We all have our ideas and our opinions. The ideas and opinions are connected with emotions, about “our” philosophy, and the “other” way of thinking. There is an illusion that there is an eternal fight, between Good and Evil, and all of us wants to be on the side of the good. We will fight the evil. We will kill the Enemy!
The whole idea of self defence is internalised in this system. The idea of always having a bigger “gun” than “the other”. It is the same with individuals and the collective: religion, political views, nationality and so on. These brands we put on ourselves is of course imaginary. But until we see that, they are more real for us than anything.
The system in the world is based on the idea of fighting the evil. We can see it in social media as well, reflecting exactly the reactions of the politics of the world, as well as how we speak. If somebody we brand as one particular category does something “bad” we immediately side ourselves with the other category, judging everybody we put that brand on, polarising the world into “friends” and “enemies”, not realising that it was this very effect which caused the crime in the first place.
We might even think that it would be an evil act to not react to evil? Yes, I see the logic in that, but what action would be constructive, in this situation? Hate caused a problem, and we solve it by adding our hate, including a lot of individuals who was not part of the crime?
Even in the situation where this individual did something “evil”. How do we deal with the situation? This individual incident is reflecting the state of the world as a whole. “No! It is not! This one is EVIL!” Well, sometimes totally “normal people” act in ways which most of us would consider insane, and they are too many to be considered an anomaly. I will not get into the details now, but check out the collections of photos from my previous post. Inattention to our mind can lead us astray in disastrous ways, and it is really just a play of dice which way it will turn.
So how do we deal with the problem? I have no solutions on the outer level for the immediate problem. Neither is it my field of interest (actually I don’t think it can be solved on that level, but you are welcome to try). The solutions I see are inside of ourselves.
It is not really a philosophy. It is not an idea. It is not something to be argued about back and forth, and to become another subject for separation and conflicts. Either we are interested in awareness, or we are not. There is no right way to do it, or a wrong way to do it. It is simply attention. We can use a lot of different words for it. We can get into fighting about which words are right, getting lost before we have started. There are no ideas. Nothing to defend or fight against. Either we can see our thoughts and emotions, or we will be fighting what we consider is “evil”, while what we consider “evil” is fighting us, because it considers us “evil”. Nobody wants to be the “bad guy”.
The cool part is that attention spreads. It affects everybody we meet, just as inattention does. So one “mindful” person will make a shift in the world for the better in a positive way. There will still be people without attention, but they will be fewer, and they might even have a little more attention than if they only met people reacting to their acts of inattention.
It is some kind of philosophy obliteration. It is the end of treasuring ideas. It is the end of War. The ideas will still be there, but nobody will be fighting over which one is better.
But what I am writing now is also an idea you might say? This is not an idea for more discussion about which idea is correct. My words will naturally be selected like this (because of my history, practice and experience), but they are not important. The word “mindfulness” is not a word I appreciate, because it is kind of counter intuitive, but I will not waste time protesting against it, as it is a known concept, and more people would understand the situation than if I use the word awareness, attention or presence, maybe? The same goes for all the words I use. The words are not important. The idea is not important. The attention (or whatever word we choose for it) is important.
However, then comes the next trap which triggers discussion: Does this have anything to do with aikido?
Maybe it does, maybe it does not? I found this through aikido. It is one of the gates into this realm, and maybe it is one that is more accessible to great amounts of people than other things. It brings so much joy in the initial stages, when we might have no attention, and we get there without an effort?
Why this is important is self explanatory. War, violence, rape, abuse, addiction, etc. is consequences of inattention. To survive as a species beyond the two next generations we need to change. That is my opinion. That can be discussed. But it is not important. However, that is why I do it. Naturally you have the right to have your own reason for doing aikido, just as I have my reason for it.
What is aikido? I guess it is different for everybody. We all see something different in it, and we have different reasons for doing it. For a long time I had no idea why I needed to do it every day. And there was no problem. I knew what was right, but it took a long time to be able to have words for it.
