Saturday, April 18, 2020

The AI of Aikido

            O-sensei stated, “Without understanding the Kojiki, you can’t grasp the reality of Aikido.” The Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Happenings,” is the Japanese story of creation.  It is a symbolic explanation of the dual opposing forces of nature. When we speak of these as universal function, they are called Kami, or "Deity" in Japanese. When we speak of them as the breath of life, they are called Iki. Kami is fire and water circling around and enveloping each other each in its turn. This derives from the word Karami, "To wind around, or encircle." 
          The creative function of the Kami is expressed through fifty word souls or kototama, beginning with Mu, the vast emptiness, and Su, it's creative movement. Inside of the steamy mist (Musu), spontaneously, a point (I) appears. From this point expansion (A) reaches out in all directions. This is AI. I have addressed this at some length in relation to Aikido training, yet the physical training alone may not always reach the depths of what, I believe, O-sensei's was trying to express.  
            From a universal point of view, the expansion that gives birth to all things is infinite compassion, the kototama of A. The Point from which it expands is the root of wisdom, the kototama of I. This is the real meaning of AI. It is compassion, never withheld, and forever overflowing. It is balanced by wisdom, the ability to stand in the center, using skillful means rather than force, to alleviate suffering in the world. 
            The essential point to grasp here is that these two forces are completely interdependent. Compassion (fire) and Wisdom (water) can’t exist, or function successfully, without each other. Attempting to help others, without having clear vision yourself, you may create more problems than you resolve. More misplaced however, is wisdom without compassion. It is dead and cold. Unable to maintain its balance, even potential genius may drift into insanity.
             In order to utilize the gifts of wisdom and compassion that lie at the very root of our nature, we must train both body and mind. We cannot be said to understand the message of Aikido if we are unable to manifest it in our physical practice. In the words of the founder, "Aikido is the superlative way to practice the kototama." Especially at this difficult time, let us keep our spirits high, and keep moving forward towards the goal of AI

Friday, November 8, 2019

Sangen. Part 3, The Square

In the words of Yamaguchi sensei, The Square represents variety, yet this is quite an understatement. The square is the solid foundation on which the activity of the triangle and the circle depends. The triangle represents the mind that gives birth to movement. It is Intent reaching out and creating movement and form. The Circle is the manifest form created by that movement. The square is stabilization and creativity and it brings this process to its completion. It is the stabilization of movement through the balance of yin and yang. 
            The Japanese word for “Square,“ is Shikaku, or “Four corners.” Shikaku, however, can also mean “competency” or “mastery.” The triangle and the Circle represent direction and form, yet without the function of the square there is no power or effectiveness. The Square is Earth, or more specifically, “Mountain.” In the words of O-sensei, “Power is from the Earth, direction is from Heaven.” 
            The monk Takuan referred to mastery as Fudoshin, immoveable body/mind. He went on to explain that, “Immoveable mind is the mind that is constantly in motion.” In other words, although it is unshakeable it is never attached to or stuck on any one thing. O-sensei referred to it with the Shinto term Takemusu Aiki, usually interpreted as the continual and spontaneous creation of new forms. 
            Take is the continual interchange of yin and yang and Musu,is Musubi, harmonizing the forces of yin and yang. In order to do this, the master must be at home, in the center, between those forces, and freely balancing them. O-sensei referred to this ability as Ame no Uki Hashi ni Tateru, “Standing on the floating bridge of Heaven.”
Harmonizing the forces of yin and yang is to bring them under control. This was expressed by the founder as Bring your partner down (Osae) in the sign of the square. Osae is not only to physically bring someone down. It also means to calm things down, to gather ki inside and bring things to a state of harmony. The square represents the perfect balance of yin and yang represented by the Eight Powers.
In other words, the square is the endless source of variety and creativity. We should never be stuck in any one form or another, but rather we should allow the principle of Aiki to inform our feelings, thoughts, and movement. Rooted to the earth, the source of power, and looking to Heaven, or principle, for direction; this is the path towards Spiritual freedom.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sangen. The Three Origins. Part 11, The Circle.

             As discussed in part 1, the Triangle and the Circle are two aspects of spiral movement, the underlying form of nature and also of Aikido. As the triangle represents the basic principle of Aikido, the circle represents the world of form. It is "Totality," the beginning of polarity, movement, and all manifest form. 
Its perfect shape gives it more dynamic power than any other form. We may divide the world into feeling and form. Feeling is ki and although it creates form, it represents the invisible world. The world of movement, and form, begins with expansion in all directions, a perfect circle.
The motive power (Hataraki) of this expansion is Intent (Yi). Standing at the absolute center of all things, it is the link between the will to move and the manifestation of that action. It creates Ha, opening forcefully, Ta, the power of contrast, and Ra, spiral form opening. In the teachings of the founder we find, “Before, during, and after the technique, open in the six directions.” 
Expanding (A) from our physical center (I), we manifest AI, the perfect harmony of Yin and Yang. In Japanese Shinto this is represented by the symbol for Su, the creative power of nature. It is a circle with an inverted checkmark at its center. The circle represents “Heaven,” the infinite universe. The checkmark is Intent, the first movement of mind. 
The spirit of Aikido is direct, (Irimi), yet the form is circular. A circle creates a straight line, which is actually a still larger circle. This is the interchange of fire (E) and water (I) ki. In Shinto it is said, “Fire moves and water is moved.” In other words, the mind (Intent) moves the body. Without developing strong intent we cannot speak of ki or internal power. 
            The circular form and movement of Aikido keeps your partner outside of your sphere of influence. The founder said, “If I can lead my partner out of his sphere of influence, he will be easily thrown.” When your partner attacks, it is like he is trying to hold onto a large ball that is both expanding and rotating. There is no collision of force, yet he is immediately displaced or unbalanced. 
            In the teaching of Ueshiba Morihei we find, “Perform the technique (Tai Sabaki) in the sign of the circle.” This means that the entire technique should be accomplished with Tenkan, the changing of our hanmi, or even the simple rotation of our torso from one side to the other. This turning (Fire) is accompanied by rising and descending (Water) ki on the right and left sides of our body.
            Finally, the unique form of Aikido technique depends of the arc of the arms. Although the upper and lower arms are straight lines, they must move as circles. This is subtle and difficult to discover; it needs to be passed down from teacher to student. The arc of the arms is called Enkatsu. En is a circle and Katsu means to smooth things out and eliminate difficulty. Although many Aikido techniques come from older arts, the circular and flowing form of Aikido is unique to barehanded training. 
People often try to create spiral form in their technique, yet there should be no attempt to create any kind of form. Rather move your own body according to the principle of Aiki, or yin and yang, and the correct form will be discovered. This is the meaning of Tai Sabaki, or “Judgment in motion.” 

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           *          Release                    Wind                   *          Tension
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.”