Shinken shobu, Aikido’s Great Battle…..

imageThis 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?image

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.image

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

Surrender to the flames of the forge……….

Find your own Aikido

There are many paths to the top of the mountain.image

We are drawn to study Aikido for many reasons. A lot of people that study Aikido love the philosophical area of the art. Some are drawn to the founder’s teachings and beliefs on unity and world peace. Others still again believe in Aikido as a martial art and train the battle field techniques closely related to jujitsu. Others again are drawn to the health benefits that regular exercise and deep breathing and stretching the body give to a balanced lifestyle.

None of these reasons taken in the context of that reason, and promoted as such is a wrong path. But promoting yourself as a martial art and then presenting your teaching as a wellness/lifestyle system is misleading and dishonest. If you teach martial arts or budo, and promote yourself as such, then be what you teach. If you promote lifestyle spirituality and health benefits then be what you teach. But don’t confuse the two.

One can contain elements of the other, that is the paradox of the study of Budo, that it can lead to spiritual realisation. There are many examples of this, including the life of the founder of Aikido. But it doesn’t work the other way around. If you spend a lifetime focusing on just the health, peace and harmony dimension, you will not have created within the body the physical attributes that are necessary for survival in battle. Sure the mind may be serene, and perhaps the spirit ready for death, but the physical body will not be tempered for the heat of the forge that real confrontation needs.

One of the great things about Aikido is that there is a school for everyone.image
In our school, our teacher encourages us to rediscover the teachings of the founder of Aikido through physical practice. The words Tanren and Misogi Harai are supposed to be the defining philosophical attributes in dojo that follow our way. This is daily training, both in technique and in ukemi. One is encouraged in this way to discover for themselves their own Aikido.

A teacher can only point the way. A student, free of preconceived ideologies is encouraged to overcome the fears and anxiety that have clouded their spirit since childhood, making the dojo quite literally a place of rebirth and growth.

Spiritual conditioning through physical conditioning.

The dojo is not a place for long winded spiritual discourse. It is not a place for blowing your own trumpet, pushing misconstrued pseudo Japanese/westernised philosophical dogma, nor a place for selling snake oil. It is a place to study the way.

To work it out by working out…….

Through the process of training in this way, perhaps we will come to a realisation that to find my own aikido is not just about a path to find technique, but rather the journey to discover the true self.

Aikido can be the vehicle for this self discovery, if we surrender our ego to the process. This is the founders definition of love devoid of ego. True love is not a specific man made emotion. True love, universal love is unconditional. This love is about discovering for yourself your purpose in this world. Once this self discovery takes place, we have achieved our goal as a human being. To do this is truly love unconditional, as we begin to live our life not as our ego intended, but as the universe intended.

Overcoming the self, letting go of the self and discovering the self.

Find your own Aikido, and in finding your own aikido you will find the love, peace and harmony that the founder intended. image

“The journey to the true self, is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always, of what you are forever.

It is a journey without distance, to a goal that has never changed..”


Intelligent intelligence………


Find a sword.
Within its principles lie all principles of aikido

What is intellectual aikido?
Intellectual aikido is aikido that is practiced without understanding principles hidden in form of the technique. It is aikido that seeks to mimic the aikido techniques of others without understanding the basic principles that underlie the technique. Defining movement and sounding like you know what you are doing vs really understanding the essence of the art.

What is true aikido?
Aikido form starts at the basic level – the sole of the foot connected to the (mother) earth and the connection through the body to energy of heaven. The central axis of the body becomes the conduit of that energy. The energy originates at the sole of the foot, is driven by the legs and amplified by the hara. It is then directed by the mind to the kensen which is the movement of the technique.
The integrity of the structure and the connection needs to be maintained in dynamic movement. If the integrity is lost the aikido is lost. This often occurs when the practitioner thinks about the way the movement should look rather than concentrating on the basic form of the technique. In other words tries to intellectualise the technique. Watching the techniques of the masters of aikido will not allow mastery of the technique through osmosis. Seeking the basic principles underlying the techniques and adopting those basics will contribute toward learning a technique. When it doesn’t work, it’s not time to change technique, but time to change principle. Doing something stupid over and over again only makes it something stupid done well.

When doing technique we should feel the earth/heaven connection. Our basic sword cutting principles and good body structure should be natural body movement from the internalisation of corrected repeated practice. This is known as unconscious competence – after a lot of practice of a skill so it becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily. The skill can be performed while executing another task. There is little if any intellect involved. The intuitive body takes over.

Where the mind attaches the mind goes.image

To allow the body to “take over” we must stop any intellectual process. We must have “no mind”. You cannot intellectualise any budo where the highest value is the absence of intellect.(mushin) The great men of old were great because they followed this training method. The spirit does not grow through the intellect, but through detachment from it.

