« « Qu’ils soient un ou plusieurs cela n’a aucune importance, je les mets tous dans mon ventre,» disait O senseï ». C’est avec cette phrase qu’Itsuo Tsuda senseï répondit un jour à une de mes nombreuses questions sur la pratique et notamment sur la manière de se défendre contre plusieurs partenaires.
Magie ou simplicité
Jeune aïkidoka je cherchais à m’abreuver à toutes les sources disponibles, et mes références je les trouvais chez Nocquet senseï, Tamura senseï, Noro senseï. Mais évidemment je les trouvais aussi chez celui dont je me sentais le plus proche : Tsuda senseï. En ce début des années soixante-dix, nous étions très friands d’anecdotes, sur les arts martiaux, sur les grands maîtres historiques, et sur O senseï Ueshiba Morihei en particulier. Nous allions d’ailleurs acheter les films en « super 8 » qui étaient disponibles, dans ce temple qu’était le magasin d’arts martiaux de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève (à Paris), fascinés que nous étions par les prouesses de ce grand maître. Bien que profondément matérialiste, je n’étais pas loin de croire en quelque chose de magique, à des pouvoirs exceptionnels accordés à certains êtres plus qu’à d’autres. Tsuda Itsuo m’a fait redescendre sur terre, car ce qu’il nous montrait était très simple mais malgré tout, cela restait parfaitement incompréhensible. Les techniques qu’il nous montrait, je les connaissais bien déjà, mais il les faisait avec une telle simplicité, une telle facilité que j’en étais perturbé, et cela ne faisait que renforcer mon désir de continuer à pratiquer pour découvrir les « secrets » qui le lui permettaient.
Son leitmotiv : la respiration
Lorsqu’il parlait de respiration il fallait entendre le mot KI, c’était la traduction qu’il avait choisie pour exprimer ce « non-concept » qui est si commun, et si compréhensible de manière immédiate au Japon, mais si difficile à saisir en Occident. Il expliquait qu’on pouvait réaliser l’unité primordiale lorsqu’on unit sa respiration avec son ou ses partenaires. La respiration devient le support physique, l’acte concret qui permet de s’unifier avec les autres. Elle agit physiquement comme une sorte de contrainte douce sur le corps des partenaires. Nous connaissons tous ce dont je parle, ce n’est absolument pas mystérieux. Il y a des personnes qui sont capables de rendre les autres mal à l’aise, d’autres qui savent s’imposer, imposer leur respiration, laissant parfois leur correspondant dans l’incapacité de prononcer une parole. Dans les arts martiaux, et c’est particulièrement visible dans l’art du sabre, il s’agit de désynchroniser le souffle de manière à surprendre l’adversaire, à le déstabiliser. Le moment crucial dans bon nombre de cas étant celui où le début de l’inspiration de celui qui fait face correspond à la fin de l’inspiration de l’autre, autrement dit au début de son expiration. On frappe pendant cet intervalle entre expire et inspire. Ce moment que l’on appelle »l’intermission respiratoire » est le moment idéal pour déployer sa force physique dans un combat, et vaincre l’adversaire. Il en va tout autrement en Aïkido où ce même instant permet d’entrer dans le souffle du partenaire, dans cette voie qu’est la voie de l’harmonie, où il s’agit d’unifier les souffles, d’arriver à un souffle commun.
Pratiquer avec un partenaire comme s’ils étaient plusieurs
Pour commencer il est plus simple de pratiquer avec un seul partenaire, mais il est important de ne pas se fixer sur lui, de rester disponible à d’autres interventions. Cette disponibilité, on y parvient grâce au calme intérieur, et cela commence par le fait de bien connaître les techniques, et de ne pas s’affoler. Il faudra malgré tout quelques années pour être tranquille dans de telles circonstances, et c’est pourquoi il ne faut pas attendre pour commencer à travailler dans cette direction. Je dirais que, pratiquer avec plusieurs partenaires, plus qu’une performance à exécuter, représente pour moi une orientation pédagogique, l’Aïkido est un tout, on ne peut pas le découper en tranche. Il s’agit d’une pédagogie globale et non d’un enseignement de type scolaire sanctionné par des notations et des examens. Déjà, chaque fois que le groupe de pratiquants se retrouve en nombre impair, on peut en profiter pour travailler à trois, mais cela ne suffira pas pour acquérir les bons réflexes, la bonne attitude à adopter. Chaque fois que le groupe le permet, c’est-à-dire s’il n’y a pas trop de différences de niveaux, on peut faire pratiquer tout le monde par groupe de trois, voire quatre partenaires.
Si les deux partenaires saisissent Tori ensemble, et à deux mains, c’est la technique et la capacité de Tori à concentrer la puissance dans le hara grâce à la respiration qui sera déterminante, la souplesse des bras et des épaules permettra de faire circuler l’énergie, le ki, jusqu’au bout des doigts, et de le faire jaillir au-delà, entraînant la chute des partenaires sur les tatamis. Mais si on travaille avec des attaques en alternance, la difficulté la plus grande n’est pas dans le fait de faire les techniques, mais surtout dans le rôle de Uke.
En effet Uke, bien trop souvent, ne sait pas comment se comporter, et il attend son tour pour attaquer. Mon enseignement consiste donc aussi, à montrer comment se positionner, comment trouver l’angle d’attaque ; je joue dans ce cas le rôle de Uke, exactement comme dans les anciens koryu. Je montre comment tourner autour de Tori, comment sentir les failles dans sa respiration, dans sa posture, et comment Tori peut utiliser un partenaire contre l’autre, je le fais lentement de manière à ce que Tori ne se sente pas réellement agressé mais plutôt dérangé dans ses habitudes, dans sa mobilité ou son incapacité à bouger en harmonie. Les formes de l’attaque doivent être très claires, il ne s’agit pas de démontrer la faiblesse de l’autre mais de lui permettre de sentir ce qui se passe autour de lui sans avoir besoin de regarder ou de s’agiter, mais par contre, en développant sa capacité sensitive. Il ne doit pas s’attacher à la contrainte que lui impose chaque saisie mais au contraire, réaliser qu’elles peuvent être l’occasion d’un dépassement et même, une aubaine.
La valeur du déplacement
Les déplacements acquièrent une valeur toute spéciale lorsqu’il y a plusieurs personnes autour de nous. Si on regarde la circulation automobile sur une autoroute à une heure de pointe du haut d’un pont qui la surplombe on sera très étonné de voir à quel point les véhicules se frôlent, se dépassent, ralentissent, accélèrent, et même changent de file dans une sorte de ballet qui pourtant n’est régi par aucune instance supérieure, mais bien réellement par chaque conducteur. On pourrait s’attendre à une quantité énorme d’accidents, ou au moins de froissements de tôle en quelques minutes, et pourtant il n’en est rien, tout se passe bien. Il existe bien sûr des accidents, mais très peu, relativement à ce que l’on peut imaginer ou voir du haut de notre observatoire.
