* A versão em português está aqui
This is the second part of the interview with Yahe Solomon sensei. If the first part is focused on his story, now the questions go deeper in relation to Aikido and its practice. I could highlight numerous points that Yahe sensei addressed in the answers, however, I found a very personal aspect interesting, the books that marked his trajectory. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and “The Power of Myth” are also books that were extremely significant to me. I remember, as a child, the moment I discovered in my home library, a book with a blue cover that told the story of a Seagull that was questioning about the act of flying, going beyond its utilitarianism to gain tones and tones of freedom and a sense of life. Campbell is, in my opinion, one of the essential readings for anyone who decides to walk a path. It is interesting to see how external elements transform our view of practice, as well as training can change our way of seeing the world.
Thank you so much Yahe sensei for the generosity of the interview, I’m sure his reflections will touch countless practitioners.
You may wish to read Part 1 before continuing with this section.
I think that love is the best way to be responsible. Today, aikido does not seem to arouse much interest in the younger generation. You started at a young age and continue to love this path, how do you get that feeling to reach more and more people?
I don’t have a solid answer on that one to be honest. To begin with I don’t think traditional practice needs to be changed per se to accommodate a new generation. I think it stands enough on its own value to go forward on its own, as its own kind of sacred experience and practice. If not that many people get it, well that is the big indicator of it being sacred in the manner that things of this nature always have been.
I do hear a lot about how young people are less interested in Aikido, but forever and ever the average Dojo had 80% of its members up in their 30s 50s and above. Even in Chiba Sensei’s dojo this was so. Aikido takes a more intellectual eye towards life and practice so this makes some sense. I recall how Chiba sensei once mentioned to us that the peak power for Aikido was in your 50s and how it continued to refine and develop through the course of your lifetime.
This is really a unique position to exist in as a martial art as this sense of life long path to both improve and progress on is in my mind a really special gift to people. Yet even as I’m writing this now I can feel how such a thing very much flies in the face of modernized western culture, which is a place where older people are almost seen as unseen and certainly not visible,certainly not valued.
I see Aikido in its serious commitment to the training process, as opposed to competition as facing and contrasting this modern and sort of anti-humanistic tendency. We should be proud of ourselves in this regard.
Speaking of which when you look at worldwide trends in Aikido it’s generally an indicator from “Westernized countries” one way or the other. Eastern Europe is just finding its feet right now and I’ll tell you straight aikido is huge there in a lot of places, so I can’t help feel some of this “Aikido is dying” rhetoric as at least uninformed if not highly misleading. Changing yes, dying no. Not at all. I remember when I traveled to Bulgaria to teach in 2019 when I passed through customs I mentioned that I was an Aikido Teacher and expected the usual vague or quizzical look I usually get but instead the official said: “Oh you teach Aikido“ and I could feel it was understood in the public at large to be a highly regarded endeavor and practice, and In a manner I’d not seen before.
Teaching there and seeing how all the people (and there were plenty of young people there too) thought about Aikido and understood it in their bodies and spirits was eye opening. They have something in their culture that allows them to really catch the value of it right on the button. I don’t know what it is, but it has something to do with their generalized current of doing things that’s very intact in a manner that suits aikido very well. We had something like 80 or 90 people at the seminar and my host Plamen Youroukov apologized that it was going to be quite small!
Speaking of which there is a program of a bachelors degree in Aikido in Bulgaria that Plamen was instrumental in getting established. Already the first few classes have graduated. To me this is a huge step forward for Aikido as a way of legitimizing it. It is one thing to have someone with for example some spiritual understanding but it’s another to have someone with a degree in theological studies. I see this as something similar lines.
Ultimately what Aikido needs to go forward first is to stay organized around the human value of practice. In my mind Aikido is exactly the Medicine needed by modern society with its tendency towards the isolation of people, which is quite possibly the biggest anti humanistic factor on the planet. Everyone knows this although they may not realize it Aikido solves that just wonderfully, by remaining as a statement of what people really are about.
It’s just kind of in there and if we each of us can at least to a large degree create the world we live in and I believe we can, then especially as teachers we need to wake up daily and stand up straight with pride at being able to serve our fellow humans along such a truly life-affirming course. After all what’s in your heart creates your world and in this respect, we are far more powerful them we might nearly imagine, each one of us
True, I realize that much of the discourse about Aikido and its condition comes from a very Western point of view. One thing caught my attention in your answer is: our mission as instructors, and how institutions should invest in these instructor training programs in Aikido. You did this process in a very traditional Japanese way, living in the dojo. However, Chiba sensei had an official instructor training program, Kenshusei. What was this system like? And how, for you, would be an ideal system for an instructor training program?
