What separates the way of Aiki from the way of the World?

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But if it is Heaven’s way to take from those who have too much
and give to those who have not enough,
this is far from being man’s way.
He takes away from those that have not enough
in order to make offering to those who already have too much.

Excerpt from Arthur Waley’s translation of Tao Tê Ching, chapter 77

In the katas we practice every day, there are a lot of points of exchange between the partners. And in many of these points the exchange happening is unfair. Tori gains more than they give up, and uke gives up more than they receive. The kata of course is a historical artifact handed down through history, and comes from a way of thinking which is not very peaceful.

Maybe an exception is katate dori tai no tenkan. Where none of the partners are treated unfairly. At the end position the position of uke is almost better than it was before the exchange. There are more possibilities for different kinds of movement. However in the end position of ikkyo there is no doubt that an unfair exchange must have happened somewhere, because the martial position of uke is not as good as it was in the initial position of the kata.

I was wondering in which ways do these unfair exchanges happen?

  • It could happen by habit. We did the kata thousands of times without being conscious of what is going on. Both tori, and uke, is accepting the exchanges, unfair as they are, without even noticing it.
  • It could happen by leverage. Leverage could magnify the power of tori, allowing tori to force uke into a bad position. It could also happen by one being physically stronger than the other.
  • It could happen by deception and timing. Tori might be fooling uke by pretending to do one thing, and at the opportune moment in reality doing something else. This might break the posture and position of uke, leaving tori free to exploit the advantage, either by leverage or just simply taking away support which they pretended to be there to trick uke. It could also happen by one partner being physically able to move faster than the other.
  • It could happen by economy. Very often the one who practiced longer is moving more economically than the one who has shorter experience. In addition, in many katas tori is leading uke in a longer path around, so that uke arrives too late. This can be used to break the posture of uke. Just as with timing, this could also be compensated by physical speed of the person.
  • By aware acceptance of the kata.

There could of course be combinations of these different categories, and in most cases they are combinations of several out of them working together. It is not the art of peace, until we reach the final point, where we accept the kata for what it is, and we are aware of all the intricate exchanges happening in each part of the kata.

“Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. Photo from Mayoral Magazine.

To always seek a way to dominate the other is also a valid way to practice. However, the most experienced, the most fit, and the most clever, will always defeat the weaker. This is the way of the world. The one with the bigger gun is always exploiting the ones with less technology. This is the way that will in the end kill us all. It is not going to be a problem to practice aikido in that way though. Because we change the roles. After being tori four times, we are uke four times. And at some point we will come to the realisation that something is happening during the exchange which we can study in more detail.

I remember Christian Tissier sensei elegantly expressed a quite vital point related to this. “If the partner does not accept the point (of exchange), it is not a point.” And there is the simple reality of it. The partner needs to accept everything we do, and they will only accept it if it something beneficial for their part. That is the limit.

By the way, I am of course not suggesting that we change anything. Aikido is perfect, just the way it is. It is a paradox that we are studying these katas, which are in history an art of war, and we are closing in on the art of peace, using them as a road. I guess it is like a word. The word is not what it is pointing to. Neither is the kata. The kata is from the manifested world, but it is pointing to something beyond.

It is all an exciting mystery to me.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Concerning Ken and Kan

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Some years ago Seishiro Endo sensei was teaching us about the difference between two different ways to use our vision in budo. He called it Ken and Kan sight. Ken is concentrated, like a laser on one specific point or line. Kan is equally attentive to the whole angular range of vision available to us, which is around 180 degrees, in both the horizontal and the vertical dimension.

We spent a fair amount of time exploring the Kan way of using our eyes. The Ken sight is very natural to us, because from childhood our eyes naturally focus on whatever our hands are doing, ignoring what happens around (because it is not a priority in that situation). And during our school years our eyes are being conditioned to using Ken sight quite extensively.

Seminar with Endo sensei in Púchov in July 2012. Photo by Tomáš Švec.

It is very hard for us to settle into the Kan way of using our eyes. Especially when we are waiting with somebody is in front of us, and we have no idea what time they will attack shomen uchi, and vice versa for uke the moments before the attack. Our eyes will naturally focus on our partner in both roles of the exercise. It takes some practice to keep the eyes calm and free. We can see everything in the whole cone of vision with equal attention to all of it.

There were some other exercises we did during Endo sensei‘s seminars, which I felt was related to this. However, I could never describe the relation except that it was connected by the calm and serene feeling I achieved by doing these exercises. The second set of exercises was having a partner lifting one’s arms up, while tori extends them down. We still do these exercises during the seminars, from katate dori, from morote dori/katate ryote dori or from ushiro ryote dori.

Seminar with Endo sensei in Púchov in July 2012. Photo by Tomáš Švec.

What is connecting these quite physically different exercises? A great many things, I guess. However the one appearing to me these previous weeks was that in the extending the arm down exercise, we are in a situation where we are forced to be attentive to our emotions at the present moment. We also do that with our vision in the shomen uchi exercise for Ken and Kan sight, but in the grabbing exercise our vision is of less importance. I realized that even there the Ken and Kan concept exist, but not restricted to the sense of sight.

Very often when I try to have attention, I concentrate on the activity of the mind. Once I sense a movement all my perception will zoom in and focus on what is happening there. I try to capture the thoughts, and hold on to the emotions.

A good image of what I was trying to do is trying to grab water form the river with my hands. As soon as I start closing my fingers around the water it keeps running between my fingers and flows away. I try it again, and again, and again. Where did it go?

Seminar with Endo sensei in Prague in October 2011. Photo by Pavel Novák.

The mind movements always seems to appear where I am not looking. My mental stare of concentrated attention is wildly chasing the activity around. And every time I try to “catch it”, to keep it in my field of awareness, it flows somewhere else.

Vision is probably the most fundamental sense for many of us, so it is a good way to start practicing this idea of expanding our field of view, to achieve Kan vision. However, we can do this with all our senses, in the same way, for hearing, smell, feeling and taste.

If we transfer the idea of Ken and Kan to the mental world, the principles are still valid. Instead of focusing my attention, trying to grab some water from the river, and squeezing it with my mental hands, I step back and see the whole river. I can see the flow of all of the river, from it’s origin to the point where it flows into the ocean, at the same time.

Seminar with Endo sensei in Prague in October 2011. Photo by Pavel Novák.

Another image I have is that especially emotions, and even thoughts have different “frequencies”. So if we are listening to the wrong frequency, we would miss the signal, which of course is there anyway, just because we are focusing our attention at the wrong scope of frequencies. If we pay attention to the whole spectrum, we can get a more complete knowledge of what is really there.

I have found that I can be both sad and happy at the same time. I can be excited and have a feeling of anxiety and unease simultaneously. And even if I focus my attention on what I prefer to see, there is a dark shadow lurking behind me.

From the moment I wake, and even before I wake up, the radio is on upstairs. Thoughts keep coming. Where do they come from? Very often I believe the underlying emotion, in the background is generating the flow of thoughts. One example could be that an underlying emotion of unease and anxiety could cause the mind to create a setting, a scene and a plot, for those feelings. It could be a nightmare!

Seminar with Endo sensei in Prague in December 2009. Photo by Pavel Novák.

So without knowing it, in my life situation, I have tried to push these things away, by filling up my life until I don’t have time to sleep enough, and in doing so, I suppress some of the mind activity.

It works in some kind of way, of course, but it is not good for health to alway be deprived on sleep. And I never face my enemy, but keep running away from it.

Another way of running away from our mind is using TV or social media to keep ourselves busy, to escape from our own thoughts, by having other’s thoughts occupying the space.

Seminar with Endo sensei in Prague in December 2009. Photo by Pavel Novák.

Anyway, at some point it is time to stop running, and facing ourselves. This is budo.

Of course this is easy in the dojo. We are all friends, and our emotions are usually quite harmless. Whatever we find is not so scary. We may start there. And the two sets of exercises are just examples. This applies to everything we do in aikido, whichever kata we do. However, the real challenges lurks around the corner, when we step outside the dojo, into the world. Very often the darker parts of ourselves comes to the surface when we are challenged outside the dojo.

The principles are the same though. So by using Kan sight to observe our mind we will always be connected to life itself. Which gives us that feeling (not emotion, but feeling, from beyond our form) we can recognise from our keiko.

Seminar with Endo sensei in Prague in December 2009. Photo by Pavel Novák.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Concerning Fear and Desire

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Love does not fear or want anything.

Eckhart Tolle

Lao Tzu often speaks of getting free from desire. Most of us are being kind of halfhearted in our attempts to dig into that one. Are we making ourselves less human if we would let go of desire? We might understand the logic, but for some reason we can’t accept it completely at a deeper level? Or maybe it is just me?

I have always defined myself, both for myself and for others, by my desire. It has become part of my identity. Who I think that I am. And we can’t get rid of who we think we are, as long as that is what we think our identity is.

There is also the common mixing up of the terms desire and love. Biology and peace. They are different. However, I will not go into that in this post.

Red rose. Image taken from Wikimedia.org

Are the relinquishment of desire making us into machines? What then about fear? I guess most of us agree that fear is definitely something we can do without? It is rather obvious, at least in the study of a martial arts, that we at some point have to deal with fear on several different levels.

The most obvious forms of fear is the fear of the partner’s attack. The fear of being struck in the head with a sword; The fear of being stabbed by a knife; The fear of being punched in the face. Then there is the very similar fear of the falls. Fear of falling on our head, or the shoulder, or the getting the air knocked out by landing flat on our back. These are the most primal fears.

At the next level there is the more subtle fears. Fear of being grabbed and held by the partner; The fear of failure; The fear of loosing face in front of others; The fear of making a mistake.

Water lily. Image take from the website of Croda Personal Care.
What is fear?

