Helmond, Netherlands Seminar, May 7 & 8, 2022

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to be here and train together with you again. It seems like the seminar went by so fast and now it’s almost time to close.

May I ask you please to tell me what was the theme of our seminar this time?

Student: I think it was to discover strong connection. Yes, and also when doing Ki tests, especially this time, I felt that the practice was on developing a strong connection with somebody else. 

Student: Also, to discover that our connection is already here, that is my take on it. To discover that we are already connected and to get the things out of the way that make us feel separate. Yes.

Student: Okay, for me I discovered that intense connection is only possible when our attention is full. Okay? When we have full attention, all is included in this. For me is this the teaching.

Student: For me, the idea of no space between us was most useful. Intense connection is about ma-ai. This world is actually all one already. So there is already no space between us. In other words, the realization of no space IS the intense connection.

Thank you. All of these impressions are important, because everybody has their own experience. And each one of us would describe the same experience a little differently. You are aways right when you tell me something about your impression, no matter what you say.  Even my words, no matter how skillful, cannot reveal, or even touch, the experience itself for everyone. 

The main thing is that we never believe outright what the teacher says. Ultimately, we must trust the teacher, of course, but also then confirm for our self. The whole point of practice in Aikido is for each one of us to come upon the experience of true practice for ourselves. 

When we have a seminar, I bring this experience of connection through the practice with me. That’s why I am here, that’s what I bring. You may come to the seminar to find out how to do some techniques. But that’s a side benefit of the teaching. What you come for, is to find out how to have this experience called “Ai Ki Do.” And there is no way what I say will satisfy everyone.  What I teach is just to give you a hint. That may work for some of you, but maybe not for others. Therefor I repeat and repeat and repeat. As teachers we are constantly repeating. We are always searching to find different ways of describing the practice, and showing it. We are communicating this while doing a Ki Test, when leading Ki Meditation, showing jo and ken, Ki exercises, techniques, etc.  But we’re always communicating precisely the same thing, no matter what form the teaching takes. We are always simply sharing this experience called “Mind Body Unification.” 

Tohei Sensei dedicated his whole life to this one purpose. He had this experience himself very early on, and then committed himself to sharing this with everybody who was interested. You may be interested to know that when he was an old man he told us that he was afraid that he had not succeeded. He said this because he thought there were still too many people that he had worked with over the years that did not understand that he was teaching an experience and not a form. 

Student: The first thing you said when you started this seminar was that extending Ki has only to do with the mind, and that nothing starts with the body. And that our practice is to first extend Ki. You taught us that when we pick up the bokken, we must understand what we are doing. That’s kind of confusing for me, because when I’m going to pick up the bokken my mind is already clear on what it is going to do later.  This is true not just with the bokken.  It’s like, when I drive my car, I just get in my car and drive. My attention is not on the car.  It is already where I have to go.  So, to put my mind on the car is having my mind fighting with itself, because it wants to be thinking of the future. If my attention is on the bokken when I pick it up, then I will lose what I am going to do later with the bokken.

Yes, thank you. This is the age-old problem. We all have the habit of focusing on the future, and not the present. One time at a seminar I was walking down a hotel hallway with Suzuki Sensei. I was anxious to ask him about something we were going to do in the next class, and he said, “Let’s just walk down this hallway here for now. When we get to the class, then we’ll see.” Because I was overanxious about the future, I was missing the moment for the sake of a moment that wasn’t even there yet. 

I agree with you, if you mean to say that the body already knows what it needs to do with the bokken. You have planned it, and so it knows where to go and what to do, What I’m suggesting is that we have to be in full awareness of the moment that we’re doing it, when we’re doing it, not that we have to thin k about it. This awareness is quite different than always thinking of what is coming up next. 

Now, I’m picking up this book with the intention to read from it.  But if I am thinking about the reading when I am doing the picking up, I may drop the book. If we’re always in mind and body unity with the moment, then when we get where we’re going it will still be now and our attention will still be here, now, and we will still be in complete unity and be able to properly act effectively without an accident.   

We will never know what it is going to be like when we arrive at the next moment. So, the teaching is to just be here now. In other words, just remain and rest in the present moment, and be completely in present awareness. This is the essence of shugyo practice. If we don’t have that then we are basically absent from the moment, and life exists only in this moment. We might be very excited about something that happened before or something going to happen in a few moments because it is very important to us. But the past will never come again and the future we imagine will never take place. So those are pointless considerations. Can you understand this? 

