Colleges Should Teach Religion to Their Students

June 20, 2018

This is, I believe, the primary good that aikido can bring to people’s lives.

Colleges Should Teach Religion to Their Students
By Marshall Poe

I think religion should be taught in college. I’m not talking about “religious studies,” that is, the study of the phenomenon of religion. I’m talking about having imams, priests, pastors, rabbis, and other clerics teach the practice of their faiths. In college classrooms. To college students. For credit. I think religion should be taught in college because I believe it can help save floundering undergraduates. I’m not talking about “saving” them in Christian sense. I’m talking about teaching them how to live so they do not have to suffer an endless stream of miseries.

I thought about my own life and what had helped me weather particularly nasty storms. About ten years ago I experienced an acute psychological crisis. … in desperation, I began to attend what might generically be called a “spiritual program.” Some call it a “religion” and others call it a “practice.” It doesn’t matter. The important point is that the people in this spiritual program embraced me, identified with me, and told me to do a specific set of things. There was talk of God, but they explained that talking was secondary to doing. I didn’t have to believe in God, they said, all I had to do was practice the teachings of the “religion.” If I did that, they said, I would be relieved of much of my suffering.

I practiced, and indeed I was relieved. When people ask me why this spiritual program worked for me, I usually say that it gave me a “way of life.” Without a way of life, I would say, one’s thoughts and actions tend to move at random, like water poured on a surface, spreading out and seeking the lowest places. With a way of life, I would continue, one’s thoughts and actions move in a single direction, like water poured in a channel, moving in a single direction toward a final end. I do not wish to say that my life now is like a still pool of water. Far from it. There are waves, and I’m powerless to stop them. But now that I have a way of life, I’m less bothered by these disturbances, there are fewer of them, and they are easier to quiet. My spirit is no longer broken. I have a purpose and the tools needed to pursue it.

Upon reflection, it occurred to me that all religions, if seriously practiced, do precisely what this “religion” had done for me: They teach you how to live.


“Shu-Ha-Ri” Endô Seishirô, Aikidô Saku Dôjôchô

June 20, 2018

In order to realize aikido practice, the students must learn the basic forms. In most dojos, practice centers on repeated practice of the basic forms.

Regarding this process of acquiring/learning forms, let us refer to “Kata (Forms)*” by Minamoto Ryoen:

When one becomes involved in ‘forms’ in the process of their practice, afforded the opportunity of time, the concept of “shu-ha-ri” becomes relevant. “Shu” is the process of faithfully acquiring/learning/absorbing the basics of the art. It is the stage of learning and studying.

Given that these forms were created by excellent individuals through their extensive efforts, how to learn/acquire those forms ourselves? There is no other way except to go through a process of training by putting ourselves into the forms.

However, no matter how wonderful those forms might be, we are comprised differently than those who created them, such as in character, physique, and life experience. It is thus unavoidable that there is some mismatch and difficulty in acquiring the forms.

When, during the initial stage of learning/studying, one goes deeper, it is a matter of course that one experiences difficulty i.e., one begins to hit certain walls. What arises then is a desire to break from the forms that one has acquired i.e., do things that are outside of the forms. This is the stage of “Ha”. But Ha is not a stage that one should remain in. This is because the act of breaking from the forms is not based on a mindset of creation. When one goes deeper in breaking the forms, one experiences a feeling of lacking. By breaking the forms, one is held captive by the forms. That is, one’s actions are completely dependent on the reference points that are the forms. One then begins to think, “I want to become free of this captivity and act in a way that is based in true freedom.” “Ri” is the stage in which this desire is fulfilled. It is the stage in which the person is “ripe” and creates new forms. The person forgets the forms and even does things that are not prescribed by the forms.

The number of people who are starting aikido is increasing year by year. There is also an increasing number of people who have been practicing for a long time. Of course those who are just starting are presumable in the “Shu” stage, but for those who have been practicing a long time, I wonder at what stage they would put themselves. “Shu” that is too faithful is prone to becoming reduced to a formality. “Ha” that is lackadaisical invites confusion. “Ri” that is superficial cannot resolve insecurity.

The original Japanese below, followed by the first translation by Arita Reiko.







合気道を学び始めている人々は年々増加している。又、長年合気道の稽古を続ける人々も増えている。 学び始めた人々は当然「守」の段階にあると思うが、長年稽古してきている人々はどの段階に自分を置いているだろうか。忠実すぎる「守」は形骸化に陥りやすく、安易な「破」は混乱を招き、軽薄な「離」は不安を解消できない。(1998年11月)

* 源了圓, 「型」, pp253-254, 創文社, 1989

Those who learn Aikido must master some of the basic movements before Aikido practice can be realized. To this end, basic movements are repeated over and over the basic movements by almost all of the Aikido Dojo.

