We have been in home quarantine for the past week. During previous lockdowns, we have been able to send the kids out for a bike ride or a run to break up the monotony. This time, we were caught up in the close contact quarantine requirement and our family can’t leave our property.
It started with my youngest son going in the back yard with a 2 metre stick to swinging it around and hit the makiwara. And then oldest son went outside with a naginata to join him. And then I got caught up in the moment and grabbed my tanto to be part of the action.
Weapons practice is a joy. It can sometimes feel like intentional training dampens that. But, spontaneous and free acts of practice highlight that we do this because we want to.
We have just been informed by the university where we have been training for the past decade or so that, as we no longer have any university students as members, we can no longer avail ourselves of their facilities.
This is a fair call; all our student members have either drifted away or graduated and this particular campus has never been a fertile recruiting ground.
So it looks like, for the second year running, (thanks to last year’s lock downs), we will be spending the Winter training outdoors.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, though from an instructor’s point of view it can get cold. Bloody cold. Students, of course, have the advantage of being kept warm through vigorous martial activity, so do not notice.
Our favourite training park is not really suitable for open hand or battojutsu, though it can be done. Ground too uneven for mats and not enough light to observe the precision details of the sword techniques. We may end up sharing space in a nearby park with the local boxercise group, where there is an expanse of concrete under good lights. I am sure they will not mind. We have weapons, after all.
Interesting times ahead, as we again adapt our teaching and training to the ever changing circumstances that are reality.
Although, if you run a local business in the south-western suburbs of Brisbane, have suitable space spare for a small dojo and have always dreamed of having an in house martial arts school for your company, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Early this year, I introduced students to a way of practicing their suburi that incorporated kotodama and a specific controlled form of breathing.
One of the senior students suggested the exercise become part of our everyday curriculum.
It will not.
The point of the practice was to provide an insight into their normal training that they may not otherwise have had. To this end we will perhaps repeat the exercise from time to time, but it will not become part of our regular training routine.
Over the years I have been asked, on more than one occasion, variations of the question:
Given the stated purpose of Aiki Ten Shin Sho Kai as a vehicle for self-transformation, why do we not have overt spiritual practices as part of our curriculum and general classes?
This is a bit like asking a Buddhist monk or a Shinto priest why they do not have more overtly spiritual practices in their daily lives.
We do not have the more traditionally recognised approaches to spirituality because we do not need them, the art is in and of itself, a spiritual practice.
To introduce such things as formal meditation, or lectures on spiritual matters would detract from the art and run the risk of separating it out into a purely physical practice in the minds of the students. For spiritual work we do this; for physical work we do this.
They are not separate.
Correct breathing, relaxation, stilling of the mind, centeredness, interconnection with all things and non-duality. These are all part and parcel of the physical techniques of Aiki Ten Shin Sho Kai. One cannot master the techniques without them.
Why do some students never realize this?
It could be that they simply do not pay attention in class. It is true, I did once notice a student who did not seem to be fully focused and listening.
Another simple reason is that like any system, you receive back based on what you put in. If you decide to take up any practice, spiritual or otherwise, but only ever do it at most, once a week, sometimes as little as once a month, then you are unlikely to notice any benefits.
Daily practice is required.
Daily practice with correct focus and approach.
Daily practice over an extended period of time.
So, why do we not have overt spiritual practices as part of our curriculum and general classes?
We do. We call it martial arts training. Please practice daily.
I had a grading this weekend and my body still aches. Some gradings we are pushed to our physical limits to see what emerges. This one, felt different. I didn’t feel like I was up to the task in terms of energy and fitness, but there were definite moments of euphoria from letting go and being in the moment. I’m not a spring chicken anymore.
Trust is at the heart of our school. You have to trust your partners – that they can receive a technique and look after themselves. You have to trust the process – if you show up to training and do the work, over time it will sink in. You have to trust your teachers – that they will continually hone your technique and lead you to the next steps on the journey.
It is especially meaningful during this grading because two of my partners were with me a decade ago for our open hand shodan test. Friendship and fellowship are things I didn’t sign up for when I joined the school and it isn’t in our advertising, but like a lot of other things in our culture, it is there if you are open to it.