Fear is a reaction manifesting as is series of emotions and thoughts triggered by our mental projection of the future event, or situation, which we are fearing. It might be something which happened to us in the past, or something our thoughts have invented from what we heard from others who experienced that event, projected into the future. We do not fear the situation we are in, but it is always a projection of the past into the future. We have a series of involuntary reactions to that thought. Thoughts happen, the thoughts trigger emotions during it’s interaction with the body, and the emotions triggers new thoughts.

What is desire?

Desire is a reaction in our mind and in our body triggered by the thought that some future event, which we wish to happen, might NOT happen. So the triggering event, from the future, which never comes, is different (and the only difference is the word “not”), but the reactions are exactly the same. Desire and fear are identical! One has a much more positive reputation than the other, but they are the same!

So we either have a fearful reaction of the mind and the body when imagining that something “bad” will come to pass in the future. Or we have a fearful reaction of the mind and the body imagining that something “good” will not come to pass in the future. Of course it is not identical, as the fearful reaction is either to the expected situation to arise, or not to arise. However the reactions of the mind and the body are identical, even though it comes from two different outer conditions.

Water lily. Image by sm jet from FreeImages.com.

This does not make any of it any easier, but at least for me, this realisation makes it more clear. At least now I will not stop myself, hesitating, wondering if I am going in the wrong direction or not.

What about the argument that we are making ourselves into machines when we relinquish emotions? Actually we are not removing the emotions from our physical form. We will have the fear present and we will have the desire present, in our mind and in our body.

We can manipulate it to a smaller or greater degree by psychological techniques, and by repetition. But it will always remain in one form or the other. And in the case that we did remove them, we would in fact make ourselves into something less evolved than what we are. But that is not where we are going on our aiki journey.

So what are we doing during our keiko, to deal with the emotions, desire and fear, standing in our way? How do we remove the problem they present in our life if we are not removing them completely from our form? We transcend them!

Photo by Joanna Andrzejewska from FreeImages.com.

Let’s take the fear of falling as an example. Or we can just as well say the desire to make a perfect fall. They are the same after all, just looking at the different sides of it, but with the same internal struggle in our mind-body system.

  1. We know that there is fear. At first we only become stiff, and have not idea why. Then we realise it is because we imagine having our air knocked out. It happened before in that situation, and we are imagining the future event of it happening again.
  2. We are admitting that there is fear. Tough guys/girls are never scared, right? If we can’t admit that we are scared, we will forever be scared.
  3. We can see the fear in a nonjudgmental way. So we admitted that we are scared. Now are we ashamed of it. Are we judging ourselves for it? After such and such many years of practise we should not still be scared of having our air knocked out of us by landing flat on our back during a fall, right? If we can’t see the fear in a neutral way, our fear and desire has slipped in the back door, and we have to retrace our steps to step number one, and start over.
  4. Finally we can transcend the fear. Because it does not matter any more. It looses it’s power over us because we are not identifying with it. It is not feeding on our energy, and eventually, with practise of course, it will run out of energy and disappear on it’s own. We are not removing it. We are going beyond it.

First we have to identify the reactions. Accepting that the fearful reactions are there. How do we see this? By observing the fear. At first we are identifying with the fear. We are the fear, so we don’t see it. Once we can see the emotion, we are not identified with it any more. We are something else looking at it. In fact we are our essence identity observing our form identity. Once we can see that situation we no longer confuse the two and mistake our form for who we are.

Photo by Jeremy Doorten from FreeImages.com.

The awareness of who we are, the one that is observing our emotions and thoughts, is a great step. So, when we see the reactions, we are not feeding them with our energy. This way the thoughts and emotions are losing their power over us. We are at the level above thought.

Desire and fear are acting in the exact same way. Both are trapping us inside our form, preventing us from seeing the person we are. And as a consequence, when we see ourselves as our body and our mind, we will relate to our partner as well as a body and a mind. So it is two machines triggering each other in different reactions. Two characters interacting, without our consent. Emotions and thoughts happening unconsciously. Sometimes there is peace. Sometimes there is war. It is just a play of dice.

The person who we are knows no fear, we are free from desire. The person just lies beyond the mind and the body. The fear and the desire is only affecting our character, the lower level, the form. Once we are aware of our own being, we can connect to our partner as well, beyond the mind and the body. And our partner has no fear nor any desire either of course, only the character might be trapped by those, not the person.

Once we are free from desire/fear we can see all the possibilities. We can communicate with our partner, person to person.

Lotus. Photo by Jin Neoh from FreeImages.com.
Hey, wait a minute! Are we just going to let go of our free will like that?

What is free will? Who decides what we think? Who gives us our opinions and mental positions? What decides what we fear? What decides what we desire?

We are conditioned by our past, our history, by genetics, by chance. Our “free will” brings us the world situation we have today. Maybe we have a hundred years more, before we make our own species extinct? Maybe two hundred? It is our will? I think not?

But we are trapped, the illusion that our will is whatever arise in our mind is sometimes harmless, sometimes disastrous.

Morote dori keiko in Hökmossen with Anders in July 2020.

What is the purpose of aikido? The Founder called it The Art Of Peace. Maybe it is one way to help us reach the next level of awareness. Maybe it will help us get in touch with our own person, and thereby getting in touch with the person inside everybody around us as well?

Presence breeds presence, and unconsciousness breeds unconsciousness. As we go from our keiko, into the world of insanity, staying present, we help everybody we comes into contact with staying present as well. Not by speaking of relinquishing fear and desire, of course. They will just think we are crazy. By staying aware, we will help those around us to become more aware, even if we don’t say a single word to them.

Of course, this is a study of an internal level of consciousness. It is not meant to imply that we should refrain from taking action in situations in the world outside. However with our newfound awareness, we do have a real free choice, and are not merely run by primitive reactions to whatever happens, inside or around us.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Concerning the Difference between the Character and the Person

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Here is my secret:
I don’t mind what happens.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Tai no tenkan with Theodor on swaying footing, in Björkhagen in July 2020. Photo by Anders Lütz.

I used to watch a TV series called Babylon 5 as a kid. In one of the episodes the main plot was trying to find a peaceful resolution for two conflicting factions of a species of aliens called “Drazi”. The person in charge of the peace process tried to find out how to solve the problem, so she asked both parts to explain the nature of their conflict. Basically it was like this:

Every five years, they gathered, and put green and purple cloths in a bag. Half green and half purple, and the total number of cloths matching the number of “Drazi”. One by one they put their hand in the bag and picked a cloth and tied it to their arm, and hence became either “green”, or “purple”. Then they would fight each other until only one color was left.

Incoronazione di Spine (The Crowning by Thorns) by Caravaggio, from Wikipedia.com.

It is obvious to us that it is an insane system, in this case. However, humans do exactly the same. Our cloths are not just purple or green, but the principle is identical.

At birth we all, one by one stick our hand into the sack and pick a cloth. It decides what time we are born; It decides if we are male or female; It decides who our parents and ancestors are; It decides how our appearance will be; It decides what kind of personality we will have; It decides if we will be rich or poor, highborn or lowborn; It decides our nationality; It decides what football team we will cheer for, etc. And for the duration of our life, we will fight whoever we perceive as different from us, just like the aliens in the TV series I mentioned.

I think I might have mentioned this episode before, because I think it really clearly demonstrated the insanity of the human mind. Just look at the news, or read some of the history of human behaviour. I mean, we could blame it all on some outer devil, but for me it makes sense to think of our mind as the devil. Or rather our unconsciousness, letting the mind run the world without our participation.

As long as we identify with our mind we can only see the otherness of others, because it is how the mind works. And we do not even realize that, just as in the parable in the TV series, it was just a coincidence that we picked our cloth, and not the cloth of “our enemy”.

After a special keiko with Rado and Marius, in Sigtuna in February 2020. Photo by Jan Lien.

Do you think there is such a thing as an evil person? Do you really think so? Where do these evil people come from? The devil put some eggs hidden away in the forest and they hatch there, and just wait to attack us when the time comes. Of course not! That person ended up being born, just as we did. They did not choose the life situation they were born into. Neither did they choose their mind, no more than they chose their body. Their skill set was also randomly chosen.

We all start out in auto pilot in our lives. We follow our mind, thinking that we make free choices, while in reality the mind is merely following the programmed instructions in every situation it encounters. Reflexes and reactions to what we see around us decides what happens. Actually, most of us never realize this during our lifetime. We are not stupid, but this is something which does not depend on our mind’s abilities to think logically.

Baphomet statue. Image from The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The mind protects itself. It is a program developed over millions of years. And it has many parts. A whole myriads of entities living in there. We have one Ego for ourselves, and one for each person we ever met in our lives, and even one for each person we ever heard of. This is a collection of tags we associate with ourselves, or somebody else. The name, the profession, the family role, ownership, type of person we think this person is, gay or straight, black or white, religious belief and so on.

Just like every other life form, it does everything it can to survive. That is why it is so difficult see outside the mind. The mind can never understand what lies outside. But we can.

I will not really go into the details of how the mind works, because I do not know the exact details, and already I am probably using the wrong words for describing what I have seen. Somebody studying psychology would know, but my field of interest is actually beyond the mind. That being said. We will of course still be able to use our mind, as the powerful tool that it is. It is just the difference that we are using it as a tool, instead of being a puppet to it in unawareness.

Tai no tenkan with Anders in Hökmossen in June 2020.

At some point something might happen where we become aware of our thoughts and our emotions. Our identification is no longer with the thoughts and the emotions, but the consciousness being conscious about the inner processes of the body and the mind. And for the first time in our life we can make a choice what to do.

This affects everything. For one this renders hate meaningless.

Hate, as I used to know it, is just an interaction between two programs in my mind, my domestic Ego and the foreign Ego for the person I hate. It has nothing to do with the person I perceive that I hate. However, I probably never even met that person.