Si lorsqu’on pratique avec plusieurs partenaires on met autant de concentration, d’attention et de respect de l’autre que lorsque l’on conduit un véhicule quel qu’il soit, comme il s’agit de notre corps – et non d’une extension de la conscience de ce corps, comme cela peut l’être avec une voiture – cela devient beaucoup plus facile. Je le répète : il est nécessaire d’avoir une bonne technique, de ne pas être apeuré par ce qui se passe, mais tranquille et sûr de soi, tout en étant vigilant et conscient de ce qui se bouge tout autour de nous. La différence avec l’exemple que je viens de donner est que les partenaires cherchent à nous toucher, nous frapper, ou nous immobiliser, contrairement aux véhicules qui s’évitent les uns les autres. Or au même titre que la voiture par exemple – qui par anthropotechnie devient comme une extension de notre corps, dont nous connaissons, dont nous avons conscience des dimensions, au centimètre, voire au millimètre près – il s’agit de saisir l’opportunité de sentir notre sphère, non plus comme un rêve, une idée, un fantasme, une imagination, ou un délire ésotérique inventé de toutes pièces par quelque mage ou charlatan, mais bien comme une réalité concrète accessible à tous, puisque nous en sommes déjà capables en voiture si nous sommes suffisamment attentifs. Il s’agit alors de jouer avec cette sensation, cette extension : à peine les sphères se frôlent-elles, que déjà, elles s’étendent, se rétractent, se déplacent sans cesse, répondant aux besoins sans qu’il y ait un recours au système volontaire. C’est le travail de l’involontaire, du spontané, comme si les déplacements se faisaient tout seuls de manière exacte et avec facilité. C’est alors que l’on est dans la pratique du Non-Faire, ce fameux non-agir, le wu-wei chinois, ce qui semblait mythique devient réalité. Les entraînements à plusieurs ont cet objectif, de nous porter dans la direction du Non-Faire. Cette pratique peut se faire au milieu d’une foule, dans un grand magasin un jour de soldes, ou de manière plus quotidienne dans le métro pour les citadins. Le jeu consiste à sentir comment bouger, comment se déplacer, comment réussir à passer dans les interstices laissés vides entre les personnes.
O senseï était là aussi un maître dans cet art du déplacement au milieu des foules. Ses Uchi deshi se plaignaient de ne pas réussir à le suivre au milieu de l’affluence, lorsqu’ils devaient prendre le métro pour l’accompagner à une démonstration ou lorsqu’ils devaient partir en train avec lui. Ils étaient pourtant jeunes et vigoureux mais avaient d’énormes difficultés à se déplacer dans l’encombrement de la gare alors que lui, très âgé et plutôt frêle à la fin de sa vie, se faufilait dans la multitude à une vitesse surprenante.
Recréer un espace autour de soi
L’art de se fondre dans la foule, de passer inaperçu, peut être une disposition naturelle, ou une déformation – parfois due à un traumatisme – d’où résulte une souffrance : être la personne que l’on ne voit pas, celle que l’on ne remarque pas, qui devient invisible. Mais cela peut aussi être aussi un art, et il semble que là encore O senseï Ueshiba Morihei excellait. Parfois il est nécessaire de fondre, de se fondre dans une foule par exemple, de s’effacer pour passer inaperçu. Notre sphère devient comme transparente dans ce cas, mais elle reste à la fois très présente, cohérente, stable, et puissante. Il se crée autour de la personne un espace vide difficilement franchissable, il est donc délicat voire malaisé de l’attaquer et même simplement de s’en approcher. J’ai eu l’occasion de vivre cela pendant les démonstrations avec mon maître Tsuda senseï, mais je crois que c’était encore plus parlant après les séances, lorsque nous prenions un café ou un thé tous ensemble au dojo juste devant les vestiaires où on avait pu dégager un petit endroit. Il y avait une grande table basse et nous étions tous assis autour, plus ou moins collés les uns aux autres, sauf autour de senseï. Là il y avait toujours un espace de chaque coté qui semblait infranchissable, et ce n’était pas seulement le respect qui nous empêchait de nous y asseoir. Il y avait un vide très concret, très réel, solide comme un rocher. Tsuda senseï semblait ne jamais y prêter attention, il buvait son café, discutait, racontait des histoires puis au bout d’une petite demi-heure voire plus, il se levait et partait. Mais le vide restait : même si nous restions un peu plus longtemps parfois, personne n’occupait la place vacante, quelque chose persistait à cet endroit. C’est ce que j’appelle l’art de créer un espace infranchissable autour de soi, on peut difficilement travailler cet art, c’est plutôt une capacité qui émerge naturellement, qui survient lorsqu’on devient indépendant, autonome, lorsque on a dépassé le stade du premier apprentissage ou que le besoin s’en est fait sentir.
L’un et le multiple
Ce qui pose problème ce n’est pas la multiplicité des attaques, mais notre capacité à rester calme en toutes circonstances. Qui peut y prétendre, et n’est-ce pas un mythe ? Si les attaques sont conventionnelles, ou prévues à l’avance, comme une sorte de ballet, on sort du rôle pédagogique de l’Aïkido. Il ne s’agira que de la répétition de gestes, que l’on peut affiner ou rendre plus esthétique, certes, mais dépourvus de profondeur. Il s’agira d’un spectacle, aussi professionnel soit-il, aussi admirable soit-il, il ne concerne plus l’Aïkido, qui aura perdu je pense sa valeur de changement en profondeur de l’être humain.
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« 1+1= 1 : La respiration » un article de Régis Soavi publié dans Self et Dragon Spécial n°4 en janvier 2021.
Dans cet article à partir d’un hexagramme du Yi Jing (Tsing : Le puits), Régis Soavi nous parle des pratiques de l’Aïkido et du Mouvement régénérateur comme des instruments de recherche et d’approfondissement de sois-même.
Le dojo est, par essence, le puits où viennent se nourrir les pratiquants d’arts martiaux à la recherche de la Voie, du Tao. À l’opposé du ring ou du gymnase, il offre un lieu de paix nécessaire, voire indispensable, pour l’approfondissement des valeurs humaines. Nous vivons aujourd’hui à la vitesse de la lumière. La communication n’a jamais été aussi rapide. Les ondes chargées de bits et micro-bits circulent en boucle autour de notre planète, porteuses de plus d’informations que notre cerveau n’en peut stocker. Les réseaux sociaux ont remplacé la connaissance par un vernis superficiel qui peut sembler suffisamment apte à satisfaire notre apparence sociétale. Si dans les années soixante les membres de l’Internationale situationniste fustigeaient les pseudo-intellectuels qui se nourrissaient auprès des revues comme Le Nouvel Observateur ou l’Express pour alimenter leurs conversations mondaines ou leurs écrits, que diraient-ils de la démocratisation proposée à tout un chacun pour devenir le nouveau Monsieur Jourdain du Bourgeois Gentilhomme de Molière ?
Mieux vaut connaître un peu de tout plutôt que d’approfondir quoi que ce soit, telle semble bien être la devise de notre époque.
Dans les arts martiaux la tendance semble aller dans la même direction. Nombreuses sont les personnes qui sont intéressées par les images spectaculaires retransmises par les médias où l’on présente les capacités fictives d’acteurs martiaux, au demeurant fort habiles dans leur métier, mais où la recherche est principalement le rendu superficiel ainsi que commercial.
L’image du puits dans l’ancienne Chine devrait nous faire nous interroger sur les tendances qui gouvernent notre vie de tous les jours. Si l’on tirait l’eau du puits à l’aide d’un seau et d’une perche, c’est bien la répétition d’un tel acte qui permettait la vie du village, et la nourriture prodiguée était considérée comme inépuisable. Et si nous prenions exemple sur cette image ancienne ?
Quand on pratique un Art comme l’Aïkido il ne s’agit pas d’accumuler des techniques sans cesse plus nombreuses, ni de répéter béatement l’enseignement prodigué, mais plutôt de commencer une recherche, de se réorienter vers quelque chose de plus profond afin d’abandonner le superficiel, le superflu, qui nous a tant déçus et que l’on ne supporte plus.
