… do nothing which is of no use …
On the mat, many a times, the tendency to overdo, over-engineer, over think the technique, to over analyze the approach, to resort to “why did this work last time, and not right now”, or better yet to “I can’t get this right, let’s stop for a moment so I can rethink this…”.
You get the idea.
So many times, the mind decides to show up, kick the door open and say “let me take care of this”. And that’s exactly when the whole practice goes to hell in a hand basket. The mind cannot help itself but to analyze, conceptualize, rationalize, redefine, compare, assess, critique, recommend, or any other [insert other mental action here].
For me, and I assume for others, the mental context has been one of the most challenging to eliminate on the mat. We live in a society where ideas, thoughts, words and other mental constructs rule the day. We are judged by our logic, our rational thoughts, our mental prowess. Yet, the mind is the barrier to an aikido that is fluid, dynamic, present and whole.
Is this what Musashi’s quote represents?
Do nothing which is of no use. The mind is much more likely on the mat to bring the action of doing – rather than the state of being. And in the mental action of doing comes the attachment that can hinder your aikido to develop beyond the technique, the physical.
Ironic is it not that the presence required for aikido to fully manifest arises when the mind resorts to observing, pure perception of sensations, of ki flowing, of ki coming and going, of your own position with respect to the earth and the others on the mat. While the instinct may lead one to believe that placing the mind at one point gives the body too much authority, experience on the mat illustrates that to the contrary, such a choice gives the body the relative importance it must have on the mat – one of harmonious partner, along with the mind and spirit. The mind, in harmony with the body and spirit, gives all their rightful place to perform aikido.
So, to do nothing which is of no use, could be interpreted not as not doing – but rather as just being – pure perception that only just being brings to the present moment.
… the past and the future are only sources for worry and anxiety …
~ Zen proverb
But what of the present? The pure present moment? When on the mat, time becomes a curse and a trap. We live in time, we breath and consume time. We reference unconsciously and consciously all actions, thoughts, events and moments against a continuum of time. But as many meta-physicists and others mystics have claimed, time is an illusion, a construct of the mind. Time is the frame within which past and future can exist – and therefore give it importance and influence which they ultimately do not have.
On the mat, past and future are often the most subtle of traps. The past entraps our mind to attach to techniques or ukes as a result of some past memory of moment or feelings that do not matter and cannot influence how we execute a technique at this very moment – at this infinitely small point which we call the present.
Similarly, the future entrains the mind to dream about the results, the impacts, the consequences – good or bad – that the execution of our technique might bring. But as with the past, which cannot influence or change what we do at the pure present moment, the future will not result uniquely from what we do in the pure present moment. Too many variables, factors, influences or unknowns have yet to manifest that will contribute to a moment yet to be experienced. Our decisions and choices in the pure present moment will have impact – but no more than a single grain of sand can have on the shape of a sea-shore – each grain contributes, but only together, with each grain absolute and whole, does the shore manifest.
The future, like the past, are illusions, products of an illusion called time. When we resolve to accept this illusion, and simply live and act from pure perception of the present moment, our aikido takes on a quality of lightness and presence – aikido without any and all attachment.
Past or future do not have to be that far away from the absolute present to set their trap. What is the past if not 2 days ago, 2 hours ago, 2 seconds or 0.2 seconds ago. What is the future if not 2 days from now, 2 hours from now, 2 seconds from now or 0.2 seconds from now. Consider that 0.2 seconds, either way, is already not the present moment. Only in the pure perception of the present moment can non-attachment be maintained. As soon as past or future are engaged, even fractions of a second either way, attachment begins, and the lightness and presence that is our aikido begins to suffer.
The one point that is your physical center is infinitely small, a point without volume, mass or space – an absolutely pure point of nothingness, within which ki can flow, come and go, and provide a core center from which to operate. Similarly, your one point is your temporal center – a point of infinitely small time – an absolutely pure point of nothingness, within which time is non-existent, and ki can flow, come and go, without any hindrance or mental attachment of where it has been or where it is going.
Aikido is pure perception in the present moment. Aikido is developing the ability to return to this center, this pure present moment. Returning quickly. Returning dependably. Returning and resting in the pure perception that is the present moment.
In closing, my interpretation of the quote below is that O’Sensei had developed his ability to return to the pure perception of the present moment to the point where most, if not all, could not detect that he had ever left his center – both physically and temporally.
My students think I’m always centered. I get off center as frequently as you do. I simply recognize it sooner and get back faster.