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Zen in the Art of Aikido
Zen in the Art of Aikido
by Niall Matthews
03-28-2011
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
http://www.aikikai.it/riviste/3401/htm/TadaConfEng.htm

Zen and Aikido Training by Kazuo Chiba, 8 dan Aikikai
http://www.sandiegojudo.com/pdfs/Zen...20Training.pdf

Interview with Kazuo Chiba. 8 dan Aikikai. He talks about zen and spiritual purification.
http://www.notrefumier.fr/interview-...ne-du-budo/195

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.
http://www.aikidojournal.com/article?articleID=269

Extracts from Zen Stories of the Samurai by Neal Dunnigan, including short biographies of Tesshu Yamaoka and other influential and interesting figures.
http://www.zenstoriesofthesamurai.com/

Site about Trevor Leggett, judo and zen
http://www.leggett.co.uk/

wikipedia articles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeda_Shingen
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uesugi_Kenshin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yagy%C5%AB_Munenori
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takuan_S%C5%8Dh%C5%8D
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miyamoto_Musashi (including a link to the text of The Book of Five Rings)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesshu_Yamaoka
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._W._Nicol
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kukai
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_K%C5%8Dya
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/T...ptiness,_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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/silverbromide/50079365/ photostream http://www.flickr.com/photos/silverb...with/50079365/
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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Old 03-28-2011, 04:43 PM   #2
sakumeikan
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Dear Niall,
Although I have heard directly from Chiba Sensei the comments in the above article of Chiba Sensei, I thank you for publishing the link.
I consider the Chiba Sensei article should be mandatory reading for all Aikidoka.
Cheers, Joe.
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Old 03-29-2011, 03:22 AM   #3
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Niall,

I'm feeling the urge to kill a kitten.

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Old 03-29-2011, 04:01 AM   #4
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Quote:
Demetrio Cereijo wrote: View Post
Niall,

I'm feeling the urge to kill a kitten.
As long as it is not a prisoner of war....

But seriously, Niall, you realise that you are presenting a very specific interpretation of Zen, I hope? One that is very modernist and closely connected with often inaccurate 19th century samurai myths and 20th century (Japanese, but ironically enough even German) nationalism? And late 20th century marketing lingo?

An alternative view would stress the character of zen/ ch'an, for almost all of its history, as essentially Mahayana buddhism, and challenge its appropriation for the political and ideological purposes of 20th century Japan. As well es the decontextualisation ("everything is somehow zen", "zen cannot be spoken about" and the like) that came with it.

Not meaning to be disrespectful, just pointing it out.

Last edited by Nicholas Eschenbruch : 03-29-2011 at 04:02 AM. Reason: grammar, spelling
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Old 03-29-2011, 05:20 AM   #5
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Quote:
Nicholas Eschenbruch wrote: View Post
As long as it is not a prisoner of war....

But seriously, Niall, you realise that you are presenting a very specific interpretation of Zen, I hope? One that is very modernist and closely connected with often inaccurate 19th century samurai myths and 20th century (Japanese, but ironically enough even German) nationalism? And late 20th century marketing lingo?

An alternative view would stress the character of zen/ ch'an, for almost all of its history, as essentially Mahayana buddhism, and challenge its appropriation for the political and ideological purposes of 20th century Japan. As well es the decontextualisation ("everything is somehow zen", "zen cannot be spoken about" and the like) that came with it.

Not meaning to be disrespectful, just pointing it out.
Yes. A number of books, supplementary to those in Niall's list, which are worthy of attention here are:
Shoji Yamada, Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen and the West (2009), which is a study of Eugen Herrigel and his Zen and the Art of Archery;
Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen At War (1997, second edition, 2006). This may be supplemented by the same author's Zen War Stories (2003).
All the above books discuss D T Suzuki and his writings on Zen. In the background are Nishida Kitaro, the philosopher of zen, and his disciples in what is known as the Kyoto School. In addition to Michiko Yusa's Zen & Philosophy: An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitaro (2002), there is also a collection of essays, entitled, Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School & the Question of Nationalism (1994), edited by James Heisig and John C Maraldo. These essays need to be balanced by David Williams' Defending Japan's Pacific War: The Kyoto School Philosophers and post-White power (2004). Those would like a real intellectual and linguistic challenge might like to try Nishida in Japanese: 西田幾多郎哲学全集 (Iwanami Bunko, 1967-1989).

I aim to discuss some germane issues in the next few columns.

PAG

P A Goldsbury
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Old 03-29-2011, 05:34 AM   #6
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post

I aim to discuss some germane issues in the next few columns.

