of ki which preceeds the emergence of sounds. Sounds are the next stage. Kotodama comes first and preceding it there is ki. Ki changes into many forms. It becomes sound, light and kokyu (breath). When two sources of ki combine, this results in kokyu. While breathing it becomes sound, light, kotodama and many things. Then it becomes ‘hibiki’ (echos), in other words, the seventy-five sounds. Subtle changes of hibiki become the mystery of creation. First, there was the word and the word was God, this is kotodama and also Aiki.”

As you can see, there is a developing relationship between Yamabiko, Kotodama, breath and aiki.

Rinjiro continues:

“There are many stories of the spiritual world in Iwama. There are many poems concerning the Kotodama. The ‘Way of the Mountain Echo’ means kotodama and of course it also means Aikido. If you say, ‘Ya-ho’ (a mountain call used to produce an echo) and you hear ‘ya-ho’ echoing back, this is called ‘Yamabiko’. This is kotodama. There are a great many poems entitled ‘Yamabiko no Michi’ which means that your mind and your partner’s mind are in mutual communication. I am proposing to Doshu that he proceed one step further in conjunction with this one hundredth anniversary of the Founder’s birth as the turning point and write about the state of mind of the Founder. Otherwise, the essence of Aikido cannot be understood. When we demonstrate techniques in the dojo we should explain that this is kotodoma… We have to show ki in realistic terms. We have to show that this is not a budo for competition.”

I had not thought of Kotodama in that way before.

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: (2 Cor. 4.6) and there was light.

So before the word the Spirit of God moved. So the ki moves first.

O’Sensei speaks often that Aikido is not technique.

“My Aikido is love”
-Morihei Ueshiba

This Aikido is a wonder, the understanding is limitless.

Jeff Black currently holds the rank of Shodan and trains regularly at Aikido of Reno.  Having trained in the art, off and on, for the last forty years or so, Jeff is a wealth of insight about the art of Aikido.  This is the second of three weekly installments of his post.  

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it all comes down to perspective

There’s a certain virtue in standing up for what you think is right. Speaking your truth. Even though it may not be absolutely correct, or even contradictory, it’s the way you see it at the time. You may have very strong convictions in whatever it may be, and I say more power to ya. There’s something cathartic albeit uncomfortable about speaking up. It feels horrible to stifle it and not say anything.

Speaking up is great, but being too involved in the world of speaking up can become exhausting and counterproductive. If you speak up about EVERYTHING, you become negative. Like the dark lightning cloud people try to avoid. This is counter productive because your extreme outspokenness, which stems from the intention of being heard, in time, leads to people walking the other direction and results in you speaking to nobody but yourself.

It’s best to pick your battles. I can sit here right now and see a multitude of things to speak up about. Seeing the negative in things can be good only if you have, or are seeking, solutions. Complaining about things randomly get us nowhere.

In Aikido, awareness is key. Objectively seeing problems is something we can’t run from, but we work with the energy to make the situation better. If you don’t, at least, seek to find solutions to the things you find yourself speaking up about, you’re just whining. This is natural up to a certain point, but getting in the habit of doing so will surely leave you with yet more to whine about and nobody around to listen to you. Point out wrong doing but be ready with solutions if given a chance to change the situation. Living in a solution-based world is much better than living in a problem-based world. Without one, we wouldn’t have the other. What matters is which perspective we utilize.

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a guest post by jeff black – part 2

While we wait the merging of uke (attacker) and nage (defender) into one let’s explore the interactions between them.

Blend with (ki-musubi) the
Universe of Heaven and Earth (tenchi)
Stand in the center (of all)
In your heart take up the stance
Of “The Way of the Mountain Echo”

-Doka of O’Sensei

“Uke is our grinding stone to help polish ourselves. We can’t do it without uke.”

-Mary Heiny Sensei

“Yamabiko echo of the mountain.  In Iwama we learned of the notion of Yamabiko, the mountain echo, that refers to the natural response in the blending in Aikido. In the dojo we train this interaction. We ‘call out’ and receive an answer. We initiate and blend with the response. Instead of waiting, for example, for a Shomen (frontal attack) (like in the old days or like in Daito Ryu) O Sensei changed it to become pro-active. So he would initiate the Shomen movement to bring out the response from the opponent. In this way we are able to stay with the opponent from early on, taking the initiative away from the attacker. This understanding is crucial in practicing awase, or blending in Aikido.

It is a natural response just as when you reach out to shake someone’s hand, they respond in kind almost automatically. It is an inherent, pre-conscious reflex of the body. Someone smiles at you and you smile back. Someone puts a fist in your face and you pull back or raise your hands.

There’s a wonderful secret in this that is deeply human and spiritual. It’s all about a relationship and being alive to the world around us. Once we are keenly aware we’ll be able to read the situation and respond or initiate appropriately. Once we’re fully awake this will come naturally to us. A perfect response in any situation. The event lending itself to a match that completes and fulfills. So when I meet you with a smile and an open hand you respond in kind. If I want to neutralize your aggression I meet you with softness. If I want you to follow, I lead. If I want you to lead, I follow. I’m with it even before the word go. I move in unison from the moment we step on the tatami. I paint the brush stroke in advance with my mind. I lead with the spirit and the body follows. Intent before motion. It works perfect in basic kihon Tai no Henko. As you present your hand, absorb his grip as he grasps your wrist, accommodating his strength. Don’t try to wrest it away, stay within his grip, allow him to feel secure in a perfect grip. Now, fill out, open your hand, extend the ki, without combating. You enter him through the arm.

