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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