Reflections on the Year 2008
Every country has its own language defines words differently depending on their culture. For example, every country and culture has a word for God, yet there are as many definitions and descriptions of the term God as there are words that name him. It is ironic that the concept of God is prevalent in most every society and yet it is also the number one cause for most wars and bloodshed throughout history.
The word ENGAGED in the title of this article has many meanings, and the meaning varies even depending on what tense is used. The word BUDOISM, is a word I made up. If we broke down this word it would mean the methodology of BUDO; the Japanese term for martial arts. I will explain what I mean by “ENGAGED BUDOISM” in this article.
In 2007, the Buddhist monks of Myanmar rose up in protest against the military government in protest. At their peak, the embattled monks numbered over 20,000 (Colorado Myanmar ESE Association 2008). In 2008, the Buddhist monks of Tibet rose up in protest against the Chinese government in Lhasa, and this time it caught the media’s attention as we watched the protests for civil liberties from living rooms around the world. I remember seeing the monks dressed in traditional robes as they protested loudly, even aggressively spoke for the people and were persecuted by military and police for their actions. There was violence, imprisonment and even death for the monks involved in these protests.
Generally when we think of monks or priests we think of individuals who have chosen to denounce violence and serve God by praying for peace instead of joining demonstrations to defend it. On these occasions however, these monks chose to join the people in their efforts to shed light on injustice, and they did so with purpose. International politics play out on a difficult stage with an intricate cast of complicated behaviors and characters who bend and twist events to suit their own goals. To see the Buddhist monks of Tibet and Myanmar on this stage seems out of character to many, but not to me. I did not find this behavior surprising because I have had many opportunities to meet with Buddhist monks in Asia and I have seen many of the conditions about which they protest with my own eyes.
Monks have been involved in politics, non-violent and violent protests since the time of Gandhi in India. In Vietnam, there were monks who committed suicide to protest the Vietnam War by lighting themselves on fire. A term for this kind of behavior, which seems to fall outside of the boundaries or governing rules of the temple is “kashari” and can be found often in Buddhist history.
In Buddhist terms, the word kasha stands for the place of Buddha’s enlightenment and manifests as the temple, and the word ri means to leave. The term kashari in Japanese means literally to go out from the temple, but there is a much deeper meaning to this term. Kashari means to step out of the bounds of one’s self or the definitions of one’s chosen spiritual practice; to leave one’s original definitions of self purpose and character. The actions of these Buddhist monks could be considered kashari as their behavior is unusual in leaving the temple and joining the protest against the suffering of the common people.
HOWEVER, in actuality, these monks as they act in kashari are still acting within the bounds of their beliefs and the teachings of Buddhism. Their actions are not actually outside of the boundaries of their teachings and the principals Buddhism. Their actions are called \ kashari-fukashari in Japanese which translates to mean; “TO leave the definition of one’s self and one’s spiritual life practice but to NOT leave the definition of one’s self and one’s spiritual life practice”. Stepping outside the boundries of their usual spiritual practices to join the people in resisting government oppression is an example of kashari-fukashari because in actuality, standing with the people to help them does not fall outside of the realm of Buddhist teaching; it is just a different form of practice of the same philosophical principles. The examples I have given for the acts of kashari-fukashira of the Buddhist monks have related to protests of unfair politics, but this principle is applicable to other actions taken against other human plights such as poverty, discrimination, poor education and lack of health care.
The principle of kashari-fukashari is a concept that has been part of Buddhist teaching for thousands of years. A more modern terminology today for this concept is Engaged Buddhism. The actions of protest by the Buddhist monks in Tibet and Myanmar are modern example of Engaged Buddhism.
Engaged Buddhism is a different practice than wishing for personal favors at the foot of a gold-gilded statue or praying for divine intervention in front of the family altar at home. Engaged Buddhism is different than seeking personal happiness by “buying” prayers with donations or placing faith in those that have made a business out of selling prayers.
Engaged Buddhism is a different kind of Buddhist reality whose concepts can also relate to all of us as martial artists who practice, “ENGAGED BUDOISM”.
Since I founded Nippon Kan in 1978 I have been living a philosophy of “Motion and Sweat.” This philosophy can be easily associated with Aikido since just practicing Aikido involves motion and sweat, but this philosophy at Nippon Kan has developed a deeper meaning. For me this philosophy has meant to face reality head on and to do my best every day. If there is no effort (or sweat) there will be no succeeding.
