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Traditional Japanese culture – and learning – is not standardised… …and this, in itself, is a delight and an education to those of us raised in a heritage marked by a hundred years or more of Industrial Revolution and mass-production. One particular dynamic at play in this endless variety is the typical ‘ryu’ attitude of “well, you think you know what N means, but our version of N is different and better and we will teach it to you…over the course of several years…” Mu-to (‘no-sword’) is like this: Tsukuhara Bokuden had one version of mu-to; Yagyu Munetoshi had another; and Tesshu had a third. And, being a product of the intellectual opening and intellectual ferment post Meiji Revolution, O’Sensei knew and referred to all three of those meanings.
It is important – and surprising – to understand that this is a process of adding meaning – and not of denying meaning. And the awareness that there is always more to learn, by meeting a different wise person, from a different ryu, from another place, adds to the mystery and depth of what we already know.
And often this involves homonyms. In practice: asserting a different spelling – adopting some different Chinese characters – for the same spoken word.
So this is what is going on when O’Sensei adopts terminology from the shugendo of the mountains above Tanabe, associated with the shrines of Kumano so important to his family and forebears – and with the ridge-trails over to the Yamato Basin, and the ancient city of Nara.
And Myou-Ken (‘miraculous sword’) is one of the three mountains of the celebrated Dewa Sanzan centre of Haguro Shugendo.
Doshu is the rank in Haguro Shugendo that is attained by participating in two ascetic ‘pilgrimages’ into the mountains.
More interestingly: san-gaku 1) is the triangle in – and it is the three-fold Buddhist study of kai (precepts), jo (meditation), and e (wisdom), or any ‘three studies’ – but it is also ‘mountain-knowledge’: and the thing you gain from stepping under a freezing cold waterfall, from sleeping little and climbing far, from being dangled over a cliff-face by your ankles and ropes, is surely more integral to a good irimi than a ki-shape that is triangular.
And even ‘bu’ is an echo of ‘Bu-chu’ (to be up on the mountain peak, taking part in one of the four seasonal, ascetic Shugendo festivals) and ‘Nyu-bu’ (entering the mountain, ascending to the mountain ridge, to take part in one of these festivals). ‘Bu’ is the Chinese reading of mine– (‘peak’ or ‘ridge’) which by metonymy refers to the entire ascetic retreat/pilgrimage experience: for instance, in the names of the four major festivals: haru-no-mine (‘spring-peak’), natsu-no-mine (‘summer-peak’), aki-no-mine (‘fall-peak’), fuyu-no-mine (‘winter-peak’).
So that O’Sensei’s use of the word ‘bu’ always implies that enlightened martial practice is a way of accessing traditional Shugendo wisdom.
1) or ‘san-kaku’
Aikido is a gem of many facets – sometimes it seems that every one of O’Sensei’s students remembered a different teacher, and of course, many, many different styles have been preserved and developed – but here is one facet that clicked into focus for me recently:
what if O’Sensei spent his time away from Iwama and Tokyo coherently pursuing what he felt to be his “mission in life”?…
what if he spent his time away from Iwama and Tokyo creating and nurturing a network of dojos run by Omoto-Kyo, ex-Omoto-Kyo and Ko-Shinto believers ( hand-picked deshi, some of them raised, almost, as members of his family) – – – and ex-Kamikaze pilots, too (!) – often with his own name on the sign – in places – and close to shrines…
“….On August 7, after consultations with the appropriate judges, [Judge Takano] released [Onasiburo, Sumiko and Isao] on bail, and they appeared in the outside world for the first time in six years and eight months….
“My cousin Yasuaki Deguchi…writes in ‘Founder of a New Religion’….’To the followers who came to see him, he would say with emphasis, “There will be no divine help in this war,” “This war is a war between devils, so do not get involved”….’
“….even now he did not hold back from his outspoken remarks. ‘On the day I left prison, Japan’s defeat in the war began,’ he said.
“On August 7, 1942, the day Onisaburo was released, American forces landed on Guadalcanal, and the first naval battle of the Solomon Islands began….
“He would say, ‘They did all this to Omoto and don’t even come to apologize. So Japan will be attacked by the foreign enemy and will be beaten.’….’God dislikes killing. Omoto will not cooperate in the war.’
“….Telling soldiers leaving for service overseas, ‘Fire your guns into the air,’ he would give them advice according to their respective destinations….To troops leaving for the front, Onisaburo issued special amulets on which were written the words, ‘Victory to the Enemy’….
– – – – from The Great Onisaburo Deguchi, Kyotaro Deguchi, tr. Charles Rowe, publ. Aiki News, pp. 285-9
…I think we had O’Sensei’s Omoto-kyo version and his Tokyo version and his Iwama version and we don’t understand that: but his Omoto-kyo version was actually about penetrating the universe. And people in Tokyo, recovering from being utterly bombed out by American B-29’s… well, it’s tricky to get them interested, because they’re trying to eat. And the guys in Iwama are out in the country, going “I’m so glad we’re out here!” and most of them are high school kids… But Omoto-kyo folks would have been ready to start setting the whole world aright, and to start raising people up… They would have remembered what Deguchi said: “everything happens first to Omoto-kyo, then to Japan, and finally to the whole world…” And they would have understood the aikido that O’Sensei was showing them to be a part of this…
calligraphy by Onisaburo Deguchi: “August 15th DAY” – being the date of Japan’s surrender, the character for “DAY” being drawn in the archaic style that also means “GOD”, and, with a variant center: “SU” – that is: AME-NO-MINAKA-NUSHI – that is: a new beginning.