There is a danger that when students train regularly with weapons that they become blasé, when the danger should be the weapons training itself.
There can be no lasting benefit, physically, mentally, or spiritually, in martial arts training, if it is not approached from a life and death perspective.
This can be a difficult concept to get across. Our current culture is one based on the fear of litigation and excessive insurance premiums. One in which there is a duty of care to ensure that all risks are, if not eliminated, then minimalised. A training environment where danger is an illusion and everyone knows it.
An attitude that makes a mockery of Budo.
I used to tell my students, that, if weapons training was not scary, then they were not doing it right.
Now I tell them to beat the awareness into their partner.
This piece has been prompted by some recent forays I have had students make into creative, semi-free form, Aiki Jo Jutsu practice.
Arrian, Xenophon, Sun Tsu, Musashi, von Clausewitz, these and many, many other authors I have been reading since my early teens.
When other children were talking about sport, movies and music, I preferred such topics as how Alexander and the Macedonians took the Persian Gates.
Yes, I was that kind of popular at school.
I have always loved tactics and strategy.
When executed correctly, there is an elegance and beauty to them.
While I still regularly read such works, (I have lost count of how many times I have read Musashi, and have recently revisited both Xenophon’s and Arrian’s, Anabasis), thirty-five years of martial arts practice has taught me that for all their apparent complexity, the essence of tactics and strategy comes down to the application of two, interrelated principles.
Recently my youngest daughter was bullied at her high school.
This included being restrained by one older, larger student while another stole her phone and art folder.
Without panicking, my daughter went straight into one of the self defense escape techniques she has been taught.
Despite not having attended any formal training for over a year due to the plague, she executed it perfectly, to the surprise and disbelief of the child attacking her.
A tribute to our School, its techniques and methodology, and to its student, who admitted she was angry enough to want to punch the other person, but was disciplined enough to follow her training instead.
Sad that we live in a society where it is necessary to teach self defense to children, but heartening that it is effective.
I finished making two bokuto for myself out of spotted gum.
The larger one is only intended for suburi. I wanted it to resemble an oar, but still have the curve and balance of a sword. I have used other heavy long objects to simulate a sword and they never have the right weight distribution. This one nicely combines a challenging heft with a satisfying movement.
The proportions of my new training bokuto are more slender than last year, which hopefully translates to a weapon that is more responsive.
This year’s theme in my training is sensitivity. It is counter-intuitive to use a weighty suburito to get stronger in seeking sensitivity. But having reserve strength and plenty of control at my disposal, I can operate at a level where I am more open to receive.
The praxis of making weapons is never complete until I use it in training for a while. That is where intentions and hopes meet reality.
Recently, we did suburi in class with a slight change and I was able to observe the power in our techniques from a different perspective.
Ji Cho once challenged me after a class to think about the nature of power. I can’t remember anything else about that class and I have no idea why she chose that moment to say that to me alone. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about it because it forced me to look at a lot of assumptions I had about power.
I still don’t know why she said it to me, and it doesn’t matter because it resurfaces at unexpected times and it’s nice to hear echoes of her in my training.
Inspirational posters, clever quotes, goal setting, resolutions & short motivational books. I’ve used them all in the pursuit of improvement.
Failure is often overlooked in the tool chest of productivity enhancements*. Not the fear of failure as that is an entirely different thing. Experiencing failure and the discovery of boundaries/limits is specifically what I am talking about.
Woody Allen talked about the correlation of not failing and risk taking. There are management principles about failing fast to determine if something has value. And these are useful concepts, but I think searching for failure is a misguided pursuit.
Some of my most memorable classes are when I try to do a technique and fail. Honestly and sincerely fail. It could be for any number of reasons, but the divide between what I thought I could do and what I was able to do is often unexpected and stings.
And as much as it hurts the ego to fail, it is a great motivator for me. It is a good re-set to achieve the mind of a beginner. 初心 After all, who couldn’t use a little more openness and eagerness?