The Office of Volunteer Programs for the City and County of Denver has nicknamed Nippon Kan volunteers the Nippon Kan Army, and through many years of service we have lived up to a reputation of an extremely hard working group that gets things DONE! Most of the Denver city program managers have no idea that the practice of Aikido is the central focus of our organization, and many of our international humanitarian projects do not involve the practice of Aikido either.
Nippon Kan’s philosophy of “motion and sweat” sometimes takes us far from the mat and the traditional practice of Aikido which is how Nippon Kan practices “Engaged Budoism” or kashari-fukashari; to leave our practice at the dojo to NOT leave our practice at the dojo). With this purpose, Nippon Kan students volunteer their time and resources to help others in our local community and our greater world community.
In the last 18 years of consecutive service, Nippon Kan student volunteers have served over 50,000 meals to the homeless in Denver, provided one ton of rice per month to feed over 1000 orphans in Bangladesh, have dug ditches, painted over graffiti, planted trees, and protected environmental ecosystems from erosion and other damage. Nippon Kan volunteers have visited countries that have been plagued by terror and political unrest to reach Aikidoka practicing in a myriad of different cultures. Nippon Kan students have worked to share cultures by supporting traditional music tours and introduced countless children to Japanese culture through Nippon Kan’s cultural field trip program with the Denver Public Schools.
In all of these Nippon Kan projects and programs, we practice “Engaged Budoism” and every place these projects take us in the world become our dojo. Even though we are not physically in the dojo for most of these projects, we never leave the dojo,…kashari-fukashari.
Nippon Kan’s focus of “Engaged Budoism” is very different from sport martial arts that focus only on winning and losing competition. The practice of Aikido in itself does not have tournaments which lends itself to the possibilities for a more flexible and encompassing philosophy. With this flexibility, Nippon Kan has developed its philosophy of “motion and sweat” into “Engaged Budoism” with projects around the world.
There are some Aikido organizations that have many international programs, but programs that are involved with military governments or ruling classes do not qualify as “Engaged Budoism”. An important criterion for “Engaged Budoism” is a sense of selfless giving and a spirit of volunteerism in assisting the common people.
It is not only Nippon Kan that practices Engaged Budoism, there are many Aikido dojos that have similarities in their direction and philosophy. As I said, an important component of “Engaged Budoism” is working for the benefit of others in the community and I have seen this in many of the countries I have visited. For example, I am writing this article in Parma, Italy where I have come to participate in an Aikido seminar organized by Michel Sensei of Aikido Insieme and the Fesik Italian Sports Karate Association. The focus of this seminar is to raise funds for literacy and other wellness programs for senior citizens in Parma. Aikido Insieme is not affiliated with Aikikai or other large organization but is rather a non-affiliated independent organization with a solid relationship with many other independent Aikido dojos in Italy. In fact it seems to be a primary focus of the Aikido Insieme dojo to unify Aikidoka with principles of Aikido beyond style or organization. The humanitarian focus of this seminar really seemed to help unite these many individual aikidoka in a common cause beyond politics; a quality of “Engaged Budoism”.
I have met many Aikido instructors in my travels that indeed practice “Engaged Budoism”. Many do not identify themselves with this concept, but their actions reflected the philosophy well. Interestingly, I usually have found these instructors on the “front lines” in under developed nations and in most cases; they do not practice under the control of the Aikikai Aikido Foundation, (established by the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba) or any other large organization. Most of them do not have the time or money or have questioned the validity of being part of a large foundation that is structured and ranked by blood lineage rather than accomplishment. Most of these instructors have struck out on their own, forming their own direction in a renaissance of Aikido purpose and practice.
I first published my first book, “Aikido for Life” in 1990 which summarized the basic philosophies, teaching and practice at Nippon Kan General Headquarters at that time. Even then, my main philosophy was that of “motion and sweat”. At the time, there were many instructors that focused on the teaching of “Ki” and “Ki Power”. In “Aikido for Life” I outlined my thoughts on the pursuit of Ki power and the ways in which ideas of Ki power were being sold to attract students. I have always believed that if you focus on Ki and search to find it, you will never succeed. Motion and sweat, in my opinion is a much better model for lifelong practice.
