We are strange attractors, you and I.
Physicists have identified many basic forces in the universe, and in some cases, have been successful at proving an underlying unity among them. But for our everyday experience, it is useful to categorize all forces into two groups of attractive and repulsive powers. This is nothing new. The ancient system of yin and yang (in and yo, in Japanese) describes a universe of two opposite forces in a dynamic balance, each containing elements of the other. For simplicity's sake, we use the word "ki" to label the underlying oneness that encompasses all forces, whether manifest or potential. An understanding of these basic forces allows us to manage our lives more efficiently, in much the same way as our highway system enables us to make progress. The design of the road and the signs along it tell us which ways are safe to go, and what are the restrictions which would likely cause harm if they are ignored.
We as individuals also exhibit these polar forces. We find that we are drawn to some things and seek to avoid others. This is a basic part of our instinct and is necessary to survival. We also see that we attract some things to us and push others away. Increasing our awareness of this dynamic is fundamental to our shugyo. Sometimes, for whatever reason, we may attract harmful forces our way. If an attacker identifies you as a target, then their intent to harm may manifest as a type of psychological gravity. The sooner
you are able to recognize that you have become the center of a gravity well and this person is "falling" in toward you, the better you will be able to implement an effective defense strategy.
If we remain calmly at the center (dochu no sei), we may guide the attacker toward the ground, setting our own gravity aside in favor of Earth's attractive pull, which is by far the more powerful and truer force. When we are able to function as an open conduit which freely directs uke's ki and creates a ground connection with the Earth, then balance is restored, forces are neutralized, and the system is returned to a greater alignment with basic reality (makoto).
On the other hand, if we believe ourselves to be at the center of the system while forgetting the larger context, then we will try to throw the opponent, to force them down against their will. This will almost certainly result in collision and will likely escalate the conflict. Worse, if we give our minds over to excitement and fear, then we are likely to reach out of ourselves and try to control things beyond our reach. In so doing, we have forgotten all about range of effectiveness. We have given our adversary their own gravity which pulls at us, and the complexity of the system becomes far less manageable.
Of course, not everything that comes our way is out to get us. If we see that we are on a collision course with something, we should immediately step aside and evaluate later. If the object continues on by us, staying true to its course, then we know that we were not the attractive force affecting its motion, so long as our calmness allows us to avoid interference. We can simply let it go by. On the other hand, if our movement alone causes an alteration in trajectory, then we know that we are somehow directly involved, and our actions must now be consistent with this fact.
Finally, it's worth commenting that all this applies to beneficial forces as well. No matter what the appearance, we may not know the effect or the truth of a force until we are one with it. Love, health, money, recognition, security, are all things most of us would find desirable. It is tempting to find a path which places us directly in the way of these things, expecting to catch them when they get close enough. Or, we may go chasing after them, forgetting our own center and seeking balance elsewhere. But it's important to remember to avoid collision, even with what we consider to be the good things. Much of the conflict in our lives is caused directly by our involvement with objects of desire, and we wind up hurt and often hurt those we love.
Fortunately, aikido is a universally appropriate path. That is, its ways are consistent in all circumstances. If we train with proper understanding, we should be able to apply aikido in all areas of our lives. The same principles and techniques apply whether with an armed opponent, in business affairs, recreation, or in love.
We should not find this surprising. After all, the principles of aikido are no less than the laws which govern our universe. As students of aikido, we don't necessarily study gravity in the way that a physicist would; rather, we seek to experience it directly and explore its possibilities with our mind and body as the instrument. Our art is, in its own way, a kind of metaphysics. As we understand gravity, so do we also understand love and hate. The universe is infinite. So too, its laws... each of them.
Therefore our understanding is never complete. The mission of Seidokan is to continue this exploration for the furtherance of our understanding and the betterment of the conditions of being. And this is the force which pulls us forward toward our greater self.