Aikido is a gate towards a world in peace. We may use it, if we are willing, and if we are ready for it. And the best part is that even if we are not, the gate will still be there.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do
Luke 23: 34 – Douay Rheims Translation
The past few years I have had a project, in my study, based on the second half of Chapter 67 of Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. There are a lot of various translations to English. And in my point of view they are all valuable as a source, but neither variation of choice of words are the ultimate one (and the same could be said about the quote above). Of course, from the technical point of view, a translation should keep the original text intact, conserving the message of the author intact. However, for me, who can’t read the original Lao Tzu text, the focal point is merely if it inspires, or not, at my current situation on my aiki road.
This chapter mentions three treasures, and I believe these three are kind of fundamental to have present at all times in aikido. I previously wrote a post about the seven virtues of the samurai. I guess this is pretty much the same idea, but in a more condensed form.
At the highest level, I guess, is to realize that no idea (any formulation of words or thoughts) can capture this universal principle, without in itself violating the principle by making an idea of it, and giving it a name.
I will change the order of the treasures, saving the first one to last.
The Second Treasure: Economy
Alternate words for it could be (but is not limited to) “Frugality”, “Simplicity” or “Moderation”.
I guess, when we start our study of the basic forms in aikido, this is usually the first one to appear to us as a valuable principle, or treasure, to cultivate. It is true that some variants of basic forms, in order to teach management of distance, integrity and posture, we are doing things in a non economical way. However, that is only a step on the way to keeping what we learned, and transforming our kata into a movement which is economical.
As we proceed in our study we are removing more and more of the more rigid form we learned at first. Maybe the teachers did not tell us to do it in an uneconomic way at first, but that was the only way for our mind to grasp the content, so it simplified the principle down to an idea, to have somewhere to start. And it also is a common pedagogical trick, to first present a more uneconomical, simple, form, at first, and then as we continue to study it, we remove more and more, making it more and more economical.
Economy contains a lot of other principles. If either one of them is lacking it would waste energy. The paradox is that those values I mentioned above, often being taught by making rigid, uneconomical movements, are all necessary to make an economical movement.
I did not practice jiu jitsu a lot, so I will not make too strong statements about what they are doing, but seems to me a big part of the study. To make it stronger, it seems natural that it needs to be more economical. Spending less, to get a higher effect.
The study of this treasure continues also outside the tatami. In my opinion, the stuff we do should benefit the world we live in. How do we interact with ourselves? That question becomes the core of the more advanced objective: How do we interact with others around us?
From the beginning, our identity are our thoughts, our emotions, our “labels”: nationalty, political, gender, religion, occupation, viewpoint on a matters that seems important to us, the list goes on and on. By experiencing interaction with people with the same identification pattern (mind oriented identification) we will find that the only ones we can peacefully, or rather economically, interact with, are the ones with the same identification as ourselves.
In many cases, if we are not into studying economy as a treasure, we simply select to interact only with those individuals who are equal to ourselves, to avoid unpleasant confrontations, and ruckus, in our lives. We simply escape, or run away from every interaction with people who’s identification differs from our own. Is it economical? Well, as long as we never meet these people, at all, yes, but there is no development. And we will meet these people, eventually, and if we did not start our study before, we will be forced into it at that point.
I was myself mainly interacting with people with similar labels until fairly recently, and I was unaware about this. However, life brought me into a position where I was forced to deal with everybody, and I was unable to run away, or hide from certain people. It taught me a lot about myself. The thing is, I probably learned aikido more from life than the study on the tatami during the last decade, but without the foundation from the dojo, I would not be prepared for this.
In aikido we are practising with everybody, and it is relatively simple. We are all there to study. We all came to the dojo; We are all wearing the same uniform; We are all following the same etiquette. So we are already a quite uniform group studying together. Even here conflicts do appear sometimes. However, outside the dojo, not every body we meet will follow “our rules”. They follow “their rules”, and we might not think that their rules are fair, just as they might not agree that our rules are fair. And we are not allowed to touch!
