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, the thought that there is no bad uke, no good uke… and when we’re training, allow yourself to be intoxicated with this training that is such a wonderful thing. I have to tell you: to have the opportunity to continually drink in reality in this way is really a gift – many people don’t have this gift. And it’s like living in a country without really wonderful water: you might still have water, but when you’ve lived in a country with beautiful water you know it’s a gift, and it makes you want to protect all water, eventually.

So we do a particular form to express this, and, you know, we sometimes have a very formal…well, as my sword-teacher said: good training is an expression of very high-class behavior. And by this he meant to be really, truly awake to what you’re doing, to allow your body to express respect to everyone in the room, and to your partner…respect to yourself: to learn to be so present in your own body-mind as to create directly, so that your kotodama‘s exactly what you intend. That’s the deepest respect you can have for yourself. Once you have that, you can give that to others. But you can’t give what you do not have.

So I like the idea that every virtue must be paid for – this is not a penalty, this is simply the idea that you have to put energy into something, and then you develop awareness, skill: a practice. My own personal feeling is that I’m a little suspecting of people who do not have or exhibit something that I’ve seen and know requires continuous effort, and working with difficult situations, and getting yourself out of bed – all those things that you have to do to attend a dojo. People can confuse a momentary feeling of commitment, an “I’m committed to doing this thing”, with the actual thing. But the internal feeling is only a decision. Commitment is getting up each time and doing it when you’re cold, doing it when you’re warm… and then the place of the teacher, at least in my thinking, is not meant to make this harder, but to direct your efforts to give you the most probabilities of connecting with things that will inspire you, that are real, and which allow you to verify what you’re doing.

Because it’s important that you can verify what you’re getting from treating your training as embu. And the way you do this is by looking at: how do you feel, how do you behave? Does it strengthen your internal compass of how you make decisions? When you see your own decisions coming from a place of harmony then you’ve embraced the way of harmony. That’s how you know.

And what we do, the style of aikido we do here, comes from all my experiences in trying to create something that expresses one-to-one that the method and the outcome and the internal change – the benefit – all match. I don’t feel that you can become a deeply compassionate, peaceful person, in tune with kannagara – the play of kami-energy – by being violent in your attitude. You also cannot be that kind of person, deeply, without a real sense of groundedness and sincerity and presence in the situation: which, martially – as the martial content of what we do – is a very, very powerful space to live and die from. And it’s not a game, it’s not a movie-plot, it’s an internal understanding.

You know, we’re going to be working on the idea that the universe supports you – – – the proof is: you have not fallen through the surface of this mat, have you?…just think about that – – – so, the universe supports you, and as a result, when you’re absorbing energy from the person giving energy, as uke: you can soak that up and blend and join with it and gain a tremendous sense of sensitivity and grounding with it. You can feel heaven and earth when you’re doing it. You drink it in just like the air – – –

And this is the hidden flavor in our training – you know, like umami, right? It can be hard to put a finger on it, but if you don’t have it then it’s missing something. So this is the umami of training, so that while we are doing something that has great history and perspective, and investigating it – keiko means “investigating the old” – we’re not trying to replicate history – we’re trying to tap into what they tapped into.

I find that, as you come to understand feeling the center of the earth through this thing we’re doing, you come to understand kotodama theory – the sound it makes inside of you. And then when we’re doing the basic kihon – “warm-up exercises” people call them – you’re doing it absorbing that energy from the core of the earth and you’re actually drawing the sound that you’ve understood: with your whole body – both as uke, being propelled into it, and as nage, being connecting to it and allowing uke to travel with you… you learn the words, you learn the sacred words – what they really are. What fire sounds like, and what water sounds like, and what caring sounds like…these things are very essential things, and this process allows you a grounded way of being that is different.

Also you’ll guard your speech. Once you understand this you’ll guard your speech. Because you’ll understand that just making nonsense sounds will do what for you?

[Jason-san: produce nonsense events…]

Yeah, and a nonsense life.

So when we train, think about connecting with a greater reality. You’re having embu with the universe. So you offer your complete sincerity and experience and gratitude to the universe. And what you get back is training. It doesn’t have to be something extra. The experience in the training will teach you about that space.

And I would hope that you can transfer that into everything, and have a good sense of humor, and be someone who deeply feels, and appreciates, and can care, and can make a mistake, and all the things that human-ness is…with a real deep sense of being connected to the universe at all times, never feeling abandoned by the universe, because you  a r e  this thing….

– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei

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