Category Archives: Dojocho Talks

Kimbal Anderson-Sensei: Audio, video and essay

Omoto-kyo version, Tokyo version, Iwama version…

August15CROPCOLORIZETIGHTER– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

…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.SUcrop


Aikido is Learning the Habits of Great Nature…

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

I was reading, today, some dialogues with a generation of teachers that came before us, and they were talking about time. About how aikido is based on a sense of time that comes from living with the habits of Great Nature.

And this is not about living some Romantic-era, balmy utopia. It’s about familiarizing yourself with something. And at one time, competence in this was considered to be very important.

So. You are learning to familiarize yourself with the habits of Great Nature.

Nature has habits.

That’s why, for instance, there used to be clock gardens where they planted different plants, that would open at certain times of day… so, you know, it was really nice when they discovered Peru, because now you could have a  “4 o’clock” …

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Training in the spirit of Embu

So I’ve been talking about the spirit of training – and sometimes we use the term “embu“, as in – for example – we do aikido and someone’ll say it was an embu for something – an event or whatever… well, I think that if you can use your time and training to connect with that sacred life aspect: having the thought that your life has value and meaning and is a gift, a sacred thing, and you practise from there, then you can say that all your training is, in essence, an offering of thanks and recognition to the universe.

Now, there are some things that can help you connect to this spirit of embu in the way you participate: so in class…

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Inner Confidence

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

Because I really want to work on this concept of what inner confidence is:  and it’s not a usual thing. It’s not victory:  it’s self-victory.  It’s the  internal victory.

I consider what we do to be pretty whole.  It covers all bases…but I think in this time, this culture’s very much… American culture right now is… really polarized. And angry. And exhausted at the same time. And confidence is seen as the ability to crush the other. And I always wonder, looking at the political discourse we have now:  “so if the other side wins, do they crush us?  Is that it? Is that the fruit of their winning, that the country is brutalized by their ability to do whatever they want?”

That’s kind of the impression you get now.

And that is where aiki comes into play.

I think  O’Sensei’s  thing of – – –  well, that’s what people were doing back then.  And he went “Uh-huh… this is not going to come to a good end.”

So hopefully, at least here in the dojo,  we get to experience other ways of being. And so we can look at what’s going on maybe with not quite so much… monovision.  And we won’t get sucked into it. We won’t get sucked  into it…

On performing Embu…

 – – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

Sometimes – and we just did this – I ask you to come participate in an embu. And there’s a lot of.. well…  not a lot of people know what it means…even Japanese: the modern Japanese don’t hear the word much. But what traditionally was done was a formal kind of presentation of your art. That could be tea ceremony, that could be whatever, … in our case – you know – aiki.

Well the difference between that and what happens now is that it was given as an offering. So in some cases you were doing it as an offering to the local deities: the village shinto deities, or maybe a big temple, or to someone important like the daimyo or even the emperor…

But there’s a real difference between “we’re going to do a demonstration, a bit of salesmanship and theatre” and an embu – they’re not the same thing at all – and that quality might get lost in America. Because our attempt to be…  you know, surface egalitarianism has resulted in the loss of some really powerful potentialities that people have, because in fact, any person can become  – even if momentarily – empowered by the environment, or in this case the kami you’re having come down to look at this thing you’re doing

In many forms of embu, in many forms of ko-ryu, in karate, say the teacher takes the role of  uke: so they’re the one receiving what the student’s doing. And then it usually ends with “this is the final move” – which would usually be the end of the fight.

But in aiki, the concept is that we purify the world by training. You’ve probably realized that when you train, you feel changed: and you can come in grumpy, or whatever, and you leave feeling exhilarated. We have some long, long training, and instead of becoming exhausted, you tap into this good thing in you, right?  Like:  last night  by the end of training, everyone was finally relaxed enough to train! So the idea of embu for me is the idea of a sacred activity. O’Sensei would do like misogi-no-jo waza: he was purifying the dojo, and attracting the attention of all the supporting environmental energies. But it requires a different kind of concentration when you do it.

Peter-san got me an opportunity to do embu for the victims of the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake 1)… and I remember when I was considering doing it: it’s such an extraordinary thing that happened: the world got turned upside down so that earth became sky, water is over the earth…

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Why we train… (3)

by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So I want to talk to you a couple of concepts that we’re going to work with…

I was just thinking how little, in aikido training, you see that is based on multiple people doing something. Sometimes you have randori, where a single person has a multitude being uke. Occasionally we have two people grabbing. But the emphasis is not on the beneficent organization of multiple people  It’s usually based on a bunch of people doing the wrong thing.