Bon nombre de personnes qui au départ sont extrêmement enthousiastes de commencer un vrai travail avec leur corps, se lassent de la répétition, bien trop souvent scolaire, ou encore se laissent fourvoyer par la dernière mode. On voit ainsi des gens qui collectionnent les méthodes et passent d’un art à l’autre, du Yoga au Taï-chi, du Karaté à la Capoeira, pensant parfois que l’un d’eux est supérieur à l’autre comme l’explique si bien un youtuber à la mode qui fait l’actualité comme ça lui chante.
Face à tous ces personnages qui ne vivent que pour influencer leurs followers et gagnent leur vie sur leurs dos grâce au nombre de « like » et à la publicité qu’ils engendrent, ne serait-il pas temps de chercher au fond de soi-même ? De prendre le temps de réfléchir plutôt que de consommer passivement la réflexion d’un autre ? De bouger son propre corps pour retrouver une harmonie perdue plutôt que de chercher dans le virtuel un complément à la routine issue de la pauvreté du quotidien ?
Le dojo en tant que lieu de recherche possède toutes les caractéristiques du puits : c’est à la fois un lieu pour l’entraînement, car on y puise chaque jour, et en même temps (et peut-être plus) c’est un lieu de convivialité où le social se débarrasse de ce qui l’empêche d’être vrai c’est-à-dire d’être le plus proche possible de la nature profonde des individus. Un lieu où la sociabilité échappe aux conventions, un lieu où l’on peut se parler, entrer physiquement en contact avec l’autre de façon simple, avec toutes les difficultés que cela peut représenter pour celui ou celle qui n’est pas prêt ou prête.
Toute l’arduité réside dans le fait de ne pas rester en superficie de la pratique, de ne pas se contenter de surfer sur un océan d’images devenues virtuelles ou de barboter sur le rivage et cela si possible sans se mouiller trop, mais de s’imprégner de ce que l’on y trouve, de lâcher ce qui nous encombre de manière à en explorer les profondeurs.
Mon Maître Itsuo Tsuda dans son livre Le Non-faire* nous donne avec simplicité, un aperçu de sa propre recherche et du travail qu’il avait engagé en Europe.
« Que suis-je à côté de la grandeur de l’Amour cosmique de Me Ueshiba, de la technique du Non-Faire de Me Noguchi, ou du raffinement insondable de Me Kanzé Kasetsu, acteur du théâtre Noh ? Je les ai connus tous les trois ; deux sont morts, seul Me Noguchi est en vie [Haruchika Noguchi meurt en 1976]. Leur influence continue de travailler en moi. Ce sont là des maîtres par nature. Moi, je suis simplement un être qui commence à se réveiller, qui cherche et évolue.
Une extraordinaire continuité d’efforts soutenus caractérise les œuvres de ces maîtres. J’ai l’impression de trouver dans un terrain aride, des puits d’une profondeur exceptionnelle. Là où s’arrête le travail de catégorisation n’est que leur point de départ. Ils y ont percé bien au-delà. Ils ont atteint les veines d’eau, la source de la vie.
Cependant, ces puits ne communiquent pas entre eux, bien que ce soit la même eau qu’on y trouve. La tâche qui m’incombe, est d’y dresser une carte géographique, d’y trouver un langage commun. »
Ce langage, Itsuo Tsuda le trouvera dans l’art de l’écriture (il se définissait lui-même comme écrivain-philosophe, comme en témoigne sa stèle funéraire au Père Lachaise), dans l’enseignement d’une certaine forme de l’Aïkido fondée sur la respiration et l’approfondissement de la sensation du Ki, enfin en faisant connaître le Katsugen undo (mouvement régénérateur). À travers son travail, son œuvre écrite, son enseignement, il réussira à créer un pont entre l’Orient et l’Occident.
Ce qui guette le pratiquant d’arts martiaux et ce plus particulièrement en Aïkido est l’ennui dû à la répétition, à la recherche de l’efficacité, au fait de peaufiner la technique, et tout cela au détriment de la profondeur de l’art, ainsi que de la culture qui le sous-tend. De fait, notre époque n’est plus soumise aux mêmes impératifs que les siècles derniers, s’il est toujours utile de pouvoir réagir en cas d’agression ou de difficultés, ce qui sera déterminant est plus la force intérieure et le réveil de l’instinct, que la capacité de combat. L’Aïkido demeure une pratique du corps, où la rigueur, la dynamique, le savoir-faire, ont une importance capitale, mais son aspect philosophique est loin d’être négligeable. Cet aspect n’est en rien contradictoire, bien au contraire, un de mes anciens maîtres Masamichi Noro l’avait bien compris lui-même lorsqu’il créa cet art nouveau qu’est le Ki no Michi (la voie du Ki) à la fin des années soixante-dix. La recherche dans l’Aïkido est quelque chose de difficile et peut même être pernicieuse parfois, car s’il ne s’agit pas de s’affronter avec d’autres combattants, ce n’est pas non plus de la méditation ni de la danse, et je peux dire cela car j’ai un immense respect pour ces arts, là encore les puits sont différents, mais la recherche va dans la même direction. Aller chercher du côté du développement des capacités humaines, de la culture au-delà du connu, se remettre en question et questionner les idées du monde, avancer pour faire avancer notre société. Sortir peut-être enfin un jour de la barbarie et de l’obscurantisme. Il nous suffit de relire la conférence de Umberto Eco** sur comment l’être humain se construit des ennemis pour comprendre que nous avons plus que jamais besoin de connaître l’autre pour mieux le comprendre.
L’Aïkido en tant qu’Art du Non-faire est une porte vers ce que nombre de personnes recherchent : la réalisation de soi-même, sans un ego démesuré, mais dans la simplicité, et avec le plaisir d’un vécu authentique.
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.
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.
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.
* 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
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
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.
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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* Itsuo Tsuda, The Non-doing, Yume Editions, 2013, p.9
** Itsuo Tsuda, The Path of less, Yume Editions, 2014, p.157
Yuki Ho est un dojo reconnu de l’École Itsuo Tsuda, réservé à la pratique de l’Aïkido et du Katsugen Undo. Il fonctionne sur une base associative, de façon indépendante et autogérée, préservant ainsi un esprit proche des dojos traditionnels japonnais.
Les séances sont conduites par les pratiquants plus avancés, et sont accessibles à toute personne, quel que soit l’âge ou le “niveau”. Tels qu’abordés dans notre École, l’Aïkido et le Katsugen Undo n’ont pas de finalité sportive ou thérapeutique. Ce sont avant tout des pratiques du Non-faire.
Régis Soavi Senseï, fondateur de ce dojo et conseiller technique de l’École Itsuo Tsuda, anime régulièrement des stages qui sont l’occasion de découvrir ou d’approfondir ces pratiques. Il poursuit ainsi le travail initié par Maître Itsuo Tsuda, dont il a suivi l’enseignement pendant dix ans.
La pratique régulière
6h45 et 18h30
La pratique du Mouvement régénérateur doit commencer par un stage.
Tenue pour l’Aïkido: kimono. Tenue pour le Mouvement régénérateur: vêtements souples.
Séance d’essai gratuite.
Le 1er mois au tarif découverte vous permettra de découvrir la pratique et notre Ecole.
les 2 activités
Moins de 18 ans
La cotisation est annuelle et payable par mois. Adhésion annuelle à l’École Itsuo Tsuda: 15€.
