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Morihiro Saito Shihan’s Four Levels – and O’Sensei’s…

The schema of seven levels of aikido outlined by André Nocquet Shihan’s first student,  in a book published soon after Nocquet’s death, and with full access to Nocquet’s archives and papers, almost certainly goes back to conversations in Iwama and Tokyo, 1955-58, during the time that Nocquet was one of a very small group of  uchideshi – the lone uchideshi, in fact, when he first arrived.

Aside from level 2, which clearly reflects discussion about Tomiki’s university-based approach, starting in Manchuria, the schema matches up well with Morihiro Saito Shihan’s schema of four levels of waza – as taught by O’Sensei – which are outlined in some detail in Traditional Aikido vol. 5.   Furthermore:  the nomenclature implies that these four levels are actually the training of four different  a s p e c t s  of the body, something that O’Sensei discusses in Takemusu Aiki.

Nocquet’s level 1 is Saito Shihan’s kotai-geiko (the foundational training to the marrow of the hard body – one might even say:  ‘stiff-bodied training’)

Nocquet’s Level 3,  with its ‘absence of stress’,  corresponds to Saito Shihan’s jutai-geiko (training of the soft, gentle, even “willow-like” body – this is the same kanji used in the compound: “judo” – and, old school, it is read as yawara).  In practice, emphasis is laid on relaxing the upper body, on moving before contact is made and changing the angle of the hand, unbalancing uke, finding the correct angle and ma, and twisting the koshi.  Over time, of course, a greater degree of relaxation unblocks the ki-meridians, which is both mentally and physically therapeutic.

Level 5 corresponds to Saito Shihan’s ryutai-geiko (training of the flowing body – this is both blood-flow and ki-flow).   The emphasis is on leading uke‘s ki, which involves facility in achieving mushin – which allows one to perceive and function in the real moment,  to be in katsuhayabi,  and eventually to sense uke‘s  initial impulse in their mind.

Level 6  corresponds to Saito Shihan’s kitai-geiko (literally: training  of the ki-body,  the aura) – with a deepening understanding of in-yo-ho and of the multiple meanings of shikaku (also referred to as  sumikiri).

It’s worth saying that in the Vajrayana (and thus Shingon and Omoto-Kyo) view of things, one has further bodies, each one progressively larger in size, and more delicate of perception: next after the aura, would be the causal body, and after that, the etheric body (shin-tai) which O’Sensei does from time to time refer to, and which would be the body at play in…

…Level 7, which presents aikido as a way of attaining the tao, as described by Miyamoto Musashi in ‘The Scroll of Emptiness’.

A change of optic:

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…

read more:

…late in 1942…

“….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

…earlier in 1942…

“…by 1942, [the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai] became literally a part of government organization and it was managed under the direct and joint supervision of ministry of education, ministry of health, ministry of navy, ministry of army and ministry of interior. The headquarters of DNBK located in Heian Shrine was moved to the ministry of health. As a result of this governmental authority, DNBK controlled All Student Soldier Physical Education Promotion Association, Kodokan, Nippon Kobudo Association, All Japan Kendo Federation…

read more:

…1942-1948 – Ubuya…

“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


…close to the source: Ame-no-Torifune…

Shrine Shinto instructions for Ame-no-Torifune…

….from Kami No Michi The Way of the Kami, by Yukitaka Yamamoto Guji pp.117-121, and Shinto Norito a Book of Prayers,  by Ann Llewellyn Evans pp.128-132.

O’Sensei’s relationship with Tsubaki O-Kami Yashiro in Mie Prefecture is well documented, and there are some beautiful reminiscences recounted in Susan Perry’s  Remembering O-Sensei.

Seiseki Abe Shihan lineage instructions for Ame-no-Torifune…

…from Shaun Ravens Sensei,  courtesy of a post by jgrowney on Aiki-web.

It seems overwhelmingly likely that O’Sensei experimented in various dojo and over the course of his life-time, with the sequence of kotodama, and with the kami  invoked during furitama. One might guess, too, that he finessed these aspects of Ame-no-Torifune to suit particular students and lineages.