All interactions in life usually have a more or less formal purpose. At least in professional life this is true. There are some specific task we should do together with “our partner”, or ” our partners”.
The economical way is to simply solve our task, together with our buddy. However, very often we will find that there is a lot of resistance in the one we are trying to work together with. And she/he will find that there is a lot of resistance in us. So in the end it does not really focus on the solving of the problem. There will be a lot of distortion caused by our “stiffness” in the mental movements. So instead of being focused on the task which we were set out to do, we are fighting against each other, trying to win over the other. So prevailing becomes the priority, and the “kata” which we started out with, is forgotten.
This is a thing which is only learned by failing, multiple times. And we could always blame the other. However, if we are interested in economy, we should maybe study the inside of ourselves? Trying to find out what is in our way. It will appear, at first, that the partner is the obstacle, because the real obstacle, inside of us, is naturally pointing to something outside (which we cannot change).
These things are difficult to learn while it happens, but after a conflict, we can go through the parts and find out what happened. With repetition, with many different people, and by constantly looking for a way to move mentally in a more economical way.
And yes, there is a huge obstacle for those of us who are already so powerful so that whenever somebody stands in our way we will merely brush them aside without a problem. There is never any challenge. The door to a more economical way of interaction with ourselves is open, but as there is no apparent need, we will never look what is on the other side of that door. We will always win so we will never develop.
In aikido this is much more apparent than in real life. Most people who just merely use their muscles to wrestle their partners to the ground move on to different activities, or start to study, within a very short time. In real life this is not so apparent. Many people will never face big enough challenges in their life, to be interested in this economy, until a disaster happens later in life, and then the opponent might be cancer, and all their strength and power counts for nothing, because this adversary can’t be bought, or scared away with all the prowess of the world.
It could be as simple as a red light in traffic when we are in a hurry. The red light is random, so there is no malice to us as a person. However, it is easy to get triggered to a lot of useless mind activity just by this. Very, very uneconomical, right? And with a person, a partner, it is even more easy to perceive the problem as something outside of ourselves. And as long as we run away from our problem inside, we will always be running away.
Returning to the actual keiko. Our first study might be to try to be straight, in the correct distance and we make sure that the structure of our body parts are aligned in a strong position. We are static in that position, and it is a good position. We study it, we are perceptive, and aware. Then we move to the next position in the kata, and study that position. Those perfect positions, where we would want somebody to take a photo, is all that our mind can see, at that point.
However, the photographer might take the picture in between those “pose moments”, right? What happens then? Well, we might not be so happy with that picture, right?
In moving from one “perfect point” to the next passes an infinite number of points. If we want economy, they should all be perfect. However, the only way to do that is to relinquish the initial idea from our mind of what the kata is (this position, this position, this position… or this movement, this movement, this movement…).
However, if nobody took a picture of us, or even more extreme wake up call, if we never saw a video of ourselves, we would maybe continue for a long time to study our “perfect positions” without being aware about what happens in between.
In aikido we are getting aware of our positions, physically in space. We are making our body move more economically. However, the awareness about the activity of our mind is a natural development of the bodily presence.
We might easily question what we hear, from others. And of course we should. We should always check everything which is important for us, for ourselves. Study it and find out how it works. However, we should also do this with our mind. We should question our thoughts. We should question our emotions. If we blindly follow them, we might end up alright now and then, but we could easily get lost.
The second treasure, economy, contains a lot more, of course. However, these are the main parts which are inspiring me right now, in my study of aikido, and study of life, which is basically a study of myself.
The Third Treasure: Humility
I would actually prefer to use the word “Meekness”, but no translations I have read used that word. Besides, my personal objection to the word “Humility” is probably only because in my mind the word “humility” is too similar to the word “humiliation”, which is a totally different thing (which has nothing do do with the treasure which we now discuss). A similar erroneous association could probably be made between the words “meekness” and “weakness”. However, just because the words resemble each other in pronunciation they might contain totally different things.