Crocifissione di san Pietro (Crucifixion of Saint Peter) by Caravaggio, from Wikipedia.com.

So how do we separate our being from the human in the human being? With consciousness. We can observe what is happening inside and outside. We see the thoughts, emotions, and sense perceptions. Sometimes we get a glimpse of that awareness, but immediately we have an opinion about what we see, and without realizing it we are identifying with our opinion right then, and we have lost the awareness, or consciousness.

Once we can see the reaction to our consciousness in addition to the stuff in the inner circle, and we have no opinion about it, we are there. We do have opinions, but they are not that big a deal. It is just an opinion, not a part of our identity, and no defensiveness should be triggered if somebody were to contradict it.

If we can see these things in ourselves, we can work on sensing the same stuff in our partner. Our partner might not be aware at the time. They might be asleep inside their character. The person is still there, even if it is not visible, at first.

Tai no tenkan with Jorma in Nyköping in June 2020. Picture by Katarina Gullberg.

The cool part of the person-concept is that everything we normally identify with is relinquished. The person has no age, no sex, no ethnicity, no personality (ironically called person-ality), no religion or nationality. The person is just the person, stripped of everything the mind has added which normally obscures the view of the person.

Very often, in tai no tenkan, to be able to do this I need my partner to really tighten the screws, and not let me move. Taking away leverage, taking away timing, taking away technical and emotion-playing tricks. What is left? We are both standing there in perfect positions, but we can’t get a millimetre, because we are two characters competing about space and time, in the manifested world.

Then it appears, once the mind stops complaining and looking for ways to make the technical parts “work”. Stillness! It was there all along, but we were to busy looking for “something” that we missed “nothing”. When we find ourselves, we find our partner. We join the partner, and we do it together.

Martirio di San Matteo (The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) by Caravaggio, from Wikipedia.com

I used to hate bullies, and people who use violence or threat of violence to enforce their will upon others. I also used to hate historical characters like Adolf Hitler and Josef Mengele, and so on. However, this idea, or rather awareness somehow changes how I look upon even those I used to consider the most evil people in the world. Somehow, this has changed, quite recently.

The thing is, the person we think we hate is not even there. Well, maybe our character met their character, and our bodies and minds might have interacted with each other, and the interaction might have caused suffering for one or both of the involved parts. However, in an unconscious state, neither of us were making any decisions in the matter. So once we wake up, and really realize this, the hate is just gone. It is not even forgiveness, or maybe it is real forgiveness, because the crime never happened!

Maybe we still would like to hate the character, but as we realized that the character is not a person, it does not really make any sense to hate the empty shell. It does not feel “satisfying” the way it did before, and it is nothing there, so how could we hate nothing?

Tai no tenkan with Anders at Södertälje Hamn. Photo by Christian Bleckman.

So let’s finish with some concrete examples from the keiko. To make this a bit more tangible, if that is possible with such a subject. And what better kata is there to illustrate this than katate dori tai no tenkan?

We could make a movement with leverage, making us stronger, to be able to move our partner. We could use timing to trick the mind of the partner. We could also use trick movements, making the partner think we will do one thing, but in reality doing something else. We could also, by more advanced trickery, fool the perception-system of the partner into not being able to sense the technique, so that our stealth technique ensures us the better position over the partner. However, none of these are connecting with the real partner, the person. It merely tricks the character.

Only we, as a person, are able to connect to the person in the partner. The character can only connect to the character. So our first step is to find ourselves. If we do not know the difference between our character and our person, there will be no way we could identify the difference between the character and the person of the partner grabbing our arm.

Decollazione di San Giovanni Battista (The Beheading of St John the Baptist) by Caravaggio. From Wikipedia.com

Very often it is visible when seen in others, long before we can do it ourselves. This is what separates the masters from the rest of us. That stillness which are ever present in their every movement. When we are stuck we are moving the head or the hips or the hands in certain ways, because our mind is strongly connected to these parts. These excess movements pollutes the clean path of the kata.

It is also visible in our gaze if there is reflex-thoughts going on in the mind. We can hear it when listening to the they way we express ourselves. The character is battling other characters, in a friendly way on the outside, but hostile on the inside.

Once we start noticing it in ourselves we are a step in the right direction. However, it is a long way to go. Sometimes I can catch myself dozens of times just during a ten minute walk. Unconscious thoughts, unconscious emotions. Endless cycles of commentary and complaints in my head. They will not change anything, and they are distracting me from finding my way so I am constantly trying to clean up, so that I can see the road ahead.

Katate dori ikkyo with Anders in Hökmossen in July 2020.

The cool part about this is that it works also outside the dojo, with everybody we meet. Can we see the person, even if they are not present? The character will act as they are programmed, the mind is dictating everything they do. Are we able, if we come in touch with our own person, to also see the person hidden inside the character with whom we are speaking? That would be the end of all conflicts!

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

The Study of Actionless Activity, part III: Yin and Yang

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Returning is the motion of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
The ten thousand things arise from being.
Being arises from not being.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 40
Lao Tzu, translated by Gia-Fu Feng

As a kid I used to have an extremely annoying addiction which I was very ashamed of, but struggled with getting rid of. For some reason I could not see at that time I had an extreme need to shake my hands intensively. To add weight to my arms I were holding on to some small sticks. I could be stuck deep in my mind for an hour or so, shaking the sticks, while my mind were chewing on some kind of unconscious pattern.

What was going on in my mind could be anything I were normally thinking anyway, but by letting out the energy by shaking the sticks around I could be submerged deeper. Not allowing myself to physically express the thoughts were a torment beyond imagination, so I spent an hour in my room every day, shaking the sticks.

Barcelona Claes August 2013 Katarina Gullberg

Katate dori tai no tenkan with Claes on the roof of Casa Milà in Barcelona in August 2013. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

I might possibly have found drumming a natural road to take, but instead I found fitness training. From around the age of twelve, pushups and running were replacing the shaking, and I think it was my first step, unknowingly at the time, to get into a road to gain freedom from my mind. During my training sessions I thought less, and had a deeper sense of joy, not knowing why, but I was naturally changing to a way which made me feel better in daily life.

I saw a commercial for some kind of education on the metro the other day saying: “You decide who you will become”.  It almost cut me in the heart how cold, and wrong in my mind, the common point of view is for who a person is. I believe that we are, and nothing can either add or subtract from that, regardless of what we do, or don’t do, in life. Our achievements can of course be an expression of something, but it should never be mistaken for who we are, in my opinion.

Who am I? This is a subject I have touched a few times (actually a lot of times) in the past, in my posts, and it intrigues me. In my case, I am driven by an urge to solve a problem/sickness within myself, so naturally I tend to focus on this part, hoping to find some kind of solution.

Saku May 2012 Tomas Svec

The Saku Dojo seminar in May 2012 (I was not there). Photo by Tomáš Švec.

In Tao the manifested and the unmanifested are often mentioned as connected opposites. During keiko we often get an idea of what this means, but it is difficult to put into words, somehow. I am not sure if this is a correct way of using Yin and Yang, but in my mind these are behaving in a way that is described by that theory. Yin and Yang is like the sunny side and the shade side of a hill. If we have one, we always have the other. We can’t really increase one and diminish the other, because they rise and fall together.

The manifested is the easy part, because we can easily interact with it. It is physically there. Our body belongs to this realm, and even our mind, representing the hardware and the software of the mind-body system. However, what is the unmanifested? It is something which we normally don’t notice. However, our real Self, not derived from our own mind, the presence behind the thoughts and emotions, who we are in the deepest meaning of the that word (the part that the Ego very often usurps), comes from the realm of unmanifested, in my opinion.

Like I said, these are things I have difficulty with putting into words, because I have a sensation of how it is connected, but only from experiences, mostly on the tatami, and sometimes, during challenging times in life outside the dojo.

Duisburg Johan ten year january 2018 Aikido im Hof Duisburg

From the 10 year anniversary of Aikido im Hof Duisburg, Johan’s class. Photo by Aikido im Hof Duisburg.

Jiddu Krishnamurti said in one of his talks: “When there is attention, there is no centre from which you’re attending“. I found this quote a very neat way to define the difference in state between an Ego-trapped situation, and the free situation where you are able to observe what happens. The observer is not attached to any specific point in the system, and thus we are able to see the whole. So we are from the realm of the unmanifested somehow, while we have a manifested body (and mind). Some teachers use the words dimensions to describe this, but for me that does not fit, as it is something else in mathematics and in physics (where my vocabulary comes from), so I am at a loss for words for it.

This is all very abstract, I know. But how should we approach this practically in the keiko? In the practice we very often have situations where we start moving our free parts, not connected to our partner if the parts connected to the partner is stuck. This could be a situation where we are trapped in the desire to throw the partner, and the very desire is preventing us from succeeding. The movement of our free parts, very often the head (or the hip or shoulder), at a moment when the grabbed part is stuck, is a very clear symptom of this “disease” caused by the Ego.

Sjøholt Marius December 2017

Keiko at Sjøholt with Marius in December 2017.

Let’s assume we are doing morote dori (katate ryote dori) kokyu ho with a very firm grab. Our first movement in the role of tori is to raise our arms, both tori’s held arm and the two arms of uke, holding on. Assuming that we are in the situation of tori in this case, naturally we would not be able (without using leverage, or without being twice as strong as our partner) to move our partner’s two arms with our single arm. That is where normally our head will move, in an unconscious way, during our attempt to lift something heavy by muscle. This is what I would believe the Tao would define as action.

I think the first step, which is extremely fundamental to solving this problem, is to realise this situation. Without a mirror, or a video of ourselves, we might not notice that our free parts are in a involuntary “symptom-showing” movement. What we do notice, however, is that some partners will stay, and we will have to depend on leverage and strength to be able to raise our arm.

