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Zanshin, the spirit of the ordinary

By Manon Soavi

As an Aikido teacher, as well as a pianist, I went across the notion of Zanshin through several experiences along my path. When I started studying several koryus fifteen years ago (Bushuden Kiraku Ryu, Niten Ichi Ryu, Choku Yushin Ryu, and some Shinkage Ryu), I also went deeper into this notion when working with weapons, by handling a sword, a bō, a kusarigama, or even unarmed through the many jujitsu katas which are part of these ancient schools.
Though I probably still have a long way to go in martial arts, I wish to share here some thoughts on the topic.

I notice that one of the current human contradictions is our fascination for the external force that goes along with our contempt for the sensitivity and the sensations of our body which we relegate to the level of sentimentalism. Paradoxically, our Western way of life has never been so easy, with so few physical efforts to make, and our ancestors were probably more able to endure walking, cold or even pain, given there were not as many means to take charge of the slightest of their pains, or to assist the slightest of their efforts. Yet did they lack sensitivity? I don’t think they did, because the capacity to feel before thinking has always been essential to live and Zanshin, from my experience, is above all a matter of sensation and presence at the present moment.

Zanshin can be translated as dwelling or remaining spirit but for Eastern cultures the body and the spirit are not two separate things. This « remaining spirit » corresponds to a precise sensation, and it is this sensation that guides us in its application regardless of the discipline one practises. These sensations are specific either to the one who acts or to the one who receives. Zanshin is a sensation and at the same time it is a state that we (re)discover.

Historically principles such as Zanshin, Mushin, etc., refer less to ideas than to realities that have been experienced by generations of people. They bring us back to direct, real experiences, which, in order to be passed on, have been « conceptualised ». We are therefore talking about an act or a state we can recover, despite our differences of times and cultures. They are not great principles gone with Samurais and their time, not even principles restricted to martial arts. They are principles that pervade the whole culture, especially the Japanese culture, but also and above all the Chinese culture.

Manon Soavi Zanshin, l'esprit de l'ordinaire

The image: an eye-opener

Ancient Chinese would teach through images, evocations that were to give rise, that were to reveal, within the heart of the apprentice, a sensation that would guide him/her towards the understanding of the core of the master’s teaching. A physical understanding since it was about calling on a real experience that the apprentice would be able to share. They would mainly use nature to reveal the sensation, for observing nature was at that time a life experience shared by all. Yet we also find this way of transmitting in Western arts. Like in music for instance, because beyond some basic advice, the gesture of a musician cannot be transmitted nor intellectually understood.

What makes the difference between a beginner who presses a piano key and the master who plays the first note of a sonata ? It is objectively the same key and the same mechanism to strike the string. Yet the two sounds will be completely different. It’s the master’s sensitivity that will make the difference. Hence, year after year, the apprentice will seek how to make his/her instrument resonate differently, and the master will seek how to awaken in the apprentice the sensation he [the master] has inside himself. That is why some masters use evocative words, they speak of playing « at the bottom » or of « kneading » the keyboard, which objectively does not mean anything at all! All these images call on our inner resources, to retranscribe onto wood and strings an inner sensation and so that this sensation would be, in addition, shared by the listener. This is where we touch on the fusion of sensitivity that allows us to feel what happens inside the other person, it is a transmission from sensitivity to sensitivity. Like a Zanshin that will be right, genuine, only if both persons can feel it.

Then, beyond what we objectively know about what « Zanshin » means, I find interesting to search inside ourselves which experiences we can relate this principle to. How to make it concrete for us.

Manon Soavi Zanshin, l'esprit de l'ordinaire

The spirit of the ordinary

During the years I have worked as a musician, sometimes I have been in a state that I liken to Zanshin. When I played with other musicians and singers I had to be both totally receptive to what happened outside, to the other musicians, and at the same time concentrated on my own gestures to play my piano part. Uncertainties of a live concert are such that I could not count on the fact that everything would go as planned. This never happens, no matter how one is prepared, being on stage is a unique experience. Preparation aims at reducing as much as possible the unexpected but absolutely not at removing it. One has then to react instantly, to stick as close as possible [to what is happening] for harmony to keep on going. To be hyper-vigilant and at the same time to keep a vague concentration, because as soon as I would focus on a single part I would lose the whole. This sentence by Musashi perfectly summarizes this state for me: « In the daily life as well as in strategy, one must have an ample spirit and keep it straight, not too tense and never loose. » (1)

Musashi also said that the ordinary spirit must be the one of the fight, and that the fighting spirit must be the one of the ordinary (2). Yet one cannot always be on guard, hence the fighting spirit does not mean being « on guard », it means something different… We may also suspect that this state of mind is very far from the apathy that we very often come across today. The translation of Zanshin by « remaining mind » might give us a hint, more than the somehow reductive idea of vigilance.

Even though today only a few of us encounter « real fighting », we all face the many little « ordinary fights » in our daily lives. And sometimes « Zanshin » can pop up there too. This happened to me during some unpleasant experiences I’ve had. I remember once when, trapped in a festival during several days, in a small village, all female participants were embarrassed and worried because the person in charge of the workshop, a renowned violinist and professor, would put his hands on them in an inappropriate manner. I was then twenty-one and between lessons and rehearsals, the girls would talk to each other about these very awkward moments and would fear them. During a common meal, the professor started walking along the table, passing behind each of them to give the day rehearsal schedule. I could see him approaching, dispensing caresses in the hair or on the shoulders, little equivocal jokes etc., and I could see with dismay the girls lowering down their heads and waiting for the inevitable as he passed by, or laughing with a tight laugh. It was for me inconceivable not to do something whatever, so I looked at him coming up to me, not knowing what I would do, and before he passed behind me I turned to him and looked at him right into his eyes while talking about the schedule. I know that at that moment my eyes were saying « No ». He stopped and did not touch me. During all the workshop I remained present, without ever being opened to it. He never touched me.

This did not happen with only one man, several teachers and other drunk boys understood they’d better stay away from me. Yet what would I have done? I don’t know. In all these little situations that happened to me, what always struck me is that everything was very predictable and it was in the end relatively simple to hold them on bay, it was « just » about being there and listening to this sensation of danger that reaches us before anything happens. Of course things would have been different in case of a more serious aggression, that’s a different topic, but we also come across a lot of these « small » aggressions which, if we endure them, being unable to react, will leave an imprint in our heart and in our bodies.

Manon Soavi Zanshin, l'esprit de l'ordinaire

Being influenced

My Aikido work since childhood, as a path – a search – towards harmonizing with others, has helped me, I am certain of it, to go through hard times, as it has helped me to work in symbiosis with other musicians. Because our way to interact with others, either negatively or positively, is determined by our inner attitude. The fact of not fighting against the influence of the other person, would he/she be a musician or an attacker, is decisive. The fact of understanding for the two of us.
Chinen Kenyū Sensei expresses it with his words: « The technique is uke [receive], the spirit is attack. […] When one has mastered the principle of uke, there is no longer any attack or defense. Uke is beyond this duality, and this has a profound impact on our being. […] When one is at ease with facing any attack, one develops a self-assurance that allows one to welcome everything, to face anything. » (3)

In our life, quite often to defend ourselves, we refuse to be influenced by the other person, yet by doing so we, de facto, close the only channel that allows us to feel and act according to what the other person does: our sensitivity. It is this sensitivity that enables us to feel the other person. Being in the attitude not to refuse the other person, accepting his/her influence does not mean being submitted to it. Absolutely not. Canceling the difference between oneself and the other person and thereby allowing fusion – if he/she moves, I move, because we are but one. There is no longer any action-response. There is One. Basically it’s the same thing, whether sensing what a baby who cannot yet express itself needs, sensing the bad intentions of a person or sensing when the singer will start.
Tsuda Sensei wrote: « Even if we understand and accept Aikido as a means of communion with the Universe, it will be purely on the spiritual plane. As soon as it is faced with real difficulties, the mind gives way to petty aggression. » (4)

While being maybe very far from the capacities of these masters, we can practise following that direction and this can be useful for our lives. In order to work in the spirit of communion the first step is to let go. If one has the head full of fears, beliefs, if one is confused then we no longer can expect the right action to spring out from our very depths. This genuine action that the Chinese call Wuwei – non-action. We search for the exit in all directions, we try to defend ourselves, we refuse the other so to escape him/her but we bump into the wall. Fukuoka Sensei used to say about the theoretical search for a genuine nutrition: « As long as you hope to find a bright world at the end of the tunnel, the darkness of the tunnel will last as much longer. If one no longer looks for what has a pleasant taste, one can taste the real flavor of everything one eats. » (5)

Zanshin, remaining spirit, is also a fine perception of reality that connects with the principle of yomi. We all think we see the reality, but actually quite often what we see is our interpretation of what surrounds us. Either – too naive – we lack vigilance, or – too damaged, traumatized –, we end up hyper-suspicious. And we become agressive. But whether the defensive spikes of our personal armours are turned towards ourselves or towards the others, the result will be wound and pain. And this does’nt enable us to live fully too. With an art such as Aikido or ancient koryus, by putting ourselves into situation, by allowing ourselves to overcome our fears, this can help us to rediscover that we are not that weak.

Then we will discover a different way to adapt ourselves to reality which no longer means being overwhelmed by it. This is something that can be found in other arts, I find something of Zanshin in this sentence by Rikyû, master of chanoyu (6) from the 16th century, which one day answered to his disciple:
« Make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so that it heats the water; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in summer suggest coolness, in winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain ». (7)

Manon Soavi

Notes

1. Kenji Tokitsu, Miyamoto Musashi, Rouleau de l’eau [Water scroll], p. 53, Édition Désiris 1998
2. ibid.
3. Magazine Yashima n° 4 May 2019 Chinen Kenyū, au cœur des traditions d’Okinawa [Chinen Kenyū, at the heart of Okinawa’s traditions], p. 26
4. Itsuo Tsuda, The Science of the Particular, p 141, Yume Editions
5. Masanobu Fukuoka La révolution d’un brin de paille [The revolution of a strand of straw], p. 150, Trédaniel Éditeur 1978
6. Chanoyu improperly translated by ‘tea ceremony’, literally ‘tea hot water’ .
7. Soshitsu Sen, Tea life, tea mind, p. 31 Weatherhill Inc, 1979

Zanshin, a natural state of the body

By Régis Soavi

If we translate Zanshin by « sustaining attention after a fight or after a technique », even if we remain within the martial tradition we remain short of its profound meaning.

Tenshin: the heart of heaven

In the term Zanshin there are two Kanji: 残 (càn or zan), what remains, the residue, and 心 (Shin or Kokoro). If the meaning of the latter is known by all Aikidokas, it still seems to me necessary to specify its value because it corresponds to what we can rely upon to find the path towards fullness in life. For Itsuo Tsuda Senseï, a phrase reflected and animated the practices he proposed, both Aikido and Katsugen undo. This phrase – Tenshin  – he had translated it by « the heart of pure heaven ». He writes: « The word kokoro which I translated by ‘heart’ has the same etymology as the latter: the central organ of the circulatory system. Yet, its acceptation is totally different. The ‘heart’ in French is rather the feeling, while the kokoro in Japanese is neither quite the feeling, nor the spirit, nor the thought. It is something we feel inside ourselves, it rather comes close to the English mind. If we translate it by mental or psychic, it will again be different. The search for a kokoro that remains imperturbable before an imminent danger, which stays calm in any circumstances, is the key aim imposed on those who attempt to achieve perfection, in the craft of weapons. »(1) « Your spirit has to be free from any thought, good or bad. This state of soul is compared to pure Heaven – Tenshin »

Aikido: re-learning freedom

As soon as we step upon the Tatami floor, concentration arises. A simple salute towards the Tokonoma suffices for our body to react, to leave this state that could be described as day-to-day to enter the very particular state of Zanshin. It is fundamentally a natural state, a state where our biological animality (in the best sense of the word) arises again. All the tradition that we have been given by O Sensei and that has been transmitted to us by his direct student Tsuda Sensei is essential to understand this. It is in the way we perform exercises such as the vibration of the soul, the rowing exercise and many others – often wrongly equated with a warm-up – that we become aware of their importance. It is all the attention given to breathing that allows us to sense, at the physiological level, the circulation of Ki and that summons us back towards this state of concentration that Zanshin is. All this first part of an ordinary session in our school has been designed to bring us, to take us beyond ourselves, beyond what we have quite often become – an ordinary fellow of our society. Immediately, if we are attentive enough, we can feel its effects. We move on the Tatamis in a profoundly different way, what we feel, our perception of the other, of others, becomes at the same time sharper and more pronounced, wider and lighter. It is day after day, by immersing into this atmosphere, that we can both relearn the freedom of moving, a first step towards inner freedom, and feel our space, our spaces. Recovering the sensation of how the forces that surround us are positioned, discovering or rediscovering that nothing is finished, nor concluded, but that everything is connected, that Zanshin is a moment of an eternity that runs its course in all directions.

Daily life: an eye-opener

Without us being aware of it, without us acting in a voluntary manner, our body constantly reacts to the many aggressions from our environment that we undergo everyday. Whether these attacks come from bacteria, viruses or more simply the quality of our nutrition, our body responds in an adequate manner thanks to its immune system, its digestive system or any other system according to the dysfunction at stake. The body’s response, if the terrain is good, if our immune system is well awake for instance, is not limited to a few skirmishes here and there, the mobilization of the body is total and the fight can sometimes be of great violence. Once the fight is over the body does not put itself at rest immediately, it does not go back to sleep once the danger has gone (something our mental, on the contrary, would have perfectly admitted). Our involuntary system does not loosen its attention, eliminating up to the last bacterium, to the last virus or immobilizing, blocking them so that they become harmless. And even then it is not over yet, the body remains vigilant, keeping an eye on everything that happens, serene but attentive to the least movement of the aggressors, whatever and whoever they are. This spirit is the state of the natural and involuntary Zanshin of a body that reacts healthily and therefore the state of the exact opposite of an apathetic body. When all is really over, life somehow resumes its natural course. It is essential to facilitate that this work inside our body can be done with complete peace of mind without being frightened by the slightest pain or disturbing reaction. For who approaches for the first time a martial art – and in particular Aikido –, the aims are often many, and range from the need of moving to that of defending oneself, through all possible variants, real or fantasized. The discovery of Zanshin constitutes an integral part of Aikido teaching, and its deep understanding as well as its extension to our entire life sphere brings a greater tranquility when facing unpredictable events and allows one to live every day more fully. For it is eventually in day-to-day life that the usefulness of the practice can be experienced and appraised. Without being utilitarian it is always pleasant to see and verify what it brings us in our daily life. There cannot be real attention, concentration, nor pleasure in the achievement of some work without – even though we are not aware of it – the state of presence that we call Zanshin.

Circles in water

When the child throws a stone into the so peaceful water of a little pond, s/he stays watching the concentric circles s/he has created that spread and extend from the center. If s/he has kept her/his profound nature, if it has not been destroyed by adults, parents, educators or teachers, who attempt to explain her/him the scientific rationale beyond the phenomenon or who, pressed for their so precious time, give little importance indeed to this little insignificant game, then, immobile, contemplative but deeply concentrated, the child waits until the circles fade away, until their initial liveliness, while lessening more and more, becomes no longer recognizable, becomes one with the natural movement of the simmering water, slightly nudged by the wind. This so precious moment is also Zanshin, it is an instant that could even be considered as sacred, where the child’s Kokoro quietens down, when s/he recovers her/his primordial nature, her/his true nature.

School, or how to break this natural state

The entire school education aims to equip children with weapons for the future. Though the idea looks nice on paper, reality is completely different. The grading system, whether with figures (Translator’s note : In France, grades range from 0 to 10 or 20, letters are not in use.) or letters such as in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, generates fear, indeed anguish – always concern – and produces, in fact, more damage than benefits. In this case we do not work for the pleasure of discovering nor even for a concrete result but for a grade, an assessment, that are supposed to reflect our level in the system. Yet, for a century, countless pedagogy experts have denounced the harm done by this type of schooling system and mode of education. At the total opposite of the state of Zanshin one is waiting for the verdict, the result of the written exercise, test, or exam. Instead of developing the physical or intellectual capacities of the child, we transform her/him into a scared being or later a rebel who only aspires to get out of the system in which s/he is trapped, to breathe if only a little more freely. The damage is however not irremediable, this is also what our practice is for, reviving what should never have been abandoned nor destroyed.

Graduate first!

Who has never heard this sentence, that has now become a parental leitmotiv? Which parents have let their children follow the direction they had decided to take on their own, supporting them despite the general condemnation from their family or close circles? In France the new law4 making instruction mandatory from three to eighteen years old compels the parents, who sometimes chose home instruction because they became aware of the damage they have undergone in their own childhood, to still remain within the national education framework. To force their children to undergo exams and tests they have to pass, failing which they would have to be reintegrated in a state-approved school. How can we allow the child, the teenager, to discover, rediscover or preserve what s/he has always had and should never have lost: Zanshin, this state of concentration that remains beyond the act, this instinctive state that gives us pleasure, satisfaction, and strengthens our capacities by allowing them to benefit from the experience acquired in this moment thanks to this slight standstill where something remains suspended? The child, boy or girl, during this uncertain time, where anything can play out, escapes the world of social conventions, becomes strong, of this strength that no one will ever be able to deprive her/him of, s/he opens her/himself to an intelligence that only belongs to her/him and that is created by no doctrine or ideology.

Ai-uchi, ai-nuke

From Zanshin a world can be rebuilt if it was destroyed or simply damaged. In the Zen practice it is the spirit that remains or the spirit of the gesture that allows one to recover what has been lost, in Aikido it is not the fighting spirit that allows us to live in harmony but rather what is behind, in depth, and that breathes life into our action. Itsuo Tsuda Sensei tells us the story of this great 17th century master Sekiun Harigaya who had found inner peace. « After having been tormented for a long time by the uncertainty that prevails when facing an extreme situation, where no recall to any precedent can be used to justify ourselves, he found : ‘Defeating the weakest, being defeated by stronger than yourself, and mutually annihilating each other among equals, these are dead-end solutions.’ Even if we win time and time again, this is, according to him, only bestiality. Those are only wolf and tiger fights. One will always remain in relativity, in opposition. One has to get out of these to find the true path. How to get out of bestiality to find the true path? Especially in a situation where the result is not measured with scores. The accepted formula has been so far ai-uchi, mutual annihilation. When aiming to defeat the other, while trying to preserve our own integrity, we lose it all, because at the last moment fear takes over and paralyses us. In order to get out of this duality that torments us, we decide to die, abandoning all what we have. ‘When you get my skin, I’ll get your flesh. When you get my flesh, I’ll get your bones’, so goes the bravado formula. We still remain in bestiality. After long years of meditation, Sekiun finds his formula ai-nuke, to mutually overcome. The basis of this formula is the discovery of the kokoro, immutable, eternal, in which there is no annihilation of the opponent, but only respect of the other. This ai-nuke shows a position quite close to that of Master Ueshiba’s aikido. If one faces the other with no aggressivity, it is ai-nuke, but if one keeps the least aggressivity, it is ai-uchi. But how can one get empty of any aggressivity when one precisely is in a situation of agressivity where at risk of losing everything? This non-aggressivity, if it comes not from a moralist or a pacifist religious, but from someone who had experienced fifty-two real fights until the age of fifty, can have a completely different value. »(3) Zanshin lies at the heart of the problem, because it is about a presence to oneself as well as the other, without aggressivity, without expectation, without any search for any result. Zanshin is neither the end nor the beginning of a movement, it does not illustrate the power of one over an opponent, it is a time, an undefined space-time, but which gets concretely realized. Recovering the Kokoro from childhood, recovering concentration, the simple joy of feeling fully alive, no longer being satisfied with the superficial aspect of the survival that is imposed to us by society, this is the path that is proposed to us in Aikido. Even if this path demands from us rigor and determination, continuity and introspection, I have always felt and experienced it as easier than resignation, renunciation and hence disillusion or passivity.

