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“)

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Musings on Psychology: the Onion, the Book, and the Window

Would you prefer to be compared to an onion? A book ? Or a window?

I have been brushing up on a few basic Psychology 101 comparisons regarding people and their psyche. We can be compared to onions, books or windows. I am assuming, of course, that most of us are familiar with these tools but for the sake of those who are not, let me review them anyway.


  • The Onion

People and situations are compared to onions because of its layers. When we look at the structure of the onion, it is comprised of layers. On the outside and surface of the onion we see what the elements have done to it.

We see dry flaky skins or skins with a healthy looking shine to them. When we choose onions for cooking, we choose them based on what we see outside. We look for good color, unblemished or uncut and well hydrated surfaces. Ever notice that the flaky onions in the grocery boxes where we can pick and choose are the ones mostly left behind? But sometimes, even an onion with a flaky dry exterior still has a perfectly flavorful and totally usable interior. (These onions are a misleading lot!) Anyway, a person is sometimes compared to an onion because of its layers. The more we get to know a person or a situation, the more we peel away from the surface of that which we see, towards the heart of the matter, which we don’t often see.

Red onionsMy officemates know nothing about my contributions to this blog, or the things I do on
the mats, for Aikido and peace work. They are my co-workers. We work well together, I like them and they like me, but they can only see what I choose for them to know and see. That’ s all. I could safely estimate they probably know only a very small aspect of who I am, even if they know I can be trusted and depended on all the time, anytime. That’s the way I like it. But the closer we grow together, another aspect of our person and character are revealed. And another layer of our onions is peeled away as we move through our job together.

In Peace and Conflict Studies, one of the approaches to difficult people and situations is by understanding the model presented by the onion. We have to keep opening up the layers to be able to dig deep into a person’s motivations and intentions or a problem’s underlying causes so that we will be able to deal with them comprehensively and competently.

  • The Book

pagesIn the book model, however, we have no layers. We have pages. There is the top and outer cover, which may or may not be indicative of its contents; and there are pages upon pages to be read and understood before you finally get to the end of the story or the book and finally have a firm grasp of the data contained within its pages. The further you progress in the leafing and reading through the book, the more comprehensive your understanding. You have to be patient and keep on reading until the very end.

  • The Window

And then there is Johari’s window. The window is another tool and another theory towards understanding yourself and others. It is divided into four parts.

windowThese four parts are:

1. The Known Self
(you and everybody else know who this is, for example: everybody knows who likes to wear leopard print leggings)

2. The Hidden Self
(Only you know about this aspect of yourself, it is your secret self, for example: the kind who likes to dance to Wham’s Buttercup song in the shower)

3. The Blind Self
(The person the others know and see, but you don’t, or maybe you deny it, refuse to acknowledge its existence, for example, your self body image is fat but others know you are voluptuously deliciously curvy)

4. The Unknown Self
(The self you and others still don’t know about but might discover later on: enter the PhDs, the analysts, hypnotist, psychic and medium)

These three are just some of the most common tools we employ to try to box and classify people and situations in our quest for more understanding, so we are able to work with them. Have you ever consciously applied any of these tools towards yourself, something or someone?


 I have a beef with these tools. I don’t want to be compared to an onion, even if its approach seems effective. Neither do I want to be compared to reading a book, even if it fosters patience and tolerance. And I don’t want to be compared to anybody’s window. Or be an onion on a book framed by a window. Nah.

It is good to remember that we have these tools on hand to try to gain an understanding and maintain harmony and peace among ourselves and the world around us. Psychology gives us a workable platform to deal with the known and the unknown of a person’s psyche. (Did you know that in some schools there exists two Psychology programs? One is the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and the other is the Bachelor of Science in Psychology. )

But, I believe we can never be totally and accurately analyzed. Yes, some agencies might be able to draw up a psychological profile on us, but we are people. We evolve everyday. The human spirit cannot be contained or quartered into sections of a peel, a page or a windowpane.

If I had the choice, I would choose William’s comparisons.

the clover tooWilliam Shakespeare compared Juliet to the sun rising in the East, and Romeo to a rose. And then, William Wordsworth compares Lucy to a “violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye. Fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky”

I digress. But, what I’d really like to know is where our Bills belong. In the science of psychology, or in the art? And yet, they are poets, not psychologists or profilers. They’re very eloquent to fully capture in verse how being human is totally complicated, very prismatic and ever fascinating. I believe they can capture the human spirit much more easily than an onion/ book /window model can.

