Do-Chu-Sei: Quietude in Turmoil

Calligraphy: "Do-Chu-Sei"

“Do-Chu-Sei”

Remaining calm in the middle of chaos.

Do-Chu-Sei as a concept comes from 3 Japanese characters:

  • Do (動), as in movement,
  • Chu (中), as in inside, center, and;
  • Sei (静), as in silence, calm, stillness, or quietude.

This concept is used in Aikido to describe the state of “being calm while in motion” or,  a state of “quietude in the midst of action”.


From Reactivity to Serenity

Some refer to this phenomenon as “zen in motion”. It is a mental poise expressed through the body’s movement. It is the ability to stay calm, still, and centered. This quality cannot be achieved overnight. It is a result of years and years of dedicated and sincere training. Some of us experience a flash of it every now and then, and lucky are the ones who have mastered maintaining a smooth and calm demeanor in the buffeting winds of uncertainty.

Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan

Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan Photo Credit: Portrait Life Photography

In Aikido, we seek to change our behavior from reactivity to serenity and internal fortitude. If you watch the older Aikido practitioners, people who have spent all their lives practicing Aikido, I urge you to look at their faces while they are doing their waza. They are looking but not looking.  They do not seem to be focused on any one thing, yet they know exactly what is going on all the time.  Try looking closely at their expressions, calm yet fully aware, they seem timeless and ageless, giving us glimpses of an enlightened peace.

 


 Taninzugake

It is important to keep the mind empty. One venue where we can gauge how we are doing in developing this concept is during taninzugake (multiple attacker practice). In the physical practice of taninzugake, one must not get caught up in the technique. Spontaneity is the name of the game.

Roberto Martucci Sensei. 6th Dan

Roberto Martucci Sensei. 6th Dan

You cannot say, “When he attacks, I will execute a sharp and elegant hijikime osae. Then after him , I can do a kotegaeshi on that one.” Instead,

You just let the technique come to you.

If you get caught up in the technique, you blunt your perception, delay your capacity to adapt, limit flexibility, and eventually, compromise your timing and your efficiency to deal with the attacks.

This thinking what to do and planning to do when you are already face-to-face with an attack might only take a split second, but it could turn out to be the split second difference between life and death. In the words of O’Sensei:

“Always imagine yourself on the battlefield under the fiercest attack; never forget this crucial element of training.”

Instead of thinking, it is better to open your mind and widen perception. Aikido training nurtures an expansion of awareness. By making the assessment and perception of the situation integral to the practitioner, we seek to make our movement instantaneous.

It is good to be reminded however that in all of this, all actions must be sincerely tempered by love, and not doing techniques out of anger, out of fear, out of insecurity and most especially, not because you are left with no choice. There is always a choice.


 An  Impeccable Foundation in the Basics (Kihon)

We cannot be discussing concepts all the time. Especially for beginners, basic movements, basic forms. Beginners should immerse themselves in the study of these; until the time comes that doing them is second nature.  All techniques in Aikido are based on the basics.  To achieve spontaneity and improve, we need to have a solid foundation to build from. The secrets of Aikido are revealed in the basic forms, if we know what to look for. The more a person trains, the less is left to chance.

Ikkyo. Takeya Tatsumi, 4th Dan. Photo Credit: Aikido Heiseikai Ritto Dojo

Ikkyo. Takeya Tatsumi, 4th Dan. Photo Credit: Aikido Heiseikai Ritto Dojo

We should also train in order to practice what we preach. I can write about all kinds of things here while discussing these concepts, but if in my practice I cannot express them physically, all my talk is worthless lip-service.  Especially in Aikido, I strongly believe that being able to do what you say is the most fundamental proof of understanding. Understanding begins with the basics; and without understanding, you can never improve.

When a person has prepared well for something, he has done everything he can. When it matters, he can rest assured of this fact, and will find it easier to remain calm, let go of doubts and fears, trust his training, and act. In the words of Louis Pasteur:

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

 Regular training gives you courage to calmly face the unknown. There is no substitute to practice and  regular training, especially with regard to basic forms.


 Inner Stillness

The only constant is change. The reality is, we have very little control of anything and everything that happens to us. It is wiser, then, to break free from trying to control things and instead, focus on how to skillfully adapt to change. The state of Do-Chu-Sei is not a momentary disposition. This quality is supposed to be part of a person’s character, inside and outside the mats. It is a result of having a spirit that is at peace with nature, at peace with movement, and at peace with change.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. -Desiderata, 1927

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. -Desiderata, 1927

On the mats and in real life, possessing the ability to anchor on a stable center within us is key to achieving this internal calm. We should always be connected with our center, our “Inner Stillness”. This ability to remain centered in the middle of the surrounding disarray is the essence of Do-Chu-Sei, of moving meditiation. It is  the day-to-day expression of inner peace.

