Category Archives: Dojocho Talks

Kimbal Anderson-Sensei: Audio, video and essay

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…

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On Torifune and Furitama…

TORIFUNE

 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,…

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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?”

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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…

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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…

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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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On Kamae…

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…

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…a short talk on Kamae…