“Ssshhh… I will tell you a secret. For me, it’s Shihonage.”

Shihonage by Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu

Shihonage. Tori: Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu

“Slow is good. No need to be fast. The speed will come when you need it.” 

That was what my teacher said. We were practicing Shihonage.

Shihonage is the four-direction throw. It is based on how fighters long ago used to bow toward the East, North, West and South before and after a fight (I think Muay Thai and Sumo arts still bow to the four directions until now).  Sometimes, it is also called the four corner-throw. Everything that Aikido is based on can be found in Shihonage. According to an account written by Gozo Shioda, O’Sensei said that:

Shihonage is the foundation of Aikido. All you ever need to master is Shihonage”.

One of the reasons why Shihonage has a very special place in my heart is because it was the very first technique my teacher taught me. I still remember it very clearly. Katatedori gyaku hanmi Shihonage omote. Looking back at the beginner that I was, we paid close attention to starting out footwork. I got easily lost the minute the hanmi changed. I counted the steps and turned awkwardly. I kept losing my balance and kept getting my face in the way of my partner’s fist. Sometimes, I bumped into him. I couldn’t get it right. Sensei was a patient man. I do not doubt that my clumsy attempts were any good at all. But he was right there along with me guiding me to get it right.

Hanmi-Handachi Shihonage. Tori: Tada Hiroshi shihan

Hanmi-Handachi Shihonage. Tori: Tada Hiroshi Shihan

“Ma-ai.” He says. “You get a fist if you do not understand ma-ai.” Outbalance upon entering.“Maintain your partner’s being off-balance throughout the entire technique.“I can still hear his voice in my mind when I slip up and do not get it right every now and then.“Do not pause when you pivot. One continuous motion from start to finish!”Poor bumbling newbie, I thought would never get the hang of it.

Personally, Shihonage always reminds me of cutting down with a sword. I like to practice with the bokken and cutting in four or eight directions when I am alone and have no partner to practice with. The cutting and turning with the bokken exercise lends itself well to refining most techniques, but the particular one that comes to my mind is Shihonage. Breathing with my sword strokes also helps in keeping me aware of the rising and dropping motions.

Shihonage should not be unreasonable or forced.

I think you have to segue into Shihonage, flow into it from the attack, very much like Kaitenage. When I practice it, I become conscious of where my hips are and to where they are facing. I become aware of a drop in my center when I cut down. In practicing Shihonage, I also become very much aware of Ma-ai, because, yes, I do get a fist in my face or walk into a face slap if I do not pay attention to it.

Shihonage. Tori: Yaushito Irie Sensei, 5th Dan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Shihonage. Tori: Yasuhito Irie Sensei, 5th Dan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Then there is the direction of the throw. When I was starting out, I learned the one where you cut down directly in front of you. As I got more exposed to other versions, I learned them too. Sometimes, one teacher will teach the cutting down version, other times, another teacher will teach throwing your uke away version. I was so confused, because at that time, I thought there was only one correct way to do it! Oh my goodness! Was I totally wrong! There’s a whole lot of Shihonages out there, for as many as there are people practicing them and making it work for them. And, I want to learn them all!

Once, while I was performing Shihonage, I felt my arms were too short. They were already extended, but uke was still there. When my teacher saw the look of confusion on my face, he just said, “Move your body, not your arms. Move as one, every part of you, move forward. Slide.” Ahhh, so that’s how it goes. We throw with our whole body, not just the arms. We move from the center, whole body as one, to throw uke! (Imagine that light bulb going ding-ding-ding in my head.)

One tip I learned from someone close to me is that if you are dizzyingly confused, always go back to the very basic form and the prevailing principles that govern your Aikido and work your way up again. Or you can go back to the weapons where the movement was based.  If you base Shihonage on the sword, you throw uke downward like a sword cut, taking advantage of its cutting edge.  If you base it on the jo, you throw uke out, like the sweeping of the jo, taking advantage of its long reach.

Personally, I believe it is important in Shihonage to consider the quality of the connection you establish between you and your partner; tori and uke as one, bringing each other to the best position to complete the throw. 

