What it isn’t….

I quite often find myself in deep contemplation regarding Sensei’s teachings. About the essence of the study of Budo, but more importantly, the essence of the study of Yuishinkai.

I have decided I hate the word Aikido attached to what we do, or the essence of what we do. Just hear me out. Strange that an Aikido teacher doesn’t like the word Aikido. 

It’s not the art, the collection of techniques that form the basis of any school of Aikido, I love and have loved practicing these techniques. 

The problem is human nature. Attachment to what the expectation of what Aikido is, and that being great at Aikido is about some technical proficiency in a particular set of predetermined movements. Unfortunately this is compounded when you attach a school name to the word Aikido that forms further prejudices, an image of how the technical aspects are executed and how this defines them in reference to other schools that don’t do technique like them. 

It creates prejudices and arrogance, a sense of betterment over others based on personal likes. Aikido should be martial and hard, aikido is love and should be flowing and collusive, aikido is spiritual and should be reverential and traditional. All attachments – all typical human nature.

People tend to hear what they think. Let that sink in. 

How we relate to things is how we see them. Aikido is whatever we think it is.

Yuishinkai is the school of the essence of mind. Even saying this causes people to create a relationship to what they THINK this is.

All martial systems are just the form of things passed down through generations, Aikido is no different, but Yuishinkai should be, as the essence of mind is formless, and at its core remains nothing that can be passed down from one person to another. 

It’s not technical proficiency or hidden teachings that the masters say had to be stolen from them, but the very essence of what is. 

The founder spoke of these levels many times, trying to discover the secrets of the masters of old through forging the body.

The difficulty lies in understanding that originally what is passed on as form had its origin in formlessness. The true essence of Budo is not technique. 

And the truly difficult thing for the student to understand – it is something that cannot be taught.

Form follows its function. When chasing form all that can be passed on is form, as the form is all that has existed in the way that can be transferred in a conscious logical and analytical mind, ie, a school with a syllabus that teaches this system of competence all the while talking of transcending such a level of consciousness. It’s a paradox that cannot be unbroken, created through attempting to escape the form that created it.

When sensei tells people the essence of Aikido is not technique, he doesn’t just understand this, he knows it as an absence of the form of things that could be, but only he can know this. 

His job has never been to teach Aikido, but an attempt to pass on things as he experienced them and anyone else can inherit these experiences if they set their heart to experience them for themselves. 

The teacher is the blueprint to this journey. TO DO WHAT THEY DO, TO KNOW WHAT THEY KNOW, YOU MUST DO WHAT THEY DID. There are no shortcuts, no fast track to know what is not known. 

Stuck in form stays in form. An attempt to analyse what isn’t through what is will result in disappointment and traps us in the cycle where form follows form follows form. 

But I don’t own it, and sensei doesn’t own it either. It doesn’t exist as a thing that is transmitted, as it’s impossible to lay claim to ownership of something that cannot be owned. 

Base human emotions such as jealousy, greed, fear, stubbornness, arrogance and self righteousness block a pathway to this understanding.

It makes me think of the Bible quote “many are called, but few are chosen”.

We each understand according to our level, whatever that may be.

And because the essence of Yuishinkai is here , now and nowhere, any time a thought arises that you understand what that essence is, it instantly isn’t that at all.

What you seek is seeking you, but not the you you see, the you that doesn’t know the you that is you. Confused yet?

And so it is so. 

Stuck in form stays in form.

What the master wants “stolen” remains something untaught. Not stolen from them, but stolen THROUGH them.

The attached want the mantle that doesn’t exist, the initiated exist free of such cloaks.

Yuishinkai exists – Aikido does not.

Aikido exists – Yuishinkai does not.

Simple, yet infinitely unattainable.

My uncle Earnest

This paradox of training in Aikido is a difficult one. Over the years I have met all types of people that train for many different types of reasons. Health, spirituality, martial prowess or just to attempt to find that thing missing in their lives.

We are told Aikido has two dimensions, spiritual and physical.

Just as studying religion or theology implies the study of a higher power or deity, so to the study of budo or a martial art implies the accumulation of the knowledge on how to fight or defend oneself.

 What are you studying and teaching, a religious philosophy, or a martial art?

The practice of one degrades the art to little more than a synchronised dance, beautiful but martially ineffective. It implies a higher level of spiritual awakening exists without physical adversity as a precursor to this realisation. It becomes “intellectualised spiritualism”, as though a destination can be arrived at before a journey has begun…..