The system is quite complex, if we start to analyze it in the way I described above. Uke and tori are both a Yin and Yang system by themselves, with manifested and unmanifested parts. At the same time uke and tori are a Yin and Yang system together. Each of these four parts needs to be able to flow freely for any “correct” shift to be possible. If these are blocked in anyway, anywhere in the system, all we can do is mechanically push and pull each other around on the tatami.

Like I said in a previous post, this might not necessarily be a problem, as we still get the physical exercise, building our posture, and learning about using leverage to make the structure of the physical form of the kata.

Prague Martin December 2009 Pavel Novak

Keiko with Martin at Aikido Karlin in Prague during the seminar with Seishiro Endo sensei in December 2009. Photo by Pavel Novak.

If we are ready to move on from that part, however, we can find something more profound from this. And there are steps. All we have to do is to find them, and be willing to climb them.

0.   Is there a hidden fear for failure?

Yes, it is not a typo, it is step number zero.

So our arm is stuck. Is that a problem for us? Are we suffering because your buddy is fixating our arm to help us study? Does it cause us any physical pain to stand there doing nothing while our friend is holding our arm? If our partner is hurting us we could always communicate to the partner, in a friendly way, that we would prefer a non painful grab in this situation.

If we still struggle with the situation, then we have to search inside ourselves what we want and what is the reason we want that. We could let our partner hold on, and stay for a few minutes, studying our emotions and thoughts during these minutes. We could let our partner hold on firmly while we slowly move our legs sensing the neutral extension and slacking of the muscles in our upper body caused by the shifting of distance to the fixed point. We should notice if our muscles becomes active during any point of this exercise.

To make the situation more extreme we could ask our partner to lift our arm firmly upwards and hold it in a steady position, and we do the same things as before, walking around sensing our body, our mind and our emotions. During this time, can we get some kind of idea of which parts of us are manifested and the unmanifested? The manifested being the body, the mind, our emotions, our ideas for the future, our past, and so on. The unmanifested being the presence behind all the manifested stuff, the awareness which is us in the deepest sense of the word

We could also change the situation so that uke moves around while holding, or even moves tori around (gently) while holding on firmly. Very often it is easier to perceive subtle things when we are not ourselves active. Where do our manifested parts stop, and where do our unmanifested parts continue? We should try to keep our posture, and always stay straight, while letting go of all tension, both in our body, our mind, and beyond. Very often we can see in a person’s eyes if this has happened or not.

The partner holding should of course likewise (as always) observe what is happening inside his/her system during this time, so that we study the situation from both sides.

Are we comfortable with not being able to move our arm? If so, we might go to the next step.

Lillsved Andrea July 2015 Katarina Gullberg

Post keiko with Andrea in Lillsved in July 2015. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

1.   Adding a temporary movement

Very often we can’t solve a problem directly, so we have to separate it into different parts. One idea is to add a movement to the form, which is not really there in the final kata, but it will help us reach some kind of idea which will be helpful to make the movement required in the “clean” kata.

One of these additions, is already in the previous point, where we added the lifting part, by uke, to make our stress more visible for us. By being aware of our fear, we can transcend it.

Now we could again ask our partner to lift our arm up, and we make the kata (not the basic one but an newly invented one) only to lower our arms until they are hanging straight down. Our idea is to be able to just extending our arm to our hips. The position should be static. Nothing is physically moving, except of course our internal movements inside, which always will be there as long as we are alive.

Prague Franck Jiri October 2014 Aikido Praha Vinohrady

From the seminar with Franck Noël sensei in Prague in October 2014. Photo by Aikido Praha Vinohrady.

We could now add 4 different movements to create flow in the static system:

  1. Stepping away from the partner
  2. Stepping into the partner
  3. Turning from side to side
  4. Sitting down

All of these are now building on the state reached in the previous step, where we have no problem or fear whatsoever with being stuck. If we are still afraid to fail, our Yin and Yang system are stuck, so none of these movements will cause dynamic in our system, because we are clinging on and preventing the turning of the wheels. There is no hole in the middle of the wheel so it is totally fixed to the wagon. Nothing rolls. We are just pushing the wagon around in the mud.

However, if we are free, the partner will also be free, or at least we can affect the partner in a tremendous way towards freedom, because flow on one part causes flow in the other part, just as the sun on one part of the hill will cause a shade on the opposite part of the hill. That is of course also why it is such a huge help to have as many training partners as possible, and to study both in the role as uke and as tori, to “steal” each other’s freedom.

These ways of creating dynamics in the system is also very educational in ushiro ryote dori. However, in the case of ushiro I would exchange number four with leaning forward until the hips and wrists are on the same axis, fixating that axis, and rising again.

This is of course a continuous study of our own system, locating stress, fear and similar emotions caused by our thoughts. By bringing them into the light of our consciousness, we will first of all accept that they are there, and by continuing our repetitions with awareness we will clean up the system so that our “machine” works without any parts stuck in sand.

In my opinion we should be perfectly comfortable with doing this with the added movements before we move on to the next step.

Saku Martin May 2012 Tomas Svec

From the Saku Dojo seminar in May 2012 (I was not there). Photo by Tomáš Švec.

2.   Removing the temporary movement and moving from stillness

As Christian Tissier sensei sometimes says: “What is a solution on one level, becomes a problem on the next“. We now added movement, where there was not. Breaking our own rules, we used leverage to free ourselves from the idea and fear of being stuck. It is a way to present some kind of steps leading in the right direction, avoiding the pitfall of competing and struggling with our partner with strength, to push and pull each other to the floor.

We should now do exactly the same as these four movements, only we do them in the unmanifested, not the manifested world. At first it could work to do it not physically, but only in the mind. However, if the partner is awake, they would not let us move neither with our body nor with our mind. That is kind of the definition of stuck. However, the unmanifested is always free. WE are always free. The only way WE could be stuck is if we believe we are the manifested.

My suggestion is that we try to do the same exercise of lowering the arm without moving our body or our mind, but using the experience and dynamic achieved in the previous point. At first we can use the memory from the four different movements, and trying to find out what is common in all of them, beyond the fact that they all increase or decrease the physical distance to the point where we meet the partner. If we are present we can perceive the movements of our emotions and thoughts as well as our bodily movements.

Vanadis Fabrice September 2018 Mattias Bäck

From the seminar with Fabrice and Helene at Vanadis Aikidoklubb September 2018. Photo by Mattias Bäck.

We keep our axis, our posture and our physical position. A mirror is very helpful, or a third partner who puts a finger on the parts we tend to move, usually the hips and the head. It is also nice if we look at our own eyes in the mirror and check our state of consciousness. Or we ask a partner to let us know when our “eyes stiffens”. That usually indicates that our Yin and Yang system is locked, the cog wheels are not turning because they are stuck in the “sand of the Ego” which tends to stop the mechanism.

From this situation we should check if we can get a sensation of dynamic in the stillness. Usually it happens once we give up. As long as we try to do something we are lost, but once we stop, everything starts.

If we are unable to do this, I would suggest spending more time with the previous steps, or focusing on other aspects of aikdo for a while and return at a later time. It does require a bit of awareness, but every hour spent on the tatami brings us closer to this no matter how we are spending our time. In my opinion there is no wrong way to practice (as long as we don’t get hurt or hurt our partner, or quit, or take a break from aikido). All roads leads to higher awareness.

Lillsved Julia Timofej Ion July 2016 Alexander Minidis

Post keiko with Julia, Timofej and Ion at Lillsved in July 2016. Photo by Alexander Minidis.

3.   Returning to the kata

So returning to morote dori kokyu ho with a basic grab (without lifting and without movement), we should now use our experience in lowering the arm to elevate our arm in exactly the same way.

In Yin and Yang there is never a struggle between good and bad. The sunny side of the hill is neither better nor worse than the shade on the other side. It is just two opposites. It is important to remember this when we are working with our partner. Neither of us is the good guy, and neither of us are the bad. We are just representing opposite sides of the kata.

If we have the dynamic of our own Yin and Yang system, we will inevitably have created a dynamic in our friend’s system, and we will also have a dynamic in our common system. I believe we either have none, or all.

The challenge is of course that when we want to elevate our arms, we will easily associate it with lifting. And in lifting we will put our mind up. We are doing, with our mind, even if we are not physically lifting (because we learned many years ago that it is a mistake) we are still lifting in our mind. The solution is actionless.

Berlin Jorma september 2019 Sara Wang

Tai no tenkan with Jorma 5 seconds after waking up in the morning, in Berlin September 2019. Photo by Sara Wang.

Very, very often we have a partner who indicates some kind of direction, if not in the body, they are pointing the way with their mind. Very often because they expect an action of some sort. Knowing which kata we are practising, they are holding harder, or softer in that direction, depending on the psyche of that partner. Remember that this is not who our partner is. Our partner is beyond the body and the mind. Both the body and the mind are the form, but it is not who the person is. If we have a direction, we could use it. It would be exactly like using timing to make a movement. It is like flowing with the current.

Still, if we have a very aware partner, who is also observing their mind and emotions, the grab will be neutral. I believe this is the best situation for this study, because we can’t use any momentum which is already there to make our movement effortlessly. We could start in any direction, and it will be just as hard, or just as easy.

Another stepping stone which I found useful in the past was to remind myself that it is always a circle. So for something to go up, something else needs to go down. The image of water flowing down on my back side helps me imagine a turning point inside and a elevation in my front, something flowing in under the partner and he/seems to rise by himself/herself. However, one should be careful with these images, because they are in the mind, and it is easy to get stuck in there if we don’t keep at least part of our awareness outside, and staying present in the body, noticing if the grab changes in nature during the path of the form (we are searching for grab conservation throughout the movement).

There is also the idea of starting out in the opposite direction of where you are going, but it is again a limitation by changing the original kata. Any movement needs to starts somewhere, and if we need help with the first movement, we are still stuck. In addition it needs to turn somewhere into the correct direction, and this turning requires another circular motion. So there is a lot of doing, and we are adding things which we have to subtract again at the next level.

