My teacher Ken Williams once told this story:
The founder Morihei Ueshiba used to practise bokken (wooden sword) cutting on the branch of a tree in his garden. His uchi-deshi (assistant) would observe this. One day, Ueshiba went away on a trip for a while. So the uchi-deshi started practising bokken cuts on the same branch. Every day he would hit the branch with hundreds of cuts.
When Ueshiba returned he noticed the tree was dead. In fury, he asked his uchi-deshi, "What has happened to my tree?" The uchi-deshi replied, "I practised bokken cuts, sensei, just like you." Beside himself in anger, Ueshiba roared, "You fool, you are not like me! I cut with love, hence the tree flourished. You cut with nothing, and you killed the tree!"
This uchi-deshi's insensitivity carried on into his teaching life, in which he became notorious for injuring his students.
Extending ki energy is not mysterious. As Koichi Tohei said, when you see a loved one, you naturally extend ki. You extend ki out of caring, out of a sense of loving connection.
Extending ki is embracing the world. When a person has an attitude of embracing the world, the world responds. Children feel safe in their presence. Animals approach them peacefully. They have green fingers, and plants flourish under their care.
Aikido is connection. Not just physical connection, but an energetic union. In that union there must be a sense of caring.
When I watch videos of Ueshiba, I never fear for the safety of the uke (attacker). He always has a caring look, and often caresses the uke's face as he passes by. Ken Williams used to say, "Hold your uke like you hold a baby." This does not mean there was no power in their throws - the sting was felt when uke landed on the mat.
However, when I see a young buck with a fierce face throwing uke sharply and savagely, I cringe. There is a sense of authority, the nage overpowering uke. Sometimes there is a sense of disrespect, throwing the uke out of ego. It feels like they make the throw abrupt and sharp in order to impress the audience. It is a forced "budo-ness." Young viewers clap and make positive comments about how that is "real aikido."
Perhaps caring is something that grows as we get older. We have gone through, and have witnessed, much suffering. Many of our strongly-held assumptions and beliefs have been proved false and illusory. The boundaries we have created with the world about us have softened somewhat.
I think Ueshiba loved women. I once saw a video where he and a woman were practising together, and they were both smiling in ecstatic bliss. He allowed her to throw him, and their moves were tender and intimate. It was beautiful and moving to watch.
If we take this care off the mat and out into the world, no matter whom you have conflict with, you care for them. This will influence the way the conflict plays out towards a resolution. Everyone needs attention. When you offer it as a matter of course, just by practising extending ki, you immediately win trust and respect.
When on the mat, try to think, "How can I make this softer? How can I hold this person more gently? How can I relax into this situation more?" You will be surprised how the quality of your practice changes.
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