But I guess the counterpoint to that is the concept of what a dojo is.

In Japan, if we lived in some rural area, the dojo, in essence, would be a school of community…

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A few weeks before Andre Nocquet Shihan passed (2)…

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So what space do we imagine we are studying this in? Because it’s all imagination. We don’t know O’Sensei. We don’t know him. And his students…well, I’ve heard, depending on who experienced what he did, just really black and white differences in what they tell us about him.

But I consider O’Sensei’s being like the Guru, the Light-Bringer… that’s why I do this.

I just get really bored with the whole martial, “Would it win in a bar-fight?”… you know, all the violence people try to add to it, which is like, to me, what children do: playing with sticks. Versus a swordsman, versus someone who’s practising the mandala of footwork…

The fact that you don’t murder someone with your spiritual study is not a weakness.

And this is the falling into degradation of an age where… Shmuel-san, I’m sure you can understand this, particularly… you read writings from these very old traditions, very well known people who – if you take just a minute to step back – there were no street-lights there were no political groups, there’s no Facebook, there’s none of the pressure to be popular…  it was like deepness… and they were doing it because it was the only thing that it made sense to do. It was a love. The deepest thing a person on their own, utilizing what has been written, exists, and  listening to other teachers… your deepest attempt to make contact with the universe.

That’s what it is…

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Tanren-ho is part of a Way (1)…

I think for us,  because we study sword seriously, understanding Form and Emptiness through the sword is a very, very special thing.  Some people may be cutting to develop strength and endurance and center and all that, but to feel the nature of movement itself yin and yang, in and yo, is a very, very essential thing.  When the sword is floating – a sword of “heaven” – it’s completely different than picking the sword up and beating on something. Even though, often, you have to start off by beating on things.

So, for instance, we have a very specific way to hold a sword which is, I guess, a sort of  secret teaching of our ryu but really is very practical and works, but it also… if you hold a sword that way… it grounds you, connects you… it does all the physicality that you need:  connects the hips, et cetera

Also, it’s not an ambitious sword:  you cut a thousand cuts not to make a thousand cuts but to experience each cut:  smoothly, clearly…  and soon your jodan cut becomes shomen-uchi:  it’s like you see everything begins to fuse together, and you understand the nature of shomen-uchi.  Because while sometimes  people think that, in aikido, the forms are  kind of contrived… “no-one hits that way…”  you hear all kinds of criticism… well, the truth is they don’t know what we’re studying, really,

You’ve got to remember when you’re thinking about the idea of te-gatana, that there’s a  scroll tengu transmitting this idea of the sword-hand.  And you’re not going to be truly studying the sword-hand unless you use it like a sword. And you’re not going to understand a sword till you pick up the sword and use it. A sword is made for cutting. You have to know how to use the sword and feel it interacting with its  environment, particularly its target.  So I think that’s pretty essential stuff.

– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei

TEN-CHI… Heaven and Earth…

– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei

What we are working on is a natural truth, something that nature does. I like the phrase, “natural truth,” because: you can describe it a thousand ways, but what it is is what it is. You can argue over your definitions of what you want to call various forces, but that’s just linguistics. And at the point where you quit doing that any more, you can talk to anyone about it.

You can use their words. You really can.

So, for example, sometimes we say “as above, so below”.  This means that in small things, great things reside.  There’s some form to things. Form and function mate together.

Well, as above, so below, great stability allows you to work with tremendously dynamic forces.

And you can think about this: a ship can sail on oceans and wild waves and survive huge storms because its structure is stable – meaning that the ribs don’t fly apart and the planks don’t blow off – but that stability can have within it a kind of flexibility, but not much. It’s only flexing to maintain stability. Not maintaining flexibility. If you let something be flexible – and you get more flexible and more flexible until it falls apart, this is a cycle of decay. If you just watch nature, that’s how nature decays something.

So.  Stability, and within it, a kind of flexibility.

Now, when you get really stable in here, as far as being grounded and everything, what’s going on – that you may have not noticed yet – is that you’re relating to something of greater leverage and stability than yourself: the Earth.

