Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Hiden Diaries 2: Another Day in the Life of Morihei Ueshiba

Just published in Aikiweb, the second installment of the Hiden Diaries of Morihei Ueshiba. You cannot miss this one!

Third Auspicious Day of the Sixth Moon


Got up and went up to the roof to greet the Sun Goddess. She was still feeling sore about Susano O, her wayward brother, and at one point threatened to go back behind the Stone Door. Since we are still celebrating her original August Exit (recorded in her memoirs, which our non-Japanese students know as the Records of Ancient Matters) and are applying the lessons from this August Exit to our own training, as we constantly strive to keep the Three Worlds in harmony, I was—luckily—able to persuade her against taking this drastic step. I reminded her of what had happened the first time: all the myriad calamities that beset the Central Land of Reed Plains like swarms of flies in the fifth moon.

I saw it was obvious that Amaterasu needed to get tougher, so I told her about the men who walk into the jaws of tigers. When she asked why they would do such a dumb thing, I realized that she had no clue about IHTBF, so I put her straight about this. Heck, even the kami sometimes need to go back to basics and put their supposed abilities to the test! I think the Chinese call this tiger-jaw-walker training ‘internal', but I never heard Master Takeda use this term: he always used to talk about aiki. And the thing is, he never taught it to anybody. Anyway, this training is what sorts out the men from the boys, who find that all they can do is mew like housecats. I think people can guess which training leads to better results. I was concerned that she was losing the ability to discern: what is more useful and more martial in keeping the kami in their place, and there was a chance she could spend a few millennia chasing a dead end. So I suggested she do some serious tiger-jaw-walker training, learn to uproot a few heavenly trees and what-not, so that she could stand up to Susano-O with more backbone, sorry, more aiki. And, especially, learn the POWER of INTENT.

As well as toughening up, it was obvious that Amaterasu needed cheering up, so I informed her that the first installment of the diary that I decided to share with the world had gone down quite well, especially among our beloved American students. But there was some speculation down in the human world about the person I used as my messenger. I think people have to realize that the kami move in DEEPLY mysterious ways. I assured her that the person I used had no clue whatever about the deeper aspects of this unique mission: to assist the Aiki Avatar in the work of harmonizing the Three Worlds. I have learned by experience that humans actually spend a long time debating about the meaning of harmony—but to little avail. As well as doing tiger-jaw-walker training, they should really learn our wonderful native language and explore the full range of possibilities offered by the phrase Aiki is Aiki.

Only the other day, I chanced upon a discussion about the definition of aiki. People were disputing as usual. When will they ever learn? Of course, we Japanese have had our share of disputes. I still remember the dispute between Kisshomaru and Koichi T. Now that was a dispute worthy of the name. Talk about two queens in the same beehive...

As for aiki, what is the English phrase I have heard somewhere recently? Hidden in Plain Sight. Very well put. That reminds me of another phrase, used by some English writer named Shaw, I think, who was almost contemporary with me. What was it he said? Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. Absolutely. This phrase is very applicable to the martial arts and especially to my new budo.

I think that Aiki Avatar is a very good phrase and the initials AA are simply brilliant. For those who don't know much English, both begin with the first letter of the English alphabet, which is the primal sound AAHHH and has a very long history. Doesn't quite measure up to SUUU, though. It doesn't have any kokyu, which is what was lacking in the martial arts before Deguchi Sensei came along and taught us all to do chinkon kishin. Ah, I do miss Deguchi Sensei and his chinkon trances. The thing is, you never knew whether he was in a trance or not: it was all the same to him.

But I've heard that AA also has other meanings, mainly to do with automobiles and drinking too much alcohol… Not that this is a problem with many of our deshi. Only the other day I encountered a young deshi with a bandaged hand—I think he was one of Kisshomaru's deshi. I expected to be told that he had been testing the effectiveness of aikido techniques outside the dojo, as any deshi worth the name ought to do, but he looked down at his feet and said he had a fight with a door, on his way out of a bar. Resolved to tell Kisshomaru to warn his deshi to be more discreet about what they were up to outside the dojo. I am all for showing the effectiveness of my techniques—and, Heavens, I had a long enough dispute with Master Takeda about reducing the number and cutting out those that were ineffective in maintaining the proper balance with the Three Worlds, but the deshi should pay much more attention to the essential distinction between omote and ura and not fight battles they can't win. (That's a good phrase. Who first said that, I wonder? I think it was some Chinese general… Trust the Chinese to have thought of it first. However, we Japanese are noted for borrowing foreign ideas and greatly improving on them. I will use it in my discourses.)