Well, the Kenshusei Program with Chiba Sensei contained the basic training elements I mentioned earlier but was designed around a set of weekly/hourly requirement along with the admonition to make the program the priority for the current time in our lives. Additionally he had sub sets within the program for people for example, who may have been a little older and have more established lives etc. In these he asked less time commitments, basically just the Kenshusei class and advanced class he taught along with Iaido as opposed to something like 2-3 hours a night plus lunch or morning classes for the rest of the crew.
For the most part the older member folks/Kenshusei taught classes. I would turn that upside down and have younger people teach a lot. They have a sense of excitement and growing about them more and really need to explore and work out their own art through the teaching/helping process. Younger Kenshusei need to get into teaching sooner rather then later here and there and I’d encourage branch clubs in Universities etc., for this reason.
This is an established practice in Hombu Dojo where new Kenshusei/Uchideshi are assigned teaching jobs quite soon-two or three months after moving into the Dojo. It’s their own training ground to grow from by helping others and I really see the wisdom in this. So more teaching opportunities for younger people in a program are vital and would certainly do a lot to move the needle forward for Aikido.
When one considers creating a teacher training program, you always have to keep your eyes fixed on the outcome, which is true self discovery and freedom in the art, with teaching and passing it on as something which goes with this. This is basic and what is most alluring in the art to me anyway. I use the word “true” here and I don’t necessarily have another word for it, although I wish I did, but at any rate some sort of a deeper habit or understanding needs to be present in the body in order for this lifelong path and evolution to both take root and emerge progressively. In my mind this defines what a teacher is, as opposed to a simple practitioner, as all of the sudden there’s something there in the center of it all which tells you which way to go at every instance as a latent self teaching mechanism. Then at that point you’re a guide to a deeper principle and concurrent expression of Aikido as manifested and embodied in yourself, as yourself. Basically you’re it and you don’t need a teacher anymore and all continued learning comes primarily from the inside out, and not the other way around. This is the target in my mind.
Now how to get there is a whole other story, one which is likely being written as we speak, as culture society, people and motives change, so too would this process very likely. I can’t help feeling this is so, which makes a lot of what I went through very much subject to current interpretation, adjustment and at least some degree of modification.
In viewing a Kenshusei program and designing this building process I feel like two things are necessary: 1) “Hon” or root; and 2) “Hyaku” or branch essentially. For example, when building a house, you need a solid foundation and good and correct, well designed framework (bones) to lay the foundation of the house on. Yet let us not forget that once this is done, the walls both inside and out, along with the roof and all the trim significantly add to the overall stability of the structure.
So don’t get too carried away with saying you’re doing “deeper training” and get stuck in a rut of being “only deep on the outside” or in appearance only with no concurrent ongoing growth in the art. In this case you risk falling into the trap of simply looking like your teacher. The variations of this are quite numerous and prevalent around single leader organizations and is very destructive as it kills creativity and hence the total transmission and activity of the actual art. This one single factor is one of the biggest pitfalls out there. The two factors go together and the more I go through life I feel really do emerge together as a working characteristic of the fullness of human expression in martial arts.
When I was with Chiba sensei his forms were designed primarily to attack the issue of “Hon”, Root, base and he was very clear about this and said to us we’d fill in the rest when we left. Primarily time with him was one of “growing down” as in creating a space for something to emerge from eventually. As you can imagine That is not a super enjoyable process and seemed to work only on a few persons crazy enough to subject themselves to such “self denial”, another favorite term of his. He was justifiably very proud of his methodology being so targeted towards people who were basically tough enough or committed enough to deal with him… For whatever reason. And I’ve always admired him for his strong sense of knowing exactly what his mission was.
Yet generations change and not just a little bit, they change a lot to where even if the mission is the same, the specificity of this mission and the total approach has to change a lot, sometimes very radically. It is interesting to me that none of his former close students ever really successfully duplicated his process and produced high caliber professional teachers like he did. It’s also interesting to me that none of us could really remain close to him after we left. Maybe both of these things are clues to us on how to best proceed and at this point a question I feel is worth looking into as something which pertains to your original question.
I know for myself all truly authentic and complete Aikido seems to spring up almost as if by accident here in there in my dojo, with the best of it emerging from people who are a little older, over 40 say and who’s had some other input into their system in the form of a few different teachers prior to me. You’re at the end of the day they stuck in good and solid with my methodologies in a consistent fashion, even as it was nowhere near the level of devotion I’d show it to my teacher in his system in terms of hours, etc.
In this respect I could really feel I had provided them with a base (Hon) for their body and systems to organize around and suddenly everything else they’ve been through made sense and emerged in this very alive and beautiful way, to such a degree that I was able to say, “yup they’ve got it, they represent Aikido” and there is nothing else to say.
