Shidoin, 5th Dan
Center Island Aikido
Long Island New York
Get Out of Bed
I teach Aikido class on Friday morning from 6 am- 7 am. Actually I get there about 5:35 to stretch out. I hate to get up early. I hate to think about getting up early. I hate having to go to bed early the night before so that I can get up early. The entire idea of getting up early is distasteful.
I remember years ago sitting in a movie theatre thinking about having to get up early. I decided then and there that if ever I wanted to understand this Art I really needed to start early in the morning. So first rule: Get out of bed. The key to getting up early is not to think about it.
The key to Aikido, Zen practice and many other arts is not to think about it. Get out of "thinking, doing mind" and get into "being or accepting mind." My teacher once told me that Aikido is the practice of getting out of the head and into the center and that's why it is so difficult.
When the alarm rings, immediately get out of bed. Do not, I repeat, Do Not, think about hitting the snooze button or lying in bed for another moment. Just repeat to yourself, "just get up, just get up." If you stop to think about it, you are dead. Out of bed, brush the teeth, put some clothes on and out to the Dojo. No thought.
Ego hates to get up early, but luckily, ego is not up yet. There must be thought process for ego to awake. We will speak a lot about ego in the next pages. We will also speak about energy, emptiness, extension, connection, and chi or ki as it is known in Japanese. We will speak about “being” as opposed to “doing.” We will speak about Aikido, Zen Practice and some Tai Chi thrown in on the side. We will talk about things that seem to 1 make no sense at all, at least from an intellectual viewpoint. I am hoping that some of these things will begin to make sense to you as we encounter more and more of them.
If you have ever looked at the Zen Calendar in the store you will have some idea about what I mean. At first view, the Zen Calendar, sold in the store, makes little or no sense at all. Immerse yourself into the teaching and after awhile it is the only thing that makes sense. But first, Get Out of Bed!
The Zen Master and the Hot Dog Vendor(part 1)
What did the Zen Master say to the Hot Dog Vendor?
Make me one with everything!
Old joke, but highly relevant to our discussion of Aikido.
What the Zen Master meant, aside from his desire for the hot dog was: make me "realize" that I was always one with everything, I am presently one with everything and I will always be one with everything. I use the term "realize" here in a very specific way. It means to understand with every fiber of your being the truth of the statement, not to understand with the mind but with every sinew, muscle and bone in your body. Make me understand, on a visceral level, that I am one with everything; that nothing exists other than self.
Aikido is quite different from other practices. The difference is in the mindset, and therefore in the intent. In other practices there is an attacker and a defender, a subject to attack and an object to be attacked. There are two separate entities. The attacker attacks. The defender blocks or moves off the line of attack
and counter attacks. The thought process goes something like this: how dare that person attack me. I need to defend myself. I need to be stronger or faster than this person and control them and hurt them. Kill them before they kill me.
In Aikido there are not two separate entities. I mean there is, but there isn’t. (That Zen Calendar again.) There is no defender and no attacker. No subject, no object. There is only energy moving in a particular direction. That energy is no different from oneself. The energy is joined, blended with and either taken down to the mat or projected out and thrown. Ai in Aikido means to join; Ki means universal energy; and Do means the way. Hence Aikido is the way of joining with universal energy.
This is supposed to be done with the least amount of harm to the "alleged" attacker. I say "alleged" because there is no such thing as an attacker. Remember, nothing exists outside yourself. Why don't you beat the crap out of the Alleged attacker? Because you would only be harming yourself. Strange way of thinking (or rather not thinking) eh?
Shunryu Suzuki has a wonderful way of putting this in his book, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. He says, and I paraphrase here: Before we are born we are like drops of water in an endless river. All the drops are connected and all are part of the river. No drop is separate from any other. After we are born it is as if the water flows over a high waterfall and the drops separate. It appears to the drops that each is separate from the other, the reality being hidden. Once we die we go back into that state of nonseparateness. We were never separated to begin with. It only appeared that way.
Same in this lifetime. How can we cause harm to another if there is no such thing as the other? Now this is a completely different way to look at things.
Aikido practice is about how one joins with the energy coming in as if it were never separate to begin with, causing the least amount of harm possible. The two become one. Its not easy. I taught Karate for ten years prior to studying Aikido. I can teach you to be a good karate student in two and a half years. My teachers tell me it takes ten years to be a good Aikido student. I would say it takes at least one or two lifetimes, but then, what's your rush?
I got ahead of myself.. That last chapter was kind of tough. Perhaps we can ease into it more gently. I wanted to talk about stretching.
I get to the Dojo about 5:35 a.m., get changed, turn the fan or heat on and begin to stretch. I start with the major muscle groups progressing to the smaller ones. Eventually I finish with the stretching of the wrists, usually in the seiza (sitting) position which stretches out the ankles.
The stretching takes about 20 minutes. I am really stiff! I can stretch out completely and be loose as a goose before I go to bed. I wake up the next morning and its as if rigamortis has set in overnight. I start from scratch again. I don't know why I am so tight, some people just are.
Most Aikido teachers who actually stretch out the class teach the same stretches. Some stretches are designed to limber up the body and some to enable the practitioner (Aikidoka) to better perform the techniques, or more probably, to have the techniques performed upon them. For ex., in the technique known as
kotegaeshi the wrist is turned to the outside, so one of the stretches we perform is an outside turning of each wrist. We do lots of different wrist stretches. I have been doing them for years and my wrists are still tight.
So we stretch to limber up the body and to practically enable the techniques. Why else? Picture an electric current traveling through a wire. If the wire is bent or crimped or blocked or tight the current either will not flow or will flow poorly. Stretch the wire out and there will be no resistance and the current will flow freely.
Same with your body. If it is not properly stretched out the chi (ki) will not flow or it will flow poorly. Your body is the wire and the chi (lifeforce, universal energy) cannot flow. The better it flows the healthier you are. The better it flows, the less physical force you need to use to accomplish a given result.(more about this later).
I learned this studying Tai Chi. Tai Chi has always fascinated me and I started studying it seriously about 3 years ago. If my body is stretched and loose and my posture is straight there is an energy passing through the body which you can actually feel. No stretch, No feel.
One of the stretches we do is a rolling of the ankle and a light pounding on the bottom of the foot. Why do we do this? Well, for one, it feels good. Some teacher's have told me that it wakes up the foot. In Tai Chi there is a spot on the bottom of the foot called the "bubbling well." This is the point through which the chi flows in and out of the body, through the earth.
So, open up your bubbling well and stretch out your body. It's time to do the warmup exercises, but first, I digress into "emptiness."
What is emptiness?
What is emptiness? Another term which is difficult to explain. Aikido and Zen practice are chock full of terms you can't understand. In Lao Tzu's book, "The Tao te Jing" (The Way of Life), he says," the Tao that can be told is not the eternal tao, the name that can be named is not the eternal name." (Steven Mitchell's translation.)
What is this crazy old Chinese guy talking about? He says, if you can talk about it, it ain't it. The "it" or ultimate reality is beyond intellectual thought and discourse. Intellect cannot understand it, if it can, it ain't it. Here we go again. How do we ...>> Continue reading - Download the full pdf here.