Concerning our Triangular Prison

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Through cracked, blackened memories
of unit dispersal
I face the impregnable wall


Dissident Aggressor
Sin after Sin (1978)
Tipton/Halford/Downing

Aikido makes people happy, right? Why do I say that? What is happiness? What kind of state could we experience as happiness? What separates the state we find ourselves in during, and after the keiko, from the undeniably good feelings we get from most other things in the world? And why would I define the one happiness and the others not?

I believe that inside our mind we have a prison made of three impregnable walls.

    1. Memories/History/Ideas
    2. Emotions/Feelings
    3. Thoughts
Triangle Prison

A: Memories/History/Ideas; B: Emotions/Feelings; C: Thoughts. Image of the eye by WikiHow.com

I would define this triangle prison as the Ego. From inside this cell the Ego appears to be our person. We identify ourselves as those walls, because it is all we can see. From the inside, everything outside does not exist. We identify with our ideas, our memories and our history. We have our plans for the future built on that structure.

We have our head in the washing machine, and feel all the emotions without a reference point, and there is no choice in anything, because one function is triggering the next, and so on. We feel, we act by reflex triggered by these feelings, and we build our ideas from our history of earlier automated responsens of our own system. We have no perspective of the stuff outside our triangle prison. We identify with our emotions, because we believe our emotions are us.

The thoughts which appears in our head, with a rate of about ten times as many words as we can speak pr minute, we naturally identify as our thoughts. In my case there often are at least two speakers, or maybe more. And they are constantly arguing, more or less loudly, in my mind (maybe it is just me who is crazy?).

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The prison cell of Nelson Mandela. Photo by Elaine and Steve McDuff.

These three sides of the triangular prison of our mind are triggering each other, in all directions, and we will continuously be busy inside, with a constant activity, which is totally out of our control. We initially identify ourselves with these parts, because it is all we know. It is all we can see, at first. And all our “choices” are reflexes triggered by other reflexes, so we have no choice at all. We are a prisoner of this system, and we can’t get out.

One example could be something like a memory (from our history) giving us some emotion (guilt, shame, fear, anxiety and so on), which again triggers thoughts (arguments of how why we were doing what we were doing and why it ended up wrong), which leads us to new emotions. And from the new emotions we are maybe reminded of some other memories. And the circle goes on.

The situation could be completely different, but with the exact same constituents involved, although it has a different form. In a different scenario we have some idea of what we wish to do. The situation is the situation (which we can’t see in our current state), and there might be a challenge for our idea, and there usually is in life, and this gives rise to some emotions (frustration, anger, stress), which in their turn triggers some kind of thought process (putting the blame on somebody, telling ourselves how useless we are). New emotions finds fertile ground, and gives us a new objective/goal based on this history of “non choices”. And again we are stuck in an endless circle (or triangle) of misery.

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Picture from Nepal by The National Trust for Nature Conservation.

The Prison Walls, History, Emotion and Thought can activate each other in any direction and they are extremely sneaky in going beyond our consciousness, having a disturbing, quite depressing activity, even when we think that we are asleep, destroying what could have been a blissful rest.

A friend of mine recently asked me about the aikido study. I did it pretty much every day for eighteen years, which is for most people considered a rather extensive education for any subject. However in aikido this is only the beginning. Some of my good friends have been on this road for fifty five years. She was wondering if there still are more to learn? For the ones on the aiki road it is obvious, but it is difficult to help somebody who is not doing aikido to relate to it, because most things in our daily life we learn for a specific goal. Most of all, to make money. We learn something, then we use it to make money. It is far in between the things which does not follow this nature. Aikido is one of those rare exceptions from this nature. The road itself becomes the goal. And the subject of the study is life itself, kind of, so there is always more to explore. Life is limitless.

However, thanks to my friend’s question, what was already obvious for me in an unconscious way, became clarified by, not so much the explanation I gave, which were very minimalistic, but by my curiosity and awareness finding it’s way into new areas where I had not put so much attention before.

The process of studying brings us in touch with the present moment. It might take many years to recognise it, but it is there in the keiko all the time. The present moment allows us to see the “little ants” crawling around on our little triangle in our mind. We see our memories, emotions, and thoughts, and their endless chatter, and mayhem, and drama, and misery, from the outside. We can see it as an outside observer. For a short time. Until we realise what has happened, and we are triggered to be proud of our achievement, which is an emotion, and before we know it, we felt that emotion and were immediately teleported inside the prison walls again. The feeling triggers thoughts, which triggers memories, which triggers other feelings, and so on.

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Image from thewallpaper.co

We never have to stop the constant activity inside our triangle. Actually we can’t, and neither should we try (the more we try the more activity we will trigger). It is always there. However, we do not have to stick our head into that washing machine. At least we can take our head out sometimes, to experience the peace and tranquility, and serenity which exists outside.

This is a state which aikido keiko brings about, all the time, I think. At first we have no perception to notice what is happening. We do not only feel good. We do not only feel feel happy, like the emotion happy with our head in the bucket. We feel a blissful state of togetherness with our friends, and a state of beauty and peace, which is difficult to achieve in any other situation that I have experienced.

My theory is that one of the reasons why aikido makes people happy is that it gives us these little glimpses of the world outside our little prison cell. We have a small taster of the freedom. It does not only feel good. It also feels good inside our triangle of course, because our inner and outer worlds are naturally connected. We see the Universe. It makes us not only feel happy. It makes us happy!

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

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Concerning trauma, perception, connection and stuff…

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A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Alexander Pope

 

I started this blog seven years ago to write down some of my thoughts from the keiko. My wish was to try to structure them into some kind of logical pattern. It is often much easier to discover what our thoughts and feelings are when we write them down on paper.

However, as long as nobody is reading it, we will become sloppy and will not properly formulate the thoughts into a readable format, which is the exact exercise we need to increase our awareness. This idea is still why I write, so whoever is reading this, here is another one of my brain farts. Thanks for your help on my aiki road.

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Keiko with Daniela and Radoslav in Bratislava.

A ladder of awareness and perception

Aikido is such a huge field of study, and often it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of different ideas and concepts to explore. When we first practice tai no tenkan, there is so much information thrown in our face that we can’t really see any of it. However, as soon as we have learned the general form we will start to notice little things; small adjustments to the form; small turning movements which makes it become more rounded and economical.

However, very soon we have come to the point of reaching the limit of how much we can develop and polish about the outer form. And as we continue to practise, we notice other things. We probably find first that there is an immense dilemma, being torn between our posture and the fulfilment of the grab. We can keep the grab conservation or we can keep our posture, but we have to give up one, to keep the other, and sometimes with some partners, we fail at keeping any of them. With practice we gain more freedom, both in the body and in the mind, so that we can keep both of these qualities. So that the structure of tai no tenkan, has developed beyond the outer perfection. We are on the level of skeleton, or structural, integrity. Building our movement from a point of load based in the correct form according to the bone structure of our body.

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Keiko in Trondheim with Helle, Rachel and Tor Magnus in May 2019. Photo by Helle Buvik.

Still, we are in the realm of leverage and physics, and we have not really gone to the human level of the kata. At this level it would be the same if it were two machines doing the form. However, we are not as simple as a machine.

The next thing we might notice is that some partners will be problematic for us, because they are simply too strong even if we use leverage. And with timing, by going the moment before, there is always the limit of how much our partner is willing to follow us. We can fool ourselves for a short time by constructing a logic where the partner is doing something wrong, and therefore we cannot do our part.

So, either we lose interest in tai no tenkan, at this point, and maybe start focusing on the rest of the more athletic katas of aikido. Probably to come to the same realisation some years later, when exactly the same problem reemerges in whatever we are focusing on at the time, because it is the same in everything. Or we start directly, with tai no tenkan, and discover the next level of awareness and perception.

We are a living organism, and our partner is a living organism. Even simple one celled organisms are much more complex than anything we have constructed. We can observe parts of it, but there is always more to discover. A person or an animal, and even plants has a presence which goes beyond the physical structure which is visible. I mean, you even receive the energy of a person over the phone, by the way they breathe, the tone of their voice and their choice of words. Even if all the visual clues are missing; Even if there is only sound, there is a connection between you, and you share energy. When we are practising tai no tenkan together there is a lot of ways we can connect beyond the mechanical grab and structural forcing of a form.

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Tai no tenkan with Anders at Oliver Twist in June 2019. Photo By Anders Lütz.

