Category Archives: Dojocho Talks

Kimbal Anderson-Sensei: Audio, video and essay

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…

…so…

…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.

-~-~-~-~-~-~HOW TO BE A GOOD UKE~-~-~-~-~-~-

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

  • You have to be trying to get nage‘s center.  And then you have to let nage  get YOUR center. Depending on who you’re training with, you may have back off just enough so that they can get your center.

*

So.  The reason that we train the way we train is to help each other learn. So training has to be absolutely honest.  Honest is not being brutal, and over-coming the other person so that they can never do anything. Honest is not exerting an inappropriate amount of force for the level the other person’s at.

Being honest, you need to always take their center, or at least make a good attempt – and NOT with any stiffness – and we always want to get that little shift in balance – if not kuzushi, then the beginning of kuzushi – no matter what role we’re in. Because aiki doesn’t function,  in fact: no martial art functions,  unless you can do that.

So: if you’re uke and you’re working with someone who’s not as  experienced,  we use the correct grip,  so that it’s easy to take their center… so that it takes very little physical force to unbalance nage –  and then you hold that so that nage gets the feeling of “how do I work with that?…” “How do I restore, or avoid…?” or “How do I completely absorb this attack?” And then, hopefully,  their reflection back takes uke‘s center.

And that’s like the essence of benevolent but true training. And then you can increase the intensity as time goes on.

*

So, for instance, today we were working on the idea of what ura and omote are, and how omote might suddenly become very present with a certain kind of attack…

So: setting up to do suwari-waza-kokyu-ho, if we both do ura, then we have this balanced thing.  If uke and nage are both doing the same thing, then it’s all very balanced, the system harmonizes, and no-one gets thrown. Then it’s only when uke is tempted to extend –  only when uke pushes and tries harder to play their designated role in kokyu-dosa – only when uke puts their omote into it – and nage maintains their sense of ura, that the system absorbs it all and throws uke. Because that’s the nature of what we’re doing.

That’s the fun experiment we do a million, million, million times…

In-yo-ho and Makoto…

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So this movement of energy we’re showing, this thing, is creating a circulation within  y o u r   body.   Now some forms of aikido never go beyond this:  “I have my center…I take your center… I throw you…”  This is very much  “I’m okay, you’re uke“…  (in other words: “I maintain my integrity and you don’t need to….”)   Well, what I prefer is that you both have structural integrity and you both keep it as you feed in.  Which means that uke doesn’t bail out,  but is able to experience the influences of being drawn into a greater circulation of energy.

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…become an extraordinarily useful mirror!!!…

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

“Taking ukemi means learning to read your opponent and his intentions instantaneously,  just as if he and you are of one mind…” – – – O’Sensei

Learning to take ukemi is not just a physical discipline but a mental discipline with a profoundly spiritual dimension: it demands…greater awareness and the expansion of  consciousness” – – – Mitsugi Saotome  Shihan

The only way to really understand the gift of aikido is to become an extraordinarily useful mirror. And that is the nature of ukemi: to become a perfect mirror to help the other person polish their technique.

Many people just take the fall which doesn’t help;  other people resist when, in real budo, their arm would be snapped off.

Learning how to roll and tumble and all that is amusing, invigorating and good for you: it’s a kind of massage.

I intend to approach ukemi in terms of what it is: the ‘presence’ of uke. There is a condition of mind that you want to be in: at any moment you could become nage – if you’re like the perfect mirror. When the person moving with the technique backs up, does some sort of movement error, concentration error, you should be able to fill in the void, causing them to increase their adaptability and adjust to that… or causing them simply to discover that they are backing up. So you become the perfect vehicle.

Almost all the aikido stories I’ve heard center on ukemi: including the people I’ve trained as soldiers: stories like: driving down the road, the road blows up, they’re airborne in the vehicle… and they take a roll and walk away. While the vehicle’s tumbling after them they walk away…

Because they’re aware, and they move to the side.

It is the marvelous jewel.

In olden days often you trained three, four, five years, only doing ukemi with the teacher, and you learned the techniques inside and out.

Done really well, you should be able to do all aikido techniques without a nage: you should be able to do all the movements. They should be so embedded in your body…

It is the marvelous jewel of aikido.