So, what are you going to compare yourself to? An onion? A book? Or a window?
(A sunrise? A violet? A rose? or a star?)

How to Get the Most Out of Training (Aikido)

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We are guided by principles in Aikido training. The following are the “Reminders in Aikido Practice, (c1935)”  left to us by the founder, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei. These were lifted from the book “The Spirit of Aikido”, written by the second Doshu in 1984.

To be able to train in Aikido correctly, applying these principles of training during practice is vital.  It is equally important for teachers of the art to be reminded of the original intention of Aikido training; as left to us by the Founder. Also posted is the second Doshu’s addendum to the reminders of the founder, which was written in the same spirit. Please take time to read and ponder on these. I hope we will be guided by these as we apply them in the course of our training and daily lives.


Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei’s Reminders in Aikido Practice:

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei, training in Tokyo c1969

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, one of the Founder’s last classes in Tokyo

1. Aikido decides life and death in a single strike, so students must carefully follow the instructor’s teaching and not compete to see who is the strongest.

2. Aikido is the way that teaches how one can deal with several enemies. Students must train themselves to be alert not just to the front but to all sides and the back.

3. Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.

4. The instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Its versatile applications must be discovered by each student through incessant practice and training.

5. In daily practice, first begin by moving your body and then progress to more intensive practice. Never force anything unnaturally or unreasonably. If this rule is followed, then even elderly people will not hurt themselves and they can train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.

6. The purpose of Aikido is to train mind and body and to produce sincere, earnest people. Since all the techniques are to be transmitted person-to-person, do not randomly reveal them to others, for this might lead to their being used by hoodlums.


Kisshomaru Ueshiba Doshu’s Addendum to  the Rules:

(Since the above guidelines were written in 1935, some of the language may seem hard to understand. He offers his interpretation of his father’s writings.)

Kisshomaru Ueshiba Doshu doing ikkyo

Kisshomaru Ueshiba Doshu doing ikkyo.

1. Proper Aikido can never be mastered unless one strictly follows the
instructor’s teaching.

2. Aikido as a martial art is perfected by being alert to everything going on around us and leaving no vulnerable opening (suki).

3. Practice becomes joyful and pleasant once one has trained enough not to be bothered by pain.

4. Do not be satisfied by what is taught at the dojo. One must constantly digest, experiment and develop what one has learned.

5. One should never force things unnaturally or unreasonably in practice. One should undertake training suited to his body, physical condition and age.

6. The aim of Aikido is to develop the truly human self. It should not be used to display ego.

(For beginners please also see: Aikido: The Essentials of Etiquette (Rei))

Aikido: The Sword of Life and Death

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Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the sword was primarily made to protect. No. The intention was to slay. The more lethal the art, the more efficient it is. Such was the path of a martial artist. However, in the course of history, humanity has long been seeking the good, especially after having seen the devastation of evil. And from a sword that kills (The Sword of Death, Satsujinken), people started adapting the idea of a sword that preserves or gives life (The Sword of Life, Katsujinken). 

Now Katsujinken and Satsujinken cannot be one without the other. Like in the principle of Yin and Yang, there is a dualism that exists: “in all evil there can be some good, and in all good there can be some evil”. This is a natural law, in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. Like in all things, there should be balance, without which, there can only be chaos. It is believed, at least in Japan, that martial artists are like iron, forged into swords in an anvil, ultimately used as tools either to kill (Satsujinken), or to protect (Katsujinken). It is for the martial artist to choose what sword to wield. But the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei thought of a higher path.

Indeed martial arts have always been taught  to maim or kill. There was no martial art to satiate the purpose of peace. This is where the uniqueness of Aikido enters.

flat,550x550,075,f.u2O’Sensei fashioned Aikido in such a way that it can be used as a tool for reconciliation and peace. Without giving up the battle, O’Sensei sought of a martial system that can be both efficient and life-saving. The mere fact that this seems like an oxymoron is why Aikido is such an innovative art. As O’Sensei said:

“The penetrating brilliance of a sword wielded by a man of the Way
strikes at the enemy lurking deep within one’s own body and mind.”