Sandakällan April 2020

Sandakällan in Nacka April 2020.

All of these stepping stones are nice to use as portals into a new understanding, or level, but I believe that once we are there, we have to let go of them to look around and see what the situation is around us in the new environment. It is easy to get stuck with strong ideas which was helpful in the past. In the end all of them are actions, which we are seeking to eliminate. And all of them are from the mind, so they are trapping us inside. So all of what I have written here is a product of the mind. We should all beware of it’s pitfalls. The keiko will show us the way.

I believe that what we are looking for in aikido, described in a very simple way, is cooperation. We would like to learn to cooperate with our partner. Our partner might want to compete with us, but we should be able to cooperate with them nonetheless. The partner should receive the satisfaction they were seeking in the competition, but we will be doing the kata with their full cooperation. Both partners should experience joy, in my opinion.

Actually we are not doing the kata. The kata happens as a consequence of a returning movement which was always there, long before tori, uke, the dojo, or the world, existed.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

The Study of Actionless Activity, part II: The Mental Pollution of the Ego

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Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realise the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realise where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kind-hearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.

Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16
By Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Christian Nadezda Boltaca

Irimi nage at the seminar with Christian Tissier sensei at Awase Aikido Helsinki in March 2020. Photo by Nadezda Boltaca.

This is a continuation of my previous post regarding our study of action which is actionless. This time I will mainly focus on mental noise pollution in our mind, caused by our identification with thought forms. This pollution triggers us to act, not only actionlessly, but also unwisely.

Humans have the ability of abstract thinking. Most animals can’t do this. It is both a blessing and a curse haunting man kind. Maybe it is more of a curse than a blessing, as it is going to kill us all if we do not evolve as a species beyond the identification with our mind.

Of course, it is a great tool, to be able to think, and it can be used to solve problems, which makes our lives easier. After all, to get to the next evolutionary step, we first have to be at our current one. The mind is a tool. However, this tool is kind of scary, because when we don’t need it, it takes us over as a person, and it goes around masquerading as us making us do insane things. Ironically you could call it acting like a mindless robot, although it is a mind-full robot, and therein lies the problem. The person is asleep and the tool has taken over the controls.

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Keiko at Dachoyama Aikido in Straussberg in April 2018 during a seminar with Jorma. Photo by Dachoyama Aikido.

Some nights we experience insomnia. At least I do. We are perfectly comfortable in a nice bed, and we have perfect conditions for sleeping, and we are tired after a hard day; and yet we are wide awake, unable to sleep. To our knowledge no thinking is happening (most of the time). Did you ever experience this? Did you ever wonder why you can’t sleep?

I recently noticed during these periods of insomnia that the “palms of my feet” are twitching ever so slightly. All kinds of involuntary movement, tapping of fingers, nail biting, quivering of the leg (and other stuff we usually do when we are impatient or bored), are usually representing some kind of thought process happening below our level of awareness. It is a bodily manifestation of us wishing to be somewhere else, but are stuck right where we are.

So I looked at the movements visually, and even put my fingertips on the area where the movements appeared, searching for the thoughts which were hiding from my attention. After a while, I realised that I was worried, at unease and had some kind of anguish. My mind was, even though I was not in on it, going through some past mistakes and partly also planning my future. All of this, without my consent.

I had no choice but to accept the activity of my mind, and my body, and eventually the twitching of the muscles stopped. Not because I could stop it, but by directing my awareness to focus on it helped it dissolve all by itself. The silence and sense of serenity which came as a result was an extremely nice experience, even though I could not immediately fall asleep after this discovery. The whole body changed state and relaxed in a different way from before, melting more into the bed instead of lying stiffly there as I had before.

IMG_2006

The kitchen of Vanadis Aikido Club prior to the reconstruction in 2020. I have my breakfasts standing at this bar desk. Half my Craniosacral Biodynamics practice treatments were done on the table to the far left of the picture. This is the most important place in my life, second only to the tatami upstairs, of course.

I believe that the only cure to this kind of “static noise” in our mind is awareness and acceptance, because any hostile reaction to these emotions and thoughts will only disturb the peace more by adding more disarray and agitation inside. However, by treating the entity inside our mind with respect and care, by observing it, without adding any energy to it by participating, it will eventually run out of energy and dissipate naturally.

Our normal problem would be that we identify with these processes, and from the inside they are invisible, because we are moving along with their movement, and there is no points of reference. This is kind of how I define the Ego: The unawareness of our inner mental processes. Because we are identifying with them we are unable to detect their existence. It is kind of like when we are dreaming. We are not aware that we are dreaming. We are blindly following the drama created inside our mind, and we have no choice in the matter. We think, we feel, and we act merely as a puppet run by different mental programs.

The mental programs are different entities with an own will to survive implemented in “their programming”. These entities are often interacting with each other, arguing with each other, or speaking alone in a monologue, commenting on what happens around us, and inside of us. They need to be powered by our energy, or they will run out after their reserve is consumed. So they need us to participate by identification, and thereby they can feed on our energy, sustaining themselves.

The most famous of these entities is probably The Pain Body, quite extensively covered by Eckhart Tolle. An entity consisting of built up suffering from our past, feeding on negative energy, from us, or from people in our immediate vicinity. After the feeding is complete it goes back to it’s dormant stage, until the next time it gets hungry, or if it gets triggered.

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The sauna at Vanadis Aikido Club prior to the reconstruction in 2020.

Our mind traps us with identification. We take the point of view centered in the thinker. From this state it appears as we are the origin of the thoughts that appear. Our emotions and our mental positions are us. We identify with nationality, gender, age, profession, social group, political view, religion, skin colour, etc, which are all a variety of mental forms. The Ego creates a separation of Our Team, to have an opposition to The Others (the Enemies). Sometimes we are the only one on our team, sometimes it is a group.

Very often we are unaware and not present even when we are alone. So when we are interacting with somebody else, being aware very often becomes even more difficult, as there are more stuff to keep track of. Especially if the person with whom we are speaking is having a different opinion from us about the theme of our conversation.

If we have a discussion, and our conversation partner happen to disagree with what we are suggesting, we could easily fall into a position of defensiveness. The Ego is totally identified with the idea, “MY IDEA”, “ME”. Thus, if somebody is threatening the mental position, our idea, the Ego feels the threat of death. Naturally we are fighting for our lives to defeat the one who threatens our very existence, although our friend merely suggested a different idea to us? He or she presented a different point of view. Nothing serious, right?

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A reflection of the tatami of Vanadis Aikido Club in Janne’s blueberry. Prior to the reconstruction in 2020.

Throughout the history of our world these “small disagreements” has caused ruined friendships, breakups and divorces, physical violence and murder, wars, justification for horrible acts of unimaginable character. And it all starts with our identification with our mind. And our mind will think, regardless of what we wish, because it does what it does, just as our digestion system. There is food, it will be digested. It is not something we as a person does. It is the basic function of that organ. As Eckhart Tolle so elegantly puts it: “you don’t think: Thinking happens to you”.

With awareness and presence we can observe our mind, the thoughts, the emotions, the memories/projections of the past to the future. In a present or aware, state we can see the reflex-like reaction of the Ego, going into defensiveness. I believe we should never fight that reaction,  but we need to accept it, say “hello” to it like to an old friend who we now see from a different perspective. This time, however, we get to choose, instead of blindly follow the impulse like a robot on a program.

Were we to deny to ourselves that the reaction is there, because we insist that we have a higher level of awareness now, and we are beyond that kind of embarrassing reactions, the Ego would get the better of us again and are still controlling us on the next level.

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Vanadis Aikido Club prior to the reconstruction in 2020.

So, the reaction of the mind, the thoughts and the emotions, are there, but we can see them, because we are observing ourselves from a reference point outside. The mind movements are only visible to us when we have a reference point which are not moving itself. We are not proud of it (being able to observe it), nor are we ashamed of it (embarrassed by what we see), but we are just observing that this is the current situation, which is neither good, nor bad. It is just a result of our current experiment. The observer is never judging. If it is, we are still trapped inside our mind and we don’t know what is going on.

But do we really want to get out of the identification with the mind? Maybe we are happy with our dream? Sometimes the drama of the mind feels really good, right? Let’s say that we are angry about something. It is like being on a high. Our Pain Body is feeding on the negative energy from our thought processes. The rage is making us feel powerful, even invincible. Nothing can stop our fury!

Maybe we notice what has happened at this point, and we “wake up”. We disidentify from the battling entities in the mind. At this moment we might feel exactly how I can imagine a dog feels when the owner takes away their tasty bone. The jaws are twitching, slaver is running. It misses the feeling of sinking their teeth into that juicy and tasty bone! This is the emotion of the Ego at the moment when we become aware again, but we can still feel the Ego, at this moment. Both worlds are momentarily there in front of us.

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After a special keiko with some good friends, Anders, Jerry and Janne at Vanadis Aikido Club in February 2020. Photo by Aikidoinfo.se.

When we are upset our mind goes into a zone. The different entities in our mind are triggering each other in a cycle, feeding each other. We are trapped inside, being a prisoner of our own mind, and we are enjoying it. We do not want to be free! We want to continue to be upset and angry! Because it feels good!

Even self hate is enjoyable at some level. Very often we hear about people with big Ego as those with positive self thought. Usually those will meet a bit of resistance from the world, causing some problems. They are easily identified because they constantly crash with others of the same problem.

However, that is only one part of the Ego. The Ego is also the negative self thought. It is less obvious for people around us to detect, but it is the same disease. However, these people will meet their resistance inside, sabotaging everything they try to do, even before resistance will be met from the outside world. So why would anybody accept this situation? It is just stupid, right? But we want to know who we are. The Ego trips us into believing that it is incredibly important to know who we are. We wish to define ourselves. Even being a loser is better than not knowing who we are.

