Category Archives: Dojocho Talks

Kimbal Anderson-Sensei: Audio, video and essay

On Torifune and Furitama…


 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,…

read more:

…there are some things I want to talk about (1)…

Real aiki is difficult to see unless you already know what it is.  If you don’t know, you tend to take your own personal view of it and put it on top.

Now,  I’ve spent most of my life studying aiki,  so there are some things I’d like to record – they are not new, they are not something I made up: they are my own understandings, taught to me through the very same process you’re involved in: doing movements a million times, and learning to understand the physics of the world, and then the larger forms of physics… which is to say:  how things work.

Once you see it,  and someone explains what’s going on, it’s possible for you to explore it.  Otherwise it looks pretty magical,  and you either think,  “that person’s full of shit,” or you understand that something’s going on that you don’t get – and you want to get it…

So I thought to show you – and hopefully we may some time add video – some of the things I’ve learned.

And the first thing, right off,  is this…and I always use this metaphor…
when you learn to drive, you do not drive into the other cars – you learn to drive in the spaces. So, in the same way, if we think about Samuel’s structure as having spaces in it, and fullness in it, like traffic…

read more:

There are many swords in aikido (5)…

So… talking about our dojo:  one of the advantages, I think, for what we do  -  is that I’ve had good encounters with itto-ryu teachers, and with the special sword techniques that come from that whole system.  And in particular that thing that we  r e a l l y   work on -  that figure-of-eight motion, built into our actual te-gatana  -  is pretty much the powerful, central concept of all the other techniques.  It stabilizes the sword, in such a way that it adapts completely to the other person’s movement, and strike, and whatever.  So in essence… that shape, in itself,  is aiki.

I really appreciate the way that Nishio Shoji Shihan talks about swordsmanship and aikido being synonymous.  I think O’Sensei frequently was alluding to that.

My feeling is – just being, I guess, an archeologist of time – that the root of all the confusion surrounding this is that:  after World War II,  the chances of some-one having a sword -  in Japan – to practise with were pretty minimal.   They confiscated everything.  So then that shifted it into bokken,  and sticks,  and various things.  Because you couldn’t do sword with an occupying army that forbade you to own a sword.  It even got to the point that you could hardly hold a knife without being a problem.

So I believe that there’s an adaptation that occurred.   An adaptation that lost something pretty essential to what we do.  But in our case,  because I  had Hisaya Shoji Sensei to teach me – who was such a good teacher, and he was transmitting the original thing – - – a  similar thing to what O’Sensei received…  in fact Hisaya Shoji Sensei actually trained with O’Sensei:  he showed me a kotegaeshi from him and it looked very similar to the Nishio Shoji Shihan technique…  We,  because we practise sword, because  we  seriously practise sword:  as swordsmen, I think, we have a really good advantage in understanding aikido . And we don’t need to re-interpret it into the post-occupation, safe mode, which, I believe, has changed the form, considerably.

I think about what we learn:  about center-line, how we train to be able to put the kissaki exactly where we want , and how this relates to our mind…

read more:

Kuji-ho, Aikido, and enlightened movement…

nikyostretchCROPHaving 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?”

read more:

…doing nothing…

In a lot of old martial, yogic, internal practices they talk about the water- or the moon-path and that’s  [what André Cognard Shihan is talking about,  when he reminisces about the days of Empress Himiko].

So often males, especially, start with a fire-path: very yang, and “do, do, do…”, and they’ll also push their body to dissolve resistances, and often they end up injuring themselves because they put all this kundalini force through the body.  It’s not so …   it’s not very good. Actually – it’s very much a willful activity. And since we’re trying to find ourselves as an expression of the will of the universe,  this water-path – this cool energy path – is very important.

Tonight,  we were talking about how we touch the wall, et cetera, getting a non-collisional echo, so that we move to sensing the real experience, instead of the reflection of an echo off of things  This is very important: as long as you’re reactive you tend to be brittle. And so we want to eliminate that and become so fluid that we have uncompromisable adaptability, and so that we don’t have some aspect of personality or consciousness that  stops us from really embracing and absorbing the sensation and  co-creating with it all the time.

So, in essence, by being soft we are able to access “doing nothing”.

- – - Kimbal Anderson Sensei

On martial learning and acting – Sen, Sen no Sen

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.

On martial learning and acting (2) – Suzuki, Kigaku, Budo, Shugyou

…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.

The Other Half of Training(2)…

…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…

read more:

O’Sensei…Vajrayana…and the mind…

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…

read more:

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