What Does it Mean?

So, I was doing some research on Aikido the other day, and I discovered something that totally changed my perspective on the art. I hate getting too caught up in terms, but this was really eye-opening for me, so please bear with me. Most definitions of Aikido out there claim that the “Ai” in Aikido means “Harmony”. This is what I’ve read and heard for a while. However, after checking out the wikipedia definition, I learned that it actually means “joining, unifying, combining, or fit”. This is different than “harmony” in some ways. Harmony implies duality. Being in harmony with something, we have that thing, and then we have us, who is in harmony with that. This is a powerful concept, but at a certain point, limited. When we start looking at the meaning of “ai” being “joining, unifying, or fitting”, we see how this implies a “unifying with” as opposed to a “going along with”. Now, please understand, I realize my search for the meaning of this term will probably take a lifetime. I’m not claiming to have figured it out, and really, I’m not quite sure if there is a solid ‘meaning’ or ‘definition’ of it. Constantly striving to define things can be futile, but when we experience awakenings of certain conceptual things like this, I believe they should be reflected on and used as tools for growth.

In clarifying the definition (I understand that a lot gets lost in the translation from Japanese to English and vice-versa), we move from a relative or dualistic perspective to a oneness or absolute perspective. This is, from what I’ve read and heard, where O’Sensei was. He was dealing with the absolute when working on Aikido.

Now the concept of Irimi (entering), which is a huge concept in Aikido, makes way more sense to me. To fully meet, join with, combine with, and unify with the energy is a much more powerful intention than merely going along with it (although going along with things is an important principle). It implies much more power as well.

Going within, we can take it to another level of meeting the energy of our higher selves, or best ability, rather than just going along with the whims of our ego. This can be done via meditation, contemplation, or perhaps while doing an activity where we can really focus on what we’re doing. Some people can achieve this through playing a musical instrument, others by writing, playing a sport, hiking, whatever. I do, however, think meditation is the best route to take in order to achieve this because you’re forced to sit with…yourself. No activity to get distracted by (our wandering thoughts are enough distraction). But that’s just it, in meditation, we’re forced to let go of those distractions and push through in order to achieve this inner unity. Way easier said than done, but well worth it. Anyways, I’m definitely looking forward to applying this new perspective both on and off the mat. Trying to go into things and achieve unity with them as opposed to just going with them, I believe, opens up the door to many opportunities.

 

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Life in the Rafters

So, some of you who know me have noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dojo these days. Well, that’s because I moved in. Being uchi-deshi (live-in student) at the dojo has been something I’ve wanted to experience since day 1, but my life hasn’t allowed for the commitment. A few months back, my wife was presented the opportunity to teach in Austria for 8 months through the Fulbright foundation. Being an opportunity we both knew she couldn’t pass up, we decided it was best for her to accept and take advantage of it. So, with her doing that, I decided that I could use all of the free time I’ll now have (love you, babes) to immerse myself in the art of Aikido.

A lot of you know what the uchi-deshi program is, but for those of you who may not, it’s basically an Aikido apprenticeship. For those of us who really want to take our Aikido to the next level, the program is a great way to do that. The reason I gave this post the title that I did is because I sleep, literally, up in the rafters (see above photo for a view out from the sleeping quarters). Living at the dojo requires upkeep and administrative duties which are all part of Aikido training. Not only is an uchi-deshi to train with ki, but also to clean and assist other members of the dojo putting forth the same energy. I will say, coming from a place of complete service to the dojo is definitely a different perspective in which to train. Before, I would come in, focus on what the teacher was showing, train, get a great workout in, bow out, and go home. Now, not only are the uchi-deshi expected to train A LOT, and take falls A LOT, but also to keep an eye out for things such as greeting guests to the dojo, making sure people remove their shoes upon entering, answering phones, helping out with newer students, addressing injuries of others on the mat, assisting with kids classes, etc. After training ends and everyone else goes home, the uchi-deshi are expected to clean up and get the dojo prepared for the next day’s training. Having this constant focus of always thinking where to help is very beneficial to awareness during training and off the mat as well.

So, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do this. I’m also very fortunate to have a great teacher like Vince Salvatore Sensei to train under. Along with that, I’ve been in a lot of dojo’s, and I must say, we have an incredible student body here in Reno.

The dojo is a very unique place. It’s a safe haven for many. It can be a place to go within or a place to commune with others, whatever we make of it. One thing I believe it is for almost all of us is a place of cleansing and vibrant energy. We know we can come here and leave our hectic lives outside, if even for a short while, and just train. People who come in and watch a class see us bow and clap twice and some are kinda weirded out by the ritual. Obviously, some may see it as a religious thing or an occult ritual. What it really is, as Sensei has said, is on the first clap, we’re leaving our mental baggage outside the dojo, and the second clap brings us into the present moment where we focus on the class.

One can feel the energy of the dojo right away upon entering, I know I did. Let me just say that being in a dojo by yourself when nobody else is around is an incredible experience. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy being in churches and places like that well before and after the service when no one else is around. The dojo is kind of like this for me. It takes on a life of it’s own after hours. The walls, the mat, the shomen seem to speak to you. Just the other night before going to bed I stopped and contemplated for a brief while all that I’d gone through in this building. All the times I felt like a complete failure, all the times I’ve felt like I’ve conquered huge inner blocks, all the times I worked until I felt as if I was sweating blood on test preparation and ukemi, all the times of complete stillness in motion, all the times of laughter with great people, the cleansing of my soul and purification that comes from training and insights that have come to me and left in a flash before I could write them down but are still part of my DNA although I don’t consciously know it. Kinda heavy, I know, but it’s true. Pretty sure this experience will bring forth some great inspiration for AikiLiving. It’s great to be here.

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chase jarvis

Chase Jarvis is a world renown photographer from the great city of Seattle, and I stumbled onto his blog a few weeks ago. He’s really big into social media and has a live show where he interviews other artists, mostly photographers, but different kinds as well. He’s an incredible artist who lives and breathes his art with absolute authenticity and sincerity, and you can tell he loves what he’s doing by watching his shows. People in the industry know he’s one of the best out there, but he remains very humble (without being annoyingly so) and lets his guests have the spotlight. You can tell that he really is interested in what they have to say, and seeing the inspiration going back and forth between host and guest is really a powerful thing to watch.

I don’t know much at all about photography, but I’ve gotten so much out of watching his show just because of the creative discussion going on. Creative people speak the same language no matter what their medium of creativity may be. So, not only is his blog and show awesome, but what really inspired me was that Chase Jarvis ignored the doomsdayers who were saying the digital photography industry was coming to an end at the hands of digitally produced images, managed digital workflow, and electronic distribution. On the contrary, Chase argues that for the savvy individual who understands the evolving photography profession, the times are full of wonderful change and boundless opportunity. He’s totally embraced the change, worked like crazy, and you can witness what he’s done with his career and his art from his website and looking at his work all over the web.

Photography has endured a lot of changes over the years and a lot of photographers, from what I’ve read, have thrown in the towel and gave it up. As is typical with things that are changing and evolving at a rapid pace, this makes things a lot harder for the people who are used to the old way of doing things. If you’re innovative and willing to put in the work to stay up with the change and ride that new wave, chances are you’ll end up doing fine. I just want to give props to the guy for giving the finger to the critics and embracing the change of the industry instead of resisting it and giving up.

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declaration (revised)

This started as my ‘Mission’ page and has been an evolving idea. Now, you can see, I have changed the name of that page to ‘Declaration’ (I like the sound of it better). What started off as a personal Aikido journal has morphed into more than just that, and I thought it was important to take some time to update my intention with AikiLiving for whatever it’s worth.

In today’s world we all need to be artists at what we do, whether it’s bussing tables, driving a cab, being a parent, being a friend, doing road work, or running a business of our own. When I talk about art, I mean the act of affecting others in a positive way, in our own authentic way, if even a little bit.

