Discovering Aïkido and Katsugen Undo, the Art of the Non-doing

What are Aïkido and the Regenerating Movement? How can we use them to live in daily life? Those are the sujects dealt with by Régis Soavi who was a direct disciple of Master Itsuo Tsuda,himself a student of Master Ueshiba and Master Noguchi. Article of Francesca Giomo.

About the Aïkido the only thing I knew was the name, before I was invited to take part in four sessions of practise of this « non-martial » art at the Scuola della Respirazione, Fioravanti Street in Milano.

The sessions for beginners were on mondays evenings at seven, with no theory at all, only practise. First one watched the technique being demonstrated by the more experienced students, then one « performed » it directly.

The Aïkido we’re going to talk about, the Aïkido I was introduced to, is that of Master Itsuo Tsuda, a student of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba. Régis Soavi is presently continuing the research started by Master Tsuda, teaching in several dojos in Europe, for example at the Scuola della Respirazione in Milano.Tsuda’s work, during his life-time, also included the Regenerating Movement ( Katsugen undo ), devised by Haruchika Noguchi, which is also practised, besides Aïkido, at the dojo in Milano.Those are the two practises Régis Soavi tells us about in the interview that follows.

– What is Aïkido? Can it be defined as a martial art?

L’Aïkido is a non-martial art. The origin of Aïkido is in fact a martial art called Ju Jitsu. Master Ueshiba’s vision transformed this martial art into an art of harmony and fusion between persons. That is why we no longer have a martial art as was originally the case, but a non-martial art.

– So, it was Master Ueshiba who created Aïkido?

Yes, it was Ueshiba, who died in 1969. But an important fact to be aware of is that at the basis of Aïkido there was Ju Jitsu, because then you understand how Ueshiba changed the spirit of it, with Aïkido. Aï-ki-do means way (do) of the harmony (aï) of Ki, way of the fusion of Ki. The direction he took in fact transformed a martial art into something else. In Aïkido, one cannot, for example, talk about defending oneself, but rather about fusing.

– Ueshiba is the founder of Aïkido, but the teaching at the Scuola della Respirazione refers to Master Tsuda.

Yes, Tsuda died in 1984. Through his books, he passed on Ueshiba’s message: Ueshiba was Tsuda’s master for ten years, just as Tsuda was mine later.After Ueshiba’s death, different Aïkido schools developed. Some of them chose to go back to a Ju Jitsu type of martial art, others have turned Aïkido into a sport. We are seeking to understand what Ueshiba actually said.

– Master Tsuda met Master Ueshiba rather late in life. Did he practise any martial arts before that?

Tsuda was an intellectual. He had never practised any martial arts. He had studied in France with Marcel Granet and Marcel Mauss, he was interested in Ki. He started his research in that direction and first discovered Katsugen Undo, then later Aïkido. Thanks to Ueshiba, Tsuda saw how one could use Ki in a martial art. He was forty-five when he started, without ever having done any karate or judo or any other martial art before.

– It is not easy for a westerner to understand what Ki is

Everybody talks about it nowadays. Just think of Taï Chi Chuan, Qi Qong… Everybody knows about it from a mental point of view, yet very few people have a physical experience of it. But that is something you cannot explain. It’s up to everyone to feel it, there is no explanation for it. We are not interested in explaining what Ki is, what we’re interested in is only the way to use it. It’s a bit like explaining what love is. Nowadays, one can analyse the smell of women, that of men etc… But that isn’t enough, otherwise it means we’re only animals… One cannot explain love, love is the meeting of two human beings and it doesn’t happen because the man has a beard, etc…etc… It is also like that with Ki.

– Since we’re talking about the practise of Aïkido, what are the different moments of a session?

An Aïkido session is a special moment in the day. I practise everyday, there is a sacred aspect one can retrieve in that. At the beginning of the session, there are ritual gestures: it is not important to know what they mean, but it is essential to make them, it brings about something. Also there is the norito (a text of shintoist origin recited in Japanese) which is a recitation of purification. Nobody knows what the words mean, but when the recitation is good, there is a vibration in it which is active.This may seem very mystical. But if someone listens to lieder by Schubert, for example, sung by a good singer, and doesn’t know German, he doesn’t understand anything, but as he listens to the singing, something sad or something cheerful happens, it produces an effect. It is the same if you attend a No theatre performance, you don’t understand anything, it’s in Japanese, but the gestures and the movements create effects. And this is not mystical but real.

