I’ve heard it called “the rowing exercise” and “bird-boat of heaven”… all these different names for it, and I’ve heard it explained as being like the single oar Japanese style of rowing…but for me, thinking of aiki on a yogic level, it’s like winds and channels: you need to understand Heaven and Earth, and the idea of the exercise is to create a really harmonic connection between heaven and earth: and then you can understand kotodama.
The body itself is like an Aeolian harp – and in this vibrational understanding of the body, the strings of the harp have to be correctly tuned.
So when we set it up, I really focus on softening the feet. I think in earlier times, when people farmed and lived on mountains, this was just the way you were – because you’d fall down if you weren’t. And I learned a lot of this because I had a farm, and although I’m not a huge person, I can still pick up a couple of hundred pounds and haul it around because I knew how to receive energy…. and so for us, the idea of relaxing and getting the feet to open up: that connects us to chi no kokyu “the breath of the Earth”. Just as the palms open, the feet can open, and when you move your feet, the soles of the feet should open, then the ankles flex, then the knees flex, and then the hara moves – so it’s like a kinetic chain.
I always teach that if you walk on a crust of snow,…
Having studied kuji ho from several perspectives, including the Tantric Buddhist, I find
that most people in the West, who become curious about it, see some kind of interesting thing in a movie – ninjas doing something, or some mystical-looking, magical thing – and I think that this very attraction, itself, indicates there must be something to it. In fact, these ritualized exercises take you through the stages of entering into a unified state: you’re cutting away obstructions, you’re drawing yang ki in, creating the correct condition in the body before, perhaps, getting in to a freezing-cold river… you’re generating the proper energy state in your body. And these mudra – because that’s what they are – have morphogenic power. You do something one million times, over a hundred generations, and it’s going to have some juice. Mudras are time/space tools: you’re tapping into fields of energy created by the ancients.
Now, often people learn things without understanding the purpose they serve: they gather up things just to have them: to feel like “I know this,” “I know that…” and there’s a vicarious thrill to understanding things you might call esoteric… But at some point or another you start asking, “what purpose do things serve, what do they do?”
In the following audio essay Anderson-Sensei discusses the classic link and reasoning between the study and practice of the martial arts and the application of those skills in the performing arts.
The audio can be found here.
…a conversation between Kimbal Anderson Sensei and Dwayne Blackaller of Boise Contemporary Theater about the classical Japanese budo practices preserved in Suzuki acting training – and about the intersecting philosophies of the traditional Japanese martial arts and contemporary theater practice . A student of a student of a student of Tesshu talking to a student of a student of Marcel Marceau. The conversation is here.
…so thinking about that thing in Japanese tradition where the real discussion – and in-depth transmission – happens in the coffee bar, the café, after keiko…well…dojos you know, really, in Japan, are families. A dojo is a much, much more intense familial connection than in America Because people that choose to learn a ryu, to learn to embody a thousand years’ worth of knowledge… well, that’s a pretty close-knit group.
And so, just as in a family, most of the real learning and relationship-building occurs over food. You eat together. And, then, for instance…if we were there with my sword teacher, he would have been writing on a paper napkin some kanji about what we had been learning in class…
When you read a bit about the nature of O’Sensei’s contribution to this old body of knowledge that’s still remembered, a lot of it does not make sense until you take a moment to look at how every culture does its explanation of the nature of reality, and how we participate.
Because they’re all seeing the same world – but they see different aspects of it according to their value systems and their mental wiring and so many different influences… but in essence they all try to come up with words to describe layers of reality and function.
So O’Sensei, as a young child, was exposed to a kind of Buddhist practice in Japan that’s not zen – zen is what we often think about when we think about buddhism…if we were brought up in the sixties – but before zen there was this Tantric, Vajrayana school called Shingon - associated with Kukai, Kobo Daishi – and O’Sensei was exposed to that…
So he was a little boy…
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…
There is no separation to my understanding and in my experience, between your philosophy and how you’re going to move, your own inward view of how stuff works: - is that person your enemy? am I too close? am I too far? what do I pay attention to? what do I ignore?
And I think it’s a unifying place for us as aikido-ists, I think that’s where we come together….
And on a large scale, if your kamae… and I’m sitting here in the dojo, on the center of one of these grids: a taped out mandala of the eight compass-points inside a square…If you have embodied one of these grids – – – meaning that in an empty room you still feel it, where your center line is and how all these different points of movement are, then you can put it into three-dimensional rotation, and you start seeing the spiral nature where everything’s spinning around, and you can flow down those spiral lines and then you’re naturally carried by your kamae – your observational view – to the correct place, every time…
paragraph 2: Irimi: “….thrust the heart of your hand upwards, at a slant, and to the right….”
When we discuss kamae we often don’t look at it on the level of small things, small teachings: but the kamae of the whole body can be reflected in the kamae of the hands. And so this idea of the hollow of the hands – the heart of the hands [ta-na-gokoro]… as I was instructed, the hollow of the hand has a sense of drawing in the universe, a turning spiral that pulls everything into your own connected center. And the outer part of that spiral – the fingers – return to that shape, so while they’re extending outward, their arc is to draw back into that point in the center of the palm.
And so just simply holding that sort of energy, one can take correctly: so when the wrist is going to be grabbed, or a jo, or spoon or whatever else you might be taking, you connect it to your center, and you lose the separation between yourself and the object.
So we say like in our sword school: “muto“: there is no sword, because you have totally joined with it… it is the perfect reflection of your being.
You can do this with any object or any process: you can cook this way, you can act this way… I was showing the actors studying kigaku-ho…