Teaching Shihonage. Tori: Hiroshi Tada Shihan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Teaching Shihonage. Tori: Hiroshi Tada Shihan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

My teacher also showed me how to take care of my partner who was on the receiving end of the technique. I liked how he emphasized my partner’s safety as well as my own. He said he wanted me to still have partners for the next day, and the next, so I must take good care of them, make sure I do not injure them or wear them out. I thought it was funny, the way he put it like that, but now, ah, I understand, that part of Aikido is respect and loving kindness.

To this day, whenever Shihonage is demonstrated and taught for practice, it always makes me feel like there is something wonderful ahead, just around the four corners. Something new maybe, or an old familiar reliable form? Four directions can easily become eight, and all the eight directions can even become infinite.  In a way, then, Shihonage is limitless.

Students Training Shihonage. Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo

Students Training Shihonage. Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo

I like Shihonage. Maybe because it was the very first technique I learned. Maybe because I feel very efficient doing it. Maybe because it was one of the first techniques that really opened up Aikido for me. Or maybe, because it very closely resembles a dance move of which I have no aptitude for.

Do you have a particular technique that is secretly your favorite?


 

(Please also see: “Should Aikido be Effective?“)

A Deeper Look into Ma-ai

Space: “The final frontier”.
But I mean another kind of space. I mean Ma-ai.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Ma-ai is defined as space, distance, reach or interval. When I was beginning Aikido, my partner and I used to stretch out our arms in full extension and touch fingertip to fingertip. And that was that. Ma-ai was that simple. Then we would proceed to practice our strikes and tai-sabaki drills, stop when the teacher signaled to stop, measure fingertips then begin again. In our pairwork, the teacher would come around and remind us to be always aware of our safe distance, our Ma-ai.

In my trying to understand the concept and practice of Ma-ai, the elements of not only distance, but also speed, timing, and reach also came up. These elements define Ma-ai, but still, there is more to it than that. Because Ma-ai also expands and contracts. Because Ma-ai is also dependent on intuition for intent. Isn’t there Ma-ai in personal space in relation to safety too?  What exactly, then, is Ma-ai? 


Back to Basics

In Aikido, Ma-ai is the proper distance between you and  training partner, that he has to take a step to complete the distance to be able to reach you. But now, I have come to realize that it is in fact, not as simple as the definition given to me many, many years ago.

Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan; 35th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Aikido Association.

Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan; 35th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Aikido Association.

Ma-ai is the interval between parties, the distance of engagement; in other traditional martial arts like kendo and karate,  it is the spatial relationship between oneself and the opponent, and is usually classified into three kinds, dependent on the distance as the sole parameter for the time it would take for one to reach the other with his blade or strike:

Tō-ma- the long interval or distance, where it would take you further and longer to reach your opponent,
Itto-ma– the one step – one sword distance, where it would take just a step and a slash to reach your opponent, and;
• Chikama– the short distance, where you are already within each others space.


Ma-ai in Speed and Timing

Aside from physical distance, one’s Ma-ai is also dependent on the speed of each of the participants as well as how they time their movements.  Sometimes, in my mind, I picture two equally skilled swordsmen in a frozen -in-time face off, each of them waiting for the right time and each equally hoping, he will be the faster.  The faster and more well-timed his entry or attack, the more chances he will have of  overcoming the other.

samurai-sword-fight2

At other times, I also imagine a different scenario: Imagine yourself as a swordsman fighting a duel with another swordsman whom we know is younger, faster, and more skilled than you are. Doesn’t his Ma-ai seem bigger than yours?

Speed and Timing, and our understanding and capacity for it in relation to the attacker affects our Ma-ai as well.


Ma-ai Contracts and Expands

Ma-ai stretches, expands and contracts.  This is dependent on the reach of the weapons we are holding and the capacity for speed and timing both parties have in a given martial encounter. When you are holding a sword and your partner is empty handed, both your personal space and reach are totally different.

