Archive

One Point

Aikido-: The word “aikido” is made up of three Japanese characters: AI; harmony, KI ; universal energy, DO ; the Way. So the proper definition for Aikido is “The way of harmony with universal energy.”

I recently finished reading the article Manage your Energy, not your Time, by Tony Schwartz and found myself drawing many parallels with my aikido practice, most notably with respect to how the four energy forms outlined by Schwartz overlapped and might in fact coincide with the four principles of aikido.

The four energy forms outlines by Schwartz included:

mental
physical
emotional
spiritual

In summary, Schwartz argues that the various energy forms are constantly in flux and our challenge is to seek a level of balance and harmony between them. Schwartz contends that if you manage your energy, your productivity and output significantly increases. He also contends that in this context, you don’t manage your time, since time is finite and limited. Your energy is for all intents and purposes, much more abundant, renewable and can be accessed once we know how to balance it.

In assessing Schwartz’s work, a question came to me: could the four forms of energy be in fact one energy taking four different forms? Could the energy that Schwartz was advocating we manage better be in fact one energy, the life energy, manifesting in four different ways? If so, there might be a way to represent Schwartz’s four forms of energy against the Aikido principles that provide the way to harmony of mind, body and spirit.

At Ryurei Aikido, the four principles developed by Koichi Tohei are extended to include a fifth principle in “detach from all”.  Again, the principles are:

keep one point
keep weight underside
relax completely
extend ki
detach from all

Through some reflections of my various moments on the mat when the ki was or was not flowing, and harmony was blocked by some issue with energy (ki), I’ve come up with the following proposed relationship between the Aikido principles and the four energy forms. I’ve observed that primary and secondary relationships may exist as well – in essence, each energy form is primarily associated with each Aikido principle, and an alternate energy is also associated, although on a secondary level.

As an example, keeping weight underside (Aikido principle #2) is primarily impacted by the balance of our physical energy. Poor physical energy may result in difficulties in manifesting keeping weight underside. Similarly, weakened spiritual energy may also interfere with achieving effective keeping weight underside.

Although I’ve observed in my own practice the blocking of energy leading to difficulties in manifesting certain principles, I’ve been much more intrigued by the opposite implication: that achieving one of the four principles (and hence all of them, since if you achieve one, you achieve them all) leads to a balance of the four energies. In other words, achieve harmony of mind, body and spirit through full manifestation of the four + one principles, and one can achieve harmony and balance of the four energies outlined by Schwartz. Interestingly, achieving the fifth principle – detach from all – may bring all four energies together at once – possible given that detachment from all in effect liberates us from all external factors, allowing internal energies of mind, body, spirit and heart (mental, physical, spiritual and emotional) to naturally fall into equilibrium.

Observe how your energies are harmonized during practice and note how each may or may not be impacted by your choice of principle, or vice versa, how the four + one Aikido principles bring one or more of the energies into a balanced state. I propose that you consider Aikido as the way of harmony not only with the energy of the universe, but the various forms that universal energy might take in our daily live. In that context, a further dimension of the impact of Aikido can be explored.

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

Be like a ball floating down a roaring river. Thrown about, sometimes taken by the undertow, maybe floating aimlessly, the ball never ceases but to float and respond to the moment, in a state of dynamic balance.

Some years ago, I read Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, and of the many ideas and lessons I took from the text, the one that stuck most with me was the idea of flowing like a ball along the earth. By imagining the hara as the center of the ball, I’ve come to see myself somedays on the mat as having a stable, relaxed core, surrounded by a dynamic shell of kI that can adapt to the moment and the motion of my center. By thinking, or even better, feeling, that my hara is always supported by some shell of Ki, I’ve recovered myself more than once in moments where balance or attention have waned.

More recently, I’ve taken the practice of envisioning myself as a ball floating down a roaring river. Unlike the hard earth, feeling like I’m floating is, for me, more like the feeling I frequently get when on the mat. There is a buoyancy that comes when the feeling if the one point is balanced upon the ground immediately below. As I’m pushed or pulled by Uke, I remain afloat, maybe sinking a bit, maybe bobbing, but always in a state of dynamic balance.

As a dynamic sphere floating on the torrents of the moment, I don’t worry about the big waves, the impending waterfall or the roaring rivers ahead. The feeling of being in dynamic balance is enough. At that point, technique emerges from the point of calmness and stillness, seeking to maintain and support this state of balance.

So next time you step onto the mat, or into the world, enjoy the feeling of the dynamic sphere and float.

