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THE TIDE
No force is necessary,
not even intention.

An Osteopathic Odyssey – James Jealous D.O.

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

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

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

Takeda_Sokaku

Sōkaku Takeda. The photo is taken from Wikipedia.

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

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

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

Aikido of Cincinnati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medlemsbok Norges Aikidoforbund
(Loosely translated from Norwegian)

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

Photo by Joke Kleijer

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

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

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!