If I reflect back into Chiba Sensei’s Dojo, i’d even say this was a better outcome in this manner, and demographic. Regular people didn’t really immerse themselves in their own art around him, he was such a heavy duty “my way or the highway” type of Teacher and this sort of thing ran very much against his mode of being. Again, no better no worse, just different, different times different people and a different mission. One which I feel fits better with where we are in the world today, Aikido included.
First things first the tools we got from Him are perfect, weapons Zazen, Iaido, all are worth keeping as they seem to act like some sort of a big x-ray machine to decisively photograph and wake up our eyes to what the bones of this martial art is timing wise distance wise feel wise.
People all have different ways of moving and different backgrounds but the absolute center of it all is this thing I’ll call the “Bite and hold factor of the correct nature of Kuzushi during motion. “It’s the thing that all these modalities are there to lead us into in a progressive fashion, and are center of what we’re working on during practice. So, most points of contact during a technique are some manner of an elongation of this sense and in this respect the critical inch in all training which is simply having a good connected contact and encounter. The shape itself is not necessarily that important as a training background can vary and every one’s body is different but getting a maximum portioned bite on to the central sense is The delivery vehicle for the medicine itself self which is Aikido. Some sort of a thermometer should naturally spring up inside ourselves to clue us in to how we stand and how we are progressing in this essential dimension. And there we have a description of the Hon within the context of the Hyaku and that is about the only thing that a Teacher needs to get and pass on.
That said I did run a Kenshusei program in New Haven for some time and I ran basically the same type of training at my students then that I got. It worked very well to where even now when I see them, they feel nice and dense and good. The biggest part of all of this is creating an environment that wears people down on a certain level and causes them to lose something extra. So in a certain respect the sheer number of hours bases around quality practice has a very real purpose to it and Ultimately something like this can’t be faked.so there must be a period of several years when you’re young devoted to this wearing down process that creates depth in the art. Whenever I meet someone again even years later who has done this its immediately evident. The traditional number of three hours daily (or more) seems about right as it represents something that’s just a little too much which is as it should be.
About realizing your mission and aligning with the mentality of the present world, I feel that you really work at it. You have used digital platforms a lot to teach. How was this process and how do you evaluate the results?
Yes, I do use digital platforms a lot to teach and I’m not sure exactly why to tell you the truth, it’s just sort of a modality that connects with the message I have somehow or other.
I have got this deep and furious feeling in my heart that all the systems I use are all saying the same exact thing in intertwining support of an identical expressions of each other. In my opinion there is WAY too much unnecessary and foggy mystique around a lot of it. This genius system Chiba Sensei left is so great because it hits the center of all those basic elements that are changing the way we stand on this earth and relate to others through our bodies and spirits. If I can take any credit at all it’s for simply being able to point out the color of dirt, over and over and not much else really. None of this is complicated. It’s exciting to me simply because Aikido is so pleasurable when you start to get a sense of this. When I get inspirations to put something out on say Patreon or social media for example I have an abiding faith in my heart that there is at least one person who needs exactly that message and I just go with it.
I can’t say there is a particular feedback mechanism I have for telling what works but mostly it’s a certain faith that I know if it makes sense to me it’s making sense to one person out there. If I’ve touched that one I’ve done my job. How it’s just the one, always the one and that’s all I have to think about. Messages travel in this manner through the ethers and the heart and I really do trust this. I love training in person though and can’t wait till the world opens up again and I can continue to travel, teach and touch more people. However, until then I have a challenge for you here that I want you to do, once again dirt simple.
Make a commitment to sitting Zazen for 5-10 min twice daily, then pick up a Bokken a bit, almost on a casual level and do some Suburi with an eye towards discovering both your center of gravity and the Bokkens natural weight as they are the same things, then just watch how those two things link up. This simple process will take you forward leaps and bounds once you’re able to get back on the mat and practice.
I’ve got some instruction on my Patreon Page as well as a lot of free material on my Facebook page and seriously Zazen is kind of hard to mess up! So take this simple challenge and let’s keep it moving!
Your texts on Facebook are very good, I really hope you write a book. Speaking of which, books are means that have this power to impact us in countless ways and good books on Aikido are rare. Is there a book that touched you and made you reflect on Aikido?
Thank you for that. Yes indeed it is tough to find good books on Aikido. My earliest and only Aikido book when I was a kid was K. Doshu Sensei’s original book called “Aikido”. My mom had it and I’d look at it a lot and I remember I really liked the look in the eye of the young person demonstrating the wrist warm-ups in it and sort of saying to myself OK he’s cool! The person turned out to be Chiba sensei and I never realized that until I met him!