Three ways to consider the body and the mind of a human being

At this time I am very inspired by the biodynamic approach from osteopathy where we observe the human being in different zones:

  1. The physical body with all our anatomical details. Everything out to the surface of the skin.
  2. The body with the near lying environment surrounding the physical body. Imagine an egg shape around the body extending to around half a meter from the skin, without a body inside. The person, without any restrictions, is contained inside this egg shape, and ALL kinds of movements are possible. There are no restrictions of bones, limitations by the anatomy, nor anything from the first zone, which would prevent us from going beyond the mechanical function. Everything is possible.
  3. The person is extending to the whole natural world. The person is interacting with everything in its surroundings. We consider the person as a field going all the way from the center to the horizon. If we are standing in the forest practicing, the presence of the trees around us will affect our keiko, and of course the energy from the pairs of partners practicing around us. They are affected by the person we are observing and they are affecting us. Everything is connected as a whole. All of it comes in to our field of perception.
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Keiko with Jaroslav in Bratislava in July 2019.

Three ways to consider our connection to our partner

At first we might not see clearly enough to have any idea of from where, to where, our connection to our partner is going. We just touch and perform the form of what we were able to catch from what the teacher were showing, and like I said in the beginning, there is too much information to sort it out into something visible for us. However, as we proceed to practise the same forms, we start to build some ideas of how to connect.

  1. Center to center connection is probably the first one we hear about. We are told to move from the center, to connect to the center of the partner, and lead the partner from the center. To be able to do this we need to be able to keep the integrity of our body, without collapsing the inner structure when we reach a point where there is a problem.
  2. Connecting mind to mind is also an idea which we hear talking about in stories. But it is not so easy. To lead the partner in a way which is logically sane for the partner to follow is a much more clever way, of course than just having the power to push the partner around. The logic idea is to do what the partner wanted to do, and we are doing the motion together for mutual benefit.
  3. The third way of connecting is the one I find most interesting now, to move on in my studies. The connection is going beyond physical and logical reasoning. We would like to connect to our partner in the emotional level, heart to heart. We would like to feel our partner’s feelings, and our partner can feel our feelings. There is a complete transparency of everything. Nothing is hidden. We share one body, one mind, and are also united at the emotional level.
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Tai no tenkan with Kaare in Trondheim in May 2019. Photo by Marius Hatlen.

The image of mirroring the body

Of course the three different ways of considering the person does not connect directly to the three different ways to connect. They are different concepts and are independent of each other. In fact in the biodynamic theory the different zones are called A, B and D instead of 1, 2 and 3.

During the previous couple of months or so I started experimenting with a new image which I find very interesting. I very often feel hard parts which will not move. Some examples are under my right shoulder blade, the left shoulder and the left of the spine in my lower back. In fact all my mayor areas are surrounding my heart, for some reason, maybe random, or maybe not? Who knows? In addition there are of course a huge amount of unrevealed lesions, invisible for me, in between. But those are for the future studies.

In any case these areas are not symmetrical, so for each of these areas I have a healthy side, and an unhealthy side. After some years of working on these lesions I have gotten so familiar with them that I have given them names: Slinker, Stinker and Reek. In my mind there are counterparts of all of these bodily anomalies existing as personalities whom from time to time starts arguments and fights in there, keeping me up all night.

So my most recent new way to observe during keiko is to reverse the sides. Mostly our body has a symmetrical feeling, so it is not so easy to reverse left and right. However, at least I have a very strong feeling of where my heart is. So I shift my internal image of my body-mind so that my heart is on the right side of my body. Shifting everything else accordingly. My partner is also reversed of course, since we are sharing this experience together.

I tried this both as uke and as tori, with many different partners during some seminars, and I find that part of my problems shift to the other side when i reverse the sides metally, while other problems stay at the same location regardless of my shift. How does these problems separate from each other? And was it just the extent of my image which was insufficient to shift some, but not all of these problems to the opposite side, or was it something qualitatively different with the various lesions which separated them from each other?

The idea is that over countless repetitions and over time, that the healthy side will heal the unhealthy side and the problems will be solved.

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Sunset from the train from Prague to Bratislava in July 2019.

The trauma of having our negative inner emotion confirmed

Another one of my recent, very painful, explorations into the mind is that if our own inner feelings, our thought patterns, and emotions, are in some way, even very subtly are confirmed by somebody else, it will have a devastating effect on us.

I have a strong feeling of hate, darkness and repulsiveness towards what is under my skin. It is beyond logic, beyond words. Observing life in others brings light into my heart, while feeling it inside myself is terrifying, disgusting and fills me with hate.

Aikido is a very healing experience for those who have this problem, because our friends are shielded by my skin, the dirty dark and wordless evil is in here, and they are safe out there where everything is clean. We get to enjoy the light from them, while my darkness does not seem to affect them negatively. Still, my life’s greatest fear is that this “life” which is inside of me, should somehow manage to “bite” my training partner in the keiko, or my patient during a biodynamics session. Like a giant centipede is crawling up from my darkness and end up inside my friend, biting and poisoning them. It did happen a few times, and when my deepest fears, is confirmed. Chaos and panic is happening.

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Real orange slices. From Prague in July 2019.

It is probably similar if you tell somebody with anorexia that they are fat. That is not something anybody would do, but when it comes to body communication there is complete transparency of communication. One feels something, the other feels the same. It is just that when something we know deeply inside of ourselves is told to us by somebody else, especially if it comes from somebody we consider a dear friend, it is devastating.

The worst part is of course that I never noticed my creeping crawling creature escaping from my darkness, and it found its way inside my friend without me noticing. And then I found out about it later. The fear, and the endless watchfulness out to make sure it will never happen again is incredible. And the endless discussions of the Slinker, Stinker and Reek!

Even a hug becomes a traumatic experience if you always fear that you might cause discomfort for a somebody you definitely does not want to cause discomfort for. A hug is supposed to always be a mutual thing. Not something one pays for and the other gets. If you give one you get one.

Still, the cure is to drink more of the same poison, of course, like in the poem by Alexander Pope. The information I receive from my partners is in all other cases positive, and therefore contradicting my own inner feelings about myself. My partners become happy, and feel that they are honest, because I can feel it in our connection. Little by little they are curing me from my fear of polluting others with my darkness.

I believe that if we are aware of our inner thought patterns and emotions we know what is our trigger. So if somebody should say something, probably unintentionally, or if we meet that kind of person, we will be prepared that we have a problem there. So instead of being completely perplexed, shocked and traumatised by it, we can study the emotional reaction arising inside of ourselves. This is very hard to see of course, because we are trapped inside our box most of the time, being our thoughts and emotions instead of observing them. The Ego is very tricky this way. And it causes us incredible amounts of meaningless suffering.

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Sjøholt (my hometown) June 2019.

Anyway, I don’t know. The only way to proceed is to keep practising. It makes me happy, and the most important for me; It makes my friends happy.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

What is the I?

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“A human being is a spatially and temporally limited piece of the whole,
what we call the Universe. He experiences himself and his feelings
as separate from the rest, an optical illusion of his consciousness.
The quest for liberation from this bondage is the only object of true religion.
Not nurturing the illusion, but only overcoming it
gives us the attainable measure of inner peace.”

Albert Einstein – from a letter to Dr. Robert S. Marcus

optical illusion heart

Gianni A. Sarcone, Courtney Smith, Marie-Jo Waeber Archimedes Laboratory™ Project, Italy

I believe the study of aikido is a study of our own conflicts. Both the outer conflicts which we have with our fellow human beings, and conflicts within ourselves. In most cases, I think that the emergence of conflicts between people only comes as a consequence of a conflict which is already at work within ourselves.

When we are infants we do not really know who our reflection in the mirror is. We see some stranger in the arms of our parents and we are maybe wondering what our parents are doing on the other side of the glass, at the same time as they are right there with us, holding us in front of the mirror. Who that other child is probably takes a while to establish.

For infant animals it probably never goes beyond the point of realising that they will never be able to meet that other pup or kitten on the other side of the glass, and they loose interest in the matter altogether. However, for humans the realisation that we are that one particular individual, separate from all the others are a quite important shift of awareness, which I am not quite certain if it is good or bad. Probably bad, if we look at the current state of the world we live in.

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Photo by Choose You

Eckhart Tolle states in A New Earth that we are not consciously deciding to think. Thinking happens, just as we digest food. It happens, no matter if we want it or not. We very often identify with this thinking, the voice in our head, which, we do not really have any more control over than our heartbeats, perspiration and the internal processes going on in our internal organs.

Albert Einstein described our experience of ourselves and our feelings as separate from the whole as an optical illusion of consciousness. I find that a very interesting observation.

So if our own thoughts and feelings are not who we are, then what is? Most of us are completely identified with this voice in our head, our thinking. I have recently had discussions with some of my dear friends what the Ego is, and not all agree about it’s definition. For me the Ego is the voice in the head. And absolutely not who I really am. For me the Ego is just like the process of my liver or my kidneys. It has a certain function as a part of the whole, but it should not be mistaken for who we are, in my opinion.