When “Aikido for Life” was released, I received some criticism. It was said about me that “If Gaku Homma says that Aikido has no Ki, then he must be practicing AI__DO instead of Aikido.” This withstanding, within the next five years, I received many requests for permission to translate “Aikido for Life” in countries abroad; especially in countries formerly part of Soviet Union and in Islamic areas. In all, “Aikido for Life” has now been translated into eight different languages officially (there may be more that I don’t know about) in many parts of the world. Along with these requests to translate my book, it was around this time that I began to receive invitations to come to other countries to teach.
Much was going on in the world at that time, including the collapse of the Soviet Union which had a tremendous effect on the world as we knew it. It was a time of Cultural Revolution which saw an increase in demand for Western ideas and goods as newly independent countries were restructuring politically and old cultures were entering a new era in their histories. An increased interest in Aikido was part of this Cultural Revolution and I was curious to see for myself how the practice of Aikido was manifesting in different cultures and countries, so I accepted these first invitations. This was the beginning for me of what has become a life long journey, and today I spend about six months a year traveling, teaching and learning Aikido around the world.
I found a common theme in the countries that I visited in those early days. Many believed some of the instructors they saw that were selling Aikido as a martial art with miracle Ki powers; powers that could magically transform their lives if they signed up for classes. Students had been seduced with these claims of magic and manipulated by instructors that told them they did not have these “powers of Ki” because they were not trained, or were bad in some way. This I recognized as a teaching technique that had already been used in Japan and the US, and was especially appealing to innocent students that wanted to improve their lives or connect themselves with God. To want to improve one’s life is not in any way a bad quality, and it disturbed me to see the disillusionment in students who were realizing that chasing KI powers that could not be seen or touched was an empty search into an illusion without end.
It was interesting to me to find that the Aikidoka in countries suffering the most from war, political unrest, poverty or other social problems were less likely to believe in Ki powers or the instructors that taught this. They had too much harsh reality in their lives to trust in the unbelievable claims of the special powers of Ki.
“Aikido For Life” has reconfirmed for students now in many countries and in many languages that it is through their own efforts, their own motion and their own sweat that they can realize many of the things they had been looking for outside of themselves. The requests for my teaching have increased as students are discovering this reality and are facing life “standing firmly on the ground”.
That was 20 years ago, yet in the word today, “Ki Power” has entered the spotlight again with instructors of not only Aikido but Karate and Taekwondo as well. “Why now?” I asked. “What is going on in our word today for a revival of the teaching of magic powers to take place?” I wondered.
A Karate Instructor that fought obscurity only a few years ago, is now a main attraction in many martial art magazines, especially in Japan. What he teaches and demonstrates as new today are exactly the same techniques taught by Koichi Tohei, the Founder of Ki Aikido many years ago. It is a new generation of students today who follow this new phenomenon; the original students of Ki Aikido are now well into their sixties and older. To this new generation these tricks are new and amazing; history is repeating itself.
The Karate Instructor demonstrates special techniques like a sword swallower in a circus side show. He amazes young audiences by not moving when a handful of people try to force him off balance by pushing on a jo he holds stationary in the air. (These demonstrations are documented in many magazines and videos recorded during his seminars). The Founder, Morihei Ueshiba was particularly good at this same demonstration; it was one of his favorites. In fact, as a young man, I was actually one of the Founder’s ukes who pushed on the jo for these demonstrations. To be truthful, during these demonstrations, my main goal was how to act like I was pushing hard without any real power in my movements. It was a performance after all.
In reality, it does not take four or five people to knock someone off balance as they hold a jo in the air. In fact, four to five people cannot physically all push in the same direction at the same time. It can take only one young man (or woman) who is serious in their efforts or who have knowledge of physics to break someone’s balance. I am not saying it is cheating, but it is not a special power; it is not Ki and Budo.
There is another demonstration where two people bind the instructor’s arms to his sides with uniform belts. At the count of three, the instructor releases both arms and the belts fall to the floor. This demonstration is also an illusion and a trick.
Reinventing these parlor tricks for a new audience passes today as a miracle. It is not. Selling these demonstrations as proof of the powers of Ki that can change your life is a travesty. No one will every find happiness or understanding by believing in the magic of Ki. These tricks are old and are used to catch the hearts of new students with a visual illusion. In fact old records are still accessible in archives documenting the techniques used by street and festival performers in Japan who performing some of the very same tricks. You can still find these performers at festivals and carnivals, and like snake oil salesmen, they usually try to sell you something after the performance! For martial artists, there are instructors out there that are trying to sell you magic powers to sign you up for classes. For the novice martial artist, there are also pendants made with “Ki stones”, clothing lines and other accessories that commercialize and further capitalize on this spiritual illusion.
