Relax Completely

Koichi Tohei Sensei’s
Four Basic Principles

Rest in One Point
Relax Completely
Weight is Underside
Ki Extends Infinitely

Onegaishimasu.  Good evening, everyone. 

ParticipantsGood evening, Sensei. 

Tonight, we are discussing the second of Koichi Tohei Sensei’s Four Basic Principles“Relax Completely.” 

I will begin by reading Tohei Sensei’s “Five Principles of Relaxation:”  

1. A posture in which we can settle the power of the whole body naturally. 
2. A posture in which we can relax our body without losing power. 
3. A posture in which we appear bigger than we are. 
4. A posture in which we are as strong as we can be.
5. A posture of non-dissension. 

So, there’s two fundamental things here that I want to point out. First. You may notice that each principle begins with, “A posture of…” Those are the actual words in Japanese. Tohei Sensei always used this phrase. Why that was deleted from the original Shokushu translation, I don’t know. The Japanese word for posture is “shisei.” Interestingly, in the Japanese language no distinction is made between our mental position or our physical position. They use just one word for both, and that is shisei. Of course, in the English language we usually say, “attitude” when pointing to our mental position in relation to things, and we reserve the word “posture” for our physical position in relation to things. Sometimes we use posture to refer to our mental state, but that is not common usage. However, I chose to keep the word “posture” when translating these principles, because that’s the word that Tohei Sensei would use when he spoke English. 

I feel that it’s interesting and illuminating that the Japanese only have one word for this, and we can join in this usage, since what we are practicing is mind body unification. 

The second point that I feel is important to notice is that two of these five principles refer to “power,” and we, in the west, rarely relate power to relaxation. We often think of power as something relating to force, and this is often used as domination over something, or someone, else. If you hear a politician talk about power, he’s not talking about the power of relaxation. No, he’s talking about power as threat, power as stature, and so power to be used to affect other nations.  

This is not the relaxed power that Tohei Sensei is pointing to here. In Aikido, we say that power used to force, control, or manipulate is not true power. In fact, any purposeful use of power in Aikido if generally considered a mistake. When Tohei Sensei spoke about power, he was talking about a relaxed state of mind that was unthreatened and unthreatening, and tended to calm all those who come into contact with it.  To Tohei Sensei, this is the effortless power of true strength.

So, the overall message of these five principles is, let’s be in a completely relaxed state of mind and body, and then we will be our largest, our strongest, our clearest, and our most effective in everything we do. 

Okay, so let’s open this up for discussion. Are there any questions or comments about this translation or about the principles being expressed in general? 

Student: Good evening, Sensei. I notice that this feeling of relaxation has already started to happen more often, just by knowing I’m coming here to the dojo.  But I never have this feeling when I am going to work. I’m just wondering, where does that feeling of relaxed calmness come from and why does it go away? For instance, when I see hula dancers, they’re totally in it when they’re getting ready to perform and when they are performing. But afterwards, this intense state of calmness seems to be completely gone. I’m sure it’s like that in a lot of traditions

Sure, that is usually the case in sports, for instance, golf, basketball, football.  And in work it’s like that for many people.  When they are required to be on it, they can be very calm and energetic.  But when it’s over, they often collapse.

Student: Yes, no doubt about it. Yeah. It’s intensity and calmness somehow together. I guess our goal in this training is how do we bring that to our daily life? Yeah, it’s challenging. I am always wondering how to enhance that more in my daily life when I am away from the dojo. 

