BLOG

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.

Considerations as we enter another year of training (Part 1)

As we enter another year of training, I think it best to start on a philosophical point. After all, our training is as much about improving our minds as our bodies – this in inturn enriches our lives! So let’s start with our minds before we get into the sweaty stuff of the year – the rigorous training on the mats!

Budo (Training in the martial arts) – why do we do it? And more importantly, why should we do it?

Before addressing these questions, I want to acknowledge that I will be blending some of the ideas of Swiss martial artist Pascal Krieger[1] with ideas taken from Gozo Shioda Kancho Sensei’s[2] writing and many of my own thoughts and experiences training under Michiharu Mori Shihan. So let’s begin…

Training. Why do we do it? We are all interested at first by the way it looks… it looks really cool to seemingly effortlessly throw a person across the room. After all, we’ve all seen the movies! It is our ego that brings us to the dojo initially. But more importantly, it is our ego at which the dojo wears away and refines it into something else, something much more productive in life: your spirit!

A Japanese saying concerning the forging of a pure spirit:

“In Budo, it takes one thousand days of training to learn (the technique), ten thousand days of training to polish (the technique); the difference between victory and defeat is a matter of fractions of a second.”

This saying may also be quite pertinent in terms of an athlete training in any sport too, don’t you think? The training is along the lines of arduous repetition, deep thought, and considered adjustment and improvement under the guidance of experienced instruction. But the competition (especially if you consider an Olympic swimmer, runner, or shooter etc.) is won in ‘fractions’; fractions of seconds or fractions of centimetres.

Ultimately it is the ‘spirit’ within an open mind (and with a growth mindset[3] – see clip below) that is the continuous driving force behind any success. The spirit is cultivated throughout the training and polishing and is nourished by success in the end result, thereby creating sustenance for further training and strength to overcome tribulation and adversity encountered while training. It can be seen as a ‘feedback loop’ or perpetual cycle of continuing development. All we need to do is ask ourselves, ‘how far would we like to go in our achievements?’ World Chess Champion Josh Waitzkin points out that, “The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.” As Josh[4] points out above, it is through dedicated and spirited training – not the belief that we are special or anything other than human, and not unlike others – that success is achieved.

 

Furthermore, the ‘adversity’ to which Josh alludes references any difficultly within our lives; not simply a difficult technique on the mats or a problem position on the chess board. Therefore, our training within the dojo is as beneficial to our daily successes as it is to our aikido successes – it is all one! It is as Gozo Shioda Kancho Sensei said, “aiki soku seikatsu.” (Life and Aikido are but one!) Now let’s move to the manner in which ‘training’ (or a better way of looking at it is to consider training as development and learning) is conducted in a traditional Japanese dojo.

SHU-HA-RI: Why is training done the way it is in the dojo?

picture1
Figure 1: Calligraphy of ‘Shu Ha Ri’

 

Traditional Japanese arts are practiced in a certain way. This ‘way’ (Do in Japanese) is purposeful and follows a philosophy of learning called ‘Shu-Ha-Ri’ (complying – breaking – moving away). Let me explain using a modern metaphor that might clarify the point best: the apprenticeship. The way in which training is conducted in traditional Japanese martial arts follows very closely to the way a master craftsperson trains an apprentice even today. At times I will delve into this metaphor in order to illustrate relationships, expectations, and principles.

 

The SHU stage

A person who wishes to learn a craft looks for someone who can initiate him/her to the art. When found, he/she agrees to abide by the laws of the trade, and he/she is not skilled in the art, trust is placed in the teacher (sensei). From the start, he/she shows great deference and submits to carrying out duties which sometimes bear no direct relation to what the student expects to learn. He/she quickly realises that the teacher is showing much more than is required simply by the craft/art that is being learnt. The teacher wants to see things done in a certain way and with a well defined state of mind.

In Budo (martial training), this first stage is called SHU (to protect, to comply). The young Gyosha (student) chooses a Master or, more usually, is chosen by him – the Master commits (or chooses not to) to the responsibility as much as the Gyosha does; a reciprocated expectation begins. From then on the student will abide unreservedly to the principles of the tradition. His/her experience will not be much different from that of the young apprentice. However, the educational aspect (in a holistic sense), will be more extensive than the technical aspect. The various tasks he/she will be compelled to carry out will sometimes seem to bear no relation to martial disciplines, yet it is the state of mind with which he/she applies him/herself to the duties that will be emphasised by the Master. Furthermore, there is the expectation to “protect” the technical knowledge being acquired by declining to form a personal interpretation (don’t alter the techniques or processes), the student is expected to apply the techniques with the most rigorous precision. The young trainee will progressively develop the qualities of the Junanshin (malleable mind): patience; trust; humility; a supple mind; openness.