PAG
I look forward to that. What I also found useful in this context, though it has been while, is

Sharf, Robert H.: "Buddhist modernism and the rhetoric of meditative experience", in: Taylor, Mark C. (Ed.), Critical terms for religious studies, Chicago, London 1998, pp. 228-283
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Old 03-29-2011, 04:47 PM   #7
carina reinhardt
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Thanks Niall for your interesting post " 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." I' m training to find that too ..
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Old 03-29-2011, 06:56 PM   #8
graham christian
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Niall, great to see you with a column, a new space, one that for me fits you like a glove.

Love the title. You may recall I tried to explain I started Aikido from a disciplined spiritual perspective and in a way, on reading others views on it, said I studied it backwards.

Hence my leaning and belief in the basic dicipline being spiritual. In fact where I trained and eventually taught was called Zen Shin Kan. (We translated it for others as meaning 'building the mind of now.')

Your style and multiple references give room for those who wish to delve into the topic some more and yet it also gives a neutrality, a space for others to make up their own mind and answer as they will. Quite zen. Quite you, if I may say so. Well done.

So congratulations on an excellent piece and thank you.

My gift to you from my Aikido shall therefore be a 'truth' of mine I give to my students in the form of one of my own zen sayings.

' Stillness is faster than the speed of light.'

Regards.G.
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Old 03-29-2011, 10:49 PM   #9
Benjamin Mehner
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

I read Go Rin No Sho and I seem to remember Musashi saying didn't know all that much about Zen Buddhism. The last part of the book touched on Zen principles and I have a lot of respect for the man's skills, but I wouldn't say he 'did Zen'. It could be one of those "those who speak do not know.." things and I accept that I know little enough about him that I may be wrong, but based upon what I know I wouldn't say he was a Zen Master.

Let silence be my mantra.
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Old 03-30-2011, 05:05 AM   #10
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Quote:
Nicholas Eschenbruch wrote: View Post
But seriously, Niall, you realise that you are presenting a very specific interpretation of Zen, I hope? One that is very modernist and closely connected with often inaccurate 19th century samurai myths and 20th century (Japanese, but ironically enough even German) nationalism? And late 20th century marketing lingo?

An alternative view would stress the character of zen/ ch'an, for almost all of its history, as essentially Mahayana buddhism, and challenge its appropriation for the political and ideological purposes of 20th century Japan. As well es the decontextualisation ("everything is somehow zen", "zen cannot be spoken about" and the like) that came with it.

Not meaning to be disrespectful, just pointing it out.
Niall is, considering his rank and experience, surely aware of your points. Which made me wonder why he wrote this column the way he did?

April Fool's column published before the date intended?

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Old 03-30-2011, 06:59 AM   #11
Diana Frese
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Before I chicken out, I'm going to just post this, that Graham has just given me an answer to the meaning of a famous Aikido saying from the Shinto Kojiki I've been wondering about for years, the second part of Masakatsu Agatsu Katsu Haya Hi. And Shinto and Buddhism were often very close in Wakayama, from what we learned at one of the art exhibits at the Japan Society in New York.

I'd often wondered what the Haya Hi meant, as in hayai= early...
Thanks everyone it's a great column and comments for me to study.
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Old 03-30-2011, 07:10 AM   #12
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

"Masakatsu Agatsu Katsu Haya Hi." ...

Peter Goldsbury opened my eyes to some of the complexity relative to this statement in his response to a post of mine on e-budo some years ago. I'm sure if you search on my name and that phrase, it will come up. If I get the opportunity, I will look it up.

Best,
Ron (highly recommended reading, its not as simple as I thought)

Ron Tisdale
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Old 03-30-2011, 07:32 AM   #13
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Yikes! I found it in an archive.

http://www.e-budo.com/forum/archive/...p/t-15895.html

Quote:
P Goldsbury09-26-2003, 06:24 AM
Hello Ron,

Well, if the members of the Kobukan and Kodokan had known the original context, I would think they would have been extremely perplexed and wondered what on earth Morihei Ueshiba was talking about. So I am curious about where you first heard this phrase and in what context.

I am sure you know that the original phrase is to be found in the "Kojiki" and "Nihon Shoki". It is the name of a deity who was created by the union of two brother and sister deities. The deities were Amaterasu-no-mikoto and Susano-oo-no-mikoto. The original story is quite enthralling and puts Susano-oo-no-mikoto in a really bad light.