Other translations use a longer phrase basically stating a reluctance, or refraining from, taking precedence of others, or to be foremost of all under heaven, and so on. Anyway, the words are not important, but the principle which they are all pointing at, are valuable.
The reason I mention the association with similar sounding words in connection with this one is that it is not as clear as economy on what the treasure actually is. There is a trap, kind of, as we have seen, with regard to the word, and in the idea of the mind, of humility. What is humility?
Ego, the way is use that word, is the image we have of ourselves, when we are not aware of it. If we are aware of it the image, it is nothing more than an image, and it is not going to affect our choices. We will not react to situations based on our identification. So our Ego is our unawareness about our view on ourselves. There are different ways to use this word, so I will just clarify what I mean by that word before we proceed.
Ego is both the positive and the negative in our self image. Very often we have some positive parts, which we appreciate, and some negative parts, which we shun, if we can. Some of us are burdened with more negative, and some of us are burdened with more positive. What is a better or worse starting point, I do not really know.
A normal misconception about humility is that being humble is to think lowly of oneself. In my opinion this is quite the opposite of humility, just the same way as thinking highly of oneself is. Always downplaying our value, our skills, our achievements, is just as much Ego as bragging about them is.
I guess humility is to spend less effort thinking about ourselves and our position in the world, rather than thinking negative about ourselves. Humbleness is a natural quality of advanced experience. It is an expression of confidence. Being confident means that we have no need to neither add nor subtract anything, from just being. We are.
So humbleness, has nothing do do with humiliation, or being humbled. Like I mentioned, it is rather a natural consequence of confidence. However, a certain kind of confidence. Here the words can be used in different ways.
A high level form of confidence does not derive from being better, or having more, or knowing more, or being of higher status, than others. And so on. Humility is very often coinciding with a high level of experience, or skill. Although we will eventually lose the skill and the Ego-related confidence (the “I am better than you confidence”), the real confidence will remain: The Humbleness.
How do this relate to the life in the dojo, and the life outside? For me, once more, it starts with the interaction with my own mind. Having a peaceful interaction with my mind gives a foundation to having a peaceful relation with other minds.
In the dojo, everything is more simple, mostly because we are all following a certain pattern of form of behaviour. Outside it is often confusing, because everything is far more complex.
If we are confident in ourselves we have no problem with accepting imperfections, both in ourselves, and in others. There is no urge to correct our partners. There are no complaining chatter in our mind regarding what we ourselves, or others, do. No judgmental thoughts. No anger. No reactions. Merely awareness of the emotions and thoughts.
One might ask how does this improve our waza? Well, about that, it is kind of the chicken and the egg koan. Which came first? Our waza will be improved by the quality humility, but once we have the treasure the skill level of our physical play with our friends on the tatami becomes irrelevant for us.
But this humility might take the physical appearance of confidence as nothing can stop what we do when we are doing keiko. A humble aikidoka are able to proceed on their aiki road, no matter who stands in their way. They will proceed, and the obstacle with be “unobstacled”, and are able to without their obstacles continue on their aiki road. No words are ever needed. Just keiko.
If we are traveling to different countries, and meet different cultures, and practice with aikidokas from different schools, we are likely to meet aikidokas who do things slightly differently from ourselves. This could even happen in our home dojo. How do we deal with this? Do we need to disturb our keiko together to express the content of our mind to our partner? Or do we have the confidence to accept the situation that is, and find a way to proceed with the keiko, starting from what is?
The situation might be developing from the other side as well. Our partner might criticize us for our ways. That might easily trigger non confident students into defending, and criticizing the partner in return.
However, there is nothing to defend, is there? Aikido is, no matter what opinion any of us has about it. It is a universal principle, and it does not require me to defend it from accusations. However, if we are identifying with what is being criticized, we will feel threatened, although we do not see how this came to be. We just feel fear, anger and frustration, and react to it by striking back.
