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Nothing but Misogi?
Nothing but Misogi?
by Stefan Stenudd
08-18-2010
Nothing but Misogi?

I keep on thinking about why I continue to do aikido. What's the point, why do I stay with it after all these years, although I usually get bored with just about anything in no time? Don't we all need a reason for whatever we do?

That might not be very Zen. The conscious mind and its intellectual needs should be brushed off, while the body engages in something that has a delicate value, easily compromised by scrutiny. As far as I understand Zen, the thing is to do it without purpose, without having a reason.

Fortunately, aikido is not Zen, at least not so that the Zen rules necessarily apply. So I let my mind wander, maybe not that much while I'm in the middle of keiko (I hope), but definitely the rest of the day. Sometimes also between techniques, I must admit.

A friend of mine said that aikido is healing, which I believe to have commented in another column. I like the idea. Well, I am delighted by it. So this is probably just another way of saying the same.

Ichimura Sensei, who was my teacher back in the 1970's, often said that aikido is misogi, purification. Other teachers have said the same. By practicing aikido we are cleansed from the inside out. If that's not self-healing, it must at least be the necessary preparation for it.

Any part of the aikido practice is giving, or extending. As tori we give uke the direction that presents the solution, for the benefit of both. As uke we give ourselves to tori, in order to make the exercise and its lesson possible. There's constant giving on the tatami, constant extension from deep inside. That purifies us, much like the physical efforts of training drain us of energy and make us relax more than we possibly could without the exhaustion.

Some aikido traditions touch on a misogi practice closer to Shinto, although I bet that very few of us belong to this belief system. For example, both torifune and furitama are often used in aikido warm-up. How much of the Shinto significance is included in those exercises, when done in an aikido dojo, I don't know. It's probably not important. The exercises remain in the aikido curriculum because they do some good.

The dojo is not a temple, and the teacher is not a priest. We don't need to relate to the whole traditional context, when using bits and pieces of Shinto or of other spiritual origin. And we don't have to regard misogi as a religious ritual. It is useful also on a much more profane level. The exercises, and even more so the attitude, refresh us profoundly.

The kanji for misogi is intriguingly complex, consisting of several parts that point to another meaning than mere calisthenics. There's the sign for showing something, and those of the hand, the sword, and for something big. The last three have their own combined kanji, which means a pledge or a vow. I guess that the word commitment is also relevant.

So, misogi is to show one's vow, one's commitment. For us, it's a commitment to aikido and its principles. That should indeed fill all our actions on the tatami. One is purified by showing and sticking to one's commitment.

It's certainly a wonderful feeling, but also a risky one, if not accompanied by questioning and reason. We need to inspect and revise our commitments, or we might become narrow-minded fanatics, resisting any progress and losing sensitivity, no matter how noble a cause we are committed to. In our purification, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Is there a Japanese concept that would pair up well with misogi, adding the necessary hesitation and consideration? The question mark for the exclamation mark of misogi.

Stefan Stenudd
Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido
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Old 08-24-2010, 11:33 AM   #2
sarahfiechtner
Dojo: Aikido of Modesto
Location: Modesto, CA
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Re: Nothing but Misogi?

As someone who just started practicing Aikido this January, I really appreciate hearing from people who have been practicing for years and have the respect and appreciation for Aikido that you do. Your columns and comments are always thoughtful and informative. I especially enjoy your discussion of the balance between the physical and spiritual benefits of Aikido.
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Old 08-24-2010, 10:39 PM   #3
Benjamin Mehner
Dojo: Salt Lake Aikikai, Zen Bu Kan
Location: Midvale, Ut
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Re: Nothing but Misogi?

Zen is to do things without purpose or reason? I thought that the idea of Zen is that I eat when I am hungry, I drink when I am thirsty, and I sleep when I am tired. I thought Zen is asking yourself "What is lacking in this moment?". Sounds like a purpose to me.

Let silence be my mantra.
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Old 08-25-2010, 12:05 PM   #4
mathewjgano
 
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Re: Nothing but Misogi?

Quote:
Benjamin Mehner wrote: View Post
Zen is to do things without purpose or reason? I thought that the idea of Zen is that I eat when I am hungry, I drink when I am thirsty, and I sleep when I am tired. I thought Zen is asking yourself "What is lacking in this moment?". Sounds like a purpose to me.
Perhaps it's trying without trying too hard? Or, doing things without the need of some fixed goal as the purpose for doing? I can ask what's lacking in this moment and come up with enough answers to keep me from doing any one thing...speaking from my own experiences, at any rate.
It a koan of sorts isn't it? The unaimed arrow never misses: an "arrow" with enough skill can find use where ever it lands. Something like that perhaps?

Gambarimashyo!
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Old 09-02-2010, 02:12 PM   #5
TheAikidoka
 
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Re: Nothing but Misogi?

What is lacking in this moment? nothing!
everything you have ever done, or anyone has ever done has led to this point, everything is exactly as it should be.
Are you happy, fulfilled, content? that is a different question.
I believe Aikido is Misogi, in every sense, and has everything to do with zen. Zen by its very nature is designed to sill the mind, and engage our awareness i.e what was your original face begore you parents were born.
exactly the same way when facing uke, with a bokken in his hands who with all his focus and intention is going to strike you on top of head. Both stop you dead in you tracks and make you focus extremely intently on the problem in hand. nothing else can enter your head than what is happening right NOW! This is cleansing/misogi of the mind.
Being able to act calmly, and with the correct intention, direction and with the correct technique, requires training in the martial sense, this is misogi of the body.
Misogi of the spirit is even more undefinable but nevertheless, more important than the first two. Being able to act, in the face of great danger when all your senses are screaming at you to run a mile, when all the odds are agianst you, and your are sure of certain death, but you act any way, with calmness grace and dignity, this is true victory, this is misogi, this is Aikido, and moving zen!
Thank you steffan for a most thought provoking article, it is the first time I have felt compelled to comment, on an article written by regular collumists, it stirred something in me. Domo arigato.

Andy B
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Old 09-06-2010, 02:25 AM   #6
Stefan Stenudd
 
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Dojo: Enighet Malmo Sweden
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Re: Nothing but Misogi?

Quote:
Benjamin Mehner wrote: View Post
I thought that the idea of Zen is that I eat when I am hungry, I drink when I am thirsty, and I sleep when I am tired.
That sure sounds like Zen. But it can also be described as an even more fundamental attitude of being in the moment, without an ambition leading you astray, as in the concept of sit to sit, but not to reach this or that. Eat to eat, drink to drink, et cetera. Of course, any action contains its own reasons and effects, but they are often accomplished the best by our minds not focusing on them.

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
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Old 10-29-2010, 01:15 PM   #7
graham christian
Dojo: golden center aikido-highgate
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Smile Re: Nothing but Misogi?

I think the reason you keep doing it is because it's the one place you can realy practice being yourself.
Peace. G.
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