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The Journey to Nidan

coffeeThe journey to Nidan for me has been quite a few years. You would think by now I have a good grip on things. Ha! Aikido humour, Get it? Grip…Never mind.

Now after the dust has settled I can look back and feel this has been a great moment in my Aikido journey. Yet as an individual moment, it pales in comparison to the unexpected lesson that has had more an impact on my practice than becoming Nidan.

Let us go back in time. Que strange music and visual effects.

It is the morning of the grading. Feeling ready and confident in my abilities. My nerves in check I moved towards my goal. “I got this.”

I had asked to be Jacob’s Uke for his Important Shodan grading. The second Shodan of “The Originals”. (Students who started their Aikido journey with Sensei Ryan.)

Sensei calls us up and Jacob calls out the words “Sensei ni Rei!”

Jacob finishes his first technique. I thought to myself “That was very good. Glad I don’t have to…” My thought cut short by Sensei calling the words “Shite Uke kotai”

The lesson that I have heard repeatedly came flying in to kneecap me and drop me on my ASSumptions.

‘Only from good Uke can you become good Shite.’

As Jacob’s Uke I was unprepared and with nowhere to hide.  What was only just a few minutes for everyone was an ego crushing eternity for me. Jacob being Jacob was unaffected, unfazed not even a hair out of place. He performed brilliantly despite my mistakes.

Sitting waiting for my turn to grade all I could think about were my mistakes. Just like Uke stunned and put off balance by an atemi just before being smashed to the mat. My fate awaited me.

Sorry too dramatic lets tone it down.

The truth is I look back on that day and think of how perfect it was. Don’t get me wrong I still cringe at not being a good uke for such an important occasion. However, it was perfect timing. Just as I am about to reach a higher level I am humbled.

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”

In finishing, I look forward to all the wonderful mistakes to come.

Osu!

John de Vries

2018 Demonstration Winners

Aikido symbolises the way of adapting the spirit. I joined Aikido Yoshinkan at the Sunshine Coast Dojo in 2015 because I was intrigued by watching my brother train. Not only because it looked fun to flip people around by a 12-year-old but because I was curious of the art behind this martial art. I knew I wasn’t going to become the Karate Kid because that’s not what Aikido is about. At the Sunshine Coast Dojo we have become a close community and I have made new friends, this shows how the spirit doesn’t just have to be when we’re training as students but that it’s all around us as human beings.

Osu!

Kayla Holloway


 

Dread, Trials and Cake

How would you describe your relationship with The Annual Demonstration?  For me this has been forever changing throughout the years. For my first couple of years doing Aikido I had extremely feared the demonstration, and the only thought I had was to survive.  Survive and move on; that’s what I wanted.  Then the next year it changed to being approved.  It was that time of year that I had to show why I was worthy of my rank and a place in the dojo.  A trial more so than a celebration.  But now demonstrations mean so much more to me.

The short time frame to reach such high standards is no longer a dread but a blessing.  It forces me to get to a place I otherwise wouldn’t strive for, and to sum up everything I’ve learnt and work for during the past year. A chance for others and myself to see the rewards of training class after class.

But after doing a few demonstrations I have acquired a confidence I’m so grateful for, because this has allowed me to try and tackle more each year and seek to do something new each demonstration.  Whether it’s incorporating new weapons, being uke more often than previously or even throwing my sister around with music blearing in the background, all are thrilling new experiences only possible through the Annual Demonstration.

Even though demonstrations give so much to me personally, they give something even greater to the dojo. They have the ability to unite everyone by giving us one parallel goal; to establish the growth of the dojo. This brings the students of Aikido even closer than before, as it forces us to rely on one another, give to one another and push one another.  Whether this means trusting your Shite, giving yourself as uke or practising with each other to ensure perfection.

So how would I describe my relationship with The Annual Demonstration?  To me The Annual Demonstrations is like baking a cake.  Sure, you may dread the preparation and cooking, and stress when you forget an ingredient; but in the end it always tastes great and leaves you hungry for more.

Osu!

Jacob Holloway


 

The Spirit Award to me is a big deal. While we train hard to have great technique and flow with our Shite/Uke, I believe this is not possible without Spirit. Spirit encompasses everything we train for!
From the time we step on the mats till the time we leave the mats, till the time we come back to the mats to learn more about this art. Spirit is as much about showing great technique on the mats with respect to your Uke or Shite as it is about respecting and honouring all in our lives, and who have helped us get to where we are, whatever stage in life we’re at individually. Without Spirit there simply would be no technique. Train hard with plenty of Spirit!!

Osu!
Darren Holloway


 

November last year was the first time I stepped into the dojo. I had no idea what to expect nor what I would gain from this experience. I have now learned that the culture that exists here is a supportive, friendly and respected one. I must admit the chanting warm-up frightened me at first, though as time passed it became routine. In late June in a group of students I took part in the Dojo’s fourth annual demonstration. There were a number of well-prepared groups and solo demonstrations. Watching the final product of a month of dedicated training become a success was a very proud moment for Sensei and the Dojo. One of the events I participated in was Kyogi Embu. There were several pairs and two awards for this event. The award for best technique and for the best spirit were awarded, Darren and I won the best spirit award this year. Although there were mistakes in our demonstration we were able to save the technique without the audience knowing, or at least that’s what I believe. Personally, I did not believe we were in the running for an award as it was my first demonstration, so I was very happy and surprised when our names were called. Overall it was a great experience!

Holly

 

If only it was easier, if only…

coffeeI often overhear people prefacing what they say with things like, ‘If only it was easier, I would…’ or ‘If I had more time, I would…’ or even ‘I wish I could…, but…’. And they are right!