Humbleness is also to see the limitations in ourselves and in everybody around us. Nobody can be expected to act at a higher level of awareness than what they have exactly at that precise moment. Seeing this clearly gives an understanding of how the behaviour of the partner is originating in something they are not able to control. Just as we sometimes are not able to control what happens inside of ourselves, leading us to make mistakes, it happens to others. The only reason we can see it more clearly in others, is that we have the third person view of it, making it easier to see outside the maze of the mind. That is if we are not in the maze of our own mind at the time.
The same goes outside of the tatami, of course. If we are confident/humble we are able to act natural in a hierarchical world filled with people who play with power. I mean, we can’t change the world before we first change ourselves, so complaining about how it is, by thoughts, and by words, is not going to improve the world around us. However, by understanding how the mind controls us, it is easier, somehow to deal with our “training partners” in life outside the dojo.
The Ego´s view of the world is that it is the single hero in a world filled with villains. And it actually does not matter if we have a negative self image or positive self image. If we are fighting something, we see ourselves as the hero and our adversary as the villain. This does not really make much sense for those that have a negative self image, but our ugly bad image of ourself, becomes a hero in some bizarre reality where we are battling “evil”, even though the very image of ourselves might be that we are “evil”.
Humbleness gives us the overview, the confidence, as I frequently have called it in this post, to see this effect in ourselves, and act according to the situation. And to not react to our immediate thoughts and emotions passing through at that moment.
I guess a lot more could be said of humility, however let us now move on to the first treasure from chapter 67 of Tao Te Ching.
The Third Treasure: Compassion
This is maybe the one which adds the new level to aikido, which is missing in many other arts. There are a multitude of translations of this quality. I also gain inspiration from the words “Love”, “Kindness”, “Gentleness”. They fit very well to my study, at this time. “Mercy” and “Pity” are also translations frequently used, and although they do not give the same inspiration for me, right now, in my aikido study, they still are just as valid as a translation of the original text.
Like we actually started to touch in the previous part, when we realize that everything a person is doing is according to their current level of awareness of the mind, we are starting to realize the futility of discussing free will. I mean, we did not choose our body, neither did we choose our gender, our nationality, or the time and culture to be born into. Neither did we choose our mind nor how it is going to develop from childhood on. We stuck our hand in the bag and what we grab is what we get. That is all we can expect from our choices. We could have become “a murderer”, “a rapist” or even Adolf Hitler. And until we arrive at the level of questioning our own mind. There would have been nothing we could have done about it. Nada.
As long as we are run by the mind, we are blindly following our emotions and our thoughts. Until the moment we are starting to question what the content of our mind is, and where it came from, we have no free will.
This realization makes it possible to forgive. Nobody can be expected to do things above their skill level in any field. Presence is no exception. So what we received when we were born determines our starting point. And until there comes an opening, and we have the reason, and curiosity, to look what is on the other side of that door, we are on a one way street going straight, wherever. Hitler or a saint? Who would know? Maybe our victims would know?
So here we come back to the correction of others part. When I did my mandatory military service, about two decades ago, I joined to help kill Nazis, should there be a need to do so, again (Norway was occupied by the Nazis during WWII). My only solution was to just kill them all, every single one, of the ultimate enemies of the world, and there would be no more evil in the world.
I guess aikido has been developing me a bit, spiritually, since then. I don’t believe in violence any more.
We see the same effects as the Holocaust happening again and again in the world, mostly in less extreme cases, but still. Those perceived as different are still being labelled and treated with hostility. The idea, or ideology, is replaced in these cases, but it always returns to a difference of opinion and of mind, as well as physical differences.
I am not going further into politics, because it is neither an interest of mine, nor is it the subject of this blog. However, awareness is.
Sometimes we meet people who are challenging to have interaction with. On the tatami in a smaller degree, and outside the dojo to a greater degree. These challenges are the ones who develop us to the next level. Very often we realize after an interaction if we have erred. At the moment we were in the interaction we were “blind to it”. Sometimes we remain blind, even, for a long time after. And some, of course, would remain blind forever. Aikido opens the door, but unless there is a demon chasing after us, we might never consider what lies beyond that door (the spiritual part).