 

 

(Please also see: “Zanshin“, “Fudoshin“, and “Mushin“)

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Featured: “Making Change Permanent” by Quentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

Nikkyo. Quentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

Nikyo. Quentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

Most of us have been on a course at one time or another and learnt some really important things, only to find that by the time we reach the office on Monday morning, what seemed so simple at the time now looks rather more difficult.  By way of example, I went on a First Aid course recently and as a result, now have my certificate updated for the next 3 years, but in honesty, I don’t feel that much better equipped to deal with an emergency than before the training and I’m hoping I do not have to find out for real, whether what I learnt, stuck.

The truth is that unless you use it, you lose it.  

So the only real way to bring about a change in the way you think and act is to practice hard until the new habit is deeply embedded in your psyche and in your body.

One powerful tool for this is aikido, which many people think is just a martial art.  Personally, I prefer to think of it as a philosophy for life that uses martial art technique, to prove that even when physically attacked, it is possible to manage conflict peacefully and positively.  The idea is not to break your attacker, but to blend with them.  You need to use the energy created, to direct what you have to see as a partner, rather than as a opponent, to a better place, whilst maintaining your own safety and integrity.

 

Over the years, I have had many people come to my club, and pretty much without exception, they are amazed at how this can be done and they are genuinely in awe of the way in which it can be achieved so gracefully.  Of course, the truth is that it only looks this way, because I have practised regularly and studied deeply for some 30 years.  This being said, I have had students come and go and many report back, that what I showed them on the mat actually changed their lives and helped them deal with some big problems.  It is this that keeps me motivated.  By way of example the following story comes from one of my students who has studied on and off for a couple of years or so…


“Oh Deer”
by Janet Shiel, 5th Kyu
 Burwell Aikido Club – England

Sensei said to us,

“Eventually, you may find yourselves using Aikido in everyday life,
in everything that you do.”

deer

Well, it was not long before I found out that this was true.

I was driving back from Cambridge in my little Vauxhall Tigra one foggy evening, with my partner, Chris, and two friends, Fred and Lucy. The visibility was very bad, and then suddenly through the dense, but patchy fog, appeared a very large deer. It paused on the grass verge to the right. Nothing fawn-like about this beast, it looked more like a blooming great stag.

RELAX! I thought – taking my foot off the accelerator. Lucy was screaming in the back seat, fearing we were about to crash. Fred in the front covered his face. “FFF********!!!!!!”

NOW BE AWARE OF EVERYTHING AROUND YOU. Hedge to the left, deer to the right, road clear ahead. It was about to cross in front of us. No time to brake!

RELAX AND AVOID THE DANGER. I waited just a millisecond.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Then. at the very split second it crossed in front of us, I turned the wheel to the right. We missed the animal by a hair’s breadth and then I steered the car left, back to my side of the road. It was so close that we could see its white hairy belly, and the breath from its nostrils, as it seemed to fill the whole windscreen.

Waiting for the right moment to move meant that we avoided disaster. The deer was now safely on its way as were we, both parties uninjured.

With my sensei’s teachings ringing in my ear, the morals of this story were clear:

Avoid conflict whenever possible.
Whatever life throws at you, try to stay calm!

aikido-horizontal


Quentin Cooke Sensei. 7th Dan, Yuishinkai InternationalThis is just one simple story among many that illustrates how people have taken what they learned on the mat to deal with problems they faced in life off of it and managed to produce wonderful results.

Some of these stories come from immensely experienced practitioners and some from almost complete beginners, which given what I said at the beginning of this article about the need to practice new skills, is miraculous.  I guess the truth is that people found that when they actually practiced what they learnt on the mat in real life, that no matter what their level of experience, the ideas were so powerful that even for the beginner they worked.

For all you business coaches out there, you will find that the principles taught within Aikido are probably very familiar to you and core to your work.  Aikido offers a powerful and potentially new way of embedding that knowledge in your clients.  Just find an Aikido teacher to work with.


