Understanding Yuishinkai – my time with Ki Society

How my time in Ki Society helps me understand Yuishinkai

Soren’s recent Post reminded me of some things I saw, heard and was told in Japan whilst training with Tohei Sensei and the Shihans of Ki Society for 22 years. The reason for this post is that some of the information from my time with Tohei Sensei and his Shihans may be useful in understanding Aikido Yuishinkai and putting it into the correct context. I realise that some of this information may be surprising, but it is what I saw, heard, and was told.

Aikido is a transformative martial art. If you train correctly mind and body are intimately integrated and your spiritual and physical capabilities become extraordinary. I have met and trained with several direct students of Ueshiba Sensei, and I’ve seen this for myself, not had it passed on to me as a dojo/Aikido story. Enlightenment? We all know that Ueshiba Sensei had a moment of enlightenment, but I was 6 feet from Tohei Sensei, sitting on the mat, when he said “I have never had a moment of enlightenment. I changed, but through training, and more training.” Saotome Sensei also said that while he was an uchideshi, one morning after training several other students said to him “you’ve changed, something is different about you and your Aikido today”, and O Sensei took him aside and performed the prayers he performed when someone had “broken through.” This seems to have been the most common experience, not a “moment” but the emergence of profound change after years of long, hard training, guided by someone who had already made the journey. So this is almost certainly our own journey as well.

I’m Murray Loader, 7th Dan, I run three dojos in Canberra, Australia; as well as Aikido I also study koryu Kenjutsu. First some background – I spent 22 years within Ki Society, reaching 4th Dan in Aikido, Chuden in Ki, and was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Ki. I spent well over a month in the dojo dormitory in Ki no Sato, Tohei Sensei’s home dojo in Tochigi Prefecture, of which two weeks was private training directly with Tohei Sensei three times a day in a small Australian group, and the rest was larger group training with him. I attended several one-week seminars with Maruyama Sensei during this period also, before he left Ki Society. During the next two decades I attended annual seminars run by Tamura Sensei (9th Dan) and Kataoka Sensei (8th Dan) in Australia and trained as often as I could, 4-6 times a week from then to now. I also visited Tamura Sensei regularly in Kawasaki, where he had 40 dojos at that time and 9000 students attending them. During these two-week visits I trained at every class every day wherever there was a dojo open. This meant seven classes a day and a lot of travel. While I was very fortunate that Tamura Sensei took an interest in me and guided me with perception and kindness, and visited me in Australia, I was not important, but I was able to meet and talk to several of the Japanese shihan of the Ki Society.

Because they had seen how I trained over a period of years, both Tamura Sensei and Kataoka Sensei, a couple of years apart, took me aside and very seriously said exactly the same thing “if you want to do Aikido for self-defence you must train very hard.”

Think about that.

They were telling me that I was training properly and with the right attitude, that was why they bothered to make the comment, but they were saying that what I was training hard to do wasn’t enough in some way! I have repeatedly cursed myself over the years ever since; I wanted to ask “Sensei, you have something particular in mind when you say that; can you advise me on what to do?” Because they knew me well I am positive that they both would have shown me what they meant. But out of deference, I just bowed and said “Hai Sensei! Thank you very much.” Idiot!

I knew they were right, because I could tell that what I was doing would not lead me to their level of ability, nor to O Sensei’s. I could see the difference between myself and them, but I had no idea how to bridge the gap.

All these shihans had one thing in common. They had all trained for years with O Sensei, and then with Tohei Sensei. And Tohei Sensei learned O Sensei Aikido. He talked and thought Ki. But his body did O Sensei; his Ki started with Ueshiba Sensei, then developed in a different direction, that of his own and of Nakamura Tempu. Who was also a direct student of O Sensei.

I run film in my mind all the time of seeing Tohei performing Taiso or technique, of Tamura and Kataoka (and Maruyama Sensei of course) doing the same, performing in a way and at a level I couldn’t see how to reach. But I now do understand, mostly, although of course not to their standard. What they were doing with mind and body is what Maruyama Sensei is teaching directly to us. All of them did what they learned from O Sensei. To it they added Tohei Sensei’s ideas. Tohei Sensei added to (and sometimes replaced) Ueshiba Sensei’s teaching, it was the platform for his own studies.