In Aikido, we manipulate the energy of an attack, neutralize it, and then overwhelm the aggressor with our technique. Once the technique is finished, we find ourselves in a position of control, and it is here where the threat has been eliminated, and reconciliation can begin. As with all things that need to reconcile, in a martial situation, the way of Aikido starts with hope, and it is in this hoping that our hearts aim for peace. From this example, the efficiency of Satsujinken or the Sword of Death and the will of Katsujinken or the Sword of Life are coexisting in perfect harmony. Aikido has struck the delicate balance between martial effectiveness and transcendental love.

In a broader understanding, Aikido is more than a martial art. It is a Budo, a martial way. To learn Aikido is impossible without learning the principles of peace because these principles are deeply rooted within the very purpose of Aikido itself.

In everyday life, Aikido teaches a person not to be wimps but to be champions with a heart. There can never be real peace in a win-lose situation, and to give up without making a stand creates resentment within the defeated and is therefore unacceptable. Resentment are seeds of conflict, and there can never be real reconciliation until the conflict is thoroughly neutralized.

Aikido is also called the Art of Peace. Aikido teaches a person to live in such a way that we always strive to resolve a conflict and not reinforce it by hate. Aikido goes beyond the martial discipline through the brilliance of its philosophy. It digs deep into the very dynamics of the circumstances, and changes the dynamics to create a win-win situation. As such, Aikido is both martial, and philosophical as well. Through its seemingly endless applicability to everyday life, Aikido is more than just a hobby. It has become a way of life.

 

(Please also see: “Aikido and the Two Faces“)

Aikido and the Ethics of Self-Defense

Ethical-Dilemma-and-Brain-Injury

Ethics is defined as is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. It is often interchangeable with morality: what is upright, commendable, or even noble. The right thing to do is the ethical puzzle, as we do not have, in general, a holistically objective parameter to ascertain what truly is beneficial.

But in Aikido, we have adapted a portrait of moral conduct in a martial situation, which I will share with you now. Let us remember that Aikido is not about who wins or who loses. It is about the reconciliation of aggression, to neutralize, and eliminate the threat of harm.

Aikido acts with respect, even with his aggressor, acting with a clear head filled not with rage, but with compassion. These illustrations of the different martial situations are from the book, Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook. Here, different levels of the ethical ladder will be shown and explained, with Level 1 being the most unethical and Level 4 as the ideal ethical action:

Level 1

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Above the man on left, without provocation and on his own initiative, attacks the other man and kills him. Ethically, this is the lowest of the four levels unprovoked aggression in the form of a direct attack.

Level 2

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Above the man on the left has not directly attacked the other man but he has provoked the other man to attack him. It may have been an obvious provocation, such as an insulting remark or the more subtle provocation of a contemptuous attitude. In either case, when the other man is invited to attack and does so he is killed. While the first man is not guilty of launching the actual attack, he is responsible for the other man to attack. There is only a shade of difference ethically between this example and the earlier one.

Level 3

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The man on the left neither attacks nor provokes the other man to attack. But, when attacked he defends himself in a subjective manner, i.e. he takes care of only “number one”, and the other man is killed or at least seriously injured. Ethically, this is a more defensible action than the other two examples. The man still standing was in no way responsible for the attack, neither directly nor indirectly. His manner of defense, however, while protecting him from possible harm, resulted in the destruction of another man. As you can see the result in the three examples is identical: a man is killed or seriously injured.

Level 4

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In this last example, we have the ultimate in ethical self-defense. Neither attacking nor provoking an attack, the man on the left defends himself in such a way, with such a skill and control that the attacker is not killed. In this case he is not even seriously injured.

ImageThis last and highest level is the goal of the Aikido as Budo. Though It requires skill; the result of intensive practice of the technical means of defense devised by O’Sensei, it requires more than that. The most important prerequisite to be able to attain level 4 is the sincere intention to defend himself without hurting others.

This is the goal of Aikido: to be equipped with skills needed to defend oneself and eliminate the threat of harm without injury to the aggressor. It is my hope that every Aikidoka tirelessly trains in their dojo with this intention, so as to fulfill the true intent of Aikido in self-defense. Only then can we be able to rise beyond the dynamics of destruction and hate and move to the higher plane where peace and compassion abound.

 

(Want to know more? PLease also see: “Masakatsu Agatsu: Aikido and Victorious Living“)