Ask the snail beneath the stone,
ask the stone beneath the wall
Are there any stars at all
Today I have the ongoing pleasure of thinking about aikido. This private joy is augmented by the distillation of thought into writing, and further by the anticipation of entering the minds of others through this writing. I am continuously fascinated by the special collapse and folding of time that is the inevitable artifact of written language. I'm inscribing now what I'm thinking, knowing that whenever you read this, it is your now, my future.
Writing is irimi.
I am inside your mind, and it's too late now to change that. But who am I, guest in your antechamber, waiting politely for a cup of tea? I am me, and multitudes. I bring to the party the minds and thoughts of my teachers, my training partners, my students, my correspondents, all my random encounters with strangers, and all the authors of books I've read and personalities real and mythical.
I also bring you, because you've already entered my mind, even though I may never meet you, or even know about you. Thank you for the tea.
Tomorrow I have the happiness to teach aikido. There will be a handful of students. Now, as I write this, they are scattered around the city, doing whatever good things it is that they do with their lives. But even now, the rays of our life paths are converging toward the lens that is a dojo. There, we will come together, and be focused.
As a teacher, I will enter them too, and there is every expectation that this act will transform them. Perhaps not in any mystical transcendental sense, but in the ordinary sense that we take things in from our world and are nourished by them. To paraphrase the old notion, what we consume becomes us. And here I am, after all this time, still gobsmacked and fascinated to realize I'm becoming you. Aikido is a consuming passion.
Teaching is irimi.
In the dojo, the folding of time is negligible. There we are able to interact at the speed of light and sound and chemical ions. And no matter what role we play, uke or tori, sempai or kohai, teacher or student, it's always reciprocal. Otagai. We exist in one another, and we self-directed beings are moved from within -- by another, by others, always.
It's October, and we've just had some baptismal rain for our unrepentant Texas weather. Today the sky is cobalt, syncopated by white Perlin clouds, and the wind is fresh. Although I'm inside at my dirty keyboard in my dusty and shamefully arrayed office, I know that in my living room the sunlight through a window fills an empty bowl, the glaze of which takes no action whatsoever, yet casts a reverberant fountain of light and caustic color on our sloped ceiling, our own private mid-latitude auroral display, which recurs sometime around now. (Don't be confused by my use of pronouns -- it's mine, it's ours, it's mine, it's hers.)
I want you to know this in case when you're reading me it's winter and now is cold and there's no one else with whom you can share. Or you're reading on the bus or rail, and surrounded by the smell of crowd and machinery, and the proximity and enormity of so much convoluted brain tissue and all that it implies is too crushing to contemplate. Or if my little raft of an essay sails a long voyage and different tides take it to far foreign lands, and you're reading it now, but I am dead. I just wanted you to have this moment of mine inside your own moment, because they fit so well together. I want you to know, because I want to teach you aikido, from here at my keyboard, or in my place on the mat, or from the grave or crematorium or from the Cosmic Background Radiation that is my scattered waves and shipwreck debris.
I want to teach you that you and I matter, and that we are immaterial. I want you to know that aikido has meaning. (How I know, and proof of same is vital, but another lesson.) We and aikido have meaning not because we are transitory (though we are), and not because our knowledge endures (though it does, and doesn't), but because we are the origin of Meaning.
Life is irimi.
We are events, possibly more than we are things. Like the class in a dojo, our being (verb, masquerading as noun, gerund form) arises from a concentration of forces so mundane it's miraculous. Our origin is not at birth, or conception, nor any local nexus, but is distributed unevenly, like the Perlin noise of pressure and humidity and light-scatter that I referred to earlier as clouds. We are the lens, and the convergence upon the lens, and the projection from the lens.
We are, in other words, a kiai. We are shouted into being, we are the shout, and we shout ourselves (and all the others) forward through time. In common parlance, this is known as "transmission."
All ai-ki is ki-ai. It is reciprocal -- transmitter, receiver, transceiver, mountain, echo, always. Otagai.
We are made of the future, as much as of past and present. A destination determines the course of the Way, and the manner of moving along the Way. The completed work in the hands of an audience configures the movements of the hands of the author at the beginning of the opus.
Uke, seeing a target, follows a path of light to deliver an attack. Tori, being the reflecting mirror of the light signal, exists in uke's future. This is the meaning of "katsu haya bi." Tori is of the future, and it's this future that is calling uke home. Tori is present in uke's mind, but stretched like a piece of elastic across time and space.
I do aikido and I teach aikido for the pure pleasure of it. I remain eternally entranced by the aiki no michi. The trance of aikido is one of continual awakening -- awakening to the marvel of putting one foot in front of another, awakening to the fixity of the road beneath our feet, even as it runs away behind us and before us. All that is behind me is before me.
The pleasure of aikido, enjoyed for its own sake, nevertheless derives from a certainty of purpose, of movement toward an outcome, a beginning that is a means to an end.
So learn from me, you who are in my future. Learn and be unconcerned about my conceits as a teacher. After all, it's you who causes what I do now.
[Song snippet from Waltz of the New Moon by Incredible String Band.]
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
I'll just stop by to say I enjoyed reading that....thank you.
I admit the punster in me immediately went to the verb form, which led to a whole other train of thought as I read your lovely essay. "Entrance: to fill with delight, wonder or enchantment." As we read, write, teach, learn, live, yes let us always irimi and may there always be ... entrance. :-)
Time well spent.
I am glad I stopped by!
Thank you, Lee and John, I have been stopping by this column for many months and really like it. Now I know how to let Ross know I appreciate it even if I have no specific comment. There is so much richness in each one, I often don't know what to say, except that I love revisiting them whenever I have a chance. To Janet, thanks for explaining the double meaning, it is so true!
And thanks, Ross, it is such a validation and not just because I do some writing here and there. and have taught Aikido in the past. Especially in this month's column, you give such a beautiful and encouraging perspective of time and space and our relation to others.... Janet has said it much better than I could, so I second her last sentence:)
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you tea sensei :). It was my pleasure.
You all bring me a month of smiles.
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