Bukiwaza; Morihiro Saito Sensei

Bukiwaza; Morihiro Saito Shihan.

The one holding a sword would have a longer reach, and the empty-handed one a shorter reach. Knowing this, both  sides adjust so that each maintains  a safe distance. As an application, in the case of a bat-wielding assailant and a sledge-hammer wielding opponent, their Ma-ai would also have to consider the heft and damage and speed with which they can wield their weapons.  (I’m just playing around with scenarios in my head, I’ve never seen these two people in a real life face off.)

This concept also extends to the actual application of techniques. For example, in the engagement of  a throwing technique in Aikido, we lead our partner to open up a space for us to enter. As we move, we already set them up for the throw.  Here, we are actually using our understanding of how Ma-ai contracts and expands to our advantage.  The awareness of  its perimeters allows us to constantly keep ourselves almost within reach but just a hair out of reach, so that their intention to get to us is not broken.  We use that intent to connect with them, leading them into the ideal situation for us to throw them.

When you have a great partner who understands this, you both enjoy the game of leading, setting up, trying to break out of the set up and afterwards, you both enjoy a good laugh.  I love it when this happens!


Ma-ai and Intention

lovehateMa-ai can also determined by how you understand intent. When you know you will be safe, your Ma-ai gets shorter. When you sense harmful intent, you keep a controlled and well monitored distance, preferably longer and further than the reach and speed of the other being in question.

So, you have family, who you know will always be there for you, love you, care for you.  Your Ma-ai keeps them as close as you want them to be.  You have work mates, they watch your back or stab you in the back, depending on your work relationship with them and you adjust your distance with them, too.  You have the cat-calling strangers who stand on the corner, and you hold on to your mace and give them a wide berth.


Sensing Personal Space and  Safety

In animal behavior and human psychology, the levels of how close a person can get to another person or being is dependent on how safe the other feels within the company of that person. That is Ma-ai, too. This is the concept of personal space. Have you ever been in a very crowded train? How did it feel being squeezed in with total strangers?

Crowded Tokyo Subway. Photo Credit: Michael Wolf

Crowded Tokyo Subway. Photo Credit: Michael Wolf

I remember in the classroom, one of my teachers managed our unruly class of young adolescent 14 year old girls through intimidation by proximity.  If she even suspected something fishy, she would situate herself right beside the suspected perpetrator of mischief.  It worked. She was a wonderful teacher because she excited our minds and made us want to learn more, yet also maintained discipline without breaking our spirit.  This simple tactic is still being used everywhere.  The police presence in the current neighborhood where I live now, is a reflection that Ma-ai in this form still works.

It does not seem positive to exert mental intimidation and use the role of fear to expand Ma-ai, but because it does happen, and it is being used, I guess, I have to consider it just to be fair.  There are some areas where you are not allowed to enter due to safety reasons.  Areas so heavily patrolled and secured that it makes you wonder, “what’s in there?”

There are people who have “levels of security clearances”, too.  Some can enter restricted or intimate space, and others cannot.  For safety reasons, of course. In a way, being able to isolate and distance these areas are ways Ma-ai is used to manage and restrict access.

woman-readingIn trying to look at maintaining distance, I too have to consider the emotional connection or disconnection of people.

There also exists “the me time”.  you know, that time when you just want to be left alone.  This usually happens when you are pondering some great question or enjoying a moment of precious solitude.   This is important, too,  and our life partners understand that sometimes, we just need to disconnect from the world and be alone with our thoughts, musings and day dreams.  Or when I need to write about something, I like to be all alone. This, also is a part of Ma-ai, for me.

I have no capacity to become a veterinarian.  The reason being, I would break every time I lose a patient. I admire the professionals and their nurturing and caring for the weak, the sick, and the disadvantaged.  They have reached a level of maintaining a distance that would also protect them from breaking every time they lose a battle with disease, a patient, a charge.

Then, there are the naturally existing creatures who are just inherently wild.  Wild things that will not be tamed would maintain a wider circle of awareness and guardedness than a pet. Here, too, is seeing an awareness of Ma-ai in action.


