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Aikido isn't, in and of itself, spiritual. I cultivate spirituality in my own life by seeking to integrate myself with the larger totality of existence such that I become more than I am, as defined by my "self". Aikido is my chosen vehicle for directly experiencing unification with the universe on a deeply visceral level.
I don't believe spirituality is something that can be taught, as in; do this, that and the other thing and you will become a more spiritual person. Spirituality, like Aikido, grows from within. A spiritual path can be pointed to but it's up to the individual to walk it and learn from the experience.
Aikido is a way for me to view the world thru different eyes. It allows me see from a vantage point of integration as opposed to the differentiated view I have of the world when I lose one point and the larger "me" is subsumed by the unitary "me".
When practicing with a partner I am able to experience him/her without the clutter of words that often serve to obfuscate who we really are. When practicing we lay ourselves open to inspection in ways both transparent and honest. Our motion and our interaction are like a chess game where the pieces are always on the board and nothing of the moment is hidden.
There is no light quite like October light. It has a quality that rounds off corners and smoothes ragged edges in a ways that soften the world, blending seemingly discordant shapes into a seamless whole. October light eases the passing from summer to winter and stores the promise of spring as a remembrance of the endless cycle of the passing of the seasons.
Aikido has much in common with October light. Aikido softens the edges of uke's and nage's relative motion. It bends linear movement into graceful arcs that lead the eye rather than shock it. Via Aikido, discordance gives rise to harmony as isolation yields to integration and the participants move from plurality to singularity.
It's November now, the beginning of the brown months. October's light has gone to sleep for another year; but like the legendary Phoenix, it'll be back, rising from the ashes of a spent summer. Until then, I have my Aikido to carry me along and remind me of the splendor of its illumination.
High summer is the best time to practice. The dojo is hot, fans move the air, but hot moving air is still… well, hot. The heat loosens my body, eases the winter ache in my joints and energizes my desire to practice. It's as though the warmth expands my body reducing the friction that winter's contracting cold brings on.
Already the air here whispers of the New England winter waiting just over the horizon. Ice on the windows of the cars in the morning, gardens gone to yellowed leaves, trees moving swiftly from fall colors to leafless brown all speak of the approach of another long winter season. Even with the heating unit, the dojo is chilly in the winter; usually getting comfortably warm right about the time class is about to end.
In summer my practice turns outward; winter inward. Winter is a time of reflection, a time to assess, to plan, to accumulate. A little less ukemi than when the air is hot and moist, to be sure; but less is not none and at my age any at all is to be thankful for.
Aikido is an emergent phenomenon. The mechanics of Aikido technique may be taught. The ideas underpinning Aikido may be taught. Aikido's transformative qualities, however, are not taught, they're experienced. And they're experienced uniquely by each student in his/her own way, in his/her own time.
As an instructor I have a twofold responsibility. The first is to teach what may be taught; to try to raise the awareness of my students to the point where they may cease being taught and begin to learn for themselves. The second is to provide my students a venue in which their Aikido may grow and emerge; a venue in which transformation is encouraged.
My biggest obstacle in this endeavor is my ego. For in teaching what may be taught there is a danger that I may to want to imprint my image of myself upon my students, to make their Aikido "look" like mine. I must realize that the form of my Aikido is merely the surface of my Aikido and that if this is true for me then it is also true for my students. Knowing this allows me to celebrate the growth of my students rather than fear it.
Hi Joe - Ueshiba's quote in my previous post says it better than I can. I have seen it in myself and others who have trained with me over the years; a gradual moving away from violence (read the word violence in the larger context, encompassing more than just physical assault) as an acceptable option for the resolution of everyday conflicts. Don't misunderstand though, while violence in kind isn't acceptable it does remain on the table if the situation warrants. As a last resort violence is sometimes necessary. It's unfortunate that in today's world many people view violence as the only option to any conflict whether real or merely perceived.
I believe that Ueshiba, as he grew into his creation, saw that the transformative power of Aikido was far more important than its martial applicability. That's why I don't agree with the assertion that Aikido, as it's mostly practiced today, is nothing more than watered down DR. Perhaps in a martial sense it is but Aikido training has led me down a path that opens to vistas that lay beyond the martial application of technique.
I hope this clarifies my statement somewhat. Thanks for reading.
"Practice the Art of Peace sincerely, and evil thoughts and deeds will naturally disappear." - Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace, Translated by John Stevens.
The spread of Aikido will make the world a more peaceful place… one person at a time.
The idea that Aikido will somehow cause masses of people to behave in a more peaceful manner is a misunderstanding of how Aikido practice engenders an aversion to violence among practitioners. I'm not entirely sure how practicing Aikido has managed to foster peace in my own life; I only know that it has. Over the years I have seen Aikido work its way into peoples' lives and change them in fundamental ways. Not everyone mind you but some, more in fact than not.
So now, here in Great Barrington, there exists a small knot of people who practice a peaceful way of living as a result of Aikido study. I'm sure our little corner of the world is not the only place where this has happened. There must be other groups of people who share our passion for Aikido and find themselves living a more peaceful existence. It certainly won't happen overnight, but over a long period of time as more people become exposed to Aikido the numbers will grow. And perhaps, just perhaps, generations from now the world will be a more pleasant place to live… unlikely? … maybe, but one can hope.
Finding the proper "fit" with my partner is an important factor in the proper execution of Aikido technique. When I have the proper fit the technique seems effortless. Instead of having to overcome and control uke I simply move with him and add my own energy to his to effect the throw. The following video illustrates the concept.
There are an infinite number of directions I can move in response to an attack. If I am intersected by the attack it is because I have chosen to move in a direction that will, at some point in the near future, be coincident with the direction uke has chosen for his attack. Our world lines will cross, we will meet and Aikido will happen.
Uke and I, of course, are not automatons and our choices will reflect the continuity of our existence, being constantly modified to fit the situation. Aikido teaches me that choices I make in response to an attack need not arise from conscious thinking. Nevertheless, my response to an attack is still the result of a choice being made even though I am unaware of the process behind the choice.
If, as it seems, my response is the result of my making a choice, what then is my responsibility relative to the outcome of the encounter?
As I watch autumn colors begin to appear on the trees and creep up the sides of the mountains, I'm reminded of the first time I visited Maruyama sensei at the Arch Street dojo in Philadelphia.
Thirty-one years ago as a white belt, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend two classes taught by Sensei. For me, as someone who has a hard time interacting with groups of both people I know and strangers, this was a terrifying experience. Arriving early, I climbed the 4,500 steps to the second floor of the Arch Street dojo and entered.
Sensei was the only one there, vacuuming the mat! Needless to say, at least to those of you acquainted with Sensei, it wasn't long before I found myself pushing the vacuum around the mat. It wasn't until much later that I recognized the gift that Sensei had given me that night. Allowing me to vacuum the mat gave me time to acclimate myself to the mat and the space. It kept me moving and doing something so that when students began to arrive for class I was far more relaxed than I otherwise would have been.
I am always mindful of that incident whenever new students come into our dojo. And while I don't have them vacuum the mat by way of introduction, I do try to make them feel totally welcome and put them at ease. New students are, after all, the life blood of any dojo.