Balance

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“Balance, the stroke of the wise, the style of the sharp. The way, the groove. Bal-ance: the sole of the feet, the soul of the Universe, takes step after step down the beat to time: da DUM, da DUM. Bal. Ance.” -Mark O’Brien

Such a delicate topic, balance.

A long time ago, I was totally enamoured reading Dungeons and  Dragons books.  There was this series about twin brothers.  One of them was a strong kind of moose-like kind of warrior, and the other was a sickly but powerful magician with hour-glass eyes.  I loved that series, and  felt especially drawn to Raistlin, the magician.  That was his name.

In their world, the gods were always in a power struggle to tip the balance of the world to their advantage, and all the people had a basic orientation: the good, the bad and the neutral.

I was happy reading through this fictional world and enjoyed my literary sojourns into those books.  Balance was just an important part of the story, but in real life, I never really paid much attention to it before Aikido came into my life.  That was x number of years ago.


  • Aikido

In Aikido, we are always conscious of our center of gravity and the seat of our balance so that we can do our techniques effectively.  We practice together and in pair work we find out the point at which we can upset or affect the balance of our partners.  After a while, being aware of our hara and center becomes second nature and  “is just is”.  It’s just there, in yourself, in your mind, in your technique.  How can I explain this any better knowing it’s just there?”

The practice of aikido opened a whole new way of looking at balance, and  I am rereading those books again, as well as revisiting older classical works.  How refreshing it is to come back to old haunts and see them and feel them with fresh eyes, new perspectives!

  • Ancient Wisdom

Ancient philosophers caution us to do things in moderation, to maintain a balance in our lives.  Some of them advise us to balance the pleasures and the sacrifices, the spiritual and the worldly, to consider the one side of an issue alongside with the other.  In old Chinese medical books, there are even cold food  and hot food categories and acupuncture meridian points to activate to restore an unbalanced spleen, or an upset stomach and all that. Diets are advised to be balanced according to our energy and nutritional needs.  To dancers,  athletes, actors and everyday ordinary people:  Balance is a universal prerequisite to living a full and well-lived existence.

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“Health is the natural condition. When sickness occurs, it is a sign that Nature has gone off course because of a physical or mental imbalance. The road to health for everyone is through moderation, harmony, and a ‘sound mind in a sound body’.”  -Jostein Gaarder, Sophies World

It is one of the first things we acquire in order to walk, to appreciate  visual art, to blend and adjust flavors in cooking.  For example, if you are a fan of cooking shows, you will see that the host/cook balances the acidic and the salty, sweet flavorings in his dish.   When we eat something, we don’t like it too salty, or too sweet.  Like the baby bear in Goldilocks, we want everything just right, and “just right” is actually the balance we instinctively seek.

What happens when there is imbalance? We get sick. Too much salt and our liver and kidneys get out of whack.  We go to the doctors to set our internal balance right. When we are sick, we try to get well again.

  • The Arts

When we experience extreme joy or extreme sorrow,  when we experience ecstasy and despair, we also seek to right the imbalance.  We cannot stay ecstatic all the time, or depressed all the time.  When we experience a great event, we seek creative outlets to pour  out the excess of the emotions incurred by  that event.  Hence, some great works of literature or of art have been the fruit of the creator’s  life of imbalance.  If I remember right, Van Gogh painted his most memorable pieces  when he was in a deep depression.  Picasso had his periods, too.  His life was tumultuous, and his periods reflected it.  They had to find a way to let it all out.  Unconsciously, we seek to right the balance.   It is the same with composing  photographs.  One has to be keenly aware of the balance of the composition to be able to create a pleasing, or disturbing or moving  image.

  • Drives and the Self

When we act on a desire or a need, shouldn’t  the action also be balanced by our conscience or ethics? When there is an imbalance, confusion  ensues.  Take for example those two girls who stabbed their friend in order to get close to a certain “slenderman”.   Extreme desire without the balance of conscience or ethics results in harming another human being, which  might  also result in extinguishing a life.


