Celebrating Our 40th Anniversary Welcome to the Daily Message. Ito Sensei writes articles for your information and enjoyment. The late Reverend Kensho Furuya started this Daily Message in the late 1990s. Our dojo celebrates its 40th year in 2014 and our monthly publication, The Aiki Dojo, is now it its 30th year.
Warning: When using this website, the Daily Message, and The Aiki Dojo monthly publication, please use caution: Information and Knowledge are not the same thing. You can get information from your computer and the Internet, but you can only get knowledge when you use your mind and your body.
In life as in Aikido, one must have timing. A good Aikidoist will have average timing, but a great Aikidoist will have phenomenal timing. But, what is timing?
Timing is something that is difficult to explain. Google defines it as, “The choice, judgment, or control of when something should be done.” That definition is something that one can understand but still not know. Timing can be thought of as just the right point when something extraordinary can happen. A good metaphor might be the moment when darkness turns into light or when light changes into darkness. When the day changes over, there is this place and within that place exists a subtle moment when it is neither dark nor light. If one is aware then one can catch a glimpse of its immense beauty. To the uninformed, the day just became night or the night just became day.
Every person has some sense of timing – it is innate. How do I know that? Does your heart beat? Then you have timing.
It doesn’t matter if one is studying acting, Aikido or driving – timing is important. To develop that sense of timing requires training. Lots and lots of training. In training, one develops their body first and then their mind second and with these developments comes a sense of awareness. This awareness enables one to almost see the timing, but it is a feeling thing more than a seeing thing. Seeing it is too late. Just as in when the day turns over, you feel it before you see it and then it is gone. In sports it is called being in the zone. This “zone” type awareness enables the athlete to almost control the moment because their awareness creates this sense of vastness. Athletes report things like the ball being 10x larger or the goal being infinitely bigger enabling them to score with ease.
When one’s awareness is developed then one is able to seize the moment and that is why people often say, “I caught the timing.”
The Priest Mongaku at the Waterall of Nachi by Kuniyoshi Utagawa.
I love this woodblock print despite the story behind it which is rather unsavory. The picture itself reminds me of O Sensei and his misogi or purification training. The story goes that a warrior named Endo Morito fell in love with a beautiful woman named Kesa Gozen who was already married to a palace guard named Wataru. Endo relentlessly pursued Kesa and each time she rebuffed his advances until one day she gave in on the condition that Endo kill her husband the next night. On the night in question, she cut off her hair and laid in Wataru’s bed. Endo quietly entered the room and killed Wataru and cutoff his head. He only realized that he had killed Kesa as he ran out of the room with the head. Upon realizing his mistake, he confessed to her husband and mother and begged them to kill him. However, Wataru was satisfied with his confession and spared his life.
Being spared and grief stricken with his crime, Endo chose to live in exile and entered into the priesthood and took the name Mongaku. Interestingly, Wataru entered into the monastery as well with Endo. Everyday he meditated under the icy falls of Nachi to atone for his crime. For three years, every day he fulfilled his vow meditate under the falls. One day during winter, he had almost completely frozen over and was about to die as he meditated. At the moment right before death, Fudo Myo-o and Kannon, the goddess of compassion came down and saved him. After his rescue he became an adviser to Shogun Yoritomo and would eventually be exiled to Okishima for plotting against the Emperor.
“People with the same disease share sympathy.” – Japanese proverb
Martial arts training is one of the most difficult things a person will ever do.
It is difficult because throughout the journey, the training tests and simultaneously forges us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Luckily, it usually doesn’t happen all at once even though it sometimes feels that way.
This “suffering” is the first step towards our understanding of compassion. When we suffer we are better able to see the suffering of others and then we realize what they are talking about in Buddhism when they say, “Everyone suffers.” We are suffering and then we learn that at the same time other people are going through their own stuff too. It doesn’t matter if you are the teacher or if you are the student. Everyone is suffering to some degree.
Compassion is defined by Google as, “The sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. The Buddhist definition of compassion is “Wanting sentient beings to be free from suffering.”
We are not alone in our suffering. Like all people, we are all good and doing the best that we can. Like all people we are all suffering and going through our own stuff. When we understand this then every person deserves kindness, compassion and forgiveness – just as we do.
In Aikido, the first step is always harmony – harmony with yourself then harmony with your partner. Calmness is the Aikidoist’s greatest asset. If we don’t have the stillness that comes as a result of our inner harmony, we are not doing Aikido. Turbulence, anxiety, worry, or anger are signs of internal chaos. Those who cannot be calm will be defeat by the person who can and that is why the first step in Aikido is harmony.
How does one find inner peace? Training. It takes a lot of training.
This year is the Year of the Monkey according to Chinese astrology. The monkey is a smart and hyperactive animal. This year we might see just about anything happen. Supposedly since the monkey is hyperactive and the fact that this is a Fire year, there is no sense in planning, but that doesn’t mean that we should not be diligent. Things will largely be individual pursuits which is good for anyone who is a self-motivator. If not, one needs to be focused in order to be successful. Also, since the monkey is an intelligent animal it needs to be balanced with things physically. So this is good since doing Aikido will keep the monkey’s mind in balance. The Year of the Monkey is supposed to be prosperous so we all should see some success if we can stay diligent and focused in everything that we do in our lives.