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 →
Tous les aïkidoka ont déjà entendu parler de Ma aï car c’est une des bases de notre pratique. Mais en parler et la vivre sont malheureusement des choses très différentes. Comme elle est connue dans tous les arts martiaux, il est facile d’en trouver quantités de références.
On peut concevoir intellectuellement cette notion, on peut écrire sur elle et développer tout un discours, mais « Rien ne vaut le vécu » comme nous le répétait si souvent mon maître Tsuda Itsuo.
Je vais donc essayer d’expliquer l’inexplicable à travers des exemples ou des situations concrètes.Lire la suite →
In one of his books Itsuo Tsuda gives us his views on kokyu:
“In learning a Japanese art, the question of “kokyu” always arises, strictly speaking, the equivalent of actual respiration. But the word also means to have a knack for doing something, to know the trick. When there is no “kokyu”, we cannot do a thing properly. A cook needs “kokyu” to use his knife well, and a worker his tools. “Kokyu” cannot be explained; it is acquired.
When I was young, I saw a labourer working with his screwdriver on very rusty machinery. I tried to unscrew a piece of the machine, but in vain; it was too rusty. For the labourer, it posed no problem; he unscrewed it with ease, not because he was stronger but because he had “kokyu”.
When we acquire “kokyu” it seems that tools, machines, materials, until then “indomitable”, suddenly become docile and obey our commands with no resistance.
Ki, kokyu, respiration, intuition are themes that are pivotal to the arts and crafts of Japan. It constitutes a professional secret, not because people want to keep it like a patent, or a recipe for earning their living, but because it cannot be passed on intellectually. Respiration is the final word, the ultimate secret of learning. Only the best disciples gain access to it, after years of sustained effort.
A martial arts master whom dogs bark at is not a good master, they say. The French know how to silence dogs by sliding a piece of sugar in their mouths. That’s the trick, that’s “the thing”, but it is not kokyu, respiration, which is something else entirely.”
Itsuo Tsuda, The Path of less, Yume Editions, Paris, 2014, p. 33-34.
I discovered kokyu with my master Itsuo Tsuda.
Previously, it was to me just the name of a technique, with Itsuo Tsuda this notion became much more concrete, firstly by the orientation of his practice. He said: « To me technique is simply a test of knowing whether I’ve evolved in my breathing. » Thus our attention was brought directly to kokyu. There couldn’t be aikido and breathing. Aikido is breathing. And then, from his first books on, Itsuo Tsuda illuminates us in terms I didn’t knew; almost too simple and yet so difficult to achieve.
When I attacked him it was crystal clear, regardless the strength I put in he remained both, relaxed and powerful.
He made us use visualization to teach us kokyu. E.g. for kokyu ho he said: « It is the lotus flower opening. » Today few people have seen the lotus flower, so I speak of a daisy. Visualization should talk to us, directed to us. For it to act, it must be anchored in the concrete life of each person.
So sometimes to help someone to get beyond a partner that is holding the wrists to prevent him or her to move, I say, « You welcome a friend you haven’t seen for years, who steps out of the train, take him in your arms! » Then the person forgets the other and ki, instead of being coagulated, flows in the given direction, the person raises the arms without any effort. The power of visualization is colossal.
Sure, posture is essential, I would even say primordial. If the body stiffens to become an impeccable posture; it’s screwed. If it is too flabby; it’s screwed. If the third lumbar is wrongly positioned: it’s screwed. With the practice of aikido and katsugen undo I see that my students are gradually recovering. Ki begins to flow without blockage, without disruption, it is the discovery of unforced abdominal breathing, but clear and limpid, from the kokyu. In my view, without kokyu, all the work in aikido is only intended to strengthen the body, it is a work of hardening.
With the deepening of breath little by little the needlessness disappears, we do not need to work on flexibility or strength, stiffness and our ideas of strength and weakness are leaving. So ki circulates better.
For this direction, the respiratory practice we do in the beginning of the sessions is important.
You can not teach kokyu, but you can guide individuals to discover it.
If we practice kokyu ho every morning at the end of each session, it is precisely to make people sensitive and also to improve our posture. As our posture and the way we behave refines and improves, we are able to help the normalization of the terrain of our partner. If you breathe deeply from the hara to the hara of the partner, you revitalize the channels through which ki flows, you enable these circuits to function better, and the other understands (feels) with his entire body what it is about.
It is not about looking at the demonstration and working harder and harder, but rather about being pervaded with this kokyu feeling of the other. I often say: to work on the kokyu we must start by listening. We listen to the other, not with the ears but with the whole of our body, we feel the breathing, the ki, of the other. It’s like a perfume. We listen to the inner movement, so the feeling becomes more accurate and we can guide him or her to a better posture, towards a release of tension.
It is also the work of senior practitioners to encourage this discovery. By bathing the other in breath, they help them to feel it, by dint of being soaked with « something ».
In the practice of katsugen undo Tsuda Sensei introduced in Europe, first comes the awareness by the breathing, by the movement of ki. Tsuda wrote: « In the regenerating movement (katsugen undo), we do the opposite of the tradition: we begin with the supreme secret, straight off1. »
Kokyu is no more magical than ki is an energy. As soon as we launch ourselves into an explanation, even if we let know that it will be approximately, big chance we blow it.
The ancient tales, such as those recorded by the Brothers Grimm, can show us an aspect of kokyu powers. As in fairy tales, it can transform toads into a prince or princess and grow people more beautiful by the simple fact of transforming their posture. This posture, the result of many years of contraction, weakness, or attempts of correction. When the posture finds back something natural, it is the return to the source, to the root of being.
The discovery of kokyu leads us to different behaviors in everyday life. This respiration, far from being seen as in “New Age”, awakens in the individuals’ daily life forgotten qualities, lost simplicity, and intuition finally found. It is what can be admirable in the work of a craftsman and an artist, but it is also what surprises those who do not know it. Because we did not understand nor felt what is behind this entirety in the performed act: kokyu is a revelation of the unity of being.
Itsuo Tsuda has guided us in that direction, leaving us free to go further or stay put. This freedom was fundamental in his teaching.
It is said that sometimes when the posture, the breathing, the coordination was perfect, Ueshiba O Sensei exclaimed “Kami Wasa”. God-technique? Supreme realization? Couldn’t we talk about kokyu or Non-Doing in the greatest simplicity? Like a child who drops a toy to take another, in the same way as he aspires us to take him in our arms for protection.
A small child has kokyu. “The baby is as big as the universe, but treated poorly fades quickly”2, Tsuda Sensei wrote in his last book. Isn’t it our duty to enable him to preserve it? And to us adults, it to regain?
Aikido is not made for fighting, but to allow a better harmony between people.
I breathe deeply, I listen to the body of the other, in his or her body I visualize the flow of ki, I hear and clearly understand it, so I let ki passing into the body of the other. This circulation brings us fullness, the feeling of being fully alive, everything disappears, there is nothing but the present moment with its sensations, its colors, its music.
Article written byRégisSoavion the subject ofkokyu, published in DragonMagazine(Special AikidoNo.10)in October 2015.
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1) Itsuo Tsuda, The Path of less, Yume Editions, Paris, 2014, p. 33
2) Itsuo Tsuda, Face à la science, Éditions Le Courrier du livre, Paris, 1983, p. 152.
Born in 1914, Itsuo Tsuda would now be one hundred years old.
This atypical character, fiercely independent, considered himself first and foremost a philosopher and he is a key figure of the Aikido in France. He is the one who introduced Katsugen * Undo in Europe in the early 70s.