 Well, perhaps in part anyway. If we were presented with the ‘right’, ‘correct’, ‘perfect’, or ‘ideal’ conditions under which to perform or live our life, things would be a lot ‘easier’, ‘more enjoyable’, ‘more productive’, etc., but we may never really know our potential. I guess my question is: ‘in living with ease, are we truly growing?’ If we are constantly in search of ease in our life – training; work; home – I believe we are not presented with opportunities to be better, or stimulus to grow.

 It’s easy to tell ourselves and others that the conditions aren’t right to do something. And therefore, not have a go. What’s more, it’s easy to excuse away a lesser standard afterwards by ‘explaining’ that there wasn’t time or that something got in the way. This can often make us feel better about ourselves, but are we being honest with ourselves? Now, let me be clear that I struggle with this human condition too. I don’t pretend to have mastered this… But I am aware of it and giving it my all to be better at it every day. Therefore, I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to resist these temptations. If the circumstances aren’t right for what you might term ‘optimal performance’ and you are considering not doing something, do it anyway under the trying conditions and grow from the imperfect experience. I suggest working with the conditions and notin combat with them wasting valuable energy attempting to change something that may be beyond your control. I suggest applying a flexible disposition that will offer the prospect to develop a view that while perfection is always our ultimate goal, it is often not the immediate objective. In the pursuit of this, I often apply the metaphor of the muscle to our overall development.

 Just as a muscle needs stimulus to grow, we also holistically need stimulus to develop to be the best version of ourselves. The muscle may at times resist the training; it may feel stiff, it could even have a slight strain. But are these reasons enough to not use the muscle at all? Even while nursing a strain a muscle can be used through its recovery and other muscles used in more intensity to compensate. For example, when you break the arm or tear a muscle in the arm with which you brush your teeth, it is a great opportunity to increase the dexterity of the other hand. Right? The alternative is to not brush your teeth, and we know where that leads. In short, just as the muscle will respond to exercise (stimulus) by growing stronger, bigger, more flexible or even faster, so too does our cognitive, emotional and physical capacity develop when placed under conditions (stimulus) not ideal or of our liking. In these circumstances we are asked to either respond or walk away (wondering what might have been or could have been achieved and developed within us).

 Often when thinking of or responding to situations not ideal or perfect I look to my daughter for inspiration. So I will share some of her story in the hope that she might help you too to be inspired at times when it’s easier to make excuses and walk away. Many of you know that my daughter has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy caused through brain damage that occurred at birth. Many people see her as almost what society terms ‘normal’. However, what many don’t see regularly is the indomitable spirit that lays beneath all that she is and all that she is becoming. From the moment she could move, movement was difficult – her legs just didn’t work. When she crawled, she dragged her legs behind her with the strength of her arms, all the while developing further strength in her upper body to drag herself around the house faster. Never did she cry about it and never did we pander to her disability, pitying her and making allowances for her. Some may have judged this as excessively harsh, however, we believed that support is what she needed, not pity and that one day, she still needed to walk and engage to the best of her ability in a world that was not perfect! Over time, with much therapy and unrivalled determination on Zara’s part, she eventually crawled. Walking was much the same. I think that a lot of the therapy and Zara’s hard work at such a young age has developed new neural pathways to circumvent some of the damage to the brain. Now almost 12 years on, Zara holds the Australian record for the T-35 Multiclass 800 metres. She also practices Aikido, ballet and contemporary dance. Now, my intention here is not to boast about Zara’s accomplishments, nor am I trying to convince you that she is any different to you or I. But I do hope to explain that she wouldn’t be the successful human being she is today without choosing to respond positively and actively to far less than perfect conditions, and perhaps even finding a way to excel at the same time. In addition, Zara always looks empathetically to support others through difficultly despite having every reason to demand support herself. This quality, if nothing else, is a quality we can all aspire to, wouldn’t you agree? Finally, Zara’s cerebral palsy doesn’t define her as ‘disabled’, she has chosen to flip it to define her instead as able and exceptional. Likewise, our ongoing and often difficult circumstances don’t define us, it is our responses and achievements in spite of them that does.

 What might this look like for me? Well, when challenged by Mori Sensei to do my 4thDan four years ago (which I have written about in a past article) under very tight time constraints, a knee operation recovery and demonstration preparation, I had two choices. Thankfully, I chose to trust Sensei’s judgement, accepted the less than perfect conditions and went for it. Consequently, I now have this in my psyche as a measuring stick to which many other challenges pale in comparison, i.e. life has actually become easier as a result! And now, as I prepare for my demonstration this year and I look to do my 5thDan sometime soon, I embrace the ‘less than perfect’ to see what standard I can achieve under challenging circumstances. What might this look like for you?

 In closing, I would like to place a further challenge in front of you. From the outside we often perceive conditions in the lives of others as far better than that which are actually being experienced. So, while we individually battle to respond flexibly, positively and actively in less than ideal conditions in our own lives, I challenge you to be as perceptive as possible of the difficultly others might be experiencing too. Let’s allow our awareness of the challenges we are facing, not shying away from, be the first step in supporting each other to be the best version of ourselves.

 Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Sharing the thoughts of our black belts

Below is an article written by Darren Holloway. It is a reflection on his training in Aikido so far and written following his achievement of Shodan.


Black belt!! … Finally yeah😀Black belt … Just the beginning 😩…

For myself personally it has never been about the black belt. The training is what keeps me coming back each and every week. The variety and the many different techniques is always challenging but satisfaction is guaranteed if the will is there.

For myself it began 4 years ago, when one day I was out running and past what is now our old Dojo in Bulcock Street. I noticed the sign on the window and rang Ryan Sensei when I got home and started training that week.
Back then there were 3 students and 1 training session a week. 12 months later 2 classes then later a 3rd as the number of students grew to where we are today with over 15 students training on a regular basis.
Aikido to me will always mean Harmony. Harmony with Uke or Shite. Harmony with those around me in life.

The challenges with training in Aikido will be constant, but this is what will keep bringing me back week after week. While they are the challenges personally, it is the people/ students who make our Dojo. The sense of community and spirit among students. I believe this is unique in Aikido and even more unique in our relatively new Dojo.

