be the flow

I think an important and helpful thing to do at times, especially when we’re really training a lot, is to stop where you are and think of O’Sensei.  Take a look at some of his pictures, read some of his doka, watch some of his films, whatever you can do to take a glimpse of what he was trying to do with this wonderful art.  It’s really easy, especially these days in our UFC-infused society, to go a different direction.  Not necessarily the wrong direction if that’s what you’re trying to do, but Aikido is Aikido.

The main focus of our training, according to the founder, is self-mastery.  He also said to not worry about watching his technique, but to listen to what he said.  (see “training with the master”) Aikido is a wonderful self-defense mechanism, but it is also very easy to get too engulfed in the mindset of worrying if your technique will “work on the street” or not.  “Am I taking uke’s balance?” “Am I leading uke correctly?”  “Can Uke hit me from here?”  “Is this yonkyo really putting the pain on?”.  These are common concerns with ours that we can easily get way too caught up in.  We totally leave our own center and start worrying about….them.  Stop.  Come back to center.  You are the center.  Don’t go with the flow because if you think this way, you’re separating yourself from the flow.  Be the flow.  Bring them to your center.  You are here and alive and aware right now.  If you get fear out of the way and BE in your body, your beingness isn’t going to allow you to get hit and knows just what to do for the best outcome…you’d be amazed.  It sounds impossible, but it’s fun to shoot for.

When you see O’Sensei or read his writings, you realize he never got outside of himself.  You’ll never see a picture of him with a strained expression throwing someone hard.  You’ll never witness him “trying to take balance”.  He’s always relaxed, stable, and looks like the center of a top with uke flying around him.  In still photographs, he’s never blurred like he’s moving fast.  His grip looks solid but not hard.  This is the “aikiness” that he has blessed us with and we need to embrace it to truly reap the benefits of this art.  If that’s not what you want, it’s not what you want.  There’s other great martial arts out there that show you how to disarm a guy and break his face in a matter of seconds.  Just remember… Aikido is Aikido, and if we want to regain purpose and intention in our training, it’s helpful to recognize the founder of the art and see where he was coming from.

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insight from the founder

In the excellent book “Training with the Master”, I read an excellent quote from the founder which follows:
“In order to practice Aikido properly, you must not forget that all things originate from One Source; envelop yourself with love, and embrace sincerity.  A technique that is based only on physical force is weak; a technique based on spiritual power is strong.
The practice of Aikido is an act of faith, a belief in the power of nonviolence.  It is not a type of rigid discipline or empty ascetisism.  It is a path that follows the principles of nature, principles that must apply to daily living.
In good Aikido training, we generate light (wisdom) and heat (compassion).  Those two elements activate heaven and earth.  Train hard and you will experience the light and warmth of Aikido.  Train more, and learn the principles of nature.  Aikido should be practiced from the time you rise to greet the morning sun to the time you retire at night.
Aikido is good for the health.  It helps you manifest your inner and outer beauty.  The practice of Aikido fosters good manners and proper deportment.  Aikido teaches you how to respect others, and how not to behave in a rude manner.  It is not easy to live up to the ideals of Aikido but we must do so at all costs – otherwise our training is in vain.”

We have to realize that this is a translation, and because of the limitations of words, we can play with some of this a little bit.  It is open to some interpretation as long as we keep the big picture and our good intentions in mind as we do so.  It does us no good to try to change the art, but we also have to make it our own.  O’Sensei’s writings are a big part of the mystery which is so great about the art.

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Practice the art of Creation

A good intention to set for ourselves while training is to try to “create something new” out of the “attack” which transforms it from an attack to a… new thing.  First, in our mind, we have to get out of the “dealing with this attack” mindset.  When we see it as an “attack” it then becomes an attack.  The aikidoist takes this physical movement of the attack and turns it, first in their mind, to a “gift” of energy which they then mold into their own creation of an Aikido technique.  This is easier said than done and there is much mind-spirit-body work we need to do before we can do this in real life, which is why spirituality/mental training is such a big part of Aikido.  If we see this as an attack in which we need to defend, we get tight and do things to jeapordize our situation.  It then becomes a fight in which the better fighter wins.  When you mentally take the fight out of it, you then totally control the situation and can work on making a better outcome.

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Intro…

This is exciting!  I’ve been wanting to start this blog for quite some time, and it feels great having finally pulled the trigger!  For those of you who may not know, aiki (ai-ki) is Japanese for harmonious energy (…loosely translated of course:)  I have been training in the wonderful Japanese martial art of Aikido for six years now and currently hold the rank of Shodan (first degree black belt).  Although I’ve physically trained in the art for six years, I have been reading about the art since I was a kid.  My dad had a brief stint training in Aikido back in the 7o’s in LA and had a few books from that time.  When I was about 10, he gave me those books which were written by 10th Dan, Koichi Tohei, who was one of the top students of Morihei Ueshiba-otherwise known as O’ Sensei, or “Great Teacher” – the founder of Aikido.  Koichi Tohei was very prolific and wrote several books about the art.  He was one of the first people O’Sensei entrusted with introducing Aikido to the US.  Anyways, I was enthralled with these books.  In them, there were pictures of O’Sensei, this little old man who stood right around five feet tall, throwing these huge guys across the mat who were half his age!