When I first got to Hombu Dojo I was obsessed with finding the similarities in the motion of all the top teachers and made a lot of notes after each class towards this end. I would particularly study the motions of the two headmasters K. and M.Ueshiba and their two books on Aikido which proved very helpful. Their books had pictures of Yokota sensei and Mr.Kanazawa on their covers taking Ukemi respectively and in spite of being in a higher level of Japanese then I possessed had lots of good pictures to assist my study. My idea was to get touch, vision and intellectual conception all working together and these two works were excellent at that time
A book that I feel had a lot of influence on me early on is called “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. I came across it when I was six years old and just after I had started Aikido. I did not even know how to read yet, but I made every adult that I could find read it to me over and over again and I swear I went through it at least 50, maybe even 100 times. Something about the message appealed to me and made sense. I think it was this notion and practice of living for something other than just what everyone else did and how the Divine could be approached through daily life through some struggle with your own limitations.
This metaphorical Seagull had the urge to elevate our equivalent of walking living and moving with what in his world was formally just transportation which was flying and utilitarianism into something entirely different. I see Aikido as exactly like this in that it’s a martial art. Which distinguishes itself from being a “martial martial” or just fighting. So all life is art and a practice can be created out of the seemingly mundane. I feel like that book put a blueprint inside of me someplace that I anchored to and ran with.
I’m working on a book myself too right now, but It’s not really a true Aikido manual type book as I don’t care for them so much, but rather an exploration of my sense of the whole thing. Principles etc. We’ll see.
Currently I enjoy a lot of Krishnamurti’s work as I feel he speaks directly to the same direction as Budo but requires no particular art and this is very helpful to see the way forward. Also, the works of Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Bhuddist appeal to me a lot. She is a wonderful translator and communicator of this type of practice. I feel like it’s actually a really big deal to disseminate practices and ideas from culture to culture in the manner that Aikido did in the last 50 years into Western society. Our baseline manner of thinking, behaving and learning are so fundamentally different that it makes the entire issue of transmission really challenging.
In a certain way it’s enough to say we’re all human beings and this is true but that’s only 50% right as really culture carries and are the vehicle for the message. I recognize this as something that’s facing us all as practitioners, students and teachers. It’s an ongoing process we’re all involved in here and not an easy one. So in a certain sense we’re all pioneers in this path so let’s not forget this.
For instance in the Traditional Japanese Way of doing things almost no “why“ questions are either addressed or asked. The entire process is seen as one of reverse engineering in, that is you simply do the techniques and Kata as presented then eventually you can answer the “why” question yourself, but it will be so much powerful as it grows up from the inside and is fully integrated with who you are. This is a cool process and one that is right for martial arts on a deep level, if you want to pass along value, as it both fosters and describes a process of authentic self discovery.
Problem is that Westerners don’t do this in any other part of their lives. We are very much an outside -to-in culture to where we have to understand “why” to begin with before we proceed forward. I recognize this so I try to at least give a sense of the broader implications by pointing out the principles of what we’re doing as we’re doing it. People need to see the larger progression of it all along with a clear view of the process that gets them there. I feel like I do this both as a means of engaging and exciting the students and also for my own discovery process to help me be a better teacher and practitioner.
It can get a little squirrely though to where people start relating to each other with their brains and I want them out of their brains and into their bodies 100% as that’s the only way their brains can authentically function anyway. So it’s a balancing act in some respect. And at any rate hard work is what works and a lot of what I do is simply meant to inspire them to keep at it!
I went through a phase where I read a ton of Joseph Campbell books, back when I was running the New Haven dojo. I felt then and still do feel that he best describes the commonality of all these different practices mythologies rituals etc. that various cultures bring together, and he really inspired me deeply for Aikido. His most accessible work is called “The Power of Myth” and I would recommend it. Beyond that there’s many other books he’s done but they’re a little bit more academic and Power of myth is the one to begin with for sure. He is the type of guy who is an enlightened mind, but from an intellectual perspective which is rare. So you can just sit and harmonize with him and let something soak in through your brain and into your body as you read him so it’s kind of a cool practice in its own way.
I hope you publish your book! “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and many of Campbell’s books address the same theme, our journey or path. I find it very interesting that the etymology of the word “Quest” is the same as that of “Question”, it comes from the Latin quaestio: “seek, inquire, go after it to know”. Do you feel that treading a path, a “DO“, one day we will have answers to the whys or what really matters is to question, not to solve the problem?
Ok that’s another fantastic question and thank you for that. Definitely what matters more is the question now isn’t it. You know the old story of the Zen student who comes to the monk and says: “master I’ve been enlightened, and I can see the total universe clearly now” and the master says: “Oh go and keep sitting, maybe it’ll go away”.