In view of the recent movie about the blue people with long noses and tails, perhaps Aiki Avatar is a phrase best not used too often—perhaps only to the members of Deguchi Sensei's and Goi Sensei's groups. I am sure that both Deguchi Sensei and Goi Sensei will understand everything about avatars. Actually, Deguchi Sensei sometimes shocked people by using his Male Member exactly like a tail: perhaps he had already seen the movie in another life and had noted the contents. That would be typical of the unpredictable Deguchi Sensei: he always did everything ‘back to front', so to speak.


Took breakfast with She Who Must Be Obeyed. Enough said. In fact she didn't say anything, beyond telling me to get ready for another trip to Iwama. Of course, I retorted that I AM ALWAYS READY, but my words yet again appeared to fall on stony ground.


Encountered Kisshomaru and discussed demonstrations. I myself have no time for them, really, unless they are in front of His Imperial Majesty. For my assistants never manage to align their ukemi to illuminate fully the divine quality of my techniques. Yukawa was quite good and Tamura sometimes came close, but Kisshomaru always tells me that we have to keep up with the times and I gather my grandson Moriteru thinks the same way. I understand that they now do a big demonstration once a year just down the road from His Imperial Majesty's palace. The place is opposite the Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of many of our dear wartime students are enshrined. One year I took a short break from my work up here on the Floating Bridge of Heaven and had a peep at the demonstration. I was quite stunned and asked myself: What on earth is going on? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY AIKIDO? Actually, I once found myself shouting this in the dojo and everyone was cowering at the edges of the mat avoiding eye contact. All except Kisshomaru, who sat there wiping his nose on his sleeve. I must talk to his mother about this.


Set out for Iwama. Arrived at Ueno Station without incident, but had an urgent message from Deguchi Sensei advising me not to take the first train. Thinking the advice was probably connected with Amaterasu and the Stone Door, I quickly left the train and returned to the platform, using a special technique that Master Takeda perfected. I think our non-Japanese students call this ‘moving without being seen' and, needless to say, it worked very well with my deshi, whom I found later, wandering up and down the platform in a panic. I came up silently behind him and gently bopped him on the head. "Aaagghhh," he said. "I didn't see you." "Absolutely." I responded, with just the right combination of gentleness and severity necessary for an effective pedagogical encounter.


Went outside to the shrine before practice and encountered a statue—of myself. Where on earth had this come from? Summoned Isoyama for an explanation. I know that after Saito's passing things had changed, but another statue, especially this one, with my beard perfectly trimmed and skirt perfectly pleated, was not at all what I expected. Of course, She Who Must Be Obeyed would like it, but I think it makes me look too much like that dictator in Russia, or is it North Korea? He has more hair than I have, but it seems artificial and it is obvious he's never done a day of serious training in his whole life.

Had another long discussion with Amaterasu, who had been doing some very serious tiger-jaw-walker training and felt much better, but she still had problems with INTENT. She couldn't direct it where she wanted to. Of course, she has to give it time and put in the mileage. She was very concerned about her offspring (and my favorite deity) Masakatsu Agatsu. She thought he might fall into Susano O's clutches. Actually, she told me off for shortening his name and emphasized that his name was Masakatsu Agatsu Katsu Hayabi Ame no Oshi Ho Mimi no Mikoto. She thought the rest of his name would be forgotten. Well, it was obvious I had to put her right about this. For a start, his name was a mouthful and even remembering it would be way beyond the mental resources of our dear American students. And that was just the pronunciation. As for the meaning, we all know that our august national language is far better equipped to exploit the rich resources of such a fine name, but what to do with the dull English version: ‘True Victory My Victory Heavenly Deity Ruling the Rice Ears'? I learned a lot from our foreign deshi, especially the Big American. He taught me about slogans and sound bites, for he used to use them all the time. So I laid it on the line. "Amaterasu," I said, dropping the formal bits and speaking frankly, kami to kami, "You need to get clear about my students, especially the ones who walk into the jaws of tigers. True Victory My Victory Heavenly Deity Ruling the Rice Ears doesn't DO anything, but True Victory is Self Victory, which is how the professor who wears flowery skirts and chants kotodama translates it? Well, it GRABS people. It shows their INTENT. It makes them feel part of the team." (Who said that, I wonder? I think it was a rather nasty man who used to club people over the head with a baseball bat during dinner. He should have used one of my favorite weapons: nothing to match a spear or bayonet. Of course, these wouldn't work in confined spaces like dinner tables. But this is where you need oshi-uchi. No, that doesn't sound right. Oki-uchi, okichi-uchi, okoshi-uchi… Damn these English spelling rules! ...)


