Category Archives: Articles

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…

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…the oracle-bones…

Our tradition and our teachers’ teachers tell us that what we learn is very old.  And we believe them because we discover that we are learning what a farmer knows, what a hunter-gatherer knows, what someone who rows a boat knows, and what someone who fights on horse-back knows – and what a swordsman who has fought to exhaustion knows – ways of holding our body, and of being in our body, and of knowledge that comes from that.

And we believe them because we hear that some of our exercises are reminiscent of First Nations movement ritual.

And we believe them centereduprightbecause we see that what we are learning is encoded in the oldest writing. In oracle-bone scripts and seal script.

The oldest form of ‘centered’ is an upright with that metaphor of banner waving in the wind – both above, and below. And the oldest form of  ‘straight and upright’ is a foot with no ankle: so with the weight resting behind the ball of the foot, on the Bubbling Well chakra.

So what is happening here?…


So what is happening here? Is the dancer spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise?

Depends which side of the brain you are using.

Left side: logical, language, methodic, concepts, like a serial processor
Right side: creative, emotion, direct experience, like a parallel processor

Can you get it to switch at will?
– by doing math in your head?
– by imaginging you are about to look at your hand?

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…pencil learning vs.electronic…

Amusing to note, as we process the recent findings of Princeton and UCLA researchers,  that:

  • Masatake Fujita sound-recorded O’Sensei’s talks, and Sadateru Arikawa transcribed them for the Aikikai’s  newsletter…. AND, NOTORIOUSLY, AT HOMBU, NOT A SINGLE STUDENT UNDERSTOOD WHAT O’SENSEI WAS SAYING…

while on the other hand:



All physical activity in the dojo tends to rewire the circuits in one’s head –  but none more so than the investigation of “kyo” :   the trajectory through air that feels like the path of least resistance for a staff or sword, and in particular the places where gravity and momentum are perfectly balanced so that the weapon seems to float.

The term “kyo” is a buddhist term – it’s one of the Japanese words for  “emptiness” in “emptiness is form, form is emptiness”.  And the experience of it is  profoundly counter-cultural.  Our culture, more than any previous  culture, surrounds us with a plethora of objects and leads us to interact more
with objects than with other human beings. Thus, we are entrained to  pay attention to the moment of grasping the object…

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Jean Baudrillard on kotodama, potlatch and self-sacrifice…

Nevertheless…there does exist a schema of social relations founded on the extermination of [monetary] value. For us, it is a model we see in  primitive social structures, and it is from them that we learn it,    b u t   its radical utopia is beginning to explode slowly throughout all levels of our society – along with that vertiginous feeling that comes from a rebellion that has nothing to do, these days,  with notions of “revolution”, “laws of history”, or even…the “liberation” of “desire”….

From our vantage point, now, there are other nodes of theory that have become the most important: Saussure’s [studies of ancient] anagrams 1), Mauss’ exchange/gift [ – potlatch]….[these] are not simply curiosities on the fringe of linguistics and anthropology…[they] show us clearly, right here and right now, something beyond [monetary] value, something beyond legalism and legality, something beyond [what your therapist calls] “repression”, something beyond the [Western, Freudian notion of] “sub-conscious”. These are the coming things.

And just one more, that seems as important to us as the above-mentioned pair: Freud’s hypothesis of the death-wish.

– – – Jean Baudrillard,  L’Echange symbolique et la mort  ed. Gallimard, 1976,  pp.7-8

1)  Saussure’s investigation of assonance, hidden structure and hidden meanings in ancient Latin poetry.  Opening up a wider perspective onto the direct value of sound (beyond denoted meaning) and those things in the language of antiquity – such as polysemy – that precede rationality.

…Guy Debord / La Société du Spectacle…



  • The entire life of [our] societies where modern conditions of production reign, manifests itself as – and proclaims itself to be – an immense accumulation of performances and images.  Everything that used to be lived directly has become removed and distanced: and has become a replica, a second-hand representation.

* – * – *

This means that instead of people using the myth for introspection and illumination… the myth now has become its own thing. And so  having an aggregated myth about yourself, plus a set of selfies and a ‘personality’…  everyone has become both an actor and a cinematographer, and they’ve forgotten… even though Nature is acting upon them… they respond in the third person. And they don’t feel the visceral knowledge: which means they’re out of synch with Great Nature.

And so what used to be the great dramas and passion plays, that were used to reconnect you to tribe and to Nature and a deeper sense of being, have all been turned into the opposite.

It actually turns you away from everything. It even turns you away from others, because then you compete in your spectacle.

* – * – *


  • In a world which has been truly turned inside out, the ‘true’ is a beautiful moment of sublimely realized falsehood. 