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

quentinQuentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

In 1984, Quentin Cooke Sensei began to practice Aikido within the Ki Society of Great Britain, which later on became the Ki Federation of Great Britain. He stayed until 2000 having attained the rank of 4th dan. A need to create a less traditional group structure led Quentin Cooke Sensei and his brother to found Aikido for Daily Life (ADL) in 2004. He also affiliated his dojo to Yuishinkai International under the guidance and teaching of Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei, one of the founder’s original students. He encourages people to celebrate what we share rather than seek to emphasize our differences: “There are many ways up the mountain”. In 2011,Maruyama Sensei awarded Quentin Cooke Sensei the rank of 7th dan.

"A Way to Reconcile the World". Click on the image for more details about the book.

“A Way to Reconcile the World”. Click on the image for details on how to get a copy.

Apart from running his club, which is a qualifying member dojo of Peace Dojos International and chairing Aikido for Daily Life, he is also the Director Aiki Extensions,currently acting as Chair for the organizing committee of the International Aiki Peace Week.

The article above is just one over 80 stories from around the world, taken from the recently published book that Quentin Cooke Sensei edited titled; “A Way to Reconcile the World – Aikido Stories from Everyday Life“.

 


 

 

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

 

Should Aikido be Effective?

Aikido, Kokyu Dosa.

Aikido, Kokyu Dosa.

There have been many questions about the effectiveness of Aikido as a martial art. Human as we are, we find it difficult to reconcile the idea of something so oxymoronic like the stand of Aikido as a martial art that is “non-violent”. I believe that the question of effectiveness can only be answered when we have understood the mechanics and effects of violence and conflict, and in our proficiency to handle them. As with any martial art, when all is said and done, the most basic measure of martial effectiveness depends on the outcome.


TRAINING IN THE DOJO

OSensei3Each Aikidoka has his or her own reasons for doing Aikido. Some would join an Aikido dojo to learn self-defense, while others as a form of exercise to improve their health, and so on. If you ask a thousand Aikidokas about their reasons for training, you will get a thousand different set of answers.

Still, it is important for us to reflect on our reasons for practicing Aikido- what we emphasize in training, what we think of training, and what we would like to get out of training; all these affect our growth in Aikido. Having said this, let us start by asking ourselves the following questions. These are specific to our experiences and goals in practicing the different techniques in the dojo:

Do we seek to learn how to masterfully inflict pain during training?
Do we aspire to make our throws more “powerful”?
Do we train to better dominate our ukes?
Do we think of the best possible angles to dislocate joints?
Have we ever caused injury to someone?

Now as a follow-up, in these instances when we caused pain or injury; or in cases when we banged our ukes’ bodies mercilessly onto the mats:

How did your ukes feel? Were they happy? Were they impressed?
Or were they scared? Vengeful?
Did they like what happened?
How did they respond when you traded places and you took ukemi for them?

I don’t think anyone wants to be slammed to the floor, or have their joints twisted and painfully hyper-extended. Unless you are a masochist, pain is always uncomfortable and undesirable. If our goal in training is to learn techniques that causes harm, or learning how to dominate and injure; I think now may be a good time for us to reflect on what we’ve been doing, and their effects.

Will training to do techniques this way lead us to reconciliation or will they create more conflict? If the latter, is this really a practice of Aikido? Or something else?

In Aikido, it is our aim to transform the initial separation into a celebration of togetherness.

 Let us remember that our goal is to control the aggression of the attacker without injury; and not to escalate the conflict. Our actions reflect our intent. What is your intention in doing Aikido?

“To injure your opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” -Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

“To injure your opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” -Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

If we continue to train in order to or while causing harm, we are defeating the purpose of our art. As I said in another article, without understanding the philosophy, we will not be able to fully express Aikido in our movement.


DOING TECHNIQUES

You see, we have to think of the aftereffects- the consequences of our actions. We have to understand that, unless we want to be murderers and kill any and all attackers; there is always the next attack. And the next attack, this retaliation,  can happen anytime- immediately, days, months, or can even take years. This pattern of  attacking and retaliating starts a vicious cycle of “hate that leads to hate that leads to more hate”. Isn’t it more prudent (if we really want to defend ourselves) to not add fuel to the fire as our response to the threat of an attack? In my own training, I am not compromising the effectiveness of my technique in order to uphold the philosophy. Rather,

 I uphold the philosophy in order to increase the effectiveness of my technique.

Doing martially sound techniques is by all means part of our training method. And it is important to emphasize that the effectiveness of Aikido is not limited to its  collection of techniques, and physical steps. Aikido also has its principles and philosophy that should always be expressed together and within the physical movement.

