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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > October, 2005 - Keiko

Keiko by "The Mirror"


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This column was written by Susan Dalton.


I was having one of those nights, not getting the slack out of my shihonage and making excuses. At the end of class Jay Sensei talked about ego and how we want to do well. When we feel we aren't, we often make excuses or beat ourselves up. That's fine; it's normal human behavior, he said, but it gets in the way of doing aikido. If we catch ourselves doing it and let it go, our brains can focus on more important information like our connections, our softness, and what information our ukes' bodies are giving us. Of course he was talking to me. Some of us compete by beating up our partners; some of us compete by beating up ourselves.

Last time my shihan Tanaka Tadamitsu was here in the United States he asked us to cooperate rather than compete. He teaches that once ego and competition enter the picture, what we are doing is reverting back to automated, habitual ways of being and doing, and that this practice becomes something that is no longer aikido. Aikido puts new habits into our bodies and trains us to replace our habitual old ways with new responses for stressful situations. He explained the difference between renshu and keiko, and I took copious notes. Five years later I'm still pondering what he said, so this column is my interpretation of his comments, which my teacher John Grinnell Sensei translated and explained for me.

Renshu is practice as we would practice a sport or musical instrument. Keiko, on the other hand, is practice to become a better human being. As Tanaka Shihan explained, we have three centers: the area between the eyebrows, the area in the center of our chests, and the physical center of balance or "hara" that we are all familiar with and strive to move from in aikido practice. Keiko requires engaging all three centers.

The mental center (between the eyes) is the center for the development of perspective. This center allows us to engage in reflection and to build our capacity for self-awareness. As we develop awareness, we identify blind spots and reduce "suki" or openings, psychologically, socially, and physically. We also increase our capacity to connect with our partners and others in our lives.

The center in our chest is represented by the notion of a "clear" heart. When we have a clear heart, we do not need to see "the other" as "bad" which we sometimes do to justify our own shortcomings and failings. (My shihonage isn't working because he's such a stiff and uncooperative uke. Bad uke.) Instead we can see that person's habits, his or her habitual, automated responses. We may evaluate these habits without dismissing the person as "bad. As a side note, Tanaka Shihan directs that we should most often work with the partners we find most difficult. Doing so gives us a chance to work out our differences and smoothes out the rough edges in the dojo, helping us to create that circle of harmony for which we're striving. He laughed and said that after all these years (over 56) working with difficult people is still the hardest part of the practice for him, but it is also the most important.

The physical center (the center we're most familiar with from aikido practice) represents will and intention. It is the conviction to follow through to our intended outcomes. Many times we see ourselves and others flitting from one thing or another at the first sign of personal resistance to change and learning. We usually blame "the other" or "the difficulty of the challenge." Either way, if we relax, acknowledge our tendency to give up, and complete our technique or intent, we build a strong center. According to Tanaka Shihan, the more difficult the challenge, the more we must secure our centers in conscious awareness and keep moving forward.

Aligning the three centers is the keiko of aikido. According to Tanaka Shihan, being centered is the key to doing good aikido and to being human. When we learn new techniques that require changing an instinctual or habitual response, we often times become frustrated with ourselves or others. We may think about giving up aikido. In this type of situation, keiko, according to Tanaka Shihan, means embracing the energy of frustration, feeling it fully, relaxing into it, and continuing to train and move the physical center forward.

As we practice relaxing, opening our minds (center between the eyes), opening our hearts (center in the chest), and moving forward (physical center), we learn to shape and master a joyful mood in spite of everyday stresses.


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