I am concerned that our younger generations who find their realities by Google search, cannot discern reality from fiction in these performances. We have new generations of well-educated people who are used to finding answers by keystroke instead of discovering them for themselves. What also concerns me is that these performances are being promoted as Budo or true martial arts, and that these new generations are vulnerable to these kind of seductive illusions.
Three years ago, I wrote an article titled, “Walking Firmly on the Ground.”
This article talks about this same Karate Instructor and a story he tells about a boy and his dream. His story is meant to inspire you to always fight, always challenge back, always push to go higher, get stronger, and go faster etc until you reach the top. This story teaches the beliefs of the Karate Instructor; that conquering challenges, beating them head on and forever going higher is the only way.
In the story, the boy begins by dreaming of a three-wheeled tricycle, and then it was a two-wheeled bicycle, then a one-wheeled unicycle as he continues to want more. My question is, what happens to the boy once he had finally mastered the unicycle? What would the next challenge be? What is the next step? In this story, the boy rides high above the ground on a giant wheel forever.
I have a different ending to this story that I like better. While the boy was riding the unicycle high above the ground, he noticed a man walking along the ground. The man was not riding on three wheels, or two, or even one—he was riding no wheel at all! On seeing this, the boy jumped down from the unicycle, stood firmly on the ground and began to walk. It was only then did he realize that it had been himself all along that has moved him through life, not the tricycle or bicycle or unicycle, or anything else that we believe we are in need of. The “moral of this story”, is to come back down to earth and walk your own path using your own “motion and sweat” to find your way. This is the life of “Engaged Budoism”.
There is also an Aikido Instructor on the scene that professes great spiritual mastery and claims to have been a close direct uchideshi student of the Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. He is publicized as a self-professed authority on the Founders religious teachings. He also claims that the Founder personally imparted his teachings and philosophy to him and that he is able to actually “channel” the Founders spirit.
The writings and lectures left by the Founder on spirituality and Shintoism are extremely difficult to understand, even for professional theologians. I have talked to many high ranking instructors who practiced at Hombu dojo while the Founder Ueshiba was alive, and I have not been able to find anyone who can attest to a close direct relationship between the Founder and this particular Aikido Instructor. In fact, when I traveled from Iwama with the Founder as his otomo (attendant), to Hombu dojo and first met this instructor, he was living in a crawl space above the Hombu dojo dressing room. Discovering him in the crawl space surprised me and he made me swear I would not tell the Founder that he was living there. I suspect that living in secret in a crawl space above a dressing room, does not qualify someone as an uchideshi student of the Founder, especially when the Founder was unaware that he was living there! Now some forty years later, this Instructor claims widely in Aikido and other martial art magazines that he was an uchideshi student to the Founder and a direct recipient of the Founders spiritual teachings. It is a new generation today that reads these claims and most likely believes them, especially since many of the Founder’s direct senior shihan and old students who know the truth are no longer living or do not take the time to dispute these claims.
When the Founder passed away, there was a private wake that only shihan (instructors), shidoin (intern instructors) and uchideshi (live-in students) were allowed to attend. I will never forget that this particular person got into a fist-fight right in front of the Founder’s coffin. The brawl was a bad one, and I spent the evening cleaning up his blood and vomit. I will always remember him as the one who disgraced himself at the funeral wake of the Founder.
The source of this Instructor’s writings was not the Founder, but actually old Aikikai newspaper interviews of the Founder Ueshiba, or original interviews by Omoto and Byakko Shinkokai religious organizations. It is easy to identify a source as Omoto and Byakko Shinkokai because both of these sources use characters and terminology that are source specific. Any one who has knowledge of Japanese linguists and religious studies can tell when articles have been copied, especially if identifiable Omoto or Byakk Shinkokai characters are used or intermingled. Articles that contain these identifiable characteristics were not written recently as a modern recollection of teachings imparted directly by the Founder as they have been claimed.