“If one puts his mind in the action of his opponent’s body, his mind will be taken by the action of his opponent’s body. If he puts his mind in his opponent’s sword, his mind will be taken by that sword. If he puts his mind in thoughts of his opponent’s intention to strike him, his mind will be taken by thoughts of his opponent’s intention to strike him. If he puts his mind in his own sword, his mind will be taken by his own sword. If he puts his mind in his own intention of not being struck, his mind will be taken by his intention of not being struck. If he puts his mind in the other man’s stance, his mind will be taken by the other man’s stance. What this means is that there is no place to put the mind.”
-The Mysterious Record of Unmovable Wisdom
The Unfettered Mind, Takuan Sōhō

In the fifteenth century, a three-part treatise on Buddhist philosophy and martial arts was written by Takuan Sōhō, a Japanese monk of the Rinzai sect. The treatise was written as correspondence to Yagyū Munenori, inheritor to the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū school of swordsmanship. Given the relationship between Aikido and swordmanship, Takuan Sōhō’s work was a logical place to explore the possibly inspirations for Aikido,. More specifically, it was a place to seek guidance on how to deal with my own failings in grasping the first principle of “keeping one point”. Although the treatise is over 500 years old, it arguably provides valuable insights that can guide today’s Aikidoka in the pursuit of mastery and harmony.

The opening words above speak directly to the first of the five principles of Ryurei Aikido – keeping one point. We learn early on that if we get one principle, we get them all. As such, no single principle should dominate the others. Any of them is a door to the way of Aikido. Nonetheless, the first principle has been, at least for me, and I fathom to guess for others, an elusive principle to grasp and internalize in its truest sense.

Putting the mind at one point is, like all principles, both a mental and physical challenge. But putting the mind to one point has been, for me, like asking my mind to tell itself to sit down. As such, if it does not want to listen or cooperate…well…it can make for a long and sometimes frustrating session. Takuan Sōhō’s opening words emphasizes that letting the mind attach to anything such as thoughts and movements for example, will result in it being taken by that same thing – hence why the importance of keeping the mind at one point.

This is exactly how I perceived the principle for some time, and after some serious practice coercing and manipulating my mind to go the one point, I started to finally feel what it might take to keep the mind at one point. After all, the principle appears to be relatively straight forward – n’est ce pas?

Of course not. And Takuan Sōhō shines a light on why when he writes:

“If you consider putting your mind below your navel and not letting it wander, your mind will be taken by the mind that thinks of this plan. You will have no ability to move ahead and will exceptionally unfree”.

Unfree! Indeed, my mind was not feeling as free as I was thinking it should – so where do I put my mind now? Do I put it back to the attacker? Do I find myself a new Hara and put it there? Do I take up macramé? Then it struck me: what if I put my mind to the one point and forget about it – wait, that sounds exactly like something Sensei told me on repeated occasions. Ahhh…maybe that’s what he meant!

And so I reflected on all this and decided: what if I use “keeping one point” to simply remind the mind (or “re-mind” the mind) to go where it naturally needs and wants to go, where it is fully present and not distracted and scattered by the stimulus of the world. To assist, I attempted to apply to the first principle a Buddhist tenet I had studied for a few years: non-attachment (if it sounds like “detach from all”, you might be right). My practice of the first principle has consequently become the following: re-mind the mind to go to the one point then let the mind go free, not in a scattered way, but rather like the ripples across a quiet pond after a pebble falls in – fully detached from when the pebble went “plop”.

All this said, I also questioned why we choose the hara as the “one point”? For me, it is due to the critical importance of balance and centering in aikido, like in life in general, which makes the hara the natural place to begin – and to return to. So by re-minding myself constantly to go to the hara, at one point (yes, pun intended) I might find myself mindful enough to perform tankan or other Aikido movements with some refinement, or at the least perform daily tasks such as tying my shoes with a bit more mindfulness.

As for the 500 year-old teaching, Takuan Sōhō did speak quite clearly to the challenge of freeing the mind when he wrote:

“Well, then, where does one put his mind?” … “If you don’t put it anywhere, it will go to all parts of your body and extend throughout its entirety. In this way, when it enters your hand, it will realize the hand’s function. When it enters your foot, it will realize the foot’s function. When it enters your eye, it will realize the eye’s function.”

So don’t put the mind anywhere – and you may be one step closer to keeping one point. Just don’t get attached to not putting your mind anywhere…