Every one of them trained in Ueshiba’s training method, and there was a reason that his dojo was called “Hell Dojo” – because O Sensei was completely convinced that no other method would develop his students into the spiritually aware, whole, complete, and formidably capable people that he wanted to create. I also watched for several weeks while Tohei’s uchideshi and the live-in students of his Gakuin at Ki no Sato were trained. I was an Army Officer at the time, and it reminded me forcibly of the difficult training I had experienced in the Army. The emphasis, like the Army, was on physicality, precision, and mental and physical toughness as the vehicle for learning the higher skills. It was demanding and tough, with not much kindness. They trained and worked around the complex from early morning until very late, often to 1-2am in the morning. Tohei allowed no mistakes, nothing passed uncorrected (450 people sat and watched while Tohei Sensei corrected my Yokomenuchi Shihonage for 25 minutes, and later another 15 minutes on a different technique – he was quite annoyed by that time) and even if training or work was done well, it was always “do it again” and again and again and again and again. They weren’t the same as “Japanese” classes, but ours were three 2-hour classes a day; if anyone went to the side for a rest, or people slowed down, or were chatting it wasn’t long before an uchideshi or shihan came over get them going again. So if this is how his own students were trained, and how he himself was trained, why didn’t he train us the same way, and expect us to do the same in our own dojos? Why the difference in standards? The reason emerges below.

Tohei Sensei said, while I was sitting on the mat right in front of him, “sitting in a quiet room meditating is good for your mind and health, but it is no use in the relative world; instead you must be able to act with a meditative mind in the middle of violence;” in the same session he followed this up with “every technique must be done as if it is on the battlefield.” Not violently, he meant very vigorously, very assertively, relaxed, calm, aware, with intent, control and Aiki Body working together in the most serious way as if in the most serious of circumstances.

Later he talked about sword – “sword and jo will teach you Aikido if done correctly, and Aikido will teach you sword and jo.” He said that when he travelled he would train by doing bokken for an hour in his hotel room, ending soaked in sweat. Shirata Sensei, quoted by John Stevens, also talked about sword “the sword, too, is an instrument of purification”, and bokken is often used as such in some religious rites in Japan. For O Sensei sword and jo were essential tools for learning Aiki Body, for learning Aiki Mind, and as tools for interacting with the universe. Aikido requires bokken, jo, tanto, taijutsu, mind and body.

But I looked around after Tohei’s words, and there was great deal of discomfort on the faces of most of our small group. To them Tohei was the face of “love and harmony and ki” Aikido, and his statements were completely the opposite of what they expected and wanted to hear from him. They were unhappy, and subsequently reframed his words into their worldview, or ignored them. So why did he say it? The simple reason why is that Aikido is not what many westerners assume it to be, it’s not what their instructors may have told them it is, its not the myth of Aikido taken back to the West by many of the early Western Aikidoka who trained in Japan, which has become widely accepted as “truth”.
Certainly what Ueshiba, Tohei, Maruyama, Tamura, Kataoka and the other shihans I met wanted was peace in the world, a balance in human affairs for all. However Ueshiba and Tohei both had the same motto – “You must love and protect all creation.” What many westerners hear is “you must love all creation”, but that is not what O Sensei said, its not what Tohei Sensei said, and its not what the shihans wanted from their students. They were taught that to be righteous people, to be able to help deliver peace and harmony to human affairs, that they needed to both care and to be able to intervene, to act, to protect. Not to witness, or talk, they needed to be able to act and have the capability to be successful in that act.