Baby looking in the mirror

Photo by Stockbusters

The Ego is obsessed with identification and definition and separation of Us from the Whole. I, Me, Mine, Myself. It really enjoys fitting all kinds of things into little prepared boxes of definition. That is a dog, that is a cat, that is a car. That is Us and that is the Enemy.

According to Eckhard Tolle the awareness of the present moment is all it takes to silence the Ego. To just look at a cat and see all it’s features. It is just not CAT. It is soft; it is purring; it is breathing; it is social; it likes to cuddle; it is ALIVE; and it has a different presence from all other cats in the world. Our Ego will just put it into the category CAT, and that is all we will ever see, unless we can step back and look outside, without history, without future, there is only NOW, and it is amazing.

Another thing our Ego is trapping us into is thoughts about what we like and dislike, how it should be and how it should not be. Again dumbing all our observations down to simple boxes to put it in, instead of getting a higher and higher detailed picture of what we are observing. Just imagine standing outside in the rain, feeling the wind in our face, sensing the water droplets hitting our hair. The sound of the water dripping from the leaves. The size of the droplets starts to change, and also the temperature of the rain and the direction of the wind. “I don’t like rain! Hurry up and go inside before I get wet!” Of course this thinking has practical applications, but it is limiting us in an extreme way, if we are not aware of it.

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Irimi nage with Sara in April 2019. Photo by Kokoro Aikido.

In our aikido practice, all of these things are extremely relevant, if we are interested in going beyond the form. Maybe we WANT to do a kata with our partner, but from our point of view our partner is BLOCKING us. From our partners perspective they feel that we are VIOLATING their state by FORCING an unnatural form on to them, and without any will of their own they are protecting themselves against this HOSTILE FORCE. Before we know it there is bad feelings on the tatami, and both partners are, if not physically hurt, at least emotionally wounded. Just because of unawareness about what is what in our mind.

In our keiko we have the possibility to feel the sensation of ourselves in our partners. As we keep changing partners, and keep changing which kata we practice, we experience continually new situations where we can get information about who we are. Our partners are us, and we are them. We are learning about ourselves through our partners. As soon as our Ego realise this, it wants of course to start putting down a set of data which defines what this “Ourselves” is, and start comparing it to the Others, once more limiting the amount of information available to us. Curiosity is something I find as a great recourse and medicine to this illness. The curiosity to explore on, to make more research, to find new landscapes.

So who is the I? We don’t know. Whatever we write down to define it, is definitely not it. That much I can say for sure, because that is an extremely limited description of the I, and mostly what we find is what we wish to find. The Ego has that trick. It manipulates where we look, so that we will find exactly what we are looking for. So here we are, all of us, trapped in our little illusions of consciousness, not realising that all of us are part of the Whole together. Trying to defend ourselves against some perceived darkness outside. I believe the only darkness there is exists inside of ourselves. There is no darkness in the world except the one we bring into it.

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Artwork by Darkness, inspired by the cover picture from Master of Puppets

So what about the observer who is looking at the thoughts, feelings and reactions of our body and our mind? If we at all reach that level of consciousness. Is that the I, or is that also only an optical illusion of our consciousness? Well, at least, if it is only observing, completely clean from labelling, liking, disliking, reacting to or having opinions about, maybe it is one step closer to who we are? However, that is a very high level of consciousness. We usually find something we don’t like, and then we feel ashamed or guilty, or upset about it, or something. And there we are back inside our little box again.

These thoughts has been on my mind for a decade, and I feel no nearer to finding an answer to them. However, for me it feels like the keiko has a healing effect on me, and I guess also on my partners. I have an image of myself no words of anybody can change. What I feel inside is stronger and older than any other experience in life. So feeling my partner’s perspective is beyond anything I can describe. It is honest, it is real, it is unpolluted by me. And I have to respect it. I feel loved when I am on the tatami.

And here I am writing MY thoughts, in MY blog, wriggling my little puppet fingers on the keyboard while my Ego is pulling my strings. Defining my sickness, identifying, putting concepts into boxes. Still, I am curious, and that might in the end be a way out for us all. Now I will shut up and go to the tatami and practise.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Aikido and the world outside

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“Study hard
what interests you the most
in the most undisciplined,
irreverent and original manner possible.”

– Richard Feynman

A girl once approached me while putting up a poster for the beginner classes of aikido at the bulletin board at a campus of the University in Trondheim, asking: “Is it good for self defence?” I replied immediately: “Not really.” So she asked: “So what do I get out of it?” I never really though that through, because it was so obvious for me, but not so easy to put into words for somebody who knows nothing about it. Still, the answer came natural without hesitation: “It is a lot of fun, and it will make you feel happy.” She turned and walked away.

Tai no tenkan at the Colloseo in Rome in October 2018. Photo and katate dori by Eric Dollinger.

I had a period of time, some seven or so years after I started, when I thought that everybody are like me and deeply needed aikido every day to not fall into a dark abyss of self hate and depression. During this period I did everything I could to spread the word to everybody I met that the salvation exists. All we have to do is to go into this padded room, grab on to each other and throw each other around for a bit, and we will feel better than we ever have before, from the first couple of minutes, lasting until the next day, when we can do it again. My friends told me that my eyes were on fire every time I spoke of aikido.

However, after a period of that, and experiencing to my extreme agony, that many of my new friends, who tried out aikido, left the practice (and I never met them again) after a short time. Because for them it was just another activity amongst others. Nothing special. And after some years I realised that not everybody have this need which I feel, and they can easily go a week or a month, or forever, without aikido, and not feel less happy. And this is good. They are healthy.

I kind of realised that only a few percent out of the population has this need for aikido. We really need it, but we are few, and there is no need to push it on to the “healthy” ones. All that is important is to make sure that everybody who are in need of it know that we exist.

Irimi nage by Hélène Doué at the seminar with Hélène Doué and Fabrice Croizé in Nyköping in September 2018. Photo by Mathias Bäck.

Another quite interesting experience from my years in Trondheim comes to my mind. There was a girl looking for a different martial arts (I will not say which one) wandering the sports centre at the very beginning of the term (when only the freaks are practising, the other groups starts later). She found us, as we have similar clothes, and asked if we were practicing that martial arts. I replied that no, we are doing aikido, and the group she were looking for were practicing upstairs, in the hall just above us, but that most likely they had not started their practice term yet.

Anyway, nobody were upstairs that day, so she came back to us after checking, and asked if she could join us for this class. I was very happy that she would consider joining our keiko and of course welcomed her to attend. She appeared to enjoy it a lot, both from her body language, facial expression and by her words. However, she confessed that she would not come back, because she already did the other martial arts for a few years then, and she was determined to continue with them. She thanked us very graciously for the keiko (and we thanked her for her participation of course) and she went on her way. And that was all there was to it, I thought.

Several years later, on my way to the practice, I met a smiling girl when I was passing a bus stop. She asked me if I remembered her. I had to admit, embarrassingly, that I did not. She told me about her experience of trying out aikido that day. She told me that the warm feelings she got from the practice sustained inside of her for a LONG time. A very long time. Several months, she told me. And she still remembers those feelings. However, she did not try aikido again. She thanked me once more for the possibility to practise with us. I was very happy to hear that aikido made such a strong positive impression on her, but it was all a bit unexpected, so I was at a loss for words.

She could feel it. Still, her mind was determined to do something else, so she did. The outside world has different value measurements than what we have inside of ourselves. We will do what is logically good for us, but not what feels right, but makes no sense logically.

Yokomen uchi keiko in Sjøholt in December 2017. Photo By Marius Hatlen.

Nowadays, if somebody who does not do aikido asks me about it I usually encourage them to check it out for themselves. If they need information about the clubs and such I would of course provide information, but trying to explain, trying to get them into aikido, is not something I do any more. I never once brought a single person into aikido by trying, and during my years in Trondheim I spoke to thousands, tens of thousands of people. When we were having stands at the campuses in of the University the people who got the flyers were not the ones to show up at the beginner classes. That was other people, who found aikido by themselves. The talkers were not the doers, and this was always the case. Both in our recruitment efforts, and amongst those who started. The ones with the biggest plans to do aikido, were gone after a few weeks, and the unnoticed, silent ones, were remaining, every time.

A lot of clubs are struggling right now, with their rent and expenses. They have insufficient members for the economy to be sustainable. This is very sad. I am not sure why things has changed from ten years ago, but something has. Still, I don’t believe that the number of people who need aikido has receded. That is a constant percentage of the population, and it is not likely to change any time soon. So what did change?