Even in our world today where most information is obtained from the internet, libraries still do exist in Japan that have preserved the original religious articles written about the Founder. With these articles, one can easily dispute the origins of this Aikido Instructors articles and his claim of authorship. There are also scholars still living that can personally authenticate the source of these articles first hand. Possibly this Instructor thinks that an internet generation will never discover this, but the fact remains that the original articles exist and living scholars remain alive that can testify to the true origins of these writings.
You may ask why no one has brought this to light before now. Is it because Aikido is a martial art based on love and harmony and no one wishes to upset this image? Or is it that beautifully bound books printed on fine paper adorned with exquisite photographs and symbols perpetuate an illusion of mysterious wisdom that we all seek to find.
I think that it is human nature to want to believe in a superior knowledge, and a human condition not to want to appear improper, or act rudely and out of line. Unfortunately, hesitating to challenge this kind of falsification encourages and perpetuates it. Without challenge, this Aikido instructor has been free to make further unsubstantiated claims about his history and now his claims to have been an uchideshi of the Founder in Iwama. The late Morihiro Saito was the best authority on the history of Iwama and the Founder especially during the period from WWII to his passing in 2002. Even though Saito Shihan has now passed away, his uchideshi records are still there. All of the locals who lived in Iwama during that time period know that this new claim is not true.
It ultimately saddens and concerns me that an instructor in our Aikido community would go to such great lengths to personify himself as being much closer to the Founder and his teachings than he actually was. In reality, his image is contrived. We say, “Wearing dead men’s clothes” or just using the accomplishments and personal realizations of another for personal gain. It is apparent in these actions that he has not discovered the same realizations as the Founder, on his own.
Actually, although the Founder was quite prolific in his writings about God, philosophy and religious thought, he was not some kind of super human being. In fact his life had more ups and downs that most. As a young man he was so plagued by illnesses and weakness that he long struggled to overcome them. During his lifetime besides being the Founder of Aikido, he was a soldier in the military, an anti-government rebel, a pioneer in Hokkaido and actually an invader in China and Mongolia. He suffered from religious persecution, was arrested by foreign governments and their militaries and expelled from the organizations of his teachers and mentors. The Founder had a “checkered past” as they say, but through all of the hardships he suffered he always “stood firmly on the ground”. His philosophical perspective and personal enlightenment came from real experience and real life and death struggle. Towards the end of the Founder’s life, he prayed to God to thank God for the day’s bounty and the chance to be alive, not to plead for answers or enlightenment. His beliefs and understanding manifested from his appreciation for surviving a very difficult life; not from praying for answers.
I believe the Founder’s ultimate enlightenment was attained from his practice of “Engaged Budoism”. He did not stand helplessly and look to the heavens for answers, he took each step on his own and found answers through his own “motion and sweat”.
For others to try to claim fame for the Founder’s hard fought realizations about this life we live I find to be an ultimate show of disrespect and a demonstration of a lack of understanding. I write about this unpleasant subject to shed light on the behavior of some of the “leaders” in today’s world of the martial arts and their attempts to capitalized on the Founder and his teaching. I find these actions to be show of disloyalty and disrespect that I do not condone. We are all much better off I believe, “standing firmly on the ground”, alone.
In October 2008, Nippon Kan was proud to host Aikido Kobayashi Dojo, Yasuo Kobayashi Shihan at Nippon Kan General Headquarters in Denver for a three-day seminar event. The first evening of the seminar was held as a lecture, and was a very unique opportunity to hear from Kobayashi Shihan directly about his personal experiences at Aikido Hombu Dojo (Aikikai Hombu), his own practice, personal memories of the Founder and his own philosophy of Aikido. During the entire lecture, Kobayashi Shihan never mentioned the words Ki, or God or any kind of magical powers that might be found practicing Aikido. Instead he talked about his life, his memories of the Founder and his thoughts on practicing Aikido. As important as his words were Kobayashi Shihan’s actions which he shared with us in the following days. At 73 years of age, Kobayashi Shihan taught all four classes in two days with more energy than most participating students! His message was felt in his teaching as he worked with all students and took ukemi during his demonstrations with partners he chose from beginner to high ranking seniors. He led by example, and taught us with his movements and his attitude lessons that were real; not concepts that were invisible and illusive at best.
Enjoying a beer after practice, Kobayashi Shihan spoke simply about his love for Aikido and his wish to share and enjoy the practice of Aikido with as many people as he could. You could see that his words were genuine and spoke of a great understanding through many years of hard work and hard practice. There were no flowery words or concepts or talk about God; instead he shared the reality of a good day of practice together.