I think in my life earlier on I was a little bit idealistic about attaining something or other. Yet I feel like with all this practice what path does for me is open my eyes to seeing people differently and seeing clearly what process is for myself and others.
For instance in the clinic where I’m treating patients all the time I can see as people get older if they have something in their being that shows they are walking on the path that their life energy wishes to be on which causes them to become whole. These are folks who are very easy to fix up from whatever ailment they might have. This shows that they are honoring their life energy and purpose in this world to a greater rather than lesser extent. No one’s perfect but basically they are on track. With older people their faces get very, very beautiful and you can feel something shining out that’s really lovely if they stayed around their original song.
I feel like they have stuck close to their personal mythology which is also consequently universal and met the challenges as they needed to meet them in their lifetime whether they realized it or not, it doesn’t really matter. Maybe even better if they don’t realize it but you can see the truth of it all on their faces and in their continence. So things like myth and even religion create at least some markers for people to grab onto. Yet the energies in their own bodies and selves directs them anyway.
I think I’m lucky because early on Nakazono Sensei always told us never to wish for or even accept special powers. He told us once that after O Sensei’s passed away he got some special powers from his teachers love and Spirit but he had to thank him humbly and ask them to go away and they did. He said it always creates a deficit if you engage in such things and it’s better to not accept them.
Seems to me like having a sense of path lets you stay centered, keep your feet on the ground and keep progressing in whatever art/life you are engaged in. So, I am very grateful for this early education. Even as I am writing this now, the whole notion of path is so vital for keeping our feet on the ground all of us, teachers and students no matter where we are. The big key difference is simply that there is something lost and we do less as we go forward and that’s a good thermometer to see if we’re going in the right way.
But have I had exceptional experiences along the way? Yes of course I’m sure many people have too but it’s not really what matters as it doesn’t speak to this progression that we are all engaged in and doesn’t help this process, so for me personally, not such a big deal actually.
Regarding the Aikido path specifically. Let us not forget exactly what it is we are engaged in. Aikido is a spiritual/human practice that grows up from the very beginning of such practices. It’s roots likely stem from ancient Persia and the Sufis etc. then on up into India where it rooted in that culture, changed into Buddhism etc. then on to China, then to Japan. But it’s got a strong truth to it and it’s very old as a base. As it’s own sort of science that became a path that was important to certain people or as an undercurrent of human existence that somehow got lost in the modern world.
Your goal in Aikido should be to become free in the art. Specifically this means to get body mind unification to begin with. That is what Aikido practice creates, just as a base. At that point you can call yourself a teacher, but not before then. Before that, a leader, yes absolutely anyone who’s ahead of anyone has to help them and this is great, this is true leader ship and Part of your mutual growth. Yet you’re not a teacher yet because you’re not free in the art and don’t have the judgment to understand which way to go.
Aikido shares it’s central notion with that of Mahayana Bhuddism or “the great vehicle”. Aikido is its own “vehicle” in a very specific manner. The key is not to see Aikido techniques as end-all but rather as a “vehicle” to get into in order to get understanding. Real understanding, understanding that makes you free to create as you wish.
In this respect the process of Ukemi is extremely important. One that’s weirdly easy to mess up. First things first, over teaching Ukemi is absolutely deadly to the learning process. Ukemi itself is about being receptive and highly sensitive to allowing energy, impact intention to come into your body and it naturally creates body mind unification in itself or at least a base for it. Making the natural expression on the Nage side very easy and second nature.
When I was Uchideshi with Chiba sensei he never told me anything about techniques had just yell at me if I disconnected from him or didn’t stay with where he was going and take the impact into my body and let it transfer through. He was exactly the same like this with all of us Uchideshi and Kenshusei. The central idea being that of staying connected with him center to center and allowing my body to organically process this information in my one unique body, as all of us have that one unique body and that’s where the training of the mind and the body/mind can come In organically.
If you have too much of an idea in your mind of how you are going to fall suddenly are no longer receptive to the moment-by-moment encounter coming into you and through you and forging your body through this process as you’ve set up a barrier through being too active. It is a little hard to describe but I hope I am getting close, anyway we are all Aikido practitioner so you can probably relate.
A great place to study Ukemi is two ways, number one touching beginners, because they always have the right feeling to them and number two looking at really high-level guys like Hombu Dojo Uchideshi whos major job is simply to take Ukemi for the headmaster. That is why they quickly get body mind unification that they can take and start to create their art out of. Even though I don’t entirely want the same outcome of their technique all the time that’s just a personal preference thing but they have body mind unification generally and I noticed and could feel this right away when i first got there.