“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls” Kahlil Gibran

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls”
~Kahlil Gibran

The way I understand it, Ma-ai is the sum total of all these elements so that we have a harmonious space to live in. But, even still, I do not think it is as simple as that. It is a good definition, but I found it wanting. There was that niggling feeling inside me, like a wriggling worm of a feeling that still there is more to Ma-ai. After much thinking and re-thinking about this concept, it finally dawned on me:

Perhaps, Ma-ai is a relationship.

Yes, it is basically simply stated as distance, but it is also affected by your relationship with the other, it is about you and about the other, your circumstances individually, together and toward each other. It is your connection as a whole.

In understanding Ma-ai as a relationship of people and space, when I roll this idea around in my head, practice maintaining Ma-ai with this in my heart, mind and soul- I feel at peace with it. Maybe, personally, this is the right definition of Ma-ai for me.

 

(Please also see: “Balance“)

Bob

know-it-all13And some people think they know it all. I know of a person who thinks he knows it all, at least about Aikido. I will call him Bob. Bob has been practicing Aikido for quite a long time. His Aikido is like a basics DVD. He has very good technical as well as philosophical background in Aikido. He knows the small details of each movement; he even knows the precise moments of when to pause in doing a certain movement to emphasize that he is able to completely control his uke (the pauses are for the photographer’s benefit as well).

Ask Bob about the terms, he is a walking Aikido glossary. Ask Bob about how to navigate through a technique, he will give you very detailed explanations. Ask Bob what you need to work on, and he knows it just by looking at you. Ask Bob something and he will tell you the answer. Ask Bob why and how and he will answer you with a dissertation along with the procedure.

Bob can say that a movement is correct. Bob can say that a movement is wrong or incomplete. Bob says these things and he means them. He knows the very truth of all things Aikido, at least, that’s what he thinks. He is perfect in his eyes.

Bob is now a Sensei. He started his own dojo. He has many students. His photographer is also his student. Do not argue with Bob. You will just be wasting your time. His students look up to him all the time. He is their Aikido hero. In their eyes, he is O’Sensei incarnate. But Bob denies this. Bob says O’Sensei’s Aikido is incomplete, just like Freud’s psychology was. He believes in the evolution of Aikido, and in the evolution of our art, he is among the pioneers, or so he envisions. know-it-all

You see, Bob knows what is right and what is wrong in Aikido. When you talk to him he can pinpoint the mistakes of different teachers from O’Sensei down to the current Shihans of the art. They are missing crucial steps he says. Oh I just smile when listening to Bob! He is always right, and his Aikido is immaculate, at least for him. If you do not follow what he says, you are in the wrong and your Aikido is incomplete.

For Bob, his way is the only way.

I know Bob from a dojo I trained in before. At that time he was still in training. We talked sometimes. When I have questions, I can ask Bob and I am sure I will get an answer. He has touched the core of Aikido itself and has been basking in the very source of the ki of the universe, or so he believes. Bob knows the way to the gods of Budo and he is willing to show you if you follow him. He has a lot of followers. They believe in Bob. And Bob believes in himself.

Do you know Bob? Bob is judgmental, thoroughly critical, and entirely immature.

(Please also see: “Shoshin: The Beginner’s Mind“)

“Freedom is the Absolute Prerequisite to Peace” by André Cognard, 8th Dan Hanshi

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 12.10.31 PM

Andre Cognard Shihan, 8th Dan Hanshi; Tenchinage.

(See this article in original French)

An individual’s freedom is the absolute prerequisite to peace .

Everyone’s duty is to be free. Freedom is the prerequisite to identity and to it’s uniqueness. By acting freely, a subject participates in the expansion of the universe by it’s complexification. Identity is the universe’s utmost division and an individual’s task is to make it live. But individual’s freedom is hindered by invisible bonds of loyalty. These obligations arise from our need to belong to diverse entities, comprised in undifferentiated group consciousnesses.

This is the price of incarnate life.