* – * – *


  • The concept of  ‘le spectacle‘  – of these performances and images – encompasses and explains a huge diversity of phenomena of appearance. Their diversity and variety are the way these appearances appear, organized socially, which must be seen and understood as its generalized truth. Considered on its own terms, ‘le spectacle‘ is the  a f f i r m a t i o n  of appearances and the affirmation of all human life, which is to say life in society, as simple appearance. But the critique which gets to the true heart of ‘le spectacle‘ discovers it to be the visible  n e g a t i o n   of life; because, in fact, it is an on-going    n e g a t i o n  of life which has  b e c o m e   v i s i b l e .
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…Guy Debord / La Société du Spectacle II…



  • It is the essential gesture of these performances and images to capture as performance and image everything that, as human activity, exists in a fluid state, in order to own it – to make it property – in a frozen state, in the shape of things that have finally become society’s sole source of value: by formulating themselves as the imprint: the negative image, as it were, of value as it can actually be lived. In this essential gesture we recognize our old enemy, who knows so well how to appear at first glance something trivial and perfectly natural, whereas on the contrary it is in fact something tremendously complex and full of metaphysical subtlety: consumer goods.

* – * – *

In the English-speaking world, money was first used to escape from social obligation – to buy out one’s social obligations… This was the reason it first became widely used.

But as we learn in budo: if you escape a social obligation, then you also don’t have – you don’t get to acquire – the experience of performing that obligation. And so you have no idea of the real value of performing that obligation…

And as we can see, increasingly, today… and this is becoming more and more visible: by definition, the “imprint” is made by people who are under pressure, under compulsion… in a hurry.  So they h a v e no real sense of value.

And consumer goods are the comforting short hand, the abbreviated avatar of their guilt – for the social relations escaped from.

So, in the English-speaking world, when the pre-Reformation abbeys, convents and monasteries were abolished – they became big, fancy houses for rich merchants and nouveaux riches… with no chapel.

Whereas in a recusant household, the chapel would still be there: still the beating heart of the household… and they would sing the old music – and play it on viols – wood and gut and voices raised in sweet harmonies, making the air dance all together.

And often, today, we see something that originally was religious – pantheistic or animist, rooted and local – and many-layered – for sale in a simplified form. A form that you  c o u l d  still use to build a deeper understanding – but no-one has the time or the know-how. So its monetary value is a wish based on a distant memory of its real, experienced value.

That wish is how the keeping-you-always-wanting-more works!

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…Guy Debord / La Société du Spectacle III…



  • The performances and images of ‘le spectacle‘,  like modern society itself, are at one and the same time a coherent whole, and fractured and fragmented. Like modern society, they build their unity on division and tearing people apart. But all this social contradiction, when it emerges into view in these performances and images, is in its turn contradicted by the upending of its meanings: – – –  all the division and divisiveness that is displayed becomes clearly part of a larger whole, with a certain coherence…  but at the very same time, the coherence that [the system actually intends to be] on display is clearly seen to be fractured and divided.

* – * – *


  • It is the struggle between these two Powers – which have come into being to the administer and manage this single socio-economic system – which is deployed as the ‘official’ contradiction in our global society…  but they belong, in fact, to a real unity:  both on the global scale, and internally in [the conventional left-right politics of] every nation.

* – * – *

It is entirely natural that, as we transitioned to the Information Age, the geographical centers of that supposedly “other” Power should become more and more visibly part of the global socio-economic system:  with the gradual evolution of China, and with the fall of the Soviet Union…  And all the ‘official’ contradictions we are deluged with, today, are themselves merely ‘spectacle‘… and you will find that the best place to ground yourself against them is in the ‘practical’ – in human ‘sensed and felt’ activity: “menschliche sinnliche Thätigkeit: Praxis“.

Budo – what you’re doing – is totally, absolutely  p r a c t i c a l .

It is of no use if it’s not practical.  That is not to say, that practicality isn’t the gateway to the divine and the most deep and the most penetrating awarenesses, the most beauty, the most deeply real, the best kind of relationships…

Whereas that abstract, abstraction-y appearances world is false and leads to nothing but more false… until people don’t know that there ever was an actual smell or taste of anything.

And then their biology rebels and creates schizophrenia.

Because their biology knows what it’s doing. It knows what a proper kind of relationship is with the world, and with other people.

And part of this is that it knows the practicality of your relationships with enemies. The realities of social contradiction.

There are enemies. I’m not saying you should make enemies in your mind. There are beings who already desire what you have, who are driven by the tyranny of the urgent, or ambition, or some great picture in their head. And they, by themselves, without you labeling them anything,  are your enemies.

