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Ki Aikido

The following is fully inspired by, and heavily borrowed from, the 5 principles of a profound workday, courtesy of Leo Babauta. I highly recommend Leo’s words for inspiration and solace.

‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ ~Laozi

The Profound Visit to the Dojo

1. Empty: In Silence and Solitude. When your mind is full, you have no room for change. When your thoughts are full of noise, you have no space to think.

Empty your mind. When you have an empty mind, you can fill it with anything. Only with this emptiness can you create something truly different.

Clear your thoughts. Find space for silence and solitude. With this space you’ll be free, free to see the truth, to create beauty.

2. Slow and Mindful. Rushing paradoxically leaves us with less time — speed means we don’t pay attention, and so the moments on the mat disappear rapidly and leave us before we notice.

Slow down, and pay attention. You’ll be able to focus on your movements more, and though you’ll do less, you’re technique will be more profound.

Be mindful of every movement, small or large. Enjoy every motion.

3. Profoundly Creative. Don’t use the gift of your visit to the mat for mindless repetitive tasks. Don’t end the visit with nothing to show for your work.

Start each visit by creating. Make the space at the beginning of your visit to the mat to create, before you get lost in rushing, urgency, or the desire to see the end of the class.

Create something amazing. Delight your Sensei and your ukes. Leave them amazed, wanting to not end the session. for you.

4. Simplified. The principles for a profound visit to the dojo might seem difficult to most people, because there just isn’t the instinct or desire to do less. The only way to create this type of visit to the dojo is to simplify.

It’s the key to everything else. Subtract. Pare everything down to its essence.

What’s on your mind right now? What are the principles that actually need to be present in your practice? Remove everything else.

What do you do every time you visit the dojo? How many of those things can be eventually pared down? Be simplified?

Simplify, and you’ll be able to find emptiness, solitude, silence, slowness, and mindfulness in your practice.

5. Flexible and Natural. This type of visit to the dojo might start to sound rigid, but in truth when you create space you also allow yourself the flexibility to deal in the moment with any change, any attack.

The natural flow of things is change, and if we are rigid we aren’t able to deal with changes. We become frustrated, anxious, angry, flustered.

If instead we have no expectations of what will happen each visit, and deal with changes as they come, we let go of that frustration and anxiety.

Be open to whatever happens. Be flexible. Deal with change as it happens, and you’ll find true profoundness doesn’t come from within us, or from external sources, but in the space between the two.

It comes from the eternal space between all things.

It comes from the universal Ki.

‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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trust in ki, in fewer words…

have trust in inviting and extending ki
the way you trust gravity will make the glass fall if you let it go
do not stop to confirm if ki is available
the way you do not stop to confirm if gravity is available
you trust gravity is available
the way you know ki is available
you have known this since you can breath
know it so much that you no longer think about it
know it so much that you trust that it is always there
so should it be with ki

– dan

Early on in my study of aikido, I had the opportunity to study with an aikikai school in Montreal. I found the two years a good experience but was left disappointed in that I did not feel like I was connecting with the subject matter per se. I’m not sure if it was the school or me. At the time, I was convinced it was the school. But reflecting on those moments, I’m sure it was more the lack of fit between my own journey and the school’s approach to teaching.

And so I spent the following years researching and reading – turning my practice into a study of philosophy rather than one of pins and rolls. It was in that period that I read Steven’s the philosophy of aikido.

In those pages I’ve found the most inspirational and insightful quote to impact my life: masakatsu agatsu, katsu ayami … True victory is self victory.

Stevens states that this was the answer O Sensei quoted every time he was asked the purpose of aikido. At first, I found the answer a bit simplistic, but as I’ve studied over the years, and read other texts, references and books of wisdom, I’ve found myself coming back to this quote, and finding it more profound and deep.

Today, it is felt in my body, and not understood in the intellectual sense. It resonates with the moments when I am fully present and when I am fully aware. As I take my practice forward, I find myself focusing more and more on these few words, and continue to better appreciate what O Sensei implied in his response.

A perfect example of simple, but not easy.

To close today, another wise person also expressed what I believe was the same essence when he stated:

… a person knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, then he has done something real for the world. he has succeeded in removing an infinitesimal part of the unsolved gigantic problems of our day …

~ C.J. Jung

I recently read “this is aikido” by Koichi Tohei, and was struck by one portion where he wrote about the relevance of the four principles to one’s state of mind and the behaviors anchored by each of the principles. Although simple to list, I find a resonance between the principles and the challenges I sometimes face on the mat, or off it. For example, when not feeling positive, extending Ki appears to bring a positive mindset quickly to the fore. Keeping weight underside is hugely helpful when there are tough decisions to make at the office or at home. Relaxing completely makes me open and receptive to ideas or thoughts that may not at first glance align with my values and principles. And keeping one point appears to keep one’s mind focused and in the moment.

In summary, from this is aikido by Koichi Tohei :

keep one point

unity of mind

immovable mind

extend ki

positive mind

power of will

keep weight underside

calmness

judgement

relax completely

tolerance

composure

I was doing my typical Saturday morning websurfing when I came across this recent article by Cyril Landise of Chicago (from the US Aikido Federation website). I think you might find it interesting – for me, it really resonated (as you can guess), notably the statement:

“Nonetheless, as a recovering engineer myself, I recognize that there are among us,
some left-brain, linear thinking, yang types of people who have a need to talk about their
training and put the bits learned into neat conceptual boxes.”

…sounds familiar…? Some other interesting statement includes:

“The strength of an attacker who can’t find a target is also irrelevant.”

Very interesting is his discussion on the difference between “hard” and “soft” styles of Aikido – I found his story of evolving from hard to soft style very revealing in regards to how we study Shinkido as a basis for Ryurei Aikido – in effect, creating a foundation for an effective, “soft” style. Some comments include:

“Sometimes I feel as if I spent the first 10 years of my training learning to develop power, and the next 20 years learning how to not use it.”

“The late Kisaburu Osawa Sensei was renowned for his “ki no nagare” or “flowing ki
style” of Aikido. Jo Birdsong Sensei from Austin, Texas tells the story that Osawa Sensei
explained to him that he wished he had started developing the soft style earlier in his career.
He said that it was much more difficult to master than the hard style he studied in his youth
and he would have liked more time to develop it.”

“Now that I find the passing decades limiting my available resources, I think I more
clearly understand the power of ki no nagare. As a younger man however, I wasn’t ready to
exercise the discipline it requires.”

…the discipline it requires…I don’t think you could say it any better…

Might be a good reference piece for present or future “recovering engineers” coming to the dojo, or maybe just normal “non-engineering” types as well 😉 Enjoy!