Merely doing what we’re told and being replaceable parts in a machine isn’t enough these days, nor is it rewarding or fulfilling in any way. There is no safety in mediocrity anymore. We have to put ourselves into what we do, as well as in our daily lives, meeting each challenge in our very own, unique way. Doing this takes courage and insight. It’s definitely not the easy path. There is no instruction manual for art. If there was, it wouldn’t really be art.

We’re living through the death of the factory. Not just the blue collar factory, but the white collar factory as well. As useful as it may have been at one time in our history, we seem to be growing out of that stage of our unfoldment. Paradigm shifts such as these are usually not transitioned to easily and these times can seem downright scary and unpredictable if viewed from the old paradigm. As always in history, there is much opportunity among the chaos if we can keep our center and adapt.

What does this have to do with AikiLiving? ‘Aiki’ is a Japanese term which, loosely translated, means ‘engaging the energy (without clashing)’. This is a very powerful and practical concept and Aiki can be effectively utilised anywhere, really. I do study Aikido, and have for several years, and Aikido is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. I will say that this is not, per se, an Aikido site. One doesn’t have to know Aikido to apply Aiki principles (although it can help). I am inspired every day by these artists who do this on a daily basis (whether they know they’re artists or not). I’m not necessarily just talking about the painter or writer, but anyone who connects with others in an authentic, meaningful way. People who act on things, start things, and engage life. I don’t claim to be an expert on this. I have my moments, like anybody, but mostly I’m just an observer and am happy to have an outlet to express this inspiration to others and at times hear their stories as well.

AikiLiving is a place where I, and others who may want to join the conversation, can express observations, experiences and stories about all things Aiki. This is pretty vague and open-ended for a reason. Common posts are typically general musings about art, conscious business, relationships, entrepreneurship, conflict resolution, personal growth, Aikido / martial arts training, books, movies, lifestyle, culture, etc. Some posts are just random thoughts about this general subject matter. Negativity is being mass-marketed and my intention is to create a space that highlights growth, improvement, art, and positive interactions and insights.

People are more intimately connected now than they ever have been before. Connecting with others in a positive way is what matters most now. No one is going to give us permission to do this. We need to take initiative now and start changing our world(s) – careers, businesses, environment, families, relationships, etc. – for the better, and we can’t wait for anyone else to tell us it’s okay to do so. Through the experiences expressed here, I hope AikiLiving can help others find their own true potential and enable them to spread their art in their own world.

-Jonas Ellison

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Leading

Customers, whether they consciously think so or not, want to be lead. The tricky thing is that they also need to feel like they are in control at the same time. This is where the art part of business comes in.

When a customer comes into contact with a business, whether it be a store, website, or via telephone, they want their experience to be convenient. Some want to be swept off their feet by customer service, looking for more of an aggressive approach. Some want to be left alone more, and not bothered by customer service, depending more on product placement being easy either in the store or website. They know exactly what they want. Either way, businesses need to lead their consumers the way the consumer wants to be lead, not how they want to lead the consumer.

This can not be done via a script. Being receptive to the vibe of each customer is a great skill, and a necessary one in today’s day and age where consumers have so many choices. It used to be that if you were loud enough and you could produce stuff for cheap, you’d win. This is still the case in some areas, but things are changing fast. If your business upsets someone, they have an almost endless number of other places they can go, and when they get home, they can log in to their Facebook or Twitter account and tell 200 of their friends how horrible their experience was. Things are getting back to small town rules, which is refreshing, but businesses will have to adapt after having it their way for so long. Word of mouth is on steroids now, and if businesses don’t do their sole job of taking care of the customer, they’ll find they won’t be around long.

We can work on this skill of leading in the dojo, it’s a skill we work on all the time. During training, some attackers come in faster and more aggressive, and some come in slower. Some come in fast but sloppy, some come in slow but deliberate. Our Aikido improves tenfold when we feel this. I totally see the parallel to this practice off the mat in the business world. Each attack must be dealt with differently.

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