Direct student of O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba during the last ten years of his life, Itsuo Tsuda did not consider important the sporty or martial art aspects of Aikido, but rather the chance to make use of this art for inner search, for personal search. He qualified this dimension as « solitary practice » and devoted himself to pass it on in his books and in his teaching.
By beginning Aikido at forty-five years of age, the ki and Non Doing were the two aspects that mainly attracted him. These aspects were particularly tangible in a series of exercises preceding, during O-Sensei Ueshiba sessions, the technique, which Itsuo Tsuda named after the expression « Respiratory Practice. »
O-Sensei Ueshiba gave a lot of importance to these exercises that meant to him something completely different then warming up. Itsuo Tsuda in an interview with France Culture said:
« For me what is important is what I do at the beginning: I sit, breathe, I breathe with the heaven and the earth, that’s all. Many people love aikido as a technique, don’t they? For me, the technique is simply the test to find out if I have evolved through breathing. »
In the technique that happens during the second part of the session there is no struggle, but an opportunity to develop sensitivity, the ability to fuse.
The voice of Itsuo Tsuda, who died in 1984, still resonates today through the nine books published in French and through his students. One of them, Régis Soavi, he has dedicated more than thirty years to Aikido and katsugen undo teaching. He is the technical adviser for the Itsuo Tsuda School .
– Good morning, Mr. Soavi, when you met Itsuo Tsuda in the 70s you were already engaged in the practice of martial arts. What made you decide to consecrate to the Aikido of Itsuo Tsuda?
– I had just started Aikido when I met Itsuo Tsuda, my teacher was Roland Maroteaux. I met Tsuda during a workshop organized by this teacher. What struck me at first was his ability to dodge. During this workshop I saw my teacher, who was an actual budoka, attacking him with determination and at any time Tsuda was not there, he was dodging, he had created void in front of him. That was what shocked me. I had already experienced a lot of Judo, Jujitsu and weapons and then, more or less at the same time, during my training as a professional Aikido, I worked with other teachers like, Master Noro, Master Tamura, Master Noquet, as well as I took part of some workshops with Master K. Ueshiba, Yamaguchi Sensei, etc.. At the time we were all a bit like Ronin, we were going from a dojo to another trying to uncover the masters’ secrets. At first I was timidly interested of Master Tsuda, but the quality of this void, this emptiness that was moving around, it was very impressive and that was what made me decide: you have to go and see this master.
– What does represent for you the first part of the Aikido practice that Itsuo Tsuda called « Respiratory Practice »?
– Master Tsuda used to say that it was the essence of Aikido. At the beginning, when I was about twenty years old, I saw this part as a kind of respiratory warming up, not to mention muscle warming up. And then little by little I found out that it was something much more intimate! And after seven years, the Respiratory Practice had become the most important part of Aikido for me. The rest was, as Tsuda said very well, a way to verify to what extent I was getting with my breathing.
– You speak about Aikido proposing the translation « the way of the ki fusion ». How does this differ from the definition « the way of the harmony » that it is normally used?
– Now, « Aikido » is an ideogram, there are no words therefore in itself. What I try to pass on through « the way of the ki fusion » is the direction we take. In Aikido this fusion of feelings between people allows you to practice in another way. It completely differs from the idea of fighting. It is rather a complementary. I think Ueshiba had such a fusion capacity with the person who attacked, by anticipating his acts, his gestures. For me, harmony is insufficient as a translation, this may purely be aesthetic. The fusion turns into something deeper. When two metals come together into a fusion to become for example bronze, they become Bronze, it is not only harmonizing them, they become something different. And it is in this sense that I want to translate it with « the way of the ki fusion. » But this is purely ideograms interpretation.
– What role do you think the technique plays?
– It is essential. It is the base. For me, technique must be extremely precise. It is the technique that leads the breathing. The technique also means the body, the posture. If your posture is correct, if the positioning is right, then it is easy, breathing is better. when one is blocked, congested, closed or too open, too soft or too hard, nothing will really happen. The technique is there to allow through its precision to find the lines that help us breathing better, to get better into the fusion. It is also for this reason that I often ask to work slowly. It is no use doing something quickly and badly.
– Does the practice of Katsugen undo, you’ve discovered with Master Tsuda, affected your approach to Aikido?
– I think if I had not practiced Katsugen undo I would have not practice Aikido the way I do today. We should never forget that Katsugen undo is something that normalizes the ground, the body. And only now I see Aikido as a process of normalization of the body as well. The practice of katsugen undo allows you to practice Aikido in this way, it is for me a base, the basic. It develops in you the breathing, once we breathe better, we are more relaxed. Aspects like aggressiveness, competitiveness disappear, they fall by themselves. Instead of practicing by hurting the others, one goes towards the normalization of the body, for example I usually show how, by twisting the arm in a certain way, during the mobilization, you allow your ki to get up to the third lumbar in fact the person’s body twists slightly on that point.
Well, it is a process of normalization of the body through Aikido, which I discovered because of the Katsugen undo practice. This applies to many other techniques, the way to get in, to reach the center, the hara, and so on. I’m not saying that you cannot find out if you only practice Aikido, but Katsugen undo was an open door, it has allowed me to feel better, to understand better, to be more in the spirit … I think this was very important for Tsuda as well. He practiced with Ueshiba for ten years. But when he started Aikido he had already been practicing for more than ten years Seitai and Katsugen undo. His terrain was thus in a certain condition, for example with regard to the flexibility – which is often lost when at forty-five years of age. And then the kind of spirit condition: for Tsuda was clear that we were not there to destroy ourselves, but rather to find a certain tone, and at the same time a balance. Aikido should lead to a balance. And katsugen undo task is the balance.
– you practice early in the morning, this may be surprising.
– Sessions during the week start at 6:45am while at the weekend they are at 8.00. I know we live in a society where you go to bed very late and you get up very late too. In my case I really love the morning. One can be tired in the evening, people after working hours are stressed. Sessions of martial arts then very easily turned into a relief valve, and so on. Rather in the morning, competitiveness does not have too much importance … you get up, you are in the dojo, you can easily breathe, you start your day. Furthermore we are very lucky to be in a permanent dojo. One comes and it is like being at home, in an association but at home, the dojo are used only for this reason. There are gyms with more or less clean changing rooms where you can not even leave your watch otherwise they might stole it, and so on. So you come here in the morning, take a little coffee, tea, and then practice. And so the day begins and starts well, it is a real pleasure. Every morning I have a great pleasure to see people getting there and taking their time, we are in a world where we do not take our time anymore…
– Your sessions are designed for all without distinction of age and levels, you talk about a school without grades.
– Master Tsuda said: « There is no black belt for mental emptiness. » With Ueshiba there was no national program for black belts. When Master Noguchi was teaching he was used to say « Forget, forget, when you will need it, it will come back naturally » It’s a little bit like this, the technique is important, but we do not repeat ten thousand times how to get attacked or some other staff. It makes no sense. Hierarchy, degrees, kyu, dan, and so on. For me this is not really important … And then in terms of age, why should we make a difference? Modern society created that difference, it has created the teenage (which by the way teenage is now up to forty years), the third and then the fourth age, and so on. All these categories do not correspond to anything. For me, when we talk about life within us we are all equal. Then, of course, it makes a difference, if I work with a six year old child it is not like when I work with a sixty years old person or somebody on their twenties.
– Other then passing on the bases, what can you really teach through Aikido?