The second puts the study of the martial aspect above the philosophical. Learning practical application for defence purposes and physical responses to aggressive encounters as the correct martial journey.

But my question is do these two paths need to be exclusive of the other?

In most people’s approach, these two training methodologies cannot be taught as a cohesive co dependant theology.

The pacifist and the warrior struggle to coexist in a world whose history has hoped for one, but always relied on the other. Paradox indeed…….

In my personal journey, I didn’t get into Aikido for philosophical reasons, I wanted to study budo.

I went to Japan because of the flowery training that I perceived in the majority of practitioners within my own country. This is not every person’s journey, but my own.

The path to understanding the philosophy of Aikido didn’t came through preconceived ideology on the subject of love, peace and harmony or any random (and rather egocentric) idea that my actions or thoughts would influence an entire world, but rather through the training of the body, and a lot of hard won introspection.

Spiritual awakening through physical adversity, if you like….

The journey is fraught with difficulty, and it is impossible to pass on your personal sparks of wisdom along your journey, what I would like to ask though is, has your path been filled with honesty and sincerity?

Sunao-the Japanese term for these English words is integral to the study of budo. Have we been honest and sincere in the way we have trained and studied or the reasons why? Or have we allowed preconceived notions that come from ego to distort our reality about what we are doing in the dojo?

Have we become zealots or acolytes whose vision is clouded by our own ideology?

Most that know me understand how I feel in regards to indoctrination, how it stifles the mind and traps the spirit. Any path that can offer(or at least pretend to)a way to spiritual growth, also gives us the potential for creating a trap for the very thing it professes to set free – the spirit.

Love, peace and harmony are great virtues. Actually, the highest level of aspiration for human development I believe is benevolence, but the journey to this destination, if we tread along the path of Budo, must be Shinken shobu – training in dead earnest.

 A constant battle to the death between the ego self and the true self.

Every moment a chance at introspection, every moment a look into the self, into the basic practices that define the art, firstly as it was intended – as a martial practice that, through the process of overcoming these preconceived ideas transforms the heart of the person in the conflict.

Understanding death and rebirth, facing fears and overcoming, facing prejudice and overcoming, facing adversity and overcoming, facing the self and overcoming, facing egotistical ideas and overcoming.

Shoshin is the mind of the beginner.

It is the very essence of the study of budo.

It is ever the mind of the student, open to change, willing to listen, humble and inquisitive.

One person’s spiritual journey can be another person’s purgatory. We cannot pretend to understand the storm without standing in the hurricane. The founder once said “the conflict has to be experienced to be understood.”

The journey is within, the struggles personal and the destination unknown.

Teaching others is one of life’s greatest privileges. 

Learning to teach the self one of life’s greatest victories.

This truth is found on the mat, if we allow ourselves to be challenged enough find it.

This is Tanren, within the heart of the forge is the greatest heat. 

But for one to be tempered one first has to allow the process to happen. Metamorphosis is Tanren, and implies change through heat and pressure. Change can only materialise if we believe change is necessary. Surrendering our beliefs to the flames creates freedom.

This was the wish of the founder, That training in the art of Aikido replaces the need for other forms of spiritual purification, when done correctly Aikido becomes this very ritual, Misogi Harai, a spiritual cleansing, through hard martial practice, and lots of ukemi. Our own self righteousness doesn’t allow this change, it prevents it.

I believe Aikido can create a path to understanding true benevolence, if we just do one thing……

Surrender to the flames of the forge……….

Comprehension is Competence

I was discussing today with another instructor about an old video that I had posted regarding ukemi. He commented that he had never heard anyone explain what I was demonstrating in the way that I explained it. I get this a lot in my teaching. I am different to everyone else, no one talks about the importance of feet as much as you, no one emphasises position like you, no one emphasis weight distribution as much as you, and so on and so on….I worked hard to develop a way to do my basic technique without ever compromising principles that I had come to believe were intrinsic to the art, core fundamentals that had been handed down to me from my teachers.
I took these fundamentals to be absolutes in all relationships in the art and applied them this way.
Centre is fundamental. Centre pole is fundamental. The heart chakra is fundamental to centre to centre connection. It can be esoteric, it’s basis is in ukemi, not in the stars…
When I receive I keep the centre of my sternum at the centre of my partner until I can no longer, I never ever turn away and even if the movement requires I must, I seek to reconcile this connection above all else. It is for this ver reason my ukemi looks different.