If all of what I described sounds a little bit complex for something that’s goal is a single spiritual path, the same as yoga, the same as the Sufi dancers have etc. etc. it’s only because I’m describing the guideposts along the way that lead us into the path of Aikido. You should be able to feel where I’m coming from. This is my generalized take on “Do” as it pertains to Aikido practice.
Ukemi is a central point of Aikido pedagogy. However, many neglect this aspect or, what it has a lot nowadays, turns into an acrobatic spectacle. How to prevent the practitioner from falling into these extremes?
Now this is a fantastic question and one that strikes to the very heart of what actual practice is all about. My general response to your issue about big acrobatic and generally disconnected Style of Ukemi being so popular would be that Aikido techniques are seen as an end all in and of themselves as opposed to part of a total training process and methodology. So, on a basic level an excess of literalism with no eye towards what’s actually being taught which is deep martial arts metaphors meant to create a body that can actually do martial arts. The training itself is only a vehicle.
Let’s start at the basics which is simply this, Ukemi Role and Nage role are two appearances of the exact same process, and by process I mean simply that you’re learning all the same principles in this forging process. Believe it or not this is absolutely true, uke and nage have identical energy and feel and you should strive to identify this clearly for your self. The entirety of The training itself has no winners and losers in it right? I mean it’s non-competitive and we all know this, so these two roles are simply angles or perspectives to gain access into what Aikido is there to help us embody.
Starting with the non-competitive angle. It is counterproductive to resist a technique and furthermore truly the silliest of silly things to do considering the totality of what’s going on. I remember being in Hombu Dojo one time and Sugano Sensei came through visiting and I was very fortunate to get several practices with him. At The time he was talking with me after class and he told me to always take very good responsive Ukemi from everyone and never resist anyone. He said if I didn’t know how to go with something I would never be able to stop it, for the simple reason that I would not be with it and fully connected to their motion with my center which makes perfect sense.
Let’s take this a little further by looking at what the physical element involved in this is, which would be that absolute stillness and connectedness and a state of no motion on the inside of your body and how this is developed interactively with another human body. You should be able to feel where I’m coming from here. This is what develops from taking good sensitive responsive connected Ukemi from everyone.
If you analyze the state of taking a big flashy fall on cue with that of refusing to fall and resisting they are actually the same thing. Basically a big barrier to the energy being worked on and digested has been put up and no learning takes place. I think this is a good place to start a discussion about the whole matter.
Aikido is a martial art and in this respect needs to have loyalty to both aspects, the martial aspect and the art aspect which blend into one to where Aikido ceases to exist if both do not coexist. Remember, this is a Japanese “Do” art much like “Sado” or tea ceremony to where the outcome of making a cup of tea is not the only main objective but nevertheless making a cup of tea really, really well creates the internal effect for the human spirit. And by human spirit I mean all humanity so it is a big deal to be practicing something of this variety. And we should keep our eyes on what we’re doing.
So our field of practice as Aikido practitioners is not a tea pot with a hot water kettle cooking and all the actions around this but rather a Dojo’s Mat and space and contact of human bodies together. In this respect it’s always important to remember that every contact, every touch and every encounter on the mat has the potential for life and death in it. You’re UKE is not just some guy dressed in a Gi, he could have a knife and if he touches you he could easily have just killed you and that has got to be in there. As an encoded message in the DNA and fabric of the Aikido techniques and the total relationships that go on in it and through it.
Once again the outcome is not just making tea by making tea as that’s not our canvas. Our canvas is not killing through continuously entering a position where we could kill but we don’t and that’s where we enter this path from.
So this is the point now to examine the physical dynamics and interactions that are going on between two bodies. As I mentioned previously the two roles are one so It pays to begin at the Nage position because that’s what is mostly talked about and people seem to have the most understanding to begin with on. Aikido as a defensive martial art is such that you should never allow a person to fully grab or hit you but rather should constantly rotate your bodies into a position where they are vulnerable, off balance and you’re entering their Blindspot while remaining in a good position to strike their bodies yourself. This is basic.
Therefore, Ukemi side is just the opposite. Move in such a manner that your blind spots are constantly disappearing and your center constantly seeks to re-orient itself towards your partners center line as that is the single best manner to defend yourself from any counterattack.
In both cases your blind spots disappear and your center lines tend to constantly seek to rotate towards each other and this is an activity of co operative conflict which is a strange thing to say but none the less seems to strike the center of it all. Basically one technique can easily change to another if the principal inside of them is right and that principle has to do with always realigning your center’s towards your opponent and being able to respond to a new attack coming towards you. You are all practitioners here so you should be able to get this.