My left bicep is twitching when I re-live my most shameful and embarrassing moments of my life. I hate and despise myself beyond words, so there are no verbal thoughts, just emotions, and that violent twitch of my left bicep is a physical manifestation of those emotions. The twitches in that specific location is my reminder (my alarm clock) to wake up from my wide awake nightmare.

The hate is suddenly and abruptly taken away from me, and I get that feeling of that of a dog who’s bone has been taken away. This bone causes me suffering and unhappiness though. And I realise it a few moments later. But the first couple of seconds I feel lost. The bone I was chewing on is gone. Poison or not be damned, I loved that bone! It is an addiction.

trondheim

After the keiko with Maren, Rachel, Tor Magnus and Marius in Trondheim Aikido Club in January 2020. Photo by Tor Magnus Nortun.

For me it is a twitch in the left bicep, but I guess it is different in all of us. However, I do believe we all have some kind of bodily reaction to our mind’s activity. Sometimes we can use our body as a detector to reveal what we are unaware of in our mind. If we see it physically, it is only a matter of time before we see the cause of it.

So when I do wake up from one of those nightmares, I look around, and see the real world around me. I can hear the birds singing. I can feel the Sun and rain on my face. I can smell the flowers, or freshly cut grass. For the first time in a long while am aware of my senses again. Maybe I was eating, and I could neither taste the food nor what I were drinking, because I was trapped in my mind, identifying with the entities in there. In fact one might call them demons, and it would not be far from the truth.

Of course if we hear about this, or read about this, prior to having some kind of awareness of it from personal experience, we would think, or say, that there are no entities in our mind. “This is only you. I am not like that! You are crazy!” “My mind is my own!” “There is nobody else here, except me!” OK. Good for you!

However, how do we know? If we are not aware we do not notice, and the words we are saying (or thinking) are not anything but a defensive reaction, which are not even our own, you know? And, if we get upset about it, well then I guess we know the answer, otherwise we would not be upset, would we?

rome

Cimitero Acattolico di Roma in October 2019.

Let’s get back to the actual keiko. So in quite many words I have written that we often identify with mental positions, thought forms, and are unconsciously trapped in this identification, leading us to a un-free, reactive, state where we have no choices of our own. I believe that we can use the connection between our mental states, and the state of our physical body through connection with a partner, to “exorcise” ourselves, mutually, of our “inner demons” (these entities within our mind).

How about our kata/waza? These are also kind of mental thought forms which we could very easily fall into identification with. Do we identify with our technique? Just as with a statement we put into words, an opinion of ours, our technique, being a physical movement of the body, is often even more strongly connected to our sense of who we are than mere words, right? And just as with the mental position, the Ego will fight for it’s survival out of fear for death if any resistance should happen at any point.

In this state, during keiko, if we are tori, it is totally unacceptable for us if the partner does not go down when we are trying to throw them. The same happens if we are uke when it appears a problem with our ukemi. Especially if our partner points it out to us! The Ego goes to war! We would fight for our very survival, in fear of death. “Shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry” as James Hetfield says in For Whom The Bell Tolls.

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Post keiko tai no tenkan at Vanadis Aikido Club with Jerry in February 2018. Photo by Enzo Ivan Molina.

On the other hand, if we are not identified with our waza, we are free, and we can see the situation and any inner perturbation of the mind. This way we can make our own choices, without being triggered by reactions we do not control. This is the only way I see how we can have any freedom of choice.

Our waza are usually shaped by our history. We are projecting our experience of what has been, on to what will be, in an attempt to use the past to create the future. The Ego can only see the past and the future. It fears the present moment, because it is totally powerless here. However, the present moment is all there is in reality. All past events happened when they were in the present moment, and all future events will happen when that will be the present moment. In one way we could say that time is a mentally constructed concept.

Of course we should not dismiss past experience of similar situations, such as if we are practicing a kata. However, if we identify with the idea from the past we will be trapped. It could be our own idea, collected from past experience; or it could be an idea we received from one of our teachers, which we have adapted as our own. If we identify with our idea, physical or mental, the Ego will defend it as if it were a life and death situation. We will be having all kinds of disturbance in our mind.

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Escalator tai no tenkan with Radoslav at Slussen metro station in Stockholm in February 2020. Photo by Jacqueline von Arb.

Sometimes when I practice with my seniors who has like forty years of experience more than me, any mental image, technical tricks, or economically constructed physical movements, are totally useless. They have been there, done that, and are (far) beyond it. Even if they are my dear friends, and they would do everything within their power to help me, it is too physical for them, at this point, and their system will reject it. It feels like a slight violation for them. As long as I am free I will use this situation to observe what happens and find a present situation solution to the problem, rather than stiffly defend on my more primitive ideas, which of course worked perfectly in the past with partners of more or less equal, or less experience, than myself.

It is a different kind of learning. It is rather a continuous relinquishing of stuff, rather than an adding of stuff, which is the kind we are used to from school. The time from having an idea to putting it into action have to be zero. We are going into the situation without prior judgement, and with open eyes. I heard Jiddu Krishnamurti speak of this kind of learning in a public talk from Madras in India in 1978 (a video on youtube). It described pretty much this thing, but maybe he was speaking of something entirely different. What do I know?

Non defensiveness is not an easy subject. Eckhart Tolle often tells a story of a zen master who were accused by a family of being the father of the unborn child of a girl of sixteen. She said so when she was interrogated by her family to find out who was the father. The Master only replied: “Is that so?” When the child was born the family brought the baby to him, demanding that he take care of the child. He replied: “Is that so?” He took lovingly care of the child for a year. Nobody came to see him anyway, because his reputation was totally ruined. Nobody was not a problem for him, and he took care of the child. After a year the girl admitted that it was the butcher’s son, next door, who were the father of the child. The family ran to the zen master demanding that he hand over the child, because they wanted it back. The Master replied, as you might have guessed: “Is that so?” And he handed the child back to them.

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“May Peace Prevail On Earth” artwork by Motomichi Anno sensei. A gift to Vanadis Aikido Club from Linda Holiday sensei.

I really like that story. It is an extreme example of an individual who is totally free from the inner drama we create for ourselves, causing misery for both ourselves, the one’s around us.

Aikido is The Art of Peace, according to the founder, Morihei Ueshiba. I believe this might be a piece of the puzzle, helping us achieve peace, both inside ourselves, in our relation to our partners on the tatami, in our family and work place, and in the world. It is a continuous study, because we might be present and aware at one moment, and fall back into a lower level of awareness the next. However, the process is non reversible. We wake up, and then we fail, but we will wake up again and be able see what happened. The next time we will be a little bit better prepared.

Nobody can tell us how to do this stuff. We all have to find it for ourselves. The practice invites us out of our “mind dream” and confronts us the present moment, and we have to deal with it. If it turns into a non-action kind of manner or something else remains secret until we try for ourselves, however, with the mental static noise gone, we are a little bit closer to non-action at least.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

The study of actionless activity, part I

Being substanceless it can enter
even where there is no space;
That is how I know the value
of action that is action-less.

From Tao Te Ching, Chapter 43
By Lao Tzu, translation by Arthur Waley

Have you ever experienced being stuck? We can be stuck both as tori and as uke. Very often there is a lot of emphasis on the situations where tori is stuck, and not so much of the reflection of that situation in uke. Very often we are not really stuck, in the literary definition of stuck. Because we can change directions and do something else, going around our problem; or we can structure our body to solve the situation by mechanical leverage; or some of us can even muscle our way out of most situations.

Tai no tenkan with Marius at the Halsafjord ferry in December 2019.

These solutions are of course also useful. By changing forms we learn to be flexible and adaptable to be able to immediately change the form of what we are doing to find the path of least resistance; by using leverage we structure our body in a good way, building our posture as well as understanding the technical parts of the kata; or even if we are using physical force we have a physical work out with our partner.

Still, I find it very interesting to study the moment where we are “stuck”. This moment contains a truth which can be a stepping stone to the next level. And like I mentioned at the beginning, when we are stuck, both parts are stuck. There is never a situation where only one is stuck, although it is presented in that way very often. The reson for this is probably historical, with the art coming from a perspective of fighting, where it is the one’s sole responsibility to solve any situation which is encountered, and the other is just an obstacle in the way, not really included in the practice in the way we do today.

Very often the solution is more a mental one rather than a physical one. Even though for the first thousands of times it is also physical things which are changing. As we progress the physical form does not change much any more (of course we can decide to practise something else, but if we try to do the same form but naturally at a higher level), but we have arrived at the core, which is our mental state.

Tai no tenkan with Christian Tissier sensei in Helsinki in March 2020. Photo By Nadezda Boltaca.

I used to study physics in my youth. It was a rather big part of two decades of my life, dominating how I were thinking, and it still does. Knowledge, is what it is, you know. It creates possibilities to see certain things, but it blocks us from seeing other stuff. Even before I started practising aikido, I heard Bruce Lee saying that we should be like water, in his famous quote. He was very expressive in the video, and it made a strong impression on me. Flowing everywhere, into every crack and taking any form. There is always an opening big enough for water to enter, and it will flow into the space there, and fit into any shape. Many, many of my teachers in aikido has used the image of water. It is a good image and I like it.

However, water has substance. One liter of water requires one cubic decimeter of space. You can’t get around it. Even by immense pressure you can hardly compress water, at all. Ok, then we can of course evade the problem by thinking of a gas instead, which can be compressed, but water or gas is not the problem. The problem is the problem.

Very often I find when I am stuck, both as uke and as tori, that there are maybe some openings, but there is no space inside those openings, and what I am trying to push in there has “substance” so it does not fit in the space inside. What is this “substance”? Why do I experience being stuck? Even if I try to adapt the quality of flowing water? Maybe water can flow around the rock without any problem, but it can’t flow through the rock, and sometimes, in aiki, and in healing works, we need to be able to flow through the barrier to let stuff happen.

