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Interview with Koichi Tohei (2)

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #109 (Fall/Winter 1996)

Mind-Body Unification (Shin Shin Toitsu) and Ueshiba Sensei

Ueshiba Sensei was an individual who showed what it means to exist in a relaxed state, to possess true ki, and to have a unified mind and body. His posture was as solid as a rock and you couldn’t budge him no matter how you pushed or pulled; yet he would toss me effortlessly without ever letting me feel that he was using any strength at all. I was astounded that such a person should actually exist in the world.

Koichi Tohei Sensei assisted by Terry Dobson
More than anything, what Ueshiba Sensei taught me was that a relaxed state is the most powerful. He himself was living proof of that.

I don’t think there is anyone these days who can truly demonstrate this the way he could. This truly wonderful quality that he took such great pains to develop— not stories about him pulling pine trees out of the ground and other nonsense—is what we should try to leave to future generations.

Why Ueshiba Sensei forbade shiai (matches)

Ueshiba Sensei did not allow shiai. In a real shiai the goal is to deprive your opponent of his power utterly and completely; failing to do that, you can’t claim victory. On the other hand, modern shiai are governed by rules that have been established for the sake of safety and to preserve the lives of the combatants, and it is within these rules that victory and defeat are determined.

Such contests, however, are actually sports, and therefore are not really shiai in the true sense of the word. Judo, for example, has been designed so that players can get up off the mat after being thrown any number of times. This is possible only because judo is a sport; in reality such a thing would not occur.

In the past, shiai meant that you either tried to kill or severely injure your opponent, or at least render him incapable of further resistance. Otherwise, the match would be considered unfinished and without a victor.

Budo, by its very nature does not involve competitive fighting. If you examine the Chinese characters you will find that they literally mean “the way of stopping the weapon.” You lay down your own weapn and at the same time make your enemy lay down his. In other words, defeating people is not the goal; rather true budo is the completion and perfection of your own self. This is what Ueshiba Sensei always said.

To maintain our safety and preserve our lives we have to establish rules. But deciding victory and defeat within those rules automatically places us in the realm of sports. And Ueshiba Sensei was adamant all his life that aikido is a budo, not a sport.

What Ueshiba Sensei taught

While Sensei felt deeply about this underlying principle of budo, he never really taught us anything about it in concrete terms. When we were training he would come around and tell us to “put some power into it.” And yet, when he himself demonstrated techniques he was totally relaxed! What he said and what he did, in other words, were completely different.

He also used to say fantastic things like, “The gods became like smoke and entered my body,” and “In all the world, past and present, even among saints and wise men, there has never been anyone who could understand what I say, and even I myself, though I am saying it, do not understand.” Now how in the world were we supposed to make anything of talk like that!?

Sensei was as solid as a rock but also very relaxed, and that combination made him extremely strong. He had mastered relaxation by completely integrating it into his body.

If I had not been fortunate enough to meet Ueshiba Sensei, I probably would have lived my whole life without ever knowing about this type and degree of relaxation. I’m very grateful to him for showing me that.

I never paid as much attention to what Sensei said as to what he did. You could ask him all the questions you wanted and never understand his answers. He would just show you and say something to the effect of “It’s done like this.”

Eventually I also met Tempu Nakamura Sensei, from whom I first heard the words, “The mind moves the body.” Hearing this I thought, “That’s it! That’s all there is to it! It’s so simple!” I started looking more closely for that kind of thing and indeed discovered that Ueshiba Sensei would move his opponents’ bodies by leading their minds (kokoro). And he did it while completely relaxed. It would have been good if he had simply taught us that, but he never did.

After thinking about it for a while I realized that for the mind to lead the body, and in order to lead your opponent’s mind, you first have to be capable of controlling your own mind. I set out with great enthusiasm studying how to do that. In other words, I had discovered that unifying the mind and body is a fundamental underpinning of aikido.

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