It is a reality that we live and move and practice Aikido within a field of gravity. To function efficiently and effectively within this field, one must be in balance. Balance, I believe, is a pre-condition to being in control and to being in harmony. It is the basis from which all the principles of Aikido are expressed. Besides keeping one point, there are three inter-related factors that I emphasize in teaching my students balance: posture, the right distribution of tension and relaxation, and breath.
The most efficient posture to counter the pull of gravity is one that is perpendicular to the horizontal plane. To achieve this posture, one needs to unlock the knees, roll the pelvis forward and upward, and make the crown of the head the highest point of the body. Critical to maintaining this posture is keeping the pelvis level, which involves tension of the muscles in the hara (lower abdomen) and koshi (hips), so the vertebra can correctly align. There is increasing relaxation as one goes up the body because the upright posture is being supported more by the skeletal structure than by the muscular effort.
When posture and the distribution of tension and relaxation are correct, then breathing becomes correct. Correct breathing entails breathing with the diaphragm. When all of these conditions are met, the center of gravity falls to the tanden (one point), and mind and body become one, our natural state of being.
Aikido can be viewed as a path to returning to our natural state, becoming one with nature. The waza (techniques), kata (forms), and aiki taiso (exercises) we practice foster the development of correct posture, the right distribution of tension and relaxation and correct breathing. However, we are often so enamored with throwing and controlling others that we forget that the focus of our training is ourselves. In a class at the 1996 Seidokan Summer Camp, Steve McAdam spoke of a young woman who, when she began her Aikido training, walked with one shoulder elevated. In less than a year, her body structure changed, and she began to walk more naturally, i.e., with her shoulders level. It would have been interesting to know if other changes had also occurred. If the premise of the oneness of mind and body is valid, changes in bodily structure may be expected to result in changes in the whole person, including his or her consciousness, attitudes, and ways of relating and coping.
Eastern approaches to personal development generally focus more on the
body than the intellect. It is said that if the body is right, shin (mind)
becomes right. This is the reason for my emphasizing balance in my own
training and in teaching my students. Gravity provides a constant point
of reference to measure my centeredness and affirms my belief that nature
is our ultimate teacher.
The term shodo-o-seisu means "control the first move." It is one of the basic principles that Seidokan Aikido was founded upon (see issue 1 of The Seidokan Communicator, Spring 1981). In a 1991 interview, Kobayashi described how over the years he developed an understanding of shodo-o-seisu. He relates that in 1968 he was engaged in a three-day misogi training session, and as you might imagine, the pain was excruciating. When Koichi Tohei Sensei sat beside him and chanted during one session, he felt that he was riding the wave of his teacherís ki He felt good, but he felt the pain again when Tohei got up. This incident was an early realization of the power of getting into the flow of ki, but he wasnít sure at the time how to control it.
The next incident he relates is when after a demonstration at Cal State Fullerton, a city councilman came up to Tohei Sensei and asked if it was true that Tohei couldnít be lifted. Tohei Sensei replied that yes it was and said that Mr. Kobayashi was unliftable as well. The councilman tried to lift Kobayashi Sensei, but he didnít budge.
These incidents led Kobayashi Sensei to question whether it was his teacher who controlled the situation or whether his teacher was enabling him to control the situation. He then spent many years experimenting with the concept of controlling the situation first.
For example, in a training session with the Fullerton police, he had a huge policeman attempt to lift him. He experimented by simply thinking "I touched you first!" He found that this worked well. Similarly, in kokyudosa he taught that you had to have the ki already flowing rather than waiting to be grabbed.
He related all this to Tohei Sensei one day in a private lesson and his teacher said, "Oh yes, thatís shodo-o-seisu." Kobayashi Sensei saw that he was on the right track and continued to develop applications of the principle. He was surprised when his teacher never mentioned it again or described its importance to others. Everyone who worked with the concept in LA and in seminars around the country found it to be very helpful. We sometimes take these principles for granted, but they are very important. It is the application of the principles to techniques and to everyday life that is at the firm foundation of Seidokan Aikido.
