The universe originated from the point between the states of “existence” and “non-existence”: A thought on Aikido

by Brian Bergen-Aurand

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The purpose of Aikido is to elevate ourselves from the world of matter to the world of spirit. Matter descends, spirit ascends. Aikido is a wonderful flower that blooms in our world and bears great spiritual fruit. Aikido should be the basis of our lives, and we should strive to establish true goodness, true love, and true sincerity everywhere.

~O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba

Yesterday, I passed my second weapons test (jo and bokken suburi) for promotion to the rank of 1st kyu (black belt with a gold stripe) in Aikido. I passed my first weapons test in January of this year and will take my final skills test on 16 March 2014. In the midst of this testing process, I decided to post a few thoughts about Aikido

I began studying Aikido in July of 2011. This is my third martial art. I studied Tae Kwon Do in college in the 1980s and then Kobayashi Shorin-ryu Karate in the 1990s, while in graduate school. I did fine with Tae Kwon Do, but most of its forms and techniques never quite fit. I excelled at karate and learned and refined katas, weapons, and sparing techniques very well. What it taught fit my body and mind quite well. There is something about karate’s straight lines and combinations that fit me more than I imagined possible. In 1999, though, I dropped it and have never returned.

Aikido is the study of relationship. There is no Aikido without your partner and learning to blend with and receive from another person (or a weapon). Because of this, I have more trouble with Aikido. It is not as easy as simply wanting to do something and putting that want into practice. Every element of Aikido demands you move in circular coordination with another, who may or may not want to move in that same direction. You must learn to blend, to harmonize, to receive from another and project what another has given you. Aikido techniques do not originate from the inside, they begin in relating to the outside, in being confronted with something you did not expect. And, the purpose, the guiding principle of Aikido techniques (unlike karate) is that your movements should alter your relation with the other, not destroy the other.

There is, of course, a deep ethics here–not in overcoming what comes from the outside but in opening to it and responding to it. As I continue to struggle with this letting go at the heart of Aikido, I think about how this might translate to my writing, my teaching, my parenting, my relating overall. Struggling to push or pull is exhausting. Making contact and blending with others is surprisingly energetic, and I mean this in a literal, physical, material (as well as spiritual) way. Finding your position, your speed, and your direction in response to others is harder than we imagine. Yet, as O’Sensei was fond of repeating, “In three thousand worlds a single plum flower blossoms.” Every once in a while, you feel it to your core. When a sentence comes out right, when a class conversation teaches something new to everyone involved, when a whole family beams at someone’s accomplishments, when you listen to something you have never heard before (or have heard a thousand times), and even when I have attacked someone sincerely and they have sent me flying through the air effortlessly.

I hope I will struggle with Aikido for a long time.

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