As I said in the beginning, while it has never been about the black belt it is a very rewarding and humbling achievement after the years and training.
I would like to thank Greg and John for their patience with me over the past couple of years. I have learnt a lot of them, but most of all I have learnt how much I don’t know!!

A final thankyou to Ryan Sensei and Cindy. Your hard work and dedication does not go unnoticed.

I have the privilege of saying I’m an original student of the Dojo and along with Sean the first Black Belts under Ryan Sensei. Yippee!!!

OSU!
Darren Holloway

Sharing the thoughts of our black belts

Below is an article written by Sean Keogh. It is a reflection on his training in Aikido so far and written following his achievement of Shodan.

What Aikido Means to Me

When I started training in martial arts in a very haphazard way when I was young in the UK it was for one reason only, and that was self-defence. I was born in a rough area and to be honest the training came in pretty useful! Then there was a break of many years and I came to Australia and to aikido. The big difference for me now is that my inspiration to train is not primarily related to keeping my front teeth and avoiding black eyes, but to something more fundamental, something much more along the lines of developing my spirit and focus, even though I think aikido is the most effective system of self-defence I have seen (when I see Ryan sensei do it anyway!)

For me, aikido is most beautifully crystalized in the phrase DoChuSei, or quietness in turmoil, a term I first heard when I started my aikido training and a philosophy which I do my best to use inside and outside the dojo – initially I found that my attitude and approach to my job as an emergency doctor, which is often in a fraught and chaotic environment, helped me in the dojo but now I am finding what I am learning in the dojo is also helping me in my work – not so much that I feel better prepared if a crazy patient tries to bash me (though I do) but because I really do find aikido centres me and brings me calm, something I am noticing especially over the last few months. I also value the humility I see, especially in the more experienced practitioners up to and very much including Ryan sensei, which is a great example to us all.

I genuinely believe our young dojo is special and is more than the sum of its parts – I think we all know this. It has an element of ‘family’ both in the community sense and also in the literal sense, which I think is a great strength. Everyone supports each other and we all have a good idea of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and will go the extra mile, at every level, and this atmosphere is precious. I especially love watching the kids class and seeing the enthusiasm in my own son’s face every time he trains, even though he wakes me on Saturday mornings at 5am to demonstrate his kamae!

Which brings me to another key aspect of the way I think of aikido – I think the phrase of describing an activity as a journey rather than a destination is often overused, but not, as I see it, in the case of aikido. Over recent months I now think less about getting this belt or that belt, or reaching this grade or that grade (though I do believe grading is essential and we still need to work hard at it) but I think more about what I can extract and learn from training and how I can help others to do the same where I am able to.

I think aikido is a true example of the more you learn, the more you realise you actually don’t know very much, and it is easy to be discouraged at times but this must be resisted. Even though I do not believe I have ever done any aikido technique, even a basic one, anywhere close to perfectly I don’t really believe this is the point of aikido – I suspect that aikido is not so much about locks and throws rather it is all about something I have yet to fully grasp. I will not be giving up as long as my body can take it and I am forever grateful to those at the dojo that have helped me on this journey so far.

Here is to many more happy training sessions

Osu!

Sean Keogh

Training your senses

coffee

Below is an article written by Michiharu Mori Shihan. As always, I hope you find this article as insightful as I have. The article gives us rare insight into the life and times of Yoshinkan’s founder Master Gozo Shioda through the recollections of Mori Shihan, who spent 10 years under his tutorage as ‘uchi-deshi’ (live-in student/disciple).

Please enjoy Mori Shihan’s words and experiences and allow them to build further confidence in the art in which you train.


TRAINING YOUR SENSES

“Around 25 years ago, I felt I had reached the entrance of the “Aiki” world, the ultimate Aikido techniques. It was just a start and what I could do was only a very limited Aiki-waza, yet the change I felt in my body was clear. The sensation with the use of my knee movements changed.

For instance, I picked up a toothpaste to brush my teeth one morning and dropped the cap accidentally from my right hand. It would usually drop on the floor before, but this time I caught it by my left hand before it touched the ground. I was surprised with what happened and this was not a coincidence. That was because I began to master bending my knees without changing my upper body position, which was a necessary movement to master the Aiki technique (breaking the balance of opponent by bending knees without changing the dynamics of the contact position in the upper body.) The speed of dropping my body had gotten much faster by just bending knees while my upper body balance had no change and that was why I was able to catch up with the dropping cap. Well, I thought this phenomenon was the proof of reaching the entrance of “Aiki,” not relying on my physical strength but more on the way of using my body parts, especially knees. In other words, it was the start of mastering my centre line.

In recent years, that phenomenon has evolved. Well, I drop a thing and chase it by eyes as it drops (you know, I drop things more as my hands are dryer as I age!) As I watch a dropping object I realise that I am seeing the line along which it is going to go, for example hitting a sink and bouncing off a cup. So, I am not actually chasing the object to catch but placing my left hand waiting for the object to fall into my hand. This does not happen all the time, of course, but happens more often now. I feel this is one of the results of my long years in training my senses as a budo-ka. This sensation sometimes happens during tasu-dori too that I suddenly see things get slower, though only for a moment, and lines of uke’s attack movements appear as if drawn in dotted lines. I assume that I will be an expert of Aikido one day if I can master this ability of seeing the moving paths of things and people in advance, and if I can use the ability freely. I am excited to experience something more amazing than just catching a cap in future as I train my sensors more diligently.

O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, left many quite amazing episodes about training his sense. Here are some.