– When we watched the part of the session towards the end, when free movement is done, the succession of attacks and « fusions » made me feel as if we were watching an improvisation.

Yes, it was in fact an improvisation.

– Does one need a particular technique to do the free movement?

Even though it is an improvisation, there are gestures which are a bit like a ritual. You cannot attack at random, but, in a way, it depends on your partner’s posture, let us put it that way.The « attacker’ »s gestures correspond with the posture of the person he is « attacking ». But in the case of an improvisation, as when musicians improvise together, there is always a harmony, otherwise it generates chaos. So one goes beyond technique and one creates harmony. Everybody can do it. Everyone does it at his own level. One does it more slowly at the beginning, with a technique one knows. One doesn’t invent anything completely new.

– What is the significance of respiration in Aïkido?

When talking about respiration in this context, it is Ki we’re talking about. One mustn’t think in terms of respiration through the lungs. It’s a respiration of the body that enables you to be more in harmony. When one is acting it’s expiration, when one is receiving it’s inspiration. When one starts practising, the pulmonary respiration becomes more ample. The whole body is breathing and becomes more elastic and supple, Ki flows more easily. In that sense, respiration helps making people more supple, it helps finding a rythm in the practise, because if someone is not breathing correctly, after five minutes he has no strength left. That is why one practises slowly at the beginning of sessions, to allow for the harmonization of gestures through respiration. So gestures become harmonized through respiration.

-At the beginning of the session, the master breathes in a very particular, very strong way, what does this correspond to exactly?

This type of respiration is done to breathe out completely, to empty. There is a very common and widespread deformation as far as respiration is concerned. In fact people nowadays have a tendency always to retain a little air, they don’t breathe fully. They hold their breath so as to be always ready to defend themselves, to act in reply. In the end, as they are never really empty, their respiration cannot be deep and their breath is short. So at the beginning of the session one first lets out all the air, in that way thoughts also come out. They become empty, new.

-On what does Aïkido have an action from a physical point of view? What sort of muscular response does it require from the body?

It’s the same as in daily life, normally you use all your muscles, in Aïkido also. It is true, though, that some Aïkido schools have been trying to make the body become stronger. Our School doesn’t want to do that. We do not want to become stronger, only less weak. The muscles don’t have to become stronger to do something special. In Aïkido, one moves normally and one makes everyday life movements such as running, turning, normal gestures which, however, are done with a special attention.

-Is it possible to transfer this « special attention » to one’s own daily life?

Of course, otherwise Aïkido is useless. Some people come here to become stronger, to defend themselves, but no. Aïkido is there to make people more sensitive, and therefore it is useful in daily life. One regains a certain suppleness. If the respiration was too short and high before, it gradually becomes calmer. Something that helps you in your relationships with children, at work… That is where Aïkido really is useful, in daily life.

– You always practise very early in the morning, why is that?

As far as I am concerned, in the Itsuo Tsuda School, I practise early in the morning but not all those who practise Aïkido do the same. I like the morning best because then one is more in the dimension of the involuntary, in a condition which enables the body to wake up and to prepare for the day.

– At the Scuola della Respirazione one also practises Katsugen Undo, the Regenerating Movement. What are its origins?

It was a discovery Master Noguchi made. At the beginning, Noguchi was a healer. He used to pass on Ki to people so that they would get better. But at one time he discovered that the human being’s capacity to cure itself was something inborn, which, however, wasn’t functioning any more, or not so well. It was Noguchi who discovered that when one does Yuki, that is to say one passes on Ki through the hands, people’s bodies move all by themselves and this enables the body to restore its balance. Noguchi therefore found that some movements enable the body to awaken its capacity to cure itself. This discovery gave birth to the Regenerating Movement or Katsugen Undo, an exercise which enables the body to rouse capacities it doesn’t know it has.
Tsuda introduced the Regenerating Movement in France and I took an interest in it because I found the connection there is between Aïkido and the Regenerating Movement. I realized the existence of such links, by the fact that when the body is healthy and retrieves its capacities, Aïkido cannot go in the direction of fighting other people any longer, on the contrary the desire to act in such a way disappears. So, the Regenerating Movement is very important, in my opinion it is difficult to practise Aïkido in our school without knowing it.

– The only way to start practising the Regenerating Movement is to come to one of the seminars you hold every other month?

During seminars, I give talks, I explain and I show the « techniques » which allow one to get into the state where the movement may occur. I come again every other month so that the persons who practise regularly may continue on the « right path ». A lot of people may very easily deviate, perhaps because in the Regenerating Movement there is in fact nothing to do, just be there, close your eyes, empty your head. Some people think it’s better to have music during sessions etc, etc… But the path is what is the most simple.