Ki is fundamental. Ki is energy. Energy cannot be destroyed, energy never retreats, never contracts and never gives up. Therefore in my ukemi I will continue to move my centre forward at all times until I can no longer maintain stability due to outside influence. This extension to my partner makes ukemi look different to the norm, as uke is no longer just about falling.

Preservation of life is fundamental. I am aware of my vulnerabilities in relation to my partner and move myself accordingly. I am also aware of my partners strengths and vulnerabilities at any given moment. This is a martial mind a Budo mind. This is not a fighting mind. Passive aggressive people with huge egos have fighting mind. Fighting people have self preservation mind. Understanding the differences in these two approaches is essential to the art. It helps develop awareness and an innate ability to perceive threat, thereby avoiding it. Just avoiding threat creates complacency, this complacency is the opposite of what true Budo is about. Uke moves differently when they understand this relationship, and act according to their awareness.

Being is fundamental. This moment is all that exists. I poor my essence into the eternal now without thought to future or past. I fulfil my role without anticipation of outcome, without thought to technique or preservation of self. In all that I do I give my utmost understanding that this is the true essence of being. Mindful of each action and each breath. Uke then can receive the true teaching, the heart teaching true transmission is only passed through true “being”.

Relaxation is fundamental. Relaxation can be surrender. Holding tension can be a defeat. A relaxed body is adaptable, a stiff body is rigid and easily broken. A relaxed body is a conduit for transmission of the partners intent, constantly relaying messages through subtle bio feedback that happens through the point of connection. An uke that knows this can even close their eyes and always end up in the same position.
In all my decades of aikido all around the world whilst training I have only ever met one person that was truly relaxed – relaxation is both in mind and body, but is easily discerned when watching ukemi, even the very act of thinking that you are relaxed means you are not, knowing this is also fundamental.

Body of stone is fundamental. Being immovable both in mind and body is the essence of Budo. No matter how much static testing you have done, if you haven’t sorted your feet and your centre pole you absolutely cannot be stable in motion no matter how much you dream you can. If your motion “pitches” your centre pole you are not stable. If your technique shifts your gravity centre unknowingly you are not stable. If your weight shits to the outside of your feet in motion you are not stable. If you over extend and lift your heels you are not stable. If you bounce your centre without knowing reason your are unstable. If you are airborne you are not stable. All these aspects must be analysed and addressed to grasp the essence of this fundamental. It is intrinsically linked to maintaining one point, but it is no use talking of the latter until all the former are understood, a good uke would know this and work towards addressing these in their movements.

Shoshin is fundamental.
Sensei’s first lesson to me is the last lesson anyone should ever need.
In my country, of the hundreds that attended that fateful first Yuishinkai seminar 2 decades ago only 2 of us remain. Sensei spoke first of Shoshin before any bodies were even moved, of the need to free the mind of any preconceived idea about what aikido was, what style was and open both heart and mind to explore with him, the true message of the founder.
No one can learn what they think they already know, and sensei has evolved each day and each moment since I have met him. We are what we repeatedly do. The pursuit of excellence is the pursuit of the Devine in all of us, it’s in our actions not in our words, it’s the fundamental essence of the nature of the universe- undying and absolute love.


Yesterday I was re-reading the founders book that was written as a technical guide. I haven’t actually had this book in my possession for many years as it was on loan.
Anyway I was just thinking about 2003. This should have been a pivotal year for many in Yuishinkai as it was the year sensei introduced “moon shadow foot” and “lizard leg”, very profoundly deep concepts from ancient Japanese kenjutsu.
As with most great teachers, a brief and simple explanation of these movements was provided. For myself at the time, I was lucky to spend considerable time as senseis uke for these explanations, as the concepts had come about as a result of him meeting me the year before.
One concept in particular nagged at my subconscious. I had heard the term before suigetsu- the shadow of the moon on the water. Sensei said this was a major concept in shinkage-Ryu Japanese kenjutsu.

