Miscellaneous Thoughts on Aikido (from Kuroiwa sensei’s writings)

Another translation done on a whim. No proofreading done. I came across a phrase that stood out to me – the fruit for my labor.

What is important in aikido practice is to not be captivated by anything, and to move freely and naturally. To be captivated by a form is to oppose what is natural. Forms arise out of chaos and serve as road signs. We come to correctly understand the particular forms that comprise our practice format, we avoid competing with each other, and as a result achieve a body that can act freely and a mind that is forthright.

By practicing forthrightly, one acquires (unconsciously) with the body necessary body movements, agility, and the sense of interaction with another person. By correctly understanding the forms, the body comes to move exactly as the mind tells it to. It is no good to require conscious effort to move – one must move unconsciously. The movement when one encounters the opponent is crucial, and the fruits of that are the forms. Those forms contain teach us the one point that ties together the countless variations of a movement. So a form is something that originally didn’t exist. Forms are signs to show the way within practice in order to understand movements, and must not be interpreted as forms(?). (型は練習において動き理解する為の道しるべであり型として解釈してはいけないと思います。)

If one does not go further and develop from the forms then one stops at preserving the forms – this would be the same as koryu. The thing is, the basic forms and techniques are the highest secrets and cannot be done easily. However, the essence is something that is absolute and applicable to everything, and manifests according to people’s age, level of understanding, etc. and can be said to reflect ten different colors for every ten people.

When an experienced person sees the expression of a beginner, it may appear immature. However, if it is an expression that is not forced and is in accordance with the individual, it is not incorrect. It is necessary for experienced people to understand newer people in the context of their being new. For example, an elementary school student studies elementary school material, and must be guided. If one sees that student in reference to university students, that student will appear immature and stupid. Grades of aiki are an expression not of the height of understanding but the width.

There is a tree and it is named “aiki”. The tree grew from a single seed, developed a thick trunk, robust and supple branches, and from there leaves and flowers. It is a whole display of beauty, wonder, and grandness. If it was only a trunk or only flowers, no person would think it was beautiful. The tree embodies a harmonious, whole beauty and the subtlety of seasonal changes. It is precisely because it grew from one seed that it is showing the whole potential of that one seed, and expresses the grand power of nature. A tree that is in accordance with nature, develops to its potential, and grows can be considered alongside aikido, in which we train in techniques that are the fruit of a mind that is in harmony with nature.

It is not necessary to think of aikido as complicated. To state the obvious, things that are a matter of course are extremely difficult. If we look around our world, all of the rules and laws indicate things that are a matter of course, and at the same time tell us how difficult it is to do what is matter of course. People have egos. How to control it and avoid becoming captivated by it is crucial. In practice also there are situations in which the self comes out and there is competition. If one can harmonize with the opponent there is no collision.

In order to be rid of collisions in the world, there are virtues and doctrines indicating correct thought and action, and how one’s mind should be. If the world were in harmony, these wouldn’t be necessary. In aiki also the mind/spirit is held as important. Practice in which we collide is not good, but as this is difficult, it is training with that goal.

To do ukemi in practice is crucial for progress. In aiki it is necessary to be thrown. By being thrown we can absorb our partner’s movement and flow. We also develop our own physical flexibility and responsiveness. If one can become good at doing ukemi, one’s technique improves as well. Interestingly, along with how soft or rigid a person’s ukemi is, how good a person’s ukemi is relates to their technique. It is mysterious but we can judge a person’s training by how they do ukemi. This is because it is a matter of the internal being reflected in the external. Depending on how a person’s ukemi is, the quality of his partner’s technique also changes. To exaggerate, a person with good ukemi can do good ukemi because he can “kill” the opponent’s technique.* The important thing here is not to confuse ability and skill with roughness and force. Ability and skill are a matter of whether a person doing ukemi can create flexibility and freedom for himself. It would be a grave matter if we were to confuse force with ability and skill. To hold down or harm those below us would be to indicate our lack of development.

In practice, we borrow each other as partners and guide and are guided by our partners as mirrors. We connect in a reciprocal manner and form one image.

In modern times we do not have matches to the death. If we did, practice would become something else. It depends on the “thickness” of what is inside. However, for us, we would like to proudly say that we don’t use that for which we train seriously as a means for conflict. Of course we practice in order to be healthy. It is also for harmony of the mind. Practice is the expression of the mind and the path of development, and techniques the shadow of the mind.

(left off:)心の問題は非常に大きく興味ある問題です上記に文中に作用する「心の法則」「念の集積」「念の具体化」さらに「気」については、改めて稽古を通じて、合気のつながりを共に考えたいと思います。平凡は非凡なり、これは合気の稽古に於いても真理です。-完-

*I felt that this was a very precise yet thought provoking way to put it. It goes without saying that this “killing” does not mean the same thing as thwarting or confounding. By participating fully in the “conversation” with a nage, the uke can practice being an active participant, not simply being a mindless tackling dummy object to be manipulated – yet the conversation goes the way it is prescribed. I think this is where many people see a contradiction that their “capacity as a result of their training”, as Kuroiwa sensei might phrase it, does not enable them to see past.

Philosophically speaking, this may bring us face to face with the question, how does becoming able to kill mean the same thing as becoming able to nurture/let live/develop? I think this way of “killing” mentioned in relation to ukemi is one that keeps nage not only going, but wanting to keep going. It is not the same as ending or extinguishing. It is having the sword tip at his throat – he is not inclined to surrender in spirit. Instead he continues – zanshin. Striving to stop or “shut down” the partner is not the same.


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