From various sources, the simplified story behind all this that I was told over time is, essentially, that once word of Aikido started to spread in the West in the 60’s and early 70’s, two kinds of Westerner arrived to experience Aikido (a generalisation of course). One group was composed of people who came on the mat, opened their eyes and ears, and trained in the way their Japanese colleagues did. This group, for example Henry Kono and Walther von Krenner among others, learned what Tohei/Maruyama/Tamura/Kataoka etc had learned, or significant parts of it. At this time O Sensei was being more open than previously and knowledge about the real, hidden, Aikido was now much more available. As a result you can see in the videos and books by these Western students that they talk about and demonstrate exactly what Maruyama Sensei is teaching us.

The second group has caused Aikido great chaos and confusion. At the time much of the western world was in the throes of a cultural revolution, largely brought about by the younger generations, which has had a profound effect ever since. This group brought to Japan a strongly-held mindset and sought validation of it from Aikido, as what they had heard of it and of the sage/guru who invented it seemed to perfectly fit their worldview.

When they arrived, over various periods, but in large numbers, these people told the shihans “we don’t need to train like that, we are here to learn the love, harmony, ki and Aiki, we don’t want to do that martial training;” others said “we don’t train like that in the West and we don’t want to, we want the spiritual aikido not the budo aikido,” and “in the West we do things the modern way, and we don’t agree with these old-fashioned methods.” You might think I am making this up, but I have witnessed senior Western yudansha saying these things to senior Japanese instructors from the 1980s until the present day, and my discussions with shihans tell the same story.

The shihans were utterly baffled, for two reasons – (1) here was a group of Aikido know-nothings trying to tell teachers with decades of experience of O Sensei’s Aikido how and what to teach them, like Primary school students telling the school principal what the curriculum should be and how to teach it, and (2) when the shihans repeatedly explained that to get what they wanted so much – the love/harmony/ki/Aiki – they needed the full budo Aikido and that without it they would never achieve what they wanted, these westerners flatly rejected that view. They were so wedded to their worldview that they simply would not take the advice of the experts who had already travelled the path.

There were several outcomes from this. One was that a significant number of Japanese Aikido sensei refuse to teach westerners – “westerners can’t/won’t train, I can’t be bothered with them,” or to insist on proper training or they would be asked to leave. Another was that the entire Japanese Aikido community came to the conclusion that only Japanese had the attitude and capability to learn the real Aikido; those few westerners who trained properly were viewed with reserve and suspicion until they proved themselves, and were then welcomed but seen as aberrations. A further unfortunate reaction, perhaps the most common, was to provide the Westerners what they said they wanted and to assume all Westerners wanted that same thing; this reaction came from (1) economic reasons, (2) the view that the Westerners, although making a very serious mistake, were nonetheless sincere and often nice people, and if accommodated perhaps some of their students might later come to Japan with open minds and learn the real Aikido, and (3) kindness.

So that’s what happened in some Aikido Ryu (but not all) – Westerners arrived and were welcomed but were restricted to the Omote (open/public) Aikido, the hidden-in-plain-sight Aikido of O Sensei was not mentioned and was very difficult to access. They were given considerable insight into the mind/spiritual training of Aikido that they wanted, but with the (Japanese) expectation that the knowledge, while useful and helpful, would not take them particularly far. So that’s the story as I heard it. By the time I arrived in Japan in the 1980s the shihans had long given up explaining, as they thought no-one was listening.

The question we all need to ask ourselves is – will what we are doing lead us to the level of capability of spirit, mind and body of the Uchideshi? Or of Ueshiba Sensei? If not, we are not on the path that Ueshiba and Tohei wanted us to take. This can be because you, or your instructor, do not know how to get there, which is completely okay and completely understandable (me too until recently), and is what Aikido Yuishinkai exists to solve. Or it can be because you have chosen your own way of getting there, which implies “I know better than O Sensei”, which if you haven’t got there is self-evidently incorrect.

