Shugyo and Keiko Practice


Nice to see everyone. We’re going to do some Ki Breathing to start, but first, I want to read you something. This was written by Gary Cera, who is a student of Eric Nonaka Sensei’s at the Mililani Dojo at Oahu. He’s a Shodan, and it says:

From my Aikido training, I have learned that the world we grew up in is relative, and that it began as the universal world that still exists, and that it is this universal world that one must connect with in order to live in peace, harmony with, and loving all living things. 

Also, that each individual utilizing this knowledge now, has the option to change in a positive manner, thus reducing or even eliminating all the baggage we carry. Continuing to live in an exclusively relative way of life will only have a negative impact on one’s being and problems occur. I know of no other art that allows one in everyday life and in any situation and at any time a positive outcome.” 

I liked it so much, and it fit so well into what we are going to discuss today, that I thought I would read it for you. That is from an interview that Mele Stokesberry is doing with Gary Cera for the new Mana that will come out later this spring. 

All right. Let’s sit up straight please, and we’ll do some Ki Breathing. (15 min. Ki Breathing)

Tonight, the subject of our discussion is the difference between what we call “shugyo” and “keiko” practice. I think probably everybody here already has an idea of what shugyo practice is and what keiko practice is. Keikois your everyday training, and Shugyo is a much higher level of training. However, I’d like to take it a little further than that. 

If we look at Keiko, there’s often a misunderstanding that, at the higher levels of keiko, the practice becomes shugyo.  But I’m going to suggest to you tonight that this is not the case.. Keiko practice is everything we do to improve our self, from birth to death. Everything we do to improve ourself physically, mentally, emotionally, empathetically, everything we do to improve. For instance, when you’re doing Ki Breathing like we were just doing, this is keiko practice, okay? 

This does not mean that keiko has to be exclusively keiko.  I’ll get into that in a minute. I want to make sure that it’s clear that keiko practice is related to the world that Tohei Sensei calls “shoga,” or the dimension of beginning mind.  “Ga” means self, so shoga means beginning or small self, small mind.  And keiko practice is dealing with shoga, the relative dualistic world of phenomena, getting better and better at something, no matter what it is. Driving a car, learning to surf or ski, learning how to get along with your friends and your close family, learning how to do all of the practices that Tohei Sensei left us, Ki Meditation, Ki Breathing, Kiatsubokken and jo, all the techniques, all the aiki taiso, all of these practices, including reading the material that’s written about it, this is all Keiko practice. 

Another way of looking at this, is that it is everything that makes us uniquely who we are, the way we look, the way we dress, the way we sound, what condition our body is in, our mind is in, and what skills we’ve developed.  In other words, whatever has been developed through our Keiko practice, and the results of that development, is what we see when we look at each other, and it’s the thing that’s named your name. So, when we say Christopher Curtis, we’re talking about shoga, okay? 

On the other hand, when we talk about taiga, means big self or big mind. Tohei Sensei referring to universality, universal mind, or the infinite, indefinable, inexpressible, untouchable, unknowable, when he uses the word taiga. This taiga is the kind of thing the teacher is always pointing to but cannot actually define precisely in words. And, when we do Shugyo practice, we are practicing in this dimension of taiga. 

Now, one more interesting thing is that taiga includes shoga, but shoga does not include taiga. Similarly, shugyo practice includes all of keiko practice, but keiko does not include shugyo practice. In other words, when you’re practicing keiko, you are not necessarily practicing shugyo, but when you’re practicing shugyo, that include keiko practice. As long as we are in a body, we are doing keiko practice.

So, when we have groups, we often have a leader, or a teacher, and we have a group of followers. Followers in this sense in not pejorative in any way, but the structure of the group.  For instance, in our Aikido dojo, the teacher is passing on the teaching, which is the experience of his teachers and himself.

Suzuki Sensei used to say to us, “Fellas, there’s two rules in the dojo. The first rule is the Sensei is always right. The second rule is, refer to the first rule.” Suzuki Sensei had a wonderful sense of humor and it wasn’t that he didn’t get how students might react when he said that. In fact it was for that reason that he said it.  Because, of course, the one who is the teacher, the shoga personality that is the teacher, that person is notalways right. We don’t always have our facts straight. We’re not always correct in every single way. That is not what “The Sensei is always right” means. When that is misunderstood, then big trouble starts. That’s why there’s been so much trouble in so many dojos and so many groups of people training together over the years, probably since time began. 

When there is an immature teacher and the students are taught immaturely to respect this teacher as if he or she is always correct as a human being, then that’s different, and that’s asking for trouble.  I will share with you one other thing that Suzuki Sensei used to say to us. He’d say, “There are two people you never interrupt to correct. One is an older person, and the other is your teacher…and I am both of those.” So, you know, once again, you have to know Suzuki Sensei and his sense of humor. It’s not that I’m saying that that is not correct, but it’s only correct in a certain sense, and I’ll try to help us understand that. 

