Friday, June 7, 2019

Sangen, The Three Origins. Part 1, The Triangle.

         Yamaguchi sensei (1924-1996) held an annual Black Belt training in 1973 and I had the good fortune to attend that training with many others who followed his teachings. Before the class began, he passed out a handout, and in his customary dry humor stated, “I doubt if this will be of any use to you. It’s just my musings.” It turned out, in fact, to be quite deep and has caused me a lot of thought, even up to this day.  
He opened the paper with this introduction: “The great Zen priest Sengai, created poetry and paintings. One of his drawings shows the figures  A great philosopher always makes us think deeply. The triangle means “basic.” The square means “variation.” The circle means “totality.” The figure, given an overview, is a spiral.” 
The founder stated, “Aikido is the way and principle of harmonizing Heaven, Man, and Earth.”This is sangen, yet it can also be expressed as yin, yang, and center, as well as fire, water, and earth. In essence, it is universal principle. In Taoism, it is the Tao; that which is neither absolute nor relative. The threefold nature of universal principle is shown in the three points of the triangle. 
The triangle has two parts. The circle (water) and the square (earth) each have one. The triangle is both heaven (I) and fire (E). The kototama of is the Life Will. The fire ki of E, added to the water ki of heaven becomes fire within water, the kototama of Yi. This is Intent, that which gives birth to polarity and thereby also to movement.When intent is strong, the mind moves the body. 
As Intent is the basic quality of mind, stance is the basic beginning of physical practice. In the words of the founder, “Face your partner with the Irimi Hanmi posture of Aiki. If you face directly towards the enemy there will be many openings and you will be at a disadvantage.” The triangle shows the proper physical and mental posture of Budo.
Yamaguchi sensei often said, “Irimi is the spirit of Aikido.” The form of Aikido is circular, yet the spirit is direct. As a form of Budo, Aikido manifests the attitude of Go no Sen, entering the moment your partner’s mind is set on his own attack. It is also expressed as moving first after your partner moves.
“Enter in the sign of the triangle.”  If your mind is stopped, or focused on reacting to your partner’s attack, you will be unable to enter, or give a new direction to his or her force. Our body must be relaxed, yet our mind must be alert and ready for action at all times. The circle is the form of the manifest world, yet it is the triangle that creates the forward movement of the circle. This will be discussed in the next section on the circle. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Aikido as Martial Art

                 It has been said that Aikido is neither “Martial” nor “Art,” yet this is a very cynical, and also short sighted, statement. The study of "Aiki" is the study of nature’s principle. As such it is the study of the self, which is the highest art possible. The study of Aikido also nourishes adaptability and strength of both mind and body, the essential foundation of good martial art. 
To apply the principle of Aiki to the sophisticated techniques of Aikido is an incredibly sensitive study requiring a lifetime to master. The techniques of Aikido were never intended to be used for real self-defense. Aikido techniques are tools for the development of an Aiki body, the very foundation of Japanese Budo. Since ancient times it has been said that the person who embodies Aiki is undefeatable 
            If one were to follow the criticism that Aikido is not a martial art, we would also have to say that no form of barehanded training qualifies as such. Against a weapon such as a knife, your chances of success are certainly not guaranteed. Against a gun, your chances are much less. Against military force, you will instantly be annihilated. 
            Being clear about these things we should begin by acknowledging that we study Martial art for the purpose of gaining wisdom and insight into the principles of life and nature. This has been the case in Budo, since the end of the Kamakura Era in Japan when swords and barehanded combat ceased to be used in real battle. 
            The object of our training is to challenge ourselves as human beings and to create a better environment, and world, now and in the future. In today’s often dishonest, and completely competitive society, it has become difficult for people to grasp such noble concepts, yet without them we are most certainly doomed to great misery, if not total destruction. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Aikido & The Eight Powers (3)