Let me quote from “Kata (Forms)*” by Minamoto Ryo-en and see the process by which we master the “forms”.

There is a concept of “Shu (remain), Ha (break), Ri (free)”, which describes how an individual is involved in “forms” as one training develops. “Shu” is the process in which we follow the forms faithfully and try to master the basics of the art. It is the so-called stage of learning.

Since excellent predecessors who made every effort and fumbled around for a long time have built up the forms, it is natural to follow them. It it inevitable that we put ourselves into the finished forms, and we train within them.

Even if “the forms” are wonderful, it cannot be helped that there is something everyone does not feel suits them, because each form has been born from different persons who have different qualities, bodies, and basic experiences in life from oneself.

When deepening the learning of forms, naturally difficulties arise. At this point, we may have the desire to break “the forms”, destroying the forms we have mastered. This is the stage of “Ha”. However, “Ha” is not a long- standing situation, because this action is not supported by the creative spirit. The more the forms break, more we feel emptiness. We find ourselves caught up by “the forms”, while we are breaking “the forms”. And we want to free ourselves from such captivity, and wish to perform with a truly free mind. When this is achieved, we reach the stage of “Ri” .

Ri is the stage of creating new forms when “the time is ripe”. There, the trainee has already forgotten the forms, and performs that which is not in the forms.

The number of those who learn Aikido has been increasing year by year. Also, those who continue practicing Aikido are increasing in number. While beginners are clearly at the stage of “Shu”, what about those who practice for a long time? Where do they put themselves? At “Shu”, which is too faithful, you tend to fall into a mere name. At “Ha”, which is easygoing, it might cause confusion. And at “Ri”, which is imprudent, you cannot get rid of anxiety. (November, 1998)

Old Cosmos

June 20, 2018

Relatively soon after I moved to Japan and practice aikido, I received the opportunity to translate Endo sensei’s articles for his newsletter, Cosmos. That was back in 1998 and now it’s 2018, 20 years later. Having found them on the internet again, my memory is jogged. There are various things I remember sensei talking about a lot, in front of class as well as with me in private conversation.

No. 15 New Experiences. Endo sensei discusses his trip to Cuba and Mexico. And also overcoming his health problems after returning. I remember thinking I wanted to go with them to Cuba but it would have been early for me as far as savings and I wondered if it would have harder for me with my US passport. In this article, Endo sensei seems ingenuous about being off the mat for several weeks and the feeling of success when he makes his comeback.

No. 16 Aikido and Self-inquiry. This article was much more heady. There was an element of commentary on humanity and I also got my first glimpse into all the reading that sensei does. “Know thyself” – this turned out to be a big and continuous theme for sensei. (I also have given it a lot of thought subsequently.) Even though he doesn’t use the word, sensei describes his experience of “mushin”. This is something I myself started to think about much later. For sensei, it was “being able to experience the sensation of moving naturally and without any distinction between my partner and myself. From these experiences, I became convinced that I had discovered the direction of seeking the Tao”. I think this is when sensei was formulating what “Do” meant and how his practice was aligning with that: “The concept of ‘dô’ signifies a diverse unification – unification of all opposing things in the universe, including in human society. This means to emphasize the singularity of every thing, and to give priority and attempt to understand things that are unified and absolute.” As the translator, it was like starting out in the deep end of the pool.

No. 17 Thinking About “Dan” From “Dô(Tao)”. Endo sensei had just received his 8th-dan. I remember, to me it was so not a big deal that it was barely in my mind. Of course I didn’t even think to attend the celebration or even that there was one. In this article, sensei discusses his practice as following “Do”. I sense, now, that he was still trying to clarify what that meant exactly – at least to be able to verbalize it. He speaks of “1 and 9 are 10, 2 and 8 are 10.” With all the trouble in the world and the tendencies of humans to become weaker or lost in various ways, sensei seems to be saying the goal should be to exist in the world “as it is” and not develop or use power to make it a certain way. While translating this article, I started to get the sense that sensei was being somewhat conservative in putting into words his thoughts, relying on citations from texts he read or words that he’d heard.

No. 18 It’s Not Too Late. This was soon after the 9/11 attack. In the article, sensei talks about human impulses, what is needed to counteract destruction, namely, human bonds, being loved and belonging. Also, about human intellect, as the way to control our impulses. Sensei brings up O-sensei mentioning that aikido is about ridding / cleansing ourselves of evil, and realizing a love on the level of the universe. There’s also an exhortation, to all of us, that we can practice in a way that will bring the world closer to peace by the way each individual practices.

