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Training and Cognition

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by Yoshio Kuroiwa

Aiki News #63 (September 1984)

(The article appearing below was kindly contributed by Yoshio Kuroiwa Sensei, Chief Instructor of the Rikkyo University Aikido Club and practitioner of the art for more than 30 years)

Yoshio Kuroiwa Sensei

Training has physical and spiritual aspects. The physical side involves training in how to draw out the physical power which lies dormant within. The physiological structure of the human body is such that it is capable of producing (withstanding) a force which is equal to approximately three times a person’s normal strength (about the same as one’s body weight). However, manifesting such super-strength constantly is impossible physiologically and would destroy the body’s tissue. Strength under normal circumstances is physiologically limited, and this becomes the measure of man’s normal strength. Therefore, in an emergency, for example a fire, if one carries a heavy object such as a chest of drawers which he cannot normally carry, it is not at all miraculous. Rather, it is Nature’s providence. To consider this as some special ability is nonsense. In modern sports medicine, the interval method is used. Muscles are capable of maintaining their condition when a 30% resistance (amount of exercise) is applied, but less than this amount results in a deterioration of the muscle. Only when a resistance of 60% to 80% is applied will the muscle develop. More than that applied constantly will destroy the muscle tissue. Thus, rest periods are necessary and the development of muscles will be accelerated through a regular repetition of resistance and rest. It is necessary to develop muscles gradually and exceeding resistance limits will produce contrary results except in the case of exceptional individuals. Of course, there are differences due to age, physical strength, skeletal structure and body size. For example, muscles developed through regular body building will be maintained and further develop if the appropriate stimulus is present. If unused for long periods they will atrophy to their original condition or may even become “excess baggage” and become harmful. We often hear of cases of persons who engaged in sports during their student days and after graduation cease physical activity only to suffer from poor health.

The body has its limits but the mind has no limit. The mind is free and unrestrained. Even though you can tie the body up with a rope (matter) you cannot tie up the mind. Those things which tie the mind are faith and illusion. The mind moves the body and the body can enrich or impoverish the mind.

Let us reflect on the meaning of training. It seems that training is for cultivating proper technique through repetition, but this is only the outer appearance. In fact, its true meaning is to acquire faith. If you don’t train with a correct understanding of this fact in the beginning, you will be shackled by form. The mind which reacts to “shackled” form becomes a narrow mind. You shouldn’t adhere strictly to form. Form should be completely free and not a captive to uniformity. Everyone has his or her own characteristics, body type and condition. There is no way to unify technique into a common form. Even though in appearance a form is common, one’s inner self is expressed. The manifestation of the inner self is necessary and training exists for this purpose. Techniques (form) serve as guideposts in order to learn the principles of nature. The aim of training is content and not the practice of form. An understanding of the content, meaning and purpose of techniques creates an enriched mind and a broad confidence (faith). Techniques are the expression of the mind through the body and are not for forcing people into a pattern, nor for limiting their minds. The evolution of a single object (mono) becomes a technique and one technique (movement) is only one evolutionary direction. If you attach too much importance to one direction (or are shackled by it) you cannot grasp the meaning of the larger evolution. Everything which has evolved has sprung from a center. Through the natural movement of the center of the body, the body moves forward or backward, left or right, or up or down and creates a flexible balance. What moves the center is a free, unshackled mind. It is not incorrect to state that techniques and training exist as means to cultivate a free, unshackled and expansive mind. It is important to keep in mind that if you are captured solely by phenomenal aspects, your mind will become narrow. If you train with a reasonable, free and unshackled mind, as I mentioned before, you develop muscles despite yourself and, naturally, a healthy body results. Further, a healthy body creates an open mind. It is important to understand correctly the meaning of the oft quoted expressions, “The mind leads and the body follows” and “The mind and body are one.” If you misunderstand these concepts, it will prove a great hindrance and I am afraid that this will lead to the “cart being placed before the horse”. Basics (kihon) are the guideposts (meaning) but are not the same as training in the technical fundamentals (kiso). Problems arise if you confuse basics and training in technical fundamentals. By learning techniques you gain mental confidence and composure but unless you can apply these qualities correctly in daily life, they are meaningless. What is necessary and acceptable at the present time is not great physical strength or technique (which is expressed by the body) but rather a gentle spirit.