However, when we are still (after the thoughts and emotions has calmed down after a conflict), we can see how our thoughts and emotions worked against us, and caused problems which would not have been there, if we were present at the time. However, we can’t expect to have acted differently, because we were at that level, at that time, and things played out exactly as they did. Judging ourselves, or others for this, is futile.
Actually that is a new situation for consideration. It is a new challenge where we can fail or succeed. Looking what what happened, understanding the mechanics of the mind. Are we attacking our past selves for what happened, and is our past self defending itself against our judgmental self? Either we realize that neither of these selves are who we are, and seeing that the only road ahead is towards a higher level of consciousness, or we continue to feel shame, guilt and remorse, until we forget (the actual event) what has happened.
Anyway, there is a huge difference, of course, between the magnitude of gassing people in a concentration camp, and throwing them in an unfriendly way on the tatami. However, the difference lies in the quantity, not in the quality. And we were merely lucky enough to not end up as one of those. We did nothing to deserve the better situation. We just put our hand in the bag, the moment we came to this world, and we happened to not become Josef Mengele.
So it is quite apparent why this kind of study is useful. What if we are a Josef Mengele, and we don’t know? I mean he probably thought that he was a good guy, right? The spiritual part of our study is to find out, at every moment, and receive the three Treasures.
So both Humbleness and Compassion also have the common trap that we have to accept whatever is wrong in the world. And of course we should not accept what is wrong. We have to heal the parts which is broken. However, to fix it, we first have to understand how it became like that, how the mechanics works, and see all the consequences of any act.
To take it to the extreme: even if we kill all the “Bad Guys”, they will be replaced by new “Bad Guys”. As Eckhart Tolle so elegantly puts it: “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” And it seems to me to fit very well with the history of the world.
So if we are an aikido teacher and we walk around in the dojo observing the class, we might see something which draws our attention in the keiko. The question is what are we drawn to, and which part is drawn to it. We should be aware that any beginner can point to a flaw in a technique, and after a few months, and by looking at the pictures in a book from a high level practitioner, anybody can say, it should be done like that. Yes, it might very well be that it should be done like that, but there lies about forty of fifty years of keiko in between the level of the aikidoka in that book and the student in front of us. Maybe our only attraction to say something is the same as the people commenting on YouTube videos. They can only say that it is wrong, and nothing more, and it is not useful for anybody, because we don’t have an understanding for how to get from, what is, to that image in the book, if that is what we are limiting our goals to.
And even if we ourselves can do what is shown in the picture, and maybe even we are the person in the picture (or rather we were the person in the picture some years ago)? Can we help the person in front of us go from their current state, to the next one, leading forward on the aiki road.
And if we know how to proceed, we would refrain from using humor at the cost of the one who made the mistake, right? Because it is an effective way to make the mistake clear, and make sure everybody remembers it. However, it is not kind. Guilt, shame and remorse are drawing us further into the realm of the mind, making it difficult to proceed to the outside.
In the second treasure, economy, we mentioned integrity. This is a very interesting concept in aikido, I think, because we are striving both for uke and tori to have full integrity, at all times. In economy it fits, because the cogs needs their integrity for the machine to work. If the cogs are broken the machine will not function properly.
However, in the first treasure, compassion, it is even more interesting, because the one being thrown will be given integrity in the throw. I guess that is why it feels so great to experience aikido throws, compared to being exposed to martial arts focusing on breaking the posture of the one being thrown? Because we are falling with our integrity intact. Maybe, I do not know?
And this concept is even more fascinating in real life. If we have an interaction, or even when we have a conflict, both partners should receive a feeling of integrity of their values and position during the interaction. So in dealing with people around us, we should not only not use violence against them, but also take care of their mental state. It is a great challenge. And it starts with our own mental state; With our awareness.
When we ourselves are conscious about our thoughts and emotions; in constant observation of them; always questioning the sanity of our mind. From that point we might be able to make a positive change in the world. Presence breeds presence. Reactiveness triggers more reactiveness in those around us. If we want somebody else to change their ways, they should not change out of fear of us. They should change because they themselves wakes up and realizes what is right and what is wrong. However, there are no easy solutions for the complex problems of the world.