Giuseppe, Klaus, Leonardo and myself at the seminar with Endo sensei in Vienna in December 2018. Aikido makes people happy. Photo by Giuseppe Caciolla.

I believe it is a spiralling effect of the times in the outside world and panic happening in the aikido world is damaging the aikido environment. I believe we should not sell what we are doing, because in the end we will come around to the same result anyway. Nobody can be fooled forever. Either we find something in aikido or we don’t. Many practitioners change to different martial arts after a few years, realising that they were sold lies and marketing statements which did not come true, in their experience. I find this situation unethical, and not for the benefit of aikido in the longer time perspective. Aikido gets a bad reputation by pretending to be something which we are not.

I believe aikido’s strength lies in our core. Not by trying to do what other martial arts offers, and specialise in. No matter if that is things which are valued by the standards of the outside world. Our qualities are more difficult to market, because it is more challenging to describe in words. There is nothing similar to aikido which we can compare it to. I often compare it to music, and there is a deep connection between music and aikido. Especially since we are practising techniques to transmit emotions. However, it is still a quite different thing altogether, and it is not so easy to explain to somebody who never heard our “music”.

“So what do I get out of it?” That was the question by that first girl I mentioned. We could lie to her, and tell her that she will for sure lose those 5 kilos she wants to get rid of by starting aikido, or that she will be able to defend herself with what she learns at this beginners course, or that she will be able to get a black belt in a few years, and that would be such and such a great achievement. The reality, which is difficult to accept is that when such questions arise, we are already speaking to somebody lost to our cause. Arguments by words should not ever be needed. If we feel it, we do, thus the question of a reson for doing it will never arise. If we do not feel it, no words nor any empty promises can keep our interest for long. Still, we should be able to transmit the curiosity to check it out some more, when we meet people who potentially could be an aikidoka.

The tatami and kamiza in Sjøholt. December 2018. Photo by Marius Hatlen.

Aikido is one of the most precious things in the world, just because it cannot easily be used as a means for “powers” in the world. There is not much money in it. It requires lots of time and effort to achieve seemingly small goals in the eyes of these people. It leaves aikido the freedom we have, to do what we need to do. Still, we need enough members to pay the rent of the place where we are doing our study.

I have no solutions. However, I believe that we should make sure to keep our own fire burning first and foremost. We should do what we do. Not what the world expects us to do. If we do what we love, people who find us will love it as well. If we lose our place for the practice, we need to find a new, cheaper one, probably further away, and we might have to carry tatami. The conditions are changing, but not the keiko. Aikido lives forever, but we do not, and neither does the world.

“Physics is like sex:
sure, it may give some practical results,
but that’s not why we do it.”

– Richard Feynman

You and your club have all my very best wishes for 2019 and the years to come!
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

The Poisonous Shadows Within

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The treatment begins
when the will of the patient
surrenders to the will of the Tide

Rollin Becker D.O.

How do you feel right now, at this moment? Maybe we could answer the question with “I feel OK”, “I feel good”, or “I feel not so good”. However, our perception is more extensive than good, bad or in between. Still, our awareness of what we feel is very often extremely limited. Why is this? And how can we work on developing this awareness about our feelings to include a bit more information?

I am taking a course in something called Craniosacral Biodynamics. It is a part of Oteopathy. The subject is something I consider very closely related to my study in aikido. In the latest weekend we made an enquiry on two very simple, but very interesting questions. One of them was this one: “Tell me of one of the ways you are rejecting your experience at this moment”. That enquiry started a small avalanche in my mind about a lot of things which has happened over years, in the dojo, as well as outside the dojo.

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Artwork from Doom by Mechanubis

The study of aikido the past decade or so has been very closely related to developing my perception. I wish to have access to all the information from my partner which exist in the connection between us. Both from the physical one, in the grab or physical touch, and from the connection which goes beyond touch. Sometimes we know, but we don’t know exactly how we know these things. I believe that this study is a study of our own feelings. Because we can’t really sense anything outside of ourselves. What we sense in our partner will give manifestations inside of us. If we are blind to these effects, we will miss the information altogether.

Why is this perception so important for us we might ask? For me it started with an idea. An idea which some of my oldest teachers could perform at their peak performance, under perfect conditions. It was enough to lead me into this road, and I started walking this path, but I was never certain of this path. There were always doubts in my mind, and room for ambiguity and insecurity. Still I walked on, knowing that there was nothing more reasonable to search for at the time, until I met an older teacher, who could do this, every single time I touched him (that would be Seigo Okamoto sensei). He confirmed that the journey I had already started was not just a fantasy. It is real. It just requires practice. He had the ability to turn the arm when the partner is grabbing strong without giving any sensation at all of twisting, turning, pushing or pulling. I believe this requires an immense level of perception.

When Okamoto sensei was throwing me I had no sensation of his wrist moving, at all! I just felt a burning sensation in my mind and the world turned around while I seemed to be stationary. Where the acceleration came from was, and still is, a mystery to me. What I experienced, is what I call grab conservation. Which can be considered a concept, just as the conservation of momentum and energy in physics. It is very simple, really. The weight distribution in the grab should be exactly as it is from the initial state, throughout the throw. Very simple as a concept, however, it is extremely hard to initiate any movements at all, in this situation. Anything I try to do, anything at all, even mentally, will affect the state of the grab, and the partner will feel it as an intrusive intention from me.

Artwork from Doom by Elgama

The experience of being thrown in this way, gave me a concrete and specific road to follow. To search for technology for keeping this conservation of the grab, or the contact, in any situation. I had already started the journey, but the goals were solidified quite a bit when I felt it happening to my body, and my mind when experiencing being thrown by Okamoto sensei.

Also increased perception gives us a new level of awareness of our own posture, way of moving, and connection to our partners. So even if the main goal is to go beyond the physical practice, it greatly increases our physical performance when we are practising. One example could be that we are able to make slow and precise steps while being led around vigorously by tori, instead of wildly kicking around and jumping and falling all over. Or when being attacked by a energetic and aggressive uke we could still remain calm and move slowly even though the attack is quick. We can sense our own feelings more clearly, and I believe that though this we can also sense a little bit of our partners feelings during our time together.

I think of perception as a pitch black room crowded with interesting objects, and a tiny flashlight. We can aim the flashlight in different directions, after some practise. However at first we are able to hold it in one direction only. Depending on the direction we are pointing it, we will see different things. Ten different people would probably describe ten different things inside this same dark room, because their flashlight beam is directed in different directions, someone would see a sofa, someone a table, and somebody else a chair etc. We only see what is lit up at the current time.

What is the darkness? Well, it is the absence of light. In this image it would be the absence of our perception. We might be so focused on what we see that we will not even think of the possibility to turn the light to other areas and explore the rest of the room. Or we might even not have the courage nor the wisdom required to know how to switch on the flashlight at all?

It is scary to shift the direction of our flashlight. Sometimes it is something there, inside our mind, which we are ashamed of. Nobody wants to admit that they are scared. Maybe there are some fearless people out there, but I am not one of them. I am scared of lots of things, and I am ashamed of a lot of things. And there is a lot of things I wish were not there, so by not looking I might for a period of time pretend it is not there.

Artwork from Doom by Elgama

Feelings can be blocked inside our mind by a multitude of different things. One of these are shame. We are not supposed to feel these feelings; They are not supposed to be real; We are not supposed to fall now; Maybe some of our teachers have scolded us because we fell in the wrong moment? We should not fall for nothing, of course, but we did fall for something. Probably the fear for making a mistake and making a fool of ourselves in that situation could be one possibility of what happened?

The teacher might have an idea with this pedagogic, by teaching a more basic principle, but the shame connected by the scolding and accusation of fabricating things which are not there will leave behind shadows in our mind. Guilt and shame, fear and anxiety. If we are studying perception this mistrust to our own ability to feel is extremely destructive.

It will be extremely difficult to build confidence from this state. And I believe confidence is extremely important in this study. If we don’t believe 100 % in what we are doing we can just as well move our focus to explore different landscapes, because without confidence this study is a waste of our time.

The fear of making a fool of oneself is a huge factor which could stand in our way. Bullying by teachers for falling too easily could in my mind be very devastating in our development. We do not, after all decide at all what to feel. We just feel whatever we are feeling, and decide how to act upon it. The reason the student fell might in fact be the very sign of insecurity in these exact things, which again might have been caused by the teacher for scolding the student for falling, or moving, at the wrong time, or in a incorrect way. It creates a blindness. A blindness of fear.

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Image from Doom

Pointing out mistakes is of course what most teachers considers their role in the world of aikido. It is done with good intentions to help the students. However, I deeply believe in the idea of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathy, that the objective of a physician is to find health, because anybody can find disease. I think it could be very much the same in the concept of aikido teaching methodology?

