You didn't even let him get to the good stuff. 1) Why would he think zazen is so important? 2) What are the benefits of aikido and zazen? 3) What does he think is the essence of aikido that Kototama and zazen uncovers? 4) How has aikido changed as he sees it, after a 26 years absence? 5) Why did he stop practicing and why did he restart? 6) Did he do zazen and Kototama during that period?
Thanks for your comments, Ted I will try answer your questions.
In my humble opinion:
1)Many forms of meditation, I believe, can take you to the same place. Since we are martial artists, with a cut to the chase type attitude, zazen is such a direct and fast way to sensing oneness or nothingness "becoming one with", in my experience.
This takes a very calm mind to begin with. How can any of us realistically talk about facing death with a calm mind without intense training? That is my premise. How many people to you know? I certainly don't think I can. Many don't have the discipline to not get sucked into a disagreement let alone a mortal confrontation.
2) About 15 years ago I had the good fortune to volunteer and begin a zazen group in Sing Sing prison. I brought a hatha yogi in who did 45 minutes of stretching, then we did 3 sessions of 40 minutes sitting, with 2 10 minute walking meditations interspersed. We counted breaths 1-10.
I wanted to teach Aikido but they, understandably, wanted no martial arts taught. Of course I could have tried to convince them of the peaceful nature of aikido, but .
So after the 3rd sitting, (2 plus hours) these lifers, most of them in for murder, were so charged with ki, that it didn't matter where we were. You could cut the peace and harmony in the room. We did this two times a week for 3 years and then I turned it over to a Zen monk, who wrote a book about it later.
So you see I have seen intense Zazen, permeate the most disturbed of people, and bring them into harmony. As an aside, I felt more protected in that prison than outside it. I felt they would have protected me.
3) The definition of Aikido is really a definition of a path to enlightenment. This subject is so vast and difficult to talk about, that I feel foolish even trying to explain it because I am not there. I have had glimpses.
Kototama definitely helps in that the movements on the mat, can correspond to the sounds.
The essence of Aikido is as Usheiba taught: to unite heaven and earth and make human beings one family. A kind of spiritual alchemy, converting the U and O levels toward the A, E, I levels. (See other posts in this thread)
My original point was that, yes, there is a lot of Aikido out there without spiritual practice, but the Aikido of our founder is virtually nowhere to be found. That kind of calm, flow with joy.
Once the mind is calm (2-3 yrs) then the higher energies can begin to take root in a person. Without a calm mind, it is not possible. My question was and still is, can Aikido practice alone achieve this end? Or maybe the question should be how long does it take to achieve a spiritual end with mat practice alone?
4) After 26 years, you see I had a distorted view of Aikido. I was living at a Kundalini Yoga ashram, at age 22, for 4 years in upstate ny. The guru there was a man named Rudrananda.
My original Aikido teacher, Greg Brodsky, also a student of Rudra, brought Nakazono (student of Usheiba) over here from France.
So being an Uchi-deshi for Nakazono and Brodsky was an intense experience, combined with Kundalini yoga with a guru in the eve. I was doing karma yoga during the day refinishing furniture at the antique store we ran.
We did 2 hours of zazen, Kototama sounds, weapons, Aikido with Nakazono every morning. Then if it was cold enough, we would disrobe and do Misogi in the icy mountain stream next to the dojo.
So getting back on the mat at a "commercial dojo" with normal people, not so intensely interested in spiritual commitment is a change in itself. Let alone the fact that times are changed since 1970. I wasn't really allowed to do Aikido without strong Ki. I noticed that some of the practitioners I have seen are missing basic mechanical points that make me think that somebody should have taught them this by this time. e.g.: Basic same side Katatatori tenkan, leaving the wrist behind with no extension of ki by a person practicing for 2 years.
To me it is pretty sloppy. Now granted, I have only been back, about 3 weeks.
I am looking forward to visiting the NY Aikikai again, I hear they maintain a good level there.
5) I had to stop practicing because of medical school and residency. My teacher told me to teach Aikido, so I did teach in Mexico City in 1976 while going to Med school near there. After medical training, for 11 yrs. I left all the western medicine behind to learn Electro acupuncture, then Homeopathy. I never practiced allopathic medicine even though I am licensed to do so.
With a sick wife and small family to raise, being on call, and then driving them to soccer tournaments practically every weekend, well, you know. Now that my children are both grown, and graduated college, I have restarted my Aikido practice with a 58 year old body. Tough. Will take some time to tone the muscles and ligaments.
6) I did not, however stop my spiritual practices, breathing exercises, Kundalini, zazen, Kototama, and prayer. So calling up the ki, is still working.
The reason I restarted Aikido was to finish what I had started for the first 7 years. I figure, I have another 10-12 or more years left and I am hoping that I can help others along the way. I have always been an athlete, and the physical, ego grinding experience of Aikido can only help to advance my spiritual state.
The self defense aspect of Aikido is real, but I never concern myself too much with it. It is the least of what Aikido has to offer. For me, the ability to sense the tension of conflict before it ever has a chance to kindle, is a joy.
Most physical conflicts will be avoided because your "enemy" will not sense any fight building. People who fight want to feel that resistance, it offers a challenge, it stimulates the passion for dominance. An Aikidoist projects positive and nourishing Ki all around, so those near are disarmed by the peaceful and happy nature of the aura. You see, if the energy is only in the Tanden, then it becomes a power center, but the heart must be open to really be free, to really sense the oneness, otherwise, without the universal love, it is ego, and duality.
For me all the spiritual practices boil down to, surrender to God, allow the grace, ki, whatever to permeate deeply throughout the entire being. Keep asking and digging deeper and striving to increase and open deeper and deeper with time. Then learn to live in tanden and heart. Get out of the head. We here in the west are too head oriented. On your deathbed, the only technique is total surrender.
Hopefully this is some of the "good stuff". I can go on and on if you want me to! Thanks for asking.
Peace and Love for 2007