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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!