In the second step, awase, present your hand and draw him in. come back, return with him, in the basic form, without contention. Step by step you learn to be very sensitive to his response to your initiative. Draw him out, call him out. Enter his territory to tempt him to leave. Bait and catch. Don’t collide, blend. Carry water, chop firewood.

Yamabiko reflects the harmony of the world in detail. It is ultimately a deeply spiritual perspective and a perfect way to engage with others.”

-Bjorn Saw Aikido Alive, London
DOKA from Secret Teachings of Aikido

Sun, earth, moon
harmonized perfectly.
The golden bridge sparkles
and floats amid the
mountain echo.

Standing in the
middle of creation,
stand in the middle of your own heart,
and follow the
path of the mountain echo

O’Sensei’s Doka

I have been exploring how nage receives the energy from uke. And Yambiko fits the bill. It shows how nage can move first and not be the aggressor. This is key to Aikido for me.

Different words, same meaning. Different perspective, same action. It is so important to exchange ideas, views, thoughts, actions. This is what happens in training aikido and one of the reasons that I love it. And as we explore there is more and more.

William Blake says it well in auguries of Innocence.

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”

Jeff Black currently holds the rank of Shodan and trains regularly at Aikido of Reno.  Having trained in the art, off and on, for the last forty years or so, Jeff is a wealth of insight about the art of Aikido.  This is the second of three weekly installments of his post.  

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a guest post by jeff black – part 1 “thoughts along the aikido road”

“In Aikido 1 + 1 = 1”
Paolo Corallini Sensei

“You should train as if your uke is an extension of yourself.”
Morihiro Saito Sensei

“Gather your partner. Simply move together.”
Sakeda Yoshinobu Sensei

“It’s never about the throw, it’s about connection.”
Mary Heiny Sensei

Each act, each memory, each like, each dislike creates our story. We use this story to define who we are. It shapes our interaction with others. The stronger we hold to the story the more we force it on others. In aikido when we force the throw we fail to listen to our partner and our response comes from our story and not from what is appropriate. In zen it is said, eat when you are hungry, rest when tired. This is how we break free from the story. In the tea ceremony each movement, each action, each thought is not part of the story, it is not from habit. You grasp the tea kettle and feel it. It is shaped and made to pour the tea. You pour the tea. The cup is filled, it needs to be shared, the cup is passed to another. Acceptance, reverence for the gift. It is made to be felt, it offers its self to you. You accept again, this time from the cup. There is no separation, everything, everyone is included. You vanish.

kokoro = “heart, mind, spirit”

Japanese word for person is ‘hito’ = to hold the spirit.

“The body made subtle, we call the mind. The mind made visible, we call the body.”

Mary Heiny Sensei talks of the heart melting as uke attacks, it gives a whole different perspective if we look at the heart as mind. I am thinking that O’Sensei had this definition in his thought as he kept referring to opening the heart. Open the mind, let the big mind, the mind of the universe enter into you. There is no merging with uke (attacker), there is only one, there has always been only one. We with our limited perception separate from the one, from unity.

O’Sensei said, ” All I have to do is keep standing this way.” Perhaps on the ‘bridge between heaven and earth’.

Jacob Atabet by Michael Murphy, “I think we can enter the place where matter is rising from mind.” “”What is there to fear? Life and death are simultaneous. 2,500,000 red cells are being born and consumed every second! We are living flames, burning at the edge of this incredible joy.”

Again to hold the perceived opposites at the same moment is to experience unity. kokoro = “heart, mind, spirit”

This is where my aikido is taking me. I find so much more than just a throw… Sort of another view of the saying that in Aikido 1+1=1

Jeff Black currently holds the rank of Shodan and trains regularly at Aikido of Reno.  Having trained in the art, off and on, for the last forty years or so, Jeff is a wealth of insight about the art of Aikido.  This will be the first of three weekly installments of his post.  


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self discipline: the anti-marketer

Marketers spend bazillions of dollars a year to overcome your self-discipline.  They invest a lot in the hope that you will be vulnerable to caving in to their request to buy what they have to sell.  I have nothing against marketing.  Market away for all I care.  I’m just saying that we’re very susceptible to what they’re pushing.  Us martial artists have an advantage, though. Not only can we physically take out a marketer if need be, but our self-discipline is at a higher level than the status quo who easily clicks ‘buy’.  What?  You’re wearing a Snuggie right now while reading this?  C’mon, now! Anyways, what I’m getting at is the more self-awareness we have, the better chance we have standing up to these marketers who try to make us believe we need something we actually don’t.

Look at Facebook. With Facebook on our phones, we are one click away from distraction. Trust me, I love Facebook. I’m the first to admit, though, that I am on it way too much.  Marketers have made it really easy for us to have that open stream of influence from them with apps like these. How about not having the ap?   You log in once to facebook and if you don’t manually logout, you stay logged in indefinitely.  I know it takes effort, but how about logging out of facebook after you use it in the morning, making it inconvenient to log back in? How about not turning on the tv when you’re bored? With a little self-discipline you can be in control of your attention and override the marketer’s multi-bajillion dollar marketing schemes. You are not a statistic on the bell curve. You are an outlier. One that only buys when they want to buy. One that only logs in when they want to. Oh, wait, Fergie just posted a new video…

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