No. 19 Practice and Training to Knead the Heart/Mind. I remember having trouble with the word, “knead”. Still do. But now I would just use “develop” or “polish” or even “forge”. To summarize this article: Aikido has spread and there are many ranked practitioners everywhere. That is, there are many people now who can do the superficial forms. Of course there are those who are interested in Endo sensei’s way of practicing softly. Forms practice is the method we use in aikido. However the danger with forms practice is of becoming dull. The kanji in the word, “keiko”, denote “thinking on the old”. The kanji in the word, “tanren”, consist of “hardening” and “softening/kneading”. Miyamoto Musashi said that the “ren” aspect is harder and demands more time. Sensei touches on having done a hard way of practice early on and transitioning to a deeper, more introspective kind of practice. There is another expression, “shin-gi-tai” – “mind – technique – body”. These interact and are interrelated. Sensei offers his definition of what it is to “knead” the mind, namely, to to reflect exactly the world as is, to go with the flow, to not be attached or disturbed. This state of mind is “mushin” (no-mind), which is quiet even when the body is in motion.


Practicing (3)

June 1, 2018

Reflections on A Consideration of Aikido Practice within the Context of Internal Training by Ellis Amdur

I would be among the first to assert that Saito’s successors did not and do not exhibit any ability — or interest — in training in aiki. … It is certainly possible that Saito, like so many others in this field, kept internal training methods to himself, but I think it is more likely that Saito was, in large part, an example of what I have termed “osmosis”: that, given sufficient intense and intimate interactions with an expert, one can unconsciously steal some degree of the skill, without really knowing what one has accomplished, or at least, how one accomplished it. …  Without a curriculum, transmission is almost impossible.

I feel fortunate about the teaching I’ve received in that I’m a mix of Endo sensei’s exhortations to feel and Saotome sensei’s perspective that aikido is truly about applicability and life and death. When I practice, I study the current method and see how it does or doesn’t work, and what does or doesn’t happen/arise. I have my reservations about the need for a curriculum as mentioned above, but a critical self-awareness of what one practices is crucial, as is the cleverness with which to organize one’s experience. To some extent, it is the teacher’s responsibility to coherently display their method, but the decisive factor is the individual student’s tendency toward self-awareness and cleverness.

My experiences with those skilled in internal strength are different (though not all the same): sometimes it is as if one has grabbed hold of someone who is like fluid steel; sometimes it is like grappling with an anaconda; and with other people, it is like grabbing at a ghost: but it is never a mutual practice of limp, relaxed bodies….

Considering the slow process with which aiki tends to develop, such practice will take a lot of time, consideration and patience on both ends of the practice spectrum. Both uke and nage therefore, must also fight against the desire to establish that decisive, unambiguous “victory” that is inherent within conventional aikido practice.[xxx]

The cooperation aspect, I’ve learned to appreciate as necessary. If there is any significant amount of game-yness, where people are finding loopholes and other ways to betray the predecided roles of nage and uke, it ends up simply producing confusion. The “victory” that is seen in the practice of each technique, should always be understood to result in at least some cooperation by the losing role.

The caveat is, the drive and ambition to advance one’s ability is important also. This may include developing the ability to overcome game-y behavior by the partner and succeed in executing the technique.  It’s a slippery slope. Competitiveness can have its role in stimulating a person’s ambition to advance, but it can also be a dark forest that one may get lost in.

One final stumbling block remains, however, and this is the seemingly arbitrary nature of aikido waza: how does one avoid the pitfall of it remaining mere collusion.

Regarding the pitfall of mere collusion, I see several antidotes. One is the ambitiousness I mention above. Even if the partner it cooperating with me, my ambition makes me want to control them even more by my technique. I try to find where they don’t / can’t cooperate. I also try to “poke” them into a state of less cooperation, more antagonism. Another antidote is the use of “jiyu waza” practice. The unpredictability here should make collusion less possible. Of course, it’s better if my technical repertoire is broad, so that my partner can’t quickly guess what I’m attempting to do. As uke, when I make little to no effort to guess what my partner is attempting, I’m also continually thinking how to reverse partner. When I’m nage, I presume my partner is also seeking to reverse me. And, often while I’m working, as nage, if I have enough margin of error, I play on thin ice, too – thin ice being, letting the risk of being reversed be high, as a way to invite uke’s spontaneous action.