O'Sensei

Koichi Tohei wasn’t very big himself, and he trained the Honolulu Police in Aikido, so in the book there were pictures of him with these HUGE Hawaiian guys in crazy wrist locks, while he smiled at the camera with a relaxed posture!

Sankyo

Koichi Tohei

In his books he instructed how to use ki in your daily life.  There were breathing meditation illustrations, instructions on how to sit in seiza and find your physical center- which is all important in actual practice of Aikido, and how to apply these basic principles in your daily life.  Ki principles were illustrated to be applicable in endless ways whether it be while driving in traffic, talking with people, playing golf, eating, sleeping, etc.   I found all of this quite intriguing and applied it as much as I could to my daily life.  I would have loved to train in Aikido, but couldn’t afford it as a kid.  While growing up, it stayed in the background of my consciousness as something I definitely wanted to do once I had the opportunity.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a place where I was making decent money and had located what looked to be a great Aikido dojo.   Seeing the website, I learned the name of the dojo was Aikido of Reno and the instructor, Vince Salvatore, had trained in Japan for 13 years.   It was about a 40 minute drive there, but I thought I’d check it out.   As soon as I walked in I knew that I would leave that day a full-fledged member of the dojo.  As I walked in, took off my shoes, and walked across the mat, Sensei Salvatore, who was teaching class at the time, walked right up to me, shook my hand, and said “Hey, welcome to the dojo, I’m Vince.”  I was shocked at the absolute non existance of pretension and ego in the head instructor.  I’d been in a couple dojo’s before and was immediately turned off to the “machoness” of them.  This place was immaculately clean with wood rafters that were exposed and the light coming through the windows shed a refreshing glow to the whole dojo.   As I sat down, the gentleman I’d talked to when I called came over right away and introduced himself as Joe.  Joe was an Uchi Deschi, which means he was a live-in student who committed much of his life to immersing himself in the art.  This was all so cool to me!  For 2 years before this, I was a gym-goer.  I worked out at the gym and lifted weights 4 or 5 days a week.  Needless to say, that all was swept away by this new world I had just stepped into.

Joe sat there and watched class with me as we watched Vince Sensei call numerous students up to perform techniques on.  Students with black hakama, who Joe said were higher ranked than those without (Japanese pleated baggy pants) were thrown faster than those without the hakama, and it was cool to see Vince customize the technique with the student he’d called up.  The whole vibe of the dojo was very pure.  I could tell the students enjoyed their training.  Hakama wearing students trained with non-Hakama wearing students and assisted in helping the beginners.  I was in.  For my first four years, I trained 3-5 days a week for 2-3 hours per night.  The art changed my life and I witnessed people come in the dojo and sign up, and as I watched them over the months I noticed a change in them too.  In the summer of 2009 I was awarded rank of Black Belt and knew that my training had just begun.

Aikido is a lifelong commitment to me.  There may be times in my life when I am able to physically go into the dojo and train more than at other times, but I am always practicing Aikido.  Whether I’m training in the dojo, washing dishes, cooking a meal, walking down the street, dealing with customers at work, meditating, writing, exercising, or whatever I may be doing, I am always practicing Aikido.  After training in the art for some time, it becomes a way of life.  I believe there are certain principles we learn in Aikido that many people can relate to and improve their lives with.  Not only is this blog for the seasoned Aikidoka, but also for those who are interested in improving their lives  by opening their mind to the aiki way.  As I said earlier, Ai-Ki means “harmonious energy”.   Do means “way”.  Put them together and you get Ai-Ki-Do or “Way of Harmonious Energy”.  I think this could come in handy for all of us.  Not to get into too much of a historic rant, but O’Sensei was one of the toughest men in Japan as a young man.  He trained in the art of Daito-Ryu which it’s practitioners were trained to kill or mame their  opponent as quickly as possible.  As he grew older, O’Sensei became more and more spiritual which resulted in a revelation which was the birth of Aikido:

“…I felt the universe suddenly quake, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one. At the same time my body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the creator of the universe.

At that moment I was enlightened: the source of Budo is God’s love – the spirit of loving protection for all beings… Budo is not the felling of an opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature.[12]”   – O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba

You can try to fight with life as much as you want.  You may even think the more you fight it, the more successful you are.  A certain point comes to all of us, just as it did to O’Sensei, that if we stop the fight and start joining this force of life (ki) and working with it instead of fighting it, we can live much more productive and happy lives.  Training in Aikido fosters this.

In this blog, I will put up random thoughts, lessons, and revelations that come to me in my training and in my day to day life that pertain to this.  Some are direct Aikido-related topics such as how a certain technique seemed to work better for me, and some are insights I may pick up while dumping the trash or reading a totally non-related to Aikido book.  I hope this blog is one of the many sources of inspiration for you to go and help you live in a more aiki way.  For me , I am very excited to have a written record of my journey for anyone to see.  As we say before training with each other and at the beginning of every class, onegaishimasu!

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