One day, when he was traveling by train with Gozo Shioda, O Sensei passed a Tessen (iron fan) and asked him to attack him whenever he had a chance. He sat down face-to-face and closed his eyes falling asleep. Our cheeky master, Gozo Shioda, loved this kind of chance and got so keen to hit his master. He carefully read the timing and made sure his master looked unguarded. At the moment he was ready to attack however O Sensei opened up his eyes and grinned. The same thing kept occurring as if O Sensei was able to read his mind and Gozo Shioda could not even use the Tessen once.

One night, O Sensei and his disciples were climbing up a mountain to train in the dark. The steep path of the mountain was too hard for an old man like O Sensei and he had to rely on the support of one of his students by having him push on his back – our cheeky master. As Gozo Shioda pushed his master’s back he came up with a prank. He thought of letting his master fall by suddenly letting his hands off from his back. He was sure his master would fall on such a steep hill feeling the master’s weight leaning to his hands. He grinned to himself and followed his plan. The next moment he could not believe what he saw, but his master kept walking in the exactly same position, leaning backwards, as if there was nothing happened. O Sensei obviously knew what his trustworthy disciple was thinking.

On another day, one of his students who had a duty of striking O Sensei with a bokken as daily training decided to try him. He thought of giving a trick by striking where O Sensei was going to move instead of trying to hit him directly, recognising that O Sensei had a habit of moving to his right at the first move. So, he swung down his bokken hard to O Sensei’s right and found it whizzing hard cutting through air. O Sensei was grinning at him without moving an inch. Playing mental games with his students like these episodes was one of his means to train his sensors and abilities.

O Sensei was certainly the legend and beyond ordinary people. My uchi-deshi life with Master Gozo Shioda was nothing as exciting as these episodes, yet I still had good trainings to sharpen my senses. Communication with him, for instance, required a great deal of concentration. When he needed to tell something to uchi-deshis he usually said, “A, ah~, ah~….,” and we had to know the answer to offer him or act straight away. You would not know a clue at the beginning of uchi-deshi life but as you serve him in daily life for opening doors, making teas, assisting him to change his clothes, attending to his personal needs while he takes a bath and so on, your sense is getting well trained to read his mind and harmonise with his moves. Once I had more cases of satisfying him with my answers and acts then I began to be called to take his uke more.

You are not uchi-deshis and do not have these kinds of means to train your senses. Yet, I have realised that you are always training your senses whenever I speak in my broken English as you have to concentrate to understand what I mean. Well, my poor English is somehow useful in this way…Thank you everyone, for trying very hard to harmonise with me! Other than the training of understanding me, you can always train your senses whenever you take uke, especially for Kihon-dosa. You can feel so much of your shite’s mechanical motions through your hands where you are connected, only if you are trying to do so. Moreover, while you are uke-ing for Jiyu-waza you can keep sensing any slightest move of your shite and can start reading which technique is coming next. When your senses are more trained you can take uke safely and these skills can be utilised when you apply techniques. I did the same. I had to take uke for Takeno Shihan and Nakano Shihan a lot during my uchi-deshi time. These two had a powerful type of Aikido and I received a lot of pain and impact on my body at the beginning. As I was forced to learn to read their moves for the sake of my life I earned the ability to take perfect uke for each of them by knowing exactly which technique they were performing next. I realised then, as they were more satisfied with my uke, my level of performing techniques also had advanced.

I can say, from my experiences, that training with no concrete aim will not bring much fruits for you. But your Aikido training can be far more enjoyable and interesting if you keep sharpening your senses through lots of thinking and attempts. Aikido is something that never shows your limitations to improve and progress. I wish everyone to taste the world of ultimate Aikido.”

Osu,

Michiharu Mori

 

The Spirit of Bushido

coffeeBelow is a recent article written by Michiharu Mori Shihan. I hope you find this article as insightful as I have. As we all know, we are all on the aikido journey that parallels our life journey in many ways. Even though we are all at different stages of these journeys, thankfully we have people like Mori Shihan to illuminate the path; someone with such a wealth of experience who gives us an unbroken flow of aikido knowledge and insight from its source.

Please enjoy Mori Shihan’s words and experiences in aikido below and allow them to build further confidence in the art in which you train.


THE SPIRIT OF BUSHIDO

The annual demo season is coming closer again for this year. I thought of writing something to do with demonstrations from my experiences to encourage you and provide motivation to train for it. I searched my memories to find a good episode of some amazing techniques, possibly from Master Gozo Shioda or Mr. Scary Takeno Shihan, but could not recall any. Instead, an episode from the spiritual aspect of Budo hit me.

Although I have written about this story before, I would like to mention it again to confirm the importance of learning Budo for our lives, that I believe in. The Headquarters of Yoshinkan held a yearly demonstration which all the instructors and many students from all over Japan gathered. After the demo, a seminar for all the instructors was open to teach, nothing special, but all the basics like angles and percentage of shifting weights for basic movements and techniques to standardise Yoshinkan techniques nationally. At the opening of the seminar, Inoue Dojo-cho (the top instructor of the Headquarters then) began with a question to all the instructors, “Everyone, did you fold your clothes neatly after you changed to dogi for the demo yesterday and today for this seminar? Or, did you fold your dogi properly after you demonstrated yesterday?” Everyone’s faces were puzzled. So, he continued saying, “Clothing protect your body from the cold and the heat. Your dogi protects your body from the training. We should treat them nicely with respect and gratitude. That’s the way of budo-ka (Budo practitioners.)”

I was very impressed with his words and I felt that was the reason I loved Budo that emphasised the spiritual aspect above all. The essence of training Budo is not about learning skills to beat the opponents but giving oneself the appropriate disciplines to train and cultivate one’s mind and spirit. While the purpose of training in MMA types is to win the matches and beat the opponents, the purpose of training Budo is to train one’s spiritual respect to grow as humans that improves and enhances one’s life itself in the end.