And if the student is moving in an insecure way when being the partner of the teacher it reflects upon the way the teacher is leading, and the insecurity of the teacher himself/herself. In my mind there should ideally be no room for doubt and insecurity. And of course we have to have some pedagogic steps for learning, but it is always the easy way out of a tricky situation to just blame the other. And if we are the teacher we would always get away with it. However, I believe it could in some cases leave a trauma in the student.

I know from my first two years in aikido that my feelings were blocked by logic thinking. I were a student of physics. Without even thinking I would sweep away almost everything which could lead me forward as a trick of the mind, a fantasy, and imagination. “This should not be possible so it did not happen! I did not feel that! No, I didn’t!” It took me about two years until this effect receded and I could finally perceive the very clear sensations which even a beginner like me could perceive at the time. Before that I was blinded by my logic, and I rejected most of my sensations which otherwise could have brought me experience.

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Image from Doom

The kata itself can also stand in our way of perceiving the more subtle things. There are too many objectives to have any awareness left for perception. We are only speaking, and never listening, not even to ourselves. Form practice is necessary, of course. Still, I felt it was worth mentioning here anyway, because when the form is the focus, there is less of our capacity reserved for observation of what is happening.

Our perception is not altogether guided by our own will. We are led to see certain things, and we can’t see what is outside our field of vision. Some things are perceived as irrelevant by our subconscious mind and we can’t evaluate for ourselves if it is interesting or not, because it is invisible for our conscious mind. Other things are things we consider inappropriate to feel, or incorrect, or embarrassing, etc. It is the same in real life, of course. We feel what we feel, and then decide how to act. Still, it is a development to actually consciously have an awareness of which feelings and sensations are there. Because it is coming from somewhere. It is never coming from nowhere. There is a reason we feel the way we feel. We could probably learn a lot about ourselves if we were to study this more deeply.

There are so many things which can blind us from what lies before us. I do not have time to mentioning them all now, but there is a huge one I would like to write a little bit more about. Our subtle competition with our peers. I believe that nothing, I mean nothing, can kill curiosity the way competition will.

Image from Doom

Humans have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to our peers. The more similar our situations are the more tempting it is for us to compare achievements, in all kinds of dimensions, in all kinds of groups, to people in a similar situation to our own. What do we wish to achieve by this?

It always draws us in to a prison cell where our ego is our jailor, and our own limitations are our cement walls, and it does not really matter how our comparison goes. No matter if we are perceiving ourselves as better or less good than “our opponent, we still end up losing every single time because it solidifies our mindset into this way of thinking, and we can never escape without taking a huge step back.

We want to better than everybody else. We want to best. The one and only. Maybe not in all points of view, but in the one that matters to us. However, who is the “I” and who is the “them” in our comparison?

We are comparing ourselves to those who started at the same times, later, or earlier than ourselves. We are comparing grades, we are comparing who can exhaust energy slower (in a subtle endurance competition during keiko together), we are comparing accomplishments like how well clubs we are running are doing and which seminar offers we receive, who are picked for partners both in keiko, in examinations, and by teachers for demonstrating the stuff they want to show.

Artwork from Doom by Sidharthchaturvedi

When we feel neglected or rejected in any of the situations above we are tumbling around in our mind with meaningless thoughts trying to figure out what is wrong with us. Considering anything we could do to improve our situation. After a few initial adjustments which could be a good advice in some cases we are ending up getting stuck with whatever it is we are really struggling with. And this is the very exact things our super ego is pushing us on. Exactly because it is unchangeable. Even if we spend twenty four hours a day on the tatami, and attend fifty seminars a year, we will still not be who we want to be.

We are the only one we can be. We are the only one who can be the one we are. We are all unique. There is nothing to compare in reality. All our roads are slightly different so what is the point of comparing one to the other?

I believe we do this to have an argument to counter our voice in our mind who are telling us negative things about us as a person. We NEED to compare ourselves to others, to have arguments to beat back the negative voice. It needs to be somebody comparable, or it will not be a valid argument to throw back at the super ego, and we need to be better than them, so that we can push ourselves up, by pushing them down.

The comparison of ourselves to others brings our attention out of the dark room filled with interesting objects altogether, and we are watching a TV-show instead of living our lives. Our perception is sleeping, because we are too busy with our competition. The other things are more subtle, beyond our perception, in most cases. However the focus on comparing ourselves to others are quite obvious. We are not even looking, not even studying, not progressing on our journey, at these times. We are distracted from our path.

Artwork from Doom by Emortal

There are no demons outside. The only demons which exist are inside of ourselves. Our battles are within, but we are maybe too scared to fight these battles. The battles outside ourselves seems so much more safe. They are fought farther from our own hearts.

So I believe the best we can do is to keep on practicing, in an joyful way, without too much pressure about correct and incorrect, and real or false. The road proceeds in front of us forever. All we have to do is take the next step, and then the next one. There is no wrong way. There are no mistakes. So there should be absolutely no reason for shame or guilt to exist in our mind, is there?

At least I found it incredibly relieving to let go of my fear of making a fool of myself and losing face on the tatami. However, whenever we feel comfortable all we have to do is turn the beam of the flashlight a little bit, and we find another demon in our dark room, in our bodymind.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Concerning efferent and afferent activity

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EFFORT
Listen to nothing,
shut the senses off.
The nothingness
is something

An Osteopathic Odyssey – James Jealous D.O.

In osteopathy there are two very interesting concepts which I have been very intrigued by lately. They are very closely related to the activity of our ego, making one much more difficult to achieve than the other.

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Photo by hdqwalls.com

In our body we have two kinds of nerve fibres: efferent and afferent. The afferent ones are carrying information from our sensory organs to our brain, while the efferent ones are carrying information from our brain to our organs, muscles and so on. It is a bit more complex than described here of course, but the general idea is that afferent are carrying information which are arriving to us, and efferent are carrying information which are exiting us.

Similarly we can divide our activity and mental state into those same kinds of activity. Efferent being projecting something from us on to something else (in osteopathy that would be the patient), and afferent being taking in information from something (the patient).

In aikido we have a multitude of forms which we practice; kata which have been handed down through the generations of teachers; these define our keiko and teaches us principles and natural laws about ourselves and our partners. From the beginning we need to learn these forms. We have to repeat them thousands of times until they are so familiar to us that we float through them without thinking of the movement we have to make. At this level we can shift our focus to listening to the shifting of our balance, sensing the interaction with our partner, and observe our mental state during the movement.

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Photo from iso.55px.com

So if we decide that we will do a shiho nage our mind is set for shiho nage. We might do it without thinking and we might pay attention to what is going on at the same time, but we are still doing efferent activity below our range of awareness, because we decided that we will do shiho nage at the beginning. The shiho nage came from our mind and we wish to express our shiho nage to the world outside. However, what is shiho nage?

Imagine that we are a child who never saw a bear before. We see the bear for the very first time in our life. It is BIG and BROWN and it has big claws and big teeth. The child will observe so much more than what a grown up will observe when they see the bear, because they already know what a bear is, and they spend much more of their capacity to put it into the right category. And in some cases we might put it in the wrong category and be sure that we know what it is, and be totally lost. Maybe we never did see a bear before, and think it is a very big dog. It could be, if we saw dogs before, but are not yet aware of the existence of bears?

I believe a big part of our sensory experience is dulled by our natural laziness of relating to history and prior experience trying to fit everything into a format we have seen before. However, maybe this time is different? How can we know, if we are too busy having an opinion about all of it?

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Photo by hdqwalls.com

Our ego wants us to know, already. It fabricates sensory experience to fit into what we already know, because it greatly fears humiliation, and wants us to be the clever. It wants US to be right, and it uses the senses to prove others wrong. This disturbance is quite soothing for us, because nothing is ever surprising or wrong and we are always doing the right thing. Thus our ego is always pushing us, both the conscious part of us, and the subconscious part to do more efferent activity, and less afferent. It fears the unknown.

However, the unknown is where we have to go to explore the road ahead. This is where we will find new landscapes and gain new information about the areas beyond what we already know.

Still, we have to do our kata, right? Well that is the koan right there. How can we make the kata in an afferent way? We would like to listen to the interaction with our partner in such a way that the kata appears, not from us, and maybe not even from our partner, but from something else?

Pacific Calm Reflection Ocean Island Moon Trea Pictures

Photo from wpnature.com

There are movements happening within our bodies, going on all the time, as long as we live. Most of the time we are too busy with what we are doing to listen to these movements. We are too busy “talking” to “hear” what is there. Sometimes, only sometimes, if both uke and tori are trying to do nothing. Just nothing. A movement might appear? Is it only our imagination playing a trick with us? Can we do it again? Will it happen with a different partner? Can we do it when we want, or do we have to wait forever?