It also seems worth mentioning that the kotodama should be thought of as pairs of syllables, with the first of each pair co-inciding with the inward pull of ki-energy and of the arms. Do not let the mind migrate to thinking of the syllables as starting with the outward movement.

Gozo Shioda Shihan’s Basics for World Peace…

It’s possible to wonder how an art that requires years and years of dedicated practice could possibly be a significant factor in working for peace in the world.

But Gozo Shioda Shihan makes a wonderful point: all that’s necessary is for folks to acquire the BASICS…

‘It is my belief that if everyone were to absorb the basics of Aikido, or in other words, “when confronted with an opponent, [harmonize] with him” and made this principle the basis of their lives, all conflict and strife would disappear.” – In the Aiki News translation and serialization of An Aikido Life (issue 74, p. 46)

…and he’s quite specific: the “basics” he’s referring to are (verbatim):

  •   a pure heart
  •   calmness in movement
  •   “when facing an enemy, unite with him”
  •   balances in the body

…thus 5 or 6 years training (including ki-flow and internal organization) AND a meditation practice…

…it’s a lot, but actually do-able – - – especially if included in a school curriculum…

- – – – – – – – – – Lessons from Fire – – – – – – – – – – -

by Jolene Starr

In my search for a cure for the interminable depression that had consumed most of my energy for the past four years, I finally turned to shamanism.  Shaman and his assistant Lori, took me up toward Bogus Basin to perform a shamanic healing ceremony with me.

On the drive up, Shaman discussed the details of how the ceremony would proceed.

“We’re going to build a fire,” Shaman said.  “Fire is cleansing. It can burn away sadness, anger, grief. You can have a conversation with the fire. Let the fire know what you would like it to do. But also listen to the fire. There will definitely be times where the fire will talk to you. Sit back and absorb what the fire has to say.”

We had gained about 1500 ft in elevation when Shaman pulled off the main road onto a dirt road. He drove a short distance, then parked.  “This is it,” he said…

read more:

There are many swords in aikido…

…the Itto-ryu that Takeda Sokaku Sensei practised:  which is in almost every aikido movement, and which creates the body and  sensitivities on which aikido is based (the relaxed shoulder from a  well-performed chiburi – or from 1,000 cuts, the experience of isshin with aite – or with one’s fellow members in a battle phalanx – , the constant and egoless contact of “sticky swords”,  the centered body – with arms protecting armpits – moving from the hara, the ki-musubi of tsuka and hara mushin…distant-mountain-gaze…)   …and indeed… and by good fortune…  the Iai that Nishio Shoji Shihan learned and practised was in the Itto-Ryu tradition.

…Yagyu Shinkage Ryu with its basic kamae of  hanmi  (or hito-emi), which O’Sensei valued as the physical manifestation of the ki of katsujinken 1) – all the more so because the initial kihon solo exercises of the clan-related Yagyu Shingan Ryu Jujutsu, in which he held a menkyo, use a 90 degree “in-yo hanmi” and various sword-swinging movements as exercises in relaxation, ki-flow, and sensitization to ten-no-kokyu and chi-no-kokyu 2).   Yagyu Shinkage Ryu had been the official sword ryu of the Ando clan who ruled Tanabe,  so the ‘play’ sword of O’Sensei’s childhood would have been derived from this ryu.  Later he would have studied it formally as an adjunct to Yagyu Shingan Ryu;  he apparently taught it in Ayabe;  and then in the early years of the Kobukan studied it informally with Commander Kosaburo Gejo – who was one of the top swordsmen of the official lineage.