I would say the question is not, “How do we bring that to our daily life?” but “When is that necessary in our daily life?” When I was just a young student, I was with Koichi Tohei Sensei at a party in Honolulu, and just happened to be sitting next to him.  In those days he was quite casual, and we were in someone’s home, sitting on the floor leaning against the wall. I took the opportunity to ask him, “Sensei, what is the ultimate meaning of Aikido?” Only a beginning student would ask a question like that, I suppose, but I did ask him, and he graciously answered me.  His answer was to tell me a story of an old Japanese lady who was at home when her house began burning down. Later, her grandson comes home and finds her sitting out in the front yard on top of the katana tansu, which is a long box filled with swords, and it weighs 200 or 300 pounds. The house has burned down at this point. She’s sitting on the box, and her grandson says, “Grandma, how did you get this katana tansu out of the house?”  “Oh, I carried it out. Very important, these swords, these are our life spirit and must be saved.” 

Tohei Sensei said that there’s no way this old woman could have been powerful enough under normal circumstances to carry that katana tansu out of the house. Then he said, “The meaning of Aikido is that we must be relaxed enough to have access to this power 24 hours a day, whenever it may be needed.” This is what we learn in Aikido. We learn to relax and so access the true power of the universe. But this can only be discovered in the most intensely connected relationship with the world around us, and only as actually needed.

I once saw a basketball game with Michael Jordan playing. It was incredible. It seemed impossible, what he was doing. Something was happening that didn’t seem possible.  It seemed he could do no wrong. I heard him interviewed about this later, and he said, “Yeah, well when I’m in the middle of it like that, and the pressure is on, it’s like…I’m in the zone, and that’s what it’s like. It’s so intense and I’m so relaxed, that I can perform on a good level. But you know, my life is not like that all the time. Usually, I am just a normal person.” 

Of course, this kind of intensity is not called for in every moment of anyone’s life. However, with this practice, we can learn to have access to this kind of complete relaxation, and the calmness and effectiveness that accompanies it. These Five Principles of Relaxation are descriptions of this state of mind. Discovering this mind state is how we discover access to this true power. 

This has a very deep meaning, so whether we’re going to the dojo, or going to Grandma and Grandpa’s for dinner, or doing any kind of work, it’s always the same. We never know when this intense power will be called upon within us, so we practice these principles to help us prepare. And the more we practice, the more we have access to the depth of this relaxed power within us. 

First thing in the morning, when we get up to sit, we brush our teeth, comb our hair, and when we’re getting ready to sit, we let it be exactly like entering the dojo. We sit down and we’re in it already. And then, after sitting, when we come out and have a cup of coffee alone for with a friend, we can still be in this relaxed and accessible state of mind. Why not still be like this? So, we practice this.

This is our practice, and it’s very important to maintain awareness and to notice what our state of mind is in each moment, to notice what your posture is, in this sense. You can’t really do anything about it, except to be fully aware of it. If we think, “I’ve got to do something to change this. I want to have this feeling all the time,” then we’re going to chase it away. That means we can’t locate this relaxation, when in fact it’s right here. Our job is to just leave it alone but pay very close attention, and it will arise within us when it is needed.  But if we are constantly chasing after it, and then maybe even criticizing ourselves when we can’t find it, we are defeating our life itself. So, whether we’re praising our self or criticizing our self or wishing for something different than we have, the actual practice is just simple relaxed awareness, just noticing our state of mind. Noticing is awareness of what is right here already. Change happens only because we notice. Noticing does not cause change to happen, but there will be no true change without noticing. If you think you’re going to make it happen then you’ll just chase it away. This principle is important, and I hear Tohei Sensei expressing that here as he talks about what is true relaxation. 

Student: Thank you, Sensei. That was, yeah. I can relate to that. 

Student: Sensei, in some of the other Shokushu by Tohei Sensei, he refers to this power as the hidden iceberg that’s underwater, but still a part of us.  Or if we’re in One Point and truly relaxed, then we can bravely face 10,000 men. So, somehow this relaxation allows us to access this power that he’s referring to. My question is, it seems to apply the other way, too, like let’s say we’re not in a very good mindset and by the end of the day we’re really exhausted with the day’s work, you know? Or we may have to face tasks that, when we’re not prepared for them, or when we’re not keeping the right posture physically or mentally, we may notice that we have very little energy to deal with these issues. Is that something that we can change at the time it is happening, like you’re saying? Is it something that we can remedy at that time? 