All of us have this shoga or small self, but we also have a self that is directly connected to the universal self, the mind of the universe, and this connected one is like our teacher. The problem most of us have begins when we don’t listen to this one that is connected to the universe. Instead, we choose to listen only to the small self with its  selfish mind, or perhaps I should say the small mind with its sometimes selfish needs. In other words, “self-ish” refers to the whole idea of keiko practice, the only goal of which is to improve yourself, to make things better, get more pleasure, less pain, more skills, more abilities, more success.  Of course, this is all very important. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but it is very self-oriented. Everything in shoga we do to make things better for us and our family and our friends. This is fine, and it will never go away, but in doing it we don’t want to forget to first follow the directions of the universal.  In other words, we want to make everything we do, ultimately, done in order to follow the way of the universe.  Aikido, the Way to Union with the Ki of the Universe. This is universality, okay? 

The emphasis needs to be on “listening,” not on the “rightness of the teacher,” so much.  As the teacher in this group, I am only representing this part of you, the universal part of you, this “teacher” part, so you have this opportunity to learn to listen to the teacher part. You know, teacher is always showing, talking, demonstrating, on and off the mat, the teacher is often challenging you in ways that may make you uncomfortable.  And these things only make you uncomfortable if you are only listening to your own judging small mind.

So, this is what this means, when we say that it’s always right to listen to the teacher. It doesn’t mean be a blind follower. It means always listen. I am always very careful to remind you to not believe anything I tell you. Find out for yourself, folks. Don’t believe something a teacher tells you. Don’t believe something you read in a book or see on line just because it’s so impressive. Don’t believe it, find out. Trust, and then find out. Look within yourself. Is it true what I’m telling you? Is that the case or not? Find out. 

We recently held that HKF Shugyo Tassei Kigan Shiki Seminar.  That, by the way, means “the celebration of, or the ceremony of, Shugyo practice. May we be in this throughout the year.”) That’s why it’s also the first seminar of the year.  At this seminar, for instance, we used knife arts, tanto techniques. We used the wooden knife of course, as we do in the dojo. I can’t demonstrate too well for you, all by myself here, but if you can see me…when someone holds a knife to your chest, you have a certain kind of feeling in your body, and that feeling generally is one of being victimized, and one of making the other person the one in charge, because they are holding a knife to you and they can cut you or even kill you, okay? And that’s the reason he’s holding a knife to you, because he wants to control you, because he wants you to feel like a victim. He wants you to feel like he’s the center of the universe. He is in charge, and he can control you. That’s why he puts the knife here. So, if I react like this, Ack!, he’s very happy, and I’m not able to do anything. 

However, what if I change my mind from being a victim, from being controlled by another, to being center of the universe.  Ah, now it’s very different. Now he is no longer in charge, now I can very easily take the knife away and move when and where I choose. I can’t really demonstrate that for you here online like this.  But every exercise that we do in a Ki class or Aikido arts class, all are reflecting this very changing of mind from being outside of the center to being the center. Each day of practice in the dojo is an opportunity for us to perceive, to notice the difference between how we feel when we are practicing keiko, trying to survive, and when we’re practicing shugyo, from the center of the universe.  Changing back and forth between these two, becoming very familiar with these two states of mind, is something you have to be very adept at. 

You have to always be able to notice when you fall into a keiko practice exclusively. When you’re exclusively in the relative condition, you’re always being acted upon. You are never acting purely.  You’re being acted upon by all the happenings in your life, by all the people, by all the things, by all the circumstances that occur. So, our practice is to learn to practice in a shugyo state of mind at all times. 

All right. So, if you have a question, then please ask now. 

Student:   Okay. So, I think your talk may have answered my question. As a teacher, I always worry if I’m teaching correctly, and…so, I think the answer to my question, which was the teacher’s state of mind even when teaching beginners and children, and you are leading keiko practice, the answer is, even then I should always be in shugyo practice, no matter what.  Correct?

Of course.  You have to look at it like you have no choice because you are the teacher.

Okay? It’s just the same as saying how to teach children? You just have to love them. That’s all. That’s all anybody wants is to be, young or old, is the object of love and kindness, right? The only person who deserves to be the teacher is the one that cares most deeply about the welfare of the students. That’s what makes a teacher, not all the fancy knowledge. Of course, knowledge, keiko, is important. You have to develop, or you cannot be an effective teacher. You have to develop your skills, but skills are hollow, empty, without this connection we call…I sometimes call love and kindness. We don’t use that “love” word so much in Aikido, you know. 