In many conversations with Sensei, I found him relating the concept of shodo-o-seisu to other important Aikido principles. Here I will relate it to four other principles. The first is masa katsu agatsu or true victory is victory over oneself. This principle helps us to understand what is meant by shodo-o-seisu. In other arts, the idea might be to hit the opponent before he hits us. In Aikido, it is to have control of oneself and the situation before the attack begins. When we control ourselves, we are calm, in harmony with the universe, and have established true victory. As we develop a deeper understanding of this principle, we develop a less limited conception of ourselves until we see that the self extends to the universe around us.
A second principle that helps us understand shodo-o-seisu is haya katsubi, which means victory faster than light. This was a favorite saying of O-sensei. It is often translated as "spiritual victory." Kobayashi Sensei explained this principle to me by first asking, "If nothing is faster than light, how can we achieve a victory faster than light?" The answer is to have established harmony before the movement begins. Thus shodo-o-seisu establishes control through our projecting a spirit of harmony wherever we go so that there is no possible opening for an attack. We are no longer limited by conceptions of physical reactions to the attacker because we are already spiritually one with the attacker.
A third principle is ki no myo yo or the proper usage of ki. Controlling the first move does not mean having your ki pouring out in excess. Instead, it means that you are ready to intercept the ki of everything around you and align it properly to maintain harmony. Sometimes we may think of shodo-o-seisu as only applying before the attack begins. The principle of ki no myo yo reminds us to apply it throughout the movement. Thus, after we have already blended with a punch, we must make sure we continue to blend throughout the application of the technique. This will naturally lead to the application of the technique in line with the proper usage of ki.
A final principle that I will relate to shodo-o-seisu is zan shin, literally left over mind or spirit. We often emphasize that even after the attack, one must be calm with ki flowing and still connected harmoniously with uke and everything around us. Even though this is at the end of the movement, it is the idea that there is no end, only the harmonious flow of ki. If one keeps harmony flowing, then one already is in harmony for the next event and has thus established first harmony or shodo-o-seisu.
Kobayashi Sensei was always working to develop a deeper understanding
of the principles of Aikido and sharing with us unhesitatingly these important
lessons. The best way we can repay him is to continue to develop our own
understanding and share the spirit of harmony with others.
Why should we study Aiki-Kengi and Aiki-Jogi? Isn't the study of weapons contradictory to a philosophy of "Loving Protection" for all things?
I believe we should ask ourselves these questions and have good answers so that our practice can be focused and self-fulfilling. This past Fall I was invited and sponsored by the Aikido Institute of Mid-America to instruct both Jogi and Kengi #3 at the Seidokan Fall Camp.
The study of either weapon requires discipline and strict precision of movement. Unlike our hand techniques, Kengi and Jogi should look very much exactly the same each time we do a movement. This physical discipline tempers our bodies while repetitive practice helps focus our minds. Our practice is not designed to teach us how to fight with these weapons. Seidokan Aikido's approach to weapons teaches us to use them to help us gain a deeper understanding of the Principles of Aikido. Thus our practice is Aiki-Kengi, not Kenjutsu and Aiki-Jogi, not Jojutsu.
Whenever I teach these forms / techniques, the many specific and varied questions put to me drive me to continue to study every
aspect and detail so that I can share my understanding in a clear, correct and reasoned fashion. Camp always leaves me re-energized and anxious to practice using all of the fresh ideas presented from all of the very talented instructors who shared their knowledge. I congratulate the Aikido Institute of Mid-America for sponsoring a wonderful Fall Camp, and I thank them for inviting me to be a part of it.
Self defense training in Aikido often uses formal, ritualized technique. One exception to this method of training is the free style approach found in randori. The use of free style may be against two, three, four, or even six or more attackers. Randori requires you to neutralize these attacks by the use of calm independence of mind, accurate perception, constant centralization, and the dynamic continuity of your extension. Ancient masters of the martial arts often defined this state as "no-mind," borrowing the concept from the Buddhist school of Zen.
