Iwato Biraki: The Story of Amaterasu

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  • Amaterasu and Susano-O

Long ago there was a beautiful goddess named Amaterasu. For her kindness and compassion toward humanity she was known as the goddess of the sun and spread her light over the entire world, warming it and giving it life. Her father was Izanagi and her two siblings were Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of the storm, and Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, god of the moon.

Susano-O, who is known to be a wild, jealous, mischievous God, is also the God of Budo. Susano-O had been given the mission of developing materialism and purifying the karma created in that process, but he refused and was banished from Taka-ama-hara, the heavenly realm. Upset,  Susano-O got drunk and went on a rampage. He stomped all over Amaterasu’s rice fields, filled her irrigation ditches, and threw feces into her palaces and shrines. When Amaterasu asked him to stop, he ignored her and instead threw a skinned horse at her handmaidens while they were peacefully weaving. The splinters from their broken looms pierced their bodies and killed them.

Enraged, Amaterasu hid in the Heavenly Cave and sealed it with a boulder. Without the beautiful goddess’ light, the world was plunged into darkness and began to wither and die. Many gods, or kami, gathered in front of the cave and wracked their brains for a way to lure Amaterasu out into the open once more. Their plan was simple…

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Ame-no-Uzume, the well endowed goddess of merriment, did a bawdy dance showing her breasts and lifting her skirts. All of the kami roared with laughter and cheered her on. From within the cave Amaterasu heard their laughter and merriment and wondered what could be going on to make them laugh so.

Curious, she peeked out of the cave to see what was happening. When she did so, a mirror that the kami had hung on a branch at the mouth of the cave caught her reflection. Amaterasu had never seen herself before and was mesmerized by her own beauty. Having lured her out of the cave (Ame-no-Iwato), she was caught by Tajikara Wo no Kami, a great god of strength, who pulled her back into the world. The other kami pushed the boulder back in front of the cave, sealing it once more. They convinced Amaterasu to return to the Celestial Plain and give light to the world once more. She did so but armed herself with a bow and arrow against Susano-O’s future antics.

(This story was related by Masako Beecken, a professor of Japanese at Colorado State University in Fort Collins)

O’Sensei said:

“Aikido is the second opening of the Ame-no-Iwato (Iwato Biraki).”

Let us first remember that Amaterasu was not brought out of the cave because of brute force. Although when she went out of the cave and was mesmerized by her own reflection in the mirror, and even though in the end she was caught by Tajikara Wo no Kami; it is not brute strength that led her out as she opened the door and went out of the cave.

  • The Second Opening

Aikido is not a martial art of brute strength. It is through technique and different maneuvering that one triumphs in a martial situation. These may be through the physical techniques , maybe even more.  The best way to win a fight is not having to fight at all. And this requires wit, a deeper sense of maturity and a lot of self-control.

It is easy to punch and kick, it is hard to subdue without injury to either party. This is the second opening: during a martial situation, the world has darkened and Amaterasu is in hiding. Aikido is the way to open the cave again.

This may be done through the different waza we are taught, but let us look at the myriad of other things at our disposal. Like the other gods, the way of Aikido is the way of creative non-violence.We have our speech. We have our movement. We have our mere presence. All these are part of the sequence. A clear mind to act with wisdom is the most important thing.

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Let us be serene amid the tension in our everyday situations. Let us be calm amid the storm. Let us not get caught in the darkness but instead draw the light (Amaterasu) out. O’Sensei continues on this topic:

“Iwato Biraki is to create a society in which the body is used as a means to accomplish the mission of the soul and spirit. Establishing orderliness in your breath, bring your ki under control, and plant your feet firmly on the path of self realization. With this foundation, practice the techniques of takemusu aiki and bring the actual body of the universe into your breath.”

When the light of love and wisdom, “Amaterasu”, is in hiding, Aikido, the dance of the gods, should bring the light out back into the world and become a power for peace.