Become less attached to titles and fancy talking and more attached to the essence of training the spirit.

If aikido becomes easy it loses its spiritual value. It’s through the difficulty that one discovers the true self. It’s through overcoming and constant self reflection we grow.
Intellectualising spirituality is absurd. No great spiritual master claims to have advanced the self through the intellect, but rather through detachment from it.

Again the question needs to be asked what it is people hope to get from their art?

If it’s the founders Aikido, then the path is Tanren, and training is Misogi Harai. This is well documented by those that trained with and understood the masters wishes.

The path back to the true teaching must start in the heart. Masakatsu agatsu, victory Over the ego, over the intellect, over preconceived ideology is the first step. This is Tanren, tempering the spirit through the body, breaking the intellect. Misogi Harai is brushing away the dust that dulls the mirror of the soul, this is ukemi.

Once this is understood, one can achieve Katsu Hayahi, speed that transcends space and time.

Mushin, the path beyond intellectual thought.

The study of true budo is at a dire time. What came of the ancient ways is about to get lost to the progress of human intellect. Many say a shift is needed for what we study to remain relevant to this modern world. I would say we need to walk in the opposite direction to discover what created great men of renown of the past. Their virtue, morals, spirit and courage is exactly what this world needs to remember.

For greater perspective on this matter please read The Truth of The Ancient Ways by Anatoly Anshin, it is the greatest book I have read on perspective in this matter by a man of learning, not a warrior.
The are no second alternatives, one chance one life.image

His game, His rules….

imageRecently I have had the opportunity to observe a lot of demonstrations of Aikido techniques sent to me on Facebook and YouTube. I thought it pertinent to make a few observations based on the rules that the FOUNDER put forward to those that wish to study Aikido.

1) A single moment or interaction in Aikido can decide life and death. When practicing always follow the example set by your instructor and do not use training time for needless testing of strength.

Do people that practice modern Aikido truly believe that what they are doing or practicing has this level of lethality? Seriously?
The founder must have believed it as he wrote it as the very first rule. Did this mean that, first and foremost he saw Aikido as a leathal martial art and not some form of health study?
These rules were on the wall in the founder’s personal dojo in Iwama, did they only apply to that dojo? I don’t think so.
They were meant to apply to anywhere the art of aikido was taught.

Perhaps the issues is found in the second part of this rule, to follow the example set by the instructor, a rule that has ALWAYS been emphasised in dojo I have been training in. We follow Along without question, with an expectation that the teachers level of skill and understanding is commensurate with their time in training.
The problem with this assumption is that time is not a good measure of ability and wisdom. Most people study without attempting to deepen their wisdom of the origin and purpose of their art. I believe it is important to see the founder’s Aikido from his perspective and search out the truth of what he did and said, rather than just follow along the path that most comfortably fits within our own ideology and beliefs. In that way we honour the art, and the sacrifice that the founder made for you to claim to study the art he created..
And last but not least training is not about testing one’s strength, but rather one’s resolve. Remember, perseverance is power.

2) Aikido is an art where one person learns to face many opponents simultaneously. It therefore requires that you train earnestly to perfect each movement to defend yourself from an attack in all directions.

This is a big one. Humans by their very nature are attracted to beauty. Aikido has become about the sale of perceived beauty at the cost of integrity. Large flamboyant circular movements, and spectacular cooperative ukemi are not Aikido.
In this way of practice, the second rule of the art is totally disregarded.
If nage ends up in a overly large stance to balance the weight of there Uke flying around the periphery of their movement, they have created a vulnerability to attack from the rear. One must, at any time, be able to turn, balanced and centred in any direction to be able to deal with attackers from those directions. Most large movements leave us off balance, our weight totally on one foot or another, or even worse, using Uke to balance ourselves by counterbalancing the interaction. This looks spectacular, it sells “tickets” but degrades the purpose of study, and shows as the hollow level of understanding talked about in the first point.
It reminds me of the Jedi mind trick. It’s good for those whose purpose in aikido is to continue to be ego driven show offs, but to those who have a strong mind and understanding of Budo principles, it just looks like the illusion it really is.

3) Practice with a feeling of joy and exhilaration.

Aikido practice should make the spirit feel invigorated, the body rejuvenated and the mind challenged. Always remember that your partner is there to learn just as you are, and sacrifice their time and their body to the cause. Treat people how you would like to be treated.

4) What you learn from your instructor constitute only a small fraction of your overall learning. Your understanding of the deeper principles will depend almost entirely on individual earnest practice.