            Finally, although there is always more to say about Aiki principle, I would like to attempt to briefly summarize this topic of The Eight Powers. As discussed in the July blog, the unity of Heaven and Earth creates the overview of the Eight Powers. Heaven is yang creative force, the detail of which is expressed in Thunder and Fire, and finally summarized in the symbol of the Lake
     Earth, on the other hand, governs the Yin, receptive powers, of Wind and Water, and comes to its completion in the symbol of the Mountain. Heaven and Earth represent individuality and universality as one. This recalls the words of the founder, Ware Soku Uchu, Uchi Soku Ware, “The universe and I are one and the same.”
            The last two symbols, in the order that I have presented them, are Lake and Mountain. Mountain symbolizes Fudoushin, immovable mind and body. This is the level of mastery. It is the Eight Powers rooted by the life Will and Power. It should be noted here that, in the words of the monk Takuan, ”Immoveable mind is the mind that is always in motion.” 
The stability of the body as well, is not a rigid state; movement inside the body creates it. The statement, “Movement in rest and rest in movement” also points towards this reality. Stability is the foundation of control upon which mastery rests.  The exterior expression of this mastery is the gentle emanation of ki, a peaceful aura of wisdom reflecting whatever comes before it. This is shown in the symbol of the Lake. 
The symbol of the Mountain represents the Eight Powers within a square. The square is “endless variation,” what the founder referred to as Takemusu Aiki. He further explained it as “Standing on the Floating Bridge of Heaven.”  It is to stand in the center, here and now, and freely balance yin and yang in motion. 
Mountain symbolizes completion and perfection just as Thunder symbolizes the beginning, or exciting, of movement. Thunder is intent flying out in all directions, It is youth and vitality. Lake, on the other hand, is the peaceful emanation of ki. It is the difference between youthful energy and the gentle power of a master. 
The symbol of the Lake shows the kototama of Ti, which is the fullness of both ki and wisdom. This is the Eight Powers represented through the activity of the Circle, the infinitely expanding ki that creates all things. Ti may be seen here as an abbreviation of Michi, the path, or Way of Life, of a true human being. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Aikido & The Eight Powers (Part ll)

         In the July post, I explained the first two sets of the eight powers. Before moving on, it may be useful to categorize them into yin and yang groups. The Yang powers are examples of expanding, or creative ki. The Yin powers are receptive and nurturing energy. 

They are as follows:

        Yang                                                                   Yin

Heaven            *          Unity                        Earth                   *          Separation
Thunder           *          Tension                    Wind                   *          Release
Fire                  *          Movement                Water                  *          Rest
Lake                 *          Expansion                Mountain            *          Stability

            Each of these four sets has a technical side, as related to the practice of Aikido, and a spiritual side, which relates to our daily life. In reality the four pairs complement each other and cannot exist as separate entities. The spiritual side of Thunder and Wind is health and vitality. The water ki of wind, nurtured deep inside our kidneys, creates our vitality and determines the length of our life.
            The next set is that of Fire and Water, the powers of Movement and Rest. The teaching is that Fire moves and water is moved. In other words, it is the mind that moves and the body that is moved. In Aikido practice, the projection of your mind must pass through your partner before physical contact is established. This pure and unrestricted movement of mind is the kototama of Shi and Su.
            Water is “rest,” yet this is not stopping. Aikido techniques must always be performed in motion. Water here symbolizes the tightly wound spiral of principle (Ri). It is conformity to this principle that redirects outside force, slowing it down and creating harmonious form. This is Takemusu Aiki. 
In Aikido practice the principle of fire and water manifests as Movement before contact and Kuzushi, taking your partner’s balance, upon contact. Unless we receive our partner’s power with rotation there will be a collision of force. The attempt to create form directly has the same result. Force against force kills Aiki.
At this point the spiritual aspects of these two powers should be somewhat clear. Fire is free movement, the creative aspect of mind. When this ki is redirected according to principle and higher reason, harmony and a peaceful environment are the natural result. This is impossible if we are self-serving or shortsighted in our outlook. In the words of Confucius “At seventy years old, I was able to do whatever I wanted and still conform to the way.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Aikido and the Eight Powers.

In the teachings of the founder we find. “Aikido is One Spirit, Four Souls, Three Origins and Eight Powers. Lacking an understanding of this Aikido cannot be grasped.” I have dealt at length with One Spirit, Four Souls, and Three Origins, yet it remains to clarify the meaning of the eight powers. The single ideograms (Kanji) representing each of the eight powers have been translated, yet only directly and without clarification of the real meaning intended or how it relates to our Aikido practice.
The Eight Powers are an overview of all natural power. The power of nature is never unidirectional or manipulative, but rather always the product of the balance of yin and yang forces. Considered individually, each of the eight powers are a priori entities. They have no actual existence until they interact with their opposites. Without the interchange of yin and yang, there is no Aiki and therefore no manifestation. 
To describe all eight powers here would be too lengthy and so I will begin with the first four and then follow up with the remaining four in a future blog. The implications are rich and numerous, yet it is necessary here to stick with a bare bones explanation just to introduce the subject for those who are truly trying to grasp the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei, O-sensei. 

