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“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.

A heavy laden baggage wagon. Picture from Pinterest.com

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.

Zazen is great. However it might not be for everybody. At least not from the start. Picture from Chochobuda.com

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.

Picture from Lone Wolf And Cub. Illustration by Goseki Kojima.

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. 

Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark. From the The Game of Thrones by George R. Martin. Illustrated by Arantza Sestayo.

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.

Marv from The Hard Goodbye, by Frank Miller.

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.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!