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Article by Régis Soavi published in Dragon Magazine (speciale Aikido n° 27) january2020.

References:

1) Itsuo Tsuda, La voie des dieux [The Path of gods], Le Courrier du Livre, 1982, p.61.
2) Itsuo Tsuda, Cœur de ciel pur [The Heart of pure heaven], Le Courrier du Livre, 2014, p.91.
3) Itsuo Tsuda, La voie des dieux [The Path of gods], Le Courrier du Livre, 1982, p.63.

Photos credits: Bas Van Buuren, Sara Rossetti

Life Force

By Régis Soavi

Why talk about life force while the topic seems old-fashioned (it is considered today as a kind of ideological remnant from the 60’s), or remains apparently in the privileged field of a small quantity of people looking for mysterious effects?
If physical force remains for many reasons and in many cases an important area, it is not a permanent and inalterable state. There are many factors that we must take into account: the person’s age, health, mental state, social situation, world outlook, etc. The same applies to the so-called mental force, or more commonly speaking, the strength of character.

Itsuo Tsuda showing the ventral points during a conference
Itsuo Tsuda showing the ventral points during a conference

The spectacular

It has always been a dream for young people to have the body of a god or a goddess, the state of the body being clearly supposed to be reflected by its appearance. A way for evaluating someone’s health status, strength or power is her/his figure. Statues from ancient Greece or Rome would provide as many models. The focus was on aesthetic of shapes and proportions. The same applies today, but models have changed, since they now belong mainly to trendy circles of the “celeb society”: actors, high-level athletes, models, etc. Even when they have not been retouched, the images of these new models we are being offered dangle before us a completely unreal world of innocent young people, bubbling with health, hopping, and performing “exploits” with utmost ease. “The whole life of societies in which prevail modern conditions of production announces itself as a huge accumulation of spectacles. All what was directly experienced has moved away in a representation” (1). In this world of sham, no wonder we are considered troublemakers when presenting other values than those acted by advertisements devoted to Economy and a few people’s will to power – all of this at the expense of majority.

A society issue

2019 society is not the XXth century society, and even less the XIXth century society. At that time physical force had a natural – would I dare say primitive – aspect but it is no longer the case. If, for instance, medical breakthroughs in the West could save people and enabled to extend lifetime, as a backlash they made many people dependant on treatments and drugs, thereby creating a society of assisted persons whose life force seems to have sorely weakened. Pharmaceutical companies are not shy about producing profusely more and more substances, new molecules, supposed to make life easier.
One of the examples that recently caused a scandal is that of drug-addicts on prescription. Opiate-based painkillers, through the addiction they generate, have not just brought already two million people to dependance, but also hundreds of thousands to addiction, not knowing any more how to get their dose, and even – dramatically – more than forty-eight thousand people to death in the US in 2017 (2). In some countries, sports medicine too has drugged athletes without hesitation for decades in order to get their country a medal. Records are continually surpassed in sports, as well as in any place where competition is raging, but it seems difficult to win – or even just to be selected – without having body and medicine specialists in one’s technical staff.
Natural physical strength alone does not suffice any longer, more, much more is required today. Food supplements are being offered, cocktails of ever more sophisticated substances to exceed natural human limits and even sometimes simply to be always in shape, or at least to appear so, and when the consequences of treatments – or rather the ill treatment – of the body occur it is already too late to turn back.

Human Ecology

A part of the new generation becoming aware of the state of the planet could be the trigger for a more global awareness. The absolute necessity to reconsider not only the production of consumer products but also the patterns of this production should – if pushed a bit further – lead society to understand this imperative need for a change of orientation.
If technology has convenient aspects, should we give up thinking by ourselves and follow the tracks pre-printed by software, algorithms, or web-browsers? Western medicine, which is no science but an art, has progressed a lot in understanding and treating certain human diseases, but is it a reason to give up our free will and place ourselves in its hands without seeking to understand or feel what works best for us? Society over-feeds us with recommendations which, if they do not make us laugh anymore, often leave us indifferent: “Eat move”, “Eat five fruits and vegetables a day”, “Watch out your cholesterol level, eat low-fat products”, “Respect scrupulously the number of sleeping hours”, etc. The modern human being comes to follow directives from people who think for him about his health, his work, his relationships, everything is prepared, pre-digested, for the sake of our well-being, in order to realise what writers like Ievgueni Zamiatine, as soon as 1920, Aldous Huxley in 1932, or George Orwell in 1949 had described in their so-called anticipation novels, that is, “an ideal world”. Are we already living in the world Huxley predicted in his 1961 conference?
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it” (3).
Far from me the idea of carrying forward reactionary or backward-looking ideologies which tend to bring their solutions with the blow of “there is only to” or advocating the resurgence of patriarchal or racist values which fortunately are – or hopefully should be – exceeded. The steps to be taken belong to a completely different dimension. It is nothing less than recovering human values and this seems to be the real revolution. Aikido carries this hope, but we must not take the wrong direction.

Respiration Ka Mi: activation of life force
Respiration Ka Mi: activation of life force

Life force

Popular expressions such as “intestinal fortitude” or “to have guts” express well how important this region of the body was considered by most people who lived not so long ago. Courage did not originate in reflexion but rather in action from the bottom of the body.
Life force was a field well-known to martial arts masters and all of them paid the greatest attention to make it one of the main matters in their teachings, if not their backbone. All those who had the opportunity to know the first generation masters after O Sensei know that the value of Nocquet Sensei, Tamura Sensei, Yamaguchi Sensei or Noro Sensei, as well as so many others, did not originate in their – obviously flawless – technical quality but rather in their presence as a mere reflection of their personality, their life force.
Itsuo Tsuda Sensei, an Aikido master, also belonged to this generation but he was also one of the first generation masters after Haruchika Noguchi Sensei in the art of Seitai, a field on which he wrote quite significantly ever since his first book The Non-Doing, from which I have taken a few excerpts.
“From the point of view of Seitai, the abdomen is not merely a container for various digestive organs, as we are taught in anatomy. Already known in Europe under its Japanese name of ʻharaʼ, the belly is the source and storage centre of the vital energy.” (4)
“[L]ife acts as a force which gives cohesion to the elements we absorb. […]
This cohesive force is what we call ʻkiʼ. […]
Seitai is not interested in the details of the anatomical structure but in the way each person’s behaviour reveals the condition of this cohesive force.
As it is, this cohesion is spontaneously searching for balance and it manifests itself in two diametrically opposite ways: in excess or in deficit. When ki, cohesive force or vital energy, is in excess, the organism automatically rejects this excess in order to regain its balance. The confusing thing is that this rejection, far from being simple, takes many different and complex forms. We can see its manifestations in the way a person speaks, makes gestures or acts. On the contrary, when ki is in deficit, the organism acts to fill the deficiency, by attracting towards itself the ki of others, i.e. their attention.” (5)
In Seitai, there is a way to perceive the state of the koshi and life force, namely just by checking the elasticity of the third ventral point which lies approximately two fingers under the navel. If the point is positive, that is, if one feels it bouncing when pressed on, then everything is right, one will recover rapidly in case of difficulty or disease; on the other hand, if the fingers go deep and come back only slowly, if the belly is soft to the touch, then the body is in difficult condition and this lack of tonicity reveals the state of life force. I prefer to give no more details, so as to prevent presomptuous or ill-informed handymen from beginning to touch everything. Anyway you can try on yourself, but not on others even if they agree, the risk of disrupting their biological rythm and therefore their health is too great, it is no use playing the sorcerer’s apprentice.
Life force is what makes us rise again after sinking. It is what enables us to bring to reality projects that sometimes seem unrealizable.

 Representation of the hara, Basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France
Representation of the hara, Basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France

The Seitai technique: an orientation

Seitai provides in our daily life the tools we lack to take care of our life force. Practising Katsugen Undo (Regenerating movement), as well as the suitable Taisos according to Taihekis (bodily habits), or first aid techniques is just the visible part of it, its essence is to be found in its philosophy of life and understanding of human being. All attention given to the education of young parents, the baby care, how to make the ki circulate, to respect everyone as an individual rather than referring to general standards, all this makes it a science of the particular, as Tsuda Itsuo Sensei liked to qualify it in his so-entitled book.
If workshops are occasions for me to provide practical indications which enable people to recover a good health condition and get their life force back when weakened, I am always relying on the indivuals’ capacity to react, to understand that this implies a need for a different path, instead of dismissing their ability in favor of a technique, an idol, or a guru.
Without life force, physical force labours in finding a way out, it goes round and eventually disturbs the individual her/himself who does not know how to find her/his balance any more.
Life force has no moral standards, it can indeed be used in a relevant or irrelevant way but if it is gone, it is no use discussing about the value of the aims to be reached or about the prospects society is offering to us.
There are lots of questions about its nature, its origin, even its domestication. Some wish they could measure it thanks to highly developed technological devices, like for example, sophisticated electrodes capable of recording the subtle answers emitted by the brain. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately – considering the high risks of manipulation –, that seems impossible for the time being. Life force is of a totally different nature, one can understand it when one recovers the sensation of ki in one’s own body. But what is ki? In order to rediscover it, Tsuda Sensei offers us a clue in a few words:
“Ki is the motor of all instinctive and intuitive manifestations of living beings. Animals do not try to justify their actions, but manage to maintain a biological balance in nature. In man, the extraordinary development of the intellect threatens to destroy all biological equilibrium, to the point of total destruction of every living being.” (6)

Aikido: an art to awaken life force

Aikido is easily at the heart of many polemics about its refusal of competition, its ideal of non-violence, its lack of modernity, even its alleged inefficiency. It seems to me that it is precisely time to affirm the values of our art – and they are numerous. In the practice of Aikido, what is determining is not physical force, it is rather the ability to use it; similarly, as far as technique is concerned, the most important thing is adapting it to the concrete situation, and this is impossible without our life force been awakened. To be put in situation on the tatamis day after day, session after session, if without concession and at the same time without brutality, opens our eyes and enables us to develop and find again what animates the human being, namely a force, a vitality too often allowed to atrophy. The power that can be developed but also the tranquillity, the inner quietness that can be found again are the visible manifestation of it, the reflection of what is called Kokoro in Japan.
No need to compare with other practices because, whatever criticism is made of it, even if Aikido merely helped to allow the awakening, the maintenance or improvement of life force, would it not have fulfilled its duty to practitioners? Would it not be relevant to consider it one of the main martial arts?
Life force is at the heart of all disciplines since the origin of time and, if all martial arts evolve, it remains the essential element to their practice.

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« La force vitale » un article de Régis Soavi publié dans Dragon Magazine (Spécial Aïkido n°26) en octobre 2019

References:
(1) Guy Debord, La société du spectacle [The society of the Spectacle], éd° Buchet/Chastel, 1969, p. 9
(2) “Médicaments antidouleurs : overdose sur ordonnance” [Pain-relieving drugs: prescription overdose], newspaper Le Monde, 16th October 2018
(3) Aldous Huxley, speech pronounced in 1961 in California Medical School of San Francisco (available online on https://ahrp.org/1961-aldous-huxleys-eerie-prediction-at-tavistock-group-california-medical-school/)
(4) Itsuo Tsuda, The Non-Doing, Yume Editions, 2013 (1973), p. 191
(5) ibid., pp. 195-196, 201
(6) Itsuo Tsuda, The Dialogue of Silence, Yume Editions, 2018 (1979), p. 101

Relaxation

By Régis Soavi

For most Westerners, practising Aikido on their knees rather than standing seems to be at first sight very difficult. Although in our everyday life, we are very rarely in this position, it has been since immemorial times a relaxing posture, still allowing to stay vigilant.

Relaxing

To sit in Seiza (in Japanese « the proper way to sit ») allows the spine to be aligned and helps abdominal breathing, and so allows to put power in the Hara. Moreover, if the position, the posture, is well in line, while relaxed, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to relax the whole body.

To rest, to relax without having to lie down has always been what people working outside and therefore at the mercy of enemies, predators or even just because of bad weather conditions, have been looking for. The squatting position, still used in most countries of the African continent, in South America, Australia and many other countries, has the same function. On this matter, Tsuda Itsuo Senseï recalls an anecdote in his book The Path of Less:
« In an article probably conceived before 1934, Marcel Mauss describes this under the heading  »Techniques of the body » (1)
Children squat normally. We no longer know how to squat. I believe that this is an absurdity and an inferiority of our races, civilisations, societies. And he quotes an experience he had at the Front during the First World War. The (white) Australians he was with could rest on their heels during stops, while he was forced to stand.
The squatting position, in my opinion, is an interesting position that we can help children preserve. The biggest mistake is to take it away from them. All of mankind, except our societies, has retained it.
The squatting position presupposes flexibility of the hips. In doing Aikido, I see the huge difference between the Japanese and the Europeans. The Japanese, less structured intellectually and verbally, simply imitate what they are shown. Europeans observe, take note, make a file and paste a label on it. But when they begin to execute a movement, they sometimes find it difficult to coordinate everything. If they pay attention to the right hand, they forget the left. As for the feet, they don’t know where they are. This kind of mental habit does not make practice easy. Instead of having two components, A and B, B simply imitating A, they involve a third element, C, called intellect, file, or structure, thus forming a deflected circuit that complicates the situation. »

Childhood, adolescence

Before walking upright, we crawled, then, seeing and imitating other older children or adults around, we stood on our two legs. The vertical position released our hands and little by little we moved quicker and quicker even with our arms full of toys. During this period of our life, our usual playground, the one we feel comfortable to play in, where we can be independent of adults is the ground. And this whatever the area of the planet we live in. Then, we encounter great changes, our bodies spread out, we leave the ground for something more aerial, more mental too because our brain is better irrigated in a vertical position, so the more we grow up the more we get far from it. The society we live in provides us with high chairs, sofas, and other settees on which we can sit conveniently to enjoy ourselves or work, to relax or concentrate. From then, we live far from the ground, we won’t be back on the ground again except in very few moments when we play with a child or when we are on the beach or on the lawn.

Tatamis

When people discover the dojo and that huge surface at their disposal, they feel some sort of a childlike joy that threatens them and at the same time attracts them. Some of them are aware of it, others are just impressed. While children immediately start running and rolling on the floor, grown-ups remain reserved, already conscious perhaps of the process to be followed.

The first steps, as to say, on the Tatami mats, start in a sitting position. Frequently beginners cross their legs, but even if they succeed in sitting in the Seiza position, which is extremely unusual, they will almost never be told to keep the position during the practice. After a few seconds or few minutes of meditation, often the whole session will carry on standing. Indeed we are not in Japan, and many people aren’t used any more to sit that way, but instead of considering it as a challenge, a goal to be achieved, it seems to me interesting to consider it as a game. A game that requires physical and mental implication, but still a game, so a pleasure. And even if there are constraints, they are fully part of the game we have just started.

Getting recentered

Practising on our knees allows to get recentered while remaining relaxed. I always have my students practise slowly, specially beginners, but it is very good for advanced students too since a workout performed slowly and smoothly (I often use the Italian word legato, used in music) allows the whole body to recenter. If, as we got used to it, we don’t work using the muscle strength in our arms, but if we project our energy from our center, our Hara and have it run along our limbs, we can feel vividly the flow of Ki and see the effects. Arms must be neither flabby nor rigid, but supple and active, powerful, with this power they have when they are full of Ki. Working slowly in the kneeling position, for example in the basic forms that are Ikkyo or Yonkyo, allows, if one pays attention to this direction, to discover how Yin and Yang act, if we can say, spread out, interpenetrate. We then get recentered automatically because we need to recover our balance, the support on the knees become lighter because the body distributes the weight better, the hips themselves regain the flexibility they had lost by moving only from the standing position.

Two moments seem to me the right time to practise on the knees. The beginning of the session, since, as a slow work, it is a bit like a fitness. And the end of the session, the moment we do Kokyu-Ho which, in addition of being done on the knees, concentrates in a few minutes many physical and mental difficulties. It is, again, an opportunity to work on how to get recentered while one can check the state of the Koshi, its suppleness and so the whole posture.

A preparation?

Getting prepared with practising kneeling techniques, allows you to be ready when you face the opportunity of a Shiho-nage with a partner much smaller than you. The fact that you can turn while kneeling without any difficulty or loss of balance, to pass under his arm is an undeniable advantage.
But the range of advantages to practise in suwari waza (kneeling techniques) does not end there.
If I take as an example Irimi Nage in Hanmi Handachi Waza (techniques achieved with one partner on his knees and the other standing) one can feel more precisely the breath of aspiration down, and you can immediately feel if you are centered or not, if you have succeeded in creating a sufficient void in which the partner has plunged, where he has lost his balance while you stay stable. This is, still in Hanmi Handachi Waza, even more visible and concrete with two partners: the grab Katate Ryote Dori (seizure with both hands of a wrist) begins with a strike that turns into a seizure — and this is the crucial moment for a kokyu nage. The projection can only be done if one has enough practice of kneeling techniques, if one is able to become very heavy by concentrating the Ki in the lower abdomen, and to pass it beyond the fingertips.

Of course all techniques can be done from this posture with sometimes some variations but what seems important to me is that after having practised on your knees, practicing in Tachi Waza (standing practice) becomes much easier. This kind of work can have various consequences, if it is done forcefully, with the desire to win at all costs, or to stand a reputation, a role. Without having found the lines that allow the projection in flexibility, nor a deep and quiet breathing, there is a great risk of damage to the body, of having after a while serious problems with the knees or hips and a real handicap in everyday life.

Walking

Walking, moving on your knees, can be a good exercise, and for that there is Shikko. Here again it is important not to overdo it, not to show it as a competition, a « tour de force » that some will succeed more or less happily. Shikko is an excellent exercise but to use in moderation, especially at the beginning. After a few years of practice, if we have not forced, then it will have become a real pleasure. You can even do this training with a Bokken and by striking straight, this way of doing it makes it possible to check if it is the hips that move and if the rotation is done well at the lower level of the body and not from the chest. The shoulders must not move at all, but must remain exactly in the direction of the movement. When you start to feel comfortable you can start to make slow strikes with the Bokken while moving. All these exercises help to regain mobility in the hips. In my opinion, they have no immediate martial value, at first glance, simply because they are executed on Tatamis, which is normal, because who would like to train on gravel, for example, without protection on their knees?

Miracles?

Changes, that seem miracles to whom they happen, are possible. Years ago a woman came with crutches, she had been moving with enormous difficulties for several years. Very determined she came to practice every morning at the dojo. At the beginning there was no way for her to sit other than with her legs stretched in front of her, little by little however, after a few weeks her condition had improved. After a month she managed to get on her knees, but of course, straight and stiff as a board. From then, she began to get down, centimeter by centimeter, to end up, after several months, sitting on her heels without pain and, even later yet, enjoying it. This is not a unique case, right now at Tenshin Dojo, in Paris, a retired gentleman who came in with serious problems with his knees and ankles as a result of various surgeries he had had several years before. In less than a year of very regular practice (he comes every day) he has regained a mobility he no longer expected and now can sit on his heels. No force, taking time, having continuity, if something is possible it is done naturally. To be quite honest, I must say that in both cases the people concerned also started to practice katsugen undo (the regenerative movement) which facilitated the work of their bodies and their re-ordering.