To receive a body, you adopt two family histories and through them, the history of ancestral consciousness and its cultural and clanic subdivisions, as well as the history of human consciousness as a whole. Upon incarnation each individual is burdened with this collective history.

It is the conflict between our duty to be free and our obligations of loyalty towards the groups, that creates an internal conflict, a true identity schism. To be objectified, the conflict is projected between the subject and others. Objectified in the relationship, it can be changed. The evolution and harmonization of the internal conflict will occur if the re-enactment of the relational experience leads to peace. Change is therefore made ​​possible through our actions. This is the meaning of the way and of practice: our karma consists of our actions.

To understand our need to be free and our need for relationships, we must understand that conscience is only what it contains and all it contains. Internal conflict is a pillar of conscience itself. It is structural. This implies that change cannot occur in conscience itself. The conscience can only change by integrating novelty and novelty comes from otherness. One changes only in the other.

andre_cognardThis means that peace is only possible when the subject has freed himself from his obligations of loyalty to ancestral consciousnesses to whom he owes language, culture, and myth. And also to the collective human consciousness to whom he owes symbols and, through them, the ability to integrate novelty and therefore change.

There is a only one way to free oneself and that is to accomplish our spiritual duty which is always composed of two antagonistic elements:

  •  Liberating the human group out of the self, by embracing our own freedom and respecting that of others.
  •  Liberating the expanding universe within the self by removing all obstacles to our own freedom.

The two are inseparable because they both determine universal harmony which in turn determines peace. Peace is the sign of spiritual accomplishment. Aikido must lean towards this concept that I have named “effective harmony.”


This article was submitted exclusively to Aikido no Sekai by Andre Cognard Shihan. All rights reserved. You can also submit Aikido or Peace related articles to Aikido no Sekai via email: aikidonosekai@gmail.com.

Andre Cognard HanshiAndré Cognard Saiko Shihan, 8th Dan Hanshi

In 1973, He met Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan in Paris and since then, devoted his life to Aikido. In 1982 he founded the Academie Autonomous Aikido (now Autonomous Academie d’Aikido Kobayashi Hirokazu), now represented in France by more than 100 dojos.

In February 1998, upon the recommendation of  Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan, along with five of his students, he founded the Kokusai Aikido Kenshukai Kobayashi Ryu Ha. Hirokazu Kobayashi Soshu awarded Andre Cognard the degree of hachidan (8th dan), along with the title of Saiko Shihan of Aikido Kokusai Kenshukai (or the first of Shihan). Currently, he holds the title of Hanshi conferred by Dai Nippon Butokukai. Published in French, he is author to many books about Aikido and the martial arts.

 

(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)

Aikido: Reputation and Integrity

“ Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation. “

So said Cassio from Shakespeare’s Othello.

Here is a study of the human spirit. Shakespeare must have made it a lifelong mission to study, observe and effectively capture and illustrate human behaviour. If Shakespeare could have studied Aikido, he might have made a good Aikidoka taking into consideration that Aikido is also the study of the human spirit.

There are people I meet very much like Cassio.

Reputation is the end all and be all of what and everything they do. Appearances are of great import as well as hearsay and what other people will think of them. In the world of advertising, this is very important. Projecting an image to attract possible buyers or clients is a very big part of sales, marketing and advertising.

When I was a child, I was under the impression that a good child, was a silent child. Someone who did not draw undue attention to themselves, who respected their elders and did not make a peep of protestation even if their elders were unreasonable.aah Because a good child was both obedient, and silent. My parents were great, they encouraged us all to speak our minds and to be able to put forth an argument or reason for something. It was the environment outside the home that gave me that impression.

When I started to reason out or voice out my objections, my remarks were met with raised eyebrows and remonstrations from people who were not close to me or my family, people who did not know me well. I was labelled as rebellious and / or disrespectful. Saying “No” to an older person was not a positive reflection on myself or my parents. It took me a while to come around to saying “No” without feeling guilty about refusing something. People do that, you know, make you feel guilty for refusing to do a them a favor. I have learned not to be swayed by wounded looks and sullen silences; manipulations designed to convince the soft-hearted to change their “no’s” into a “yes” , okay, I’ll see what I can do…that sort of thing.