In a field such as Budo, where a Gyosha (young trainee) would train for many hours every day, the SHU stage may last three to five years – much like the apprentice learning the trade. However, in the modern context, where a young trainee might only train twice a week for a couple of hours, this stage may take ten to fifteen years, depending on the Gyosha’s ability and spirit. After this period, the apprentice or Gyosha will have a solid grounding in the trade or art, but will not yet have any practical experience.

The HA stage

The apprentice is now a qualified technician and must live hi or her own experiences. The teacher will ask him/her to experience training in different ways and in different places – to broaden horizons by taking what has been taught and applying in different contexts in order to face new difficulties. There often will be no one to appraise his/her work or give advice. Moving amongst people who don’t know him or her, the student will always be having to prove him/herself. This experience, though very difficult in the beginning, will, in the end, give a certain confidence to his/her ability. While applying his past experience, he/she will learn new techniques and meet people who have a different approach to the craft/art. Knowledge will increase as experience matures. Even though a personal style has now been developed, it is still strongly influenced by the teaching of his master – one only needs to look at YouTube video of O’Sensei, Shioda Sensei and Mori Sensei to see this clearly.

In Budo, this stage is called HA (break). It is time when the trainee decides to test his competences in the world around him/her. Note, in ‘the old days’ this might only mean skill as a martial artist. However, in a contemporary context this might mean all learning acquired in the Dojo that can be applied to any facet of one’s life. This experience, called Musha Shugyo (austerities of the warrior) is fraught with difficulties. The challenges are many, and the learning experiences are painful. However, through the student’s attitude, it is the Master who will be judged. He has remained faithful, in spirit, to his Master, and is aware that he/she is in some way his/her representative in the world. After increasing and enriching knowledge at length, great confidence (not of the egotistical, but of the humble type) will be fostered, and his/her own technique or ‘way’ (Do) will develop. The student will have, at last, his/her own idea of the art being practised. This stage may last ten to twenty years in the traditional context. But, again, in a contemporary context, this period may last twenty to forty years, or unfortunately, it may even last until one’s death.

The RI stage

Providing one progresses adequately, applies him/herself appropriately with spirit and respect throughout the first two stages, and lives long enough, one may reach the final stage of learning. The RI stage is a natural consequence of the first two stages. The craftsperson or the shugyosha can return to his/her Master to be an assistant or to succeed him/her at the head of the business/company or the Ryu (Japanese school of a specific style of martial art). But, more often than not, because of his/her own personal experiences, he/she will want to do his/her own thing, to create a school based on his/her experiences and ideas underpinned by the learnings taken place under the tutelage of his/her Master during the first two stages.

At that time, him/herself a Master, the former pupil will discharge his duties towards his Master – while still according the Master all the due respect and gratitude for providing the solid bases on which to construct his/her own style. He/she now has no one to answer to but himself. But with this comes the responsibility to be independent, respectful and look to pass on to others that which has been bestowed on him/her – to become ‘Sensei’, a great and serious responsibility! Sen: before; Sei: life – He/she who has lived before. So, as we move into 2017… and you assess yourself within the SHU stage of your development, maintain your focus, maintain your spirit and trust in the process – it will take time, many years, but you will always be growing!

Figure 2: Illustration of the traditional Japanese learning philosophy that underpins martial training

picture2
Figure 2: Illustration of the traditional Japanese learning philosophy that underpins martial training

 

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] For more on a growth mindset, please see Eduardo Briceno’s TED Talk which is based off the research of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck: https://www.youtube.com/embed/pN34FNbOKXc

[4] Josh is cited in Eduardo Briceno’s TED Talk above.

Our 2nd Annual Demonstration – Please Try to Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.10.48 AM

Demonstration. Wow, its already here again. After spending years participating in the Brisbane Dojo’s annual demonstrations and having the responsibility and the honour to uke for Mori Sensei, I can honestly say I now look forward to and completely enjoy the experience of ‘demonstration’. That’s not to say I don’t feel nervous!

