celebrate

If you happen to train in Aikido, do you see your practice as a ‘striving for’ the ‘perfect’ aikido to be reached at a later time? This is, I’m sure, not unique to Aikido, but to other activities and practices as well. I’ve held this ideal many times when training, but when I think of it, I believe it’s the wrong way to go about it.

Aiki is based on your natural movements and consciousness. Notice I say ‘natural’, not ‘normal’, there is a difference. Try thinking about viewing aikido training as a celebration or enjoyment of the aiki state, which you already have, through the wonderful movements of the art. It’s more of a ‘remembering’ than a ‘learning’ in some ways. Now, if I could just train some more, maybe I’ll remember it too!

What is ‘it’, you might ask. Only through experience can we tell. I think everyone has experienced perfect ‘aiki’ at one time or another, even if they don’t train in the art. The snowboarder hitting that jump perfectly, flying through the air, and landing soft as a feather. The father connecting, without words, to his daughter. The zen practitioner, achieving that all encompassing experience of no-mind. The taxi cab driver having that perfect day where all of the interactions with his customers are enriching as he weaves in and out of traffic perfectly getting everyone to their destination safely and on time. The common thing present in all of these scenarios is that incredible presence of being that we in aikido call ‘aiki’, but is called many different names by many different people.

The more unachievable you make it, the more unachievable it is. I think we should go with the mindset that it’s only natural to experience it. Make it light and fun, not heavy and tryingly difficult to experience. It’s who we are. Enjoy this ‘aiki’ state that you already have. Celebrate it.

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breaking down boundaries

There’s a certain ‘zone’ or ‘bubble’ when confronted physically which sets off bells and alarms in your awareness that says the other person is invading your space. Not just in all-out attacks, either. This can happen when someone walks to close to you, especially behind you. In aikido, it seems we’re not exactly fighting someone, keeping them out of our space. We’re engulfing everything in our awareness, including the ‘attacker’, and harmonizing with the situation. Keep in mind, ‘harmonizing’ doesn’t mean ‘submitting’. Easy, right?

Knocking down that wall between us and the ‘attacker’ may be essential in being able to do this. Realizing the oneness of yourself and your attacker should help you relax when closing distance with no fear and relaxfully (yep, made that word up) rendering the attack useless. If, when the distance is broken, you freak out, its a lot tougher. Picture in your mind holding two separate magnets, one in each hand. If we try to put them together with the north poles together, they resist, and the closer you put them, the more they fight to stay apart. When we flip one over and put the north and south poles together, they meld easily. What we’re doing is flipping that magnet over in our mind where we attract, not repel. Unite the opposites (attacker and defender). Setting up boundaries naturally repel. This leads to conflict. When we see the attacker as separate, we build a boundary in our minds which creates a mentally-constructed battle. You and the ‘attacker’ are one thing (the negative and positive poles of the magnet). You’re one experience playing out. Recognize the unity of the situation.

Think of the feeling you’d feel if a stranger breaks into your house. The adrenaline rushes as you reach for your gun, baseball bat, spatula, or fly swatter. Your heart’s racing. There’s a stranger in the house. All control is lost and your lizard brain is in full activation mode.

Or, if you’re aiki-psycho enough, you can hear the guy break in. You go to welcome him in with a smile not fearing him, and as he attacks, you maintain that welcoming calm but acute awareness. That wall of resistance the attacker feeds off of is not there and he realizes he’s dealing with a different animal here. Nothing to attack. No feedback for the lizard brain. As most things aikido, easier said than done, but yet another lofty goal of aiki-training. Break down the boundaries in your mind.

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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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