When you train it is necessary to adapt yourself to the level of your partner. You should not force your partner to do things you are able to do. For example, it is unreasonable to ask elementary students to perform at a high-school level. When they reach high school they can do such things naturally. What is important is to provide hints according to the level of your partner and try to draw out his or her latent abilities. Attempts to force one’s partner to improve (with good intentions) will not be successful. You should lead your partner while stimulating interest and self-knowledge. When your partner has a desire to learn, his knowledge of self leads to improvement.

Thus, the most important thing is to what extent teachers know what they themselves are doing. If a teacher says that Aiki is scientific and logical and that the spirit is important, his or her practice and techniques should be rational and logical (fact: principles of the material world) and an ethical explanation of the spiritual dimension of Aiki (meaning: principle of the spirit) should be given. This requires an explanation of mind-body harmony. If you misunderstand the relationship of cause and effect in techniques and the meaning of ukemi (breakfall) I think you will end up merely playing at technique. If you misconceive the oriental concept of “emptiness” (ku) you will cherish an illusion to the effect that “one can understand simply by doing” or “neglecting logical explanations of things is great and is the true way” (they say: “It’s not logical). People who fancy themselves as great while citing such terms as: “telepathy”, “Communication of profound meaning from heart to heart” (Zen term), etc. do not realize that they have fallen into an ideology without a process. Those people achieve self-satisfaction confirming the results arrived at by their predecessors using ideological terms as if they were themselves enlightened. They explain that the purpose of Aiki is training of the human being with ideological terms and do not theorize anything of importance in specific terms. They become self-complacent and indulge themselves in playing with concepts while hurtling forward and forgetting their sources. Further, if they take special pride in Aiki thinking how wonderful it is, others who are serious about the art will only be disappointed and I am afraid Aikido will be isolated and misunderstood and will take a direction which runs contrary to a path of substantial development. It is necessary to have a humble attitude which holds that other budo and sports are as wonderful as Aiki. Difficult words and expressions are not necessary. You should explain using clear examples so that anyone can understand. Phenomena, that is, substance. I often see people who cherish the illusion that expressing noble thoughts or words puts them in the forefront of the times.

We call those aspects which can be explained no further “mysteries”. This represents an undiscovered world. Up to that point it is necessary to analyze and explain. That is, the domain of science and rationality. The object of religion is the spirit which cannot be the object of phenomenal analysis and the order (riai) of heaven and earth. Science studies facts (things). Religion studies meaning (spirit). The form (technique) expressed should be theorized scientifically. The reason is that form serves as a path for the expression of the spirit. If you don’t strike the path correctly, those following you will follow blindly. It is important to learn to strike the path correctly. Once you accustom yourself to doing this, you will gradually and unconsciously become able to strike the path as you wish as a form of self-expression.

It is also important to grasp the meaning of the cosmic dual forces of yin and yang (Japanese: in and yo). This involves the extinguishing (shometsu) of the self. And it is important to understand the meaning of “meeting” (deai). Everything develops through contact. Moreover, you shouldn’t think maai is simply distance. If you think something because someone else tells you or because you are taught in that manner, you will become just like the protagonist of a tragicomedy who has no existence (character) of his own. It is important to see through to the truth. To achieve this you need the means (technique). However, you should not be shackled by techniques but rather should understand their meaning. It is important not to be shackled by techniques. This is possible through a knowledge of their limitations. Those who are shackled by technique should understand that this is an illusion. The danger of such people mistaking this illusion for the truth very often exists. You should recognize the existence of technique as a means to perceive this fact. It is important to be shackled while clearly understanding that this is the case. Practice is the accumulation of training in order to lead one to express himself or herself and to a realization of one’s immanence through the phenomenal aspect of reality. That is to say, fact and meaning should be recognized as one. The posture of the body is in conformity with objective fact. The spirit reveals correct meaning. This cannot be achieved in one day. Over a long period of time, unconsciously you will become aware of it. Since this is not a thing which can be expressed directly in words mere thinking is not enough. We should realize that it is here that the origin of vanity and illusion lies. We should always reflect upon and discover the importance of training humbly.

(From a 1971 newsletter of Rikkyo University entitled “Kaiho”, translated by Ikuko Kimura and Stanley Pranin.)