Unity and Separation.                         Heaven and Earth
Unity is the world of ki, or spirit, and separation is the manifest, or physical world. In reality these are two inseparable aspects of one reality. Our physical movement should be independent from our partner, yet we must be completely unified through ki or mind. Only in this way can both freedom of movement and harmony with our environment be achieved. It is because we are completely unified with all things that we have the responsibility to move independently. Lacking this understanding we cannot avoid conflict. 

Tension – Release.                  Thunder and Wind {Wood} 
Tension is intent, the first manifestation of the life will itself. It is that which gives birth to yin and yang and therefore to movement and form. It is the explosive force of creative ki. In Aikido it is our De-Ai, coming out to meet our partner’s force. 
At the moment of contact there is release, yet ki remains extended. Saotome sensei refers to it as “Bio-feedback.” This allows for the absorbing and nurturing of ki inside. Spiral movement drawing ki inside creates ki-musubi. In other words sending our ki outward is for the purpose of physically receiving and unifying with our partner. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Aikido and Spiritual Development

           What is “Spiritual Development?” It is the main focus of Aikido training; that is the development of Ki. Ki has five dimensions which will be discussed later. Outside of these five dimensions of Ki, there is no such thing as internal power. Learning proper mechanics of Aiki movement is only effective once the whole body connectivity of Ki has been realized. 
          This opens up the deepest dimensions of our sub-conscious mind and leads to personal growth and transformation. When there is no longer any division between yourself and “the world out there,” the wisdom of enlightenment shines through you. Regardless of how this is achieved, spiritual development can only occur by opening up and strengthening the five dimensions of consciousness.

            In the words of the late Kisshomaru Ueshiba, “When you have reached a certain level in Aikido, you have already been psychologically transformed.” This doesn’t happen merely by the repetition of kata or basic technique. Kata contains the wisdom of the masters who created it, yet it will not reveal itself to you without great patience and diligent research.
            Furthermore, even developing your ki to a high level is not a guarantee of becoming a better person. Everyone starts from a different place and the power of ki can be misused. It is for this reason that the masters of old refused to teach a student until his, or her, character had been observed and proven over a period of time.
            Assuming that your intentions are correct and you pursue this path of development, you will encounter continuous difficulty. You will be distracted and the goal will often seem insurmountable. The things that you understand today will be shown to be inferior tomorrow, yet in this way, you will grow daily experiencing both breakthroughs and plateaus.

            In the end, the real level of your Aikido will be shown through you clear vision, character, and leadership. Many people become strong through repetition, yet they will never enjoy the fruits of spiritual achievement until they throw this power away and seek out the real meaning of ki in daily life as well as on the mat.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Aikido no Michi

       The path of Aikido is very powerful. If you practice diligently and sincerely, your growth will be deep and even visible from week to week, month to month, and especially from year to year. If however, you have been practicing for several years and the ability to realize wisdom and power has evaded you, you must seek out the obstruction to progress in your daily life.
            Aikido can’t be taught, yet if the proper method of practicing is followed, it will be realized as actual ability and wisdom. Even grasping the deepest secrets however, if your heart and mind are not correct, you will be unable to realize it. In the words of the founder, “Realization of the Divine Spirit is accomplished through practice. If there is the smallest separation from the Divine Spirit then the way is not being followed.”
            The path of Aikido unfolds as the function of spirit, mind, and body. Spirit is Makoto, honesty to yourself and others with no procrastination or excuses. Mind is the power of intention that manifest the power of ki. Body is the shrine, or temple, of our existence, the vehicle that we use to train the mind and spirit. The way should be as natural as getting up and putting your feet on the ground, yet without maintaining purity of body and mind it becomes like the words of Zen master Ummon, “To sweep out the garden, who has the strength. “