As I mentioned previously, I don’t like teaching specific Ukemi for anything. Just the principle of stay connected then seeking for my center with your center and let your body engage as you will and develop accordingly. It’s the place where “No Mind” seeds itself, as a passive and non-moving aspect that points right square at the body that remains or the “Original Body “so to speak.
And how, for you, weapon training, which is an element external to the body, can be a tool in the search for this “Original Body”?
Excellent question, and additionally very relevant to the state of the art as it stands today. When I first got to San Diego, I remember watching Iaido class. Chiba Sensei used to tell some of the students that their “line” was not clear. He eventually expanded that into body arts to some degree, using the phrase “line of consciousness” but primarily I saw that idea used around weapons and specifically in Iaido.
As great of a teacher as he was I feel like I could at times miss the essentials with him because he had such a sizzling fury and gigantic force field that pushed you back and in that respect so much magic around him that it was easy to miss what he was doing and get caught up in the sheer dramatic power of it all.
Probably the first time that this whole notion of “clear line of consciousness” really hit home for me was when I first saw Shibata Sensei. His utter lack of drama made seeing his movements and their absolute clear lack of anything extra-Ness evident and inspirational. Eventually seeing the high-level teachers in Hombu Dojo brought this lesson home from multiple angles.
I am starting at this point as a means of explaining the embodied sense of nothingness and stillness that resides in the human body “no mind” as it were, as expressed through Aikido practice. As a mind body physically engaged in practice this is what it is. Basically, an ancient practice expressed in this new physical form and path.
One of the first classes I was in with Chiba Sensei after returning from Japan was some kind of weapons/Kenshusei class that involved Zazen as well. I was working on whatever he was showing us with someone, and at one point he looked up at me and said “Karada No Chikara Ja Naku Te Kimochi No Chikara” and he smiled as though he was letting me in on a little secret and I knew this was true. This translates roughly as “Not physical strength but feeling/consciousness strength”. Really the word “Kimochi” is a sense of feeling as in the intention and focused power of that feeling in the weapon itself and all the movements it does and denotes bringing that weapon to life through your own feeling/Intention. I always tell my students when I’m teaching to have their weapons grow a nervous system and this is true and you should do something like this and work on it strongly.
If all training is done into the body through the nervous system and weapons training is done through the nervous system that should grow into the weapon then wouldn’t it follow that weapons training itself is simply a magnification of this process for the simple fact that it exists outside of our body as an extension of our body and is therefore more inherently difficult. By difficult I mean to say that it requires more effort on a mental/feeling/consciousness level, then simply being athletic would for instance. It is the nature of good martial arts training to be difficult, to be something that you strain strongly with your consciousness (Kimochi) even though it is a fairly mundane act. Getting that intention out into a weapon represents a magnification of the entire process towards the holy trifecta of Body/Mind/Weapon Unity. It’s the nature of this magnification that it creates an inroad into the total sense of what we are talking about in the very center of the embodied sense of Aikido. This is stillness or lack of whatever gets in the way of a pure expression of Aikido, which is seen and perceived as the natural action of two forces interacting in the field of gravity in the purest way possible.
90% of what actually constituted Kenshusei training was in weapons and not body art. The sheer intensity and focused energy of working with weapons is something you can’t hide in, it’s very, very difficult and it should be. It’s still difficult for me as well, even now, except that in addition to being difficult it’s also extremely pleasurable and this is something I want to share with people and they should know that this is something that wakes up eventually, as your own nature begins to reveal itself through the art.
The opposite of this “line of consciousness” that he used to refer to was “sloppy consciousness” which could take the form of shoes being placed wrong, the door slightly ajar the plant leaves not dusted, etc, all that sort of thing that he was always looking at to indicate that we were working on this consciousness. Consciousness is the magic stuff that is what Aikido uses to achieve its source. This is a unified source throughout all ancient spiritual traditions from the East.
At this point we have to circle back into your previous question about Ukemi and as we do so, come into the current situation of how weapons are practiced in Aikido right now. Both of these things are both highly relevant and intimately intertwined. The two systems I generally see are those of Saito sensei and those of Chiba sensei. There are lots of others I’m sure but those are the major ones that my eyes have seen so I’ll start here. One of the more relevant things about them is that the founders of these two systems are passed on and are therefore unavailable to give us any more guidance about. This is a certain situation to be reckoned with.