The deity Izanagi had borne three children, of whom Amaterasu was given command of Takama-ho-hara (the plain of heaven) and Take-Haya-Susano-oo was given command of the oceans and the underworld. Susano-oo was very unhappy about this and howled "until his beard eight hands long extended down over his chest". When Izanagi asked him why he was howling, Susano-oo answered that he wanted his mother and was promptly expelled from the land. Before leaving Susano-oo went to take his leave of Amaterasu and this alarmed her greatly. She asked Susano-oo for proof that his intentions were pure and he suggested that they indulge in some incest: "swear oaths and bear children".

This operation took the form of a contest. Amaterasu took Susano-oo's sword and broke it into pieces, chewed the pieces and spat them out. Three female deities came into existence from the "spray" (the spittle, presumably). Then Susano-oo took the magatama beads from Amaterasu's hair and chewed these to pieces and spat them out. Five deities emerged from the "spray", the first of them being Masakatsu-Agatsu Katsu-Hayabi-Ame-no-Oshi-Ho-Mimi-no-mikoto.

The scholars who edited my Japanese edition of the "Kojiki" give this gloss on the meaning of the name: Masakatsu (masashiku katta = I certainly won) + Agatsu (watashi wa katta = it was I who won) + Katsu (katsukoto = winning) + Hayabi (ikioi hageshii reiryoku = strong & violent spirit power, or, 'victory in the moment') + Ame ( = heaven) + no + Oshi (idaina = greatness) + Ho (= rice ears) + Mimi (rei-i = awesome power).

The deities immediately quarreled as to who had really won the contest, with Susano-oo insisting he had won because his intentions were "pure and bright", even apart from the sex of the chidren he had begotten. In other words, the first part of the phrase is a Susano-oo's declaration of victory over Amaterasu, with the latter's reception of this masculine power of Susano-oo issuing in a deity, the child of Amaterasu and Susano-oo, whose mission is to rule the land, i.e., Japan (vividly described in the Kojiki as "the land of plentiful reed plains, of the thousand-autumn and long-five hundred autumn rice ears").

Susano-oo then completely disgraced himself by doing a victory dance and committing some terrible offences in a society dedicated to agriculture--totally inappropriate behaviour if he is supposed to have achieved victory over himself. Susano-oo's antisocial behaviour is the reason why Amaterasu shut herself up in the cave and it became night. Later, the deity Masakatsu Agatsu accepted the mission to rule Japan, but this task was actually performed on his behalf by two other deities.

Now there is a vast accretion of scholarship concerning the meaning of this story, which I will not go into here, but it is less certain whether M. Ueshiba was acquainted with this. Off hand, I can find one reference to 'masakatsu-agatsu-katsi-hayabi' in the actual writings of Morihei Ueshiba, but there are probably many more. The reference I have in mind is on p.31 of "Takemusu Aiki" and in it Ueshiba simply talks of aikido "abiding on the way of Masakatsu Agatsu Katsu Hayabi", to quote the Sonoko Tanaka translation in "Aikido Journal" #116 (p.30). The only other locations in the aikido literature are a chapter in John Stevens' book "The Secrets of Aikido" and two places in Gleason's "The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido". Stevens immediately translates the term as 'victory over oneself', rather than, 'victory by oneself'.

Gleason, also, gives a similar translation, in addition to a very penetrating analysis in Buddhist terms. He also suggests that it is the ko-no-sen of ancient budo, but I wonder if the phrase as used by Morihei Ueshiba was indeed well known in ancient budo, or was his own adaptation of the "Kojiki" / "Nihon-Shoki" myth. Usually, the phrase is used in conjunction with training being on a higher level, above winning and losing, but I think it could apply equally to sumo, an art whose origins are thought to go back to the age of the "Kojiki".

My point in explaining all this, Ron, is to put your PS footnote into sharper focus. By all means let us focus on the words and the context in which they were spoken, but perhaps we need to begin at the beginning.

Best regards and apologies for the long post.

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
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Old 03-30-2011, 07:56 AM   #14
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

And almost 8 years later we're still with the 'victory over oneself'...

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Old 03-30-2011, 07:59 AM   #15
Diana Frese
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Thanks, Ron, I will try to find it, although I've never been to e-budo. I'm a relative newcomer to Aiki Web but I have been intending to read Peter Goldsbury's articles (what I have read in them is fascinating) and am always interested in his posts. I heard about the Kojiki years ago from Peter Shapiro, who was a student of both Saotome Sensei and Hikitsuchi Sensei, but on returning from Japan I bought copies of the Kojiki and Nihongi fascinating hints of mythology and early rulers of Japan, much beautiful poetic description, but I always wondered what it all meant in terms of people and nature, what was the symbolism and what actually happened in the early Japanese history and before.