 

When we can develop a sense of gratitude by looking after our clothes and dogi’s with respect each time we train Aikido as Inoue Sensei said, we can gain the habit of thanking and respecting anything and anyone in our lives. The attitude of thanking our training partners on the mats sets our minds to thank our partners at home naturally. Besides, we start appreciating our society more as our minds get humbler instead of finding all sorts of complaints towards it; and we wish to be of use to society selflessly out of deep gratitude. This kind of person receives recognition of having a samurai spirit in Japan and well respected. Whenastudentaskedme what was Bushi-do for me, I answered, ‘cleaning the dojo toilet’ which became like a Zen riddle (I wrote about this before.) The point is that doing a job that others do not wish to, contributing oneself for other people unselfishly, out of gratitude towards the dojo and the training is a way of samurai spirit, I believe.

A man whom I thought was a true samurai in this modern era was Shojiro Ishibashi, the founder of Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s biggest tyre maker, as you know. Around the time of World War II, he expanded his tyre factory to Java in Indonesia but it was forced to shut down and draw off after Japan lost the war. It was an accepted practice or normal for any business of the defeated countries to destroy their facilities as they left to make sure they were not usable because it was painful to give away their asset with no compensation. Therefore, American troops got a big surprise when they went into the Bridgestone factory. Everything inside of the factory was cleaned thoroughly as if new and all the machinery was tuned and lubricated to be used straight away. All they simply needed to do was turn the machines on.

The leadership of American military force located in Japan was puzzled by this behaviour of the Japanese company and called in Shojiro Ishibashi for questioning. What he answered was that they owed people in Java so much while they stayed there, and to repay obligations to people in Java, they wanted to leave the factory in the best condition. The American military leaders were astonished by his words and impressed at the same time. They understood that this little Asian man was worth trusting for his faith in holding a strong sense of gratitude – his code of conduct. Later on, American leaders decided to offer the reprocessing of used tyre entirely to Bridgestone Corporation, the company recovered its business productivity and performance from these orders. The company today is very well acknowledged worldwide for contributing to society by providing reliable and high quality products.

We, Japanese people, call this kind of person a ‘samurai’ for maintaining a firm faith in contributing to the public good out of respect and gratitude for other people, and being prepared to sacrifice one’s life for the faith. In other words, this is the spirit of Bushi-do. I, who train and teach in ‘Budo’, respect the spirit of Bushi- do very highly and always wish to follow the path of Bushi-do. I believe that the heart and essence of learning a ‘Budo’ is about achieving spiritual growth by mastering, through the physical training of the art, a way to be always respectful, grateful, unselfish and humble to anybody and to anything. Pursuing this path, we gain trust and respect from others naturally which improves and enhances our life significantly.

Well, believing in this faith, I fold my dogi and clothes neatly, clean the dojo with a humble mind and try to deal with others in a respectful and grateful manner, every single day. This is my Bushi-do.

Osu, Michiharu Mori

 

Sentiments from the source – words and thoughts of O-Sensei

‘Budō[i] is a divine path established by the gods that leads to truth, goodness, and beauty; it is a spiritual path reflecting the unlimited, absolute nature of the universe and the ultimate grand design of creation’ (Ueshiba, 1991).

Morihei Ueshiba (also known as O-Sensei) founded the wonderful art that we practice, ‘Aikidō’, from his initial training in the centuries old art Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu (among others). In the early 1920s Morihei Ueshiba developed and taught what he termed Aiki-Budō and continued to progress his art until his death in 1969, leaving behind what we know today as Aikidō. Aikidō can trace its lineage back centuries and is steeped in Japanese martial traditions, but uniquely encompasses a spirituality that focuses on the journey to an enlightened state through a disciplined and harmonious approach to life. All we have to do is walk the path with an open mind and work damn hard – simples, right?

7cb6dabd4963c2c230bacf319211bc86--aikido-quotes-bushidoWrong. I think the 26th President of the USA Theodore Roosevelt best summed it up when he said, ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.’ As humans, and especially in this highly technologically advanced and modern world today, we often fool ourselves into believing that we should rest for long periods of time, ‘take it easy’, look for the ‘easiest’ way to do anything, and shy away from anything that seems overly difficult, arduous or risky. In truth, and in accordance with O-Sensei’s sentiments, these are all the ingredients that define a worthy, good, beautiful or ‘divine’ life. ‘Divine’, in this sense of the word, is not necessarily referring to something ‘supernatural’, it is more attuned to anything that inspires reverence and manifests goodness, purity, and beauty. This is where Aikidō comes in… and can be seen as a metaphor for life. Yoshinkan founder Gozo Shioda talks of ‘aiki soku seikatsu’, or aiki and life are but one. If we see the hardship we experience in the dojo equating to the hardship we experience in other aspects of our life, and the achievement in technique and health through this hardship as the achievement that comes to us from a committed and disciplined approach to a task in other aspects of our life, then we can start to understand what both O-Sensei and Shioda (Kancho) Sensei are proposing.

Now, I don’t pretend to have worked this all out… in fact, I am only scratching the surface at this point of my journey. But one thing that is becoming apparent to me in the teachings of O-Sensei and his contemporaries, is that revelations about life and achievement only come through hard work, difficulty and seemingly ridiculous challenges. I see one of the challenges as a call to action from O-Sensei, Shioda (Kancho) Sensei and Mori Sensei… a call to action in the sense that through training in budō and offering others the opportunity too through our dojo, we can reform our ‘perception of how the universe actually looks and acts; change the martial techniques into a vehicle of purity, goodness and beauty; and master these things.’ (Ueshiba, 1991) By ‘these things’, O-Sensei is talking about ‘harmony’ in all its forms, but most importantly (and most esoterically) he is referring to harmonization that links ‘heaven, earth, and humankind’, liberates us from our egos, and allows us to purify and forge the ‘self’ (Ueshiba, 1991). How might we do this? Well, as far as I have worked out… we train hard and serve others! Aikidō is the way, and the people we come in contact with daily inside and beyond the dojo are the vehicles. O-Sensei points out that we ourselves and all that we possess ‘should be dedicated to majestic causes; as warriors on the martial path, it is our duty to follow the [aiki path], externally and internally, and serve the people.

c5b5db8a6aea26deb38bc9798da59d2fIn budō, we guide the enemy where we please. The true purpose of [training in Aikidō] is to teach [us] how to receive and fill our mind and body with a valorous spirit…enlightened wisdom, and deep calm’ in the face of adversity (Ueshiba, 1991). O-Sensei sees the appearance of an ‘enemy’ (or someone that challenges us in any aspect of our life) as an opportunity to test the sincerity of our mental and physical training, to see if we are actually responding to the ‘divine’ (in the sense mentioned above) will. So, please enjoy the challenge of interacting with difficult people daily and test the sincerity of your training!