– Is the Regenerating Movement something we already have, but have forgotten about?

Not really. The Regenerating Movement is a normal human activity, what we have forgotten is letting our body live all by itself. We have lost faith in our own body, in our capacities, as if after a traumatic experience. The Regenerating Movement enables one to retrieve all that: if before there were things I couldn’t do, now I can do them. I have only trained my capacity for action, nothing else. It’s a capacity of the extrapyramidal motor system, the involuntary system. When trained, it regains its ability to restore its own balance. That is the capacity we already have. Even people who don’t practise the Regenerating Movement know how to regain their own balance: someone who is tired goes to bed, and while he is asleep, his body moves, that is the body’s capacity to restore its balance. The Regenerating Movement is something everybody still has a little, but the capacity to let the movement occur weakens and, by training the extrapyramidal, one retrieves it.

– What is the extrapyramidal motor system?

It is the involuntary system, which allows the body to restore its balance. But the Regenerating Movement also has an action on the immune system, which does not depend on the extrapyramidal system but is also an involuntary faculty of the body.
Our body’s movement isn’t something we can learn, we can only discover it and accept it. The Regenerating Movement has an action on many things, for example the capacity to maintain body temperature, but it’s different for each person, no movement is identical to another, no reaction to another, because each person is different.

-Dealing with people he doen’t know, the master needs to have a special sensibility to understand which movement each participant needs to do?

No, because the master cannot do the movement for the « student », the movement is something spontaneous, so everybody has to find his own movement. The training of the involuntary system must, to start with, give a free hand to the involuntary. So, during the seminar, I explain, I show exercises, I just do « Yuki ». I may sometimes help someone empty his head thanks to a few technique, but then the movement occurs all by itself. It’s the same thing as when a person is scratching, she knows where and how to do it, without anybody telling her anything.

– What does Yuki and doing Yuki mean?

Yuki means « joyful Ki » and to do Yuki is « to pass on joyful Ki », but that is an interpretation… To do it, you lay your hands on the other person’s body.

– We are talking about restoring the body’s balance, but the Regenerating Movement isn’t a therapy, but exercises which allow for something to wake up…

Yes, because a therapy implies that one is concerned with the symptom of the illness and that one is taking a responsability regarding that. It isn’t the case here. Here we just let the body do what it has to do. If people have problems and need something, one can do yuki and this rouses the capacity of the rest of the body. So it isn’t a therapy. There are therapeutic consequences, we can say that.

– Can anybody practise the Regenerating Movement?

No. It is not recommended to people who have had transplants, because if a person has had transplants, it means she has in her body a part coming from somebody else. With the practise of the Regenerating Movement, her body will tend to reject that part which doesn’t belong to it. In fact, people with transplants must take medicines so that their bodies accept the foreign element. The Regenerating Movement activates the body’s capacities to restore its balance, so it works in the direction of expelling any foreign element. It may be allright, though, if the transplant comes from the person’s own body, for example if skin has been taken from one part of a person’s body to another. We also refuse people taking very strong medicines, like cortisone etc… because this type of medicine goes towards desensibilizing the persons, whereas the Regenerating Movement makes them retrieve a more vivid sensitivity.

– How many years do you need to practise to conduct a Regenerating Movement session?

Talking about years doesn’t mean anything. It is the practitioners themselves who conduct the sessions. One year of practise is enough. Of course the respiration of the person who conducts the session must be calm enough, and she must be in the right state of mind, warm, simple, not disturbing for the others. In fact, it is only the practitioners’ involuntary which is at work.

-Aren’t there things that may happen during a session, on an emotive level, coming from the most fragile persons?

Nothing of the sort happens, because one finds out that the Regenerating Movement is really something natural. It would be like saying that someone who is scratching an itch is making himself bleed. People have tensions inside themselves but the Regenerating Movement doesn’t make them come out, it makes them melt. If something has no reason to be there any more, it just melts.

-To allow the Regenerating Movement to occur, one must first free one’s head from thoughts, have a blank mind, but how does that come about?

To empty your head, you first drop the thoughts that come into your mind. An empty mind means that if there are thoughts, they go away. The mind needs to be active in any case, but the thoughts are not important. At the beginning it’s a bit difficult, but after some time, you don’t worry about that any more and gradually everything goes without saying.

Article of Francesca Giomo, published in the webzine « Terranauta » on 04/01/2006.

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