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Old 03-28-2011, 03:36 PM   #26
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Zen in the Art of Aikido

Spirit, swift
Mind, calm

Body, light

Eyes, clear

Technique, decisive!

Doka by Tesshu Yamaoka

It should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either.
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Philosophy may safely be left with intellectual minds. Zen wants to act, and the most effective act, once the mind is made up, is to go on without looking backward.
D T Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture

What counts is the force of your concentration. Bodily tension and technical skill must be channelled through the attentiveness and intuition of the mind. The mind becomes empty, ku, without a flaw. That is Zen, and that is also the true way of Budo. Facing life or facing death, the consciousness must remain calm. Taisen Deshimaru, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts
I don't do zen. Or let me put that a different way. I don't do zen separately from aikido - or anything else. So this isn't an academic analysis of zazen practice. My first aikido teacher, Kinjo Asoh Sensei, spoke perfect English and was always happy to answer all our questions about aikido and budo - martial arts. When I first started aikido I asked him if there were any good books about aikido. I really wanted something to help me remember those difficult names of techniques but in those days there were almost no books about aikido in English. A few days later after training he gave me a present. It was a slim book, Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. He said, ‘This is very simple but it will tell you more about aikido than any book on techniques.' I liked it very much. It is a very simple and thoughtful - and for a beginner fascinating - introduction to what zen is for a martial artist.

Zen has a long history in martial arts. The famous warlords Shingen Takeda (1521-1573) and Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578) both did zen. Munenori Yagyu (1571-1646), the founder of the Edo branch of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu kenjutsu, was also influenced by zen and especially by the teachings of the Buddhist priest Soho Takuan (1573-1645). Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645) who wrote The Book of Five Rings did zen. Later one of the most famous budoka who also did zen was Tesshu Yamaoka (1836-1888). He was the last of the great Japanese swordsmen. He is famous for his school of Muto Ryu - the school of no sword - and for his beautiful and dynamic Japanese calligraphy. He wrote his death poem, sat in zazen, and died still in the lotus position.

These men were warriors who used zen as a practical and real method of increasing their martial understanding and ability. What zen gave them was composure. In battle and in the face of death. If you underestimate your opponent - you die. If you let yourself think of your opponent's striking blade - you die. If you think about your sword technique - you die. If you try to live - you die. But a warrior who was no longer attached to life had no fear of death.

Nowadays there are many budoka - martial artists - who practice zen or who have written about zen and their martial arts. The famous British judo teacher and writer Trevor Leggett wrote several books on zen. I especially like Zen and the Ways. Kenji Shimizu Sensei, the founder of Tendoryu Aikido, co-wrote a book called Zen and Aikido. C W Nicol, now a well-known environmentalist living in Japan, wrote a book about his early karate training called Moving Zen.

Kazuo Chiba Sensei, 8 dan Aikikai, practices zen. In an interesting article Zen and Aikido Training (see link below) he talks about how through zen he found a spiritual dimension in aikido parallel to O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba's connection to Shinto and Omoto-kyo.

Hiroshi Tada Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, in really excellent lectures in Italy (see link below) made the perceptive comment that, ‘…although Shinto terminology is found in the teachings of O Sensei it is important to relate it to those teachings of his youth which were grounded in yoga and Buddhism.' O Sensei grew up in Wakayama, not far from Mount Koya where Kukai (774-835), an extremely influential Buddhist figure in Japanese history, established the Shingon zen sect of Buddhism.

Incidentally Tada Sensei and Chiba Sensei did misogi - purification - training at the Ichikukai - the one nine society - named after the death day of Tesshu Yamaoka, 19 July. Koichi Tohei Sensei, one of the great aikido teachers and the founder of Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, also trained there and he talks about zen and misogi in a very interesting Aikido Journal interview (see link below).

Zen isn't complicated. It's not sophisticated. It is ordinary. D T Suzuki says in Zen and Japanese Culture, ‘When you are hungry you eat, when you are thirsty you drink, when you meet a friend you greet him.' That's it. That's all it is.

I take a practical - oyo - applied approach. What is zen? It's physical training - something that has to be understood first with the body, not the intellect. OK - we can do that in our budo training. Zen is a lot of repetition. Well that sounds like budo training. It's concentration - and living the moment as the only moment. We can try to do that in our budo training too. It's trying to keep a pure and modest spirit. We try to do that too in our budo. In zen they use the word mu - empty. Muga - empty of self or ego. And there other concepts flowing from mu. For example mushin - the mind of no mind. Mushotoku - without any desire for profit or fame or rank. And mugamae - no stance or guard.

As I said, I don't do zen. And yet, because I do aikido - I do zen. A simple understanding of zen concepts can help any martial artist to strike more truly, move more freely, and to throw more decisively. And I hope those zen concepts flow from my budo training into the rest of my life - helping me to find tranquillity, and truth, and clarity. We can find all those things simply by doing aikido sincerely. But it's always good to make a conscious effort to remember them. Wait! If it's a conscious effort it can't be zen! Ah well - that is the paradox.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is in the Guinness Book of Records. It's the best-seller that was rejected the most times ever - by 121 publishers. That sounds as if Robert Pirsig always had a very clear unshakeable conviction that his work had worth. Or he was just very, very stubborn. That's great advice for a martial artist. Believe in yourself. And never give up.

The Spirit of Martial Arts in the Present Age and its Use by Hiroshi Tada Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai

Zen and Aikido Training by Kazuo Chiba, 8 dan Aikikai

Interview with Kazuo Chiba. 8 dan Aikikai. He talks about zen and spiritual purification.

Interview with Koichi Tohei, the founder of the Ki no Kenkyukai - Ki Society - and Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido. He talks about zen and about the Ichikukai and about his early experiences in aikido.

Extracts from Zen Stories of the Samurai by Neal Dunnigan, including short biographies of Tesshu Yamaoka and other influential and interesting figures.

Site about Trevor Leggett, judo and zen

wikipedia articles (including a link to the text of The Book of Five Rings),_or_Mu

Good books
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, Bantam 1974
Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel, Vintage 1999
Zen and Japanese Culture by Daisetz T Suzuki, Princeton University Press 2010
Zen and the Ways by Trevor Leggett, Tuttle Publishing 1989
Lives of Master Swordsmen by Makoto Sugawara, The East Publications 1988
Immovable Wisdom - The Art of Zen Strategy - The Teachings of Takuan Soho compiled and translated by Nobuko Hirose (I think this translation is very clear), Element 1992
Kukai - The Universal - Scenes from his Life by Ryotaro Shiba, ICG Muse 2003
Kodo: Ancient Ways: Lessons in the Spiritual Life of the Warrior/Martial Artist by Kensho Furuya, Ohara Publications 1996
The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru, Penguin 1992
The Sword of No-Sword - Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu by John Stevens, Shambala Publications 1984

My blog post about Takeda Shingen and his motto: wind forest fire mountain

cool photo: zen garden by Blake Williams photostream
used with very kind permission

my blog on aikiweb

© niall matthews 2011

Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.
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Last edited by akiy : 03-27-2011 at 04:30 PM.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
w b yeats

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