So… you know how we do that experiment  where you imagine the arm a mile long and you can’t bend it and all that… that creates a greater leverage in a greater organization. A person of small organization is trying to deal with something of large organization and is absorbed by it.

And this is how Nature works. If you see little whirlpools, they get sucked into big whirlpools. Because they’re whirl-pooling together, and they relate… the little whirlpool will be drawn into the big one.

Leverage works this way.  For you on the mat.

If you understand about leverage, you can pick up giant rocks, like Stonehenge, and move them around pretty quickly… if you understand leverage.

What I’m trying to teach you to do, is find the concept of stability in yourself, but relate it to a larger energy.

That allows you to be nimble.

This kind of stability you’re developing allows you to relate to huge forms of energy… to sail on these huge forms.

One of the most stable forms is a pyramid, oddly enough. And if you could somehow make an independent pyramid, it would slide all over the surface of the Earth it would be virtually impossible to destroy. It’s just amazing what it does with forces.

There are certain shapes in nature that do that.

The megalithic cultures, the way stones were cut both in ancient Greece and in Peru is: they’re cut the same way because they survive earthquakes easily.  All that weird kind of pretty stuff we look at, wasn’t “oh, I have a rock… I’m going to try to fit it together a certain way…”  It wasn’t. It was “if we built it this way, it won’t fall over.”  Because they lived in earthquake zones.

And in Baalbek, there’s all kinds of wild rocks fitted together… how did they do it?  Well, they were relating great stability to a larger force, in order to take wobble-wobble-wobble easily.

In fact, the testing and shaking of something that’s stabilized correctly makes it stronger. It really does.  It organizes it. And it gets rid of any little bits that needed to be polished off. If the big stability’s there, a tiny little thing won’t knock it down. It’ll just grind that thing off.  Tanren renshu.

So – this idea of being very stable… …not all by yourself though – stability, through making the correct form in relation to a great energy, and then you entrain to it… and then your little thing becomes a reflection of the big thing.

And, as far as I can tell: this premise works on any scale you want.

So, this exercise of having aite sit on your knee, and your knee has to be precisely vertical: you can see you can take a pretty strong force. It’s the same thing, if I hand you a big rock or a bale of hay, and you relate to the ground correctly: you can take a big force…

Your body’s done this for thousands and thousands of years… it’s been able to do this.

So you   c o u l d  throw your children on your shoulder and walk across North America. You could… you could do it…because you did it right.  And people nowadays don’t know this anymore, because they’re depending on extrapolations of things, technologies, and they’ve forgot… <taps chest> this is what built it.

Okay. Now…

Great stability. Great connection…

SUI-KA…  Water and Fire…

– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So.  Fire and water: sui-ka. ‘Ka‘ is fire, ‘mizu‘ or ‘Sui‘ are water. So that becomes: “fire and water”: ka-mikami nature… so it’s heaven and earth, and then the innumerable kami – all the combinations of fire and water that exist – in relation to delivering the energy and message of Heaven and Earth.

Now, after playing with this stuff over the years – and having basically learned the alchemy of growing plants from my father – I think that people have pretty much always been universal in their thinking, but we have created an “East” and “West” as part of a colonialism dialogue, and it has very little to do with anything else.

We find Zen in Shakespeare…

And going back to the Mongol florescence – when they were the high culture of two-thirds of the continent – they sent a hundred of their best teachers to Europe, and asked for a hundred in return.

There was a unified vision – only, under certain kinds of Christianity, it had to go underground.

So if we think that Great Nature is the informant of all things and that we all live in Great Nature… then – the vertical being Heaven and Earth, the horizontal being Fire and Water, we might use those terms, or in Europe they would use the alchemic terms: Mercury and Sulphur. And you can think of Sulphur being formed as the fire element: the sulphurous bowels of the Earth, vulcanism and all that. Mercury being liquid – a liquid metal that weeps from a stone. If you apply fire to this stone, it will weep metal-water.

And they have great uses… the sulphurous compounds, and the action of mercury.

And even in alchemic discussion: the ‘hermetic’ arts is a term… well… Hermes is the Roman name for Mercury.

O’Sensei, who was a universalist, uses the term ‘cinnabar field’ – you tend to read that in Chinese sources, but that’s not where that originally came from… it’s just that their records got saved.

