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The Spirit of Aikido: Learning, Feeling, and Transmitting the Essence

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by Dennis Clark

Published Online

“To protect the body and spirit, it is important that the hands, feet, and hips move and operate in harmony with the mind and spirit. Furthermore, when leading people or being led, the use of the hands is critical. Lead with one hand and control with the other. Endeavor to fully grasp this. The moment that the opponent displays an intention to pull, invite this by giving him the incentive and causing in his mind a desire to pull before he has even done so. After your training progresses, you should be able to simply utilize the deficiencies of your opponent, recognizing them before he is able to do so.

Locate his openings before he does. In other words, uncover openings where there are inadequacies and apply technique. The detection of openings is the way of Aiki.” – Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei

The following are excerpts from Sunadomari Sensei`s instruction at the Aiki Manseido Yudansha Seminar that took place on October 3, 2004 in Kumamoto City, Japan.

Studying Kokyu Through the Use of the Hands

The Founder stated: “It is through the use of the hands that you can truly gain an understanding of kokyu (breath/rhythm).” Through the hands you can read your opponents kokyu. The practice of other techniques is fruitless without first understanding how to manifest kokyu power through the hands. Once you grasp its use through the hands, you can begin to put it to work in various techniques such as those using the shoulder, elbow, finger, or lapel.

The Instant of Contact

The techniques of the past relied heavily on the application of atemi (strikes) before executing technique against a physically superior opponent. In reality, however, applying atemi in such instances is too slow. Techniques will not work if you do not completely connect with your opponent from the very instant that he makes contact.

The State of our Heart is Manifest through our Physical Technique

The effectiveness of technique is determinable at this moment of contact. In this instant, you can gauge your opponent`s use of physical power, his level of ability, as well as, read his heart and mind. However, to do so you must not have even the slightest intention to push against him. Whatever the situation, you must always make contact with your opponent with a feeling of entrusting yourself completely to him. To truly do so is a problem for which the solution lies in the heart and mind. The Founder clearly stated: “the realm of the physical must not be given precedence.” The meaning of this is that it is the spirit which moves the body. When you truly understand this, the relation of your physical body to the performance of technique disappears. Despite my relative old age, I am still able to train with 70 to 80 of you at one time. However, if I relied on physical power to apply technique and attempt to throw you this would be impossible. When you entrust yourself completely to your opponent you can move them with ease no matter how they attack. If your opponent grabs your arm, you should keep it so relaxed that if they were to release their grip, your hand will drop by its own weight. By keeping your arm in such a relaxed state your opponent cannot apply technique.

Creating a Peaceful World through Training in the Martial Arts

The realm of the spirit is most important. Those who rely on strength of a physical nature are doomed to be on the receiving end of more of the same. Seeking to decimate the opposition leads to circumstances like those occurring in Iraq at present. Interacting with others with an aggressive state of mind and through physical means or the use of weapons never fails in compounding opposition. Using such means ultimately creates in our opponents` hearts a desire for revenge. The Founder preached about using the martial arts to create a world free of fighting. He spoke of “extinguishing our enemies” and of “building a wonderful world.” Those of us who practice Aikido must pursue the words of the Founder and the spirit that he left for us.

Sunadomari Sensei often says that “the strongest state of mind is one which does not fight” and “completely connecting yourself with your partner is most powerful.” Each time that I grab Sunadomari Sensei`s wrist and experience his technique, I am moved by the sensation and convinced that these are not just lofty words but something that truly can be manifest through our physical bodies. When you grab Sensei`s wrist strongly and feel his technique, you do not shriek out in pain. Instead, you experience momentary bewilderment followed by the sensation of a smile coming over your face.

At each seminar, we often train in techniques where the opponent grabs our wrists. During these seminars, the sensitivity and feeling of connection between uke and nage is the main focus of our training. Through this form of training, I am always painfully reminded of my own immaturity. Presently, it is precisely this aspect of my training that I find to be both the most interesting as well as the most frustrating.