Demonstration is a time of nervousness, stress, celebration, elation and solidarity all wrapped up in one experience that builds to a climax for the day and subsides again for another year. It is natural to experience these emotions, amongst others, while training towards the demonstration and throughout the day.

The annual demonstration is important for many reasons. Firstly, it is a celebration of a year of training in the dojo, a year where people have spent many hours collectively raising the standard of the dojo and cultivating a sense of fortitude within each other through dedicated training. Secondly, demonstration is a time where you can individually take stock of the progress that you have made over the course of the year. It is important to note the moments in your training that show just how far you have come; sometimes they are obvious improvements, and other times they are subtler (and often present themselves in other aspects of your life outside the dojo – this is the essence of Budo). Additionally, they are an important opportunity to learn to control nervous energy – the greatest challenge is to first control oneself, not others! When one has total and complete control of oneself – clear understanding of one’s capability and acceptance of one’s shortcomings – one can honestly, humbly and graciously harmonize better with others; this then leads to a stronger and more authentic technique in the dojo and more positive interactions with people in your life outside the dojo. Lastly, the annual demonstration is an important opportunity to display the wonderful Japanese art of Aikido to the Australian public and offer them insight into how effective Aikido can be as a form of self-defense and a philosophy to underpin one’s life. Just think, how has your life changed in the time that you have been training?

Well, as I mentioned above, I too will be experiencing nerves in the weeks leading up to the demonstration. I plan to channel these nerves into the energy I’ll expend in my personal preparation for the demonstration and the focus I’ll need to help those in the dojo to reach their best. Please accept the nerves and excitement, embrace the nerves and excitement and welcome the nerves and excitement –  the sooner you welcome and acknowledge the things that confront you and challenge you, the sooner you will overcome them and enjoy greater control of yourself. Please enjoy our 2nd annual demonstration. After all, a dojo is really only a reflection of the quality of its students!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Thoughts on Pressure

I hope there is something in the words below that may help you in your life as you encounter pressure as I do.

PRESSURE… GOOD OR BAD?

The journey to 4th Dan became real to me two months out from the grading. One cool evening in April I arrived at the Brisbane Dojo running late for first class – I often find it difficult to make it on time coming down from the Sunshine Coast after work. After bowing onto the mats, running over to Sensei to bow and begin the grading training class, I was engaged by Sensei in a brief conversation. Well it wasn’t really a conversation… it went something like this,

Mori Sensei: “Ryan, your grading for 4th Dan this June?”

Ryan: “Osu!”

Mori Sensei: “This means that you will do a double step grading [Step 9 and 10] this grading, Jun-4th Dan next month [May] and the 4th Dan grading in June Sogo Shinsa.”

Ryan: “Osu!”

Mori Sensei: “Okay, start training.”

At that point I quietly began to freak-out inside my mind with all the self-doubt that comes flooding into one’s consciousness when confronted with an arduous task on a tight timeline. I had two options, I could let the wave of expectation overwhelm me and monopolise and paralyse my thoughts and actions, or I could compose myself taking confidence in Sensei’s judgement and mentally map my journey ahead. No questions for which option I chose. While mentally mapping my next two months journey, considering all other responsibilities – family, the Sunshine Coast Dojo, professional  obligations and demands etc. – that were going to provide the bumps and potholes along the road, I broke the overall task into single objectives which allowed me to acutely focus my energy and attention more manageably. This also gave me the opportunity to not feel overly pressured with the main goal – 4th Dan – throughout the two months leading up to it, which would have zapped a lot of energy through worry. I was able to respond to obstacles along the way that would only impact on that particular stage of the process at the time, not the whole task collectively.