People often ask me about the differences I see in Ki between Tohei-style and Yuishinkai. Some of Tohei Sensei’s methods and ideas diverged from O Sensei’s over time, but the underlying platform is O Sensei in origin. Yuishinkai is based on O Sensei ki methods. Much of the confusion arises from the tradition that if you now belong to a different Aikido Ryu you shouldn’t use the intellectual property of the Ryu that you left. This means that Tohei having left Aikikai, and Maruyama having left Ki Society, have had in many cases to create different names and different explanations of their own for Principles and concepts that are actually common to all of them. For example, Extending Ki can also be Connection, or Intent etc. While Ueshiba’s ki can differ to Tohei’s, and Maruyama’s may appear to be different again, there is much in common, its just different words and explanations in many cases. Maruyama’s ki teaching is almost all Ueshiba and koryu, but again he sometimes uses different words and explanations, so look for the commonalities between the different names and the explanations. You aren’t being asked to replace your previous ki experience, instead the different methods and explanations within Yuishinkai often provide more depth and detail for things you might be familiar with under different names, and are actually more useful. There are also high-level concepts and methods for ki, based on Ueshiba and Koryu tradition, that are really fascinating and explain much about the unusual capability of the shihans. Yuishinkai is crammed full of ki training.

The story of Aikido from the shihans tells us that there is no “Aikido Lite” where you can develop the mind and spiritual component separately from the martial. The whole of O Sensei’s method was based on the complete opposite – Aikido is a profoundly transformative art where you train mind and body and ki at the same time, intensely and mindfully, and that performs the transformation.

The transformation is not an intellectual exercise, it requires the rigorous integration of mind and body, then the integration of the Ki and Mind principles with that. The Mind/Ki practices utterly depend on the mind/body Principles and movements before they work properly. It seems that those individuals who returned from Japan having been taught, at their own insistence, the Omote physical Aikido and the “spiritual” Aikido, but not the Budo, returned with something which gave them satisfaction, and gave them validation of their worldview, but which was hollow, and neither brought transformation into the spiritual being they wanted to be, nor full martial competence, because they had refused the training that develops them. Unfortunately for them as individuals, and for the hundreds of thousands of students they have taught since, they had ensured that the transformation and spirituality they sought would be in sight, but always out of reach.

Aikido Yuishinkai is a forum where one of the Shihans who taught those people is reaching out to a newer generation, offering the full experience. The instruction is offered openly, not the case in the past, but the work must be ours, and it is accessible to everyone – first get the Principles and footwork right using Kotai, then keep them right while doing Juntai, then do the same for Ryutai. Focus on how to be Uke first, Nage is not the major learning role. Each move as Uke or as Nage must be mindful, “what went wrong, how will I fix it”, and as confidence increases so must the vigour of execution of both roles.

The Japanese training model is not uniquely Japanese, correct training is universally understood and prevalent across the Western world; Western countries are full of examples of historical and present-day sports, medical teams, defence, etc etc that train and prepare themselves exactly the same way, because it works. What we get in addition from Japanese Aikido though, is the mind and spiritual training and its benefits.

O’Sensei walks in


In recent times there has been much debate around training style and focus within the organisation. I will share with you how we trained in the early days and why I believe every practitioner should train this way for at least some part of their learning.  
It is important to be explain my current situation.  I live and work in a world of violence. There is no room for error nor can I have a bad day.  Not only do I live in this world of violence, it is my occupation to teach people violence. To be effective in skills, definite in decision and morally and legally correct.  It is also my occupation to inoculate from stress (Warrington 2016) those I train. How this occurs will be discussed later in the article.


I have chosen the word violence very carefully.  Not to be provocative but it highlights that what we are actually doing in training.  The physical aspect of techniques require us be violent. I would be interested in a person’s argument that striking, throwing, causing pain through joint manipulation and hitting a person with a piece of wood are not violent actions.  


I do not accept that what we are doing when executing technique is anything less than violent.  Our approach and ethos around what we are doing is certainly not violent and here lays the paradox.  How can we train for violence of action but promote peace and harmony? This debate could be the topic of its own article and I will not go into this at this time. My personal belief is, that to not use violence, or only use violence when necessary, is to have an intimate knowledge of violence and your ability to impart violence.  