– Ah, not much, actually, on a given moment people are going to start their own search by themselves. So, since I’m older, and my own search is also a long-term one, I can give them some information, and then I can help them to better understanding through visualizations. It’s my way of teaching people today. I suggest visualizations, for example by saying this movement looks like when you place a baby in bed. At the same time people search, there are a number of people who I consider companions they are no longer students. As sensei, as a good craftsman with a greater seniority, I can say, « Look further, that is it « , by looking further, the body opens and the person says, « Oh, okay It is fine. » It is very subtle. It is a kind of communication that I establish with my students. And then people go and search in that direction. We do not work on making the technique perfect, that does not exist. Aikido is not going to become more effective, more aesthetic, and so on. But we will be closer to ourselves, I think that this is the most important thing.
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* Katsugen undo translated as Regenerating Movement, the technique developed by Haruchika Noguchi, creator of Seitai.
Continuation and end of the article published in the journal « Question de » in 1975, written by Claudine Brelet (anthropologist, international expert and woman of French letters) and student of Itsuo Tsuda.
Part #2 Can one ‘fusion’ respiration and visualization? – “Indeed, visualization is one of the aspects of ki. Visualization plays an important and vital role in aikido. It is a mental act that produces physical effects. Visualization is part of the aspect of ‘attention’ of ki. When attention is localized, for example it stops at the wrist, breathing becomes shallow, disrupted… we forget the rest of the body.
This coverage was published in the journal ‘Question de’ in 1975. Claudine Brelet (anthropologist, international expert and a woman of French letters) who wrote this press coverage and did the interview and was one of the first students of Itsuo Tsuda.
At the fringes of Bois de Vincennes, in the rear of a garden in the suburbs of Paris, there is a particular dojo. Dojo, meaning, a place for practicing the Art of breathing and martial arts. It is not a gym. It rather is a sacred place where ‘space-time’ is different from that of a profane place.
We salute when we enter to sanctify ourselves and when we leave to desacralize.Lire la suite →
Our rendez-vous is at 6:45 AM, in Milan’s Chinese quarter. The place : a former garage, transformed into a traditional, spartan-looking dojo where, once inside, you are told gently but firmly to remove your shoes. The participants arrive little by little, sleepy-faced ; they murmur their greetings as though reluctant to disturb the pale atmosphere of the Milanese dawn. I had been invited to an aikido session by Regis Soavi, during one of the periodic courses he conducts in Italy. Regis Soavi teaches and transmits the message of Itsuo Tsuda (1914-1984), a direct disciple of master Ueshiba. I had read a few of Tsuda’s books ; he was Japanese and lived in France. His books are strange. They can’t be classed with “martial arts” books, or as “essays”, or with “stories”. In Tsuda’s school, we find the convergence of two fundamental experiences : Aikido and Katsugen Undo (regenerating movement). I wanted to speak more in depth of that, with Regis Soavi.
Who was Itsuo Tsuda
You were a direct student of Master Tsuda. Tell me a bit about him.
He was very simple. We called him Mr. Tsuda. I myself only began to address him as “Master” in his last years. He wished to be considered above all as a philosopher and writer. His quest was of a personal nature. When you met him, you realized at once that he had a strong personality, but at the same time, he seemed to be an Oriental like any other. If you were to come across him in the street, you’d never realize he was an expert in Martial Arts, he just seemed to be an ordinary Japanese. In any case, on the tatami, he was a real discovery. Tsuda addressed himself to each person individually, he never generalized. In the morning, after aikido, we would have coffee together and he would tell stories, speaking to all who were there ; but we understood that, each time, he wished to reach certain people in particular. He was characterized above all by his simplicity.
I’m looking at Tsuda’s biography : “At 16, he rebelled against his father’s wish for him to inherit the family patrimony ; he left his family to wander, in search of freedom of thought. Later, reconciled with his father, he came to France in 1934, where he studied under Marcel Granet and Marcel Mauss until 1940, when he returned to Japan. After 1950, he became interested in Japanese culture, studying the recitation of “Noh” with Master Hosada, the “Seitai” with Master Haruchika Noguchi, and Aikido with Master Morihei Ueshiba. Itsuo Tsuda returned to Europe in 1970, to disseminate the practice of “Regenerating Movement” and his ideas about the “Ki”. What did Itsuo Tsuda do during the Second World War ?
In 1940 he was mobilized and had to return to Japan, on the last boat to go through the Suez Canal. The canal was then closed. He was enrolled in the army, where he worked in an administrative capacity. He never fought. Right after the war, he worked for Air France as an interpreter. That is how he met Master Ueshiba. A French Judoka, André Noquet, came to Japan to discover the practice of Aikido, and as he spoke no Japanese, he needed an interpreter. He found Tsuda, who until then knew nothing about Aikido, but he was deeply interested at once.
Did Tsuda know Ueshiba first, or Noguchi ?
Noguchi. He was about 30 when he first met Noguchi, and 45 when he encountered Ueshiba.
What was the meaning of his refusal to accept the family heritage ?
His father came from a family of Samourai, who became factory owners and business heads at the Meiji modernization. Tsuda didn’t want to work in the family business. He wanted to live his own life. At first it was very difficult ; he even worked for a time in a chemical factory. Then, when he had reconciled with his father, he decided to study in France. Tsuda was very fond of France.
For you, is Aikido a martial art ?
No, you already know the answer. Aikido is a non-martial art ; it is the practice of non-doing. Master Ueshiba, in another epoch, could have responded that Aikido is a martial art. Still, if I say it isn’t a martial art, then people respond, “Oh, it’s a dance then”. That is why I define Aikido as a ”non-martial art”. In any case it’s something quite different ; That’s why Ueshiba called it ai-ki-do. The term is often translated as “The Way of Harmony”, but a more appropriate definition is “The Way of Fusion of Ki”. Two people can undergo what we call fusion. They do more than simply harmonize. From two, they become One, then two again. Habitually in martial arts, two adversaries confront each other and only one remains. But in Aikido we have the fusion of sensitivity. In our school, he who attacks, attacks ; the other becomes one with him : he accepts and absorbs the attacker and from two creates one. He acts in such a way that the other begins to be a part of him. In this way he disarms the attack, which no longer works.
Does that mean that one learns to take responsibility for the other as well ? Or to put it differently, in a relation between two people, does the will of one of them suffice to modify the quality of that relation ?
One learns to take one’s own responsibility. In our school, the attacker will help the other who is not yet able to create the state of fusion ; he makes it possible. If he were to attack brutally, the beginner would be unable to create this fusion ; but if he acts as a guide, he helps the other rediscover his own capacity for movement. He already has that capacity. If, when crossing a street, a car suddenly arrives, we jump to the side. It’s the art of avoidance. These capacities manifest themselves spontaneously, in certain exceptional circumstances. Here, we reintroduce them, so that they become more natural, so that they are present in every moment of our lives.
You practice early every morning. Why ?
Master Ueshiba practiced early in the morning, Master Tsuda as well ; I continue to practice early in the morning. That’s the first reason. The second reason is that only those who are very determined, very well motivated, come in the morning, because to be here at this time, you must get up at around 5:30 AM. In the morning we are fresher than at the end of the day and it’s easier to practice “non-doing”, at least for beginners. We are also more “involuntary” – still a bit half asleep, we are not yet entirely into our “social being” that we use during the day, to encounter others and go about our work : smile when we should, or not; say “thank you”, etc. In the morning we arrive at the dojo still clean, not very structured yet, and there is something more authentic there.
How is your Aikido different from that of other schools ?