You do not need to segregate them. You don’t even need to make a class called “the enemies.” You don’t need to lead your life in fear of “enemies”.  But there are people who will, by the natures of their desires and the natures of their framework, et cetera,  lead to you suffering.  Simple.

There are many ways to deal with this problem. Some of it is meeting in some sort of harmony with them in the sense of “what do they need? ” “Can we get there?” “Can they get what they need without everyone being murdered?”

T h a t   is intelligence and culture and creativity and a good part of a solution.

There’s also recognition.

The word ‘enemy’ has been linked to ‘hatred’. It is not the same thing. You can have enemies, and you don’t hate them. I’ve learned in my life that all kinds of people were doing s*** to me… I didn’t need to hate them back. That debilitates me and makes me dark. Sucks energy out of my soul… it feeds Cthulhu in his cavern underneath the vice-president’s house…

On the other hand, I can say that if anyone tried to harm you and I was present, they would probably find that their life had changed drastically in an instant. Now, I wouldn’t think murderously, but I certainly would try to have your back – even if you got yourself into it…even if your nature and moods and growth, had put yourself into a place where you got yourself into a bad place.

Your true friends don’t judge you. They step in and have your back. They also talk to you: “What’s going on here, dude? How did you get yourself into this hole?” And if you love your friends, if you believe in them, because you’ve seen them as they really are, and you don’t run them through the distorted mirror of society-right-now – they’re  n o t  going to throw you under the bus… these are the people who didn’t throw you under the bus –   t h e n  it’ll change your soul.

And you’ll realize that the teenager who was angry and was trying to… well, this is a biological function. Strictly biology. There’s an imperative to separate – on a power level – from your parents… to be autonomous, but you also need to  n o t  separate from your tribe.  N o t   separate from your support system.

This society keeps people retarded. It holds them in this point because they’re so marketable to, they’re so vulnerable. It’s so easy to take someone who’s angry, and convince them of anything.

So, in practice, in our dojo, I try to get you past this, gently, so you’re no longer susceptible to this kind of provocation. So that “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” don’t make you crazy.

But first things first: budo is infinitely practical, grounded in reality. From that, the magic and the sublime world are easily accessed.

Sir John Colville records that Winston Churchill, when it was suggested that the canvasses in the National Gallery should be evacuated to Canada, was emphatic for keeping them at home: “No. Bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”  Because you fight for the beauty, you fight for your family, you fight for love, you fight for the times of peace, you fight for the trees…

And all you’re really trying to do is suspend the insanity.

So this requires courage. To determine first, that you’re going to become infinitely practical.

This practical does not sacrifice beauty or metaphor or any of that other stuff.

It makes it possible for that to register, in the real world, in a place that’s true: that you can really love the poem, because you have the right kind of mind, the mind that can do that. And no-one can turn you into a cynic.

Because that’s the soul-murdering thing: to make you stop believing in good things… because of the ‘practical’.  Using that as the excuse.

Well, I have noticed, being a farmer, at one time in my life: corn… it is so beautiful. The practical part is it must live, you must plant it, it must grow, you must take care of it… All that… But I did notice that people made little corn, big corn, red corn, green corn… all of which taste different, and did different things, and some of it made whisky, and some of it was good for the Fourth of July, and some of it made cornmeal…  It was beautiful and infinitely practical.

I would suggest to you: even the most intensely provoking and somewhat meaningless kind of job – and I’ve had plenty –  can be a vehicle to find your practical base, and build a life of practical beauty.

That is the nature of what you’re seeing when you look at some Zen-like sumi-e, or some Shaker furniture… it is so simple.  But it is so dramatically, practically precise and raw, that it freezes you in kyo.

Once you determine that your budo needs to be practical – and knowing that the practical will come to naturally support, cradle, nurture, develop the beautiful – when you get that, I can show you stuff.

Why do we do this movement a million times…

Because there’s something needed… It’s like training your senses, to listen for a note till you have perfect pitch… and it’s infinite, yes? And infinitely beautiful once you determine that “I love the practicality of my practice.” It’s as if practicality and practice seem to be somehow word-related… do you think?

Practice and practicality.

I lived for a time when my life was necessarily only practical because I didn’t want to starve. And I was pretty youthful and resilient, full of Spring, and I could live on nothing. Ramen and coffee. And I learned something about being beautiful. Being beautiful myself. Not beautiful for other people.

Beautiful so that my life had value.

It wasn’t something I told someone else I was doing, I just felt it.

And then I knew that if I died at that very moment, I was still in a place that I admire, and that I think makes life worthwhile for me.  And you may have a similar little bit of this in you.

Make sense?

There’s the deal…

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…tree-house reading-room in the snow…

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