I do not believe this makes a person violent.  In fact the opposite is true. Knowing your ability to impart force provides awareness of the harm you can do.  Knowing the effect of force on a person and the level of force you actually need to impart allows you to use only what is necessary on a person.  You become more effective and resolute in your technique as you need to do less, not more. You can strip away the mysticism and confusion of great technique.  You therefore have less to think about and process. This leads to have a perception of more time to act and you become less reactive.
This awareness is affected by stress.  When a person is fearful or panicked they can use disproportionate force in the situation.  How can you say, honestly, that when you are confronted by the angry man, with no experience around your own responses and abilities in that situation, you will be effective?  You can’t.


Fighting Mind is destroyed by having this awareness.  There is no need to slam a person into the mat or put all my weight behind a cut.  A person would get hurt. You are able to dial up and down the effect on uke if you know both ends of the scale.  You are able to feel that you have enough torque on uke and can back it off so they can roll.

 

Without knowing both ends of the scale how can you know your true ability?  

 

Over time this can be applied to an off mat situation.  You see an opening or feel the attacker off balance and modify this to use only what is required.  


I am not stating you need to have first-hand experience with violence or compete.

 

But this leads us to question- what is your personal experience with violence?

And what is your ability to impart violence?  

 

I will ask you to search your own experiences of violence and examine how you responded.  Being placed in an actual confrontation is confronting, hence the name. How did you manage the stress?  Have you even thought about how to manage stress in a confrontation? What effect will stress have on your technique?

 

If you think you won’t be affected by stress, or your technique will stack up in the big bad world you can stop reading now.  

Thank you for your time.


Those who have kept reading I would remind you that time on the mat does not directly correlate to proficiency of technique or the ability to manage stress.

Those who believe they can overlook stress are dangerous.  Also very dangerous and misguided is the notion that because I’ve study an art for long time you are therefore more skilful.  

This is driven more by ego than reality.  There are some people who are more skilful and engaged in the art after 12 months than some practitioners who have studied 12 years.  
My experiences of violence are varied.  From working in the security industry, law enforcement and on the mat.  Having applied my art off the mat in a variety of situations, I can say that if I had not had the experience of the early day of training I would not have fared so well.  

 

It was in those times that we trained and trained and trained.  These were long and hard days that left as gasping for breath and near to true exhaustion. So what did we do in the early days?

 

We were is a great position that can’t be denied.  

Being able to devote around 4-5 hours a day on the physical aspects alone is not a position many people have the opportunity to do nor the desire to experience.  Being students with access to a great facility for really no cost did make things easier. To be honest, in the early days I was a sceptic. I was not convinced what I was seeing could work.  I am no longer a sceptic.

 
Most of the training was around the physical execution of techniques. Nothing was off the table.

 

There was a real sense that we were in some ways trying to defeat the techniques and find fault with them.

 

Nothing was sacred. It couldn’t be.  We trained with a variety of other people.  All of whom were and are very accomplished in their own arts.

We never shied away from them and is some cases made them converts.  

Another long-time friend of mine who was world class karate practitioner often commented on what we were doing and could easily draw comparison with his own art.  He saw first-hand what happened in the dojo translated to the ‘angry man’. He took some techniques and used them in his own world with great success.

 
Techniques were unpacked and rebuilt constantly.  This was done at a low level to ensure we had what we needed.  Once we believed we had a workable technique we set about setting it as a conditioned response.  Please don’t ever say the words muscle memory to me.

 

We were and still are not afraid to completely relearn and unpack a technique in the pursuit of effectiveness.

 
I recall cutting with a bokken thousands of times.  Getting the technique aspects perfect. Really focusing on what is means to have correct form and how that relates to power.  As I mentioned we were all competitive sports people. We understood the need to have perfect form and how that related to power generation.  The greatest sports icons generate power effortlessly. Why? Form and repetition! Jordan didn’t pick up a basketball suddenly become the greatest player in the world.  Schwarzenegger didn’t walk into a gym and suddenly look the way he did. Hours, week, months, years, decades of relentless improvement. Seeking perfect form.