Oh well, I guess what I'm trying to say is we are privileged to have the great resource of Peter Goldsbury's writings available to us and I am grateful that Ron has given a door, an entry point to this topic for me. I'm going to follow it up right now.

As for the original topic, Niall has given us a great topic with many examples to study with the links. My husband has been mentioning from time to time some resource books on Zen and we have been looking for them among his books. So we will both be studying this column together.

Graham, I don't claim to be an enlightened person, but your phrase is a big help!
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Old 03-30-2011, 08:01 AM   #16
Diana Frese
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Wow two more posts while I was writing, thanks, I'll read them now.
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Old 03-30-2011, 09:59 AM   #17
JW
 
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Quote:
Demetrio Cereijo wrote: View Post
And almost 8 years later we're still with the 'victory over oneself'...
Well, in the absence of a "Ueshiba Mysticism Debunked" book, we all just come by information here and there. I wish I had more time to study, but thanks to this thread, I read that one. That thread was great, at least the posts from Dr. Goldsbury.

Regarding more on-topic discussion. When did the meaning of "zen" change (as indicated by Nicholas)? I get it with regard to the 20th century imperialism. But was this word really "abused" already in the 19th century too? (Or should I just read the references?) Thanks all!
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Old 03-30-2011, 10:07 AM   #18
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

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Jonathan Wong wrote: View Post
Regarding more on-topic discussion. When did the meaning of "zen" change (as indicated by Nicholas)? I get it with regard to the 20th century imperialism. But was this word really "abused" already in the 19th century too? (Or should I just read the references?) Thanks all!
Hi Jonathan,

It is a bit complex, but here you can get the gist of it

...analysis of how Meiji Buddhists successfully appropriated the ideological strategies mobilized against them, countered the charges against their tradition as fabricated, foreign, and socially unproductive, and reconfigured it as "modern Buddhism." With considerable insight, Ketelaar concludes by pointing out the "tragic irony" of their success: in their very attempt to dispel the vision of Buddhism as foreign and heretical, they wound up supporting the state ideological apparatus whose control they had earlier sought to escape. By late Meiji, the figuration of "modern Buddhism" as socially relevant and a paradigmatic expression of Japanese culture increasingly meant support for national policies of imperialist expansion, even war, while Buddhism's transcendent, "universal" status was invoked only seldom as a ground for critique of such policies.

Meiji era... interesting times.

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Old 03-30-2011, 04:23 PM   #19
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Hello Ron,

お久し振りです。Ohisashiburi desu. (In this context: Good to read you again after such a long time.)

I recollect that thread in E-Budo and the subsequent correspondence, especially the contributions by Shaun Ravens. It is somewhat staggering to find that the thread is nearly eight years old.

Well, since then I have been doing much more studying and have climbed the foothills of a subject to which Mr Ravens alluded, via his studies with Seiseki Abe. I mean here kotodama and the cognate kotodama gaku. (The best terms for making sense of this distinction is to call it the practice and theory of kotodama.) Judging from the writings of his son Kisshomaru, Morihei Ueshiba studied kotodama and kotodama gaku, particularly from two sources: Motoori Norinaga and Onisaburo Deguchi.

Motoori transcribed the entire Kojiki into kana syllables and in doing so made a detailed commentary on how to read the Chinese kanbun text in which it was written. In doing so, Motoori was trying to isolate the ‘pure' Japanese, by cutting away the Chinese accretions. (These accretions were actually very deep, constituting the entire system in which the text was written.) Motoori unavoidably made two untested assumptions: that it was possible to recover the Japanese; and that he had actually done so. If we assume that Motoori was right, the result was that the Masakatsu Agatsu episode in the Kojiki could be rewritten in the Japanese syllable system.