Is groundwork essential?

Nothing, ever, is essential, but is it necessary? It is certain that we can do without it, there are even many good or bad reasons to avoid it, we can argue in these terms: it hurts the knees, it is dangerous for the joints, there’s no point in that, because nobody moves that way anymore, etc. If we can’t make out the reason of it, why should we strain ourselves? There are so many rituals, exercises that have become incomprehensible in our modern society, that even the simple act of saluting by bowing may seem obsolete, even ridiculous for many Westerners who would be perfectly willing to swap it for the “Shake-Hands”. By adapting to modernity, are we not in danger of missing the essential, of losing the spirit that leads us in Aikido, would I dare say its soul?

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(1) Itsuo Tsuda, The Path of Less, p. 175, Yume Editions, Paris, 2015 (trans. from La Voie du dépouillement, Le Courrier du Livre, 1975)

Article by Régis Soavi published in Dragon Magazine (speciale Aikido n° 25) july 2019.

Seizing, an art of detachment

By Régis Soavi

Seizing in itself is not the difficulty, it’s the coagulation of ki in the wrist, the arms or around the body that causes a problem and blocks us, and it’s through detachment that we can get free of it. The way to achieve this is visualization. Tsuda Senseï provides us with an example in his second book The Path of Less:

Aide-mémoire Itsuo Tsuda saisie
Drawing by Master Tsuda showing different types of seizures.

« Aïkido for me is an art of becoming a child again. […] It takes art to become a child without being childish.
[…] John, for example, tackles me from behind. I want to crouch down to sit, but he prevents me from doing so. He has biceps twice as big as mine and weighs almost 200 pounds (90 kilos). I cannot move, he is holding me so tightly. What should I do? Throw him before I sit down? I try but I cannot do it because he is too heavy and too strong.
So I become a child. I see a wondrous seashell on the beach and bend down to pick it up. I forget John, who is still grasping me from behind. (There is an important technical detail here: I move one foot forward to make two sides of a triangle with the other foot, because it is more concentrated that way.) There is flow of ki, starting with me and moving towards the seashell, whereas before, the ki was frozen at the thought of John. John’s 200 pounds become very light, and he falls forward over my shoulders.
How is it that with different ideas, we obtain opposite results, while the situation remains the same?
The idea of throwing provokes resistance. In the child’s gesture, there is the joy of picking up the shell that makes one forget the enemy’s presence. » (1)

Grabbing, appropriating

There are many ways of seizing and it is the intention put into it that is often determinant. Some of them can be considered as superficial or even unharmful, others more dangerous, like for instance those which carry a mark of appropriation or others which can sometimes be insidious and insistent.

The scenography which allows training in Aikido considers seizing as the result of an act manifesting itself with some kind of aggressivity. This act in itself is already an attempt to appropriate the other person, so as to use him in some way, rob him, destroy him, destroy his person or personality, setting apart the well-founded cases which are not of our concern in this example. What I am talking about is the abuse of a power, whether it be real or unreal, known or desired, over the other, this other person being presumed unable to react when faced to such a display of strength.

Assuming power

In the animal world, the power of an individual or clan in the bosom of a larger group of the same kind matches quite definite criteria, generally in relation to reproduction, preservation or to the defense of a species. As a consequence, it is borne and finally accepted by the whole group; in case of any attempt to contest, genetic or merely ancestral rituals are meant to clarify the situation.

In human societies, particularly in ours which would like itself to be more modern in some respect, the need for assuming power over the other person seems to me more like a dysfunction, or even a disease, which are fully created by the behaviours induced by civilization. Uncertainty about one’s own power, as well as the conditionings exerted by all those already installed in the bosom of society bring about frustration and lead human beings to try to reconquer their power through words or even acts, trying where this power doesn’t lie, where they won’t find it, that is in the other person who anyway does not detain it. But on the other hand, it forces them mentally to take all the risks implied by this vain hope. The arising of such aggressivity is often due to a lack or deficit of one’s own power, whether admitted or not, that one tries to make up. Pressure undergone and felt, hence experienced as such, sometimes since early childhood brings in people the will to reappropriate what they feel intimately robbed of, deprived of, or even what they just lost. It makes them dangerous persons, merely due to their frustration. We can all understand and feel that kind of thing when helplessly faced to an administration, or when put under power by somebody against whom there’s apparently no possible opposition. From that point, there’s just one step to becoming aggressive, which some people take, while others manage to be reasonable, resign themselves because they have already accepted this state of domination out of habit and they daily undergo it. If a few people are only hardly moved, it’s because they have already overcome these difficulties and are not damaged in their own power, never having lost it or having already recovered it.

Prisoner

« It’s a case of the biter bit » says the proverb and this reversal of perspective is indeed what happens when seizing. We forget too easily that the one who is seizing becomes prisoner of what he has seized. He can’t get rid of it without risking to lose something in the process he has initiated. His freedom, if he has any at all, is now transferred to the one he thought he could detain or retain. He becomes a jailer to the other person, who will only think of getting free, who will put all his strength, intelligence, sometimes all his craftiness or even perfidiousness into it, because he is totally within his right and nobody can blame him for it. Our society generates this type of alienating behaviour in which both persons try to free themselves, one against the other, instead of moving to another dimension which would be more human, intelligent, and respectful of the this other person. Wanting to change these behaviours might seem utopic, yet if Aïkido exists and continues to be an art at the service of mankind, it is maybe to assert and demonstrate that, like others have already stated, other relations are possible between people and we aïkidokas are not the only ones who wish to continue in this direction.

Respiration, an answer to a specific situation

It is through ventral respiration and the calmness it brings about that one can find the immediate solution to some difficult situations. To prepare for that, it is not absolutely necessary to be an outstanding technician, or someone brave as a blizzard, or a very competent analyst but on the other hand there is need to recover this force which has taken refuge at the very bottom of our body, of our kokoro, or which even sometimes has been scattered in multiple defense systems. Trying to find a defensive solution in violent martial arts when faced with the awareness of our weakness, real or assumed, is just dodging the issue, seeking an alternative, or worse, forging ahead regardless. Aïkido, by its philosophy, suggests another direction but if this fails to be heard and above all understood, it may well cause Aikido to lose its justification, its singularity.

Attacks in Aïkido are just a way of setting a situation in order to enable practitioners to solve a problem, or even a conflict, which by the way puts them in opposition more with themselves than to with their partners. Seizings, for instance, often represent attempts to immobilize the body, therefore to block the other’s movement, through imprisonment of the wrists, arms, trunk, keïkogi or any other part which can be grabbed for this purpose. Sometimes, however, seizings may follow on from an attempt to strike that has failed. They are seldom solely a matter of blocking; considered in the perspective of a fight, they should almost always be followed by an Atemi or a final immobilization. They are only the first act, the first scene of a play which is much longer, if one may say so. It might seem paradoxical but it is through working on seizings that one will discover detachment.

Sensibility, instinct

Quite before seizing or hitting materializes, our sensibility is touched by something invisible even though very physical. This may be inexplicable as scientific knowledge currently stands, but this is something we know well, and even sometimes very well. That’s what makes us move, dodge, although we have seen nothing but simply felt it in an indefinable way. In order to give a clearer example, one which everybody has been able to verify in one way or another, in different circumstances, I would like to write about gazing. Gazing carries an energy, an extremely concrete Ki that our instinct can perceive. Haven’t you ever experienced, while taking a walk one evening or one night, feeling something indescribable behind you as if someone was gazing at you, watching you; you turn around, nobody there, and still the sensation lingers? The sensation, if you are not at peace, can turn into anxiety or perhaps trigger an « irrational-since-there’s-nobody » fear, when at the angle of the street behind a half-opened curtain you suddenly discover somebody observing you – or on an overhanging roof a cat watching you. The gaze of cats, and of animals in general, as well as the gaze of humans when intently observing something or somebody, carries an extremely powerful Ki. Our instinct can feel it, but it all depends on our state of mind at that moment. If we are talking with a friend, if we are lost in our thoughts after a love encounter for instance, our instinct, if not well-prepared, will have difficulty feeling this kind of things. The same obviously applies when we are worried, frightened or anguished, in this case all our being is somehow weakened, it loses its instinctive abilities.

Discovering the direction taken by Ki

Aïkido enables us to re-discover and conduct our instinctive abilities. It is thanks to a slow work on ourselves and our sensations that will appear again what we have often let go to sleep, rocked as we were by the comfort due to modern society which may seem so reassuring to us.

The work based on seizing corresponds, like everything we do in Aïkido, to a process of renewed learning and to a training of the body as a whole so that there will no longer be any separation between body and spirit. First of all, when our partner gets closer, there is no question of waiting kindly for him to seize us as requested, our whole body must feel the directions followed by the different parts of his body: arms, legs, his bearing points, all of this without looking, without observing, because it would already be too late. With unexperienced beginners, if the exercise is done slowly enough, they will be able to discover the routes taken by their partner’s Ki, the force lines. Since they work without any risk, they start again trusting the reactions and sensations of their bodies. During sessions, I don’t only show the techniques, I am constantly on the move, serving as Uke to one person, as Tori to another; without blocking them, I make them feel the direction their body must take by putting myself in the situation, making ki more material, by materializing the force lines, visualizing the openings they can use, while allowing them to act and respond as they will.

Discovering the Non-doing

Seizing can be a first step on the path that leads to what Lao Tseu and Tchouang Tseu would name Wu wei, the Non-acting, and it was the basis of my master Itsuo Tsuda’s teaching. How to teach what can’t be taught, how to show the invisible, how to guide a beginner or even an experienced practitioner towards what is the essence of the practice in our School? What is difficult to explain with words is easily understood when we let sensation guide us. To do so we have to take a few steps backward. To let go of our acquiring and piling up habits, those consumer reflexes of people always ready to fill up their trolleys with various products, techniques which are more or less modern, fashionable or old style, miraculous, easy and effortless, or even tough but efficient. Advertising is today the source of many illusions, luring its clients with colorful wonders of a world that has become so virtual. When will the new Wii console enable us to practice Aïkido with enhanced reality glasses and a partner whose potentiometer can be adjusted depending on our level, our shape, or our mood? But maybe I am behind and it already exists.

Seizing with Ki

Young children know and naturally use a certain way of seizing which is extremely efficient. It is a seizure devoid of any useless contraction. When they seize a toy they put all their ki into the act and when they let go of this toy they do it with complete indifference, there is no more Ki in it. On the other hand they have an incredible capacity when they don’t want to let go of what they have seized and are holding tight in their small hand. If this is something dangerous, their parents must sometimes unfold their fingers one by one, though their hand is so small and devoid of any true muscular strength as adults mean it. They know in a manner completely unconscious how to use Ki, they don’t need to learn, unfortunately they often lose this ability for the benefit of what is reasonable and most of the time education and schooling are responsible for this.

To learn again how to seize like a small child, without tension, and thus discover natural prehension. I often give as an example the way birds alight on a branch: they have skin micro-sensors in the middle of their paws which inform receptors which, thanks to these indications, stimulate reflex functions at the level of the involuntary, and give the order to their fingers to close as soon as they touch the branch. This manner of seizing avoids contortions, failures, and enables a very subtle adequacy of the members to the place caught (they catch). A quality seizure is a seizure which uses the palm of the hand as first contact, then the fingers close up on the object, the limb, the Keïkogi. If we act in this way, seizing is faster, without any excessive tensions, and it has remarkable efficiency, allowing therefore a good quality work with a partner.

The only seizures which respect the other one’s freedom are light but powerful, like for instance that of a small child who wants to take along one of his parents to look at a small frog he’s just seen in the tall grass and is curious about, or like that of two beings, friends or lovers, bound by tenderness and respectful of each other.

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(1) Itsuo Tsuda, The Path of Less, p. 175, Yume Editions, Paris, 2015 (trans. from La Voie du dépouillement, Le Courrier du Livre, 1975)

Article by Régis Soavi published in Dragon Magazine (speciale Aikido n° 25) april 2019.

 

 

 

Misogi

Misogi 禊 is widely practised among shintoists.
It consists of an ablution, sometimes under a waterfall, in a stream, or in the sea and allows a purification of the body at both physical and psychical levels. In a broader sense, Misogi encompasses a whole process of spiritual awakening. Misogi is also a way to relieve the being of what overwhelms him, so to allow him to wake up to life. Water has always been considered one of its essential elements.

Like water, Aîkido is a way to achieve Misogi

Founder of Aïkido O Senseï Morihei Ueshiba kept on telling his students that the practice of this Art is above all a Misogi.

Aïkido is one of the Japanese martial arts for which the main character, the very nature, is, like water, fluidity. The teaching brought by Itsuo Tsuda Senseï who was during ten years a direct student of the Founder Moriheï Ueshiba has definitely confirmed it. Although his words seem to have largely been forgotten, he kept on repeating that « in Aïkido there is no fighting, it’s just the art of uniting and separating ». However, when you watch an Aïkido session, it seems that two people are fighting each other. In fact one of them plays the role of the assaillant, but in real he is a partner, facing him there is no aggressivity, you won’t see any malicious gesture, no violence, even if the response to the attack may be impressive because of its efficiency.

Overall, the Aïkido practised in the Itsuo Tsuda School is an Art of great fluidity, an art in which sensitivity and caring for the partner have the main part, and it is always through the smoothness of a first part practised individually that an Aïkido session begins.

Far from starting with warm-up exercices, an Aïkido session begins with smooth, slow but still invigorating exercises. Breathing coordination is essential, as it allows us to harmonize with Ki, and thereby to take a step forward to discover a world with an additionnal dimension, the « World of Ki »

This world is not a revelation, it’s more what comes to light, what appears clearly when one recovers one’s sensitivity, when rigidity vanishes into thin air and that the living appears through. It is often women who first understand the importance of such a way of practising. That is why so many women practise in our school because they have experienced the bitter taste of sexist oppression in our society and they find in this art a way, a path, far beyong the simple martial art.

Ki, a driving force

Ai 合 Union, Harmony
Ki 気 Vital energy, Life
Do道 Path, Way, Tao

Ki is not a concept, a mystical energy nor a sort of mental illusion. We can feel Ki. In fact everybody knows what it is, even if, in Western countries nowadays, we don’t give it a name. Learning to feel it, to recognize it, to make the most of it, is necessary for who wants to practise a martial art, and even more if you practise Aïkido. In Aikido, if you don’t focus on Ki, only the empty form of its contents remains, this form becomes quickly a fight, a struggle in which the strongest, or the most cunning will manage to defeat his partner. We are really far away from the founder’s teaching for whom it was an art of peace, an art in which there is neither winner, nor defeated. Each movement of the partner is accompanied by a complementary movement from the other partner, like the water that marries each roughness, every nook, leaving nothing behind or separate.

misogi
Calligraphie de Itsuo Tsuda

If the beginnings are usually tough, it’s because people have lost part of their mobility
and mostly because they have become hard so to be protected from the world around. They’ve built a carapace, an armor, certainly protective, but which has become a second nature and an invisible prison. To have Ki flow in our body again, so to recover fluidity, and follow a teaching based on sensitivity enables us to understand physically the Yin and the Yang.

Bathing in a sea of Ki

Exercices and basic or advanced techniques have not only in common the breath which is nothing but the materialization or even better the visualisation of Ki, but they also allow to become aware of our body, physically and of our sphere of ki, which the Indians call the AURA, and that we have today practically forgotten almost everywhere.

What modern science and in particular neuroscience has been discovering for a few years is only a small part of what everyone can discover on his own and put into practice in his daily life simply through the practice of Aïkido as Itsuo Tsuda Senseï taught it.

He would repeat over and over again that Aïkido as presented by his Master Morihei Ueshiba is the union of Ka the inspiration, the ascending force, the square, the weft and Mi, the exhalation, the downward force, the cercle, the chain.
Ka being in Japanese a pronounciation for 火 fire (which appears for example as a radical in the word Kasaï 火災, wild fire) and Mi the first syllable of Mizu 水 water, the whole forming the word KAMI 神 which means divine in the sense of the divine nature of all things. Itsuo Tsuda would add that « In this gloss one mustn’t see a similar value to that of a scientific etymology. It comes from punning, the use of which is common among mystics ». [1]

I have never seen such fluid movements as when he wanted us to feel a technique he showed to us. Moreover, in his dojo there used to be no accidents, nobody injured, everything would be in a flow of Ki both respectfull and generous but at the same time firm and rigorous, that I can hardly find today in the sports halls where aïkidokas have their trainings.

The dojo, an essential place

Do we really need a special place to practise Aïkido? If we talk about the surface we need for falls, we could lay tatamis anywhere, from the moment we are sheltered from bad weather.
In his book Cœur de ciel pur Itsuo Tsuda gives us his extremely clear view of what should be a dojo, he who was Japanese was in the best posititon to give us a glimpse.

« The School of Respiration is materially a “dojo”, this particular space in the East, which refers less to the material place itself, than to the energy space. As I said before, a dojo is not a space divided into parts and provided for certain exercices. It’s a place where spacetime is not the same as in a secular place. The atmosphere is particularly intense. One enters and leaves the space bowing so to get sacralized and desacralized.
Spectators are admitted, provided they respect this atmosphere […]. They are not to parody the practice for free, with word or gesture. I am told that in France [or in Italy] one can come across dojos that are simply gyms or sports centers. Anyhow, as far as I am concerned, I want my dojo to be a dojo and not a sports club with a boss and its regulars, so as not to disturb the sincerity of the practitionners. This does not mean that they must keep a sullen and constipated face. On the contrary, we must maintain the spirit of peace, communion and joy. » [2]

A sacred space therefore and yet fundamentally non religious, a secular space, a space of great simplicity where the freedom to be as we are exists, beyond the social. And not what we have become with all the compromises we had to accept in order to survive in society. This freedom remains inside us, deep within us in our intimate heart, our Kokoro 心 as Japanese language talks so well about it, and is only asking for a chance to be revealed.

Notes :
1 Itsuo Tsuda The Science of the Particular, Yume Editions 2015 p. 137
2 Itsuo Tsuda (posth.) Cœur de ciel pur, ed. Le Courrier du Livre 2014 p. 113 [trans. Itsuo Tsuda School]

Taiheki, the revelator

By Régis Soavi.

Noro Sensei, in the 70’s, used to tell us that O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba would sometimes reproach his learners for their lack of attention when they phoned from a phone booth, concentrated as they were on their conversation: “You must be ready under any circumstances, whatever you do!” he would say.

Aikido opts for a natural position, with no guard stance, which is called Shizen Tai. But a natural posture is not a laid-back posture as we understand it today, concentration and attention mustn’t be eased in any case. Given that the most widespread guard stance in Aikido remains Hammi no Kamae, it depends more than we believe, on the polarization of energy in the body, as do all the other guards.

Kamae, the body’s instinct

I remember what Maroteaux Sensei had told us during one of my first Aikido sessions at the “Montagne Sainte-Geneviève” dojo: “You open the door, a dog jumps at your throat, what do you do?” Obviously I remained speechless, but this question he had asked us had shattered me – I was a young practioner of martial arts quite sure of himself at the time –  and this became the root of my research on Kamae.