There is no difference, it is Aikido. I don’t know what is done these days in other organizations, at Aikikai for example ; I left them 20 years ago. I do believe that certain things have been forgotten ; for instance, the first part of the “Respiratory Practice” that Master Ueshiba did every morning, and that we have preserved. In other schools, some forms of this have been maintained, but a large part has been lost. I think that those schools have adapted themselves more to Occidentals and to our epoch ; as for myself, I prefer to remain more traditional.
In our Aikido sessions, there is a first part, where we practice alone for about 20 minutes, and a second where we practice in pairs : one partner attacks, and the other executes the technique. The techniques are the same as those practiced at Aikikai or with Master Kobayoshi, or any other master. The difference is in our approach, which gives much more importance to the role of the partner. We take the other person completely into account, and for that, I feel that our practice of Katsugen Undo has played a fundamental role.
The Regenerating Movement
What is Katsugen Undo ?
In our school there are two practices, united through a common spirit : Aikido, of which we have just spoken, and the Regenerating Movement, which Tsuda learned from Master Noguchi- a “movement that permits a return to the source”. This is what allows us to better understand the aspect of “non-doing” in Aikido.
Often, when people arrive from other dojos, I see that they “possess” a technique : they respond to the attacks in a certain way, but there is no spontaneity. Everything is calculated, inculcated, schooled, and ordered.
The regenerating movement is supposed to bring the individual back to a state of spontaneity ?
Yes, it is the art of spontaneity par excellence.
It is derived from the “Seitai” of Noguchi, if I have understood correctly ?
What does Seitai mean ?
It means a “natural condition” ; “Seitai Soho”, for example, is a technique used to “Seitai-ise” the individual, that is, to give him the possibility of a return to a natural condition. Katsugen Undo, on the other hand, is the movement of the extrapyramidal motor system, the involuntary movement that is activated spontaneously, and that, in itself, acts to take us to a condition of seitai. It is not a method of acquisition, on the contrary, it is a Way of detachment. We don’t acquire greater flexibility ; rather, we free ourselves from rigidity. We acquire nothing ; rather, we lose things, we free ourselves from what hampers us. This is important in Aikido as well. Aikido is not a Way of “acquiring” techniques, or of “obtaining” results, but rather a Way of coming back to simple things. On this subject Master Tsuda spoke of “becoming a child again, but without puerility.”
Did Ueshiba know of Seitai ? How did Seitai and Aikido come together ?
It was Tsuda who united them. I don’t believe that Ueshiba knew of Seitai. However, Master Noguchi once went to see a demonstration by Master Ueshiba, of which he said, “It’s good.” In Japan, that is sufficient.
Did Noguchi create the discipline of Seitai, or did a tradition already exist that he perpetuated ?
No, he created it. Initially, Noguchi was a healer, until his “discovery” of involuntary movement. One day, he realized that people fell ill, and came to see him ; he would allow the ki to circulate, they would recover and go off. Then they would fall ill again and come back to see him…. Any other therapist would have been happy to observe that, as they would be guaranteed a steady clientele. But Noguchi started from a different point of view : “What good is it to heal them since they just fall ill again ? Every time they fall ill, they depend on me.” To him it was absurd. He had discovered that, with Katsugen Undo, there was no more need for someone to heal us. The body doesn’t need anyone, it does everything all by itself.
Can we say then, that our ki heals us ?
No, ki doesn’t heal us. Ki activates the vital capacities of the individual, but we are already full of ki ! If our body works normally, we need nothing else. If I have some microbes in my body, the body creates a fever and produces home-made antibiotics, antibodies, etc. Noguchi did nothing but activate the life force, when the individual was too weak. What is even more interesting is that the individual can activate his life force on his own, with no need for another person, no need to ask someone else to do it for him.
Does this method work to cure people ?
We are not cured. If we break a bone, once the bone is back in place, what makes it knit back together ? It’s not medicine, it’s not doctors, and it’s not the ki either. Even if we do nothing the bones knit, simply because we are alive ! If we find this capacity again, the whole body will function in this way.
And with cancer, what happens ? Is it more difficult to find a normal function when the cells have gone crazy ?
In the case of cancer, it’s a matter of a certain corporal laziness : the body is so damaged that it is near death. But there are people who survive a cancer. How does that happen ? That is not my domain, as I am not a therapist ; I don’t attempt to cure people. But it is clear that there are people who haven’t allowed their bodies to do their work normally ; for every little problem, they take medicine. Today, that’s how it is as well, for giving birth and for pregnancy. From the beginning of life, we are medicalized, hospitalized, even though these are natural events, where life manifests its workings in us.
Can we say then that it is our ideas that have become ill ?
Not only our ideas. It all goes together. But what is new with Noguchi, is the possibility to awaken oneself if one wishes it . It’s not a question of awakening each person at any price, nor of proposing a great new method that will cure everyone. It can be useful only to those who wish to go in a certain direction. The others, the lazy ones, don’t belong here. In this society, thereis already an infinite number ofspecialists to take care of them : doctors,priests, psychoanalysts, gurus, etc.
As for me, I prefer to live my own life totally. I prefer that no one need to take care of me.
In our magazine, we have begun a discussion about the ki, about the way each Oriental discipline interprets and uses it. It would be interesting to hear your point of view.
Ki is an untranslatable word today. The ki has a thousand forms ; good ki, bad ki… it is indefinable. When we enter a certain place, with a certain atmosphere, one can say we feel a certain sort of ki. But what seems a pleasant sort of ki to some can be quite disagreeable to others. In Aikido, there is, effectively, the ki of the attack which is to come. Sometimes, walking along the street, we can feel something at the nape of the neck. We turn, see no-one, but then notice, up on a roof, a cat observing us. We have felt the ki of the cat’s look. How can we explain that ? We can observe it, but as for explaining it… “To be in harmony with the ki.” But which ki ? It’s not simple.
I remember one of your conferences where you said that when something hurts it is natural to put one’s hand on the painful spot. For example, if we have a headache we naturally put our hand to our head, and that is already a way of using the ki.
Yes, the “laying on of hands” is yuki. When you have a headache, you put on your hand, and the ki circulates. In this way, the ki is concentrated. The ki is already there, it circulates already, but we concentrate it. When we have something wrong somewhere, we lay our hands on the spot without thinking of it, it happens spontaneously. When, on the contrary, we do yuki with someone, it adds a certain concentration, a direction.
So in your school you do yuki with each other ?
When we practice the regenerating movement, we also practice the exercise of yuki. All the same, rather than “doing” yuki, it is a matter of a rediscovery. We come back to something everyone already knows, from when we were children.
The translation of yuki ?
The perception of the sacred dimension
Does Seitai contain a reference, close or remote, to a religious tradition, as does Aikido ?
Neither discipline adheres to a religious belief.
But Ueshiba was so deeply influenced by the sect Omoto-kyo (a Shintoist religious group), that in his thoughts, Aikido and his religious practice are not always easy to distinguish.
But Aikido in itself is not at all religious. It does fit into a sacred tradition, that yes. Ueshiba had without doubt a very strong relation to what is sacred. Master Tsuda also considered the dojo to be a sacred place. After all, what is the dojo ? It’s a place where we practice the Way. And the Way is represented in Japanese by the ideogram of Tao. One doesn’t practice the Way just anywhere. A place consecrated to that practice is necessary.
But what is the sacred dimension for you ?
I can’t give a precise definition. People do say, “The sacred dimension, yes, but religion, no !” One particularity of our school is that we don’t practice before a picture of Ueshiba or of Tsuda, but before a calligraphy. The calligraphy that hangs in this dojo, for example, is “Mu”, the Void.
