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.