My, it's tough being an AA. As somebody else once said, "I need a vacation." Strangely enough, I believe he was an avatar as well: at least, he behaved like one. But he, or perhaps ‘it', was a much lower-level, mechanical, sort. I believe they opened him up and all they found were a few nuts and bolts and something called a CPU. I don't know what they thought this thing was, but to me CPU is obvious: it means Central Peripheral Unity, or, the Three Worlds in constant harmony.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Go no Sen / Sen no Sen / Sensen no Sen

Hoy nos toca un interesante artículo de Ethan Weisgard referente a la falsa creencia de que "no hay ataque en Aikido porque lo ha dicho O Sensei". Ya es un poco antiguo pero mantiene total actualidad. Quizá cada día más.

These three terms refer to the different kinds of timing used in dealing with an attacker in budo training. At one of the aikido summer camps in Denmark, Ulf Evenås and I once asked Saito Sensei about these terms. He said that they were used in iaido or kenjutsu training. I have never heard Saito Sensei use these terms himself when referring to the timing of the response to an attack in aikido. I believe his attitude towards the use of these terms came from O-Sensei. In an article from Aikido Journal there is an interview with O-Sensei from 1957. The following is an excerpt that pertains to this subject:

O Sensei: In Aikido, there is absolutely no attack. To attack means that the spirit has already lost. We adhere to the principle of absolute nonresistance, that is to say, we do not oppose the attacker. Thus, there is no opponent in Aikido. The victory in Aikido is masakatsu and agatsu; since you win over everything in accordance with the mission of heaven, you possess absolute strength.

B: Does that mean ou no sen? (also called go no sen; this term refers to a defensive response to an attack.)

O Sensei: Absolutely not. It is not a question of either sensen no sen or sen no sen. If I were to try to verbalize it I would say that you control your opponent without trying to control him. That is, the state of continuous victory. There isn't any question of winning over or losing to an opponent. In this sense, there is no opponent in Aikido. Even if you have an opponent, he becomes a part of you, a partner you control only.

In O-Sensei’s first statement of the excerpt he says there is no attack. I believe that he is referring to a combative situation as I will describe in full later on in this article: the attacker has already chosen his role. His intention to attack is clear. What also must be taken into account is the fact that O-Sensei possessed such a high level of perception that he surpassed this kind of concept of timing completely. O-Sensei also refers to two important terms: masakatsu (correct victory) and agatsu (self-victory). This is a reference to one of his favorite sayings: “masakatsu, agatsu, katsu hayabi” (correct victory, self-victory, the day of swift victory). This is often interpreted to mean that correct victory is winning over your own self or ego. When reaching this state of selflessness, then this is the way to swift victory (not only in martial contexts but also in life itself).

O-Sensei goes on to say that it is not a question of sensen no sen or sen no sen. As stated earlier, O-Sensei was on a much higher level of perception than the concepts these terms indicate. But for those of us who follow the path of aiki without possessing the martial genius of the founder of aikido, I hope that my examples of these terms can be of some help in understanding the intricacies of timing and awareness inherent in the fascinating world of aikido. The Japanese character for ”sen” can also be read as “saki.” It means “before” and even sometimes “after” in certain contexts! But in the terms go no sen, sen no sen and sensen no sen, it is an abbreviation of sorts for the word “sente” meaning initiative or lead. The “te” in sente means hand, so sente directly translates as “before hand.” In budo, sente refers to an attack or the initiative to attack. In karate there is a saying: “karate niwa, sente wa nashi.” This means “in karate, there are no attacks.” This is a fine example of the defensive attitude found in traditional karate. This defensive attitude is inherent in traditional budo in general. There are, however, ways of taking control in a combative situation and leading the opponent’s “ki” or intention, without having to wait for the attacker to start the attack.

When facing an opponent in a combative situation, the conditions are already set: you are facing a person intent on fighting you. The case should be, if you have behaved according to proper etiquette, that you have given the attacker no reason to fight you, and you have attempted to resolve the impending confrontation by all means possible, to the extent of removing yourself from the presence of the attacker. When all else fails, then it is time to defend yourself. This is the presupposed basis of the situation that we are in when we face our opponent during budo practice. Therefore it is morally justifiable to, if necessary, use a technique that draws forth an attack from your opponent, hereby creating a possibility to counter the opponent’s attack: sensen no sen. To start from the beginning, let us look at go no sen. Go means “after.” Go no sen is the timing that is often used in budo when responding to an attack. In aikido, an example would be stepping to the inside of the line of attack, parrying the attacking hand and executing shihonage when defending against yokomen uchi. In aiki-ken it could be exemplified by migi awase, with uke tachi stepping off the line of attack to the right and counterstriking with shomen uchi. In migi awase, we move in harmony with the attacker, but it is the attacker that is taking the initiative in the attack and we are mirroring his or her movements.