The late Morihiro Saito, 9th Dan also taught three seminars at Nippon Kan and never once talked about Ki. I think anyone who knew Saito Shihan well or even ever attended his seminars knows that he never talked about such things. For those who have been students of his in Iwama, you will be able to relate to the well known rule that any student asking Saito Shihan about Ki or God would sooner get “smacked up side the head” or receive a vigorous, high decibel reprimand than they would get some kind of verbal explanation on the concepts.
Masatake Fujita Shihan, an administrative director for Aikikai Hombu Dojo for many years also never talked about Ki and God at Nippon Kan during his seminar visits to Nippon Kan Headquarters.
All three of these well known, high ranking, high level instructors never talked about such concepts as Ki. I do not think that this is just a coincidence. All of these instructors were direct students of the Founder and had many opportunities to listen personally to the Founder’s stories and lectures, but every one of them recalls that during the latter days of his life, the Founder’s thinking was very difficult to understand and impossible to relate to others. How is it then that the Aikido Instructor that lived in the crawl space of Hombu dojo as a young shidoin (intern instructor) would be able to have personal audiences with the Founder and be able to reiterate all of the wisdom that was imparted to him in writing?
Aikido students in developed countries who have the time and the money, can attend practice and seminars and climb the ladder of promotion successfully as they continue their practice and most are satisfied with the knowledge they have learned of Aikido. Recently however, our world has fallen into an international economic recession that has changed the lives of many Aikido students; changing student’s priorities and their ability to practice.
Interestingly there is a historic correlation between the demand for prophetic instructors with messages of Ki and magic and the economic conditions of the student market. For example, if you chart the economic conditions in the US from 1946 to 2007 you will find a period of recession from 1970 to 1975. It was during this period of history that marks the introduction of the martial arts that focused on Ki and other miracle powers. The beginning of economic recovery for this period of recession correlates with the popularity of action-hero martial arts and artists like Bruce Lee.
This “martial art boom” peaked and began to decline in about 2003, correlating directly with the beginning of a decline in economic conditions world-wide. As 2008 has brought us to a pinnacle of economic distress, so has the year 2008 brought back the popularity of instructors selling Ki and other magical powers. This I believe is an important relationship and a key insight into our human psyche.
While there seems to be a tendency for people to turn to Ki powers and magic during times of increased economic stress, I think real life instabilities are a good test for these philosophical promises. Will the promises of a beautiful life through Ki power really come true in situations of hardship? Are Ki power techniques really effective in truly difficult or threatening situations? If these promises ring false, or instructors are telling you that you are not able to receive these Ki powers because there is something wrong with you, I believe it is time to step off this path. Do not confuse manipulation and empty promises with the truth of your life.
Please do not think that I have no belief in the existence of God, Ki or spiritual enlightenment because I do. I am not against pursuing personal development in these areas; I just do not like to see students become blinded by people that manipulate these concepts for their own profit or benefit. I do not like to see students pulled away from “standing firmly on the ground” with promises of things that are very difficult to prove or realize in this way. This I believe is leading the practice of Aikido in the wrong direction.
A couple of times a year, we have visitors at Nippon Kan Headquarters that are total believers in Aikido Ki power or the spiritual super powers attributed at times to the Founder. I have even received letters with claims from people to be the reincarnation of the Founder! I think there is something very wrong with ideas this extreme. With this much misguidance, these people do not need a martial art instructor, they need a psychiatrist!
I truly believe that most people who practice Aikido have the best intentions for their own practice and there is nothing wrong with wanting to learn the art of Aikido well. I also believe in spiritual pursuits, I just become concerned when I see students who are drowning in illusions.
What I have learned is that there is a great value in understanding Aikido, life and happiness by looking clearly at where you are standing, and reaching out openly to people whose situation in life might be worse off than your own. If you “stand firmly on the ground” you can find truth in their situations about your own life.
We see on television or on the internet, reports of world famine, war and environmental destruction every day. We hear them, but there are so many, we tend to become numb to the reality of these tragedies because we have not experienced them for ourselves. If you are looking for enlightenment, go to see some of what the human conditions are in the world with your own eyes; see for yourself and feel the reality. You will understand much more about life and the world by doing this than sitting in the dojo meditating or clasping your hands in a Ching Kon exercise (A Shinto meditation popular among some Aikidoists).