I find these things incredibly interesting. I would like to have more afferent activity in my aikido.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Concerning the Kamiza and the Keiko

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THE TIDE
No force is necessary,
not even intention.

An Osteopathic Odyssey – James Jealous D.O.

I remember my reluctance to wear my hakama during my first couple of years. I connected it with the grades, for some reason. It was something which said: “I’m better than you” to everybody without it. It felt way too dressed up for my personal style (which is very minimalistic). Also, it significantly increases the risk for causing serious injuries to our partners, if we are not fully aware of exactly where we place our feet during throws.

It felt like there was no point to wearing a hakama, at all, and it had all these downsides to it. Thus, I made any excuse for not wearing it, and went without whenever I could. However, then I heard about the connection between the seven folds of the hakama and the seven virtues of the samurai. From that moment on I understood the value of the hakama. It represents something greater than me. Something which will hold true even if I should fail. It connects me with an ideal, for how to behave on the tatami, and also in the world outside the dojo.

The kamiza was easier for me to accept from the beginning. At first I was only doing what I was told, of course, because I had no relation to the keiko yet. However, after three months, when I went on my first Christmas holiday away from the club where I started, I needed to practice a bit on my own of course. I realised immediately that I can’t really do it, without the kamiza. I had no picture of Osensei, of course. And I didn’t need it (I was so near sighted that I would only see a shadow and a white beard anyway, from the other side of the room where I performed the rei). I just decided the location of the kamiza, and right there it was, and still is to this day, in that room, even if it is just a concept of my own mind.

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Sōkaku Takeda. The photo is taken from Wikipedia.

The question is why is it so important for me? What does the kamiza represent? What do I receive from the kamiza?

For me the kamiza connects us, in our little club, in a remote place wherever, to the rest of the aikido community in the world. It connects us to the history and development of aikido, through Morihei Ueshiba, Sōkaku Takeda and beyond. It also connects us to our own teachers and their history. Furthermore it connects our dojo, to all of this, so that it becomes a special place for our study, and not just a place to work out. So both in time and in space the kamiza connects us to something greater than ourselves. But what is it we are connecting to?

For me the kamiza represents the keiko. I believe that I have the best teachers in the world. I have chosen them, and removed all obstacles standing in my way, so that I can practice with them as much as possible. Still, I have a greater teacher. The Ultimate Sensei: The Keiko itself.

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Morihei Ueshiba. The photo is taken from the website of Aikido of Cincinnati.

The keiko comes from the idea of the kamiza. It symbolises ideals, tradition and knowledge handed down through the generations of teachers.

I remember when I was stumbling into the position of leading classes for the first time. Six days a week. And I was only a beginner myself. I felt that I knew nothing, and that I had nothing to give the people who showed up for the practice. However, I quickly realised that I was not really there to tell people what to do (what is right and what is wrong). We all had the same teacher. The keiko was teaching us all.

You know, if you are told to do something, by a person, you will follow the instructions, but you still don’t understand, even if they explained it perfectly. The keiko however, teaches us in a much deeper way. Once we experience something, first hand, we have the sensations, as tori and as uke. We are striving towards some ideal again and again and again, gathering experience and knowledge. And this experience is is very, very enjoyable.

I never planned a class in my life. All I had to do was to get to the dojo in time to dust of the tatami. The rest I trusted I could leave to the kamiza. I would never run out of ideas of what to explore. I didn’t do anything, it was the keiko itself deciding what to do next. The only thing I felt that could be a pitfall was standing in the way of the keiko.

It is also important if there is a human teacher present. The kamiza is there, and it defines the keiko, making sure that we are not getting lost with our partner. It narrows down what we are searching for, and what we should leave out. It could be slightly different for different people, but it is mostly the same. We do keiko together. Sometimes we are lost with some partners anyway, but I believe that is usually because we have forgotten about the kamiza, and are blinded by our ego.

Seminar with Franck Noël in Prague in October 2014. Photo by Jan Mareš

Seminar with Franck Noël in Prague in October 2014. Photo by Jan Mareš.

Rei itself is also a symbol which I believe helps guide us to find the keiko. It is beautifully described in the membership book of the federation I was part of as a beginner.

On the practical side rei signals a physical and mental start of the practice or a session with a technique.

In this manner rei is initiating a process of gradually increasing concentration and awareness which will be required when entering the tatami, when the practice begins, and upon encountering our partner. In the opposite order rei is marking the end of a practice session with a partner, the completion of the practice and when exiting the tatami.

Furthermore, rei is performed to express gratitude for having a place to practise and for having partners to practise with. Likewise, rei is also done to express respect and gratitude towards those who developed aikido, those who cultivate the art and those who transfer their experience to those who participate in the practice.

Lastly rei has a symbolic function: By bowing we are exercising control of ourselves. Something which is a prerequisite for being able to practise budo.

Rei should always be done in a wholehearted manner, with a calm and grateful mind. Otherwise it has no function. This feeling should to the greatest extent possible remain throughout and after the practice.

Medlemsbok Norges Aikidoforbund
(Loosely translated from Norwegian)

These are symbols which I believe are important in aikido. There is something greater than ourselves watching our backs. We don’t ever have to worry if we are practising in a wrong way. The keiko will always lead us in the right direction. As long as we are continuing we will always move forward on our road.

Photo by Joke Kleijer

Seminar with Christian Tissier in Amsterdam in June 2018. Photo by Joke Kleijer.

It is also a great relief in the fact that the kamiza is so serious. You know, because the kamiza is there representing the serious part of the keiko, at all times, we can all be as playful and experimental as we want to, enjoying ourselves. The serious part is always there, but we don’t have to be so serious about it, because that part is already taken care of. We are standing on the shoulders of GIANTS!

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Wizardry and Witchcraft: the space which we use, which is not really there

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Aikido is a great art, and it has many little sub fields within it. One that I am particular interested in is the search for finding how to be able to move with my partners without pushing, pulling nor twisting. The goal is that no physical force whatsoever should be felt, just like when we are moving around our own body parts. I believe that what we physically feel is disharmony, and completely clean movement should be completely natural, and thus cannot be felt by our partner.

During this Christmas we did some suwari waza from many different strong grabs including ushiro waza. The kata, the grab and the integrity of the posture of both partners works as fulcrums in the practice; Restrictions added to make problems visible, so that we can easily work on them.

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Suwari waza with Marius in Sjøholt Christmas 2017. Photo by Sigurd M.P. Hatlen

The kata dictates the physical form of the movements; A goal we are striving to achieve; A restriction in physical movements we are allowing ourselves to make from the beginning to the end. We also practice keeping a fully connected grab (all the surface of the palm glued on to the partner’s body, or keikogi). Striving ceaselessly both as uke and as tori to release any tension and make the grab as effortless and natural as possible, removing any strain from appearing in any parts of the grab. The third fulcrum is the integrity of the partners. Both as uke and tori should be in a nice and straight posture throughout the kata. In any point of time should be be in the best position possible.

The combination of these fulcrums, and the fact that our body is not a bungee cord, makes it a challenge to complete the kata, and in suwari waza ushiro ryote, hiji and kata dori (and so on) it is quite obvious that, mechanically, our katas are impossible.

It is the same in all our katas, actually, but these forms just takes it to the extreme. Instead of requiring a few magic centimetres of space to perform it, we now require a few magic decimetres. However, I believe it is just a matter of experience, deciding wether we can do it, or not. Nothing is impossible, if we believe, and continue to practise. It is only impossible if we stop practising.

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Keiko with Andrea in Trondheim in January 2018. Photo by Rachel Cetre.

Sometimes it does not look exactly like the kata we were aiming for, but I think it does not matter. It will look better every week of practice. We are practising, and by doing so we are travelling on our journey. If we stop practising we die, in a way, because our journey ends. However, as long as we practice we will inevitably proceed in our journey.

The practice of this magic skill; the study to make this space appear which is not there initially, is something we are cultivating in our daily keiko through tai no tenkan. This simple kata is one of the first movements we learn in aikido, and it contains the entire art right there. The space required is much smaller than in suwari waza ushiro ryo kata dori, but without the space needed we will feel stuck. If we can make space in tai no tenkan, there is no difference to make it in any kata, right?

We have no choice but to respect the laws of Nature, of course, and there is no way we can really bend space time with our actions in the dojo. Except of course the microscopic changes due to the displacement of the mass of our body and our partner’s body, which will change absolutely nothing in our situation (The General Theory of Relativity). So where should this space come from?