Like I mentioned earlier, I see that all these treasures actually can be summed up as only one, in this thematic. There are of course a lot more to this part of Tao Te Ching, but for the parts which inspired me in my study.
In my opinion chasing after virtues just because of an idea of the mind will not work. Being economical for the purpose of gaining more and to become powerful. Being humble to become respected and in secret hope to be made a leader. Or being friendly and treat people nicely, just because we expect kindness in return, or so that we can tell ourselves that we are a “Good Guy”.
It will be the same with our aikido and our life. However, in aikido we will clean such stupid ideas away quite quickly. We will not really find economy, because this economy is hidden. Our humbleness is not real, and it will be revealed easily because we hold on to each other and study deeply, so nobody will follow us, no matter how humble an act we would put on. And being kind just because we expect kindness in return. Well, guess, what? After meeting a few people, that balloon will rapture and the air will go out. Not everybody will be kind in return.
However, presence gives all of these treasures naturally. Not because we are seeking them. By seeking them, we are almost certainly pushing them away. By quiet observation of ourselves during the keiko, we gain the ability to observe ourselves during more complex situations in the real world. There are no simple solutions to most of the problems out there, but at least we are better prepared for whatever is coming if we have the inside awareness.
I would like to add a part, just in case. I express myself about a lot of things which I know very little about, out of necessity, to express some things which I do know a few things about, so if anybody would actually read this, please take my words at that level. The stuff I am studying is difficult to put into words (it is easier to express through the grab). This is just a public extension of my personal note book from the keiko. I am absolutely not suggesting to anybody what they should be doing, or should not be doing. These are my thoughts from the keiko, today. Tomorrow I will have moved on, to something similar, or something entirely different. However the road is always the same.
Also, the “happiness” I speak of in the statement: “Aikido makes people happy” is not just merely positive emotions. I call it happiness, but it could just as easily be called “serenity”, “peace”, “love”, or “presence”. But it does not sound as cool.
“A man of consequence though he travels all day Will not let himself be separated from his baggage-wagon, However magnificent the view, he sits quiet and dispassionate.”
Tao Te Ching Chapter 26 by Lao Tzu Translation by Arthur Waley
Endo sensei had a single advice for me over many years which was totally mystical for me. And I must admit I did not pay much attention to it, because it did not seem relevant for me.
He asked me to refrain from laughing during keiko. I believe it was a the one advice he kept repeating every time we met. And I could not understand. I had fun, so I was laughing. I had no idea what he meant, because he clearly did not mean that we should not have positive feelings in the keiko. And I thought laughing was connected with that.
Also, I thought that chapter 26 in Tao Te Ching was ancient advice for traveling with luggage. And it is good advice. However I missed the deeper meaning of it.
I am of course not stating that I now understand what Endo sensei’s advice means, or that I understand Tao Te Ching. But I did find a new level to explore from these two pointers, or road signs, which they gave me.
In my opinion aikido is something which should benefit life outside the dojo. Not only with the benefits of doing physical exercise, and by doing something social, and doing something which is enjoyable. All of the above are clearly beneficial for life outside the actual keiko, but aikido are one of those magical things opening portals into stuff we might not even be interested in initially. We don’t have to read a single book, or sit in meditation to arrive at this state. Without any effort we are suddenly at the doorstep to achieving a heightened sense of presence.
So what is presence? It is a word that could have a lot of different meanings, I guess, like all other words.
By presence I mean to have attention to our own thoughts and emotions. Those two parts of our mind are connected, and are constantly affecting each other. Triggering each other, back and forth. Most of the time, in almost everybody this pretty much goes on below our level of awareness. Thus we end up getting upset, hurt, angry, aggressive and so on, causing un-peaceful behaviour in the world.