In this age of entitlement, this rule should be strictly followed.
Just because you turn up to class and pay money doesn’t give you the right to grade. Learning is on the student, teaching is on the instructor. How you are taught is not determined by you, and in the dojo you have no right to decide how you are taught or when or why.
A GREAT instructor will show you what YOU need to learn, not what you think you need to learn. A GREAT instructor can show you where to look, but not hold your hand while you take a look. A GREAT instructor will test you time and time again, ask questions you didn’t even know you needed answers to. A GREAT instructor will inspire you through their example. And a GREAT instructor will not invest time and effort into those that will not help themselves.

5) Daily practice begins with light movements gradually increasing in intensity; training must be vigorous without putting one at risk of injury. Even elderly people can practice with pleasure.

It is your job to make sure that your body is prepared to train. It is your job to get ready for what you are about to do on the mat, and you have control over the tempo and nature in which you want to train. Knowing and training to your level of physical ability is your responsibility, and articulating this to your training partner is just good etiquette. Just remember that training within the comfort zone all the time is detrimental to progress, as the body condition strengthens and becomes more limber, so should the level of training increase.

6) The purpose of Aikido is to train both body and mind sincerely. Aikido must not be taught to immoral people or used for evil purposes.

If you have not learnt the secrets to Aiki from your teacher, especially if you believe they have them, then please see the above. Believing you are entitled just means you are filled with ego, sometimes being given an important position is a test, and most fail. The relationship is not how we see ourselves, but how the one that we call master sees us. The question to why the teaching was not passed to you lies within the self. Look closely within and reevaluate the way that you train and the attitude you bring to the mat. For further clarification see rule number 4.image Read more

Control the Self

No one can control another person.image



The best anyone can do in any interaction is control the space between them and the threat.
The moment the mind has intention to do something to another person(attachment), it is captured and defeat is imminent.
In essence this is the same mind as the attackers, it has the same intent, and the end result will be aiuchi, mutual death.
The mind/spirit enters completely, unimpeded by technical attachment or desire, either piercing or cutting through the attackers intent. As the essence of true mind spontaneously emerges, it is unable to be controlled by the attacker.

It is not possible to physically grab the mind of another.
As such, the shape of the body follows the natural shape of the intent.

If this occurs it is impossible for the attackers mind to occupy the same space and time.

This is to cut with a single beat, avoiding all duality, and is the essence of True Budo.

Aiki is a matter of the heart.image
It is nothing more than the manifestation of the potential of what it means to exist as a human being.

The Lizard and the Shadow of the Moon

“If you continue this basic practice, you will attain some wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special.”

Zen poem.


IMG_0262Study of the shinkage ryu documents reveals that “moon on the water principle” applies to more than just the movement of the front foot, undetected into the space that the attacker wishes to occupy, but rather to the nature of mind itself.

If an attacker has the intent to do something (strike, grab, both) their mind is filled with intent, and this intent manifests in the action the attacker takes. At this moment the attackers mind is trapped at the point of manifestation.

It is important to learn to move the body in a way that leaves this manifestation of intent undisturbed. In essence for our movement to remain invisible to the attacker, because let’s face it, reality is if you can feel it, you can resist it. “Feel where they are and be where they are not”- has been my motto on the mat for a very long time now.

One must identify this point in both space and time, and move accordingly.

On a more physical level, moon shadow foot is intent, using the centreline as an atemi, one enters completely, engaging the attacker rather than avoiding the altercation. This subtle movement is the final physical representation of the mind, Ki, body sequence. This step initiates balanced forward movement by drawing down through the sole of the foot, rather than launching the body forward from the rear foot, unbalancing the structure, spilling the tanden ball and toppling the centre pole.

Imagine you are walking down a steep incline, and you trip over. In front of you is a tree with a branch extended, you reach out with this extended hand, and MENTALLY prepare yourself to accept its resistance and arrest your fall, this tree is unmoved and the branch represents a mentally predetermined point in space and time at which resistance is EXPECTED to occur. Now imagine what happens when the branch snaps and no resistance is felt.

When someone attacks you they mentally prepare to meet resistance, they predetermine this point of contact in space and time, if our initial movement is avoidance, the mind connection is broken, and a new cognitive sequence is started, this sequence can occur multiple times in the attacker’s mind during a single attack. This keeps us retreating, and creates a sequence of attack and counterattack that can go on forever.

Occupying the line with moon shadow foot changes this sequence to a single entity, what Sensei describes as now, here and nowhere. Mentally we are talking about the pre-cognitive function of the mind. Although scientists cannot yet agree on an exact time frame, the mind pre-loads sequences from between 3 to 6 seconds ahead of actual time.