The founder of Aikido puts great emphasis on this concept in his written discourse regarding yokomen attacks in the introduction of his book. He talks about it in regards to ken-po (the first or ultimate teaching of the sword). I had forgotten this reference as it had been such a long time since I had underlined it in my book. I remember when it happened. After this seminar I spent a year trying to learn as much as I could about this “moon shadow” concept. I bought every book on shinkage-Ryu I could find. The best one though was not the highly recommended translation by Thomas Cleary (which wasn’t recommended until 2014, and remained unread by other very very senior Yuishinkai “masters” until after this recommendation – WTF……..)(https://greatoceanaikido.com/category/william-reed/), but rather one by Hiroaki Sato, I have had this paperback lesser known volume silence 2003, it’s pages turning a slight brown colour now.

In it, not only is the book of family values( this is the shinkage-Ryu family written technical book) explained by just one of the three great masters of the family(muneyoshi, munenori, hidetsuna) but all of them of the period of their experience give their own personal experiences unravelling these concepts in actual practical settings. I found Yagyu Jubei’s explanations to be especially helpful.

Internalising these concepts through changing your physical training as well as your philosophical viewpoint will alter your perceptions of Aikido irreversibly.
There are 2 main parts to this but also many other concepts that are co-related to them.

I remember the 2004 seminar when sensei spoke of the concept of “soft eyes”, of looking but not seeing. He explained how Japanese “No” actors utilised soft eyes and a trained “sixth sense” awareness to move about the stage whilst in full costume and mask. I remember spending entire sessions with eyes half closed trying to walk forward and backward around the dojo. Why? Did it relate to the concepts taught(but very obviously ignored) the year before. How does how we “see” relate to suigetsu? What does the shadow of the moon and the feet have to do with how we use the eyes?

I heard that it was professed recently by a former student that sensei didn’t start teaching important internal “aiki” concepts until after he reunited with Okajima sensei and had his Daito Ryu connections. What was actually being stated was that being spoon fed concepts by a teacher rather than doing self investigation was more prevalent after years of frustration on senseis side at the fact his senior instructors weren’t doing the work he expected after he introduced Okajima, than before this time.

But I digress, where were we …the concept of the moon shadow. The place where the mind resides, and the importance of leaving this place undisturbed in motion. First BS concept that had to be destroyed – physically leading “ki” by having uke chase your hand around the orbit of your body like a dog chasing a piece of string. If the mind of the attacker resides in the hand of the attacker(that’s where the intent lies ie, if I want to grab you my mind is in the hand that would grab) and this place MUST remain undisturbed, I cannot move in the old way. Nor can I think in this way. If I have INTENT TO LEAD and the attacker has INTENT to attack, surely this is aiuchi(mutual death). If his mind is full, and it’s physical realisation is in the hand in motion, I must do my utmost in my motion to keep the mind trapped at this very point/line of intention(line of intention being sternum driven NOT hand driven, whoops the rabbit hole deepens….) and not create intended deviation of the attackers mind thereby altering his intent and breaking his concentration cycle.

This is where the feet come in. How can I move in relation to this line keeping my attackers target in the perceived line of attackers whilst simultaneously allowing myself to avoid getting hit? My lower sternum/ solar plexus region must remain aligned with this region of their body. Sensei calls this the heart chakra or heart to heart connection. I cannot overstate it’s importance. The study of suigetsu is the study of this point in relation to movement in a martial context.

Without first establishing this most important of connections understanding “internals” will escape everyone.

Why is this area of the body so deeply related to Budo?
Why is it talked about by the founder as the essence or first teaching?
Why was this concept the first related by sensei when he established Yuishinkai?
Why was how to look ( have soft eyes)the second concept related by sensei and how did it relate to the first? If the opponent is the moon and we are the water, what is the relationship between these two points?
How does this relationship allow the water to “read”(reflect) the moon?

The true study of Budo is about breaking down often long held beliefs that bind us to our “dogma”. Ignorance stifles learning. In Yuishinkai since day one sensei has encouraged beginners mind. Beginners mind means a thirst for understanding a concept beyond the small morsels that fall from the senseis table.
Free yourself to learn. Never the teacher always the student. Learn to truly be a student, to remove ignorance and self importance.
Non of these teachings were ever hidden by sensei, they were openly taught at a basic level of understanding from the very beginning in a hope that someone – anyone would be hungry enough to seek out the recipe from the taste of the crumbs on the floor.
Alas the truth is most believed the already feasted at the same table a the master, and understood the recipe from the same perspective as him.
We are what we repeatedly do. Let’s us focus what we repeatedly do on changing ourselves to be better at being the beginner.
Ask hard questions and face hard truths. The one at fault is usually the one looking back at you in the mirror…..