As a matter of fact, it is counterproductive to act from a standpoint of “doing a technique to someone”.  To “do a technique to someone” actually hails from a mindset of separation. In Aikido, we should practice Musubi. Person A is not actually doing a technique to Person B. Instead, Persons A and B are doing the technique together. This is training in moving as one.

In embracing the principles of Aikido, we should be training our techniques with the intention of love. It is important to realize that in the practice and application of the different techniques in conflict situations (actual or as simulated in paired exercises ), all these movements are in fact, physical opportunities for sharing our peace, our goodwill, and our compassion. In our practice of techniques, let us not fight fire with fire, but fire with water.

For some time now, I have made it a habit in my training to sometimes ask my ukes this question after each technique:

“How did that make you feel?”

The tricky thing about Aikido training is that we cannot actually feel the effect of our techniques ourselves. We need feedback in order for us to know what we have to work on. I am very grateful to my ukes, without whom, I would have never improved; because basing from their response and the principles I know, I can adjust my training goals accordingly.


THE LOVING PROTECTION OF ALL THAT EXISTS

avol3

Avalokiteshvara, Chinese: Guanyin, Japanese: Kannon. The Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion and Mercy.

In a fight under the win-lose dynamic, winning and not losing are two different things, and Aikido is very effective in not losing. Actually, Aikido goes beyond this. In doing Aikido, we act to reconstruct the win-lose dynamic itself by reconciling the separation (brought by conflict) through our movements, and transforming it into togetherness (win-win).

From a win-lose to a win-win situation, both parties end up unharmed and at peace. 

Let us remember that there is no other in Aikido; that there is no enemy. What we have are techniques (when done correctly) capable of transforming the harmful intention from an attacker; ultimately bringing both parties together in peaceful understanding. Quoting  O’Sensei:

“The source of Budo is Divine Love- the spirit of loving protection for all that exists.”
「武道の根源は、神の愛—万有愛護の精神—である」

In any martial situation, Aikido’s goal is to transform conflict and purify it, so that there may be peace. This is the practice of Aikido as Misogi, or purification. It is an art that seeks to purify malice and overcome hate through movements coming from a heart of sincere compassion. This compassionate intent can always be felt in the vibrations of our movement. It is never a vain effort. We aim for purification- a change of heart.

This is a very difficult level of mastery to reach, requiring patience, diligence, initiative, and above all, an unwavering curiosity to learn. As Budo, Aikido is truly as ambitious as it is revolutionary. So now to answer the question, should Aikido be effective?

“Yes. Aikido, should be effective. It should be very effective.”


(Please also see: “Aikido: When The Body Moves the Mind“)

 

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Six blind men of Hindostan cartoonThis is a poem written by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887), as an adaptation of a famous Indian story. It is widely known in Buddhist and Jainist traditions. I thought I will share this as a reminder to everyone that each of us has our own version of universal truths, and each of  us has had a glimpse of these truths based on our individual experiences and walks.

In any given topic, maybe we are just talking about the same thing, from different angles? Instead of arguing “I am right and you are wrong”, maybe we should start learning to respect, reflect on, and appreciate the different views of the elephant as expressed by different people who has touched it. That through our different perspectives, we can see more clearly what the elephant really is, and how big the elephant is. Only then can we truly begin to dig deeper and realize the mysteries that lie beneath the surface.

This can only happen when we first become aware of, accept, and eventually do something about our own individual blindness.

On a more personal note, I think this story has a lot of applications, even (or especially?) in a martial art like Aikido. What do you think?


The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong.


(Please also see this article: “Bob“)

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“)

Home Land

sugar

Homeland.
Lush and green, Quilted
Rice paddies and Sugarcane fields.

Wet and humid
Mountains, jungle-dressed.
Green Land and Blue Sea.

White sand and black shores
White crested waves
Draped on pink and coral sands.

Brown people singing
Sweet songs
Of love, family, life.

Homeland.
Volcano riddled
Earthquake region.

Flooding and typhoon region.
Strong people smiling
Thru it all.

Homeland
Calling
Wandering souls.
Come home.

Aikido: Learning from Nature

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei waters flowers.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei waters flowers.

Man is a naturally curious creature. We have stared up at the heavens and the stars for centuries. We have mapped the constellations and land masses and ocean floors. We have even mapped the moon. We are curious about why something happens and we want to know how it happens. Some of us spend lifetimes and careers observing, documenting, and graphing natural phenomena and the earth’s creatures who live in it with us.