This question is tied to another: why, out of the total corpus of Daito-ryu waza, were so few techniques selected out for training? This cannot merely be laid at the feet of Ueshiba Kisshomaru. I don’t care what branch of aikido you observe: the Shodokan of Tomiki Kenji, Shinei Taido of Inoue Noriaki, the Yoshinkan of Shioda Gozo, the prewar aikido of Shirata Rinjiro or Iwata Ikkusai, or the present-day Aikikai of Ueshiba Moriteru, they are all doing the same techniques. To be sure, one or another faction may have retained this or that waza from Daito-ryu that was their group’s specialty, but in no case are those techniques central. Just about everyone has the same essential 12 — 20 waza. The limited nature of aikido practice goes right back to Ueshiba Morihei, who, as some may recall, limited many practices to ikkyo alone. I believe that Ueshiba selected specific techniques (and their variations) that encased the core principals that lay within a certain set of Daito-ryu techniques (Ikkajo, for example). There are two ways to regard this:

Daito-ryu partisans, particularly those who practice the full range of “human origami” kata, regard aikido, therefore, as a watered-down version of Daito-ryu, a few basic techniques abstracted from a magnificent and full compendium of jujutsu kata

Another perspective would be that Ueshiba himself was a kind of “home-brewer,” that he distilled out the essential frame within Daito-ryu techniques to cover all major configurations of two figures in (standing or kneeling) combat, which he regarded as more than sufficient to train the aiki-body as he viewed it.

If you, as an aikido practitioner, accept the latter definition, then you have more than enough techniques, which can be regarded as two-person exercises, for the development of internal strength.

In my case, I do consider the current range of aikido techniques to be enough. I’m a believer in the saying, try to make all techniques as one. That is, they shouldn’t feel fundamentally different from each other. Going by this thinking, but without explicitly pursuing internal strength, but instead pursuing viable relaxation, good balance, and some kind of effect on partner that is not primarily physical strength – it’s possible I’ve just gone without the terminology of “internal strength”.

Proper aikido training would entail a powerful grasp by uke (with “aiki”) within which nage expresses the appropriate technique to redirect uke’s force within himself or herself rather than merely away. In other words, “there is no such thing as tenkan . . . without irimi.”[xxxii] Any deviation from integrity should result in uke countering nage: in other words, uke becomes nage, and the practice continues. Such a change in how aikido is done on a physical level, can result in a change on the moral level: rather than the archetypal meeting in which nage receives and subdues the errant action (the attack) of uke, there develops a more fluid exchange of roles between uke and nage. What makes this a training device rather than freestyle is that one is required to a) hew to the aikido form and the principles of internal training. In other words, aikido as a moral relativism, determined by circumstances, rather than moral absolutism, determined by role.[xxxiii]

I think this “moral” piece at the end is about the possibility that Endo sensei talks about: the possibility that uke will turn the tables on you – always be aware of this risk. Ellis takes this one step further and seems to say, even if the tables are turned, you keep practicing. Personally, while I don’t know about any “moral” impact, I can attest to the mental detachment that is necessary to keep the practice going. Without the detachment, the switch of roles is jarring and unnatural.

How can one possibly practice such a method of training within an ordinary aikido dojo? Given that, as I suggest, that there are far less than 500 aikidoka seriously studying internal strength, scattered in various parts of the globe, most of your training partners will not be able to grab, move or even stand with aiki, and as I’ve said above, have no interest in doing so. Most of them never will. Even amongst those who do express some interest, most will pay no more than lip service once they are aware how much boring, repetitive practice is required before they achieve any level of skill. In the future, as in the present, there will be far more who “know about” than truly know.

I think Ellis is lamenting how one can practice to attain internal strength in a regular aikido dojo. I don’t know about “regular”, but I feel that my “normal” practice of aikido is sufficient, because I include an emphasis on relaxation, a certain concentrated tightness, and alignment.

The truth is, were one to become well-trained in this manner, one could easily — and respectfully — enter any aikido dojo on the planet, and never even reveal — unless you chose — that you could stop the other person’s technique (as one friend teases me, “Aiki Superman, eh? Replicating Ueshiba’s Aiki-Avatar role!!”). Even so, you could train with them, without disturbing practice — unless you chose — and yet further enhance your ability at aiki, because taking good ukemi via receiving and fitting in appropriately can be a fantastic training for aiki.[xxxiv] Remember my quotation of Ueshiba Morihei from 1921: “Aiki is a means of achieving harmony with another person so that you can make them do what you want.” What a marvelous practice of aiki, therefore, that I have just proposed! You will be training in ostensibly classic aikido, and your training partners will be helping you develop your aiki skills, all the while unawares.

While I still don’t know what people mean by “internal strength”, the above is probably where I fit in best at the moment.

