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 I 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.