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Relax Completely

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

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

… perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away …

~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry

During a recent session, I was given the opportunity to work with Sensei for the whole of my session. At first it was intimidating, because Sensei is so well versed in the Art. But then it became evident that this was a chance to explore an idea I’ve been wondering about for some time – that coordination of mind, body and spirit is always with us – and that it is our habits and conditioning that overwhelm and obscure our awareness. In essence, the art of aikido is in us all – and what we learn is to remove the pieces that obstruct or block us in achieving the state of coordination and harmony.

It was during a particularly difficult segment attempting to simply stand in coordination of mind, body and spirit that the awareness of coordination was fleeting and coming and going – like a golf ball floating on water – mostly underwater with some occasional surfacing if the waves and conditions enable it. At that moment, the frustration was palatable because I could not get the state of coordination of mind, body and spirit to “stick”. The harder I tried to make it happen, the more the state of coordination just faded away. I kept trying to learn and “do” coordination – to no avail.

It was at that point that Sensei said “let’s try something else” – sitting. The simple act of sitting rather than standing opened up a space where for a brief moment, the thought of “taking away the pieces” came to mind. And so the next few minutes were followed by a state of coordination of mind, body and spirit that I’ve not experience before – calm, steady and relaxed – I wondered if this is what is referred to by some as heijoshin?

The biggest discovery at this moment was that harmony and coordination felt like it was always there –  all I needed to do was to remove what was in the way. In essence, to unlearn rather than learn was the mindset I found myself in – the need to undo, remove and simplify.

As such, my practice experienced what George Leonard would say was a “breakthrough”, as outlined in his wonderful book Mastery. It is after relentless effort and dedication that unexpected moments emerge when the simplest yet most wonderful lessons manifest. Lessons that are more about awakening and discovering what is already there, rather than thinking more needs to be added.

Thank you Sensei for the great session.