I was not aware of the importance of balance in every aspect of life before I studied Aikido.  I took it for granted,  and took balance for movement as separate from balance for art, or from emotion.  There was never a unifying element and connection and they, (dance, movement, art, photography, painting etc.) were just subjects.  Until Aikido.  Now, it feels like a prerequisite in self- awareness to me so that I can relate to the world better.balance2

What is it about this martial art that opens me up to being more sensitive?  More perceptive? More appreciative? Less  reactive, more calm, more patient? Is it particular only to Aikido? Or does this happen to someone practicing in other disciplines as well?  Yoga? Tai Chi? Has the art you have been practicing ultimately thrown open the doors to your inner self-awareness and your relationship with the world around you?  I am curious and happily grateful for this stage of growth.  Infinitely curious, boundlessly grateful,  and thoroughly  happy!

And yes, I have a life aside from Aikido and away from the blog.  I don’t practice on the mats all the time, or think about it all the time.  I have more fluency in maintaining a healthy balance in living a full and happy life.

I still think about Raistlin, the magician with hour-glass eyes, even if he went over to the dark side.  Maintaining his neutrality got in the way of his ambition.  But he sacrificed himself to right the balance in his world.

Delicate, I tell you, this element we call Balance.

 

(Please also see: “Rollercoaster Sensei“)

An exercise in “W”

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What War does not wreak havoc
on this World of men
Wantonly wanting more space, more water, more land?
What war leaves widows wailing on the parched sand,
Blood-stained by husbands, brothers, daughters and sons?

What War leaves wandering orphans
Waiting for parents who will never come home?
With Wondering eyes no longer innocent,
But old and tired and robbed of Will?
What Written Word can Wrest a Peace from War-torn kingdoms
Shred by Greed and Evil-ness, indeed?

Forge on ahead, grieving widows and wives,
The Woman is the key to land and home.
Lay Waste a World of War and choose, instead,
By sheer force of Will, a World of Peace.

(Please also see: “Youth“)

Aikido and the Two Faces

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Aikido in general has both the seen and unseen qualities. This can be referenced to the Japanese society where it sprung from. In Japan, there is a cultural behavior so enmeshed in their collective psychology that they even have terms uniquely for it: Honne and Tatemae. In Japan, her people have two faces: the Honne ( 本音) and Tatemae (建前). Honne is a person’s true intent/feelings/desires, while Tatemae is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. Honne is what is hidden from the eyes of the society, the inner self, while Tatemae is what is shown, an ideal of a person that is publicly revealed. In western culture, this may be close to the Freudian Psychoanalytic Concept of the Id, Ego and Superego: the id being Honne and a mix of the Ego and the Superego being Tatemae, or the Jungian Archetypes of the Shadow as Honne and the Persona as Tatemae. It is close but not quite. The difference is because the concept of Honne and Tatemae is not purely a result of the psychological faculties alone, but it also encompasses, and to a greater extent, the cultural-anthropological circumstances of the Japanese people. In Japan, there is a saying:

出る釘は打たれる。

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”

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Expounded, this means that the Japanese people function as a collective, as a group, with a group identity. The nails sticking out are criticized, looked down upon, and corrected. (Reference here: Otaku Culture and Wa Principle of Japanese culture). So for a Japanese to function in Japan, that person should act out his respective function in society as society deems it proper for him to act. This is because of the belief that group harmony is of more importance than individual desires. Hence the Tatemae is born: conformist, upright, and sensitive. and from this birth, its twin face, the Honne also comes into light: rebellious, passionate, improper and suppressed. This is truly a wonderful cultural uniqueness.  It is from this cultural trait that they have maintained unity as a people and flourished as a nation. It is because of this that the Japanese are earnest, even-tempered, and harmonious. The trick is to get to understand the Honne beneath the mask of the Tatemae.

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So it is with Aikido: What is seen is not everything. The rest is buried within the movement, unexpressed, unseen, but is vital. What is the Honne of Aikido that makes this Budo what it is? What in the technique is not being shown explicitly but implicitly? How can we focus on what we can’t see? In my opinion, ukemi may have the key to this. It is true in our art, that what cannot be seen can be felt. In the same manner, to understand Honne is to not only look at the Tatemae, but also to dig at the heart of what is really felt.

(Please also see: “Zen Fable: The Marvelous Techniques of the Old Cat (Neko no Myojutsu)“)