A great example of this is imagine it is a dark night and you are walking along an unfamiliar track carrying a torch, where do you shine the torch, at your feet, or off into the distance. If the torch is shone at the feet, progress is very slow, as the brain deals with obstacles in a closed loop of about one second between the eyes and the feet, the movement becomes totally reactive, not proactive. Now walk as you normally would, shining the torch off into the distance. Normal walking cadence is now restored, and although you cannot see the feet and where they are stepping with the eyes, the minds eye knows where the feet are and what they are doing. This is Pre-cog, and moon shadow uses it as a tool against the attacker.



IMG_0433This brings us to lizard legs or “T” step, as Sensei now calls it.

The root of all physical power is our connection to the ground, the soles of the feet, it is our feet that generate our physical relationship to the force of gravity, and our physical body cannot escape this principle, generating power by either pushing against gravity, or dropping down under the force of gravity. It’s critical to constantly remember that the solidity of the ground is the basis of all upward forces and that the weight of gravity is primary base of all downward forces.
All physical movements are just a subtle manipulation of these important relationships.

To maintain correct grounding the body needs to be able to move with speed and agility without compromising its structure. To understand this, one must not compromise the centre pole/central axis, which, connected with the sole of the foot, produces relaxed dynamic powerful integrity.

As stated earlier, moving in a conventional athletic way, launching the body forward from the back foot spills the tanden ball and upsets the stability of the centre pole. This stability is important in Aikido as the centre pole represents the axis for rotation in circular movements. Maintaining it is integral to developing centripetal and centrifugal forces, and the manipulation of these forces during motion.

“T” step allows rapid forward movement by drawing down into the ground to maintain connection and alignment throughout the structure. Done in unison with moon shadow foot, it allows the body to prepare for rapid and dynamic forward or backward movement totally relaxed and free from the desire or will to “do something to the other person” , it allows us to start all technique by understanding that, in truth we aren’t moving some one else, but rather just moving ourselves, unattached through space and time.

Recently Sensei has introduced one line training to emphasise this principle and allow us further study of structure, grounding and its relationship to balanced dynamic movement.



Remember there is nothing outside the basics.


Human Endeavour and Purpose

To know others is knowledge,
But to know the true self is wisdom.

To overcome others shows you are powerful.

To overcome the ego-self is powerful beyond measure.

To be content with what you have is true wealth.

Perseverance shows a strong resolve.

Those true to their self live long.

Those that find their true self live eternally.

Dao De Jing 33


screenshot 3What is the purpose of human endeavour?

Does the study of budo have a place at all in this modern world?

Our life’s journey -our endeavour- can become more meaningful when we master difficult things. We do this when we recognise, face, challenge and finally overcome our fears. To face and overcome any adversity elevates our spirit.

As I get older a question I get asked frequently, “Why continue practices that can cause some mental and physical discomfort? Do I need to suffer for the art? Why persevere?”
Through perseverance and training when I am tired, when I am in pain, when it is cold, when it is hot, or even when it is inconvenient I find the most self discovery occurs.

Doing anything that is easy creates contentment that is short lived. Human endeavour should create a path of self discovery. That is why I continue to practice daily.
We were brought to the martial arts for various reasons, but for the most part there was an element of wanting to better ourselves in some way. Most students are not told is that the journey in budo is a long one, a life journey.

The destination not the achievement of a black belt. Rather understanding that the journey only begins at the level of black belt (the word “Shodan” in Japanese literally means “first step”).
Having your black belt may be good for pub talk, but stopping or resting at this point lacks any understanding of the point of the endeavour.

To persevere. To elevate. To discover. To fail, succeed then fail again…….to truly live.



10694451_10205120515832299_3692241922912609305_oAnd this brings me to my second point, the relevance to what we do in this modern age.
We are at the moment at an age of entitlement. Our society has lead us through great technological advancements. All the worlds information is at our fingertips, we don’t need to hunt or grow food, walk long distances, or even have to keep appointments (keep our word). 

We exist more and more in a virtual world, a bubble that (falsely)offers us protection from our fears, our anxieties and our troubles.

Training in budo is designed to draw us out of this bubble, out of our comfort zone. It forces us,  by its very nature, to face confrontation, disappointment and despair. 

Having said that, training in dead earnest also gives us the opportunity to elevate above these elements. We discover that we are not bound by the limitations our society, family, social standing or preconceived ideologies place on us. Instead we become free to discover the true self hidden behind the layers of personality (false self) that we have built to protect us from our environments.

Seeing these defensive layers as a prison rather than a refuge is the ultimate goal of training in budo. To dispel illusions.
Tanren, the tempering of the spirit, starts by just walking out the door, getting on the mat, and leaving your ego in the change room. Simple.

At the beginning I provided us with a quote from Lao Tzu. When I first read this quote I thought it was the quintessence of budo study, of life.

I cannot articulate greater what can be found through a life dedicated to bettering the self through the study of this wonderful art.


Good luck in your journey…..