I know that I live to train in Aikidō, but more importantly, I now train to live in Aikidō; to live a life of what O-Sensei called the ‘divine’. I sincerely hope I can aid you all to do the same!

Osu,

Ryan Slavin

[i] Budō: The path of Martial Valour, the way of the warrior. This is a way of life dedicated to peace and enlightened action. Here budō is used in both the general sense of the Japanese martial traditions and the more specific manifestation of Morihei Ueshiba’s aiki-budō, which eventually led to the formulation of aikido.

A Way of Art – Aikido

Below is a recent article written by Michiharu Mori Shihan. I hope you find this article as insightful as I have. As we all know, we are all on the aikido journey that parallels our life journey in many ways. Even though we are all at different stages of these journeys, thankfully we have people like Mori Shihan to illuminate the path; someone with such a wealth of experience who gives us an unbroken flow of aikido knowledge from its source.

Please enjoy Mori Shihan’s words and experiences in aikido below (perhaps with a nice cuppa) and allow them to build further confidence in the art in which you train.

coffeeIn 1986, during my first year of uchi-deshi life while training as a Senshusei (student taking Riot Policeman’s Course,) Yoshinkan Headquarters received a request from Japan-India Culture Association to send an instructor to India to teach Aikido for their policemen/soldiers. Master Gozo Shioda gave willing consent to it. However, no senior uchi-deshi agreed to fulfil the mission. There, they threw the handkerchief to a young uchi-deshi who was still wearing a white belt and had no experiences of teaching yet. Right, they decided to send me to India by drawing a plan. Firstly, let him graduate the course at the end of the year with Shodan rank, which was the course’s graduating rank anyway, and then give him the second-dan rank (sounds better than the first-dan) in March in the following year. Then, send him to India in May no matter if he was good or not. Well, it was a quite crazy and irresponsible idea, I think.

I followed their plan obediently in a blind way being the lowest positioned uchi-deshi and surely, I was standing in India in the next year. I was only twenty-one years old, as green as grass, looking very young and skinny. Certainly, I did not look strong nor an experienced martial artist. I was forced to answer a lie by the Japan-India Culture Association when I was interviewed by a local newspaper to say I was twenty-five years old with an Aikido 3rd-dan rank. Because a young and weak-looking Japanese so-called Aikido instructor came to the town, the local young men decided to tease him. Whenever I was walking outside they gathered around me and asked me to demonstrate Aikido techniques on them. They were ready to prove that the techniques were useless and I was weak. I could not avoid their challenges. They did not easily yield to the force of my techniques but fought against it. I used all the might to make the techniques work, but with smiles, and shook their hands as if we became good friends immediately after the technique. In this way, I was able to avoid starting fights and leaving hatred between us. These daily challenges from ordinary people who knew nothing about Aikido became my effective training to learn how techniques worked, how people reacted and how I should manage and adjust the techniques in reality.

One day, when I was stretching in the dojo after a Judo class (we shared the dojo) a Judo student approached me with a tanto (wooden knife) in his hand. He questioned while grinning if Aikido used it though Judo never did. I answered yes and told him we had disarming techniques. He happily listened to my reply and said, “Show me.” This was a proper challenge. It was not an official match, of course, and there was no starting call. As soon as he said “Show me,” the fight had begun. I was already judging maai (distance between opponents) when I saw him approaching me. As I answered his questions, I closed maai to avoid receiving unnecessary feint attacks and observed his movements carefully. I saw his empty hand, not the tanto hand, made a fist.

So, I realised he was intending to punch instead of stabbing or slashing the knife. At the moment he pulled back his fist I pressed his fist backwards with my right hand so that he could not punch. In conjunction with my action, I saw he pulled back his tanto in the line of Yokomen-uchi. My body naturally reacted to his motion and I stepped diagonally forward blocking the tanto arm, and applied ude-garami. His body was smashed sideway, without knowing Aikido ukemi, and slammed his side of head heavily. His face got distorted harshly. It was not him, but I, who was so surprised at the brilliant effect of technique.

Aikido takes kata-training method (form training – detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs) and though this method is very efficient it is hard to feel if one is really obtaining useful skills. Myself, I was not confident at all whether I was growing stronger as a fighter or not. I assume everyone has a similar doubt. The purpose of kata-training is to imprint the specific body movements thoroughly and train one’s body through the certain movements either by oneself or with partner, shite and uke. This method was created about 400 years ago by samurai who actually used the skills they earned from the kata-training to survive the battles. We, however, who live in this modern society hardly have any chances to try the skills in the real situations and we are sceptical about one’s own ability. It was a great joy to find out that I actually picked the slight movements of an opponent and my body reacted to them without me thinking against the sudden challenger. It was all because I repeated hundreds of times the same movements against the same attacks and the body remembered them. This was the first time I appreciated the value of kata-training through this incident in India.

Today, MMA type martial arts are very popular which take a show style match. I understand that this is one of the ways to appreciate martial arts, but when the purpose of hard training is to beat someone up it is unsuitable for me. I indeed did not enjoy the feeling of boxing matches when I was training boxing during my high school age. As I won the matches I had to punch more men whom I did not hate or have a grudge against. You know, how can you punch someone when you even do not know him with a sane state of mind? I could not see the reason to punch a stranger or to give a dirty look to each other in a threatening attitude before the matches.