Is it the same in each dojo ?
No. In Toulouse, there is a calligraphy that signifies “The dragon emerges from the pond, where he had been asleep.” At Avezzano the calligraphy signifies “Bodai”, that is, the state of illumination.
What is the meaning of this custom ?
To practice before a calligraphy creates a different atmosphere than would a picture. Personally, to stand before a calligraphy that signifies “The Void”, gives me a feeling of plenitude. To practice before a picture of someone, even if he is the founder of the school, seems to me to indicate a religious attachment or devotion. Ueshiba didn’t practice before a photograph. A calligraphy is by nature “void”. Also, I find it important that those who come to the dojo to practice, understand the sacred aspect, but at the same time, that there are no gods to venerate here.
We are not concerned with peoples’ religious or political beliefs. At the same time, this space is not only physical. It’s not a gymnasium, where one trains, sweats, and showers. It is a permanent dojo, where we practice only Aikido and the regenerating movement.
I think that people are also interested in the cultural, philosophical and religious origins of the discipline they practice. In the Chinese tradition, for instance, the classical martial arts were born, or in any case, greatly developped, in the Buddhist and Taoist monasteries.
Everything began in religion. Art in Europe began in religion. Today, it’s publicity which gives its’ impetus to art. Publicity is the new religion.
Ueshiba himself said that Aikido is not a religion, but that it sheds light on religion, allowing a better understanding of it. In fact, he himself recited the “Norito” before a little altar, either Buddhist or Shintoist, or even before an image of Jesus.
Why do you recite the “Norito”, a Shintoist invocation, before each session ?
It is not Shintoist. I don’t know what it is. I say that it is not Shintoist because it is something older, something which has since been adopted by Shintoism. Master Ueshiba spoke in this case, of “Kotodama”. What is “Kotodama” ? It’s a resonance.
Like a mantra ?
If you like. Shintoism has its source in ancient traditions, in the same way that Christianity has integrated earlier traditions like Easter (originally a Hebrew celebration) and Christmas (the Roman “Saturnalia”, the Celtic and Nordic “Yule”).
What is the “Norito” exactly ?
It’s a short text. It takes just a few minutes to recite.
Do you teach the meaning of the words to the participants ?
No. What is important is the vibration, the resonance.
And people accept participating in something they don’t understand ?
But do you yourself understand the meaning of the text ?
No. It’s my inner sensation that is important to me. We do so many things that we feel, but don’t understand.
Each person already knows what he needs
Of the person who begins to practice a martial art, a great deal of confidence in the master is always required. The disciple supposes that one day he will understand, and that he will obtain some results. He hopes to see some visible effects, the proof that what he is doing works, even if it’s perhaps not immediate.
We always behave according to reason. We do something, then we understand, then we change, etc. But with Master Tsuda we discovered something different. I practiced Aikido with other masters before him, I have known different forms, different schools, but with Tsuda, I discovered the “non-form” : in fact, the form exists, but it is very vague. With Tsuda, the orientation changed. In the practice as he taught it, one comes back to oneself. The sensation of coming back to myself is what led me to abandon the other things I did ; federation Aikido, Jujitsu, etc.
One no longer needs explanations. I think that those who come here feel that. They rediscover sensation, and don’t need one to explain that we do this for this reason and that for that reason… They feel, they see, they understand deep inside, they discover ; that’s what counts for them.
In any event, today, the consequences of knowledge are harmful. The more things we discover, the more problems are raised. I don’t want to say we should know nothing, or learn nothing, but we must have confidence in what is instinctive for humans : in women’s intuition when they care for their newborn babies, for example. When a woman takes a newborn into her arms, she doesn’t wonder, “Is he hungry, is he wet, is he sleepy ?” She already knows what the baby needs, intuitively. She has always known. When she was a child herself, she didn’t need to use that knowledge, but when she becomes a mother, she uses it, that’s’ all.
People do feel these things, but generally this sort of perception stops at the unconscious level, and doesn’t emerge into our consciousness. So, officially, we say, “I don’t know”, but deep down, we already do know it all.
How can you define what Master Tsuda’s school proposes ?
Simply, to provide, for the individual, a place where one can discover oneself to be autonomous and responsible. For example, here in Milan, the dojo is named Scuola de la Respirazione , and it is the members who manage it and share all the responsibility. Naturally, there are people who come to the courses looking for solutions to their problems, but that isn’t what we propose- just as we don’t propose an ideal model that one can copy to lead one’s life. That’s why our practice of Aikido is suited to individuals who are very different one from another ; it’s not at all a matter of “one style, one school”. We are all different individuals who practice together, to return to what we have at the deepest level inside us ; he who comes here, doesn’t come to be taken care of by others. He comes to discover something which must be of service to him in his daily life, and which, otherwise, would be of no value.
Some concrete examples, of the way your practice can come into play in daily life ?
The individuals find themselves less stressed ; they take more time for themselves and are more concentrated. Attention, it’s not a “miraculous” method, that makes everyone become handsome, intelligent, rich and generous. It can serve you at work, in your relations with others, in your relationship with your own children, but it’s not a panacea.
There are those who begin to practice martial arts to become stronger, but then discover something else, other values. One can, for example, learn to give way instead of responding aggressively to an attack, as in Tai Chi. To take the example of Tai Chi Chuan, one lets the adversary “enter” instead of opposing him in a block, and then one goes in the same direction, taking advantage of his movement. This attitude can also be applied to human relationships outside of the gymnasium.
Certainly, instead of having aggressive relationships with others, we can enter into a certain harmony with them, and so find something more authentic. Today, relations among people are too superficial. We don’t take care of our children anymore : we put them in child care centers, then in school, then they do their military service… To get back in touch is important- or to return to the pleasure of working, doing work because it interests us. That doesn’t mean we should all act in the same way. For each of us, different thingsare important. We must respect each person’s rhythm. Some take a hundred years to discover the simplest things ; others find them right away, but without putting them to use : they hastily discover piles of things, then disappear.
The important thing is that it has been useful to them.
The important thing is that there exist places like this, where those who are seeking something, can come to find it.
But perhaps what is even more important is that, once one has found that something, one begins to give. Once having found it, one can then serve someone else.
I agree, but there are so many people who live only to give : they give, and they give. In the end, the others can’t take anymore. It’s like feeding a baby : “here’s a spoonful for mama, a spoonful for papa, a spoonful for little sister”- the baby finally bursts out crying, he can’t take anymore. Parents do that “for our own good”. But dictators also do things “for the good of the nation”. What can we do for the good of others ? Piles of things.
It’s an expression of egocentrism.
Certainly. There are also people who give to others to avoid doing things themselves, or for themselves. I’m rather mistrustful of that. But it’s true that when one gives in the right way, a balanced way, we can feel that, and then it’s something authentic.
That is why in certain martial arts influenced by Zen Buddhism, one seeks to eliminate the ego…
But it isn’t possible to eliminate the ego. One can say that we shouldn’t be egoistic, or egocentric. However, the “little me” represents the unity of our personality. The important thing is that it not become the « boss ».
Once the session is finished, the participants at the Scuola de la Respirazione set up a large, low table, around which they breakfast together, seated on tatamis on the floor. Although it is now well past 8 o’clock and everyone is wide awake, their voices remain quiet, as if they wished to postpone for a little bit more, the entry into the daily rhythm and hullabuloo of the town, to keep in themselves for as long as possible, that other rhythm, interior and peaceful.
An interview with Regis Soavi, by Monica Rossi, “Arti d’Oriente”, February 1999