Sunday, May 11, 2014

On the occasion of new dan grades - A Fleshler, 6-dan, Shihan, Birankai North America

On the Occasion of New Dan Grades
May 9, 2014

A Fleshler, 6-dan, Shihan, Birankai North America
Technical Director, Multnomah Aikikai
Portland, Oregon

It has been some years since we’ve had new shodan in our dojo. There is so much expectation and emotion associated with these promotions. They certainly are a marker of some kind in each student’s life, and in the life of the dojo. But what kind of marker?

Very often a new shodan (or nidan, or sandan) feels a mixture of pride and shame: “It’s over, I did it, but I am also completely exposed in my ignorance and incompetence.” In my view, this is completely appropriate. This is a realistic expression of one’s humility, and appreciation of the unending character of the road ahead. One should get used to not knowing, no matter how much you train. This is shoshin, beginner’s mind, the foundation of carrying oneself as a warrior.

You may have heard the metaphor of the student as a sword: at shodan, a block of metal, forged for resilience and strength; at nidan, a sharp sword, with a clear edge for cutting; at sandan, a polished, integrated weapon. The process continues for the rest of life, for the rest of training, of course.

Another metaphor: at first, the training reaches only the skin; then the muscles; then the bone; then the marrow; then a slender line of energy through the center of the bones. Again, a suggestion of a very long process, one which cannot be hurried.

Both metaphors speak to deepening integration and increasing naturalness of movement, of interaction, of perception. However, this is literally a superficial understanding, because it separates the body from the mind and spirit. What is required is the penetration of the art into one’s character, personality, and approach to life in all its challenge and complexity. Think of the Five Pillars expressed by Chiba Sensei: Centered, Whole, Open, Connected, Lively. Do you think he is talking only about the technical practice we study in our classes? Do you think you can continue to strengthen these Five Pillars in the dojo without challenging yourself to grow outside the dojo?

The end stage as described by O’Sensei is something called “Take Musu Aiki”. For now, let’s just say this means a completely natural, spontaneous, and appropriate manifestation of the art, with no imposition of will and ego, with no detachment and escaping from the reality which presents itself — so much so that the violence of a confrontation dissipates without any effort, and without any winning or losing.

O Sensei also spoke of “Standing on the Rainbow Bridge”. Simply put, your insides are connected to your outsides; the source of your being is completely connected to your manifestation. (This is a piece of a his very elaborate spirituality, but we can extract this jewel for our purpose here.)

In the face of such a vision, in the face of such a challenging road, humility is a completely appropriate emotion. There is an old Zen expression: “Before Enlightenment: Chop Wood, Carry Water; After Enlightenment: Chop Wood, Carry Water.”  Let’s begin again.


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