Assuming a guard stance is the response to an act of aggression or to the sensation of danger. This response, coming from someone who does not know martial arts, will be instinctive whereas it will be the result of training coming from a practioner. Personal research can lead the practitioner to use his body in a manner different from what he had learned and for this he will find a positioning or a guard that suits him, sometimes a more appropriate one, sometimes one meant as a trap suggesting an opening or a weakness on his part. Even if there are many ways to assume a guard stance, hence to protect ourselves, we must take our own body into account, in spite of all we have learned, despite the many years of training, ultimately instinct will be our guide. The work in martial arts, far from being pointless, will rather be in this case a backing, a support. Training may sometimes induce over-confidence, a belief in techniques, postures which, though beautiful on pictures or on the tatamis, do not correspond to any reality in daily life. Finding the right posture depends on each person’s body. Far too many practitioners try by working very hard to model their body in order to bring it into line with the idea they have of their art, or more simply with the efficiency they hope to gain. We consider the aesthetics of the art but then we miss its depth. We can see the work which has been done but we are not aware of the deformations acquired because of it. So many students repeat an incredible number of times the same exercise, the same technique thus hoping to reach the mastery of their art by imitating the master or simply the teacher, while they are instead following the path of deformation without realizing. One shall not be surprised by the number of accidents or disabilities resulting from this. How many people are unable to practice anymore because of a knee, an elbow, a wrist or their back, though they are still young and full of energy?

Noguchi haruchika. Taiheki
Noguchi Haruchika créateur du seitai

The Kamae depend on the Taiheki

Seitai brought us a remarkable tool, the study of corporal tendencies which Noguchi Haruchika Sensei called Taiheki. Tsuda Sensei gave a first description of them, which though brief was already a revelation when his first book The Non-Doing was published in the early seventies. Later he supplemented this teaching in the books which followed over the years, continually giving examples which enabled one to understand Taiheki better. Reading Noguchi Sensei’s texts also enabled us to deepen our knowledge of human behaviors and particularly of their relationship with the body. Comprehending the bodily movements of individuals enables to help beginners improve their posture, so they do not deform themselves. Since explaining this teaching to uninformed readers would require a whole book, all I can do is give a few indications, without going into details.
The Taiheki classification developed by Noguchi Sensei is based on human involuntary motion. It is not a typology meant to make people fit into small boxes, but rather to identify the habitual behavioural tendencies, at the same time taking into account the interpenetrations that may occur between them.

This classification includes six groups: each of the first five is related to a lumbar vertebra, the last group being more related to a global state of the body rather than to the spinal column. According to either the “Yang” or the “Yin” aspect, each group is divided into two subgroups or types, called “active” or “passive”. In order to fully understand the interest of such a study, I have chosen a few examples which seem to me more telling than other in the light of the Taiheki.

La posture taiheki

Taiheki, the revelator

According to the classification, the first group is also called the “vertical category” and it is related to the first lumbar vertebra. The energy tends to polarize to the brain.

Type 1, for instance, is extremely confident with respect to Kamae, his position is unchangeable and he is able to explain it to everybody, in a very logical way. Even with little experience he at once has an idea on the topic and sticks to it. Since his heels tend to get off the ground because of the tension he has in the cervical vertebrae, he will for example develop a theory according to which this position allows you to jump faster and further in case of attack and will refute any contradiction, until another idea emerges which will seemto him more brilliant and relevant.

Type 2 knows everything on the Kamae in almost all martial arts, the historical origins, the value of each one and its major flaws, the contribution of each master. He even knows little stories illustrating what he says, he is a mine of knowledge who doesn’t hesitate to complete it as soon as he feels a lack somewhere in his argumentation or his references.

The second group is called the “lateral category” and it is related to the second lumbar vertebra. The energy tends to polarize to the digestive system.

Type 3 is a bon vivant, when he practices martial arts he chooses his club according to the ambiance rather than to the efficiency of the art he is being taught, or to the reputation of the master. All these stories about postures, guard stances, are of little interest to him, as usual he has his own little opinion about this topic, and he likes or dislikes, which means it is convenient to him or not.

Type 4, on the other hand is always restrained in his manner, it’s hard to know what he thinks. An affable person, he seldom gives his opinion, even if a debate initiates about the value of different Kamae, he doesn’t have any real opinion, everything seems possible to him depending on the circumstances. He is rather a diplomatic, moderate kind of person.

The third category is called the “pulmonary category”or “forwards/backwards category” and it is related to the fifth lumbar vertebra. The energy tends to polarize to the respiratory system.

Type 5 doesn’t like to argue about nothing, a stance must have a practical meaning, either it is efficient, or it is not. We must check, and if it works, move ahead… Dodging is not his strong point, he prefers Omote techniques to Ura techniques. Because the bearing point of his posture tends to be the fifth lumbar vertebra, his shoulders lean forward and this incites him to act. He is easily combative but knows how to leave himself a way out if necessary.

Type 6 has too much tension in the shoulders to be able to act in a simple way. When this tension relaxes, it releases a huge amount of energy that goes off in all directions and that even he himself can’t handle. In front of him, no guard stance is possible, he is completely out of control and unpredictable at the risk of putting himself in danger.

The fourth category is called the “twisted category” and it is related to the third lumbar vertebrae. The energy tends to polarize to the urinary system. Some Taiheki may a priori seem to be a help in assuming a good guard stance, as it is the case with the “twisted category” (type 7 or 8), because in order to defend themselves they instinctively adopt a kind of posture, rather a profile position, with arched lumbar vertebrae, one foot forward etc. The posture may look ideal, to strike a pose or on a picture. But apart from the precision of the position and the bearing points, the ability to move depends obviously and maybe mainly on the state of mind. There is a huge difference, which will completely change the deal, between a type 7 twist and a type 8 one. To put it in a simple way, I would say that the type 7 wants to win whereas the type 8 doesn’t want to lose. The whole posture changes, one gets ready to pounce, the other to try dodging. Furthermore, the people of the twisted category have a permanent agitation which in this case turns out harmful. They are so restless all they are waiting for is to take action. Waiting is unbearable to them; unable to take it any longer, all of a sudden they get started, never mind if it is not the right moment.

Première image: Noguchi Haruchika Sensei 1911-1976, founder of Seitai.
Deuxième image: To find the right posture depends on the body of each Finding the right posture depends on each person’s body
Troisième image: We look at the aesthetics of the art but as a result we miss its depth.

The fifth group is called « pelvian » or « pelvis » group and it is related to the fourth lumbar vertebra. Its energy is not polarized towards a definite part of the body, it is the body as a whole which stretches and releases from the hips with one blow.

Type 9 is an example of continuity, when he practices martial arts, he tends to make it his unique reason of living, the trend of his pelvis to close gives to his koshi a lot of strength that makes his learning easier but he has got a predisposition to perfecting that may sometimes go to the point of absurdity. He cares about details and will perfect kamae to the slightest element, as long as his posture isn’t perfect according to his views he won’t be satisfied, but this unsatisfaction, far from discouraging him, is precisely what pushes him forward. Nothing can be opposed to him, his only reference is inner satisfaction. Like Osensei Morihei Ueshiba as well as other great masters, he may come to the conclusion that the natural position is the ideal kamae because it transcends all the others. But this natural position is the fruit of his many years of work and training, not a theoretical facility nor a slackening on his part.

As for type 10, he considers that a good guard stance is indispensable, that it is a guarantee of stability and that if we respected others, there would be no conflict. His open pelvis generally makes him someone very friendly, he has a great sensitivity and his intuition is fearsome. His open posture prevents him from being aggressive, he will tend to perform Ura techniques at which he is better and his guard will be more in the direction of absorbing the attack rather than repelling it.

The two last types that form the last group are, actually, states of the body called hypersensitive and apathetic.

Type 11 fails to have a precise and defined guard stand, because of his hypersensitivity, he is an unsettled person, unable to find benchmarks. His guard stand is imprecise, even confused or messy and almost every time totally ineffective. Fear tends to liquefy his legs. In his case, Aikido can be an excellent activity, provided the teacher understands his difficulties well and doesn’t rush him, so as to to lead him to a normal sensitivity.

On the contrary, type 12 is an example of rigidity, his guard stance is very physical and often lacks flexibility, he’s able to take any blow without flinching. His body may sometimes have a certain muscle laxity in the joints but this doesn’t make him less rigid.

It is according to Taiheki that one can understand the uselessness of a given posture, hence of a given kamae. Support points being different from an individual to another, the potential for mobility or simply for movement is basically different too. So it’s no use proposing an exercise, which even if it makes the apparent posture better, destroys the person in the very bases, or at least might cause physical as well as mental deformations.

Kamae and rigidification

Tsuda Sensei considered that rigidification and slackening of individuals are a part of the great flaws induced by our modern societies, but he did know that these problems existed long before, that they are inherent in human society. In his book The Path of Gods he tells an anecdote about kamae which I found once more very evocative. It is significant of the risks to which imagination may expose people, even those whose profession it was, like the samourai.

« Involuntary contraction gets stronger as imagination is filled with fear. Fear doesn’t remain in the head. It paralyzes the whole body. The wrists especially lose flexibility and the arms become insensitive. That’s what happened to two samourais fighting a duel in a story I read somewhere. They were holding their sabre with both hands and were facing each other several meters apart. At this distance, they were still safe whatever they did but their faces were already pale. They were probably soaked in cold sweat. They stayed there at the same distance for some time. Finally they got closer, one of them was lying on the ground and the other was standing. The fight was over. But the winner was staying there, unable to let go of his sabre because his fingers were clenched on the handle. The contraction was such that it was difficult for him to loosen them ».

If we want to avoid rigidification that can be caused by guard stands which don’t agree with us or imply constraints that deform us, only commonsense and personal search for balance can allow that to us. There’s no definitive solution for all problems and forever.

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Article by Régis Soavi published in Dragon Magazine (speciale Aikido n° 23) jan.2019.

(1) Itsuo Tsuda, The Non-doing, Yume Editions, Paris, 2014 (trans. from Le Non-faire, Le Courrier du Livre, 1973)

(2) Itsuo Tsuda La Voie des dieux, Le Courrier du Livre, 1982, p. 60.

Crédit photos
Régis Sirvent
Sara Rossetti

Seitai

The Seitai principles, which could even be described as « Seitai philosophy » – a way of seeing and thinking about the world – were developed by Haruchika Noguchi (1911-1976) in the first half of the twentieth century. In brief (!), Seitai is a « method » or a « philosophy » that includes Seitai sōhō, Taisōs, Katsugen undō, Katsugen sōhō, and Yukihō. These are practices that complement, permeate each other, and form the breadth of Haruchika Noguchi’s Seitai thinking. We can also mention the study of Taihekis (postural tendencies), the use of the hot bath, the education of the subconscious, the importance of birth, illness and death…

An art of living from beginning to end.

Today, unfortunately, the term « Seitai » is overused and means anything and everything. Some manual therapy practitioners too easily lay claim to Seitai (Itsuo Tsuda would say it takes twenty years to train a Seitai sōhō technician!). As for the charlatans who offer to transform you in a few sessions…, let’s not talk about it! The magnitude of the art of living, the global understanding of the human being in Seitai seem far away. If all there is left is a technique to be applied to patients, the essence is lost. If all there is left of Katsugen undō is a moment to “recharge your batteries”, the essence is lost.

Haruchika Noguchi and Itsuo Tsuda both went much further than that in their understanding of the human being. And the seeds they sowed, the clues they left for humans to evolve are important. Can we then speak of a way, of Seitai-dō (道 dō / tao)? Because that is a radical change of perspective, an upheaval, a totally different horizon opening up.

Let’s go back in history…

The meeting with Haruchika Noguchi: the individual as a whole

Itsuo Tsuda met Haruchika Noguchi around 1950. The approach to the human being as proposed in Seitai interested him from the very beginning. The sharp observation of individuals taken in their indivisible entirety/complexity, which Itsuo Tsuda found in Noguchi, was an extension of what had already captured his interest during his studies in France with Marcel Mauss (anthropologist) and Marcel Granet (sinologist). Itsuo Tsuda then began to follow Noguchi’s teaching and continued for more than twenty years. He had the sixth dan of Seitai.

« Master Noguchi has allowed me to see things in a very concrete way. Through each person’s manifestations it is possible to see what is in action inside. This approach is completely different from an analytical one: the head, the heart, the digestive organs, a specialist for everything and then, of course, the body on the one hand, the psychic on the other. Well, he has allowed us to see the human being, that is to say, the concrete individual, in his entirety. » (1)

Illness as a balance factor

All the more as it was precisely in the 1950s that Haruchika Noguchi, who had very early discovered his capacity as a healer, decided to give up therapeutics. He then created the concept of Seitai, i.e. “normalized terrain”.

« The word ‘terrain’ meant as the whole of what makes up the individual, the psychic aspect as well as the physical one, whereas in the West there is always a division between what is psychic and what is physical. » (2)

The change of perspective with regard to illness was crucial in this reorientation of Noguchi.

« Illness is natural, the body’s effort to recover lost balance. […] It is good that illness exists, but people must avoid becoming enslaved to it. This is how Noguchi happened to conceive of the notion of Seitai, the normalisation of the terrain, if you will. Diseases are not to be treated; it is useless to cure them. If the terrain is normalised, illness disappears of its own accord. And moreover, one becomes more vigorous than before. Farewell to therapeutics. The fight against illness is over. » (3)

Itsuo Tsuda. Photo de Eva Rodgold©
Yuki. Itsuo Tsuda. Photo de Eva Rodgold©

A path towards autonomy

Abandoning therapy also goes hand in hand with the desire to get out of the dependence relation that binds the patient to the therapist. Noguchi wanted to allow individuals to become aware of their ignored capacities, he wished to awaken them to the fulfillment of their own being.
During the twenty years they followed each other, the two men spent long moments talking about philosophy, art, etc., and Noguchi found in Tsuda’s vast intellectual culture the substance to nourish and expand his observations and personal reflections. Thus a relation which was enriching for both developed between them.

Itsuo Tsuda was the editor of the magazine Zensei, published by the Seitai Institute, and he actively participated in the studies led by Noguchi on Taihekis (postural tendencies). A text by Haruchika Noguchi published in the magazine Zensei of January 1978 reveals that it was Itsuo Tsuda who advanced the hypothesis – validated by Noguchi – that type nine (closed basin) would be the archetype of the primitive being. (4)

The development of Katsugen undō (Regenerating Movement) by Noguchi particularly interested Itsuo Tsuda, who immediately understood the importance of this tool, especially as regards to the possibility it gives to individuals to regain their autonomy, without needing to depend any more on any specialist. While recognizing and admiring the precision and the deep capacity of the Seitai technique, Tsuda considered that the spreading of Katsugen undō was more important than the teaching of the technique. He therefore initiated groups of Regenerating Movement (Katsugen Kai) in a great many places in Japan.

Conférence d'Itsuo Tsuda. Photo de Eva Rodgold©
Conférence Itsuo Tsuda. Photo de Eva Rodgold©

Itsuo Tsuda favored the spread of Katsugen undō in Europe as a gateway to Seitai.

Today, even in Japan, Seitai sōhō has taken an orientation that brings it closer to therapy. One problem: one technique to apply. Katsugen undō becomes a kind of “light” gymnastics for well-being and relaxation. This is far from the awakening of the living, of the autonomous capacity of the body to react that Haruchika Noguchi’s Seitai is meant to be.

The yuki exercise, which is the alpha and omega of Seitai, is practiced at every Katsugen undō session. Thus, although Tsuda did not teach the technique of Seitai sōhō, he transmitted its essence, the simplest act, this « non-technique » that yuki is. The one that serves us every day, the one that gradually sensitizes the hands, the body. This physical sensation, that is real, that can be experienced by all, is today too often considered a special technique, reserved for an elite. We forget that it is a human and instinctive act. The practice of mutual Katsugen undō (with a partner) is also getting lost, even in the groups that followed Tsuda’s teaching. What a pity! Because through yuki and mutual Katsugen undō, the body rediscovers sensations, those that do not go through mental analysis. This dialogue in silence, which makes us discover the other from the inside and which therefore brings us back to ourselves, to our inner being. Yuki and Katsugen undō are for us essential tools, recommended by Haruchika Noguchi, on the path towards “normal terrain”.

But time goes by and things get distorted, like words of wisdom of some people become religious oppressions… Little by little Katsugen undō is nothing more than a moment to « recharge », relax and above all not change anything in one’s life, in one’s stability. Seitai, a method to lose weight after childbirth… While it is a life orientation, a global thinking. The huge step Haruchika Noguchi took in moving away from the idea of therapeutics is a major advance in the history of mankind. His global understanding of the individual, the sensitivity to ki, sufficiently recovering sensitivity and a center in oneself from where to listen to one’s own body and act freely.

It’s not even about opposing methods, theories or civilizations. It is purely and simply about the evolution of humanity.

Manon Soavi

Notes:

(1) Itsuo Tsuda, Interview on France Culture, Master Tsuda explaining the Regenerating Movement, issue N°3, early 1980s
(2) Itsuo Tsuda, Interview on France Culture, op. cit., issue N°4, early 1980s
(3) Itsuo Tsuda, The Dialogue of Silence, Paris, Yume Editions, 2018, p. 75-76 (1979)
(4) About Taihekis, consult Itsuo Tsuda, The Non-Doing, Paris, Yume Editions, 2014 (1973)

Ukemi : the flow of Ki

by Régis Soavi

The fall in our art is more than a liberation, mere consequence of an action. It is the Yin or Yang of a whole, the Tao. In practice, at the end of the technique, Tori emanates a yang energy : if he wants to avoid injuring his partner, Tori lets him absorb this yang energy and transfer it to the fall.

Aïkido is an art where there is no loser, an art dedicated to human beings, to the intuition of humans, to their adaptability, and going beyond the contradiction brought by a technique by means of the fall is nothing else than adaptability to it. Not to teach a beginner how to fall would amount to putting him in a situation of handicap from the start and risking discouragement, or to shaping a spirit of resentment, or even of revenge.

There are different attitudes among beginners, those who hurl themselves at the risk of getting hurt, and those who, because of fear, contract when about to fall and who of course take a bad fall and suffer painful consequences if you force them. My answer to this problem is softness and time…

When surprised by a noise, an act, the first reaction is to breathe in and block the breath, this is a reflex and vital functioning that prepares the answer and therefore the action. Surprise starts a series of biomechanical processes which are totally involuntary, it is already too late for reasoning. It is by breathing out that the solution to the problem will come. If there is no risk after all, or if the reaction is exaggerated and the risk minor, one drops the blocking and the breath is released in a natural way (ha, the usual sigh of relief). If there is danger, whether great or small, we are ready for action, ready to act thanks to the breath, thanks to breathing out. Problems occur when, for instance, we don’t know what to do, when the solution doesn’t arise immediately, we remain blocked in inspiration, with our lungs full of air, unable to move. It’s a disaster ! It’s approximately the same pattern that occurs when we are a beginner, our partner is performing a technique and the logical answer that will enable us to get free, and thus to fix up this conflictual problem is the Ukemi. But if one is afraid to fall, if one has not had the technical training of many forward and backward rollings done in a slow, nice and easy way, one remains with lungs blown up like a soccer ball, and if the technique is completed, one ends up on the floor, with more or less damage done.
Bouncing painfully on the tatamis like the aforesaid ball would then be the least harm. Learning to let go as soon as absolutely necessary, not falling before by caution, as this impairs Tori’s sensation and gives him a false idea of the value of his technique and often of himself. Grasping the right moment to breathe out and land softly on the tatamis without any air left in the lungs. Then as for the clapped falls, which one does when more advanced, it will be enough to breathe out faster and let oneself go so that the body finds the right receiving position by itself.