Managing my internal challenge, as I discussed above, allowed me to ponder the pressure under which I found myself over the course of the two months, and assess how it was affecting me and those around me, plus whether it too was part of my development. Cindy my wife became an Aikido widow for two months and my two children became single parent kids – orphans to their dad’s Aikido training twice weekly in Brisbane and 3 times a week at the Sunshine Coast Dojo. Rationalising it, this was periodic and passing soon, and normality would return soon enough… no problem! But I am thankful to be married to such a supportive lady and belong to such a supportive family. Additional to the pressure of expectation I placed upon myself to perform well in every step along the way of my journey towards 4th Dan, I felt the responsibility to perform at the ‘top of my game’ in all other spheres of my life over the two-month period. I felt I was a juggler in a circus keeping many balls in the air and I wasn’t going to allow myself to drop one of the balls. Having begun this year in a new role with added responsibility at work and entering the end of semester period of exceptional busyness at the time of the gradings, I knew I had to strike the right balance. The challenge? To organise my time so that there was no down time and every spare minute was either effective in furthering work objectives and meeting deadlines or effective in Aikido training towards my 4th Dan grading. I compartmentalised work and training and better prioritised what to best focus my energy on at any given time – clarity was the key! If I was thinking of training when working, or vice-a-versa, neither my training nor my work was effectively done and my progress would always be slower. I had to adopt a single focus approach at any time – totally immerse my mind and body in whichever sphere I was in at that time and move between them as efficiently and seamlessly as possible… who ever said we should multi-task? In my opinion, it produces an inferior version of that which would be produced had you focused completely on the task at hand. This was my strategy to minimalize the impact of the pressure and keep moving forward. Having said this however, every moment in between (driving, walking, showering, etc.) was spent visualising either an Aikido technique that was particularly challenging or what I was going to do next for work when I got back to the computer. Just when I thought I had everything in check… I was on top of things in terms of present pressures at work, family onside, each stage of ‘the journey’: it was June, and the double grading? Check! Jun-4th Dan grading? Check! I found myself slipping into a quiet confidence thinking that all was fine and progress was as it should be; all that was left now was the final leg – the 4th Dan grading! I was preparing for this last stage when out of left field I was thrown a curveball at the final leg.  What was the lesson learnt? Don’t ever be complacent and too comfortable in preparing for anything… expect the unexpected! Two weeks out from the grading my students at the Sunshine Coast Dojo ask if they could come down on the night of the 4th Dan grading and watch. What could I say other than the same response I had given Sensei two months prior? I replied, “osu”! and reverted momentarily to the same state of mind in which I found myself directly after the conversation with Sensei that April evening two months ago.  Now the pressure was on once again… there was no room for error as I felt the pressure to perform well in front of my students and set a high standard for the Sunshine Coast Dojo. Thankfully I had journeyed quite a distance both mentally and physically by this stage and found solace and confidence in the work I had done in preparation to date. I made the choice to change my perception of how I viewed this pressure; I viewed this not as added pressure or expectation, but as a further challenge to develop personally as an aikidoka and professionally in setting the standard for my students at the Sunshine Coast Dojo to follow. I kept telling myself, ‘rise to he challenge, don’t shy away from it!’… So much so that it became an internal mantra for me whenever a spate of self-doubt arose around whether I would perform at a high enough standard.

Well, the grading came and went. Thankfully I passed, but I learnt a lot from the pressure under which I found myself over that period of training. In short, the pressure gave me the opportunity to grow. Perhaps, if I had months to prepare, no other distractions, plenty of time on the mats and lots of sleep, I may still have passed… However, I doubt that I would have grown to the same extent. I wouldn’t have learnt more about the way I respond to stress/pressure; developed a way to internalise the pressure, organise my time more efficiently; make use of the time I had to train or work more effectively; cherished the little moments in between playing with my kids as a nice distraction; developed a greater ability to focus attention on a single objective within a greater process without obsessing over the end goal; and just ‘be’ in the process understanding that I only could control certain aspects of the ‘journey’ while responding flexibly to other aspects that were out of my control.

Now I look forward to the next challenge that this year of Aikido brings… the Brisbane Dojo’s 20th Annual Demonstration, in which my students will participate for the first time, and our 1st Annual Demonstration up on the Sunshine Coast. As I approach this next challenge I will keep in the forefront of my mind the words that Sensei said to me earlier through my journey to 4th Dan, “Please enjoy the pressure!” and repeat the mantra that has worked over the past few months, ‘Rise to the challenge, don’t shy away from it!’

Before closing, I need to thank the people that have helped me along the way to 4th Dan. Firstly, thanks to my wife Cindy and my daughters for their understanding of my absence and unwavering support. Thanks to Lawrence for all his time and effort throughout this journey… I couldn’t think a better travel companion! And last but not least, thanks to Mori Sensei for his wisdom in giving me this opportunity to grow. He is more than just our instructor in Aikido, he guides us through life more often than not and provides us with chances to be better people!

Osu,

Ryan Slavin