I believe that the beauty of bushido is about fighting against oneself but not against someone else. “Do” means a way, a path, a life and can be interpreted as an art. It is the “do” in Aikido. For instance, the purpose of the professional blacksmith’s in medieval times – the masters of katana forging – was to pursue the sharpest blades and the most beautiful shape and radiance even though katana were used to kill people. It was in their art and life that they kept aiming for further heights, always fighting to defeat one’s own skills through repeating the tedious same movements -melting, hammering and edging, just like kata-training.

Our Aikido is the same. This is a path to pursue the ultimate Aikido technique through repeating the kata techniques thousands of times as we study the angles of hands and feet, ways and angles of moving and stepping, timing to move, ways of using the centre power, ways of adjusting balance as such by applying fine and subtle changes and attempts, all while we enjoy the taste of each technique being edged and polished. You know, the height of Aikido technique I believe is the technique to disarm an opponent’s mind by your presence; as Master Gozo Shioda said, “Becoming friends with the man who came to kill you.”  The true Aikido is the art of ultimate harmony. Finally, one thing I can say is that the most important thing about the kata-training is the accumulation of them, and each accumulation of kata-training gives a steady step towards the height of the art without failure. Please, keep enjoying your training!

Osu,

Michiharu Mori

 

Further considerations as we move through our year of training (PART 2)

Gojō (the five virtues of an ideal person)

As we continue through another year of training, I think it best to again place a philosophical point in the forefront of our minds. As we know, our training is as much about improving our minds as our bodies – this in in turn enriches our lives! So, let’s continue working on our minds in conjunction with the sweaty stuff inside the dojo!

Again, I want to acknowledge that in this article I am blending some of the ideas of Swiss martial artist Pascal Krieger[1], concepts taken from Master Gozo Shioda’s[2] writing, thoughts from AiShinKai founder Dr Jonathan Bannister[3], traditional Japanese martial artist Donn Draeger[4] and many of my own beliefs and experiences training under Michiharu Mori Shihan. Despite this article being, in many ways, a continuation of the last article on SHU HA RI in its theme of self-development, it does stand alone and is able to be read without first reading the previous article. So, let’s continue on from where we left off, or perhaps even begin…

Who am I? And more importantly, who do I want to become?

Who we are is usually determined by our exposure to the ideas of others and one’s own experiences throughout one’s life. Much of who we become is a blend of who we are and the decisions we make throughout our lives – the collection of decisions that combine to define our character. But what informs these decisions? In short, it is our value system, our morals.

For those that train in traditional Japanese martial arts, the value system or moral code is often referred to as ‘bushido’, or in European terms it is often equated with ‘chivalry’. Bushido is a moral code of conduct that is the amalgam of Confucian morality (more than 2500 years old), indigenous Japanese values and the influences of Zen Buddhism in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Japan, this moral code has a sub-set of qualities called the ‘Gojō’. If one aspires to live their life by these five qualities (even in contemporary times), one is said to be in search of a cultivated and honourable life. These are values that are human by their very nature, and therefore, do not age or become irrelevant, but of course they can to be contextualised to a new time and a new place.

The Gojō is a set of human qualities that make a true person – in the most noble sense – of those who cultivate them. They were originally designed to promote good social and political relations between people in China who seemed to have been split into noble men (Jun Zi) and men of little consequence (Xiao Ren).

These qualities are so important that they naturally represent goals for all trainees in the traditional Japanese martial arts – Budō. These qualities are interdependent; they rely on each other for moderation so that they keep their real value to our lives without being altered by intolerance or slackening. It is when we first enter the dojo and are exposed to expectations that make us feel uncomfortable and inadequate that we first glimpse these ideals; we reveal our true selves and start to realise that we clearly lack many of these qualities. This is okay and purely natural. Therefore, it is fundamental that we persist in training externally to hone our skill on the mats, but also internally to become the best version of ourselves. Let’s now discuss these five qualities.

Jin or Nin (Benevolence, Human Warmth)

the-kanji-jin-or-benevolence-in-gyosho-nadja-van-ghelueJin, or Nin, is not human kindness handed out drop by drop. It has nothing to do with love or the kindness that is restricted to a closed circle of relatives. Nor is it a civilization whose specialisation and “respect for the private life” have finished by cutting us off from one another, ‘everyone in a partitioned compartment of society in which smiling to a stranger has become suspicious.’[1]

Jin, or Nin, reflects the state of mind of a person who has accepted the universe as it is and seeks to be in harmony with it, rather than seek to change its inevitable flow – much the way we seek to harmonise with uke in aikido to avoid unnecessary conflict or clashes that result in irreversible destruction. Having transcended passions, divergences, differences, one ideally has become like the sun that brightens and warms everything it touches.

Gi (Righteousness or Justice)

the-kanji-gi-or-right-action-in-kaisho-nadja-van-ghelueTempered with an injection of Jin (Benevolence) and blended with Chi (Knowledge), Gi aspires to entail a sense of universal justice. ‘Justice’ in this sense is a natural phenomenon where one seeks to understand with one’s heart rather than brandishing the scales and sword of good and evil. Instead of an imperfect system of judgement that can be manipulated by a powerful few, Gi leads the righteous one to an objective justice that views each case in isolation and in relation to universal principals.

Rei (Etiquette)

Be grateful and appreciative; observe gracious manners; behave with proper etiquette’ [3]

the-kanji-rei-or-politeness-in-gyosho-nadja-van-ghelueRei has nothing to do with following blindly the ways of others or meaningless kowtowing which so often presents itself as nothing more than hypocrisy – not acting in truth or being true to one’s actual intentions.