 

(Please also see: “Aikido: The Sword of Life and Death“)

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The Floating Bridge of Heaven

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba referred to the connection between the Tale of the Floating Bridge of Heaven (Ame no Uki Hashi) and Aikido when he said that “Aikido is ‘Standing on the Floating Bridge of Heaven’.”

ImageThe “Floating Bridge of Heaven” may very well be the most essential point of the creation myth of Japan.

This tale has been recorded in the Kojiki (“A Record of Ancient Affairs”). It speaks of two divine beings summoned by the first of the gods: Izanagi  and Izanami. Long ago, when the world was just beginning, two gods appeared in the land we call Japan. Izanami (“The Female who Invites), the female essence, and Izanagi (The Male who Invites), the male essence, stood upon the floating bridge of heaven, looking down at the swirl of sea below. They began to stir the ocean with their jewel-studded spear. As they stirred, they said these words: “Kohro, Kohro, Kohro,” and before long, because they stirred with such strength and determination, a vortex was created, and the drops of saltwater from the spear caused the waters to curdle, and from this curdling came the first body of land, an island the gods called Onokoro.

Back to O’Sensei, he continues to say

“In the Way, you must first stand on the Floating Bridge of Heaven. If you do not stand on the Floating Bridge of Heaven then Aiki will not come forth.”

“The left hand is Izanagi, the right is Izanami, in the center is Ame-no-minakanushi, this is yourself. This is standing on the Floating Bridge of Heaven and turning in a spiral. This is called Taka-ama-hara. Heaven and earth are one unit, water and fire are also one unit, all appears through Iki (breath). This is the endless appearance of the Kami. Aiki technique comes forth endlessly.”

Further, in a Doka (Poems of the Way) of O’Sensei, he states:

“Manifest yo (yang) in the right hand, change the left hand to in (yin) and guide the opponent.”

Ame-no-minakanushi was the first deity to appear in heaven (along with Kunitokotachi) who charged Izanami and Izanagi to create the first landmass. In this account from O’Sensei, it is being said that the creation myth is a analogy: wherein Ame-no-minakanushi is in the center (you) and on the left is Izanagi (in/yin) and on the right is Izanami (yo/yang). This is an illustration of the most basic principle of Aikido.

In an interview with Henry Kono Shihan, he recalls a story about an experience he had with O’Sensei:

One day that we were having a party for celebrating his birthday, I quietly asked O Sensei “O Sensei, how come we can’t do what you are doing?” and he just replied “Because I know Yin and Yang and you don’t”.

Now  here in Kono Shihan’s story, O’Sensei explicitly states how vital this principle is in Aikido. Here, It may be understood that O’Sensei is saying that should first understand the concept of Yin and Yang before you can even attempt to manipulate it.One of the ever famous lines of O’Sensei says:

” I am the Universe, the Universe is me.”

I believe that the Aikidoka should understand that to be able to be effective, he should be in the center (Ame-no-minakanushi) of the universe, on one hand is Izanagi/In (yin), and on the other is Izanami/Yo (yang). With the Aikidoka standing in the center of the Floating Bridge of Heaven, he unites the opposing forces of In and Yo while moving in a spiral (it is interesting to note that is said that the movement of the two gods Izanagi and Izanami as they mated is often represented as a spiral. And in addition, Izanagi stirred the seas with the jeweled spear to create a whirling vortex)

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The Floating Bridge of Heaven, consists of creating a state within yourself wherein you are in the center. Like the spinning top, you are stable yet dynamic. The center is on the neutral point between Izanami and Izanagi to the left and to the right, and between heaven and earth from above and below. And from this point, the Aikidoka connects opposing forces (In and Yo) and expresses that connection in spirals through the body through Breath (Iki).

This may as well be one of the most important technical instructions the founder, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, gave us.

This gives birth to Aikido.

(Please also see: “Iwato Biraki: The Story of Amaterasu“)