My appreciation of the teaching of Aikido is primarily for its use in daily life. So, when I drive my car, it may be only something I use to get to a destination, but I do so moment by moment.  None of us will ever arrive later.  We always arrive now!  

Student: But Sensei, I don’t have the awareness of my car, I have the awareness of what I’m going to do when I get there.  This is something like when I use the bokken. It’s only a tool, a tool to help me to do something. But it’s not a thing of awareness itself to me. You understand what I mean? It’s just, it’s, it’s a tool, I use it to do something.

Yes, I understand the problem that makes you say, “but…” I can only say that we must pick up the bokken to do something with it as tool, and that “picking up” is an essential action already. At the time of picking it up, there is no other time, no other action, just picking it up. 

Of course, I see that this is your habit. What you’re describing very clearly is everyone’s habit. We all have this same problem of not paying attention to what is happening now in favor of what happened before or what might be happening soon. Our habit is to get in the car, point toward our destination, and then we remain mentally in the destination and its purpose until we arrive.  And if someone cuts us off or slows us down, this upsets us, because we are only thinking of getting to the destination, not driving the car. 

What we are describing here is a habit. So, since it is our habit to ignore the moment in favor of the past or future, our practice must then be to improve on that habit, and be present.  If we practice this way in the dojo, then our practice will continue outside of the dojo. Our practice is that everything is this right here all the time. There is no other time but now. 

Even though we may have a habit of being like other humans, we are not bound to live like that. If we want to “experience this life completely,” as Suzuki Sensei would say, then we must always experience it now, as there is no other time when we are alive. If we’re not experiencing the moment now, we will never experience it. It can only be experienced now, and it will never be repeated. It never comes again. 

This is, in fact, describing exactly the practice of otomo. Following Suzuki Sensei over the years was like now, now, now, and he would never let me forget it. “What are you doing now?” “Where is your awareness?” he would say to me. He would pester me constantly to help me to break my stubborn habits. At the time, this was sometimes like torture, to me. If I complained or looked unhappy, he would remind me that he was only helping me to remain aware of the present and valuing this, reminding me constantly that the purpose of this life is not to get ready for something else. The only time we will experience this unification is now. And sooner or later, in one of these moments, we are each going to die. And we do not want death to catch us by surprise. So, take advantage of every little moment. Even if you’re 25 years old, make sure that every moment is experienced as presently as possible. 

Thank you for sticking with this question. Everyone is working with this same habit, one way or another.

Student: I have a question. When I do the Ki Test of holding from behind, what is this designed for? Can you talk a little bit about this test? And if you are the examiner, how do you hold and what is being tested here? 

This is a unique Ki test. We don’t really have another one where we are moving away from someone while they’re holding us back from behind. Usually, we are coming together or going apart facing each other. Attempting to move forward while being held from behind means we must have awareness of what is behind us, meaning 360 degree awareness. 

Suzuki Sensei often taught us that awareness must be 360 degrees, not 180 degrees. When Suzuki Sensei and I first came to Europe to teach, some students took us through a part of Amsterdam that was a hippie area. Our hosts were showing us these shanties and we were just walking along. Of course, we did not look like hippies, and so many of those living there were curious about us, watching us. I was otomo and I was aware that I had better be paying attention here. Just about then, I had a funny feeling somebody was coming up behind us. I swung around and this guy was right behind me, with both hands out towards me. I pointed at him, and he fell backwards on his butt in the dirt.  

Suzuki Sensei just looked at me and said, “Yes, that’s 360 degrees.”

Of course, this kind of thing just happens, or not. I just remember that I felt something funny and turned around and boom, there he was. 

Anyway, to Suzuki Sensei, it was a big deal to have awareness of what’s behind us. Do you see?  We want to unify with that which is unseen, something we may not be able to see, but we can feel.  So, when it is the Ki test from behind, we must make such a natural awareness of it, and so unification with it, that we can move forward together effortlessly. 

As far as how to hold, when we hold from behind, we want to be holding in the same way as when we give any Ki Test, with complete unification. We’re not really pulling back on the person but only offering to block his forward motion. If he gathers you in as his Ki moves, you will move along with him. Everything is exactly this same exercise, Ki Tests, Ki Exercises, Techniques, Bokken, Jo, and so forth.

Thank you for giving me your attention.