Training in the ancient way !

My own training through Judo in the early sixties, in Parisian suburbs, was very different. To us school youngsters, Judo was a way to expend our energy and canalize what otherwise ended badly, that is turned into struggles and other kinds of street fights. The training, twice a week, required two essential things : absolute respect to our teacher and learning how to fall. It was still a time when our teacher transmitted the « Japanese » Judo without weight categories. In spite of Anton Geesink’s recent victory at the Olympic Games, he would define himself as a traditionalist. Falls were one of the lessons’ foundations : rolling forward, backward, sideways, we used to spend about twenty minutes practicing that before performing the techniques, and sometimes, when he would not find us focused enough, too much scattered, he would say : « Turn your kimonos inside out so you won’t dirty them » and we would go out for a series of forward falls, in the small paved blind alley in front of the dojo. Afterwards, we were not afraid to fall anymore, well, that is, those who still wanted to continue !

The world has changed, society has evolved, would today’s parents agree to trust such a « barbarian » with their progenies, besides there are rules, protective laws, insurances.

Bob- that was his name- felt a responsibility for our training, and teaching us how to fall whatever the circumstances and on any sort of ground was part of his values and his duty was to retransmit them to us.

Bodies have changed, through food, lack of exercise, overintellectualization ; how can we pass on the message that learning physically how to fall is a necessity, provided that the results of it will be ascertained only several years later. What benefit is to be expected of it, what profitability, nowadays everything is accounted for, there’s no time to lose. It is the philosophy of Aïkido which attracts new practitioners, so that’s where our chance lies to pass on the message of this necessity.

Dualism

Aïkido, by nature and above all because of the orientation O Senseï Moriheï Ueshiba gave to it, carries a vision of the fall completely different from that of Boxing or Judo for instance, where falling is losing. To an external viewer, and that’s what falsely gives a certain character to our art, it seems that Tori is the winner when Uke falls on the tatamis. It is psychologically difficult to admit that this is not at all so. Society gives us but rarely any examples of behavior other than this Manichean dualism « Either you win or you lose ». And it is logical, at first sight, not to understand and to see only that. In order to understand the matter differently, one must practice, and practice with another conception in mind, which can only be given by the teacher. Itsuo Tsuda senseï provides an example of this pedagogy in his book The Path of Less :

« In Aïkido, when there is a flow of Ki from A, who is performing the technique, towards object B, opponent C, who is grasping A by the wrist, is thrown in the same direction. C is pulled in and joins the main current that goes from A to B.

I have often used this psychological mise-en-scene, for example, with the phrase « I’m already there ». When the opponent grabs your wrists and blocks your movement, as in the exercise of sitting Kokyu, one is inclined to think that this is a pushing exercise. If you push the opponent, it immediately produces resistance in that person. Push against push, they struggle. It becomes a sort of sitting sumo.

In the phrase « I’m already there », there is no struggle. One simply moves, pivots on one knee to make an about turn, the opponent is driven by the flow of Ki and flipped into his side. It takes very little for this exercise to become a struggle. As soon as the idea of winner and loser gets mixed up in it, exaggerated efforts are made to obtain a result, all to the detriment of overall harmony. One pushes, the other resists, bending excessively low and squeezing the wrists to prevent being pushed. Such a practice will not benefit either one. The idea is too mechanical. […] The idea of throwing provokes resistance. […] Nonetheless, to forget the opponent while knowing he’s there is not easy. The more we try to forget, the more we think about it. It’s the joy in the flow of Ki that makes me forget everything. »

Imbalance serving the purpose of balance

Balance is definitely not rigidity, that’s why falling as the consequence of a technique may perfectly enable us to rebalance ourselves. It is necessary to learn how to fall correctly, not only in order to enable Tori to be free of any fear for his partner, because Tori knows him and anticipates that his capacities will enable him to come out of this situation as well as a cat does in difficult conditions. But also and simply because thanks to the fall, we get rid of fears our own parents or grandparents have sometimes instilled in us with their ‘precautionism’ of the kind « Be careful, you’ll fall down. » invariably followed by « You’ll hurt yourself. ». This Pavlovian impregnation has often led us to rigidity and in any case to a certain apprehension as regards falling, dropping down.
The French word « chuter » (to fall) has obviously a negative connotation, while in Japanese the most commonly accepted translation of the term Ukemi is « to receive with the body », and we understand here that there is a world of difference. Once more the language shows us that the concepts, the reactions, differ profoundly, and it underlines the importance of the message we have to convey to people beginning Aïkido. Without being especially a linguist, nor even a translator of Japanese, the understanding of our art also involves the study of Eastern civilisations, their philosophies, their artistic tastes, their codes. In my opinion, extracting Aïkido from its context is not possible, despite its value of universality, we have to go and look in the direction of its roots, and therefore in that of the ancient texts. One of the basis of Aïkido can be found in ancient China, more precisely in Taoism. In an interview with G. Erard, Kono senseï reveals one of the secrets of Aïkido that seems to me essential although quite forgotten today : he had asked Morihei Ueshiba :  “O senseï, how come we don’t do what you do ?” O senseï had answered smiling : ’’I understand Yin and Yang. You don’t !’’.

To project in order to harmonize

Tori, and this is something peculiar to our art, can guide the partner’s fall so that the latter may benefit from the action. Itsuo Tsuda tells us about what he used to feel when he was projected by O Senseï : « What I can say from my own experience, is that with Mr Ueshiba, my pleasure was so great that I always wanted to ask for more. I never felt any effort on his part. It was so natural that not only did I feel no constraint, but I fell without knowing it. I have experienced the surge of great waves on the beach that topple a,d sweep one away. There is, of course, pleasure, but with Mr Ueshiba it was something else. There was serenity, greatness, Love ». There is a will, conscious or not, to harmonize the partner’s body. In this case it may be called projection. It is thus relevant to say that Aïkido is not anymore in martiality but rather in the harmonization of mankind. In order to realize this we need to leave behind us any idea of superiority, of power over another, or even any vindictive attitude, and to have the desire to give the partner a hand in order to allow him self-realization, without him needing to thank anybody. The fusion of sensibility with the partner is indispensable to achieve this, it is this same fusion which guides us, enables us to know our partner’s level and to release at the right moment if he’s a beginner, or to support his body if the moment is adequate for going beyond, to allow him to fall further, faster, or higher. In any case pleasure is present.

The involuntary

We can’t calculate the direction of the fall, its speed, its power, nor even its angle of landing. Everything happens at the level of the involuntary or the unconscious if we prefer, but which unconscious are we referring to ? It is an unconscious devoid of what cluttered it up, of what prevented it from being free, that’s why O Senseï would so often recall that Aïkido is a Misogi, practicing Aïkido is to realize this cleaning of body and spirit. When we practice this way, there is no accident in the dojo, this is the path Itsuo Tsuda senseï had adopted and the indications he was giving were leading us in this direction. This makes his School a particular School. Other paths are not only possible, but certainly match even more, or better, the expectations of many practitioners. I read many articles in magazines or blogs which take pride of violence or the ability to solve conflicts through violence and toughening up. To me, it doesn’t seem to be the way indicated by O Senseï Morihei Ueshiba, nor by the Masters I was fortunate to meet, and particularly Tsuda senseï, Noro senseï, Tamura senseï, Nocquet senseï, or others through their interviews, such as Kono senseï. The Ukemi enables us to understand better physically the principles which rule our art, which guide us beyond our small self, our small mind, to glimpse something greater than us, to be one with nature which we are part of.

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Article by Régis Soavi published in Dragon Magazine (speciale Aikido n° 22) October 2018.

Notes :

* Itsuo Tsuda The Path of less, édition Yume Edition p.180

** Guillaume Erard, Entretien avec Henry Kono : Yin et Yang, moteur de l’Aikido du fondateur, 22 avril 2008, www.guillaumeerard.fr

*** Itsuo Tsuda La Voie du dépouillement, Ed. Le Courrier du Livre p. 172

 

Seitai and daily life #4

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Coming out of the shadows

By Manon Soavi

I discovered late in life that I was a girl. Of course I knew it, but it did not matter, it had no impact on my life, the way I would get in touch with other people and practice Aikido. I was not aware, unlike most of my fellow women citizens, that I was a “girl”, before being an “individual”. Part of the explanation for why I grew up outside of these ubiquitous schemes is that I’ve never been to school. My parents had chosen a different path, it was a revolutionary decision, it was disobedience to “compulsory” schooling as Catherine Baker recounts in her book [1]… Of course this conditioning of women does not only take place within the school environment, but also within families, social circles, the media and culture in general. In families , it’s always the little girls who are told that they are “so pretty, so cute”. Whether with a judo Keikogi or a pink tutu, they are being dressed like dollies. This is so present, as plain as the nose on your face, that we no longer consider it a problem. What’s wrong with complimenting a little girl, a baby, on their clothes, their curls or smile? Well, precisely because the current importance of beauty and appearance is learnt during early childhood, and because this will brand them for life. It’s with all those remarks and comments, these pink toys and these smiles that future women are being taught their traditional role: to please, and to enjoy pleasing. As writer Mona Chollet puts it: “ the consequences of this alienation [for women] are far from being limited to a loss of time, money and energy. The fear of not pleasing, not meeting expectations, the subjugation to others’ judgments, the conviction of not being good enough to deserve love and attention from others both reflect and amplify a psychic insecurity and a self-depreciation whose effects reach every area of women’s life.” [2].

In my case, I was preserved from this situation in my early childhood, I only discovered it during adolescence, I got shocked when I became aware that I was regarded and talked to, first and foremost as “a girl”! Of course I could not bear it and rebelled, as many other women did, against this treatment. But unfortunately no one ever fully escapes a culture, a society, I am part of it and I was affected by it too. The situation of Western women is obviously not to be compared with that of other countries where women have no right. Yet can that be a reason why we should not get things to progress? Because, even though women suffer from this situation, which they themselves perpetuate by raising over and over their daughters and sons to reproduce the same schemes, it is actually humankind as a whole which loses out from this imbalance. If men can be perceived as “oppressors”, I think women have the keys to get our society out of this impasse. Kobayashi Sensei’s saying “Freedom is expressed by moving where it is possible” (3) supports my thought that it is for women to exert their freedom. It is our responsibility not to reproduce over and over this story. And this is where, precisely where, that for me, this issue connects with Aïkido.

Aikido, a third path

Aikido can be an answer to this “fight or submit” impasse which women have to face. Because Aikido is a martial art which has nothing to do with fighting. May one dare use the word “non martial art”? Many Masters and great experts repeat it (again recently Steve Magson, student of Chiba Kazuo Sensei, in Aikido journal): it is ridiculous to raise the question of Aikido’s “efficiency” in a “real fight situation”. It is meaningless (which of course does not mean that one should do anything). But while a high level martial expert can write this without the value of his Aikido practice being questioned, a woman saying the same thing would immediately be suspected of not being up to it, not being capable enough. This issue however precisely concerns women, because we face very acutely the question of fighting as a dualistic situation. Even if it is not about fistfighting but rather cultural and social fighting. In addition, we are as soon as we are born potential victims of violence. Maybe we will escape it, but it will then be an exception. All women live knowing they will be a victim one day or another. And when we wish to express ourselves, get a job, again we are obliged to demonstrate our value, our right to stand where we are, all along our life. And, precisely, Aikido falls completely outside this framework! There will be no winner, nor loser. Aikido is like another dimension where our values no longer hold. If practiced in a certain way, it can be a tool to practice, human being to human being, without any distinction. Régis Soavi Sensei writes about Aikido that it is “a school for life, a school that arouses the life of those who practice it. Far from being just another string to our bow, it questions the fallacies and subterfuges which our society offers” (4). I’m also inclined to think that Cognard Sensei follows the same line when writing about an Aiki ritual that could change us so much as to overcome history that has been legitimating violence for centuries (3). It is a pity that women do not take hold of this tool, this art, in order to escape submission, without imitating men in position of power, but rather by entering a third path. Where no one expects them.


Following this third path has always been my direction since my childhood, by walking, of course, outside of the school system, but also by practicing Aikido since I was 6. I am not saying that I always manage to find the right way, but I’m working on it. Daily reviving the practice of going down another path, of getting out of situations differently. I consequently practice with my own father being my Master. At the same time, it’s a chance and it’s not easy. I have always seen him ahead of me, on this path. He has been walking for a long time, before I was born, and I sometimes had the impression he was an unreachable horizon in Aikido. Benevolently, but with extraordinary firmness, he guided me, held my hand, without overlooking anything but letting time work. Now I walk by his side, I also teach Aikido myself… and I can better see how fortunate I am. I wish I could prompt other women (without excluding men of course) to practice this art with the state of mind I have experienced, the one of the Itsuo Tsuda School. And to practice it long enough, because it takes time, one cannot change one’s culture in a few years. One can acquire a few techniques, some self-confidence maybe. But really deciding for a different life course will require more time. The first step is daily practice, at least regular practice, which brings us back to ourselves. Writing on a seemingly completely different topic (calligraphy), sinologist J.-F. Billeter gives us a remarkably vivid account which strikingly resonates with Aikido practice:

“In the current world, practice also brings us back to ourselves by reintroducing us to the pleasure of gratuitous gesture. Dictated by machines, our daily activity more and more shrinks to moves that are programmed, domesticated, produced with indifference, without any imagination nor sensitivity taking part. Practice remedies this gesture atrophy by arousing our stiffened abilities. It restores the pleasure of playing, it brings back to life capacities which, even though not immediately “useful”, are nonetheless essential. As the most evolved among animals, human beings need more playing than any other species to maintain their balance. Practice also affects our perception of time. In our daily life, we keep going back in time and projecting ourselves into the future, leaping from one to the other without being able to stop at the present time. Because of this, we are haunted by the feeling that time is slipping away. By lining up with ourselves, practice on the contrary suspends the flight of time. When we handle the paintbrush, the present time seems to detach from the string that tied it to the past and the future. It absorbs in itself all duration. It amplifies itself and transforms into a vast space of tranquility. It is no longer governed by the flow of time, but it resonates with moments of the same nature which we experienced yesterday, the day before yesterday and the days before. These moments get threaded to each other, they create another continuity, a kind of majestic avenue that travels across the disorganized time of our daily activities. Our life tends to reorganize around this new axis and the inconsistency of our external activities stops impeding us. Daily practice performs the function of a ritual.” (5)Manon Soavi Jo stage été femmes aikido

Restoring sensation

But how did we get there? According to Tsuda Sensei, today’s world tends to favor cerebral hypertrophy and voluntarism at the expense of the living. He said about it: “I don’t refuse to understand the essential character of Western civilisation: it is a challenge of the human brain to the order of the world, an effort of the will to extend the boundaries of the possible. Whether it is about industrial development, medicine or Olympic games, this character predominates. It is an aggression against nature. Superb human acts, yet without knowing it, against nature. Life suffers, despite our increased knowledge and possession.”

There also precisely lies the matter. We disconnect from our sensations, from the sensation of living inside us. It is also because women no longer feel their needs, their profound natures, that they let themselves carried away into situations that do not suit them. Too busy with acquiring and fighting, their instinct which should safeguards their life no longer reacts. It got atrophied. Even with their babies today’s women struggle to feel, to know what to do and turn to science and books to dictate them how to behave. Listening to their baby and listening to their intuition is outdated, it’s archaic! And after centuries when being a mother was the only horizon for respectable women, we have nowadays achieved the feat of strength of reversing the imperative. Now, being “only” a stay-at-home mother is shabby! What a breakthrough!

Here also Aikido brings us back to our sensations. One cannot mentally compute a move. Upon an oncoming attack one has to move, it’s too late to think. One has to sense one’s partner in order to move in a right, appropriate way. We (men or women) are often like the famous overfull cup in the Zen philosophy, which spills out when more tea is added. We are too agitated and too full of ourselves to be able to perceive the other. Let’s not even talk about understanding them! This is also the meaning of the Non-Doing Tsuda Sensei was talking about. We need to be empty, we need to start by listening. Women first should start by listening to themselves. Listening to their own body in Aikido everyday is rewriting their own experience. Relearning to trust themselves, restore the confidence in what their body says. Hino Sensei makes the same observation, he writes about humans who have become “insensitive and incapable” (6). He deplores the blatant lack of perception of what happens in the other person. Whether we grab his/her wrist or discuss with him/her, sensation is broken off. Intuition no longer works. We content ourselves with “Hi, how are you? – Fine, how are you?”, how superficial! If one is sensitive, it just takes a simple look to feel the other, to know whether they are happy or sad, whether they are half-asleep or on top form. But because of repeated stereotyped relationships we lose sight of authentic human relationships. Here again some masters have left us guideposts to reconnect with ourselves.

Tsuda Sensei used to talk about intuition and authenticity of the relation we have with our child. Because, if when searching for intense sensations and experience some martial arts practitioners fantasize about past masters’ uchideshis, about experiences one can live under an icy waterfall, about the total availability for the Master, etc., there is one extreme experience which a woman can go through, a life experience rather similar to what Noro Senseï recounts, he who once was Ueshiba Moriheï’s Otomo. I can attest to it, it really feels like this: “If s/he sleeps, you have to watch over her/his sleep. If s/he wakes up at night, you have to be ready to satisfy her/his needs. If s/he gets bored, you have to entertain her/him. If s/he gets ill, you have to take care of her/him. You have to prepare her/his bath, her/his meals, and clean everything up as soon as s/he changes activity. […] It is obviously about adapting and even about becoming capable of anticipating the very precise desires in order to remain, day and night, awake or not, in total harmony.” (7).

In total harmony with whom? With one’s newborn of course for a mother or a father! But why should one choose such a treatment? While there are so many solutions to relieve us from the burden of having a child. It is like slavery! Yet, for those who live this experience of a unique, wordless communication with a human being, it is an inestimable teaching. It is most likely when this state of fusion with the other person was reached that the genuine transmission from the Master, the transmission of the spirit of an art, could be achieved. Martial arts practitioners are looking for this life intensity! Unfortunately, when a woman experiences it with her child, this is relegated to a mere domestic task, which could be done by any underpaid nurse. Tsuda Sensei used to talk about childhood as the only area where one could still live such an impossible experience. He was even saying that “knowing how to take care of a baby was the acme of martial arts”! Here again, if women became aware of this, would they realize the potential of hidden power they have? Would we then stop aiming at equaling men as the only path towards self-realisation?Manon Soavi Iai - femmes aikido

Living in this world, while still being in another


If the purpose of our practice is human evolution, I believe the Dojo to be its casket. A Dojo can be a microcosm where we let go our social conventions, even temporarily. Through his books and calligraphies, Tsuda Sensei prompts us to question the established order, to look further beyond the social organisation. If we practice in a certain direction, we can forget with whom we practice. If, and only if, we leave behind our social reflexes. It is obviously very difficult at the beginning not to bring in with us our baggage. It is as difficult for men as for women to forget who they have become in this world so to focus on what they are inside. Before any distinction, of sex, color, age, fortune, culture, etc. Looking into ourselves for this shared humanity requires from us a voluntary act of breaking away from codes. The Dojo, its atmosphere of serenity and concentration (which cannot be found in a sports hall), the feeling of an intangible dojo, all this brings us into a certain state. The sequence of a session, with its first part of individual movements which brings breathing back to the center, followed by the practice with a partner, the harmonization of breaths, the attention to sensation. A combination that allows the Dojo to be a little bit “outside” the world, which prompts us to let go so to get into a different state during practice. Ivan Illich mentions such a state of consciousness when saying: “I don’t wan’t anything between you and me. [I am] afraid of the things that could prevent me from being in contact with you” (8). In a dojo, we sweep these things away, conventions, fears, which stand between one another. It is not about abandoning our culture, no, it’s simply about abandoning the manifestations of the social being in order to find each other so to walk along together.