You will be part of the community and yet beyond it. There may be something lonely about this, perhaps like an opera singer who can never sing arias outside his or her own home, because his country music loving neighbors think he sounds like a dying cat – or, on the other hand, a wonderful singer of country music in an Italian neighborhood. But this loneliness is, frankly, part of the dues you’ve got to pay if you choose to remain within the aikido community and do so tactfully as well. Until you have developed truly superlative skills in aiki, you will have nothing to brag about anyway. Why be a missionary for something you cannot manifest?

At your own dojo, or with those one for two training partners, you will be able take your training to further and further limits, practicing, if you will, a version of pre-war/post-war aikido: the best of both worlds. It is quite possible at some future date, you will step out on your own, leaving behind an aikido that is no longer part of your world. I expect that there will then be a more extensive community, however small, waiting. But if you desire it to be an aikido community, treat all who are part of the aikido legacy, and all who chose to participate within it, with respect while you do your homework.[xxxv]


May 31, 2018

I expressed my thoughts on the principle of sword being the same as that of zen.

Tekisui responded, “What you say is correct. However, the certainty that you have from your thinking is as if you are seeing through eyeglasses. Of course, because the lenses are clear, your vision won’t be obscured or weakened. However, if a person with no vision problems with no need for any lenses, uses them, this is unnatural. It is natural not to use them.

Currently you have progressed to a point where this has become a problem. If you can remove this interference – these “glasses” – you will no doubt rapidly attain the mastery that you desire.

[One day heard something very interesting from a merchant.] ‘The world is a strange place. I think it’s mysterious. I came from a poor household but now I’ve managed to become very wealthy – this is quite unexpected.

But there is one experience when I was younger that was very valuable to me. I had obtained some product for 4,500 yen, which was fine, but it seemed like the value was going down. So, as I’m there thinking I want to hurry up and sell this product, some potential buyers could see my insecurity and tried to get me to sell it at a cheap price. My heart was beating and I felt light-headed, and I wasn’t able to arrive at the optimal solution with the prices. I became very perplexed, very indecisive.

At some point, I made my decision: I told myself I’d just see how it turned out and would leave it alone. Soon after, merchants came and offered prices that were actually one notch higher than what I had paid. This time, I refused, demanding a higher price. And they accepted, raising their offer. I should have just made the sale then, but I thought I’d push for a higher price. While I kept pushing and pushing, in the end I had to sell for a few notches lower than my original cost.

This was the first time I came to know what conviction (‘kiai’) of a merchant is. When you are trying to make a big deal, if you are consumed by whether you’re going to win or lose, whether you’ll make or lose money, you won’t succeed. If you pump yourself up, saying, “I’m going to make a profit”, your heart will go aflutter. And if you are preoccupied with whether you’re going to take a loss, it feels as if your body is shrinking.

Realizing all this, I thought to myself, if I stay worried in this way, I will never succeed in business. And so, from that point on, no matter what I plan, I will make sure my conviction is secure first of all. No matter what job I take on, I will not think and get distracted about every little thing but instead boldly proceed. Since then, regardless of my actual profits and losses, I believe that I’ve become a true merchant. ‘”

My sword work does not emphasize only technique. The goal is none other than to advance to the pinnacle of the workings of the spirit. In other words, it is to desire to grasp the origin of the heavenly path, and simultaneously pursue its correct use. In one word: “enlightenment”. To rid oneself of delusion and open one’s sight. I don’t know any other words.

Some memories (Saotome sensei, Murashige sensei, and Tamura sensei)

May 25, 2018

Decided to write down my experiences because time is passing and naturally memories fade.

Saotome sensei

1. I saw Saotome sensei on two different occasions before I ever touched him. I think I was visiting the bay area while living in Japan both times, and they were just my dropping by to observe a seminar class. The first was at Aikido West. Karl was uke. For one technique, something happened that has always been difficult to explain. I saw what was happening right in front of my eyes. It was something like shihonage or koshinage. The bizarre thing was, and is, I don’t know what happened. Paradoxically, I could and could not recognize what was done. And it was only one ‘throw’ so the moment was very ephemeral. Somehow I knew it wasn’t a fluke, like I spaced out or something. Instead, I attributed it to Saotome sensei himself. The other thing was, I walked away with my first impression of sensei, which I still hold, namely that his aikido is beautiful yet dangerous/scary. The second was at Tam. It was a sword class. I was sitting on a bench, positioned directly behind sensei. Partner (Bill) came with shomen-uchi. Saotome sensei raised his sword almost straight up, and though there was no contact, partner missed, off to the side. This was done multiple times. I could somehow see that there was more than met the eye, that there was some very subtle timing and that sensei’s sword wasn’t simply going straight up. I was very excited to see this, because I knew only I could see it. Everyone else was watching it from the side. I was partly excited for future opportunities because I knew there would be many ‘hidden’ things in sensei’s aikido.

