Dojo: Kakushi Toride Aikido
Location: Los Angeles
Join Date: Mar 2008
We do a non-technique form of practice in my dojo that was instituted almost 10 years ago. Attacks from ukes are random, vary from typical aikido forms, and are carried through the entire movement while maintaining the initial intention. No one is ever thrown, nor do ukes go along with a throw. Attempts to throw are met with resistance and/or intensification of the attack.
We have found and continue to affirm that only what we call a true center-to-center ki connection will result in the manifestation of aikido, and only if uke maintains his attack through the entire resolution with the support of nage. A withdrawal of the attack ends the aikido (though not necessarily the connection), but a withdrawal from the conflict or defense from nage intensifies the attack. Our practice includes study of how authentic committed attack intention and energy can be maintained all the way through resolution at a safe level of intensity and at less than full speed. The feeling of struggling is obvious to each participant and is used as a marker to indicate that aiki has not been achieved.
We have found and continue to find in our practice that the spiritual nature of ki flow between individuals has profound material effects. Acknowledging the lack of consensus of definition of both words, spiritual and ki the definition for spiritual ki I use as a model for non-technique-based aikido practice is the form of universal energy expressed through evolving life form, relating it to ki as it expresses as magnetic and gravitational forces in the physical world, all different, yet fundamental expressions of ki.
In this model, think of spiritual ki as that force in nature that expresses through the creation of evolving, reproducing organisms out of ordinary chemical compounds, and that its principles appear in interactions between living beings the same way you might think of magnetic principles manifesting in interactions between certain metals.
Being a conduit of this life-producing energy in its optimum flow feels better than anything else on earth to a physical being, especially when one's flow connects with others whose flow equals or is greater than one's own. We typically call that love in myriad forms.
If intention precedes action, intention in harmony with the expression of this energy (effortless connection) is going to produce a better feeling than intention that creates barriers to keep the connective principle of this energy from completing its "circuit." Therefore love, compassion, forgiveness, and trust feel better than hate, heartlessness, resentment, and fear. Love feels good and we love when we feel good because there is an increase of flow of this life-producing energy.
If feeling love is an indication of maximum ki flow, then fear indicates a restriction of flow within the living being. Because the nature of this spiritual ki is magnetic in its own way, a person operating from a state of fear is like someone trying to hold two electromagnets apart as the flow of electricity increases. The more the person does not connect to others in a way that optimizes flow, the stronger the need to connect grows until the ki, revealing a fluid hydraulic-like principle (think fire hose), is expressed as attack, a connection forced on someone else.
All action arises out of intention. If you look at the intention of an attack as material manifestation of a need to connect to another source of ki flow, when we as aikidoka release the constrictions, born of fear, that reduce on our own flow, that ki combines with the ki of the attack, and if we observe basic specific movements of the art, aikido manifests spontaneously and naturally, and usually in a much simpler path than typical aikido techniques take.
Whereas magnetism increases flow of electrons the same way the flow of electrons increases magnetism, the combination of the flood of ki (optimum ki flow from beneficent intention) from nage fills the system of the attacker, thereby dismantling the fundamental reason for the attack. We see this all the time in non-physical conflict. The art of aikido demonstrates these principles in physical expression. This flood of life-giving ki not only allows the creation of an aiki path (what most might call a technique), it fulfills the basic need that drove the attack in the first place, thereby fulfilling the notion by Osensei that aikido brings the whole situation to its natural harmonious state, which certainly would be less apt to happen if an attacker is thrown into a wall or forced down with pain or leverage.
We continue to find that the more authentically nage can engage the energy of the attack with genuine beneficent intention the more effortlessly uke's intention lands him on the ground. Our success in being part of manifestation of aiki comes from transcending the lower brain reflex responses of withdrawal or defense (including counterattack) to genuinely embody higher consciousness, thereby opening the flood gates of ki which instantly transform both the attack and attacker. There is reason why ukes often laugh in the middle of the interaction. Our practice reveals to us daily that the teachings of the founder regarding the spiritual aspects of aikido making the physical aspects effective were not esoteric ramblings but literal explanations that are profoundly true.
Because the principles of ki flow between individual living beings is subtle and hardly affects anything outside of living things, it is easy to discount as simple imagination without substance. What we have found, and feel is backed up by the words of the Founder as well as our direct experience, is that the physical embodiment of sound moral qualities, produce an optimum flow of ki from one's center, and that flow, in its purest, unrestricted state, is what produces aikido, spontaneously and without technique - what I believe Osensei meant by takemusu aiki.
In my nearly 30 years of practice, I have been very fortunate to have had training and/or personal conversation with at least half a dozen direct students of the founder (or who trained in Osensei's dojo when he was alive). One of them, Kaz Tanahashi, who translated the book Aikido (Kisshomaru Ueshiba, 1958, under the direction of Morihei Ueshiba) into English, also translated the "Memoir of the Master" at the back of the book and confirmed to me personally that Osensei genuinely believed that the power of aikido, both as a martial art and as an art of self purification was based in spiritual components.
The next greatest verification I received directly was through a brief training experience and long conversation with the late Kanshu Sunadomari, Shihan who I visited in Kumomoto City. Dai Sensei had formed his own aikido dojo in Kumomoto in the early 1950's, and at that time he was challenged by the local budo practitioners who had never as yet heard of aikido. Dai Sensei quickly learned (as he wrote in his book Enlightenment Through Aikido) that technique would only get him so far. He began to study the words of Osensei, particularly the spiritual teachings, and from there his aikido became what it was before he passed on, still as he said to me, using aikido to remove animosity from his heart. I was invited to grab this frail-looking 84 year old man and hold him with everything I had. I had traveled all the way from Los Angeles, so I made it count. What I felt was being transported and taken care of, not thrown.
We continue our training with the goal of our aikido being both martially sound and fulfilling the goal of the founder for it to literally be "the loving protection of all things."