For this to happen, we need women to wake up and come out of the shadows.

Article by  Manon Soavi published in Dragon Magazine (speciale Aikido n° 22) october 2018.

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Notes :
1) C.Baker Les cahiers au feu Éd.Barrault, 1988
2) M.Chollet Beauté fatale, Les nouveaux visages d’une aliénation féminine Éd. La Découverte, p.8
3) A.Cognard Rituel et Symbole Dragon Magazine Spécial Aïkido n°19, janv. 2018, p. 22
4) R.Soavi Mémoire d’un Aïkidoka Dragon Magazine Spécial Aïkido n°19, janv. 2018, p. 60
5) J.F.Billeter Essai sur l’art chinois de l’écriture et ses fondements Éd.Allia, 2010, p. 164
6) H.Akira Don’t think, listen to the body! 2017, p. 226
7) P.Fissier Chroniques de Noro Masamichi Dragon Magazine Spécial Aïkido n°12 p.77
8) I.Illich Mythologie occidentale et critique du « capitalisme des biens non tangibles » Entretien avec Jean-Marie Domenach dans la série « Un certain regard » – 19/03/1972.

Yuki #3

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Is Aikido a martial art?

by Régis Soavi

This seems to be a recurring question in the dojos and one which divides practitioners, teachers, as well as commentators in more or less all schools. Since no definitive answer can be given, one turns to the story of martial arts, to social requirements, to the history of the origin of human beings, to the cognitive sciences, etc. entrusting them to provide an answer which, even if it does not solve the problem, will at least have the merit of justifying what is claimed.

Aikijutsu has become a dō

From the moment it has dropped the suffix jutsu to become a dō, Aikijutsu has acknowledged itself as an art of peace, a way of harmony on the same basis as Shodō (the way of calligraphy) or also Kadō (the way of flowers). By adopting the word that means the path, the way, has it become for this an easier path? Or in the contrary does it compel us to ask ourselves questions, to look again at our own course, to make an effort of introspection? Does an art of peace necessarily have a compliant side, is it a weak art, an art of acceptance, in which cheaters may gain a reputation at little expense?
It is certainly an art that has managed to adapt to the new realities of our time. But do we have to foster the illusion of an easy self-defence, within everyone’s reach, suiting any budget, with no need to get involved in the least bit? Can you really believe or make people believe that with one or two hours of practice a week, furthermore excluding holidays (clubs are often closed), one can become a great warrior or acquire wisdom and be able to solve any problem thanks to one’s calm, peace of mind or charisma?
Does the solution then lie in strength, muscular work and the violent arts? If a direction exists at all, it can be found in my opinion, and despite what I have just said, in Aikido.

A School without grades

Itsuo Tsuda never gave grades to any of his students and, when somebody had a question about that, he used to answer: “There is no such thing as a black belt in mental emptiness”. One might say that these words had ended all discussion. Having served as an interpreter between O Sensei Ueshiba Morihei and André Nocquet when the latter had come to Japan as a learner, Itsuo Tsuda later acted as an intermediary when French or American foreigners showed up at the Hombu Dojo to start learning Aikido. This allowed him, since he translated the students’ questions and the master’s answers, to have access to what was underlying the practice, to what made it something universal, to what made it an art beyond pure martiality. He talked to us about O Sensei’s posture, about his amazing spontaneity, about his deep gaze which seemed to pierce him to the very depths of his being. Itsuo Tsuda never tried to imitate his master whom considered inimitable. He was immediately interested in what inspired this incredible man capable of the greatest gentleness as well as of the greatest power. That is why, when he arrived in France, he tried to pass on to us what for him was the essential, the secret of Aikido, the concrete perception of ki. What he had discovered, and later summarized in the initial sentence of his first book: “Since the very day when I had the revelation of ‘ki’, of breath (I was over forty years old at the time), the desire to express the inexpressible, to communicate what cannot be communicated had kept growing in me.”*
For ten years he travelled Europe to make us Westerners, who very often had a Cartesian, dualistic frame of mind, discover that there is another dimension in life. That this dimension is not esoteric but exoteric as he liked to say.

A School with its own specificity

There is obviously a variety of motivatons leading people to start this practice. If I think of the people who practice in our School (the Itsuo Tsuda School), apart from a few of them, there are not many who came for the martial aspect. On the other hand, many of them didn’t see anything martial about it at first sight, even though at each session I show how the techniques could be effective if performed with precision, and dangerous if used in a violent way. The martial aspect arises from the posture, the breathing, the ability to concentrate, the truthfulness of the act of attacking. Dealing with a learner, it is essential to respect the partner’s level, and to practice known forms.
But the discovery one can make by practicing known forms goes far beyond that. It is about making something else grow, revealing what lies deep within individuals, freeing oneself from the underpinning influence exerted by the past and sometimes even by the future, on our gestures, on the whole of our movements, physical as well as mental. Indeed in our dojo everybody realizes that.
The session starts at 6:45am. The fact of coming to practice so early in the morning (O Sensei and Tsuda Sensei always started their own sessions at 6.30) has neither to do with an ascesis nor with a discipline. Some practicioners arrive around 6 every morning, to share some coffee or tea, and to enjoy this moment before the session (a pre-session so to speak), sometimes so rich thanks to the exchanges that we can have between us. It’s a moment of pleasure, of conversation about the practice, as well as about everyday life sometimes, and we share it with the others in an extremely concrete way and not in the virtual way that society tends to suggest us.
Of course all this may appear regressive or useless, but it avoids the aspect of easy entertainment and does not encourage clientelism, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, but in that way there is less of it and with time it evolves.This is because people change, they are transformed, or more precisely they find themselves again, they retrieve unused capacities that they sometimes thought they had lost or often, more simply, had forgotten.

Yin the feminine: understanding

There are so many women in our School that equality is not respected, men are outnumbered, by a narrow margin of course, but that has always been the case. I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of women but what can one do? As far as I know they do not form a separate world, unknown to men.
As a matter of fact, for many men, maybe it is so!…Nevertheless I think all a man has do is to take into account his yin side, without being afraid of it, to find and understand what brings men and women closer and what separates them. Is it a matter of personal affinity, is it a research due to my experience during the events of May ’68 and to this blossoming of feminism which revealed itself once again in those days, or maybe more simply is it the fact that I have three daughters, who, by the way, practice Aikido all three of them: the result, whatever the reasons, is that I have always encouraged women to take their legitimate place in the dojos of our School. They take the same responsibilities as men and there is of course no disparity in level, neither in studying nor in teaching. It is really a pity to have to clarify things like that, but unfortunately they cannot be taken for granted in this world.
Despite everything, women scarcely take the floor, or I should even say take up the pen in martial arts magazines. It would be interesting to read articles written by women, or to devote space in “Dragon magazine special Aikido” to the female perspective on martial arts and on our art in particular. Do they have nothing to say or does the male world take up all the space? Or else maybe these sectarian disputes on the efficiency of Aikido bore them, for women seek and often find, so it seems to me, another dimension, or in any case something else, thanks to this art? Itsuo Tsuda Sensei gives us an idea of this “something else”, which is perhaps closer to O Sensei’s search, in this passage of his book The Path of less: “Do people see Mr Ueshiba as a man completely made of steel? I had quite the opposite impression. He was a serene man, capable of extraordinary concentration, but very permeable in other ways, inclined to outbursts of ringing laughter, with an inimitable sense of humour. I had the opportunity of touching his biceps. I was amazed. The tenderness of a newborn. The opposite of hardness in every way one could imagine.
This may seem odd, but his ideal Aikido was that of girls. Due to the nature of their physique, girls are unable to contract their shoulders as hard as boys can. Therefore their Aikido is more flowing and natural.”**

Yang the masculine: fighting

art martial

We are educated to competition from early childhood ; under the pretext of emulation, school tends to go in the same direction, all this to prepare us for the world of work. They teach us that the world is tough, that we absolutely need to gain our place in the sun, to learn to defend ourselves against other people, but are we so sure about that? Wouldn’t our desire in fact tend to guide us in a different direction? And what do we do to achieve this goal? Could Aikido be one of the instruments for this revolution in social values, habits, should it and above all should we do the necessary effort so that the roots of this evil corroding our modern societies may regenerate and become healthy again? In the past there have been examples of societies in which competition didn’t exist, or hardly existed in the way it does today, societies in which sexism was absent too, even though you can’t present them as ideal societies. Reading the writings on matriarchy in the Trobriand islands by the great anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowsky, discovering his analysis, may help find new leads, and perhaps even remedies to these problems of civilization which have so often been denounced.

Tao, the union: a path for the fulfillment of the human being

The path, in essence, not that I am an idealist, justifies itself and takes all its value by the fact that it normalizes the terrain of individuals. For those who follow it, it adjusts their tensions, restores balance, and it is appeasing for it allows a different relationship to life. Isn’t that what so many “civilized” people are desperately seeking and what in the end is to be found deep inside the human being?
The path is not a religion, furthermore it is what separates it from religion that makes it a space of freedom, within the dominant ideologies. According to me the way of thinking that seems closest to this is agnosticism, a philosophical current which is little known, or rather known in a superficial way, but which allows to integrate all the different schools. In Aikido there is quite a number of rituals that are kept up even though their real origin (the source O Sensei drew from) is not understood or there are sometimes other rituals that other masters found through ancient practices as Tamura Sensei himself did. Those rituals have often been associated to religion whereas the fact could be checked that it is the religions which have taken over all these ancient rituals to use them as instruments serving their own power, and way too often they are used for the domination and the enslavement of people.

A means: the respiratory practice

The first part of the session in O Sensei Ueshiba Morihei’s Aikido, far from being a warming up, consisted of movements the depth of which it is primordial to retrieve. It is neither to get an intellectual satisfaction, nor out of some fundamentalist concern and even less to gain “higher powers” that we continue them, but in order to return to the path that O Sensei had taken. Some exercises, like Funakogi undo (the so-called rower’s movement) or Tama-no-hirebori (vibration of the soul), have a very great value, and if they are practiced with the necessary attention, they can allow us to feel beyond the physical body, beyond our sensation, limited as it is, to discover something greater, much greater than ourselves. It is an unlimited nature which we take part in, in which we are immersed, which is fundamentally and inextricably linked to us, and yet which we find it so hard to reach or even sometimes to feel. This notion that I made mine is not the result of a mystical relationship with the universe, but rather of a mental and physical opening which many modern physicists have reached through a theoretical approach and are trying to verify. It is something that you can neither learn by watching Youtube videos, nor by consulting books of ancient wisdom, despite their undeniable importance. It is something you discover in a purely corporal way, in an absolutely and fully physical way, even though this dimension is expanded to an unusual extent. Little by little all the practitioners who agree to look in this direction find it. It is not related to a physical condition, nor to age and obviously not to sex or nationality.

Education

Almost all psychologists consider that the essential part of what will guide us in our adult life takes place during our childhood and more precisely in our early childhood. The good as well as the bad experiences. Therefore particular care should be taken in education to preserve the innate nature of the child as much as possible. In no way does this mean letting the child do whatever he wants, making him a king or becoming his slave; the world is there and surrounds him, so he needs reference points. But very quickly, often shortly after birth, sometimes after a few months, the baby is put in the care of persons outside the family. What happened to his parents? He no longer recognizes his mother’s voice, her smell, her movement. It is the first trauma and we are told : “He will get over it”. Sure, unfortunately it is not the last trauma, far from it. Then comes the day care center, followed by kindergarten, primary school, junior high, and finally the baccalaureate before perhaps university for at least three, four, five, six years or even more.
But what can you do ? “That’s life.” I am told. Each of these places in which the child will be spending his time in the name of education and learning is a mental prison. From basic knowledge to mass culture, when will he be respected as an individual full of the imagination that characterizes childhood? He will be taught to obey, he will learn to cheat. He will be taught to be with the others, he will learn competition. He will receive grades, this will be called emulation, and this psychological disaster will be experienced by top as well as by bottom of the class students.
In the name of what totalitarian ideology are all children and young people given an education that breeds fear of repression, submission, decommitment and disillusionment? Today’s society in wealthy countries does not propose anything really new: work and free time are only synonyms of the roman ideal of bread and circus games, the slavery of the ancient times is only turned into our modern wage employment. A somewhat improved state of slavery ? Perhaps… with spectacular brain washing, guaranteed without invoice, thanks to the advertising for products that is pushed on us, with its corollary: the hyper-consumption of goods both useless and detrimental.
The practice of Aikido for children and teenagers is the opportunity to go off the grids proposed by the world around them. It is thanks to the concentration required by the technique, a calm and quiet breathing, the non-competitive aspect, the respect for differences, that they can keep or, if necessary, retrieve their inner strength. A peaceful strength, not aggressive, but full and rich of the imagination and the desire to make the world better.

A practical philosophy, or rather, a philosophical practice

The particular character of the Itsuo Tsuda School derives from the fact that we are more interested in individuality than in the dissemination of an art or a series of techniques. It is neither about creating an ideal person, nor about guiding anyone towards something, towards a lifestyle, with a certain amount of gentleness, a certain amount of kindness or wisdom, of balancing ability or exaltation, etc. It is about awakening the human being and allowing him to live fully in the acceptance of what he is in the world surrounding him, without destroying him. This spirit of openness can do nothing other than waking up the strength pre-existing in each of us. This philosophy leads us to independence, to autonomy, but not to isolation, on the contrary: through the discovery of the Other, it brings us to the understanding of what this person is, also perhaps beyond what the person has become. This whole process of learning, or rather this reappropriation of oneself, takes time, continuity, sincerity, in order to realize more clearly the direction in which one wishes to go.

What lies beyond, what lies behind

What I am interested in today is what lies behind or more precisely what lies deep inside Aikido. When you take a train you have an objective, a destination, with Aikido it is a little bit as if the train changed objective as you moved further, as if the direction became at the same time different, and more precise. As for the objective, it pulls away despite the fact that you think you have come closer. And this is where you have to recognize that the object of our journey is the journey itself, the landscapes we discover, which become more refined and reveal themselves to us.

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Notes
* Itsuo Tsuda, The Non-doing, Yume Editions, 2013, p.9
** Itsuo Tsuda, The Path of less, Yume Editions, 2014, p.157

Health condition according to Seitai #2

Sequel of interviews where Régis Soavi, who has been teaching and introducing people to Katsugen Undo for forty years now, gets back to basics about Seitai and Katsugen Undo. This second video tackles the notion of health according to Seitai.

Subtitles available in French, English, Italian and Spanish. To activate the subtitles, click on this icon. Then click on the icon to select the subtitle language.

Some additional information:

Seitai was developed by Haruchika Noguchi (1911-1976) in Japan. Katsugen Undo (or Regenerating Movement) is an exercise of the extrapyramidal motor system that is part of Seitai. Itsuo Tsuda (1914-1984), who introduced Katsugen Undo in Europe in the 70s, would write about it: “The human body is endowed with a natural ability to readjust its condition […]. This ability […] is the responsibility of the extrapyramidal motor system”*.

Régis Soavi starts practising martials arts with Judo when he is twelve. He then studies Aikido, especially alongside Masters Tamura, Nocquet and Noro. He meets Tsuda Itsuo Sensei in 1973 and will follow him until his death in 1984. With the permission of the latter, Régis Soavi becomes a professional teacher and disseminates his Aïkido and Katsugen Undo throughout Europe.

*Itsuo Tsuda, One, Yume Editions (trans. Itsuo Tsuda School, 2016), p. 46

Seitai and Katsugen Undo #1

Many thing are being said and circulated on the internet about Seitai and Katsugen Undo (Regenerating Movement). In this round of interviews, Régis Soavi, who has been teaching and introducing people to Katsugen Undo for forty years now, gets back to basics to address the question “What are Seitai and Katsugen Undo?”.

Subtitles available in French, English, Italian and Spanish. To activate the subtitles, click on this icon. Then click on the icon to select the subtitle language.

Some additional information:

Seitai was developed by Haruchika Noguchi (1911-1976) in Japan. Katsugen Undo (or Regenerating Movement) is an exercise of the extrapyramidal motor system that is part of Seitai. Itsuo Tsuda (1914-1984), who introduced Katsugen Undo in Europe in the 70s, would write about it: “The human body is endowed with a natural ability to readjust its condition […]. This ability […] is the responsibility of the extrapyramidal motor system”*.

Régis Soavi starts practising martials arts with Judo when he is twelve. He then studies Aikido, especially alongside Masters Tamura, Nocquet and Noro. He meets Tsuda Itsuo Sensei in 1973 and will follow him until his death in 1984. With the permission of the latter, Régis Soavi becomes a professional teacher and disseminates his Aïkido and Katsugen Undo throughout Europe.

*Itsuo Tsuda, One, Yume Editions (trans. Itsuo Tsuda School, 2016), p. 46

Hello Illness #2

Continuation of Régis Soavi Interview’s  about Katsugen Undo (or Regenerating Movement), a practice made by Haruchika Noguchi and spread in Europe by Itsuo Tsuda: article by  Monica Rossi  « Arti d’Oriente » (#4 / may 2000).

To read part 1 –> https://www.ecole-itsuo-tsuda.org/en/bonjour-maladie/

Part #2

– How can one define Yuki ?

-Let the Ki circulate.

– How can Yuki help to activate the Movement?

– It helps, in the case where one has done the three exercises, or the exercises for Mutual Movement (activation through stimulation of the second pair of points on the head ; that is another way to activate the Movement). Yuki helps because it activates ; It’s very important for me to say that Yuki is fundamentally different from what we often hear spoken of, because when we do Yuki, we void our heads, we don’t cure anyone, we don’t look for anything. We are simply concentrated in the act. There is no intention, and that is primordial. In the statutes of the dojo, in fact, it is underlined that we practice “without a goal” ».

Lire la suite

Hello Illness #1

Interview of Régis Soavi about Katsugen Undo (or Regenerating Movement), a practice made by Haruchika Noguchi and spread in Europe by Itsuo Tsuda: article by  Monica Rossi  « Arti d’Oriente » (#4 / may 2000).

« After reading the books of Itsuo Tsuda ( 1914-1984 ), I was fascinated by his arguments, which range freely from the subject of Aïkido to that of children and the way they are born, illness, or his memories of Ueshiba Morihei and Noguchi Haruchika, and I wanted to know more. I continued to have a sensation of something beyond my understanding.

So I began to ask, what exactly is this Regenerating Movement (Katsugen Undo ) that Tsuda spoke of, a spontaneous movement of the body that seemed able to rebalance it without needing to intoxicate it with medication ; an ancient concept but still revolutionary, above all in our society. I was unable to get any satisfactory answers to my questions : those who have practiced the Regenerating Movement couldn’t describe it or explain ; the answer was always : « You should try it yourself in order to understand ; the first time, it will probably unsettle you a bit. »
So I decided to try it. In Milan, the school that refers to the teachings of Itsuo Tsuda is the « Scuola della Respirazione ». There, one can practice Aïkido and the Regenerating Movement ( in separate sessions ). But, in order to go to the sessions of Movement, one must first participate in a week-end course conducted by Régis Soavi, who has continued the work of Tsuda in Europe.