Sen no sen means before the attack. Sometimes this timing is also called mae no sen, mae also meaning before. Sen no sen implies that, for example in weapons practice, uke is aware of uchi’s intention of attacking and right at the time when uchi is starting to attack, steps in and stops the attack. This could be exemplified in aiki-ken by the movement in which uke tachi steps directly in with tsuki at the moment when uchi tachi lifts his sword up to strike shomen uchi. This movement can be seen beautifully executed by O-Sensei in many of the old films. In aiki-jo, the movement in kumi jo number eight is a good example of sen no sen: uchi is standing in tsuki no kamae, as is uke. Uchi does hayagaeshi, intending to attack with yokomen uchi. As uchi steps forward while lifting the jo up and around in jodan gaeshi uchi, uke slide-steps straight in under uchi’s jo, thrusting directly forward at uchi. In tai jutsu, the outward parry used against yokomen uchi is a good example of sen no sen: as uke lifts his hand up over his head and starts to swing his handblade forward in yokomen uchi, nage slide-steps forward to the outside and stops uke’s hand before it gains too much momentum.

Sensen no sen is an even more refined concept in regards to timing. The term consists of a repetition of the term sen. So this refers to the timing before sen no sen. It is the case of initiating a movement intended to lead the attacker’s spirit as well as to draw forth an actual attack, in order to utilize this attack for a defensive technique. Saito Sensei often said: “aite no ki wo yobidasu,” to call out the ki of your opponent. Some people may think that this goes against the attitude of never attacking in aikido. In this case, one must recognize the training situation, as well as an actual selfdefense situation, for what it is: all attempts to defuse the conflict have been tried to no avail, and therefore we are faced with an impending attack from our opponent. The opponent has already decided to attack, the intention is there, and the actual physical attack is impending. In this case, we are not attacking an innocent individual, we are responding to a situation that is clearly a threat to our safety. It is therefore morally justifiable to call out the attack of your opponent. You are making him commit the attack that he already has intended to execute, but you are controlling the circumstances of the situation by leading him.

A good example of sensen no sen in tai jutsu is shomen-uchi. Saito Sensei often referred to O- Sensei’s book, entitled “Budo,” in the case of performing correct shomen-uchi. O-Sensei clearly stated that nage should initiate the movement by striking toward uke’s face with the handblade, bringing the hand from the starting position at about waist-height and upward towards uke’s face. Uke blocks this movement, hereby enabling nage to utilize uke’s blocking arm for a given technique. This movement has all but disappeared from most aikido schools. I believe this is due to a misunderstanding of the principle of sensen no sen; the belief that nage’s initiating movement would be considered an attack, thereby going against the defensive principles of aikido. The lack of understanding of this point has resulted, in many aikido schools, with uke attacking with a downward-moving shomen-uchi, and nage blocking this attack. This results in the breaking of an important basic principle of aikido: never to go directly against the force of your opponent’s attack once it is fully set in motion. Saito Sensei often made the point that when defending against a downward-moving shomen-uchi, nage should move off the line of attack and never attempt to block this strike. This results in certain techniques being applicable, for instance irimi nage or kote gaeshi to the outside, or shihonage or kokyu nage to the inside, and others not, for example ikkyo and other techniques based on the same initial movement.

In aiki-ken, sensen no sen can be exemplified in the maki otoshi movement found in san no tachi (third kumi tachi). In the initial movement, uke tachi sweeps uchi tachi’s sword away with maki otoshi, and uchi tachi uses the momentum of the sweeping movement to continue into a yokomen attack. The maki otoshi sweeping movement is also intended to create an opening for uke tachi to strike uchi tachi’s wrist, but this movement can also be seen as a means to draw forth uchi tachi’s initial yokomen attack, hereby enabling uke tachi to parry, and finally to counterstrike in the second yokomen attack from uchi tachi.

Another very good example of sensen no sen in tai jutsu, this time on an even more advanced level than in the basic shomen uchi techniques, is the technique that carries the beautiful name “yamabiko no michi,” meaning “path of a mountain echo.” The name of the technique alludes to the initiating hand movement of nage resembling the voice being projected outwards, and uke’s reaction being the echo. This is an irimi nage technique calling for nage to start by dynamically initiating shomen uchi toward uke and, before making contact with uke’s parrying hand, flowing into tai sabaki to uke’s side. This tai sabaki to uke’s side leads directly into a body turn together with the movement of nage’s arm projecting towards uke’s face for the irimi nage throw. When done dynamically, with full ki, nage can throw uke without making physical contact at all during the execution of the technique.

There are other fine examples of aikido techniques that fit with these three concepts of timing. I recommend readers to try to find them in their training. And although we will never reach the martial genius of founder O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, I believe we should study his words and beliefs, and not let these three terms be the limits of our attempts to follow in his footsteps. We should consider them as a means to help us understand the intricacies of perception in budo practice, and strive for even higher levels than these terms represent.

Yours in Aiki,
Ethan Monnot Weisgard, dojo-cho
Copenhagen Aiki Shuren Dojo