“the way is born, when the base is firm”
The sword forms the basis of Aikido techniques, and it’s spirit. The founder said “in empty hand practice, you should move as if holding a sword, in sword practice you should move as if you are not holding one.”
Aikido is the realisation of the hidden principles of the sword, expressed through intent by the body, connected to mind and spirit, manifested within movement.
Fundamentally, when we learn sword we are teaching the body, through its connection to the ground, to control the kensen. This is the line that the sword tip scribes as it slices through the air. We must learn to connect our body in such a way that the weight and mass of the body are at the tip, sitting just behind the actual steel of the blade as though pushing it through the air, or more realistically falling just behind it. We learn to move our body as though carrying the sword in an actual combat situation. Able to respond or cut in any direction at any time.
All aspects of this relationship need to be considered. The relationship between the arms, hips, centerline, feet, hands, sword position, shape, and principles of sword – Always move to the sword, never pull the sword back, the sword moves with constant forward pressure, the body preloaded to deliver the cut or to defend and counterattack. Centre always checks centre, arms stay relaxed ready to express power stored in the legs and Hara. The breath expands the body in 6 directions and a heightened sense of all things is the mental impression.
There are three levels to this understanding. Shu, Ha, Ri, essentially they are to learn, detach and then transcend.
First there is man and sword, then man becomes sword, and finally there is no sword.
This and only this is the secret to Aikido training.
Mu-To, or no sword, is the epitome of katsujinken, the sword that preserves life.
There were two main sword styles that the founder studies, Yagyu Shinkage ryu and Kashima Shinto ryu. Many of us have now heard Maruyama Sensei talk of the spirit and ability of Tsukahara Bokkuden, founder of this style. Within the principles of his school is the concept of Shin-bu, “the divine martial way” in which one wins without ever fighting. To make this a reality was to develop oneself, both physically and spiritually, to the level of the Kami or the Divine. Through “Tanren” we temper ourselves and come to this great realisation – to win without fighting is katsujinken, the sword that gives life.
The word aiki was also used to denote the highest level of mastery in the Yagyu shinkage ryu sword style, we have also heard Sensei tell many stories of its founder Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Fujiwara-no-Nobutsuna. To be able to take away another man’s sword when you had no weapon was considered the highest achievement in the Shinkage ryu. Through training with the sword one came to realise a great truth – katsujinken, the sword that gives life.
When we have realisation in regards to these things, we see the sword not as a physical element of steel and wood, but rather as a unity of the fundamental elements of the universe.
Principles that go beyond the desire to destroy, but unite and uplift. The sword the mind and the spirit become one, piercing all duality, creating balance and harmony.
The sword is the ultimate teacher, the hardest taskmaster, and leaves nowhere to hide.
Exposes all faults, punishes all failures, destroys the ego and elevates the spirit.
In his book, “A light On Transmission” Mitsugi Saitomi Shihan relays this dialogue between himse lf and Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. It should leave you in no doubt as to how the founder of Aikido sees sword training, and also why Maruyama sensei considers it integral to the understanding of the deeper principles of the art.
“Are you blind, Saotome? Isn’t that what I have been showing you over and over? What are you doing during practice?
Listen up! The only secret to sword is cutting and thrusting. The secret of ken-no-narai, the study of the sword, is the piercing, all the way through, of the course of your life with honesty and sincerity and the cutting away of negative thoughts and emotions – the excising of evil from your heart. Unless you first understand Masakatsu Agatsu Katsu hayahi, that true victory is self victory, and that this is instantaneous victory, then no matter how proficient you become, or how many arts you learn, just as it is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, in the end, your learning will be of no use.
First you have to know who and what you yourself are. For the person that studies the way of the sword, the putting right of his own heart is the essential training. The time honoured saying do-ki-itchi (the way and its instrument are inseparable) means that technique and heart-mind work congruently. In bujutsu, the sword, jo,and waza all work as expressions of the person using them; it is because they can be used both for preserving life(katsujinken) and for taking it away (satsujinken) THAT SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF TRAINING.
Bushido is the discipline that expresses the teaching of the saints in the way of the sword: it seeks to protect the world from wrongdoing, to preserve peace in society, and to foster the flowering of culture. In other words you need to understand the origins of the words Bu and Ken in order to clear up and rectify the MANY MISUNDERSTANDINGS and MISCONCEPTIONS that persist concerning the martial way.
The art of takemusu aiki is not for the purpose of fighting or felling an opponent. It is the fulfilment of the true purpose and goal of the martial path – the actualisation of a peaceful world and one family of man. So that is why young people like yourself who are intending to make the way of Aiki your life must practice vigilance and tenacity.; you must constantly ward against carelessness and pierce your own heart with the blade of understanding to examine its workings. Without that kind of resolve, attainment of the enlightened path of Shobu(martial wisdom) is difficult. So in answer to your question, the secret of the sword is not to be found in technique. It is to be found in the heart of the person using the sword. This is the meaning of the word Takemusu that this old man is always talking about. Within the realm of mushin (no-mind) life and death exist back to back with each other. As long as you are attached to life and death you can never progress. When you understand from the bottom of your heart that you are nothing, then you will have attained true freedom. The mind without illusion clearly sees all things, but that is still difficult for young people like yourself to comprehend.”