Regis Soavi en conférence

Lire la suite

The spirit of Aïkido lies in the practice

by Régis Soavi

« One often tends to consider the spirit of an art as a mental process, a path that should be consciously taken, or rules to observe. All this because in the West we live in a world of separation, division. On one side there is spirit, on the other side body, on one side the conscious, on the other the uncouscious, this is what is supposed to make us civilized beings while this separation actually generates inner conflicts. Conflicts which are strengthened by the systems of prohibition set up in order to protect society, to protect ourselves against ourselves.

regis soavi meditation
The practice of Aïkido leads us to the reunification of the human being.

Towards the reunification of human being, this is the Path we head for through practicing Aïkido. This reunification is necessary in a world where the human being is objectified, where the human being becomes both a consumer and a commodity. Without realizing the way taken, the civilized person executes life instead of living it. This society that leads us to consumption leaves little room for inner work, it leads us to search outside for what lies inside. To buy what we already have, to search for solutions to all our problems outside ourselves, as if other people had better solutions. This leads to the individual being cared for and supported by the different protection systems, which are at the same time social, ideological or health care, thus increasing supply and creating an ideal market for dream-sellers of any kind, charlatans, gurus and co.
Today I’ve heard that a new practice has just been created : « Respirology », and as usual, customers abused by the power of words will certainly flock. Should we, in the name of body and mind normalization, of people getting back into shape, change the name of our art into : « Aïkido therapy » ? The spirit of Aïkido can’t be taught.

I don’t believe it can be told that there is a specific spirit of Aïkido but rather that Aïkido must be the reflection of something much greater that we, little human beings, have difficulties to realize during our life.
The spirit of an art can’t be taught, it’s rather a transmission, but an Aïkido without a spirit, what would it be : a struggle, a fight, a kind of brawl without head nor tail. Teaching the technique without transmitting anything of the spirit is quite possible, but then, it happens to be a totally different thing. It may be self-defence or a wellness technique.
Like in any martial art, we have the Rei, the salute, which is obviously the most immediately visible expression of it, but what’s most important will be transmitted through the teacher’s posture. By posture I mean an extremely complex set of signs that students will find recognizable : of course the physical aspect, dynamics, precision, etc., but also the way of conveying a message, the attention given to each practitioner according to thousands of factors that the teacher must perceive. It is through developing intuition that one can get the greatest and finest pedagogy, and so provide the elements needed by practitioners to deepen their art, to better understand its roots.

The spirit of Aïkido can’t be learnt

The spirit of Aïkido can’t be learnt, it is discovered, it doesn’t change us, it enables us to recover our human roots, to join what’s best in human being.
« Aïkido is the art of learning in depth, the art of knowing oneself ».


The Aïkido founder’s desire was to bring human beings closer, to him the world was like a big family : « In Aïkido, training is not meant to become stronger or beat the opponent. No. It helps to get the spirit of placing oneself at the centre of the Universe and contribute to world peace, bring all human beings to form a big family. »

A hymn to joy

Osenseï used to say :  « Always practice Aïkido in a vibrant and joyful manner ». We don’t talk about joy often enough, our world incites us to sadness, to react violently to events, to criticize the systems’ failures, to see other people’s flaws, to be competitive. But all this eventually makes us grumpy, harsh and spoils our pleasure of living, quite simply.
Joy is a sensation that I consider sacred. The joy of living, of feeling fully alive in everything we do, or don’t do. Joy enables us to experience in a totally different way what many people consider as constraints, to consider them as opportunities allowing us to go further, to deepen what my master used to call respiration.

Aïkido is the art of learning in depth, the art of knowing oneself

Joy leads us little by little to inner freedom, which is the only freedom that is worth discovering, as so well told by the Taji Quan master Gu Meisheng (1926-2003) who discovered it in Chinese prisons during Mao’s era.

It enables us to get out of the conventions that different systems impose on us.
The spirit of Aïkido is to be found in nature, not in a nature external to the human being but rather in the human being as a part of nature, as nature.
« The practice of Aïkido is an act of faith, a belief in the power of non-violence. It is not a type of rigid discipline or empty asceticism. It is a path that follows the principles of nature, principles which must be applied to daily life. Aïkido must be practiced from the moment you get up to welcome the day until the moment you withdraw for the night. »
To start every morning in the dojo’s quiet with a two or three minute meditation in order to refocus, to concentrate. Then switch to the Respiratory Practice, as Tsuda senseï named it, and which Osenseï Ueshiba Moriheï used to do at every session. It is then possible to turn to the second part, the practice with a partner, the pleasure of communication through technique, the Ka Mi respiration and all of this very early in the morning while many people outside have just emerged from sleep.
When nothing is planned, when we are devoid of any thought, in these sublime moments when fusion with the partner takes place, then we are in the spirit of Aïki.
Like in Zen, it is suggested to us to live here and now, to be no different from what we are, but to look with lucidity at what we have become.

The transmission of the spirit.

In order to understand the spirit of Aïkido, one must, in my opinion, dive into the past, not only that of Japan but also, and maybe even mostly, that of ancient China. Go and search for the thinkers, philosophers, poets who enriched reflexion and gave weight to the Oriental way of thinking.
It is thanks to my master Tsuda Itsuo that I digged in this direction : not that he gave lectures on philosophy or held seminars on the matter, he who only spoke with parsimony, but on the other hand he bequeathed to us through his books a reflexion on the East and the West, bridging the gap between these two worlds which seemed antinomic.
The immense culture of this master whom I was fortunate enough to know had flabbergasted me at the time but little by little I was able to enter the understanding of his message and philosophical work which had nourished me. But this man I had admired had also left traces I could see without understanding them, other signs in the way Zen masters did : he left calligraphies. As in this art nowadays called Zenga he transmitted a teaching to us through ideograms, maxims by Zhuangzi, Laozi, Bai Juyi, or folk proverbs. Each of these calligraphies introduces us to a story, a text, an art which actually enables us to go further in the understanding of this spirit which underlies our practice.

Awakening the inner force.

« There are forces in us but they remain latent, dormant. They must be awakened, activated », wrote Nocquet senseï in an article published in 1987. To me this sentence echoes Tsuda senseï’s calligraphy « the dragon gets out of the pond where it remained asleep, talent shows through ». In both cases, these masters were refering to ki and they incite us to search in this direction.
Without the concrete sensation of ki we miss the point. How can we talk about the spirit of Aïkido without making it a sequence of rules to observe, other than by following, rediscovering the foundations of the human being. Our modern, industrial society makes life so easy for us that we move no more, we get around too easily, in the cities we just have to cover a few meters to find food instead of running, hunting or cultivating. Aïkido enables us to spend this excessive energy which otherwise would make us sick. But this is not only about the physical, motor aspect, it’s our whole body which needs to recover, normalize itself. Our mind, overloaded with useless information, also needs to rest, to find peace in the middle of the surrounding agitation.

The spirit of Aïkido is Aïkido.

The spirit of Aïkido just lies in practice and little by little it comes to be discovered. And this discovery is real enjoyment. Beginners, when becoming aware of its importance, get fully involved in this art of ours. That is often the moment when difficulties to explain what we do begin. We feel like talking about it, inviting friends to participate at least to a session. We try to make what we feel understood. Other people witness our enthusiasm but don’t come to understand what it is about. And the answers we get to our explanations, to what we try to hand down are often rather disappointing. They may vary from : « Ah yes, me too, I practiced Yoga last year during my holiday at Club Med. But I don’t have time to do a stuff like this, you see, I really don’t have time. » to « Yes, your stuff is nice but it racks brains, I practice Californo-Australian self-defence, you know, and it’s really efficient ». To move from a world to another requires to be ready, ready to just discover what you don’t know yet but have sensed. We start practicing because we have read a book, an article, and we have been shocked, we said to ourselves : « Strange guy but I like what he tells, I like this spirit, it’s close to me, to what I think ».

An art to normalize the individual.

It is the spirit of the practice, quite often, that makes us go on for many years, and seldom physical or technical achievements which anyway will be limited by aging. The only ageless thing is ki, attention, respiration as Tsuda senseï used to call it. This can be deepened without any limit and that’s why there have been great masters. If you awaken your sensibility, if you have persistence, and if you are well guided ; if the teaching is not limited to surface but enables us to dig deeper, to open by ourselves doors that we didn’t suspect, then everything is possible. When I say everything is possible I mean that everyone becomes responsible for oneself, for one’s life, for the quality of one’s life.
As Yamaoka Tesshu says : « Unity of body and mind can do everything. If a snail wants to ascend mount Fuji then it will succeed ».
No seeking for reputation, no attempting to become something but rather seeking to be, thanks to self fulfillment. Pacifying internal tensions, unifying body and mind which quite often work in the wrong way if not one against the other. Here’s the deep meaning of the research we can do in the practice of martial arts. »

Régis Soavi Dragon Magazine (Spécial Aïkido n°18)  octobre 2017

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Quotations from Osenseï Moriheï Ueshiba’s collected talks, some through the book : «The Art of Peace, teachings of the Founder of Aïkido, compiled and translated by John Stevens », Shambhala.

Aikido: an evolution of the inner being

By Régis Soavi

Itsuo Tsuda in front of the tokonoma
Itsuo Tsuda in front of the tokonoma

Aikido is an instrument of my evolution, it made me evolve, I just had to follow with perseverance and obstinacy the road that was opening in front of me, that was opening inside me.  Like many other people, I came to this practice for its martial aspect. However, its beauty, as well as the aesthetic of its movements, quickly fascinated me, and this with my first teacher Maroteaux Sensei already. Then, when I saw Noro Masamichi Sensei, and Tamura Nobuyoshi Sensei, I had confirmation of what I had sensed: Aikido was a wholly different thing from what I knew.

I came from the world of Judo, with the images transmitted to us, for example, that of the cherry tree branch covered with snow which all of a sudden lets the snow slide down and the branch straightens up. I had already gone beyond the ideas that had been conveyed by the beginning of the century and the fifties, of a « Japanese Jiu Jitsu which turns a small thin man into a monster of efficacy ».Lire la suite

Noguchi-Chuang-Tzu #5

Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » (V) by Haruchika Noguchi. to read the beginning https://www.ecole-itsuo-tsuda.org/en/noguchi-tchouang-tseu-1/

For as long as human beings live, they will at some point die. This statement has been tested for thousands of years, and so it is not a misapprehension. People generally do not accept the irrefutable fact that men die, and as they draw closer to death and feel death in their hearts, they worry and act impatiently, since they don’t want to die. But human beings are creatures that die. Bach composed the Goldberg variations for the sake of someone’s sound sleep, and this piece says again and again that men are mortal. Lire la suite

Noguchi-Chuang-Tzu #4

Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » (IV) by Haruchika Noguchi.

 

When Kung Wen Hsien saw the Commander of the Army, he said in surprise, « I wondered who it was, and it’s you. That one foot — is it the work of man or of Heaven? » The Commander replied, « It was Heaven’s, and not man’s work. Essentially, a man’s form is determined. From this, I know that being one-footed, too, is the work of heaven, and not of man. «

The Commander’s words are followed with : « A pheasant that lives in a marsh walks ten paces for one beakful of food and a hundred paces for one sip of water, but it doesn’t want to be kept in a cage. Though a bird may be filled with vitality there, it cannot enjoy its life. »

Chuang-tzu broke the various cages that environ people’s lives : the attachment that comes from being ruled by the things around you, the sense of values that goes against life, partial philosophies that hinder the development of life. He demands that we should step out from these prisons and conveys the Buddhist priest’s spirit of renouncing the world by casting off all attachments.

Again, Yun-men wondered why a priest should robe himself at the sound of the bell, when the world, so full of splendours, is very wide ; and there was the European thinker who threw away all his books and possessions.

« Common people breathe from their throats. Those who are slaves to the world choke out their words as though they were vomiting… Human life —is it in its essence as murky as this ? Is it I alone who see it as murky ? And is there someone who does not see it as murky ? »

Is it not because people don’t comprehend the pleasure a pheasant has from walking ten paces for a beakful of food and a hundred paces for a drink of water ? Is it because the children of men do not enjoy the fate of having no place to rest their heads ?

Because past knowledge is attached even to a single action like raising a hand or kicking out with a foot, human activity lacks buoyancy. Because with every breath drawn in and breathed out people vomit for joy or anger, or love or hate, human life lacks transparency.

When, as soon as someone spreads his wings, he injures them, it is because he is in a cage. To spread your wings is life’s demand. So long as they remain shrunken, without spreading their wings, human beings do not become strong. Breathe expansively and get out of the cage that hinders you from doing so. Throw off the weight of duty and act buoyantly. This is what cultivating life is. Chuang-tzu never stopped hoping that human beings would live actively without being hindered by anything.

« Life arises from death and death from life. What comes into existence passes out of it, what passes out of existence comes into it. » As for Chuang-tzu’s thoughts on the problem of what happens after death, he believed neither in the immortality of the soul, not in eternal life. « At one time, I may become a rooster… or a bullet.., or an insect. » In the one real world, there is nothing but the continuation of ceaseless change as various forms of life disperse and come together.

The last sentence of the chapter entitled « The Spirit of Cultivating Life » goes : « Although there is an end to the fingers putting fuel on the fire, the fire endures and we don’t know the end of it ». These words should be understood in the light of what has just been said. Chuang-tzu points to the continuity and flow of life, conceived of as fire, not for a moment entertaining the idea of any opposition between mind and body.

It is an especially interesting point that this chapter ends by broaching the question of death.

( to be continued )

Noguchi-Chuang-Tzu #3

Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » (II) by Haruchika Noguchi. To read the beginning https://www.ecole-itsuo-tsuda.org/en/noguchi-tchouang-tseu-1/

Living is a more important matter than thinking. Being alive is not a means, but an end. So life should be carried on naturally only with the aim of maintaining life : a breathing in, a breathing out, a raising of the hand, a movement of the leg – all these should be for the cultivation of life.

Therefore, simply dwelling in health is a very precious thing. Zensei, which is to say, « A fulfilled life », is nothing but the road men follow, and it is the road ,of nature. Fulfilling the life that is given in peace of spirit is not for the sake of spiritual content, but is what should already have been undertaken before all else. We have to live in a vital way human life, which is health. Living always cheerfully and happily—this has always been what is of true value to human beings.

Human beings live because they are born, and because they are living, they eat and they sleep. They are born as a result of a natural demand, and they live as a result of the same demand. To live is natural. And so to die is also natural. Human beings’ accomplishing the life that is given them comes before all else. But this does not mean being attached to life at all. Chuang-tzu disliked any craving for particular things. For him, the arising of any attachment is at once a departure from the way. So he speaks about cultivating life and maintaining the body in order that the present moment that is given, precisely because it is the present moment, may be used fully, and certainly not because the thing given is life.

Chuang-tzu saw as a single whole the contraries of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness, and of the useful and the useless, and for him life and death were also a single whole, what comes into existence passing out of it and what passes out of existence coming into it. « Life arises from death and death arises from life » he wrote.

When Tsu-yu contracted a crippling illness, Tsu-szu visited him and asked, « Do you think your fate is unpleasant? » Tsu-yu’s answer was astounding : « Why should I find it unpleasant? If changes are brought about and my left arm turns into a rooster, I’ll use it to herald the dawn. If my right shoulder is transformed into a bullet, I’ll use it to bring down a pigeon for roasting. If my buttocks become carriage-wheels and my spirit a horse, I’ll ride along on them. Then I would need no other vehicle but myself—that would be wonderful! »

« Time does not cease even for an instant, and if it is destiny for a human being to be born, then it is natural that living form should be lost. If you are content with time’s flow and in accord with the order of things, then there is not especially any joy or sorrow. This is what the ancients called « deliverance from bondage ». You put a noose round your neck and you can’t get it off ; this is because it is tied by the mind that thinks in terms of right and wrong and good and bad. Nothing can overcome heaven. Nothing comes of hating heaven. »

Chuang-tzu’s point about cultivating life is clear in the words that come in the passage where Kung Wen Hsien speaks to the Commander of the Army : « The work of man is still the work of nature. » This is the road he walks. Within his attitude — that whatever happens, it is proper, and that when something happens, you go forward and affirm reality – there is not a trace of the resignation that lies in submitting tu destiny. His affirmation of reality is nothing but the affirmation of reality. The dignity of the man is conveyed only by Lin Chi’s words : « Wherever you are, be master. »

From Chuang-tzu’s point of view, the security of the bird-cage is no better than being obliviously asleep. He feels the vitality of life only so long as existence is unconstrained.

(to be continued)

Picture : Chuang Tzu. Lu Chih (1496–1576)

Noguchi-Chuang-Tzu #2

Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » (II) by Haruchika Noguchi. To read the beginning https://www.ecole-itsuo-tsuda.org/en/noguchi-tchouang-tseu-1/

« In doing what is considered good, avoid fame ; in doing what is considered wrong, avoid penalties ; make it a principle to keep a middle course, and you will preserve your body, fulfill your life, support your parents and live out your natural span of days. » Read and accepted as they are, these words are the principles of health. I feel in them, close to me, the force of the man’s spirit.

When the king of So heard of Chuang-tzu’s cleverness, he sent, with a great show of courtesy, officials to Chuang-tzu, asking him to become prime minister ; but Chuang-tzu laughed and remarked that ten thousand pieces of gold was a large amount and a prime minister’s position was very superior. But he asked the officials whether they had ever seen a sacrificial bull decked for a festival. Such a bull, he said, is fattened with various nourishing foods for the occasion, decked with beautiful cloth, and driven into the chamber of the gods. However much the bull wants to be merely a bull at this time, it cannot. He told the officials to leave without making a fuss and not to sully his life, and he said that he simply wanted to enjoy himself in his own squalid situation. Words like these are extremely characteristic of Chuang-tzu, and they still raise a smile after two thousand years. In the end right and wrong and praise and blame are one, Chuang-tzu said.

The distinguishing of things involves definition. Definition involves disruption. With things, there is neither definition nor disruption, only one-ness. Only the true sage knows that everything is one. In this way, Chuang-tzu stamped on the world of oppositions and shattered it. That is why he said unworriedly, « In doing what is considered good, avoid fame; in doing what is considered wrong, avoid penalties »

When someone sleeps on the damp ground, strength drains from him and he develops rheumatism. Put an eel on a treetop, and it trembles with fear ; do the same to a monkey, and this doesn’t happen. ‘Within these three, is there any one that doesn’t know the place that is proper for its life?’

Noguchi Tchouang tseu

The human being eats pork, the deer likes grass, the centipede finds worms delicious, the crow delights in rats. ‘Within these four, is there any one that doesn’t know what it likes to eat ?’ The male monkey takes the female monkey in its arms, the stag copulates with the doe, the eel plays with fish. Mao Chiang and Li Chi were reputed to be the most beautiful women under the heavens, but at the sight of them, fish dived into the depths, birds flew up into the sky, and deer ran away. Which of these does not know the proper object of its affections ? Standing beyond good and evil and merging with the nature of all things : this is the secret of Chuang-tzu’s cultivation of life. Chasing after a healthy life and running to avoid an unhealthy one only makes you hot and bothered. Being proud of your talents and wanting to become first in the world in something is to have forgotten the most important principle of cultivating life.