Think about water. Water goes around, under, over, and through. It surrounds and envelopes It’s completely flexible. It fills the available space and flows in whatever direction gravity pulls it. Water has no mind to change anything. But water creates more change than anything on this planet, often very slowly, but very effectively. It’s completely relaxed. Because it has no mind to change anything, it has no tension. 

This is what I was expressing a moment ago. There’s no need to require things to be different than they are. It may be that we’re noticing things that are not the way we would prefer them to be. But the more we try to change that, the more we will chase the power of relaxation, and so true change, away. 

This is like the spirit of non-dissension, non-fighting, non-struggle with whatever is happening. To have a mind in that state of freedom, we must accept everything as it is. If we’re not accepting things as they are, we’re fighting against nature itself. So, our practice is to learn to be aware. Just notice what’s happening in our moment-to-moment life. “What am I doing right now? What’s happening right now? What do I notice?” And as soon as we do that, as soon as we’re noticing, inquiring into our state of mind, then we’re no longer yearning for change. We’re not requiring, we’re not demanding, and we’re not struggling. Only then are we not disappointed with what life brings us.

Awareness is the ultimate state for a human being. The more we can be in awareness and accept what’s in the present, the more relaxed we are, because whenever we try to be the cause of things, what happens? We become tense! Of course, this is our habit, so we must practice noticing that that is the way we are. 

First of all, remember that as soon as we are noticing, we are not “trying to” anymore. Whatever the drama is, we are no longer caught by it when we have stopped to notice It. Therefore, at least at that moment, we’re not feeding the monster of self-obsessed dramatic narrative. Second, if each time we do something foolish we notice it, then we will start to accept this as our very own untrained child. And we can then own this childish part of our self and embrace it. Then it’s not “that” anymore, it’s “this.” That’s the beauty of this practice. 

Student: Thank you, Sensei. 

Student: I’ve been practicing noticing a lot lately and what I notice in my noticing is that it goes everywhere, so I see things in my eyes, I hear stuff, and I feel things in my body. It’s like, you know, it goes everywhere

You mean it seems a like a kind of jumble?

Student: Yes. So, my question is, is it a matter of time? Just keep on noticing and then there will be some sort of unity coming in there?  Because I feel like, you know, it makes me kind of dizzy because it’s just so much to notice all the time

Oh. I see what you mean. Okay. So, let’s all of us sit up and close our eyes and just listen for a moment. We can hear people breathing. We can hear the fans going in the dojo ceiling. We can hear my voice. We can hear the cars outside. Just relax in the listening, let it all be here. Don’t try to single out anything in particular. We just allow ourselves to be aware of all the sounds at once. [pause]

Okay, that’s enough right there. I think you’ll agree with me that just doing that for 30 seconds or so gives us a deeply relaxed feeling.  Now everything seems just fine, and that’s only from practicing a moment or two of complete listening. If it feels like there are too many things coming in all at once and we can’t encompass everything, it’s because we’re trying to catch individual things separately. This Is like looking at someone’s face. We don’t focus on parts of the face, the nose, the eyes, the lips, the chin. Instead, we look at everything at once. Then, as we see the face altogether, we feel relaxed, and we see something else entirely. Now we see the meaning inherent in the facial expression. This is when we are in the state of true noticing, and it is completely natural. 

When I say “notice,” I am not talking about something that is self-conscious.  This is not focusing on a certain thing closely. We are resting completely in everything all at once. This way we can notice clearly when we begin to react to something that is arising, either within us or outside of us. This is not to say that we should not react to anything. We’re doing this completely without judgement. We are not making the purpose of living some kind of self-correction apparatus.  When we relax completely, we are allowing our awareness to bring about the change that is necessary, when it is necessary.

That’s enough for now.