So, I gained the reputation of being that woman’s daughter who spoke her mind regardless of who was listening. Do I want to lose that reputation? No. That is also who I am. Honest to the point of being painful and blunt, sometimes.

However, reputation is not the same as integrity. 

There is a big difference. Reputation may be true or untrue, and has a lot to do with outward appearances, but integrity is truth all the way. My uncle once told my brother that the most important element in being an adult is your integrity. It is the only one you’ve got. You will not sell it, not compromise it because it runs through deep into your soul.

So what is integrity?

Integrity is the quality of being honest, the state of being whole, undivided, being consistent in your actions, behaviour, values and principles. speak truthWhen a person has integrity, he or she honors his promises, and keeps his commitments. That doesn’t mean one is infallible, but a person who has integrity recognizes and accepts responsibilities for his mistakes, and he cares enough to try his best to make them right. Upon integrity lies the basis for being trustworthy, reliable, and dependable. In integrity, one must remain unaffected by praise nor criticism. Someone with integrity cannot be bought by commendations and threats. Because what is important to someone who has integrity is being true to themselves and the values and personal beliefs they hold dear.

Would you sacrifice integrity for reputation?
Or would you sacrifice reputation for integrity?

Is it possible for one to be consistent with the other? Can reputation be congruent to integrity? Maybe if someone started out as a person with integrity in the first place and is known for it.

Picture two brick walls. One wall has no concrete or mortar filling in it, just a coat of plaster. Outside, it looks just as solid and just as strong as the other one which is also plastered over, but is filled with concrete and reinforced with cable. They both look the same, but one will break and give way when someone heavy enough strikes it.

In technique, it is possible to just look good because uke makes you look good. But wouldn’t you rather be good because your technique was based on the principles that make it work? Because you worked hard on it, because you tried to make it right, do it right, repeated it until you got it right? Wouldn’t you rather base your technique on the strength of its principles and its integrity?

Regarding reputation, I will go with Iago on this one:

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”

(Please also see: “O’Sensei is Human“)

Touching Greatness: The Mark of an Excellent Teacher

teacherRecently, I was fortunate enough to attend an Aikido seminar given by a relatively unknown Aikido teacher. This was his first time to teach outside of Japan. He was not tall, in fact, he may even be considered small even in Japan. I attended this seminar because I did not know this teacher, and I was very curious. When I saw him, he was very calm and relaxed. During the seminar,  he demonstrated a technique, then went around and gave tips to the seminar participants. He let as much people as possible feel his Aikido– as he went around, he partnered with us, he did the technique to us, then he took ukemi for us. When I first saw this I said to myself,

“Wow! This is a teacher who really loves Aikido.”

His teaching style is very honest and down to earth. His Aikido looks very calm,  straightforward, unhurried, centered, with little to no excesses in movement. Looking at his Aikido, I thought to myself, this has to be felt. Then finally he went over to me and my partner. Now I am a big guy and he was small. He told me to grab him firmly and I did. Then in a split second, he had my balance, and he threw me very gently but powerfully, very unhurriedly, and dare I say it, very skillfully. His Aikido was masterful. There was no resistance in his Aikido. He is an excellent teacher.

I have had the privilege of having many teachers in Aikido. All my teachers taught me something valuable. But there were only a few who taught me Aikido in a way that shook the very foundations of how I understand our art with a single touch. This is what I mean by touching greatness. Have you ever had a teacher like this? Have you ever had a teacher who made you realize how wonderful Aikido is, and that you have so much more to learn? I treasure these teachers. Teachers who teach me something revolutionary (at least for me). Teachers who walk the talk. Teachers who share what they know indiscriminately. Teachers who transmit their skill in such a way that leaves you smiling. Teachers who inspire by showing the possibilities. Teachers who, with a single “touch”, leaves you hungry to learn more.