A great tree is toppled by the wind ; the high status of a minister attracts the envy of the masses, but for the person who has cast off every fetter and enjoys a life of freedom, a minister, though he has a high status and receives a high salary, is no more than a broken sandal. ‘A pheasant that lives in a marsh walks ten paces for one beakful of food and a hundred paces for one sip of water, but it doesn’t want to be kept in a cage.’ Chuang-tzu teaches that there is no need to be over-pernickety about a ‘healthy’ or an ‘unhealthy’ life and to make yourself hot and bothered. He teaches that one breathes quietly and follows disinterestedly and calmly the body’s demands, and that this is the essence of preserving life and living fully.

How can we live up to this ? Do we adopt the attitude of someone who sees a fire on the other side of the river and folds his arms ? Or is there something more to be done, something positive ? Prince Wen Hui’s cook said, ‘I handle things with the spirit, and not with the eye. When the senses cease functioning, the spirit leads.’ This is to close yourself off from appearances and at once to forget them ; essentially it is the same as the Zen priest Lin Chi’s saying, ‘Mind does not differ from mind. ‘ Thus, in all this there is nothing but the unfolding of a pure act, and this, fundamentally, is what is asserted in the master swordsman’s adage : ‘Forget your skills and forget your opponent ; let him cut skin-deep, while you carve his flesh ; only if you abandon yourself to the flood may you reach the shallows.

Can we not say that within the way the art of killing leads to the road of being in true earnest, the road of cultivating life is concealed ? Conquering attachment to things, the adherence to rule and the fear of death, and making the spirit free allows you to use the sword freely in the swordsman’s world without damaging anything, and in the ordinary. world it allows you to enter on the road of cultivating life and to foster the essence of life. I suspect that Wen Hui learned from his cook’s words that it is by following the nature of things that one cultivates life ; the important thing was his recognising that the cook’s knife moved without the intervention of the self and without the knife’s being damaged. One Zen priest was asked, ‘You come and go, come and go. What do you mean by it ? »I wear out shoe-leather to no purpose,’ he replied.

(to be continued)

Noguchi-Chuang-Tzu #1

Concerning Chuang-Tzu’s chapter « The spirit of cultivating life » ( I ) by Haruchika Noguchi.

Chuang-tzu’s chapter « The Spirit of Cultivating Life »  is an exposition of the way to cultivate the spirit of life, that is to say, one’s whole being. Nevertheless, if—still reading the first two Chinese characters in the usual way—one takes the title as meaning something like « The Rules for Maintaining Health », the result is very intersting. Hitherto, where rules for maintaining health or rules of hygiene are concerned, the only things that have been preached are « Treat life as precious » and « Be careful » ; and one hasn’t been able to feel, even a little, the vital activity of life in such preachings. It may be because of a lack of any Chuang-tzu-like element in them.

I shall look at « The Spirit of Cultivating Life » not as a means to spiritual develOpment, but as one of the sciences of health, and I hope to be able to discern what is concealed within it : the true lineaments of life, which is exuberant and positive.
Chuang-tzu begins his chapter with the words : « Our lives are limited, knowledge is unlimited. It is perilous for what is limited to follow what is unlimited. It is still more perilous to apply knowledge. » Rather than using knowledge to bore seven holes in the Formless ( as in the parable he concludes his seventh chapter with ), Chuang-tzu wanted to remain within undifferentiated nothingness, and he taught that human beings should remain within this.

Our lives are limited, there is no limit to shoulds and shouldn’ts, and if, possessing limits, one tries to abide by limitless shoulds and shouldn’ts, one is left only with the anxiety that one is unable to abide by them. Nevertheless, people still chase after shoulds and shouldn’ts. And their anxiety grows.

The way of hygiene is pursued with the sole result that shoulds and shouldn’ts are multiplied ; the shoulds and shouldn’ts that people must heed multiply more and more ; and then the anxiety to heed these rules coupled with the ‘ fear that they are not able to do so makes people ever more timid and weak-spirited, and the other side of the coin is that this anxiety and fear increase the powers of disease-causing agents and of unhealth.

Noguchi Haruchika. Photo issu de http://noguchi-haruchika.com
Noguchi Haruchika. Photo de http://noguchi-haruchika.com

 

Separated from the fundamental matter of enhancing life, hygiene strives only to avoid unhealth, to keep away from harmful things, to escape from things that are feared ; and so it becomes difficult for people to live in a vital way. Eating all one can, sleeping as much as one wants, sparing oneself trouble as much as possible, resting as much as possible, taking lots of medicine, avoiding heat and disliking cold, wearing more clothes than is necessary, and living in a safe way by these means—should we call this health ? Should we call these methods, for which human beings have used every bit of knowledge they have, hygiene ?

What force is there in an enumeration of forms ? It only vitiates the human spirit. Does it not only make life wither ?

Living in a healthy and vital way means not being daunted by cold, heat, wind or humidity, working without being fatigued, sleeping without dreaming, finding whatever you eat delicious, and always enjoying life ; it does not mean not falling ill. Not falling ill should not be a purpose, but a result. Healthy people are not daunted by illness, and they pass through an illness when they have one in a splendid manner, becoming all the more energetic and full of fife ; and you don’t need to read about Nietzsche’s experience in order to understand this. When shoulds and musts control human activity, then human beings have already forged fetters for themselves. Knowledge is a weapon for human beings, and a power for accomplishing their intentions. But when knowledge is piled up and the freedom of human beings is restricted, people become unable to live in a lively way because of shoulds and shouldn’ts, rather as a deer’s antlers become a hindrance to it. And then there’s nothing better than to become free by cutting that knowledge off and throwing it away.

When you want to eat, eat ; when you want to sleep, sleep ; when you want to work, work. It is not a matter of having to eat, it is not a matter of having to sleep, it is not a matter of working because you should. Much less is it a matter of eating, sleeping or working because of what the clock says. It is not a matter of living tomorrow’s life in accordance with yesterday’s knowledge. Tomorrow is for opening up the new on the basis of tomorrow’s experience. Past knowledge, customary fetters—separate yourself from such things and live in a vital way. The vital activity of life that is always renewed belongs to the person who lives always in an unfettered way.
( to be continued )

Does Aikijo exist?

By Régis Soavi

Certainly the Jo, the stick, has always been used in Aïkido. But does it really belong to our Art? Its teaching has always been particular and often even separated from the regular courses. Many of us have tried, through other schools of Jujitsu, to find some forms, some kata, some “secret thrusts”. Some have taken an interest in Kobudo. Yet the art of the Jo in Aïkido has its own specificities, its rules.
Personally, what has always fascinated me, is more the extreme accuracy that can be obtained by following a certain type of training. Instead of working on power, I found it more profitable to concentrate on motion, movements and above all precision.

Training to precision

regis-soaviI was a young instructor when I started to train more regularly with the stick. Back then, I tied a soda cap at the extremity of a rope that I hung from the ceiling. My training consisted in making tsuki on the soda cap and each time that it moved to immobilize it again. Then I changed heights. Later I worked on the yokomen and the hits from below, always trying to be precise and without increasing the speed. I worked slowly looking for the right angle, using the displacements and little by little I increased the speed of the execution. Finally I started to hit by using the movement of the cap that flied around to the left, the right, with sudden leaps that were sometimes odd, or even scary if it had been the Jo or the Bokken of an adversary. I could go around that axle that I hung from the centre of the small dojo that used to be in the backyard of number 34 in rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève in Paris. I still remember it with emotion because it was thanks to Master Henry Plée that I could do this type of work. Indeed, he had allowed and even supported me in this direction (an accomplished Budoka, he loved that we trained to the very best of our ability). After several months of this type of training, I moved on to the work on makiwara, but I have to admit, without insisting too much because I found it tedious. Instead I loved the hits in all directions, in the “shadow boxing” style.

In this exercise I found the difficulties of the work with the soda cap, plus the power that I had to control, the circular movements, the speed and above all the visualization. That work of visualization that I already glimpsed in the teaching of my master Itsuo Tsuda. It is also thanks to this that I’ve discovered the importance of having your own stick, I mean a personal working instrument. I am one of those teachers who believe that the Jo must not be a manufactured product of a predetermined length, thickness, or weight. The Jo has to be in proportion, with no exaggeration, otherwise we’ll be dealing with a Bo, to the person who uses it, his or her height and musculature: as there are enormous differences, it seems to me a mistake not to take this into account, but in any case it is the way the Jo is used that remains the most important point.

The pedagogy

As far as I’m concerned, I now use the stick more as a pedagogical tool. As always it is about retrieving and understanding the ancient forms, of course, but above all about channelling the released energy, feeling it circulate and flow along this piece of wood.

Master Tsuda used to tell us: “The Jo has three parts, the two ends and a centre, unlike the Bo that numbers four parts due to the way one seizes it, with both hands at an equal distance from the extremities”. Doing tsuki the technical aspects of the strokes vary, whether one uses it in the ancient form suited to the spear, or as a Jo, that is something much shorter, holding it with both hands in the same direction or one opposite to the other. All this didn’t matter to him: what was important was the transmission of ki and the act of non resistance.

The Jo was only there to enable us to discover the Non-doing, to deepen our breathing.

Then the stick (I suggest to call it that way) is used as if it was an empty tube that gets filled with ki, that has a certain autonomy, that becomes alive again.

The stick exacerbates distances. It forces us to have another relationship with the distance, to feel the axes as well as the changes of direction, of orientation.

Some people have a particular affinity with the Jo, others prefer the Bokken. Even if it is part of my teaching, I give them the time to find out whether it makes sense to them, whether it helps them go deeper in their practice.

It is one of the means I sometimes use to make people understand how the strengths involved in our practice circulate: it is precisely with the stick that I can show this.

I ask uke to grab the stick very strongly and tori has to find the axis, the direction by the mere movement of his body, of his koshi, not of his muscles or arms, to slide the force applied, so that when tori moves, it creates such an imbalance for uke, that he accepts to fall and drops like a ripe fruit falling from the tree.exterieur

Practicing outdoors

There is a moment in which it is particularly pleasant to practice the stick, and this is when you are outside, in the open air.

And the time for this is the summer workshops, which we have organized for almost thirty years at Mas d’Azil, in Ariège. There we are lucky enough to be able to change an old gym, practically unused, into a wonderful dojo, in the course of several pleasant working days. Since it’s next to a soccer field, we can go outside to practice weapons.

I know that practitioners are then very happy to practice outside the tatami mats.The space is so much bigger that we can rediscover the dimensions that the old arts required.

After having been confined to an enclosed space, the whole point of these open air sessions is to expand physically: no more ceiling, no more walls, no more limits. It is the moment when everyone can experience different dimensions, the ideal moment to try, in this space, to feel further.

Practicing outside, whilst we are used to the uniformity of the tatami mats, is a constraint for the entire body: the ground is no longer that flat, there are some holes, some bumps, all movements, taisabaki, and obviously the falls or the immobilizations become more difficult.The speed of the attacks is often reduced due to the unusual conditions. But in turn, when we practice on the tatami mats again, everything becomes easier: one has gained skill, speed, strength in the legs, and balance that one didn’t have before.

We then take the opportunity to practice with many people, three, four, six, or even up to eight attackers (one tori and seven ukes) who, in the respect of our Art and with no competitive spirit, try to reach out and put the one in the center in danger. No need to pretend it’s a movie: we are neither samurai nor secret agents whom nothing can stop. It’s about moving more and better than we usually do, feeling the movement of our sphere, the gaps in it and the risks there are of having an impact in those places.

The importance is not given to a perfect technical skill, whether in defense or in attack, but much more to the sensation of the other people’s movement, to distance, to the energy that one can throw.

Such a wide space allows circumferences of about eight or ten meters, sometimes. In circular movements Tori’s gaze, with its intensity and precise direction, relays the power and speed of the stick. This alone is sometimes enough to create the right conditions for a reply, a correct move.

I don’t know if I am well understood: it is a game in which all participants, from the very beginner to the most experienced, have their own role depending on their level. The six or eight attackers will moderate the power and speed of the attacks (tsuki, shomen, yokomen) according to this.

Each of them seeks the right position so as to find the weak point, the speed of approach, the right angle.plusieurs-attaquants

The attacks are as much as possible genuine attacks, but they are always done without violence and even if possible not too fast, in any case not hastily.

It is important in this type of work to be careful not to block or corner the one in the center, so as not to drive him into a spiral of fear that would lead to aggressiveness, but on the contrary to help him come out of his imprisonment, both physical and mental, and to allow him to develop his potential.The summer workshop lasts for two weeks and is very concentrated: two Aikido sessions, two Katsugen undo sessions and one weapon session every day. It means seven or eight working hours per day, about fifty hours a week. That’s why we need this kind of work with the Jo, enabling bodies to unwind, to open out and find another dimension.

Sticks spin, spaces move about, bodies which are at times weary stretch. The atmosphere remains peaceful, sometimes even cheerful, but accuracy is there.

Men, women, children of all ages, in the respect of the specificities of each of them.

The sensitivity of the foetus

However, a clarification: pregnant women sometimes practice until the very last moment in our School. But since the beginning of their pregnancy we pay particular attention to the fact that being in such a special state, even if of course we never touch the body with the stick, it’s forbidden to do tsuki in the direction of the womb. Regardless of the risk of accident, to which we always pay a lot of attention. The point is not to direct the ki in that way, in other words with “the intention to hit”. Such a directed and guided ki would be instinctively recorded as dangerous and felt by the mother, and most of all by the baby, who is nothing but sensitivity, as an aggression, to the point of risking to cause at least a fear, or a contraction that would harm his good development. When we work on tsuki strokes, pregnant women step aside and watch, but do not participate.

A centripetal force can become a centrifugal force

Sometimes we work with Jo against Bokken. The point then is, precisely because the weapons are different, to understand on the one hand the way to use them and on the other hand their limits and capabilities, without forgetting that behind all this there is a human being. At other times, it is only uke who has a weapon. A stick, a Bokken, can be frightening if you have no weapon.You don’t know in which direction it will start, men, yokomen, tsuki, you cannot stop the stroke with a simple wave of your hand. Only by dodging, doing taisabaki, can you avoid the shock. Taking hold of the stick or of the Bokken, is then one of the chances to stop the attack, to transform it and make it harmless, so that we can use its energy in the opposite direction or divert it towards another direction. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see, to feel how for example a centripetal force, when it gets in contact with a centre, can turn into a centrifugal force so that it is driven towards the outside. What do we mean by “stopping the spear”1 ? The real point is not a question of winning or losing but rather of changing the system, of allowing something else to arise, and for this, the knowledge of the partner, the understanding between both partners is essential.

In every person there are some good and some bad sides, some good and some bad habits: all of this has to be guided towards harmony. Harmony is at the origin of our life, the thing is to get back to what is natural and always there deep inside every individual. That is, for me, the way of Aikido.

Our horizon can light up if we understand better the words of O Sensei Ueshiba, transmitted by my Master Itsuo Tsuda in his teaching and through his nine books. These words didn’t remain a dead letter; on the contrary they have come to life, once more, and continue through those who are willing to follow this path.

Article by Régis Soavi on the subject of the Aîkido stick (Aïkijo), published in Dragon Magazine (special Aikido n° 13) in July 2016.

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1Budō may be originally understood as «the way to stop the spear».

#4 The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement

End of #1,2 and 3 The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement  by Hiroyuki Noguchi  published in 20041.

The Philosophy of Kata

It is the way we view our own bodies – whether consciously or unconsciously – that decides which perceptual experiences we choose to value. In trying to achieve those experiences, we then establish the ways in which we use and move our bodies. In short, each and every motion made by a human being is a reflection of his or her own idea of the body. This is not limited to visible physical movement. For example, while it is true that our breathing is restricted by the structure of our respiratory organs, exactly what we consider a “deep breath” is determined by each individual’s view of the body. Similarly, while the act of eating cannot deviate from the structure of the human digestive system, it is our idea of the body that dictates exactly what feeling we consider “satisfying”, and when we feel we have had enough. And whereas our physical balance is affected by the force of gravity on the structure of our bodies, exactly what bodily sensation we choose to call “stable” depends on each person’s concept of the body.
Therefore, if a group of people possesses a distinct way of moving or using the body, it follows that they must share a common view of the body. The formal way of sitting in Japan, called Seiza, may generate nothing but a sense of restriction to most Westerners. For the Japanese however, sitting in Seiza traditionally brought a sense of peace to the mind. This way of sitting with both knees bent results in a sense of complete immobility. It halts the mind from intending any following motion, and in fact, executing sudden movements from this position is quite difficult. Sitting in Seiza forces one to enter into a state of complete receptivity, and it is in this position that the Japanese wrote, played music, and ate. In times of sadness, of prayer, and even of resolve, Lire la suite

#3 The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement

continuation of #1 and #2. The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement  by Hiroyuki Noguchi  published in 20041.

The Idea of the Body in Asceticism

Hiroshige,_The_moon_over_a_waterfall_512With the arrival of Buddhism fifteen hundred years ago, the era of kings, symbolized by the great tombs, came to an end, and Japan was ushered into a new era, ruled by religion. As with the Meiji Restoration, the lifestyles of the Japanese people were dramatically transformed. Curiously enough though, in contrast with the Meiji Restoration, the changes that occurred with Buddhism’s arrival actually seemed to clarify the distinct nature of Japan’s culture.
Fortunately for Japan, Buddhism was not transmitted directly from India, coming through China instead. During its travels in China, Buddhism had no choice but to merge with the antecedents of China’s indigenous Taoism, such as the va-rious practices of mysticism including fangshu, and the philosophies of Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu. These practices, which were later integrated into Taoism, all involved ascetic practices for the purpose of cultivating longevity. Therefore the Buddhism that arrived to Japan was one already baptized by the Chinese, meaning that it was characterized by a strong emphasis on Taoist-like ascetic practices [Sekiguchi, (1967)].Lire la suite

#2 The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement

continuation of #1 The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement  by Hiroyuki Noguchi  published in 20041.

Perceiving Life in All Things

HiroshigeAmong the policies of Westernization that drove the disassembly of traditional Japanese culture was the calendar change, issued in 1873. With this, the Meiji government decided to abo-lish the lunar-solar calendar that had been used for twelve hundred years and replace it with the Gregorian, or solar calendar. Actual use of the new calendar was implemented only twenty-three days after issuing the order, and as such, caused great confusion amongst the general population. But more importantly, it had an enormous impact on the Japanese people’s fundamental sense of the seasons and cycles of life. The old calendar was commonly called the “farmer’s calendar” because of its close ties to the cycles of agricultural activities [Fujii, (1997)]. It was calculated not only through astronomy, but was based on a deep understanding of the life cycles of plants and creatures of the land, with further adjustments made according to observations of the heavenly planets. It can be said that the switch from the old to the new calendar was in essence a switch from a life-cycle-centered time order to an objective time order based on the Western science of astronomy.
The old calendar marked New Year’s Day at the first signs of spring, symbolized by the blooming of plum blossoms and the bush warbler’s song; the second month with the cherry blossoms; the third month with the peach. Time was kept according to the cycles of nature-life activities, which basically do not act in regular time intervals, as do the planets and stars. For this reason, a gap will inevitably occur over time between a life-cycle-based calendar and an objective planetary time order.Lire la suite