Good evening everyone. Onegaishimasu.
Our discussion tonight is addressing Koichi Tohei Sensei’s saying, “It is careless to assume that
an action can be repeated.”
Reading from Shinichi Tohei Sensei’s latest blog entitled “Living Calmness,” he says:
“Calmness and slowness may seem close in meaning, but they are not the same thing. It is wrong to expect calmness from a beginner. It would only be boring slowness.
Performing the techniques of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido offers this example. A ‘showy’ motion has unreasonableness and wastefulness. When these unnecessary movements are chipped away, the largeness of your movement reveals a great calmness.
A motion which has calmness, actually has huge power. On the contrary, a restless motion has no power. And slowness of motion in itself has no power at all.
In your daily practice, if you look at your own and other people’s motion, from this point of view, you may find something new.”
Many Aikido students practice carelessly, always assuming that they are repeating an action in order to perfect it. Of course, we have this idea of repeating everything in Aikido. We do this in order to refine the movements. We do the same movement again and again and again, with the idea of creating perfection. But it’s not actually repeating it, because as Tohei Sensei says, nothing is ever repeated. Every time we do anything, it’s different, and this is what Tohei Sensei means by this phrase. It is careless to assume that an action can be repeated.
Sayaka, would you read the phrase in Japanese please? (Sayaka reads)
Thank you very much. All right, let’s do some Ki Breathing. (10 minutes Ki Breathing)
The reason that I wanted to read you the excerpt from Shinichi Tohei Sensei’s blog is that there’s a paradox here – a kind of a contradiction. Of course, we must repeat things to learn them, because nothing is ever the same. Every time something occurs, it’s unique. This is true every single moment of our lives. And of course, when we’re repeating the same action, cutting again and again, or giving a Ki Test, for instance, it may appear to be identical. But it’s not. So
the paradox is that we have to do it as if we’re trying to capture the identical thing, but as it is refined each time, it is different each time. And that is exactly how it development occurs.
This is what Shinichi Sensei is talking about in that blog. He mentioned that when he was watching professional baseball players, their movement was so precise, was so clean, it was so empty of anything extra. And as a result, it was very powerful. And, of course, very natural. So that’s what we’re trying to learn in Aikido. And we learn this by practicing these repeating movements. Every single day, over and over.
When you are practicing breathing out and breathing in, Ki Breathing, do you ever get the feeling that you’re a little bit bored? This happens to us only when we are not connected with the action, when it feels that we are repeating something. This means we’re not in awareness. Right? So we forget our purpose in this moment and we lose the uniqueness of it. Maybe we think our purpose is just to repeat it a whole bunch of times, and then we’ll get better. But every time we repeat it, if we really want to experience it fully, and so truly improve, we have to love it. We have to recognize and remember what we’re doing and do it with relish. Why? Because it’s careless to assume that it’s a repeat, when it never is. It feels this way only when we’re practicing carelessly.
A good example is giving a Ki Test. So of course I’ve been teaching you this for 20 years, and for some of you much longer than that. And yet still I hear people say that they struggle with giving a Ki Test. Why? Well, it must be because number one, maybe you haven’t repeated it enough times precisely the way I showed you. Or number two, while you were repeating practicing giving a Ki Test, you might have been watching yourself, thinking of how to do it correctly.
For instance, with Jokyu Ki Test, we come and stand in front, facing the examinee. And the first thing we do is we look. And even as we’re walking toward the person, we’re watching, seeing their state of mind, their state of being, we’re fully aware of it. We’re taking everything into account, all the feelings we get from them, as we’re walking toward them. And then, secondly, we reach out and gently place our hand on their upper chest like this. This way we get to actually feel the vibration in their body, we get to feel their state of stability, that’s what that touching is for. By this time, you must know perfectly well what their state of mind is, whether they are stable, or a bit unstable. And so then thirdly, we apply a very slight pressure to their upper chest, in order to confirm for the examinee what we already know, the state of their own mind.