Japanese painting, "Oni-no Kannenbutsu"

Japanese painting, from the story “Oni-no Kannenbutsu”

There are many skilled teachers with unique takes on Aikido. I urge everyone to remain open to learning; always keeping Shoshin. The mark of an excellent teacher is their ability to impart learning in such a way that leaves you wanting to train again and again. These teachers shake the very foundations of your understanding of the art. After training with them, you are once again the beginner, trying to understand something new. They “destroy” your conceptions (or misconceptions) of Aikido, so as to pave the way for you to build something better.

Excellent teachers teach tools through techniques.

They show the steps to help us understand the concepts. They encourage us to think and rethink. They catalyze unlearning and relearning in order for us to learn and progress. Excellent teachers make us realize we still have a long way to go, and guides us well as to how to get there. An excellent teacher shows us the way.

Kokyu

kokyu

“Everything in Heaven and Earth breathes. Breath is the thread that ties creation together.” -Morihei Ueshiba

I like that quote. It is a gentle reminder that we are all interdependent and, in some way, connected to each other. To be connected to each and every creature means I have to be mindful of how I take care of the world and the people around me. It means I cannot be apathetic towards issues that affect others deeply, even if it does not directly or deeply affect me.

We take for granted the gift of Breath. And yet, we are reminded often, when we get a cold, have a stuffy nose or have to use a respirator or oxygen tank. Then, we appreciate being able to breathe normally. What a pleasure it is to be able to breathe easily unimpeded by allergic inflammations or what nots.

There is an exercise I learned about breathing. You might have your own exercises about it, too. The earliest one I learned is one swimmers might have practiced. Blowing bubbles in the water before swimming a lap in the pool. My father taught us to swim from a very early age. We spent most of our weekends at a resort, swimming until we turned nut-brown from all the sun and chlorine. I used to swim, everyday, every morning when I was in university. When you are swimming laps, you become aware of the rhythm of your strokes, and the rhythm of your breathing. The more tired you get, the more aware you become of how you are pacing your strokes along with the rhythm of your breaths. An easy exercise, true, but one that brings into your consciousness, self awareness.

“I took a deep breath, and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”  -from The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plathe

“I took a deep breath, and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
-from The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plathe

To be first self aware is necessary to be able to relate to others. Breathing brings us to the most basic component of why we are alive. We are alive because we breathe. The practice and instinct of breathing is a major focus in most Eastern arts. We breathe to anchor our beings to Mother Earth. We breathe to strengthen our core. We breathe to focus on centering our selves in a fuzzy, hurried world. Sometimes, we breathe to slow things down to our pace. In Aikido, in Yoga and Zen Meditation, breathing is one of the pillars upon which these arts are built on. That ‘breath is the thread that ties creation together’ implies community.

The ancient poet, Rumi, puts connection in another way:

“There is a community of the spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise. Drink all your passion, and be a disgrace. Close both eyes to see with the other eye.”

“I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life. And so how can I ever say that I am alone?” ― C. JoyBell C.

“I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life.”
― C. JoyBell C.

What is this other eye? Is it our intuition? Our heart? Our spiritual connection? We breathe, we feel, we can sense intentions and goodwill, or none. We have this invisible bubble around us that vibrates and resonates or reflects what other beings around us are feeling. Why else do we feel at peace when we are in the bosom of nature? Or why do we feel ill at ease when there is a tense, angry or disturbed person close by? Even if it is not truly one of the five senses, could it be empathy? Empathy also builds connections. We feel someone else’s sorrow, we celebrate with someone else’s victories. We are happy or sad with them and for them. Our senses and experiences through them connect us. We are connected, not only to our immediate surroundings in the present, but also through time.

If kokyu is breath, and the technique kokyunage is the breath-throw in aikido, think of all the power harnessed in your breath if we relate it to how we are all interconnected. It would be vast, endless, inexhaustable, incomprehensively strong, or achingly gentle as we wish.

With practice, with each being, with nature, throughout the universe, through time, one breath, united. Kokyu is having one breath.

(Please also see: “Senshin: The Enlightened Mind“)