Tai no tenkan with Daniela and Jaroslav, at their wedding in Orava in November 2019.

I believe that the “substance” is Ego.  The Ego always wants to DO something (because if nothing is done, and it appears as it happens by itself, there will be nothing for the Ego to take credit for). Our presence containing desire has substance and will be contained within the limits, while presence free from desire can reach beyond. At least in my experience, the times when the “magic” happens, is when it seems like nothing is being done (neither by me nor by my partner). Action that is action-less. What is that? It is a contradiction of itself, you know?

Lets look at three different exercises we do. Shomen uchi suburi, aiki age and tai no tenkan.

  • If we make shomen uchi suburi with a bokken, of different weights, we will of course do something. We lift the bokken above our head and let it drop in a cutting motion, stopping it at the horizontal level. There is no partner. Only wood, gravity and all our internal struggles. How we make the suburi changes as we continue to practise, over the years. We subtract, and subtract from what we are doing. Different axises start to develop, and parts which were earlier moving around are now stationary. The way we hold the bokken is different from the firs time we picked it up. It is almost part of us, whereas in the beginning it was a foreign object. The repetitions polish our movement and our mental state, making it more and more clean from pollution. We are doing less and less. Still we are doing the suburi.
  • The same goes for aiki age. We find a partner and he or she is grabbing our arm or we grab his or hers, and we raise our arms. We have the same challenges as in the suburi, but now we have two bodies, two Egos, a lot of possibility for creating a big mess. I believe we should attempt to use the state we received from the suburi to find the idea of doing less and less also with the partner. However, the Ego will naturally receive a lot more attention now, as we have a partner, with his/her own Ego. Whatever we do together, both have to accept, or it will not happen. Because we are restricting ourselves from going outside the form completely, or partly by using leverage, and by deciding to not just lift harder when we reach one of the difficult spots. So every time there is an interference from the Ego we will see it, and we have a chance to change our state. Also here, we are subtracting and subtracting from what we are doing, but we are still raising the arms, so it is not non-action.
  • Let’s also take a look at my very favourite kata in aikido: katate dori tai no tenkan. This is a much more complex movement than the previous two. It really gives us a possibility to construct an artificial conflict for us to study. Both partners should have good positions throughout the form, with perfect integrity of the body and no exposed parts from start to finish. This is a perfect situation for studying how to use this actionless activity, because really, if we both have the perfect form, there is no space to enter. And if we, technically, try to create a space to enter, we kind of have to make an agreement with our partner, that we should let it happen so that we can make the movement, so the partner have to accept the opening of the space, which she/he normally would not. However, if we agree to not accept, what then? And it was even the same with the aiki age, but with tai no tenkan it is just more apparent.

After keiko mutual kill, with Marius and Rachel in Trondheim in January 2020.

And with all exercises we keep doing the actual exercise, but we are studying non-action. All the practice can be used to study this, but we are doing something. However, what all of the exercises are pointing towards is some kind very high quality state which I do not really understand.

Presence is without substance, and love (and do not mistake it for biological drive), and aiki. Maybe these three are the same thing in the end? All of these can flow anywhere unhindered no matter what stands in the way. Our will to do something has “substance” and will be stopped, if there is no space for whatever we want to do.

What is action? To understand non action or actionless activity we should maybe consider what an action is? Usually, in one way or another an action is making something greater, at the cost of something else. Actionless activity should then refrain from this, thus maintaining the balance of the system. Everything happens naturally, without any force.

Post keiko pile at Vanadis Aikidoklubb with Radoslav and Klaus. Photo by Alvaro Campo.

I believe that all our exercises can work as road signs towards something like this. They are not actionless activity themselves, but they lead the way towards a state of high quality.

Even cleaning the dojo points towards this. Nothing is as meditative and healing as removing physical stuff from our place of practice. As we remove the dust from the tatami, our mind settles down and clears up. It is by action that we learn non-action, by removing a little bit, every day.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Ukemi

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Once you have disidentified from your mind,
whether you are right or wrong makes no difference
to your sense of self at all,
so the forcefully compulsive
and deeply unconscious need to be right,
which is a form of violence,
will no longer be there.

Eckhard Tolle – The Power Of Now

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Rolle’s 74th birthday, November 2019. Daito Ryu Aiki Jiu Jitsu Roppokai in Björkhagen. Photo by Jan Lien.

In aikido we have two parts we “play” together, kind of like a performance. Very similar to two actors performing a play at the theatre, or in front of the cameras, doing their best to make it the perfect scene; or two musicians playing two different instruments together stretching their skills to make it perfect. In both situations they are striving together to reach perfection technically, and to transmit emotions, both between each other, and to the people who are listening to their music, or watching the scene in the movie or at the theatre.

In aikido we might most of the time be less concerned about the transmission of emotional content to the spectators, but otherwise our performance of the parts are very similar. The technical stuff we are focusing on is of course different in the three situations, but the main idea remains, we work together with the partner to further our skills and try to reach higher and higher level together.

The special part about aikido is that after four repetitions, we change the roles with each other, performing the opposite part than the one we did before, and we continue changing roles every four times. In addition we change partners every seven or eight minutes or so, performing the same “piece” with as many people as possible.

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Keiko with Rachel and Tor Magnus at Trondheim Aikidoklubb in August 2019.

This is one of the most difficult concepts to explain to people who never did aikido before, because for most people the word “martial arts” or “budo” is equivalent with self defence, fighting, or competition, or all three at once. And it is just takes a look at a comment section at a YouTube video on the subject to know that the misconception that the practitioners are fighting each other is a very, very common one. “It does not work on the streets”, “it is fake”, “the attacker is not making resistance so it is worthless”. There are countless statements of this nature.

Well, you don’t see so often that people complain about the musicians lack of effort in trying to sabotage the music for each other when they perform a song together (so it is fake music, right?), or two actors not trying hard enough to make the other look bad. It is a rather unusual comment about music and about actors in a movie, but about the exact same situation, with aikido, these are quite common comments when somebody unfamiliar with aikido is watching.

The human mind is always trying to label and categorise everything we perceive, diminishing and simplifying it down to a simple combination of vowels and consonants (a word), and throwing away everything else about what we perceive. It is perfectly natural that people who never did aikido will compare it to other things which look similar for them, putting aikido in the same category.

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Tai no tenkan at home, in the kitchen, with Anders in January 2018.

Even, some people doing aikido, and have been practicing for some time, are still stuck in this way of thinking, just because they have been trapped by a word. A combination of vowels and consonants are defining their opinion about what aikido is. I strongly believe the biggest problem for aikido in the world today is due to this misconception of what aikido is. Because we are labeled in a category that does not describe what we are doing, at all, we are competing for our members in our clubs, with the arts who are really doing the stuff which is the mental conception of the man, woman and child in the street of what aikido is. Which, in my opinion, it is not.

Anyway, it was a slightly different subject I was planning to write about today. It is a ting which is easier seen when it happens to somebody else than when it happens to ourselves.

When we identify with our mental position we are in a way walking in a dangerous territory, because we will have the fear of death associated with being wrong. I find that by taking ukemi we are performing an exercise in letting go of our mental position. In my opinion, the word “attack” is very misleading in modern aikido, as it is leading our mind into labelling the situation as fighting. However, in the lack of a more suitable word we are using it.

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Keiko with Silje at Trodheim Aikidoklubb in January 2019.

So when we are attacking, our intention is to initiate the interaction with our partner, which is the beginning of the kata which we are practising together. If we are at all associating the ukemi with loosing, or defeat, or death, we will maybe even without knowing it, fall back into competition with our partner.

In an argument we can state clearly what our opinion is, and present how we perceive the situation, and our logical reasoning for our opinion. The usual problem is that we are so identified with our mind, emotions and mental position that we are trapped into a set of conditioned mental reflexes, and start fighting for our life. For the Ego (the mind made fake identity), the loss of the argument is equivalent with death, and we are suddenly in a conflict, with our friend. If the conflict is on a small scale, there might be hurt feelings, or even physical violence amongst the parts; on a larger scale there could be a war, and millions could die.

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Keiko at Stockholm Aikikai in February 2019. Photo by Jacqueline von Arb.

I think ukemi is a great exercise to practice letting go of the attachment to our mental position, and find a sense of self which is rooted deeper inside of us. Something more solid, which is not a mentally constructed fake self, but our real identity. We grab, or strike, or whatever the kata requires from our part, and try to make the best possible performance of that part, to make the whole perfect for just that situation, with that partner, at that time.

If we get stuck in our idea that we should try to “win” in the situation as uke, we have fallen into the trap of identification with a mental position. It can happen very easily in our life outside the dojo, it is more difficult there, but it can even happen during our keiko. In that case we are not really making any choices any more, but merely acting out primitive mental reactions.

Once we realise this we are “waking up”, into a new level of consciousness. However, we are usually to far submerged in the situation as it happens to see anything. If we have a high level of awareness we realise it after, if we analyse the situation. If we are totally unaware of our mental reactions we might never realise this.

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Post keiko moment after practice with Dominika and Rado at Aikido Kobukan Bratislava in December 2019. Photo by Radoslav Tmak.

I believe that our keiko should be an exercise in being able to get to a higher level of consciousness also outside the tatami. The challenges will be harder there, much harder, because there are not only two roles, and we are doing much more diverse things in our interactions with other people than the few katas we are practicing in the keiko, but the idea is the same.

And it really does not mean that we will have less of a chance to present our mental position in a way that makes sense to the other. Quite the contrary in fact. Once we have become free of the identification with our mental position, and are free of the triggered reactions and reflexes dictating to us how to act. We can see the mental position of the other, and find a way to explain our way of thinking in a way that makes sense to them. You know, instead of labelling them “the enemy”, and trying to get rid of them in any way we can. Kill them if we are able to, and can get away with it.