Think about Tohei Sensei for a moment, and the world he was teaching in, and the people he was teaching, and what they were looking for. He was experiencing what I’m talking about, of course, and personally he would talk to me about this. He would refer to this with anybody who stayed with him. David Shaner Sensei has talked to us about his experiences with him, same thing, and of course Suzuki Sensei had endless stories about the type of experience that Tohei Sensei was having. But for Tohei Sensei to express it to people, it had to be in a language and a style, and with a type of physicality even, that was acceptable, that was what they were looking for, you know. 

I don’t do that kind of accommodating as much as he did, maybe because I don’t know any better, some people have told me, or I don’t know how any better, you know, to be so accommodating. Not that I should.  Anyway, this is the way it is with me, and it is okay partly because this is a different world now. You folks hear it differently than the people Tohei Sensei was talking to back in the earliest years. Of course, he changed greatly later in his life, as did Suzuki Sensei, and those of you that trained with Suzuki Sensei know that. 

Student:  Okay. Thank you, Sensei.

Student:  I think you have my question there from the last class, but…my question was, “What is the relationship between this stillness and the power that we come upon in that stillness?”

Thank you. So, I’m going to say what you mean by power is the experience of the universe. The creative spark is constant. Everything is arising through each of us in every moment. It’s constantly arising everywhere, infinitely. Where that comes from, maybe we cannot say in words, but when we experience it in its rawest condition, it feels like great power, and when we’re most able to experience this raw, original thing that feels like power is when we are most calm. So, when we are in a deep, calm, still state, then we feel the universe moving. It’s always moving, but you get to experience it. You get to experience it because of course you are the vehicle. Every single of you is the vehicle of this. 

So, when I say get up at five o’clock in the morning and breathe with me now every morning, I mean actually do that, because that’s when this is more available, when we’re all in it.  That is because we’re in a group, we’re in sangha, so we’re all together. So, we have a strong connection that maybe isn’t always obvious until we see each other, and then we go “Oh, I like you. I love you. You’re a wonderful person.”  But then when you’re alone maybe you forget.  So don’t forget. 

So, when we sit and we’re very calm, we’re all experiencing this creative uprising, this volcanic movement upward and outward, that’s constant, constantly, constantly flowing through us. It’s possible, in a deep state of calmness, to actually make contact with the source, the actual source of that power, because it is within you, within every single one of you. 

Of course, you have to practice. You have to sit and sit and sit and perhaps most important is, you have to be open to it. You know, there are people that sit their whole lives and wonder why they never have this kind of experience, because you have to be open to it. I don’t mean you have to want it or seek it or try to find it or go for it in any way. It’s not something that you can have any control over. It’s not your deal. It’s moving through you and it’s using you, not you, using it. So, you listen to the teacher within you. You learn to listen. You sit at the feet of that teacher within you and you listen, calmly and attentively, with a deep sense of gratitude, and I think that’s the connection between calmness and that power that you feel when you’re calm. Does that answer your question?

Student: Yes, very nicely. Thank you, Sensei.

Student:  You have since spoken more about the question I asked you the first time, when I took exception to you saying that the teacher is always right, and I was saying that this had created much difficulty, and when we come to a teacher initially we don’t know that connection to the inner teacher, so we project our need for authority, and we tend to idealize the teacher.  And doing this we can get into that trap where we give our authority away, and as I mentioned before, this has created much difficulty in a lot of sangha with their teachers.

I think I just would like to thank you for speaking about that, and I’d like to add that’s why I like Aikido so much. Notice that Shinichi Tohei Sensei is always talking about changing of mind, right? And that’s because his father, Koichi Tohei Sensei, always talked about changing mind.  This is changing mind from shoga to taiga, changing mind from a limited perspective to an open, free perspective. You know, I often said in class that you have to do this, you have to open yourself completely. 

This state of being completely open is what Suzuki Sensei called tsuki ganai shisei, “a posture of no opening.” On the other hand, if I strike a defensive stance, then this is a big opening for you. You can easily attack me. You can easily defeat me. I am making you all powerful when I do this. However, when I open myself completely, I am acknowledging that this is the center of the universe, but I’m not claiming anything for myself. When you’re defensive, you’re claiming something for yourself. You’re trying to protect yourself from damage. You are being a victim. So, tsuki ganai shisei, means “a posture of no opening.”

Shisei  means posture, right? In Japanese the word for posture is shisei.  In English, we say “posture,” but shisei in the Japanese language, means much more than a posture. It’s your whole state of being. It’s your whole relationship with the world around you. That’s what shisei is. It’s not just how you’re physically standing, right? In the west we might think that he’s talking about standing a certain way.