The strategic efficiency of any attack will decrease in proportion to the increase in the number of uke, since they will tend to get in each otherís way and therefore neutralize one another. The
attack by four persons against one person is the most difficult to defend, since each attacker has enough room to maneuver and to launch an individual attack. You can neutralize the attack by using a spinning technique within a certain sphere of action.
The development of the proper state of mind-body is tested in randori by application of techniques of neutralization against multiple attackers. The moment when the uke are about to converge upon you is when you will face the most demanding test of your harmonization and integration of mind and body using the four basic principles of Aikido. Your instinctive response will be to evade a direct attack almost as soon as it is launched and then direct or guide it away from you. But using Aikido techniques properly, you can swiftly and cleanly control all aspects of attack and defense.
Remember that effective self defense is possible without the necessity
of inflicting serious injury upon an uke. You must be responsible for not
inflicting unnecessary harm to others or profiting at the expense of uke.
The training in randori and the practice of Aikido as a whole reaches a
summit of perfection in the neutralization of multiple attacks achieved
through the pure motion of evasion, harmony, and blending, without recourse
to any particular techniques.
The Seidokan Communicator is published quarterly. Please remember, your submissions make this newsletter possible. Send articles about your dojo, your instructor, a recent seminar, philosophical insights, technical descriptions, and other Aikido related materials to me so we can keep up communication in Seidokan Aikido. Send materials to Doug Wedell, 501 Doncaster Dr., Irmo, SC 29063. Email submissions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 10, 1998: New Yearís potluck party at AIA.
March 6, 7, 8, 1998: St. Louis Seminar with Doug Wedell, Sensei. This Aikido workshop is sponsored by the Aikido Institute of Mid-America. For information contact Richard Harnack, 314-647-0903.
March 20, 21, 22, 1998: Seidokan Aikido Seminar at the University of South Carolina with Dan Kawakami Sensei and Doug Wedell Sensei. For information call 803-781-9242.
June 12-14, 1998. Summer Camp hosted by Cal State Long Beach Aikido Club. Mark your calendars!
Ki no miwaza, Misogi waza, "techniques of ki are misogi techniques."
The founder of Aikido stated that the ultimate techniques of Aikido are with ki, and they can be attained through misogi training. Misogi comes from Shinto training to purify the mind and body. There are many ways to do Misogi: sitting or standing under a waterfall while chanting to yourself; wading in icy water during the coldest time in the winter; swinging the bokken until you can no longer swing it; chanting away all negative thoughts and evil spirits so that the body naturally follows suit, cleansing itself.
During the most severe misogi training, it is said that one is led to the border of life and death; to the point where one would say, "I donít care, go ahead and kill me." Sometimes the trainees are beaten on the back by the trainer with all his might until blood seeps through the back of the traineeís white gi.
The concept is that once one is able to withstand severe torture and hardship, he is able to take anything that comes after. In a later day, he will realize that the misogi training has provided the encouragement and support to work through difficult times in life. The result from misogi training is that you will learn to persevere under any situation and learn to appreciate your daily life, your daily meal, your relationship with your family and friends.
Misogi barai conducted in the dojo at the beginning of the year is to cleanse the dojo and ourselves so that we may practice safely and be able to further ourselves in the years to come. It is a Shinto ritual that begins with the chanting of the norito by the leader, calling upon the gods of the universe to help purify the dojo by getting rid of all the evils spirits. The students will follow the leader and his assistants who are swinging the suzu (bells) with repeated changing: "TO! HO! KA! MI! E! ME! TA! ME!" changing into "TO!HO! KAMI! E!MI! TAME!" for a minute; then to "TOHOKAMI! EMITAME!" After twenty to thirty minutes of chanting, it will begin to sound "TO! E! -- TO! E!" Watch carefully for the leaderís signal to accelerate the chanting before stopping. As the chanting stops, the leader will clap the hyoshigi (wooden clappers) to lead the breathing exercise. Calmly exhale through your mouth and inhale through your nose. All students should try their best to remain sitting at seiza throughout this training.