2. Around 2000, I flew from Japan to Colorado to attend Boulder Aikikai’s summer camp. I was excited to meet Saotome sensei for the first time. I remember saying this to Wendy Palmer, who told me to stick by her because Saotome sensei knew her for a long time and so it would be more likely he would stop by and work with us. It may have happened but I can’t remember if it led to his working with me. I also remember working with Kevin Choate, who was completely overwhelming for me at the time. The technique at the time was just stopping mune-tsuki. At some point during our practice, Kevin suddenly starts running off. I was completely bewildered. I was like, “Did he hate practicing with me that much? Do I go chase after him?” So I tentatively followed him, and I spot him squared off against someone, ready to punch. As I get near, I see Saotome sensei walking around the room, noticing Kevin squared off against him, giving a small smile, and facing him as if to say, “Okay, go ahead”. After that, they went at it a few times. This is more a memory of Kevin and Saotome sensei’s relationship than anything. Finally, in one of the classes, Saotome sensei was throwing around a couple of the younger guys. He gestures toward me, and I get myself together because I know this could me my one and only chance. I strike with shomen-uchi and it was a very simple throw, like seoi-nage. But the thing was, when I stood back up after falling, I was 3 – 4 meters away from sensei. I had no sensation of traveling far, nor of being accelerated or thrown hard. I doubted my senses, but I couldn’t imagine sensei throwing me then stepping back a few meters. I must have really been thrown a few meters. This lack of sensation was, and has been, captivating for me.

3. Over the course of about 2 – 3 years, while I was practicing at Boulder Aikikai, Saotome sensei kept repeating to me the same comment. “You must be ‘sunao’.” “You can’t do aikido unless you are ‘sunao’.” “You must have a clean ‘heart-mind’.” I really thought on this hard, almost literally everyday. I made very little headway. After more than 2 years of this, I decided I’d try to ask him about it verbally. There was a seminar at Tam and a Saturday party at Wendy’s house. At the party I mentioned to her I was trying to figure out how to talk to sensei. A short time later, she leads me into a small room where sensei is resting on a sofa by himself, says, “Sensei, this is Dan Nishina and he’d like to talk”, and shuts the door on us. After a moment of awkwardness, I decide to get to it. I start, “Sensei, you’ve told me it’s important to be ‘sunao’ for the past few years. I’ve really thought about it. Everyday.” Unexpectedly, I start to get emotional. I think it had been really frustrating not to make any progress on this point for so long. I remember his starting talking about having majored in mechanical engineering in university and also something about a balloon. I don’t remember but I have the impression he said something briefly about ‘sunao’ meaning ‘having a clean mind’. I did walk away with the clear impression that he listened to me and also saw how I had been sincerely struggling with his advice. That impression was the main thing. Maybe it gave me hope.

4. At one seminar at Tam’s temporary location, I just happened to be called up for mitori uke. We’d been doing kicks that day so I thought that there was no way I’d be called up, but there I am, with Saotome sensei gesturing for a front kick. I was a bit wary so I consciously went medium/medium-fast. What I remember vividly is, extending my foot out for the kick and feeling that everything slowed down. My consciousness was still at regular speed, so in my mind, I was thinking, “Why is everything going slow?” It didn’t feel sluggish or drowsy or strange in any way, just slow. And sensei had the easiest time doing whatever technique he did.

5. At one of the last seminars I went to at Missoula, we had weapons class in some elementary school gymnasium. It was sword class. Saotome sensei had a clear open space in the middle in which to demonstrate. He did a lot of suburi, with a lot of movement, lots of twirling and turning. And at the end, he says, “Go ahead”. But this was a really crowded gymnasium. Just for a brief moment, I thought to myself, “Doesn’t he see how crowded it is? how crowded it’s going to be for us people who don’t have this big open space all to ourselves like you?” Just for a moment. And then, I realized, that’s exactly what he knew. I felt like I got his message. And so I went full speed, just like him, with lots of turning and cutting, just like him. The point was that you need to see everything yet move with no hesitation or analytic thinking.

6. Once at a seminar at Boulder, there was one of the rare occasions sensei did basic form. We did katate-dori kokyuho. I remember thinking to myself, “This is gold. I just have to feel this for myself, at least once”. And I got just once chance. Visually, I think it looked like a slightly stiff kokyuho. But feeling it, it was like experiencing a straight line. I was gathered very perfectly and softly into a straight line. I don’t even remember the specifics of how I fell down.