 

Never settling for mediocrity.

I will suggest you all read a book called Relentless by Tim S Grover.  
Once this was correct we needed to see if we could take that isolated skill and apply it in the dynamic situation.  The use of Shinai allowed us to test each other in a way that was safe and came as close to reality as we could get.  I lost more than I won.

 
What existed, and still does, is the acceptance of failure.  

 

No one was fearful of failure.  

 

We actually sought it out.  

 

We wanted to test our ability to the point where we could say “I failed” rather than ‘I don’t think I can go on?”  There was no shame in failure, only knowledge. Can we do this technique this way? No we can’t because……..

 

This happened constantly.  Why didn’t things work? What do I need to fix?

 

Ah, I need to be strong here, soft here, cut here not there.  We also worked with immediate feedback.

 

Meaning, if you were open you got punched, off balance you got thrown, no rotation in ukemi your thigh was bruised from hip to knee.

 

This level of physical execution could only occur after we could all take Ukemi to a high level.  

 

We didn’t talk about the need to break fall.  Nage made us break fall.

 

Yes, nage is responsible for the break fall not uke.  

 

I will also mentioned that those who trained in the early day were physically fit.  We all played representative sport at some level. Not only did this give us the physical ability train the way we did, it also bought with it the mental toughness to keep going and an understanding of the biomechanics of the human body.


Apart from bumps and bruises our group sustained no major injuries when training together. Preparing for the first seminar in Byron Bay was difficult and rewarding.  Pushing our bodies to the point of exhaustion taught me a lot about myself. To get through the training I needed to make movements as economical as possible. This included techniques and ukemi.  Remaining stable during techniques at hour 5 meant that when I wasn’t fatigued in hour 1 tomorrow I could perceive and analysis my techniques and improve.


It is my belief you need to be physically strong to practice any art.  There are varying degrees of fitness but this is something that anyone can improve.  Age, gender, current situation and work and time restrictions are weak excuses.

 

The stronger and more stable you are the easier it is to learn and train.

 

This is the process of Tanren.  

 

Not flitting about the mat for 2 hours not breaking a sweat and engaging in Talkido.  

 

This brings me to the title of the article.  

 

 

What would O’Sensei say if he walked into the dojo and saw you training?  

 

Would he see the real spirit of Budo that we are all trying to find?  Or would he simply walk away? Would he smile and say they are searching?  


What I see on a lot of classes and demonstrations is a mockery of the art.  Dancing, paired movements with no sense of budo other than they take place in a dojo.

 

This is not Budo and this is not Aikido.  

 

Demonstration have become more about dojo promotion that the promotion of the true essence of the art.  

 

So where is the proof that this type of training is effective and in my opinion essential to your art? Simple.  

 

I look at technique of all those who trained in a similar fashion and evidence is overwhelming.  

 

What this has meant for me is that I have been able to strip away a lot of complexity.  Learning new techniques or more importantly rebuilding a technique I don’t have to worry so much about balance, stability or fatiguing before I can condition the technique.


Those who are forged are always stable, always effective and unyielding.  

 

I look at photo and videos of O’Sensei and the masters and they certainly are. There is no need for them to be aggressive as they can use less force and less complex techniques to be effective.   

 

Are you confronted by the effectiveness of their ability or are you confronted by yours in relation to what you see?

 
As part of by occupation I need to deal with people using 100% effort.  There is no margin for error. I must protect myself which allows me to protect them.  I get hurt I can lose my livelihood. They get hurt I can lose my livelihood.

 

A life in Aikido

I came to Aikido after 4 seasons of professional sport, I had decided I wanted to be an athlete at the age of 14. I was lucky in that I had grown up getting used to hard work as my family had a small hobby farm, and being the eldest boy, my non school hours were spent doing all manner of farm work from hand cutting fresh plantation beds to carrying loads of dirt and manure. From a young age I became proficient with garden tools, especially shovels and the mattock.

 

What I am trying to say is that my development years held me in good stead when it came to body strength and endurance as well as a strong work ethic.