…the Kashima Shinto Ryu that O’Sensei investigated,  I would guess, partly because he had already adopted some of the bo forms of the related Katori Shinto Ryu – which students of his had studied at the Kodokan – and partly  for its primordial and Shrine-centered status – indeed in a 1932 interview 3), he is already talking about attaining “the way of the Gods” as foundational for aiki-jujutsu.  The enshrined KAMI at Kashima Shrine is recorded in the Kojiki as using te-gatana, and performing feats of internal strength that Daito-Ryu traditionally regards as the earliest manifestation  of  the lineage and  O’Sensei would also have been drawn to its long-standing tradition – going back to Choiisai Ienao – of members avoiding the service of corrupt Daimyo,  and for the high ideals exemplified by Bokuden’s concept of mutekatsu 2) …

from both of which last ryu he developed…

…the kata of Sho-Chiku-Bai,  as exercises in the three flavors of ki-feeling that he felt arising in aikido…and in sen-no-sen  ki-musubi

…and Aiki-Myo-Ken: which is a way of talking about the phantom sword that is present to an empty-handed swordsman doing his sword movements as Tai-jutsu – and especially when he does them with a heart of katsujinken.

..and   …and…

1)  and, indeed, O’Sensei is reported as saying: “Both Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi and Tsukahara Bokuden, and every expert and famous swordsman from ancient times down to the present day agree on this: the way of thinking that sees budo as a blessing and gift of  the kami, and says that we should endeavor in keiko to have a bright spirit. ” – - – Aiki Shinzui,  p.62
2) Yagyu Shingan Ryu Heiho,   Osano Jun,  pp. 34-54
3)  in  Shinrei no Hiyaku – Genshutsu no Chojin,   interview by Kanzou Miura,  translated by Christopher Li on the Sangenkai website.

There are many swords in aikido (3)…

It is unclear how much O’Sensei investigated the martial teachings associated with the family of his friend,  Takaharu Kuki,  head priest of the three mountain shrines of Kumano -  and a well-regarded scholar of ko-shinto – but it is likely, at the least,  that the esoteric, associated on-myo-do (in-yo-ho teachings)  were a topic of conversation.

This  familial  Kukishin-ryu is descended from the primordial “eight Kyoto ryu“  [Kyo-Hachi-Ryu],  centered around Kurama Mountain,  just outside Kyoto – home to the legendary tengu, and to the king of the  tengu:  Sojobo.    To these same primordial ryu, because of geography,  most of the old traditions in the area around Tanabe, where O’Sensei grew up, would  have belonged.  As it turns out, it is common for ryu of this Kurama-dera tradition to have a concept of “aiki” – as Ellis Amdur has documented – and, actually,  Itto-ryu,  too,  via Chujo-ryu, is of this lineage.

This means that,  if O’Sensei at all investigated the  esoteric, ki-flow traditions of Kukishin-ryu at the Kumano shrines,  he was  investigating – and he would have known this – the roots of the Itto-ryu body and movement so central to Takeda Sokaku’s art.   And he would have been doing this, too, when he introduced kendo instruction to the Kobukan in the early thirties:  old-style  kendo being rooted in Itto-ryu – and particularly Hokushin-Itto-Ryu.

Now, traditionally – and Ellis Amdur,  for instance,  received such information inter alia  from the current soke of the Kukishin-ryu -  the Kurama-dera tradition is regarded as one of the three primordial,  original ryu of Japanese martial arts  – all three being composite ryu   – in traditional Japanese thinking:  a central kenjutsu  surrounded by  a whole constellation of adjunct arts.

And when O’Sensei on the one hand, studied Yagyu Shinkage Ryu (possibly, also,  as an adjunct to Yagyu Shingan Ryu),  and when he arranged, on the other hand,  for two selected Kobukan students to study Kashima Shinto Ryu in the late thirties, he was actually studying the swordwork – and associated ki-flow -  of the two other primordial traditions.

All of which  makes sense of the sometimes-repeated assertion that O’Sensei studied “all” the Japanese martial traditions.

(Indeed, for a while O’Sensei owned or rented a property at the foot of Mount Kurama – and made training trips up the mountain with students such as Tenryu and Shioda Shihan – and at this same time he already owned land in the uplands above and North-West of Kashima Shrine, and had an outdoor dojo there… we are talking about Iwama.  And it was a local Omoto-kyo luminary – who had hosted the local Budo-Senyokai dojo – who helped him buy that land. And it was that luminary’s son who got to study Kashima Shinto-Ryu along with O’Sensei’s own son…)

All this, we can see  as an attempt to go deeper than the art he had learned from Takeda Sokaku – by digging further into the past… but more widely, too…