7. I think it was after the little episode at Wendy’s house and talking for a bit about ‘sunao’, I was a bit gratified to get a different piece of advice from Saotome sensei at Boulder Aikikai. He simply said to me, twice that day, “Don’t use hanmi”. This was really puzzling because I had trained well while at Hombu to practically embody hanmi. But this lasted a brief moment and I started to try to do almost everything without hanmi, keeping my feet even or only slightly staggered. I felt I could see the underlying message, which was to not be trapped in, or limited by, using hanmi. Now, later on, with some more insight, I can see it is also to physically use my body and body weight more subtly than just by crudely using hanmi and leaning, driving, etc. with my legs.

8. It was a bit cringe-y, this episode, but kind of funny nonetheless. At the Saturday party of a Missoula seminar, I happened to be talking with Jun, and at some point Taku came over, I think maybe for a second time to talk with me about some personal problems he was having. So basically there’s us three Japanese guys sitting in a row. Saotome sensei walks over, and I think starts to talk to Jun about the seriousness of knowing what one wants in life, etc. (I think the back story here is Saotome sensei being disgruntled about Jun not jumping on the bandwagon and acting like a deshi.) So Saotome sensei was getting angrier and more heated until he goes and slaps Jun across the face. I can’t remember if it was me or Taku next, but I didn’t get the brunt of anything. The comment from sensei to Taku was something about being strong and trying hard, and Taku started breaking down and crying, and got a big slap upside the head. I got a big slap down on to my head. The whole slapping thing repeated once or twice and became kind of a show, I felt. Taku was probably in no state to realize this and Jun was the main focus so he couldn’t really look like he wasn’t anything but serious. In my case, I just tried to maintain a poker face while thinking, “I’m just here to complete this slapping routine and I can’t escape …”

9. During one of the seminars at Boulder, probably on lunch break, it happened that Saotome sensei and I were the only ones just inside the front door. He says to me, “Do you know about ‘kan’ sight? And regular, ‘ken’ sight?” He proceeds to write these on a scrap of paper. At the time I had been working translating Endo sensei’s material and there was considerable talk about ‘kan’ and ‘ken’ ways of seeing. Saotome sensei didn’t say anything out of the ordinary, but his bringing it up like that at that particular time was astounding. Actually, I held myself back from asking if he’d seen Endo sensei’s DVDs, but judging from how his relationship is with TV, it’s pretty doubtful that he would sit down and watch some aikido DVDs.

10. During one of the seminars at Boulder, on lunch break, Saotome was sitting by himself in one of the chairs in the front desk area. I had a question in mind that I wanted to ask him, namely how to handle when you start to do katate-tori tenkan and if the person is holding on to you strongly, then it feels like a yonkyo with their knuckle at the base of their forefinger. Saotome sensei is sitting down in one of the chairs and I’m standing by him, grabbing my own arm to illustrate what I’m talking about. He sticks his hand out, and I realize that he’s going to show rather than explain. And he’s not one to show something many times or at length. So I decide to really go at him with my knuckle. My knuckle didn’t find anything to go against. I couldn’t even get a strong grip. Almost the opposite, the rest of my arm and consequently my body started to conform to him such that instead of only the forefinger side of my hand, my entire hand seemed to be trying to grab him. I’m sure my eyes bugged out. The exact opposite of what I was trying to do happened, and I don’t know how.

11. When I visited Missoula with Mayumi from Japan, at some point (I think it was the last lunch we had with everyone because it was a receipt that sensei wrote on) sensei starts to draw what looks like a triangle, circle, and square. Actually, it’s a square with a circle inside, divided into top and bottom by a line. He shaded in the bottom half of the square. I remember him talking about shu-ha-ri and asking me if I knew that there was a dark side to it. Honestly, I don’t remember any details after that. I do have that piece of paper in my wallet, still, though.

Murashige sensei

1. At the first Aikido Bridge seminar, I think at the very beginning of his maybe second or third class, Murashige sensei called my up for uke. I was feeling kind of psyched because I had reached a nice level of competence training with Ikeda sensei and I knew Murashige sensei knew I was friends with his son, Teru. Anyway, it was for katate-tori tenkan. I remember grabbing him and this big, unexpected whoosh feeling. My rear leg actually went flying the opposite way, the opposite of what you’d expect, and I completely crumbled. Completely soft, baffling power. I didn’t feel any force but I was moved so much.

2. The other times, maybe a total of 5 or 6, that I felt Murashige sensei, it was just softness or nothing, and a sudden crumpling, sometimes whiplash. I remember thinking, wow, there’s someone else who is in the same realm as Saotome sensei, based on that feeling of nothingness when grabbing his arm.