Onisaburo Deguchi studied kotodama and kotodama gaku and incorporated it into his Reikai Monogatari, the 81-volume Travels Through the Spirit World, which Morihei Ueshiba studied and annotated. Deguchi also produced texts on kotodama gaku. These are still available in Japanese and I actually have these handwritten texts. Deguchi made use of the earlier notion of ‘seed' syllables, culled from the Shingon Buddhist texts of Kukai and others, and attached separate ‘meanings' to the 75 Japanese kana syllables. You can see some of this in Ueshiba's Takemusu Aiki discourses, where he discusses the meaning of phrases like 高天原, where the kana syllables are たかあまはら TA KA A MA HA RA. The meanings that Ueshiba assigns to each syllable are quite different from their recognized semantic value: which is TAKA (high), AMA (heaven), HARA (plain). You can do the same with MA SA KA TSU A KA TSU KA TSU HA YA HI, but the major issue for kotodama gaku scholars is finding a system for handling the ‘new' meanings: How do you know that the new ‘meaning' assigned to each syllable by kotodama gaku is the right one? Expressed in terms of chinkon kishin practice, the question becomes, How do you know that the spirit you invoke by chanting each kotodama syllable is the real spirit of that syllable and not some other kami altogether? One possible answer is intuition, but this seems to go against the whole notion of gaku (study) and it is a fact that kotodama gaku never became popular in Japan outside a small coterie of scholars.

As I have discussed elsewhere, kotodama is found in a highly ‘sacred' text for the Japanese, which is the collection of poems known as the Manyoshu. This was used in the 1930s by the ultrantionalists in the wartime Kokutai no Hongi and resulted in the whole notion of kotodama being discredited as a tool of the prewar / wartime military. Postwar students like K Chiba were taught this and this explains why he could not stomach the terms in which Morihei Ueshiba expressed his spirituality. By comparison, Zen was much simpler and also had the attraction, especially for a rootless postwar would-be samurai like Chiba, at a loss about what to do with his life, of possessing an established samurai pedigree.

I could go on, but this post is long enough and dense enough as it is.

Best wishes,

PAG

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Old 03-31-2011, 06:08 PM   #20
graham christian
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

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Diana Frese wrote: View Post
Wow two more posts while I was writing, thanks, I'll read them now.
Hi Diana.
Thanks for your acknowledgement I'm glad it helped. If I was to say what is the greatest principle in Aikido I would say it is the principle of stillness.

In fact I would say that is the 'center of center'.

Thus the true connection to Zen.

Regards.G.
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Old 04-01-2011, 04:29 AM   #21
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Hi Niall, great to see you have your own column,
Best wishes
Chris
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Old 04-01-2011, 09:56 AM   #22
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Demetrio you didn't understand the point of the cat story. Nansen didn't have an urge to kill the cat.

Nicholas it's a simple universal practical approach which would have been recognizable to Soho Takuan 400 years ago. Phil Jackson employs similar simple practical techniques from zen in his coaching and he is the most successful NBA coach ever. So they work. It's not just theoretical. And I don't think the LA Lakers need to worry about twentieth century political dogma.

Thanks to everyone for all the positive comments and messages. Thank you Peter for your interesting comment. I'll look forward to your next columns as always.

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Old 04-01-2011, 10:30 AM   #23
Demetrio Cereijo
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

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Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Demetrio you didn't understand the point of the cat story. Nansen didn't have an urge to kill the cat.
I'm not Nansen, never been (afaik) and don't play one on TV.

I don't like cats. As simple as it is.

Cheers.

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Old 04-01-2011, 11:31 AM   #24
Nicholas Eschenbruch
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

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Niall Matthews wrote: View Post

Nicholas it's a simple universal practical approach which would have been recognizable to Soho Takuan 400 years ago. Phil Jackson employs similar simple practical techniques from zen in his coaching and he is the most successful NBA coach ever. So they work. It's not just theoretical. And I don't think the LA Lakers need to worry about twentieth century political dogma.
Hi Niall,
I am unconcerned about the success of the Lakers
and as I said meant no disrespect.

The points I brought up have been of some concern for practitioners who are interested in the dharma in the modern world. That's why I mentioned them. The point is more ethical and practical than theoretical. Since it does not interest you, let's not belabour it.

All the best!
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Old 04-01-2011, 05:26 PM   #25
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Peter, I still think fondly of the time we spent together in Japan. I hope to return someday, and maybe share a good meal and some training (well, maybe the other way around ).

Thank you for your answer! I reread that entire thread upon thinking of it here, and I do so at least once a year. When I saw the "usual suspect" mentioned here, my thoughts, as always, returned to that thread. Now I have yet another post to add to my memories!

I think that in both kotodama and when you see pentacostals speaking in tongues, the key things are intent and belief. You may not *know* the meaning, yet, what you believe and what you intend are most crucial. That is the only sense I can make of either speaking in tongues, or kotodama, in any case, having done the one in a past life (if you know what I mean).

Well, I haven't stayed on topic here, so I shall crawl back into a network device somewhere in the ether and be quiet for a while.

Best,
Ron (Kwatch!)

Last edited by Ron Tisdale : 04-01-2011 at 05:32 PM.

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