…there are some things I want to talk about (7)…

– – – – – – – – – – ukemi, receiving and blending – – – – – – – – – –

…there are some things I want to talk about (6)…

– – – – – – – – – – basics of go-no-sen irimi  – – – – – – – – – –

-~-~-~-~-~-~AME-NO-UKIHASHI is…~-~-~-~-~-~-

– – – by Takeharu Yoshi Renshi

  • …being in Wu-Ji 1) stance – in shizentai –  with completely relaxed upper body, such that you do indeed physically get that floaty feeling that the Tai-Ch’i Classics describe as being “centered on the ground “ 2) , and being like a fine-tuned, precision balance 3) .  This is the Floating Bridge of Heaven.  Maintaining visualizations of opening up to the universe, to everything around you… and a sense of being open to the universe, to everything around you… are helpful for achieving this complete relaxation…

*

As one discovers in training, all these metaphors of body, mind, physical sensation are absolutely a propos.  They are always the best possible description – the best possible way you could say it – so that when your koshi starts to loosen up, perhaps, and you move a little, spontaneously, you realize, “oh – that’s ‘water’: the feeling of being on a moored row-boat, on gently moving water…”  Or maybe you’re performing kawa-misogi, and you stay in the river for a while, and have the realization: “oh –  t h a t ‘ s  the feeling of being just part of everything around you – being part of the universe…”

Well, rocking back and forth to find the place in between back and forth, which is absolutely upright, is one thing. But to find that place and to be there with complete “tai ch’i” relaxation is another – right at that upright posture is effectively a zero-gravity point that feels like floating – not on water, but more gentle and with a little more up-and-down: like floating on air.  The Tai Ch’i Classics  talk of “floating, sinking, lightness, heaviness,” and more particularly, they say: you “stand like a balance scale so that the slightest change in lightness, heaviness, floating or sinking is instantly discernable.” 4)

And in ki-energy terms, ‘opening up to the universe’ means: make the inside like the outside. Make the outside like the inside.

Because when you set up your body correctly, it becomes an antenna. An antenna has all the properties of the things it picks up –  and yet it doesn’t…

A Yagi antenna  is a big long bar…  it looks like a fish-skeleton. It was invented and patented by two Japanese professors in 1926, and it takes energies that are invisible and ephemeral and it amplifies them through the resonances of the spines – the “ribs” if you like – into a signal that the attached equipment can sense and work with. When you set your spine up correctly, it looks just like a Yagi. It is a vertical antenna, sitting in space.

And you know that if you take a wire, and you put it on a balloon, and you put it way up high, and you have a metal wire coming down: the flow of energy coming off it produces a huge static electrical charge. You can actually generate usable power from it.

So the physical structure of Ame-no-Ukihashi creates an antenna for ki. The body becomes an antenna for ki. And if you direct your mind to that, you can access all kinds of functionality.

And remember: you don’t reside in the body. If you think of your ki-tai, and beyond, you are a signal, a much larger field, that extends into all of space/time, and that signal – you too – is moving through the structure of your body.

Now, if you bend or kink an antenna you get a different signal than if you get it to unfold correctly. A lot of the exercises we do, are to open that antenna up. taiji_zhou_dunyi-1We unblock the spinal cord… I always felt that there’s something in the spinal fluid that is electro-physical in nature – you might even consider it a liquid antenna – and these days, now, we have liquid batteries. With memory.

And to complete the picture: the amount of neurons in your heart are vast – they are like your brain. And your gut, too, is another huge center of neurons.  And this is the traditional Taoist picture of the three centers of the body. The brain, heart, gut – the three tan-t’ien – are communicating with each other through the spine, and the central channels… or not. If the flow of ki is broken in places – through tension, stiffness – then your body dysfunctions: and the ki cannot flow.

But with relaxation, and with practice, you can have this concept of Heaven and Earth – right here in the body. You have this  antenna, and it connects the rarified Heaven energy, and the dense, Earth energy.

And at the center-point of the wave-form, right at the center of the arc, is your diaphragm. When you have correct posture, when you are in Wu-Ji, your diaphragm moves evenly between heaven and Earth.  So your breath connects Heaven and Earth.

*

Now, O’Sensei tells us we should be standing on the ‘floating rainbow-bridge of Heaven’ (Ame-no-Uke-hashi) always… so this is about not simply standing in wu-ji,  but maintaining a sense of wu-ji even as you move. Ba-gua has a word and an image for this: it is ‘you-shen’ – “swimming body”, like a dragon swimming through the clouds: or “swimming in ki”.  So Ame-no-Ukehashi is wuji when you are motionless, and it is you-shen when you move.