Chiba Sensei was forever praising Saito sensei as “the best teacher” yet he also used to say that he was massively misinterpreted, and people would get caught in his system and become very static within it and growth in the art would stop. He never specifically targeted the weapon system in this respect, yet I can feel that he created his own weapon system to go beyond Saito Sensei’s weapon system as something truly deeply interactive as a training methodology. He was always clear about what he was doing, which is to create a system to get you to discover your own body and your own Aikido and how it operates within you, and for this I am 100% in agreement and respect that clarity of vision he had. The art of Aikido is a total art that people should embody and enjoy and not get stuck in doing some particular system over and over for no purpose. Remember, none of these systems are end all is in and of themselves or have any particular meaning in and of themselves. They are simply vehicles to get us into Aikido.
His generalized resistance throughout his life to ever issuing certificates of accomplishment of any type in his system of training are noteworthy here as for him the art was always evolving and meant absolutely nothing, other than what it meant to the individual in their own body. Can you see the beauty of this?
Currently what I see is that Chiba Sensei’s weapon systems are spreading out throughout the world and this is absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately what I also see is that they are becoming very static and lack their nature as the interactive transmission systems they were born from originally, and born to be originally and this seems to be getting worse over time rather than better unfortunately.
The only thing we can do right here right now is return to the question, that central question of what is Aikido for, but ask it from the perspective of weapons because they are the same thing in this case, and in a certain respect actually more so. I believe that if you can answer those two questions precisely it will lead you naturally to a place where we can truly understand and appreciate those weapon systems and use them for what they were originally intended for which is to see it as a progressively deepening interactive system. This system involves both Uke and Nage both equally and strikes at the very heart of what we are working on with Aikido and its penetration into the roots and unity of the pairs of opposites. Cutting yet receiving a cut at the same moment, being forceful in your attack yet at the same time retaining the ability to stop and not cut at any point in the cut. This makes total sense given the nature of practice together where we can be very fierce yet still not injure each other. This is a very important contradiction to live in as fully as possible during practice. It is not an either\or thing, it must be full to work. Never ever hold back yet don’t hurt each other. Can you achieve this, can you practice this? This is my question and challenge for you.
Challenge is a good expression to define the experience of living a Do. What is your challenge within Aikido? And what is the challenge of Aikido, as a system, in today’s world?
The biggest challenge for Aikido nowadays is for it to remain as Aikido. So, much of the world is going in a purely materialistic, literalistic manner and Aikido is not that. Was not created for that, never will be that.
When I was on one of the Native American reservations, in the western part of the Montana here one year, the difference in the energy of the land between it and that of property held by the government was palpable. The native lands seemed to speak a message of comfort and love towards me as many people had spoken that message of Love and reverence towards it for so long. You could just feel it.
Government land may have been beautiful, even identical in appearance, but did not have the same energy in any way Our culture can take something as beautiful as a mountain and reduce it into lumber, soil, rocks, minerals and start breaking it apart and selling the parts off. But it is more than this, it is the materialistic reductionism and this total viewpoint that kills everything.
Aikido retains the beauty of a system that’s a whole system and has a deeply humanistic message to it. Let’s take pride in this as teachers and students of this path and not forget it. Why do we be bow to each other before and after practice, to the dojo, to our swords. Do you see the life and the beauty of this simple act and how it runs contrary to the useless usefulness of modern society? Why is it that dedicated dojos that have been practiced in sincerely over time take on a certain glow and quality to it that anyone walking into them can immediately recognize? That kind of thing. That, and not something else.
My personal challenges is to express and be this art, as an example for people in my single human body, as a means for them to understand the art through their single human body. And find the best teaching methodologies I can come up with, Paramount of course being that of personal contact, as physical contact is always the best means of transmission and transference.
I cannot thank you for the countless reflections you have provided here. Do you have any final considerations that you would like to express?
Yes indeed, thank you very much for the opportunity to connect with your community. I hope I was able to add some value to our path. I have seen Aikido in Japan and I have seen Aikido in many parts of the world. Aikido may have been born in Japan and possibly has more cultural support there yet the fire and drive for it lies overseas 100%.
So, see it as a wave of a healing energy that started there and rolls out to the world now that we are on the leading edge of. Obviously, the expression of Aikido through whatever culture each of you is now involved with delivering it in will be unique. Cultural adjustments and expressions through whatever situation you are in are natural and right so long as it stays true to Aikido‘s roots and central message that should show up in everything about it.
There are a lot of ideas out in the World today amidst all the different positions that people are taking all of which once taken to an extreme, cut off from each other and become bad ideas almost by definition. Aikido is wonderful because it’s not an idea, it’s a practice that unifies people. Two souls interacting in such a dimension as a practice speaks for itself. Aikido was born of a country that had recently been devastated on every level. The fact that we are going into what I can only see as some time of chaos makes the relevance of this practice even stronger. You have my respect for this reason. Keep your courage and let me know if I can help in any way.