None of the problems facing us today in the world will change if the action we take to confront these problems is to meditate. Don’t close your eyes or your mind to these realities. Don’t listen if an instructor tells you that you will succeed tomorrow even though you have failed today by doing this or that exercise. You will never find success in this way.
Using a wall as a metaphor for life’s problems, if you run into a wall, it is not necessary to break the wall down. Nor will it help to go to a “how to overcome the wall” seminar. You can challenge this wall without destroying it. First we need to take a good look at the wall. How thick is it? How wide? How long? Take a step back and look objectively at the wall. Once you have objectively studied the wall from other perspectives, it might make more sense just to walk around the wall than to try to destroy it. Or, it might make more sense to use the wall as part of a foundation; add three more walls and make a house out of it! Using the wall might be more effective than destroying the wall, having to clean it up, and then erecting FOUR new walls to make a house!
There are many good things that can be made out of walls, just like many good things can come out of problem situations that are happening around us. Most important it to truly recognize what a situation is and apply a real, down to earth approach towards solving it. Praying for Ki power to help you destroy a wall or a problem will never work, nor will challenging again and again the same wall with brute force. Truly understand what is happening and assimilating it is one way to find the correct solution for you. Akirameru is a Japanese Buddhist term for acceptance and assimilation. (Commonly akirameru is the Japanese word for “to give up”. In the context of this article it means acceptance and assimilation. This is another good example of the difficulties of translation. Akirameru in this sense means to accept not resist).
On the Nippon Kan website, you can see that I have traveled all over the world with AHAN. I have gone myself to answer for myself questions I have had, or to experience the reality of situations I had read or heard about. I have wanted to learn how to deal with very difficult and miserable living condition, not only as a martial artist but as a fellow human being. How do I digest what I have experienced and how do I move to help others in my own small way? Even if I do not know clearly what to do, I have learned to do something; “motion and sweat”…
Through this process I have learned many things about myself and about life. One of the most important things I have learned is that in the face of real danger or tragedy, Aikido philosophy has little power to change the situation; that for people in truly miserable conditions, Aikido has little meaning.
As an Aikido instructor, this was a difficult realization for me to make and brought my spirits way down, but another idea arose in my mind. “Human beings make the martial arts, martial arts do not make human beings. We as humans define the value in the practice of Aikido”. This was a big revelation for me, and the point where I finally understood kashari-fukashari and my own practice of the “Engaged Budoism” that has now become Nippon Kan AHAN International, a truly active organization.
In 2008 I have traveled to many countries and indeed many continents all over the world, and for a moment or two I thought of slowing down in 2009. I have however, already received many invitations to visit countries in 2009 to teach Aikido as Nippon Kan Founder. I am finding that increasingly, here are more Aikidoka that practice with “both feet firmly on the ground” and if possible to arrange, I will go to meet with them in their own lands. It is a good way to learn with people all over the world who practice their own style of “Engaged Budoism”.
My message to all Aikidoka is take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and “plant your heels firmly on the ground”. It is natural to “stand firmly on the ground”, and from there you can walk forward into 2009; your path forward is limitless.
I give my best wishes to all for a good year in 2009 and I appreciate all of the support and kindness I and Nippon Kan has received in 2008. Thank you.
To those that are starting out the New Year a little disillusioned I leave you with a poem.
Lost jobs, lost homes, there are many serious problems today.
Hard times bring opportunity for your martial art spirit; face your challenges, give a shout to show your resolve, and step by step, keep walking forward.
I have walked my own path without an organization for 34 years. Every day since the day I opened my own dojo in the US I have shouted; “Some day I will make it”.
I first arrived with only $5000 to my name and it was not long until $4,000 was taken from me. Two months later I ate grass by the riverside and trash from the bins behind stores.
These are some of the experiences I have had.
Yet today my shout has changed to “Thank You”. Patience, effort and continual action have been the best medicine for realizing gratitude. If things are hard for you now, remember this remedy for only after you have realized this will understanding of God or Buddha or even Ki come to you.
This is my message to all from my heart as a martial artist. I wish for you a valuable New Year in 2009.
Written in Parma, Italy after a seminar to raise funds for literacy programs for the elderly.
December 8th, 2008
Nippon Kan General Headquarters Kancho