Ten-chi, sui-ka

Okay. So this horizontal nature is the consonants, the vertical nature is the vowels.

Those are two points – there must be a third point. Well there is: that’s the harmonic.

So a word is composed of vertical and horizontal rotating. You can’t make a sound without rotation, because it has duration.  So – as I was talking about in the park – you have these three factors, three gems, that are interacting, producing our experience of time and space.

When we have memory – which is an echo of time and space – we have the hap-po or the ba-qua in two things at once:  the present moment, and the past moment…  a n d   the future moment.  Now we have three more rotating fields of energy.  Eight times eight is sixty-four. It’s a very interesting mathematical play.

I think that if you and I were living long ago, we would be reading word-plays, based on these numbers. And I could say: “there were sixty-four lords and ladies dancing” and you would know that I was talking about this alchemic story. “The king was created during the dance of the sixty-four”… and we would read into it all this knowledge.

Now, in aiki, the horizontal aspect is where people tend to get stuck because they get triggered on the horizontal – someone pushes, they push back: it’s all horizontal. Then they learn about the vertical, but it’s only “my vertical”, not an interaction of verticals. And then eventually they get where they understand that we unify verticals.

In fact, I’ve found that vertical tatate musubi is one of the most potent things to learn: when you start getting to where someone can push into you with all these dimensions of energy, and you can organize it through the vertical and unify with them, you have something quite potent.

But you don’t want to get stuck there…


…in my life… I’m always exploring my relationship to Nature. And if I had every resource, I would go back to being an archeologist, because I want the free license to explore the planet and see the underlying story… I love the story of humans… I would also like to re-introduce these deeper alchemic things into human lives because – as we’ve discussed – the world of appearances has taken over the world of being.  Alchemists live in the world of being and transformation.  Constantly transforming.

You can read about the alchemy of paint…

…sacred art was where most of this paint went. And they refined gems and such. And actually…

Stradivarius’ violins…

They were built in the city of alchemists. The varnish is full of gems. The wood had been through a transformation in the water: it had molded in a certain way – a particular fungus had penetrated the wood and made the fibers homogenous. All of it was perfectly homogenous. So whatever you apply to this perfectly balanced material has great effect. It’s not trying to overcome imbalance.

So, in training, I endeavor to convince you to look at things differently.

And one of those is: cease to train to correct the imbalances. Train as if balanced, and allow the body to follow that and become balanced.

Often, people have a model of self-correction that is punitive. But the correction-based approach will never be satisfied. It’s impossible. So even if you’re doing things quite well, and you’re at the verge of great unity, the mind-body’s been prepared to look for something wrong, and fix that last thing.

But when you switch, and be like the Stradivarius, where the wood has this totally harmonized nature. So that the shape and the varnish can profoundly and evenly work,  so there’s no longer a trying to work around imperfections. You don’t have a perfect surface: you have the most potentially yin surface – absolutely receptive – and the gems are yang.  And the shape is the third thing. Stradivari was so good with the shape. Given yin material and a yang varnish, and an understanding of form… you can look at a violin, and you can see the trigrams on it. You can look at the bridge…

For us in aikido, we have the potential to encounter transformative science, hermetic science… because I think O’Sensei was pretty clear about aikido being a hermetic science. He really was.  The whole idea was that he took an MMA level of violence and he said: let’s transform it. And then when people say, “well, you couldn’t fight in MMA…”… well you’re exhibiting the very thing that he said: “that will destroy us.”

But the form and the voice of Great Nature is why we’re here. It is the dialogue between the human and the universe. The translation machine  I think of its as the calligraphy. The form is the calligraphy. I look at the eight-sided thing, and what the properties are, and orient it with this day. With this particular day. Where the sun is and where the heat is doing something. And I look at plants and how they turn their bodies.

I see the order of things.

And I can just be the observer – I can just drink my tea and be the observer – but I’m not content with that. I want to dance. I want to ride the waves. I want to connect with the flow of things, to be that, to have it function through me.

And then you find that it gives rise to heroic impulses of creativity, and gentleness, and kindness and strength. And it also gives you power that you never necessarily had for yourself.

Because Nature steps in. It moves you beyond your fear. It corrects you if you’re listening. And that would be sui-ka – mercury and sulphur.

* – * – *

And fire always rises naturally.  And water always settles naturally.  So you now have the forces and the unity and the knowledge.