It’s worth considering. Everybody should consider this. Some students become teachers, but not all students are teachers.  But all teachers are students. So, we should each examine our relationship between being a student and being a teacher, and what that really means. And take into account, please, what I told you tonight about learning to listen.  Because, to me, the student-teacher relationship, and I had a long experience of practicing this with Suzuki Sensei, was all about me learning to listen.  Of course, for many years I thought I was learning to listen to him, and I was. I was, but it turned out that learning to listen to Reiseishin is precisely the same thing. It’s not different. 

Student:  So, if we are in this state of Shugyo practice, do we forget about our self, or do we lose our self? 

Okay. That’s a really good question. I think I wrote something about this to you, didn’t I? In the beginning, we think that shoga is the subject, and taiga is the object to be attained, right? Later, when we mature in our practice, then we maybe experience taiga as the subject, and shoga as the object.  But then much later, finally when you’re maturing further, you discover that there is no subject and object. That’s an illusion. There is no subject or object. This is musoku.

Student:  So, how about kyudoshin?

The way-seeking mind.

Student:  Yes Sensei, and the relationship between that and Shugyo practice.

Oh. Okay. So, the way-seeking mind… kyudoshin, is like learning to listen. The process of being with a teacher, and then your own personal practice alone while you’re learning to listen to your higher self, your connected self, the one of you that is connected to the universe, when we’re learning to listen to that in the beginning, that is the way-seeking mind. Like I said before, it’s learning to follow the way.  But first we have to hear it. We have to recognize it. We have to begin to learn to discriminate so that we know in our body, in our mind body, when we are exclusively wrapped up in some sort of struggle in the relative condition, or when we’re in a deep and very calm condition. And this is, even when the world around us is in conflict.  That’s the key to this that Tohei Sensei was constantly telling us about. 

It’s not enough to be calm when you’re sitting on the couch. It’s not enough to be calm when you’re sitting in meditation. We have to learn that there is conflict in the relative world that we live in. We have to learn to be calm and feel and practice the way-seeking mind, to feel this rising and be in it and allow it to happen, even in the midst of everyone trying to push it down your throat. Everyone around you is trying to conquer you.  But you don’t have to mind, because you know who you are. You have this original condition in your mind body, and you know how to listen to it. You know how to follow, and you know how to be one with it, and yes, at some point, there maybe is no one separated from it like that. That’s a very advanced state. Okay?

Student:  Thank you, Sensei.

Does that help? That make sense?

Student:  Yes. Yes, very much. Thank you.

Gloria, I think your question was answered already.

Student:  I think it was. I have been thinking about that further. When we are in our original state, at least as I experience it, and what I think is the original state, or what I feel is the original state, I also feel connected and calm, and those are a part of it. When, in the seminar, you had us go to our original state so that we could connect with the person that we were working with, then that was somewhere close to this?

Right. Yes, and everybody already knows this. This is not unknown to you. Every single human being on the planet knows this, but our ability to experience it depends on our capacity of attention. It depends upon the training that you have done, certainly in this lifetime and perhaps, many people say, in previous lifetimes. Maybe you come here with the seeds of an ability to practice the way-seeking mind. Maybe you have a propensity for that. That still has to be developed, you still have to train. You still have to develop the skills so that you can do it. 

That’s why keiko practice is not to be sneered at. Keiko practice is essential. It’s how you get along in the world. It’s, you know, I have this nice home and this nice family and business and property, and it is all because of keiko practice. 

Okay, so, in the beginning we think of it as ourselves practicing, and that’s also natural. You have to watch yourself learn to drive or you’ll have a wreck. You have to be careful about telling yourself what you’re doing, clutch, brake, accelerator, steering, windshield wipers, you know all that.  However, once you learn to drive, it’s totally thoughtless. There’s no one driving, it’s just being driven, right? You all experience that. 

So, this is exactly the same thing. In the beginning, we have to pay attention to develop our skills, and every one of you is at a different level with that, so every one of you has a different ability to connect with this original condition that Gloria’s asking about, talking about. Okay? 

Anything else? Does anyone else want to say something? Okay, well listen, thank you…

Student:  The only thing I have to say is thank you.  I’m grateful for your…It’s the only thing I know is thank you. Thank you very much for your patience with us.

Well, I was just about to say thank you to you all, because none of this can take place, of course, without you. You are the whole point of this. So, I so appreciate seeing all of your smiling faces, and I want to see you at the next class too please. Let’s enjoy ourselves this way. We have this opportunity. Maybe we’ll keep it going, I don’t know, but at least for now, this is the only way we have of connecting, so let’s do this together. Thank you very much. 

(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 27. March 2020)