When we see something inside, if our mind is reacting to what it can see, we are missing this reaction to our reaction (what we saw in the first place). Even if we see something, as long as there is a reaction to it, it is not presence. We need to get to the bottom of that well to have our back to something solid, and have an observation without judgement about what we see.
So what does this have to do with aikido? Well, first of all, aikido has the potential to give us this quality, without ever having to pay the bill for it. And of course, if we have an ambition to achieve a beautiful and powerful waza, this state would of course naturally improve the level of our skills in our art. However, this is just a relatively irrelevant bonus effect. And once we achieve this state, our ambition is not that important any more.
What really does make a difference in the world is that, in this state, we avoid all the suffering caused by the mind, which is probably more than 90 % of the suffering happening in our daily lives. We will experience peace, love and serenity. Another word for this, which I prefer, is happiness. Although I should probably clarify that I do not mean the happiness derived from the sensation of pleasure.
This not something we can explain to somebody. The tao you can tell somebody is not tao at all. Neither is the aikido you can explain to somebody aikido.
There is a difference between feeling the emotion of happiness, and experiencing the peace of being outside the mercy of the emotions. And there is no contradiction between having positive emotions and having this state. However, if we are expressing our pleasant emotions outwardly in an unconscious way, and have no attention to what is happening, we are at the mercy of whatever emotion should appear inside. It will control how we act, and how we behave towards people we interact with.
To have freedom of choice, we need presence. Without presence there is no choice.
Of course if we assume that we are our mind, then it is, but there is no choice there. The choice was made by genetics and history, and there is no difference between our choices and the choices of a rapist, a murderer, or Adolf Hitler (those are just labels, by the way, it is not who they are). With presence there is a choice. However, that is a high level, and nobody can be expected to act on a higher level that what one has at the time when we make a choice. The rest is left to chance and luck.
Aikido turns monsters into people. We turns into people ourselves, the practitioner. In the same transformation it changes how we see the people around us as well. And this is just two consequences of the same process. The thing is, if we see everybody around us as monsters, we will be a monster ourselves as well.
The classic world view of humans are that we are the the one hero in a world of villains. Us against the “bad guys”. So we are each other’s “bad guys”. This view of the world will of course result in violence and wars.
So by gaining awareness about the activity of our own mind we will shift the nature of the world around us.
Some may object that aikido is not such an utopia. Just look at what is happening in the aikido world, right? Of course, the aikido world is a world in miniature, consisting of all kinds of people. All kinds.
So if we by aikido mean the aikido society, the way the world has shaped it, yes. The world is like the world is. The mind is in charge, outside the dojo, and in the dojo.
There are many roads towards presence. Aikido is one of them. One suiting well for those who want an effortless and fun road towards a better world. Maybe?
Does it require something? Not really. We just keep on practising, every day, and eventually we achieve a higher and higher awareness about ourselves.
And laughing is still good. It is far preferable to being lost inside our own mind by having a conversation with our training partner. It is always a challenge not becoming identified with our our opinions at the time when we are stating them for somebody with an opposing mental position.
From the positon, or state, of laughing, we are at least relieved from tensions, both in the body and the mind. The next level however is to be steady at the peaceful state even if we are experiencing joy. That is when we are always keeping track of our luggage. No matter what happens.
I mean, it is easier to start studying these things when everything is pleasant, joyful and friendly. It becomes useful when the mind is dark, when there is fear, and when we encounter somebody else with dark emotions and violent thoughts. The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, called his art “the Art of Peace”.
We should keep our mental positions, our opinions, but we should not worship them. We should keep our thoughts, and express them whenever it is useful, but we should not be engulfed in them. We should value our emotions, but rather than allowing ourselves to drift around randomly in them, we should stay anchored in something beyond their level. We are sitting on the heavy luggage cart. Observing everything. Everything!
We could call it serenity. We could call it peace. We could call it happiness. I call it happiness.
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 katastori 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.
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.
Some years ago SeishiroEndosensei 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.
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 ourpartner 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 Endosensei‘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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Stepping away from the partner
Stepping into the partner
Turning from side to side
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
≈ Comments Off on 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.