“It may be that, at the time, we [this young people’s class in Iwama] were the only existing Aikido class in Japan – perhaps even in the world.”
– – – Kazuaki Tanahashi, Aikiweb interview
“In 1946 when I was admitted into Aikido, the site of the Iwama Dojo with an area of more than 20,000 tsubo was just a forest of Japanese oak trees, dotted with the Aiki Shrine, Dojo, and a farm. The location of the Dojo almost eluded detection. The local neighbors had not the foggiest idea of what was going on inside the Dojo and would not dare approach it.”
– – – Morihiro Saito Shihan, Traditional Aikido, vol.5, p.20
“For seven years, Ueshiba O’Sensei hid away in the mountains, and said not a word: he was silent. But by his silence he was teaching, making something very great, by saying nothing.”
– – – André Nocquet Shihan, Maître Morihei Ueshiba: présence et message p.97
Using a rounded piece of wood, know the moon on the water!
– – – the dream of Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi
Do not think about hitting your opponent,
Move without thinking, like moonlight into a leaky cabin.
– – – Yamaoka Tesshu
A man knows for sure:
However hard he hits the flow of a river,
The simple fact of a trace in the water:
– doesn’t happen.
– – – Hoshina Chikanori
The SPIRIT of Aikido – by Nidai Doshu (1984)
Aikido and the HARMONY of Nature – by Mitsugi Saotome Shihan
The PRINCIPLES of Aikido – by Mitsugi Saotome Shihan
A LIGHT on Transmission – by Mitsugi Saotome Shihan
TRADITIONAL Aikido – by Morihiro Saito Shihan
It’s a lot like DANCING – by Terry Dobson Sensei
VIBRATION and Connection – by Seishiro Endo Shihan
Following the Martial PATH – by Walther G. Von Krenner Sensei
… and medium length and longer excerpts in –
ENLIGHTENMENT through Aikido – by Kanshu Sunadomari Shihan
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Ah, I see you are reading The Book of Five Rings…” (conv’n w/ MS) HARMONY p.239
“Aikido has as its mission the restoration and preservation of the health of both the individual and society…” LIGHT p.109
“Aikido is none other than the manifestation of the workings of love…” HARMONY p.31
“Aikido is not for beating others or winning battles…” PATH p.168
“Aikido is not for being victorious over people…” VIBRATION p.125
“Aikido is not the art of fighting using brute strength…” ENLIGHTENMENT p.29
“Aikido is realizing the original power of life…” HARMONY p.154
“Aikido is the culmination of the arts of the sword, spear, and body…” VIBRATION p.125
You should never make the same movement twice. If, as you watch a technique, you have the impression that it’s the right hand that’s pushing, well then, probably it’s the left, or even, if it’s not the left that’s pushing, then the right is pulling. If you think that the action happens above, it is performed below. When you are attacked by a single person, act as if there were four attackers. Try to see better but understand that the thing that is being done is never the thing that you see. That which is apparent is never that which is truly.
Focus on the idea of being endlessly grateful, whatever might be the thoughts and events to which this applies. Say arigatai till you feel your body full of energy, then yoku naru without limiting this wish in any way… For whomever applies this rule, dekinai koto wa nashi. [there is nothing they cannot do].
[The way of aiki is] a Way for the forgetting of the self.
Every time [be] exactly at the center.
Aiki-ken contains [all] the necessary elements for the expression and understanding of the spiritual dimension of aikido.
Hold on to your partner’s arm the way you hold a baby in your arms, and dandle it [OR: cradle it, rock it gently, sooth it].
Never be afraid of not having enough energy, give unceasingly to others, and for as long as you do that, energy will come, still stronger, still more alive and abundant in you.
You’re showing too much [of] what you know. From now on, never display more than thirty per cent of your power… When you teach, also, you must not show more than thirty per cent.
“Why” is an idiotic question. There is no “why”.
– – – reported by André Cognard Shihan (So-Shihan of Aikido Kobayashi Ryu and designated successor to Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan) in Petit manuel d’aikido, pp. 52-3, 88, 108, 109, 116, 136; Vivre sans ennemi, pp.33, 37.
There is someone who is not me in my little left finger, in this finger which closes my sword-grip. You can sense it during CHINKON. The way in which you go from “cupped, round hands” to “triangle hands” [the chinkon mudra]…
If you put yourself into KAMAE and close your eyelids, for example, alternatingly: close them, then re-open them, slowly, then close them, and so on… you notice each time you close your eyes, at that moment, precisely, all your attention goes down to your hara, automatically. It’s strange to notice that! It’s like a little “explosion of the instant”: ISSHUN-BAKUDEN. From this I draw the conclusion that the ideal would be to do Kokyu-ho with open eyes, but with the same feeling as with the eyes closed….
< Sensei suggests an exercise: :> In seiza, lean your torso forwards, slowly: the whole torso up to the point where your balance breaks… then return to normal and start over, and so on, continuously, very slowly…