Those three steps are the critical elements of giving a Ki Test. And whenever I see students struggling with them, it’s because they’re not doing those three steps fully. All three of these steps, seeing, feeling, and confirming, all have to do with that other person, the examinee, not with you. If you struggle, you do so because your attention is on yourself, your own action, not on the state of mind of the examinee. So if you would like to practice giving a Ki Test, you can even sit in meditation while you do it. Just close your eyes. Imagine feeling seeing, touching and feeling, and then confirming if the person is stable or not, and if the person is not stable, easily moving your hand slightly forward.
So it’s not about “putting your hand gently on the person, and then pushing them,” as I hear so often. Okay, this is a very old-fashioned idea. But this Ki Testing has come a long way. So it’s become more and more and more refined.
Another example: One time many years ago, a teacher asked me to do so many ude mawashi repetitions every morning for a year. When he asked me to do this, another student in the class said, “Why didn’t you tell us all to do this? Why you only told him to do this?” And he said, “Because he’ll do it and you wouldn’t.” So this put the pressure on me, and I did do my best for sure. But, of course, it was not perfect by any means. And it took me a long, long time to get to the point where I could do the number he wanted me to do, which was a lot. But after six months of doing this, I finally was able to stop doing this as if I was repeating it. At this time, it finally became a new exercise every time I did it. I still do Toitsu Taiso, the “Three Minute Exercise,” in the morning, and it ends with ude mawashi, and because I did that so many times, it’s even more alive than the rest of the exercise.
I told you the story about cutting with Suzuki Sensei. It took me 15 years to be able to forget that I was repeating myself in order to be perfect. Because you never can become perfect. You are repeating yourself in order to recognize the opposite; that every moment is truly fresh and new. This is true for each and every part of our life.
Now maybe you want to get together in groups and discuss this a bit.
(15 minute break for group discussion)
Student: We had a very interesting discussion about the topic you introduced. We discussed two elements; one element that is an example of repeating something is Ki Breathing, and the second is striving for something to be perfect.
About Ki Breathing, we agree that each movement is different every time, and we are able to have awareness to reach some state of calm mind and some state of unification of body and mind, and all of us agreed with that.
But the other subject we discussed is perfection. We know when we repeat a movement, again and again and again, that it is because we want to do it perfectly. And there we have a question, “Is perfection unique?” If, as we repeat every movement each one is different, then is it also true that each perfection is unique, or not?
Okay, thank you very much. Very interesting. I’m glad to hear that everyone agrees that that Ki Breathing works well for you.
Again, I tried to make it clear that no matter how many times you repeat something, even though your effort is to refine it, and refine it, and refine it over and over, aiming toward it being perfect, perfection does not exist in the relative world. So on the one hand, if you don’t make that great effort of refining, refining, refining, repeating, repeating, if you don’t train for years and years and years, then you will never learn what perfection really is. You will still think that perfection is the result of doing something over and over and over.
But actually, it’s doing it over and over and over until we give up on the idea of it becoming perfect. Perfection is like an act of grace. If it exists at all, it has to be outside the realm of the relative. If someday you can experience this, and somehow it rings true to you, then it’s a wonderful awakening experience. An experience that could not have happened if you didn’t practice every day for many, many years. Yes. But it’s not because of your repeated practice that it happened. You might think, “How can that be? I made all that effort. And now it happened. It must because of me.” You think this way because you only look at yourself. This is backwards.
Tohei Sensei says it is carelessness to assume that you ever can repeat anything. If so, then it must be so that we cannot actually repeat anything. Then how could we ever refine something until it became perfect? That’s the illusion. But we have to go through all of this because we believe that’s the way the world works. So we have to do this kind of practice. But we also have to wake up at some point and realize, “Oh, ‘the world’ is not the way the world thinks it is.” Everything is turned exactly backwards. We think we’re looking at a thing, but we’re really only looking at a reflection of the thing.