I, personally, could just spend hours sitting perfectly still in a quiet, secluded forest watching its denizens go about their daily forest life. And those hours, for me, would be considered a well-spent investment for my peace of mind and personal well-being.

What keeps everything so interesting is how we observe these things and the questions we ask ourselves, which then lead us to further studies.

Observation is one of our most powerful tools in being able to study, adapt, and survive living in this world. It is used in the scientific and experimental methodologies, as well as in socio- cultural and anthropological studies. Without observation, we would not have lasted this long as a species. Without observation, we wouldn’t have known that hungry carnivores don’t care where their meat is coming from or that a great mass hurtling at us at a great speed can cause extreme trauma and devastating damage.

O'Sensei, looking at a tree.

O’Sensei, looking at a tree.

The world around us is our teacher and our school. Nature does not discriminate the strong from the weak minded. She just goes ahead and lays out her lessons for us to learn from. Nature is always there, 24/7. She’s never had a day off from work. She caters to all levels of fluency and she doesn’t care whether you even speak or do sign language instead. She is a tireless and all encompassing teacher.

It is all up to us to observe, to learn, adapt or die.

In the martial arts, there are many allusions to Nature. Some martial arts are tied to the five elements in the Orient. Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wind. And of course, the great Empty ( the Null). Other martial art forms have more bestial connections, most probably because the animals can be observed more easily than the elements.

For example, in popular kung-fu/shao-lin movies I used to watch (and still watch, as a guilty pleasure), there are all these styles named after animals. There are the crane style, the tiger, the monkey, the mantis, the eagle and so on. These animal forms reflect and seem to emulate the animals for which they have been named. They magnify the advantages and characteristics of that particular animal and develop qualities in the practitioner that reflects it.

For instance, the tiger style seeks to develop power in its strikes and its movement. It teaches the practitioner to be aggressive in his attacks and defenses, while the mantis develops an agile and swift execution of the style. It is believed that the more fluent you are in all the forms, the more a well-rounded, well-adjusted person develops.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei and the tree.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei and the tree.

For the monks to create these styles, it implies that they have spent not just hours and hours of observation, practice and development, but centuries.

In Aikido, a much younger martial art, we also learn through observation, practice, understanding, exploring, building up, breaking down and creating adaptations. The first skill as a beginner I wish white belts would pay more attention to would be developing their perceptual abilities. It is too easy to be blinded by the glamour of the techniques, and much more difficult to pay attention to the mundane exercises leading up to the techniques.

We need visual acuity to be able to perceive the progress and execution of the technique at work. To see in detail what is going on in motion and in static form is as important as being able to do it. By learning to observe demonstrations properly, we file away in our “little gray cells” bits and pieces of information that do not make sense at present, but might light the eureka bulb in us later on.

As an Aikidoka we need to be able to also be kinesthetically perceptive. Learning while feeling and doing lets us get the feel of what is right and what works. We learn to recognize and observe the patterns in the drills and the techniques and we repeat them to gain fluency.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei, Kiai.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, Kiai.

But then, is it also important to reflect where these forms and patterns came from? What in Nature do these forms and patterns remind us of? Did nature inspire the technique, or does the technique reflect nature? Doesn’t really matter, or does it?

For long-practicing Aikdoka, sometimes, when we look at a picture of Nature or see Nature in action, we are immediately reminded of a particular technique.
Sometimes, our bodies are too beat up to take keiko, but we still want to do Aikido. Times like these, we need to listen to our bodies and let Nature show us the way she wants to go. We can still practice, experience, explore Aikido in Nature. That’s the beauty of it all.

Nature is there all the time so we can practice Aikido all the time, anytime.

small_waves_1920x1200Consider this exercise with the sea as your partner: When we look at the waves of the ocean, we see their motion. We can see how the wave is formed and how it rolls. When we get into the water, we feel its rolling and withdrawing and surging. We see it, we feel it, we taste it and move with it. We even hear the slap-slapping of the waves on the sand and on the rocks. It is all around us. It could be a gentle teacher or a ruthless one. How we greet it and perceive it depends entirely up to us. By experiencing this body of water, certain Aikido exercises and techniques come to mind because of its familiar feel.

We associate the experience with certain movements. And there in our associations and perceptions lies the jewel of a lesson we have been observing in Nature all along.

Then the questions come rolling in…and we find the meaning and the purpose in our observations, and we set the directions towards further learning, because we are naturally curious, and Nature is calling.

morihei_ueshiba_meditation

(Please also see: “Aikido: Everything is a Gift“)