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An Aikido Life (03)

by Gozo Shioda

Aiki News #74 (April 1987)

Chapter Five: Aikido Basics

Basics are important for anything. Basics are important especially in aikido. I have repeated many times that it is not an exaggeration to say that basics are what aikido is all about. Allow me to talk about these basics.

(1) A Pure Heart

When practicing you have to put all other thoughts out of your mind and achieve a pure heart. You repeat each technique with an empty state of mind. Realizing this empty state of mind is more difficult than you might expect. Therefore, in the beginning, you must consciously make an effort to remove all other thoughts from your mind. The process is the same as realizing a spiritual state of perfect selflessness while sitting in meditation. Through repeated effort to achieve this empty state of mind, you will someday unconsciously realize this goal. It is then that you will have achieved a pure heart. As long as you are conscious of your purpose you have not yet reached this state. It may take quite some time to attain this goal. This is an important first step in your training. If basics are the essence of aikido, this can be regarded as the first stage of basics.

(02) Calmness In Movement

In Zen one pursues a state of calmness while inactive but in aikido we attempt to achieve this state in action. aikido techniques naturally include movements. Yet when moving, you should never loose a pure heart but always maintain a normal mental state.

In aikido you move in accordance with the movement of your opponent. You don’t go against his power but rather you draw his power into you. Sometimes you control your opponent just by leading his power or adding your own power to his which you have already absorbed.

If, during your movement, you lose your pure heart, you will lose sight of your opponent’s movement and the flow of his power. This will result in your clashing with him or mistiming your movement which will end up destroying the effectiveness of the technique. If you are more powerful than your opponent you may manage to pin him. However, you will have defeated him with force and not with aikido. Only when there is peace in your actions will you be able to see well your opponent’s movements and the flow of his power.

I often see situations where a person applying a technique on his partner thinks his technique is correct but fails to successfully execute it. This is because he is clashing with the movement or flow of the power of his partner at some point. A growing desire to defeat the opponent results in a loss of composure and the inability to see him with a pure mental state.

When I was a beginner a senior once grabbed my hand strongly and I had trouble trying to move in order to apply a technique. Ueshiba Sensei happened to see me struggling then and said to me: “Shioda, you ought to be able to do better than that. The reason you cannot move is because you are only paying attention to your hand and putting too much power into it. If you look at his eyes, you will see the whole and that will make it easier for you to apply a technique.” Indeed, I was only paying attention to my arm in trying to throw him. In other words, not only did I fail to see the flow of my opponent’s power but also my center of gravity had risen. I didn’t realize that my ability to concentrate, which can occur only when one’s whole body is united, was being disturbed.

I then realized the meaning of Ueshiba Sensei’s words, that is, if you see your opponent’s eyes with a pure heart it will help you to see him as a whole and to know the direction of the flow of his power. At the same time, you will see the reflection of yourself as a whole in him. Ever since then I have made it a rule to remember his words and the training goal they represent whenever I practice.

Sensei never taught techniques in a step-by-step way. He just told us to practice hard and also often told us to “learn techniques and forget them”. This means that you learn martial arts not with the brain but with the body. However, I believe there is something more important in his words. If you face your opponent with a pure heart, you will begin to see him and yourself very clearly. This pure heart refers to a proper mental attitude or psychological state before practicing techniques. We should also learn this important basic instinctively. Thus, even if your opponent is holding a weapon such as a knife, a sword or a stick or if there are many opponents, there is no need to become unsettled. Here is a relevant poem by Ueshiba Sensei:

When surrounded by a forest of spears
Know that your spirit is your shield.

(3) When Facing An Enemy, Unite With Him

Kiichihogen, a legendary character is purported to have said the above words. aikido is a martial art where one unites his ki with his opponent’s. In other words, you don’t struggle against your opponent. If he pushes you, you don’t push him back. If he pulls you, don’t pull him back but rather harmonize with him. This too is one of the important basics of aikido. It goes without saying that you cannot harmonize yourself with your opponent without a pure heart as I mentioned earlier. Harmony is conformity, not compromise. Unification with your opponent creates a single flow of movement where there is no clashing. Therefore, you can apply a technique without using unnecessary force. This is why women, children and elderly people without physical strength can continue to practice aikido.

Since aikido is not a martial art where you initiate an attack but rather an art of self-defense, you can harmonize yourself with your opponent according to how he approaches you. Because your opponent is preceded by his flow of power you can lead his movement into yours in order to apply a technique.

In this manner you and your opponent unite to create a single flow. Thus, when some people who don’t know aikido see a demonstration given by experienced practitioners they become suspicious of the art and believe that everything is prearranged. However, if they start aikido they will later come to realize that their impression of the art was incorrect.

In aikido demonstrations, the more advanced the persons executing the techniques and taking the falls are, the more balanced their minds, techniques and bodies become. As their “kokyu” or breathing becomes united, the artistic beauty of harmony emerges. This beauty is different from the elegant beauty of dancing or gymnastics. I would describe it as a “severe” beauty, that is, like an autumn frost.

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