 

When I started Aikido I was strong, able to press 150kg and squat 200kg(I am 6’4” and 115kg), due to a rigorous training regime. All of these things contributed to a person that started Aikido that already had a different background to those stereotypically found in Aikido.

I trained diligently my first year, attending every class on offer, which at my first Dojo was luckily ten a week.

 

I was lucky enough to meet the Shihan that had been sent to my country to disseminate Aikido, and, after receiving ukemi for him, realised there was a quality and feel to his technique and structure that I had not experienced from anyone else before. It occurred to me that some of those around me had been doing Aikido for almost thirty years, and were nowhere near what I had just experienced in technical ability, but more importantly in body feeling.

 

I was in Japan three months later to begin training. I did not believe it was possible that what he had was the exclusive right of those born in Japan alone. After all, humans are humans. Being an athlete had taught me one thing, that anything is possible as a human being if one works hard enough, keeps an open mind to change, and looks for ways to constantly elevate their technical ability.

I still believe this, it has almost become a life mantra, that anything is possible as long as you just believe it is.

 

One of the first things that was obvious to me was the difference in training, in intensity, in repetition of basic movements and in zero tolerance for mistakes. Also there was a much greater emphasis on the ukemi component, and I was tutored by seniors outside regular class hours as to how to improve my skill and understanding in this vital area.

I remember failing to do basic footwork correctly , then being made to stand in the corner like a bad child writing lines, and repeat the movement for the duration of the class.(I didn’t realise at the time that these basic movements, that I practiced everyday, and where quite unique to my Sensei, would later lead me to understanding some internal aspects of Aikido movement)

I vividly(painfully?) remember being struck when I was standing in an exposed position during technique, or knocked on my ass if I was unbalanced.

I remember being taught to cut showmen with a bokken and tsuki-jodan with a jo, and being told that if I mastered these movements I would not need to learn fancy kata. I made a decision at that time to complete 1,000,000 sword cuts, which I completed about ten years ago, most against a tanrenuchi in my backyard or in my Dojo.

Training over there was very different in every way. I asked questions and received answers on many topics that seemed to contradict ideas and teachings in Aikido books in English, as well as what I had been originally told regarding Aikido philosophy and spirituality, in short my budo eyes were being opened, and I never wanted them closed again.

 

On returning to Australia, I floated between Dojo and even organisations trying to find what I had in Japan. I eventually decided to move and opened my own Dojo to return to or even go beyond the intensity in training I had experienced in Japan, and so I did, for the next 5 years average about 40 hours a week on the mat, exploring the techniques and principles that had been drilled into me in Japan. It was during these years I met Maruyama Sensei and dedicated myself to him and his teachings.

My personal Dojo offered 10 + 2 hour classes a week as well as personal classes and weekend weapons classes in soft sand at the beach. I surrounded myself with like minded individuals that wanted to discover Ueshiba’s Aikido, and weren’t afraid of how hard it may be to find it. By this time I had totally rejected what I had seen in my country and in the west in general as a way to discover the secrets of budo, and created misogi through tanren in a hope to rediscover the ancient ways and transcend the body.

 

This was my journey to Aikido. I never worked full time as I trained too often. I sacrificed that side of my life, when many young people are working hard thinking of purchasing a home and getting married and having a family, I was obsessed with getting something I hoped was more lasting. Lucky I had a partner that was supportive of this, and eventually got married and had children, and though the training slowed, it still remained a DAILY study.

 

In my training life there have been many truths I have lived by.

 

Firstly in learning reject nothing due to prejudices or fears. You can’t look at others Aikido and say that isn’t Aikido, it’s too violent, to martial(I have been accused of this many times), it’s too extreme, it’s not harmonious, it’s too hard. Every aspect of Aikido needs to be studied to be understood, not just one.