Rei is the notion of Etiquette in terms of an unspoken language which allows us to express our respect and consideration for others. Each detail of one’s Etiquette must come from the heart – then we know it is influenced by the Universe, or fundamental laws of nature. Rei emanates from the person who possesses it and applies to everything around him/her: it is applied to people without distinction of rank, race or sex, animals and things [1]. A tree deserves the same respect as an animal or human being since all are part of the same Universe, and are subsequently governed by the same universal principals. Perhaps our original Australians understood and practiced this concept better than any other society or civilization – better than our current western civilization when we consider our treatment of the natural environment currently.

Chi (Knowledge or Wisdom)

kanji_tattoo_series_1__chi_by_skuzzy_punk_kidChi is not Knowledge that is worn like a badge of honour. It is not Knowledge that feeds the ego as an outward manifestation of narcissism which results in selfish motivations behind any further actions undertaken. Today in this age of media, and more specifically social media, our minds are flooded with information from which misconceptions are made of what knowledge and truth – reality – actually looks like. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw something mundane or representative of day-to-day life on the news or on Facebook? Or when was the last time you were presented with information that gives you a deep understanding of something within a wide field of vision – something that gives you an ‘overall view’. It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen because Wisdom comes from one’s own experiences within authentic situations and interactions with genuine people who carry real emotion – nothing fabricated to inflate one’s ego. True Knowledge is acquired not given, it is co-constructed not self-absorbed, it is considerate of the broad context and it is indivisible. It invariably links the slightest detail to the universal principle, and this principle to the whole Universe: All is one.

Shin (Faithfulness and Trust)

The final quality is our Trust, our Shin. But it certainly is not the least important as all five qualities are interconnected and do not sit in isolation but truly complement and enhance each other. kanji_tattoo_series_1__shin_by_skuzzy_punk_kid

The sense of trust espoused in the Gojō is often not found in contemporary society anymore. We have replaced it with binding documentation and written agreements that protect us from false promises because we ‘need to have a back-up’. A handshake and the verbal promise do not weigh heavily against a signed piece of paper that automatically becomes a threatening weapon. Integrity is lost in this sense; the promise has lost its meaning and trust seems to have practically disappeared. Why do we only extend Trust to our closest acquaintances and family? When not extended freely to all, does it not place us within a MAD (mutually assured destruction) situation similar to the nuclear standoff throughout the Cold War?

If Trust (within the context of all five Gojō) is not granted freely, we accept a climate where widespread breaches of faith are the norm. Therefore, we prepare for this. We produce binding agreements that restrict occurrences of broken promises or deal out punitive consequences for the person lacking integrity. It essentially becomes a race to the bottom where everyone is protecting themselves against a negative human trait, a lack of ‘integrity’. But what if we were to trust feely? What if we were willing to accept that the collective conscience of society was strong enough to move people to fulfil their potential: to act and think with integrity, honesty, and loyalty? Now I am not so naive to believe that our world will tomorrow dismantle the legal system and that business will be conducted free of contractual obligations. But what I am suggesting is that what we study in the dojo is more than self-defence, it is self-development of a holistic type. Yes, it is development through hard physical training, but it is the mental and emotional development that will sustain us beyond the four walls of the dojo in a society that often seems fervent on eroding the Gojō in place of self-interest. Our relationships are what make us human. Therefore, when we interact with others on the mats in the dojo, we are practicing relational discourse of the highest level: to grant someone love or compassion when they come to kill you![2] Pure harmony on the mats is only attainable through dedicated training with a heart that embraces the Gojō, and true harmony in the world outside the dojo is only possible once achieved within it.

So, I place this challenge to you in response to the earlier question, ‘who am I and who do I want to become?’… as we continue our study in the dojo this year, “place the Gojō in your heart.” You may want to begin with Shin: people who will never break their word nor will they betray someone’s trust. People who place their dignity in the trust they inspire both from strangers and their most intimate friends. Trust in the goodness of others, free of the fear of dishonesty and you will go a long way to eliciting the best out of people!

Finally, as a further example of the interconnectedness of Japanese culture, etiquette and budo, the Japanese hakama (pyjama looking baggy black pants) symbolise the Gojo (five qualities) in their pleats. Each pleat represents a different quality of the Gojo as you can see in the figure below.

Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 2.24.17 pmThe front five pleats are symbolic of the five qualities of the Gojo, while the two pleats at the back support the five with Courage and Honour – two qualities indicative of the martial way. Therefore, one cannot train in the traditional Japanese martial arts without constant reminder of the need to be the best version of oneself – to fulfil your greatest humanity!

In summary, these qualities are not exclusive to Japan or Japanese culture, nor are they new concepts, they are human traits of old. This is probably best reflected in the old Cherokee fable ‘Two Wolves’ (see the fable below on the following page). So… let’s return to the opening question in light of this now. Let us constantly ask ourselves, ‘who am I? And more importantly, who do I want to become? Which version of myself would I like to feed and nourish?’

Osu!

Ryan Slavin


ENDNOTES:

  1. Pascal Krieger spent many years training Japanese traditional martial arts in Japan and has travelled the world extensively teaching in and writing about them too. Krieger, Pascal. 1989. Jodo – The Way of the Stick. Pascal Krieger. France.
  2.  For further information on Gozo Shioda’s ideas about Aikido and life see Aikido Jinsei – My Life in Aikido. 1985. Shindokan Books. And Aikido Shugyo – Harmony in Confrontation. 1991. Shindokan.
  3.  Bannister, J. AiShinKai website: http://aishinkai.com/Ethics_in_Martial_Arts.html
  4. Draeger, Donn F. 1983. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume 1, Classical Bujutsu. Weatherhill, New York.
  5. Draeger, Donn F. 1990. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume 2, Classical Budo. Weatherhill, New York.
  6. Draeger, Donn F. 1996. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume 3, Modern Bujutsu & Budo. Weatherhill, New York.