There is a famous story about a nun. When she was young, she was very beautiful. And she wanted to go to the monastery to study Zen, instead of getting married. But every monastery she went to turned her away because she was so beautiful. They feared that if they let her into the monastery, the monks would all go crazy. So she burned her own face badly and became unrecognizable and so returned to the monastery. This time they said she could join them. And she practiced like this for many years. One of her tasks was carrying a bamboo bucket to the stream and getting water and bringing it back to the kitchen. And she repeated this task daily. And of course the bucket was getting old, and she was afraid it might break. So she was very careful the way she handled it. On this day, in the middle of the night, she got the water, and she was returning with it. And she carried it so carefully that the reflection of the moon was clear in the water in the bucket. And then suddenly, boom, the bottom of the bucket broke, and all the water went out. And the nun awakened from her delusion. Suddenly the bottom fell out—it was an “accident.” No more water, no more moon in the water— emptiness.
So when you’re cutting with bokken again and again, someday remember that you won’t reach perfection. But, if you are lucky and have this accident, then the whole thing will blow up on you. And you will get to truly see what you’ve only been seeing as a reflection all these years. So you get to see the other side, not just a reflection of something. That’s the meaning of the story. Okay, thank you.
Student: Well, you repeated just now exactly what we discussed in our group.
Does this mean that you did not come up with any question for me? You had it all down pat?
Student: Well, no, so I will go ahead. We started our discussion with asking what is the mindset that brings newness to the moment? We discussed an example of being on vacation, and how it’s a pretty common experience why a vacation is so much different than your daily life. We say
that is because it’s a different mindset, meaning you’re looking at things differently. There’s a freshness in your day, and you’re paying more attention. And so this is not necessarily a consequence of where you are, or what you’re doing, other than where your mind is and where your attention is. And we talked with Joelle quite a bit because it seemed to be parallel to her profession that she has. She is a professional artist. And so she has, through repetition, developed an approach of newness. She said she is always looking for a discovery, an inspiration in her daily work. She expressed that the combination of this repetition with an approach of looking for new discovery. And she expressed that she feels that it seems to be very similar to the aspects of Aikido, in that we’re looking for newness in that repetition.
Someone else in our group mentioned that you learn more about yourself, as you repeat things. And things get clearer and clearer.
So I don’t know if we had a question, but I think I would put it all together by saying, there is a distinction that was shared, that of knowing you need to be present. If you are feeling you “should” be present, then actually, that doesn’t bring you presence. Even knowing that the moment will never happen again, intellectually, will not necessarily bring you to that the actual experience of that.
Thank you. We think too much. I mean by this, conceptualizing something, holding it in our mind as a thing. If we think we should or should not do something, then there’s no way we can be actually doing it at the same time. Because we make ourselves separate from the action by saying, “I should be meditating.” Or “I should be aware of this. Why am I not aware of this?” This kind of thing usually happens because we feel our teacher has told us that we should remember to be aware of why we’re doing this activity. But of course, when we think that way, we make our self separate from the activity.
Once again, this is why students often have trouble with giving Ki Tests. They remember, because I’ve told them over and over again, “see, feel, and confirm,” right? Everybody knows 1,2,3. See? So they think to themselves, “OK, now I’m seeing, now I’m feeling, and now I’m confirming. And that is making yourself completely separate from the action. See? In that instant you are seeing a reflection of the thing, not the thing itself. Only when the “I” disappears, that’s when there’s no more separation. When the “I” is gone, when “I” awareness disappears, when there is no “I,” then there is only what is.
That’s the reflection that is referred to in the nun story. It’s a reflection of something real, but the reflection itself is not the real. When we truly feel love for another person, we see the other person for what they are, we confirm the other person. Then we forget all about doing anything correctly or incorrectly. This whole idea of repeating and repeating to perfect something is that illusion itself. And yet interestingly, if we don’t repeat and repeat, the accident that allows us to see the real, the perfect, will never happen.
Sometimes these discussions I think, bring up more questions than they answer. That’s probably good. Thank you very much.