Don’t reject ukemi styles either. Actually truly learning ukemi is the secret to learn to absorb and redirect force through the body.  Break falling, done correctly strengthens the joints, and helps build an immovable body. Don’t hold onto the simple kata of Aikido rolling and falling as correct for these connections, it is at the beginning, but at the end, when working on the principles, it has to be thrown out, as connection increases, attachment to form decreases. Ki musubi isn’t an action, ki musubi is a feeling. I have been very lucky in my life to have taken ukemi for about 14 different Shihan, so I say this from experience, not prejudice. Ukemi, real unattached ukemi is the secret to elevation in Aikido.

 

Look at videos of the founder, of the senior Shihan he left to dissipate Aikido to the world and find the common thread. Look for the common thread. Tohei, Saito, Shirata, Shioda, Hikitsuchi, Sunadamaru and Yamaguchi are my favourites, and I have watched literally all that I could find on their Aikido and tested nearly all of it at one time or another.

 

Read all that has been written by these giants on Aikido, all that they have had to say about the founders teachings. Read the founders teachings, his life history, but question everything you read, study Japanese history, it’s and the founders religions, both Shinto and shingon. Have a look at sumo, the founders first budo. Have a dabble in kenjutsu, especially itto ryu concepts and especially Kiriotoshi. Read about and look at the movements of other martial arts, especially Chinese internal arts, and try to see the connections between their movements and Aikido basic movements.

 

Learn to see Aikido basics as just that basics, not techniques as much as teachings or lessons in specific hidden principles, especially those techniques from Ikkyo through Gokyo, which are not techniques but lessons in body movements and building connections through the structure and softening the joints. ( prewar the techniques were called Kajo, or lessons, not techniques for example Ikkyo was called Ikkajo, literally first lesson. Yoshinkan Aikido still uses this naming method)

 

Allow yourself and your Aikido to be challenged, to be pressure tested in a more realistic situation. Yes, you may get hit, it’s ok, Aikido is a martial art. Take these lessons and workshop them, find out why you failed, then try again but with a better understanding. Never reject challenges by hiding behind dogma. To change someone, first earn their respect by rising to that challenge instead of running from it.

 

Stay fit and strong. When you read about the founders students, they were all very strong, powerful individuals. Tohei and ki Aikido may have been soft in nature, but he was a powerfully built man with thick legs and trunk. Maruyama Sensei still does weight training and physical exercise daily, and he is 82 years old. Don’t reject such lessons, they are more important than breathing if you want to do what they can do, you need to do what they did. There are no shortcuts to this, it’s not the Japanese mind versus the western mind, or the Japanese way versus the western way, it’s just quite simply the budo way, and rejection of this way leads to a hollow shell of form devoid of any function.

 

As an Aikido teacher it is my job to help those that would study the way to understand the way. To elevate all those below me in grade, I must be honest in my experience and share these truths. If I say technique or training methods can’t be done a certain way, it’s not out of arrogance, or ego, but what I am actually saying to you is “don’t make the same mistakes I made, don’t fail where I have failed”, my experience wasn’t debating the merits of such aspects, my experience came painfully, and I have chosen not to teach in such a way, but in the real world the lesson would be much more severe than it is on the mat, so indulge this crazy fool and just listen..

 

Respect the time and effort those above you have put into making such mistakes. Aikido isn’t a competition, it is a journey to the top of a mountain that never ends.

A journey to where you can discover glimpses of important concepts through experience and hard work, not through dialogue and dogma.

 

Tanren, mushin, zanshin, misogi, ki musubi, yamabikko no michi, aiki o kakeriru, fudoshin and misogi harai are not just concepts to be spoken, but rather states of awareness to be experienced and understood.

 

Anyone telling you they can articulate these concepts to help you to understand is just kidding themselves and misleading you. They are the essence of what will come when the ego self is overcome in the process of training free from personal agenda. The words sound fancy, and their meanings and concepts truly are, but the journey to them is not any easy path.

 

Don’t hold any human being above another. There is no such thing as a master of men, only those that can master themselves.screenshot 3

 

This can be your Aikido journey if you choose, I know it has been mine, and the juice has been worth the squeeze.