3. I hung out with Teru and Murashige sensei in their dorm room at Boulder Aikikai’s summer camp. I was on the team of providing food and snacks for the instructors, but they had brought their own instant rice and curry and invited me in to have some. Murashige sensei talked about some trippy stuff. Like how he likes to close his eyes because he can see stars and the night sky. He asked me if I saw Saotome sensei that morning, and shared his observation that Saotome sensei was always forward on his feet. From that point, I noticed O-sensei, Nishio sensei, and a couple of other people who we might call “masters” standing in the same way. I might have shared about Ikeda sensei bringing his senpai from university to Boulder Aikikai, and his emphasis on training the big toes. For whatever reason, Murashige sensei started affirming, yes, the big toes are very important. And this somehow segued into his talking about the “other center”, the center of the back, between the shoulder blades and slightly lower. This last concept of center has been heavily informing my research since then.

Tamura sensei

1. My earliest interaction with Tamura sensei was one of the times he would just drop by one of the classes at Hombu after it had already started. I knew he did this but he was completely off my radar. Also, this was in the days when I had bad vision and I never wore glasses, so facial recognition wasn’t something I could do. I recognized people by their posture and way of moving. This time, it was a morning or afternoon class. I was practicing near the front/right door with Sakurai-san, suwariwaza shomen-uchi ikkyo. Right in the midst of this, an old guy comes over and looks like he wants to join us. I notice how late in the class it is, but sure, whatever. When he kneels down and attacks, his shomen-uchi is just his pointer finger, not a whole hand-blade, and it swings down and ends in front of my nose, not over my head. I didn’t even register this as a shomen-uchi the first one or two times. After I did recognize that this was his attack, I start to do a go-through-the-motions kind of ikkyo. He shakes my hands away, apparently demanding I do it again/better. At this point I’m irritated at this strange attack and expectation. I try one time grabbing his finger but he shakes me away and doesn’t let me do it. I then do something I normally reserve for standing work, just trying to get some kind of response and give-and-take. As he strikes, I move a bit to the inside and hit him lightly in the head/face. This happens a couple of more times with no progress in our interaction. Finally he just seems to give up and does the go-through-the-motions ukemi. After class is over, Sakurai-san comes over to me and says, “You were angry, weren’t you?” I reply, “I suppose so. That was too weird.” Then she says, “Do you know that was Tamura shihan?”

2. Later in time, when I was much closer to Miyamoto sensei and I could see that Miyamoto sensei was close to Tamura sensei. One evening, very close to my moving away and back to the US, Tamura sensei was visiting and Miyamoto sensei convinced him to lead. He ended up using Namba-san mainly and basically all the foreign regulars, including me. I remember sitting there chanting in my head, “shomen-uchi ikkyo, shomen-uchi ikkyo…” because I knew this might be my one chance to feel Tamura sensei and that technique, for me, embodied the biggest paradox of aikido as it should be the biggest clashing of forces. I got what I asked for. I made sure my strike was straight and true but also hard. As for the ikkyo, there was no feeling of “against-ness”, clashing, or being pushed down. It just felt like I was being made, very naturally, to fall in the form of ikkyo.

3. I joined them for sushi after that class Friday evening. It was early in the dinner but I already had some sake and was out of it. Miyamoto sensei often used to talk about needing to have a questioning mind (“疑問を持つ”) so drunk me thought it was a normal word to use in conversation. So I came out and said, “Tamura sensei, I have something I want to ask. I question your aikido!” I wanted to then say my main point but I was busy getting slapped in the head by Miyamoto sensei and Tamura sensei saying, “Who IS this guy?”


The Road to Truth

May 23, 2018

Our brains are more interested in protecting our political groups than finding out the truth
This “fundamental need for a shared reality with other people” all too often overshadows incentives to weigh evidence or to be objective when it comes to political discussions.

This is the dark truth that lies at the heart of all partisan politics. We automatically have an easier time remembering information that fits our worldviews. We’re simply quicker to recognize information that confirms what we already know, which makes us blind to facts that discount it. It’s the reason why, paradoxically, as we learn more about politics and politically charged issues, we tend to become more rigid in our thinking.

“People are using their reason to be socially competent actors,” Dan Kahan, a psychologist at Yale, told me earlier this year. Put another way: We have a lot of pressure to live up to our groups’ expectations. And the smarter we are, the more we put our brainpower to use for that end.

Critical thinking and reasoning skills evolved because they made it easier to cooperate in groups, Elizabeth Kolbert explains in a recent New Yorker piece. We’ve since adapted these skills to make breakthroughs in topics like science and math. But when pressed, we default to using our powers of mind to get along with our groups.

The road to truth and becoming free of conditioning is hard and not for most people …