Here is a fine piece of calligraphy by Takayama Chogyu who was a writer in the Meiji period. It reads, “Sky with stars, ground with flowers, and people with love.”
As human beings our most natural tendency is love, but this concept of true love has been blurred somewhat over the years. This calligraphy espouses O Sensei’s personal philosophy of life which became the basis for Aikido.
To understand Aikido is to understand nature. With things in their most natural state, the stars need the sky, the flowers need the ground and people need love.
Aikido exists not to go against nature but to follow a way of life that is in harmony with it.
When I was a kid, my favorite TV show as Kung-fu with David Carradine. The re-runs were shown everyday on TV and my favorite parts were when they did the flashbacks to Caine’s time studying in the temple. One of my favorite scenes was when Caine would walk on the rice paper.
One of the core tenets of ashi-sabaki or footwork is how to step lightly, but balanced. If one puts too much weight in their feet then they are unable to move them fluidly and quickly. If one makes their feet too light then someone can sweep them out from under them. I asked Watanabe Sensei what the weight distribution should be and he said Furuya Sensei said that the weight distribution should be “50-50 but you should have this concentrated feeling of projecting forward.”
We want this fluidity to our movement so that we can use our footwork to manage our partners advances. Sensei used to say, “If you want to speed up the movement, speed up your footwork.” Ashi-sabaki is the foundation of our movement and thus we should put time into mastering it.
One of the tell-tale signs that one is stepping too heavy is if their step creates an audible sound when the foot lands. Losing one’s balance or this audible sound are a few ways we would know if our steps were too heavy.
Here is a video from the Chinese TV show Kung-fu Quest where a student is going to train at the famed Wudang mountain temple. Take note of how light the masters step and how light their footwork seems. Pay particular attention to 25:00 where the Grandmaster describes “light training.”
When I think of Karate, I think of Fumio Demura Sensei. I know there are many great Karate teachers and probably even more practitioners, but to me Demura Sensei epitomizes Karate. We have all seen him but may not have recognized him. He was Mr. Miyagi’s stunt double in the Karate Kid movies. I met Demura Sensei around 25 years ago when his dojo used to participate in martial arts demonstrations organized by Furuya Sensei. Sensei wanted to show the public “real” martial artists so he would always use Demura Sensei to represent Karate. He and Sensei enjoyed a wonderful friendship that I think began when Sensei worked at Inside Kung-fuMagazine, but I am not sure. Many people might not know this but Sensei was a copy editor who helped to edit many books written by famous and influential martial arts teachers in the 70s and 80s. Demura Sensei was someone I knew I could trust and I called several times after Sensei passed away for advice.
My favorite Demura Sensei story happened backstage at the Aratani Japan America Theater in the early 1990s. Sensei organized this huge event with famous martial artists from all over the world. We represented Aikido and Iaido while Demura Sensei’s group represented Karate. We were all backstage waiting with Demura Sensei’s group as they were about to go on. Demura Sensei and Sensei chit-chatted for what seemed like a few seconds. We stood behind Sensei and his students stood behind him like some sort of cliched scene from a campy martial arts movie. Very discreetly Demura Sensei looked at one of his students and with a hushed toned he nodded, “chairs” and his students immediately ran off to get chairs. Sensei noticed this and motioned the same for us. It must have looked like a bunch of ants running around searching for chairs. We all brought back chairs as fast as we could like it was some kind of budo race. We all set them down and arranged them and motioned for the other students to sit down but nobody did except the senseis. Sensei and Demura Sensei sat down for just a few seconds as we all stood trying to be humble and not wanting to break protocol trying to get the other students to sit. A few seconds later they shook hands and parted ways. Sensei commented after they went to the dressing room, “Man, his students are well trained” which is the greatest compliment anyone can give to another martial arts teacher.
We refer to Morihei Ueshiba as O Sensei not because he created Aikido or because he was good at Aikido. Morihei Ueshiba has the the title of O Sensei because of all the great teachers he created. Demura Sensei is a true teacher and is someone who fits that criteria too.
Youtube is filled with Demura Sensei’s videos. His students recently made a documentary about his life (something I wish we have done) that is coming out soon. Here is the trailer and another video about his life.
The third installment of Ip Man has come out in the theaters. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have looked at the trailer and the “making of” video blogs they have been putting up on the internet. It looks pretty good.
Why do I do Aikido? I am not really sure. Aikido is something that intrigues me. I teach a lot of classes and on a regular basis I see something new or different. When this happens, it peaks my interest and pushes me to study more. I don’t know why or how I became interested in Aikido so I can’t tell you if it was some sort of nature/nurture thing from my past. I can tell you that Aikido has been something that was around me but unknown to me as a child. Here are a few things that make me think, “Hmm” and that perhaps Aikido was something that I was always supposed to do. When I was a small child my grandfather suggested my mom take my brother to Aikido lessons. People in Furuya Sensei’s family were close to people in my family, but we had never met. Interestingly, when going through Sensei’s stuff after he had died, I found a funeral program for my great grandmother’s funeral.
Are things pre-destined? I am not sure, but the signs and synchronicities are all around us.
Here is a great video of O Sensei doing Aikido. Look at how he uses the angles and how he is constantly moving.