View Full Version : Practicing Aikido Cosmology

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Stefan Stenudd
09-27-2012, 10:35 PM
When I'm writing this, we've just had our traditional demonstration to start off the new semester at the Enighet budo club. All the martial arts performed, one after the other, to a surprisingly patient crowd.

Aikido was last in line. So, we had to cheer the audience up. Nothing is to be taken too seriously.

While trying to demonstrate some basic aikido principles, I got to comparing them to Einstein's theories about gravitation. I've done that before, but now it hit me that maybe Newton could also be utilized in aikido, and how would it differ?

I asked the audience whom they preferred -- Newton or Einstein? There was a group of boys, probably aged ten to twelve, sitting right by the tatami. One of them immediately shouted his response, with great conviction and an even greater grin: "Einstein!"

I had to agree with him. Newtonian aikido is basically two bodies struggling with each other's gravitational force. That's tiresome, and somewhat fragile, like a tug of war.

Einstein aikido, though, is curving the very space-time continuum, so that bodies moving in their paths experience just going straight ahead, while they are really stuck in an orbit. Nothing to do about it. But also: no exertion, no struggle, no battle.

Who wouldn't prefer that?

Well, I've had these thoughts before and probably annoyed other aikido students with them more than once. And the demonstration was soon over. But it got me thinking how far one could really take the cosmological analogies in practicing aikido.

For example, what about taninzugake and the three-body problem of celestial mechanics? The latter is an expression for how difficult it gets to calculate orbits, whether Newton or Einstein is used, when more than two celestial bodies are interacting. The same could be said about aikido when done with more than one attacker.

I wonder, is the best taninzugake accomplished by not dealing with the attackers one at a time, no matter how quickly, but to use the three-body problem, the fact that they are all influencing one another? If you have a mind that's quick to compute the complexity of it all, you might find minimum movements with maximum results, because they govern how the others interact. It's sort of like becoming the matrix instead of one of its victims.

Musashi said that when dealing with several attackers, the best is to pack them together, so that they are in each other's way. Osensei implied the same when he said to treat many attackers as one, but one attacker as many. I guess it would sort of lead to treating both situations in the same way.

We don't practice taninzugake nearly enough. If we did, we might develop an intuition for utilizing the three-body problem optimally, and people would bump into each other and fall all over, without understanding why.

Another way of interpreting Osensei's thesis above is to see oneself as many. I am one, so I am many. That means, if I meet a bunch of attackers, they are only one -- so I outnumber them. The trick is how to do that.

Maybe another principle from physics is needed, and now we turn inwards, to the mysterious world of quantum mechanics, where they have found what seem to be examples of nonlocality -- objects influencing one another, although they are not connected in any physical sense of the word.

I guess that if you apply the three-body problem skillfully, it will seem like nonlocality. You influence the movements of attackers although you're not touching them, you're not even nearby. It's possible because they're all involved in a common process -- the one of attacking you. So they relate to each other as well as to you, in ways they are not completely aware of, because it's too complicated for the conscious mind at that scale.

Of course, real nonlocality would mean no contact at all, not even that of being involved in the same process. It's what happens before an attack is initiated or after it has been completed and the group of people is dispersed.

The former, an influence commenced before the attackers have even joined, would be the equivalent of sen sen no sen, forestalling the forestalling.

That's something Osensei as well as many others spoke a lot about. It's in your attitude, the extent to which it's possible to make you a target. "If your heart is pure," the old texts on chivalry would have it, "no one would want to smite you." Or in an Eastern framework: If you have an empty mind, nobody can see you as a target.

That's very difficult to practice, since in keiko everyone is expected to take turns being tori as well as uke. We need to change the way we practice aikido, if we're really to practice sen sen no sen.

Another interesting aspect of quantum physics, which might be rewarding in an aikido setting, is the continuous appearance of new particles, the bigger the accelerator. When we attack the very core of the cosmos, there's just more and more and more.

Aikido should be like that. Whatever the attacker tries, there's a creative response, takemusu aiki, by which the novelty of the attack is not only met, but practically drowned. Like doing an improvised set with an experienced jazz musician. Or like that wonderful scene in the film Amadeus, where Mozart plays the little Salieri music piece and makes it bloom.

There's always more.

But we couldn't practice a cosmological aikido without cosmogony, the birth of it all. Big Bang. What's its aikido equivalent?

The center, tanden, no doubt. That's where it all begins. It's from where the aikido techniques emanate. So, practicing aikido is to do so until the techniques are truly born out of your own center, as if new to the universe. If they come from that source they're ultimately adequate. What emerges from that one point sets the rules, governs the universe, and decides its destiny. That's worth practicing.

Stefan Stenudd

Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido

09-30-2012, 05:36 AM
Well said, compliments.

I truly enjoy taking the process/principles and generalizing them to see where else I can apply them and how abstract/theoretical I can take them.

What is often interesting, is when I come back to my applied technique staying mindful of the "cosmology" my technique is different.

I enjoy the physical and mental practice.


Rob Watson
09-30-2012, 10:16 AM
Very entertaining. Complete and utter nonsense but very entertaining.

Things do not have to make sense to be of value. Extracting value from nonsense is an interesting exercise.

Stefan Stenudd
10-03-2012, 03:16 PM
Extracting value from nonsense is an interesting exercise.
I try my best ;)
Confusion is the door to discovery.

Stefan Stenudd
10-03-2012, 03:18 PM
What is often interesting, is when I come back to my applied technique staying mindful of the "cosmology" my technique is different.
I know the feeling. Sometimes I suspect that what I actually practice is the cosmology.

10-04-2012, 09:01 AM
Confusion is the door to discovery.
Agreed. Confusion is usually my first step to learning something new.

10-04-2012, 09:02 AM
Sometimes I suspect that what I actually practice is the cosmology.
Since Ki follows focus/intent, I suppose you are.