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The Orion Nebula. Photo by NASA.

I believe that the main work lies in the use of our minds. Mechanically these movements are impossible, and leverage does not help in this case. If we violate our partner in any way, we have failed just as gravely as if we are physically stopped by the restrictions and find ourselves unable to move. Leverage gives us inhuman strength, but strength is just physical power. It will still be impossible unless we have space for our movements.

Now, when I say impossible, I mean that the kata analysed as a rigid form, there are things which are stopping the movement. The length of our arms and the angle of the grab to the partner’s arms gives a certain amount of space. If we do something which requires more space, something will break. Usually the grab. And if it breaks, we are not following the kata any more, unless of course it happens to be one of those places where we are supposed to disengage the partner’s grab (and that should anyway not be done by merely pulling away by force).

The grab study is great. It gives us a possibility to study these things in a way which gives immediate feedback from our partner. We feel the physical stops; We feel when we are stuck; We can feel where the road is open. In striking attacks the situation is mostly the same, except we have no feedback until we are in physical contact. And by that time most of the interaction should already have happened, so we are unable to correct the early parts. In a grab we can study each point of difficulty as they emerge.

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Birgitta, Hallgeir, Marius and Laura doing morote dori keiko in Trondheim in January 2018. Camera by Andrea Raviglione.

The extra space we acquire by our technique, serves both. Not only one. It is not a technology which serves the strongest, the smartest, the most experienced or the most greedy nor the most skilled. It serves BOTH partners. Without it the kata would be a violent display of power, where one suppresses and dominates the other. With aiki the kata becomes something else. I believe it becomes aikido.

We use images to guide our minds and our bodies to achieve a state in which these “magical” things can happen. It is probably possible to make it happen directly as well, but I think that would require an extreme control and awareness of the mind. I believe that the use of images might bring us far ahead of what we can do at our own level, because certain images naturally sets our mind and body in a corresponding state.

We don’t really have to fully understand how it works. We just think about a certain thing, and something happens to our relation to our partner. Physically we just feel that the problem we had suddenly disappears and we can proceed to the next point.

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Morote dori keiko in Trondheim with Hallgeir, Marius, Laura and Birgitta. Camera by Andrea Raviglione.

It does not matter if our partner believe or not. We can still practice. The less they do, the more we have to do. I believe that to study with a like minded partner is most useful, to find these things. But I think that it is possible to practice with anybody. The partner can help us, not help us, or sabotage us in our kata. In any case the kata requires 100 % to be performed, by one of us, externally and internally. The distribution can be anything. Ideally I would say that it is naturally half to each of the partners. Uke should do certain things, and tori should do certain things. These things should always be natural and in their own best interest. It gives the kata some logical sense in a martial way. Still it does not necessarily mean that all partners agree, so we have to adapt to practise with them.

If we have a partner who works against us we need to have the technology to cancel their action. An example could be that the partner pushes us. If we push back we are standing and pushing on each other, one push requiring another to push back. In one way you can say that they are cancelling each other, but that is not what I mean by cancelling. We are pushing each other already before we start, so we have already failed. We need to be able to unpush, by aiki, so that the partner are unable to push. Then we are not forced to push our partner in order to not get pushed back ourselves. This is extremely difficult of course, thus I believe that a like minded partner is better in the early stages of our study.

It does not really matter if we are tori or uke. In both cases, if our partner neglects some part, we need to fill in the missing part or we will get stuck somewhere. If we are uke, and tori pushes, instead of merely pushing back in the opposite direction, we should try to cancel the push of our partner, because it is not good for either of us. I have found that this is an important element when practising with a large collections of different partners so that I can minimise the amount of physical force between my partner and myself.

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Rachel, Tor Magnus, Aivars and Andrea doing morote dori keiko. Camera by Andrea Raviglione.

When we have found the neutral state, we can start our real study in how to make this magical space emerge.

I have mentioned several images which helps us in my earlier posts. The images has been a fundamental constituent of my study for the past decade. Some images works for some people and not for others, and in some situations, but not always. So I find it very useful to have a great collections of these images to chose from, at any given moment.

The new image which emerged the past couple of days was a torrent. I imagine a rotation around a vast void central area. The void at the centre contains infinitely much space, curved into a different dimension, but it is still present with it’s energy. All around this centre, in the spinning mass, there are several other, smaller, torrents, each with their smaller void centres. The smaller torrents also have several smaller void centres and torrents, and so on.

All of this is slowly spinning ceaselessly, and nothing can stop it. All we have to do is imagine this, and do nothing, which of course is the hard part (because our ego wants us to do something), and the magical space will be available for us in the movement with our partners.

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The Red Eye of Jupiter. Photo by NASA.

This is not magic, of course, but it appears as magic in the keiko, when it happens after long hours in the dojo, where this has always been a problem standing in our way. Magic has always been the name for things which we at the time could not explain, through all the ages of our world.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

 

The Light and the Dark

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Anger, Fear, Aggression
The Dark Side of the Force are They
Easily they Flow
Quick to join you in a Fight
If once you start down the Dark Path
Forever will it Dominate your Destiny
Consume you, it will

– The Empire Strikes Back

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Patras in Greace. Photo by Jason Blackeye.

The question about what aikido is, and what it is not, is something which has created discord and conflicts in the aikido community many times over, both on a personal level, on the tatami, and in larger scale between federations and groups. It has split the art into several factions sometimes unwilling to practise together. When people who disagree about this question meet on the tatami we often end up with conflicts where both are certain that they are right and the other must therefore be mistaken. We have met an ENEMY!

There are countless examples of how the conflict could materialise. But in general, I believe that they all start with the disagreement regarding how the keiko should be performed, and what the purpose of the practice is.

There is a lot of ambiguity in our keiko, because it is so open. It is the strength of aikido, because there are no limitations by age, strength, sex, level of experience or size. Everybody can practise together on equal terms. The only obstacle, the single thing which stands in our way is in our own mind. We have to wish to practise with our partner. If we don’t, it will never work.

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Picture by Pixabay.com

Our partner comes with the whole package. The body, and the mind and everything in between. We can’t change any of it. Perhaps we can change our own mind (and that is a challenge right there), but we can’t initially change the mind of the partner. After some time we might affect the partner during the keiko, of course. However, we have to be able to do the keiko in order for that to happen. And keiko is keiko. Fighting is not. And right there is a statement on which some would disagree with me, probably.

I remember some conflicts in myself actually, from the early years, of wether we should regard the bokken as sharp or not when doing throws with the blade on the arms of the partner. The same discussion was raging in me regarding wether an atemi in the form of a physical strike from tori should, by itself, be a reason for uke to move.

In one way it is a very easy answer to both questions: YES, the partner should move, to protect himself/herself from potential damage to his/her body. However, who is the attacker in this situation? And what happens if the partner just makes some counter? And there is a counter to the counter, and a counter to the counter to the counter, and so on. In most cases if I can hit, the partner can also hit, or kick, or head but, or worse.

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Picture from Pixabay.com

With the sword it is even more to the point, I think. Yes, the edge of the sword is very sharp, and a touch on naked skin would cut directly. Then some would argue that we should consider that uke is wearing armour. And we could argue back and forth, but in any case, we probably know, inside ourselves what we are searching for. We just want our way to be right, because it feels good for our ego.

Of course, in the first stages of learning the movement, I would say that, yes, the uke should move on the symbolic atemi, and consider the blade as dangerous (even if we have a blunt wooden surface on our skin). This way we can understand the basic mechanics of the kata. However, after some time, if we would like to reach the deeper meaning in the movement, I believe that it is more nurturing that the partner is just standing, observing what happens, but not actively doing anything, neither helping nor resisting what happens.

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Photo by Pixabay.com

In this state tori is not attacking with the kata, and uke is not protecting herself/himself from the attack. There is no stress, and we have time to feel the structure of the situation. If we sense that we are starting to push against each other we have to ease up and search for a different solution. If we feel that we are stuck, we can search for the location of our block, inside ourselves.

This atemi/sword situation is just one example of a situation where conflicts could emerge. I believe that the real challenge in aikido is to deal with these conflicts as we meet them, in a good way, so that we can practise with EVERYBODY.

Of course, we should consider safety, and our own health first, but I believe that there are valuable and unique pieces of our puzzle in all the people on the tatami. To enjoy these parts we have to find a way to practise with exactly this person, or we will miss a invaluable part. Very often the most important pieces are hidden in those partners which are most difficult for us to practise with.

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Photo by Jim Harper.