Sport psychology is a relatively new and growing field. Its blossoming coincides with the proliferation of interest in spectator and participant sports throughout the world. Sport psychology is a complex social science which is based on research as well as theory and practice; it deals with developmental, media, motivational, team, personality, educational, and many other issues. Performance enhancement is perhaps the most widely publicized facet of this fascinating field.
If you were to read texts on sport psychology, you would find that much of what is described has a familiar ring. Although couched in different words, you would find many of the guiding principles and practices of Seidokan Aikido: (a) maintain a state of controlled relaxation; (b) practice misogi breathing exercise; (c) let your ki flow, out from your hara and toward your objective; (d) train the fundamentals until they become a part of yourself; (e) perform with confidence; (f) manifest calmness in action. Indeed, our aikido training has much in common with athletic prowess and, in particular, the mental side of sports. Improved understanding of sport psychology can potentially sharpen oneís exercise sessions, enhance athletic performance, and stimulate more progress in learning the subtle yet powerful arts of aikido. Let us examine the considerable overlap between the teachings of aikido and just one valuable aspect of the mental side of sports: flow.
Flow refers to a state of effortless performance, a sense of oneness with the activity in which one is engaged. It is a feeling in which a person feels in complete control of his/her abilities and interaction with a specific activity (Reeve, 1992). Also known as Ďzoningí or Ďbeing in the zone,í flow is associated with superior athletic performance. A flow state increases the probability of achieving oneís personal best in an individual sport, or moving in synchrony with oneís teammates in a synergistic manner. Whether one wins or loses, being in a condition of flow is a satisfying experience. When defined psychologically as a confrontation with an optimal challenge, one in which the personís skill level precisely matches the taskís difficulty level (Csikszentmihalyi,1990), a flow experience contributes to feelings of competence and sense of well-being; simply stated, we feel good about ourselves when we are engaged in meeting worthy challenges.
Seidokan Aikido explicitly teaches the value of the flow of ki -- our life force, energy, and power -- and cultivates such flow through our learning arts of self-defense. As in athletics, we acknowledge that we cannot force ourselves to do our best, coerce an enemy to fall, or pressure an adversary to accept defeat through intense effort alone. Instead, we strive to let our ki flow out of our fingertips, eyes, mouths, etc. By maintaining a calm and centered disposition, we best allow our energies to move toward the challenges of the moment, whether itís the need to evade a physical attack, swim in a long and strong manner, defuse a potential verbal argument, or pass effectively to teammates. We strive to free up our energies, enabling ourselves to control stressful situations. Letís look more specifically at some of the particular commonalities which exist between aikido and flow states.
The following is a list of the major attributes of flow states, as presented by Jackson and Kimiecik (1994), along with what I consider to be counterparts from our aikido training:
(1) Arousal / anxiety control -- controlled relaxation: by keeping our levels of muscular tension relatively low throughout our bodies in general, we can activate task-relevant muscles just the proper amount to make our movements most effective and energy-efficient, without interference from unneeded muscle groups.
(2) Preparedness (physical and psychological readiness) -- unification of mind and body, no-mind (Mu-Shin): by following the four principles to unify mind and body, and not clouding our thinking and perceptions with preconceptions, we ready ourselves to respond quickly and accurately to any potentially dangerous or challenging situation.
(3) Focusing and attentional skills -- harmony, oneness with a situation: by concentrating on the moment at hand, without conscious mental effort or thoughts about the past or future, we can spontaneously join our mental and physical energies with the force of an attacker or with the athletic contest in a victorious manner.
(4) Confidence, self-trust -- true victory is victory over oneself (Masakatsu Agatsu), let your ki flow: when we feel centered by keeping one-point, controlling our arousal levels, and letting our ki flow freely, we can trust that we will automatically react to any demand to the best of our abilities; we can respond with optimal physical speed and power, as well as mental and verbal fluency.
(5) Experience increases the probability of flow -- drill and repetition, training after understanding: we practice the fundamentals, of self-defense, exercise, and athletics, until they become second nature and we are able to apply simple skills to complex situations; Kobayashi Sensei taught us that advanced techniques are really well-trained simple ones.