Student: Hi, everybody. In our group, Sally, who is a glassblowing artist, she was observing how if you’ve hesitated even for an instant, everything’s different. Or if you’ve gone ahead, everything’s different. She said she observes those beautiful movements in her son as he blows glass. We discussed how, if we think about the universe, and all life on Earth, there’s just nothing that’s the same. Everything is unique, from fingerprints and snowflakes to the biggest things and every molecule, everything is different. And that includes movements, like the greatest athlete would probably tell you that in the moment, we all think what he or she looked perfect. But the athlete might say, “No, I didn’t do that quite right.”
Tracy said, if you’re in the moment, if you can just be present in the moment, then it is unique, and it works. But I can’t quite explain what he meant by that. At least he meant it’s fresh and new to be in the moment.
Tohei Sensei liked to say that we are extending Ki when we are enjoying our self. For instance, if you a very, very thirsty, and you drink a glass of water, it is perfect. Maybe you have had a glass of water like this thousands of times or more in your lifetime. But it has never tasted so enjoyable, because you were never so thirsty. It means that this is so important to you, that you’re giving the experience of drinking that water, all of your attention. You’re giving it your all, you’re making it essential to you, so there is no judgement.
But actually, it is like that in every moment. You know, the experience of just holding this pen I have in my hand. It’s extraordinary. But it’s only extraordinary if I put all my attention into the experience of holding it, of writing with it. Otherwise it’s just a boring old pen. It’s just something that I’ve written with, repeatly, over and over and over.
I often think of Suzuki Sensei’s four principles, ‘So what, Do nothing, Be natural, Don’t worry be happy.” It’s doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It means that you don’t mind. And in order to not mind, we have to care very deeply. In order to not mind we have to give our open heart and pour it out for the other because that’s the only moment when the “I” is gone.
People have so much trouble with understanding this because they think they have to be in the moment. “I” will never be in the moment, even though we often say it that way. Sorry folks. Never possible. “I” is never in the moment. When I am in the middle of it, then there is just a reflection. When the true one is in it, there’s no self-consciousness, no “I.” And that’s what makes every moment unique and causes us to recognize or experience everything in the moment. Thank you.
Student: Good evening, everyone. Good evening sensei. When you were talking about “see, feel, confirm, or just doing anything over and over again, we’re using our minds to describe something that is an experience that our regular thinking mind can’t have. Right? And so, for example, with testing, if I’m actually Keeping One Point, when I’m seeing, then the opportunity to feel comes up naturally. And the opportunity to confirm comes up naturally. It’s not three separate things. And I suspect maybe that’s that way in cutting bokken as well, or you know, other things like that. But I guess my question is, how do I use this for myself? Like this sort of
just as an example, see, feel and confirm? Is that a reasonable thing to be thinking about to check myself by myself without getting you know, it’s still the pit of falling into thinking about it? But just those three experiences that if I’m present, that I do feel and that I can’t you know that it in other words, noticing the change in state so to speak. I don’t know how to explain it better. But I guess I’m trying to figure out if I’m thinking about it too much.
I would say that you definitely are thinking about it too much. I’m always preaching about noticing. I’m always saying recommending the that change only comes about through noticing deeply enough. Okay, so that’s exactly what seeing, feeling and confirming means. That is the nature of noticing. If you are thinking about seeing, feeling, and confirming, then that’s just thinking about it and not actually doing it. And that’s why people have struggled so much with giving a Ki Test, let alone meditating, let alone doing the dishes. I mean, driving a car, daydreaming, thinking about “How do I get what I want?” Instead we want to give ourselves a chance, opening instead to the feeling of just being alive. And that’s not thinking about being alive, not as an abstract thing, but very much connected with the feeling of being in this body. Not that I’m in the body, but actual the feeling of existence. This makes you deeply grateful to be here. You’re on the right track. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Okay.
Well, thank you all very much. Thank you, John, for your assistance. And thank you everyone. I hope I get to see you on Sunday morning. Aloha.
(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 12. February 2021)