Sometimes we feel violated by our partner, because the partner is practising in a different way from us. However, I believe that it is important to remember that this brother or sister in aikido is merely doing the keiko, in their way. Our way is only one out of many, and it is not the only way. What is better or worse is not even relevant in this situation, I think. As long as we are not hurt, we can accept almost whatever, just to have a meeting with this new friend. Then later, maybe we can exchange ideas more deeply about how to make keiko more productive.

Still, if we get emotionally affected, we do. And it usually happens when we are unaware. It is difficult to go back to the state of our initial meeting after we already have some mental scars with somebody. So I believe that it is important to try to have an open mind for a different view, every time I meet a new partner on the tatami. I believe that the only enemy in our world is conflict itself.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

 

Concerning alignment and stillness

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My old man used to tell me,
before he left this shitty world:
Never chase busses or women.
You’ll always get left behind.

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

When I was a beginner I was taught that we use alignment of the body to build a structure which can withstand the greatest possible force, or produce the greatest possible force. Previously this idea has not been fitting in very well into my chosen path in aikido. It seemed to me as a totally different road, because (the last decade at least) I have been searching for ways to move with the partner without any force, at all, neither in pushing, pulling or twisting actions.

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Zhou Lulu with 192 kg on her chest. The word record in Clean and Jerk. Photo from sportivnypress.com, picture by Charniga.

This summer two of my dear friends in aikido got me into thinking of this concept of alignment of the anatomical structure of the body in a new way. And since then it has been on my mind almost every class I have participated in. This time I am considering the alignment as a restriction, and not as a construction for getting strong.

The body is slightly asymmetrical. This happens due to the embryological development of the fetus (we are all a little bit naturally twisted). So the alignment might not be 100 % in the reference system of the room outside. The inside reference system, of the body itself, is the one that counts. Still, we have no real way of measuring this, so most of the time we will use the outer system to check if we are straight or not.

Alignment of the body naturally has other functions than to generate and absorb force. If everything moves, the signals to the partner becomes unclear, and the path we are presenting for our partner appears misty. In this situation the partner will either take his/her own path, or most likely, no path at all, because there is really no real need to go anywhere. We are really just pushing ourselves out of position, because we are trying to do something on our partner.

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The beauty comes from the combination of the immovable rock wall and the flowing water streaming down. Salto del Angel in Venezuela. Photo by Wikipedia.

Also, even if I am not striving to achieve great force in my interaction with my partner, it is beneficial to make the movements in a economical way of using the body, to prevent strain injury over time. We are, after all, doing this every day, and hope to continue to do it every day for the rest of our lives. Any unnecessary strain on the body during the keiko should of course be avoided, and alignment of the posture is a great way to take care of this.

The thing is, we often think that we are straight, even if we are not, due to a combination of lack of awareness and traumas in the body (and in the mind). So we end up in disadvantageous positions because we are trying to do something, and our mind is on what we are trying to do. As I said, straight outside is not always straight inside, but if our road takes us close to an area where we feel fear, we will naturally try to avoid the area where we are uncomfortable, and we might end up in strange postures.

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Our posture is not always as straight as we think it is. Photo by New Line Cinema.

Cameras and mirrors are an invaluable resource when investigating these concepts. They do not lie, and the truth is sometimes painful to see if it has been long since we checked ourselves in this manner. Also, we will have to conquer our own fear when we reach the areas where we feel discomfort.

As an example, I have a tendency to bend my head to the right, when I am uke in tai no tenkan holding my partner with my left hand. Some muscles are slightly tensing, twisting my posture during the movement. So I try to check myself if I am straight, or not, during this movement. Straightening out my spine is scary in a way which is difficult to describe. I feel that I am way to close to the partner, and I might even be at this time, because of all this internal mess in my shoulders I might not fit into the “safe zone” yet. I am “too square” to stay within the martial area outside the partner’s reach. However, with some polishing, I believe these traumas will be healed and I will be able to melt into the shape I need to make a better tai no tenkan both as tori, as well as uke.

When our partner is holding us and we try to do something, our alignment will be broken, because we are pushing against something immovable. Something have to give, and if our partner is strong our own posture will collapse.

Sometimes I feel that when I manage to keep my alignment, and succeed in doing absolutely nothing, except perceiving what is going on inside my own, and my partner’s body, we will start to move together, in a flow. Like if there was some waterfalls inside our bodies feeding the movements. All interference is just standing in our way. Once I have gotten a taste of this it becomes the only way I accept to move with the partner. This is how I would like to make all the kata, always, and with every single partner in the world. Anything else seems like mere, (and uninteresting) mechanical pushing, pulling and twisting.

It seems to me as a big paradox. We are moving, yet we are doing nothing.

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Kjelfossen in Norway. Photo by Wikipedia.com

In karate dori tai no tenkan I believe that there are three main restrictions which seals the two partners into a specific area of study:

  1. The kata: tai no tenkan. It defines the movement which we should do individually as tori, and as uke. It gives a measure of distance and areas of reach for each partner. It makes the practice martial.
  2. The grab: Katate dori. We should hold on completely, without losing contact with any part of our palm. The force distribution in the grab should be balanced so that no points are burdened with more weight than others during any part of the movement. The grab should be constant from beginning to end.
  3. The alignment: By focusing on the center line and the posture of the body we economise the movement and clean away all unneccesary movements. The alignment is protecting our integrity and ensures that we are always in the best position we could possibly be in given the current situation.

We are squeezed between these restrictions, challenging ourselves to find ways to move within this chosen prison cell. I believe that by studying what is contained within, we are gaining freedom which we can use in the world outside the dojo. I believe that this freedom which we find here, will enrich both us and everybody we meet in our daily lives.

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Ramnefjellet and Lovatnet in Norway. Photo by Wikipedia.com

Of course, by keeping our physical alignment, we are keeping ourselves neutral, and in our own field of perception. However, for me, the greatest challenge lies in keeping our mental alignment. We want to do things. We have an intention of doing something. We wish to express something from within ourselves. This is what is causing us to lose our mental alignment of neutral perception of the situation. This is not only true for aikido. It happens all the time, everywhere, in the world outside.

Our expectations and ambitions is setting an image in our mind of how it will be. Sometimes unexpected things happen and we are in a completely different situation than what we expected. How do we deal with it? How does it affect us? Which consequences does this concept have for the world around us, both in a smaller scale, between people; and a in larger scale, between nations?

It could be as simple as expecting to sit relaxed and read during a train journey, and ending up sitting on your suitcase in the hallway because the train is totally overbooked and there are no seats at all. Or the toilet line before class happens to be much longer than you expected. Or we get rejected by someone we really wanted to know better. The list is endless. We have a discrepancy between what exists in our mind, and the real situation we have to deal with.

We have the opportunity to work on this every day on the tatami. We tried something, and it did not go as we expected, or wished, it would. Do we get frustrated and angry, or do we get curious? Do we blame the partner, and say that he/she did something wrong? Do we get angry at ourselves for “failing” in doing what we tried to do? Why did it go the way it did? Why would we define what we expected as a “good result” and what really happened as a “bad result”? It was the truth happening, was it not?

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Yumbilla waterfall in Peru. Photo by Wikipedia.com

I am searching for a stillness where I can sense what is happening in a deeper way, and I believe that this mental alignment is a fundamental part of it. I try to rid myself of any preference and opinions of what is good and what is bad. To be completely non judgemental. To mentally be completely straight mentally, and never be tilted towards any wish to do something.

Of course, if we are doing nothing, and try to do nothing, and try to not try to do anything, including trying to do nothing, then what are we doing? What is the keiko? We have kata. We have forms we are practising with our buddies. This is what keeps it possible for us to not get lost. Still, at least lately, for me, the idea of doing nothing is the most important idea right now both as uke and as tori.

I believe the idea of doing nothing is very powerful, and this stillness we achieve by succeeding is very nurturing. It is an idea beyond the technical world of aikido. We are doing nothing, but only perceiving, from our heart, what is happening. Somehow, streams are flowing anyway, without our meddling, and all we have to do is get out of the way so that the flow can proceed. Then we can ride the tide in there, and surf the waves.

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Seminar with Franck Noël sensei in Stockholm in October 2017. Photo by José Maria Sevilleja Lopez.

Our perception can reach so many levels, and we can use infinitely many images. There are no limits. As long as we keep our own alignment, both physically and mentally, we will be able to sense everything. We can feel waves in our partner’s body, streams, movements, emotions and of course, our own fear of failure.

It is very often hard to separate between what is us, and what is the partner. This is why I believe the alignment is so important, mentally as well as physically. Once we are still, we can sense the partner. If we do not have this stillness we can only see ourselves. Our own needs and ambitions. The partner appears as an obstacle instead of our study partner. With the stillness we can see, we can hear, we can feel and sense. We are alive!

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!