And as always, the image is a practical metaphor: a visualization aid. The dispassionate, unassailable mind of the dragon is akin to O’Sensei’s “being at the center of the universe” – Ame-no-Mi-naka-nushi – and it can help to relax the occiput, the ming-men, and the spot between the shoulder-blades, that traditionally are regarded as the last, most stubborn blockages to ki-flow. And the movement of the dragon’s wings helps loosen up the area beneath the accupoints on either side of vertebra T12… and suddenly you can feel like you’re floating in the clouds – or swimming in the clouds…

…and our version of this is Ame-no-Tori-fune.

1)  Wu-Ji is the fundamental relaxed standing position of Tao-ist meditation, Tai-Ch’i and Ba-Gua-Zhang. In the Tai Ch’i Classics, the Taijiquan Lun begins: “Taiji is born from Wuji…” (tr. Barbara Davis, The Taijiquan Classics, p. 103).  It is named for the undivided mu that precedes, in the Tao-ist description of creation, the division into closely intertwined yin and yang that we see represented in the well known yin/yang symbol (tai-kyoku). In the Tokugawa-era overlay of this Tao-ist description of creation onto the Kojiki’s, which Omoto-Kyo inherited, Wu-Ji is
AME-NO-MINAKA-NUSHI ,  and 
the yin and yang of the Tai-kyoku are
KAMI-MUSUBI-NO-KAMI  and
TAKAMI-MUSUBI-NO-KAMI .
2)  Astonishingly, the seal script version of the kanji for “center” could be a schematic of a person standing in Wu-Ji, connected to the Ki of Heaven and the Ki of Earth: sealscrptcenter-2    .And “Earth”, according to the standard Tai Ch’i schematic of the human body (see above) is the center of the torso: precisely where one feels the physical sensation of “floating as if on a cloud, in the air.”
3) “The crown [of the head] is like the reference [mark] on a scale… The two hands are like the trays on the left and right of a scale. The [koshi] is like a balance beam contact point with its support…. [the koshi] is like a wheel that can turn in both directions around the mingmen point. It is also like a big infantry banner – [a big flag] – that can be waved and turned.”  Taiji Pingzhun Yao Ding Jie  in  the Taijiquan Classics  tr. Zhang Yun, with David Ho, Peter Capell, Susan Darley,  pp. 370-71
4)  Taiji Pingzhun Yao Ding Jie  in  the Taijiquan Classics  tr. Zhang Yun, with David Ho, Peter Capell, Susan Darley,  p. 371

Uke and Nage feel the same thing…

Floating on Ame-no-Uki-Hashi, if there is true relaxation, uke and nage feel the same thing.

And that’s how uke learns.

Because musubi is the essential truth of aikido practice and life itself. A person who can find musubi realizes the universe hears them and they hear the universe.

 – – – Takeharu Yoshi Renshi

…standing on Ame-no-Ukihashi and the body of existence…

– – – by Takeharu Yoshi Renshi

So, thinking about Ame-no-Ukihashi, or Wuji… we were talking about O’Sensei describing that feeling: that life force feeling… right?

So…

In order to really enjoy something you have to allow yourself to reside in a sort of a stable place. You have to kind of let yourself into the place and be there. And because you’ve been programmed by this society to constantly move, move, move…   and pay, pay, pay. Every little thing, is like some middle-man has to extract from you. So you’ve been conditioned this way. So now you’re going to free yourself.

So… part of it is this kind of yi

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Becoming aware of your inner self-saboteur!!!

– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So… budo as self-protection…

There is a particular part of you that seems to be dedicated to your self-protection.

It protects you from everything, including things you need to have. It’s like the helicopter parent: “I know you’re thirsty, but we don’t know where this water came from.” You know… that kind of thing?

So, it seems good, and we end up being quite close and intimate with this part of ourselves.

We know it’s good.  Even though we know it could be really protecting us from good things. It’s got some kind of a standard, but it won’t tell you what that standard is.

Which is interesting.

You have to sit with it and ask it, “What are you protecting me from?” “Oh, embarrassment…” “Well, what do you mean?” And  it never goes farther than “what do you mean,” I’ve got to tell you…

I want you to try this out on yourself.  It’s very interesting to get to where you can grasp this…

Because this self-protection thing, also is your saboteur. It’s your nemesis.

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