(6) Pre-event conditions can prevent flow -- harmonize and adapt to environmental conditions and self-doubts: we cannot keep one-point during each moment of every day, due to changing biorhythms and environmental conditions as well as human fallibility; but if we accept the circumstances in which we must perform (e.g., swimming in an unusually warm or cold pool), just as we welcome the energy of an attacker (as in Yokomenuchi Makiotoshi), then we increase the probability that optimal self-control can be attained.
(7) Channel anxious energy into performance -- aiki is the power of harmony of all beings, all things working together: it is natural to be nervous when competing athletically or facing a threat, but such anxiety is oneís friend, not enemy; if we maintain self-control and make our anxious energy work with that of the attacker, we have all the more power to control the situation at hand.
(8) Process-, not outcome-oriented --- meditation in motion, calmness in action (Dochu-No-Sei): paying undue attention to the score, watching the clock, prematurely basking in anticipated glory, or wishing an opponent would give up is a distracting waste of focus and energy; instead, centered mindfulness of the absolute here and now is the most practical way to confront any obstacle.
At the top of the runway, the successful high jumper focuses visually on the path ahead, then visualizes himself executing a successful sequence of movements which culminate in clearing the bar; he takes several purposeful breaths, then launches toward the objective and merely lets the process unfold. The champion figure skater practices the precise, demanding patterns of movement thousands of times prior to the compulsory phase of competition, then shuts out all potential distractions as she takes the ice with confidence. The competent equestrian rider feels at one with her horse, synchronizing her movements and commands with both the movements of the animal and the demands of the course as they arise. The professional basketball player knows instinctively and reflexively when to pass or shoot, where teammates and opposing players are located, in harmony with the flow of the game. And the adept aikidoka maintains a state of calm readiness when she is about to face the simultaneous attack of four comrades in a randori exercise, then moves across the mat and casts attackers aside with minimal awareness of the time, or her appearance, or what observers are thinking.
How can our knowledge of flow states benefit our aikido training? If we attend solely to the process of blending, leading, and controlling an attack, we increase the probability of a positive outcome. When we focus visually on ukeís mune, or solar plexus area, we have a good chance to be able to recognize the type and direction of the attack as it is forming. If we think in terms of controlled intensity, not just controlled relaxation, we can better accept and utilize our own nervous energy when neutralizing an attack. That is, for any given activity, there is an optimal level of arousal---e.g., golfers swing best when totally calm, linebackers tackle best when highly charged, and aikidoka perform best with levels of tension/relaxation that are somewhere in between. We should not shy away from challenge, especially when such challenge is well-suited to our ability level. When we feel self-trust, knowing full well that we are at our best when we manifest the four principles to unify mind and body, we maximize our chances of blending without collision, leading with power, de-escalating any conflict, and meeting any challenge successfully.
The study of flow states, just one small area of the field of sport
psychology, can have practical value. Awareness of what other disciplines
have to offer can affirm and augment our understanding and skills in aikido.
Similarly, letís use our aikido training to enhance our appreciation of,
and participation in, various forms of exercise and athletics. Letís apply
our aikido training outside the dojo in order to improve the everyday lives
of ourselves and those around us.
Jackson, S. & Kimiecik, J. Flow in Sport: Research Possibilities, Enhancing Performance and Beyond. Unpublished keynote address at the 11th Annual Conference on Counseling Athletes, Springfield, MA, 6/3/94.
Reeve, J. Understanding Motivation and Emotion. Fort Worth:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1992.
In this video series, the late Seidokan Kancho, Rod Kobayashi, shares his experience of over 35 years in the Way of Harmony With Nature. Each waza, or art, is not only clearly demonstrated before an actual class, but he offers an explanation as to why each movement was made.
Advanced arts required for shodan and above
Continuation of Aikido arts for all yudansha.
Tapes were produced and directed by Dr Mark R. Crapo and Vince Soo.
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Ayal Ron (Nidan, Seidokan Aikido Heisei Dojo,
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