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Keiko with Rachel at Vanadis Aikidoklubb in June 2019.

Why are all of these things so hard? Why do we keep identifying with our thoughts, emotions and mental positions, even after we know that it makes us act like fools when we do?

The Ego need us to identify with something (anything) to have any power over us, and the entity which we call the Ego have a strong will to protect itself to survive. The power of the Ego is depending on our lack of awareness and presence. Once we are aware, we can see clearly what is going on inside of ourselves, and in the situation outside. However, we will continuously fall back into what Eckhard Tolle calls “unconsciousness”, where we are mindlessly (ironic expression as we are actually totally identified with our mind in this state) following the conditioned reflexes of our mind.

Sometimes we practise with people who have injuries; sometimes we practise with people with a rather far advanced age; sometimes we practise with pregnant women. In many cases we might have a partner who can’t take ukemi physically, and there are times we are the one who can’t perform the fall. After some years of practice I think we all will experience this, at some point in our lives. However, I don’t think this matters at all.

There is a huge difference between somebody who can’t go down, for whatever real reason, and somebody who is trapped in a mentally constructed prison of ideas. In one case we can just modify the physical form of the practice, in the other it turns into a conflict no matter how we adjust the outer form. In both cases it is impossible to change from the position of the tori. However, it can act as an inspiration to not fall into the same trap ourselves. We will not as easily see it when it happens to us, so it is great to be able to observe it happening in our partners, to gather information and check for warning signs of any defensiveness and aggression connected to our position.

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Tai no tenkan with Mark in Berlin in April 2019. Photo by Daniel Jonasson.

Of course this goes for the role of tori as well. Very often the defensiveness of one is triggered by the aggressivity of the other, and this could happen in any role of the interaction. I just focused on the uke part just now, because it brings out the idea more clearly. However, it can be applied to both roles in the keiko.

To stay present, and be aware of the activity of our mind is actually a prerequisite for enjoying the keiko, I think. If we don’t, it can actually lead to some serious conflicts, which causes fear, anger, resentment and hostility, but in that case, in my opinion, it is no longer aikido, but merely something much less developed and refined, more primitive in nature: fighting.

Enjoy your time on the tatami! Aikido makes people happy!

What is Egoistic/Selfish Aikido?

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egoistic – being centered in or preoccupied with oneself
and the gratification of one’s own desires; self-centered
(opposed to altruistic)

selfish – devoted to or caring only for oneself;
concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc.,
regardless of others

Dictionary.com

The very first time I met Endo sensei, in Rödabergsskolan in Stockholm, in February 2006, he started the seminar by asking us: “Why are we sitting in seiza?” “What are we trying to achieve by sitting?” “Are we doing it just because our teacher asked it of us?” I still remember clearly my mind opening up at those words.

I had to admit that I predominantly had blindly done almost everything up to that point, in my aikido- and also other martial arts studies, following instructions, without having too much of an opinion about it myself. Sure, I had no objections for any of the things we did. However, I had no real opinions of my own at that time. That day was the beginning of a transformation of my way of considering aikido, and everything else.

Chtulu by RupertBBAre

Cthulhu from H.P. Lovecraft, artwork by RupertBBAre

Last year Endo sensei was returning to the subject of egoistic or selfish aikido during his Scandinavian seminars. I immediately caught renewed interest in this. Because for me aikido is a thing which is completely an altruistic realm, which is an antonym to egoism. It intrigues my interest to transform a concept from the “egoistic world” we live in, into a system where egoism does not fit in, at all, in the form we know it. What form will it take after the transformation, and is it a positive thing now that is is transformed to the aiki system? You know, like in mathematics, when you transform something to a different reference system the properties might change, sometimes to the opposite.

We are all here for some reason. We want something. Maybe we are trying to escape from something? Maybe we are searching for something, and aikido is where we are searching right now, and our search will continue in other fields at some point? What is our driving force to keep returning to the tatami?

I believe we need some egoistic propulsion from inside ourselves, to remain on the aiki journey, and spend an hour or so every day studying these things. We can push ourselves to do some things for up to five years or so (most likely not even that long), but after that we need an inner passion, some inner urge, a need for it. We could be looking for healing, a way out of some type of inner suffering, searching for joy or happiness, or something else. My point here is that we want something which we find in aikido.

Great Old One by Rickard Luong

Great Old One from H.P. Lovecraft, artwork by Rickard Luong

In the aiki system, it is either good for both (or all) or it is bad for both (or all). There is never such a thing as a trick to gain the upper hand. In many fighting techniques we are searching for ways to gain dominant positions and leverage over an enemy or adversary. In my opinion, aikido is an evolution beyond the thought of defeating enemies (hence the use of the word self defence, very often used in attempts to try to sell aikido, is extremely misleading).

Our enemy is the conflict itself, and not the partner. I am sure that many would disagree with this description, but this is my opinion, and in fact we need to agree on this, or the rest of this discussion is quite futile, because the whole idea is to bring egoism as a concept into a system where egoism as we know it from the world outside can’t possibly exist (if we consider aikido to be merely a system to defeat other people, it is egoism in the form we already know it and this post is utterly without meaning).

However, even if egoism or selfishness does not exist in it’s ordinary form, I still believe we can have something we could call egoism and selfishness in aikido.

At the beginning of the practice we take our space preparing for our meditation and bow. We will sit down with a distance to our partners enabling us to make our bow with a straight posture and a good feeling in our body and our mind. This is how we begin and end the class, so it is quite essential to get the best possible feelings from it. If it is too crowded we have no way of extending ourselves, and we will have to crouch together between our neighbours.

By taking the correct distance we are both taking care of ourselves and our friends around us. We are watching out for both ourselves and our training partners. The most basic exercise of distance evaluation skills is the lining up. We have all the time in the world to sit down exactly at the correct position, and should the situation change (like if somebody squeezes in between our neighbour and ourselves), we have the possibility to reposition ourselves to regain our space needed for our next movement, preserving our good posture and feeling even for those around us who don’t understand yet.

In our practice we do the same. As an example we could analyse katate dori tai no tenkan. By moving in correct distance from our connection point we will have space to keep our posture, centring and extension. Inevitably from the system, at the same time by behaving in this egoistic way, we are looking out for our partner, making sure that they have their posture and extension. Tori has the contact perfectly centered in front of themselves, and so does uke. Everything we do, which is a benefit for ourselves, is by definition also a benefit for our partner, because we are in the aiki -system or aiki -logic.

Grim World Eaters by Thanmarkou

The Grim World Eaters artwork by Thanmorkou

Yes in the historical froms, which comes from jiu jitsu, we try to gain a stronger position than our partner, getting a better posture ourselves, while trying to break the posture of the partner. This is a different system. The forms we are practising comes from here, but in my opinion, this is the Stone Age logic. The partner will of course never accept the things we do, because what we do is negative for them and positive for us, so the situation develops into a competition of technique, counter technique, counter to the counter technique, and the counter of the counter of the counter, and so on. We both try to trick each other to catch each other in a weak moment.

The strongest fighter with best technique will dominate the other. The winner wins and the loser loses. Very egoistic, but in my opinion, egoism is not so interesting here, because it works just as it works in the world outside. We destroy the world we live in, and kill each other, and spread suffering and misery around us, just because we ALWAYS wants more than what we already have!

In the other system however, the more we achieve, the more our partners achieve. So is egoism in aikido a positive thing, or a negative thing? It is really ironic, as a concept, that acting completely out of self interest, we are also taking care of the others around us.

Cthulhu by Andrée Wallin

Cthulhu by Andrée Wallin

The first couple of years when I was an instructor back in Trondheim, I was always very concerned about teaching (EXTREMELY concerned), and about what to transmit to the practitioners showing up for the classes. I still enjoyed the practice, but it really killed me when people I had worked so hard for quit. Many people do move on to different things over time. So it became quite frustrating having the feeling that my efforts were running out in the sand continuously.

So naturally my focus shifted to a more egoistic system of thinking. Suddenly I was not the teacher any more, but the beginners were my teachers, and there were a bunch of new ones every year, each of them teaching me different things (not by actual teaching, of course, but by their keiko). I never felt that I had to strain myself to teach anything from that moment on. All I had to do was to pick up as much movement wisdom and experience from the beginners as I could during the period they were there. And I believe that they received much more in return than what they did when I tried to teach. All that was needed was to be, not to do. It was a lot more enjoyable for all parts.

I believe this is also the best way to practise. Our partners will present a situation for us. We have to accept the situation, no matter what it is, and find a solution, both as uke and as tori, to make the keiko continue. I believe that our only concern should be our own keiko. If we have a good keiko, so will our partners. There is no other way. It is a little bit like hugs. If you give one, you also receive one, and there is no way to get one without not at the same time giving one. So I believe that trying to help the partner, or doing the keiko for the partner’s benefit, is a great disservice for both parts. This is what is so awesome about aikido, you know? If it is great for one it is also great for the other as well, regardless of experience level, age, sex or cultural background.

So if we leave the world outside, completely, I believe that Egoistic Aikido can be at least partly positive. However, we need to be extremely watchful, because the cruel world we live in is there, also inside the dojo, inside our minds, and egoistic thoughts might sneak up on us when we least expect it.

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Yin and Yang inside Yin and Yang, inside Yin and Yang…

It is a little bit ironic that this blog, which is named “Thoughts from the keiko”, is less and less about thoughts. Yes, it is thoughts written down. But the thoughts are not the essence I value any more. I believe thoughts are what stands in our way, what fogs our mind and blinds us from the progress. The keiko lifts us out of the fog of thoughts. From up, above the clouds the view is clear and beautiful. The clouds and fog are still there, but we are not submerged in them any more.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

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!