KO-SHIN - Ancient heart - Following the ancient "Ways"

Our Aikido club is known as the Koshinkan, a name first used by Ron Walters sensei, back in the 1970's. The name has more than one connotation, like much Japanese, but in this instance its translation is "House of the Ancient Heart". Throughout my years of practice I have heard much talk about "old" Aikido: old Yoshinkan , old Tomiki etc., suggesting that the Aikido of "old" was somewhat different from what is being served up in modern times.

"Old" Aikido would seem to relate to the way of teaching in use in the late 1950's and early 60's when sensei such as Kenshiro Abbe, Nakazono and Noro taught Aikido at "the Hut". Ron Thatcher , mysterious founder of our own Aikido lineage is credited as teaching Yoshinkan Aikido some 10 years before it officially arrived in the U.K and in the old way, apparently quite different to the current regime.

All in all it seems that Ron Walters, having been a long-term aikidoka, was not in favour with modern developments and made it his aim, and the clubs, to preserve something of the old methods. John Jenkins current head of the organisation shares Rons views and has perhaps gone even further to ensure that our Aikido is not swept away by the tide of Modernism.

My aim in this article is to try to analyse the problems of modern Aikido and then to look back into history to find a suitable model on which to base our current practice. It is not an unreasonable assertion to suggest that these are modern times and that our budo practice should reflect that. However I believe that the "true intrinsic nature" of budo is unchanging ("The Tao is the constant way") and the best possible examples should be sought old or new.

The Problem With Modern Budo

From my research and experience, and this has involved much reading "between the lines" it would appear that many of the so-called modern "masters"of budo , including Aikido, are no more than technical experts and some are hard nosed businessmen to boot! What started as the Way of the warrior, no longer deserves the Samurai association. Such deterioration of standards is not new.

Secret scrolls of the ways from the 17th century complain that modern (back then) students lacked moral fibre and training has to be softened accordingly.Both Sokaku Takeda and Morihei Ueshiba were referred to as the "last true Samurai" suggesting that amongst their contemporaries they were exceptional men.
If the heart is lost from the "Way" and the master no longer a "true" master then how are the Ways to be transmitted "from heart to heart" as they were in the past. The future of Budo looks quite dim, but at least we in Aikido are fortunate to have the example of O'Sensei, probably the greatest budo master of this century.However, how many aikido organisations can claim to be true to his teachings?

In my humble opinion it is perhaps the modern lifestyle that has caused the demise of true "Budo". It is universally acknowledged among the ancient Ryu (schools of the arts) that there is more to the martial arts than mastery of technique. There is a development of the inner person and of subtle energies which need guidance and cannot be presumed to materialise of their own accord.Even the ancient Samurai whose lives depended on their technical mastery of the sword recognised the need for training the spirit and the mind, and many adopted Zen training to enable them to face potential death with calmness.It is the Samurai and their exemplary way of life known as "Bushido" that I would propose as a suitable model for the practice of modern Budo.
Trevor Legget in his book ,"Zen and the ways" provides this apt description of a true way......

"....for those who would like to experience some inspiration, to be able to enter into harmony with the universe (Aiki), not simply on great occasions but at ordinary times,it is for those that the ways were developed. They are fragmentary manifestations of Zen which depend only minimally on circumstances, to practice them means to be able to experience a breath from beyond, to have freedom for a time from the drabness of life, and to become able to recognise.....the cosmic life and give it play. The Ways have techniques, but it is not their purpose to imitate the action of cosmic life by technical means, like a pupil faithfully copying the style of his teacher without any inspiration of his own.The purpose of techniques is to master one field thoroughly so that the instruments of perception perceive very accurately.It is then that the cosmic life becomes clear."

Not only does much modern Aikido clearly lack the spirit contained in Trevor Leggetts fine words but modern developments have brought about a deterioration of our art in a number of ways:-

  • a softening of the training process generally
  • a general reduction of techniques taught
  • constant changing of the way techniques are performed
  • over technicalising and rationalising the practice of Aikido (the scientific approach)
  • omitting the so called "spiritual" dimensions of Aikido

In the modern,civilised and technologically advanced society in which we live, where wars, if unfortunately they occur, are fought at a distance using machines, the notion of "martial valour" is no longer important.Our sedentary modern existence cocoons us from the harsher realities of real life and of course death too! Perhaps however we can regain some understanding of this spirit by studying the history of Budo to enrich our practical training- "Bun bu ryodo"-the twofold way of physical practice alongside academic learning. Budo is such a rich subject and deserves deeper study!

KOSHINDO-the Ancient Ways

The martial ryu at the time of the Samurai (from the 13th century Kamakura era to the Meiji restoration of the 19th century) taught "bugei-jutsu" or the skills of the art of war. These days the term " jutsu" suggests a study of the application of techniques for purely practical reasons as opposed to "Do" or Way which suggests a spiritual application of the art. The term Do was only applied to the martial arts from the late 19th century when Japan surrendered its old military regime.The old ryu , however, were more "Do" than most modern schools, incorporating spiritual disciplines, on the basis that, unless the heart is pure, and the mind empty of selfish notions, the real life or death combat situations could not be mastered.

The Ancient Martial Principles

The texts of the ancient martial ryu were about 80/20 technical to non technical, the content of the latter being mainly Zen with some references to Taoism and Confucianism. Where was the Shinto much favoured by O'Sensei? I would suggest it was there in the underlying culture and ever present.

The following principles however were derived from Zen and taught as an adjunct to technique in sword, spear, archery and ju-jitsu schools as well as in the teaching of the ways of tea, calligraphy and flower arranging. The arrangement in pairs is apparently a traditional approach:-

RI and JI

These are Buddhist terms which have their own special meanings in the martial ways.
Ri is flow, spontaneity, inspiration, naturalness, minimal effort, perfect action and is therefore without form being adapted to the situation. A perfect Aiki technique performed in the midst of randori training may be Ri, but it can be all too fleeting a glimpse of this ideal state of being (the cosmic principle). Ri depends on a state of inner calmness, of no-mind.

"Muri"on the other hand denotes the use of excessive force to accomplish a technique or where movement is not fluent, like a poor craftsman with no feeling for his materials.

The old masters constantly stressed the importance of Ri :-

"it is well said that one should think deeply and train the heart for the principal thing is the Ri, and the way to winning is not by tricks but by rightly realising the spiritual principle (Ri)."

In contrast Ji is a formal technique.What once began as a masters Ri, is formalised into Ji so that it can be passed on. Ji requires concentration and analysis but is rigid and lacks inspiration.Whilst Ri is pure creativity, Ji is imitation. The aim of training in the ways is to develop Ji into Ri.

SHIN and KI

Shin means literally heart but encompasses the concept of mind, feelings, emotion and motivations. When Shin is pure, thoughts do not arise from selfishness and passion and the body can move in harmony with the cosmic principle (Ri).This purity (or emptiness) of heart we refer to as Mu-shin.

Ki as we all know in Aikido is the seemingly elusive (but it's always there) and so subtle vital energy which, arising from various sources, travels along the meridians and can be controlled by directing it, focussing and even projecting beyond the body.

Ki is controlled by Shin. It is said that... "if shin is trained then training of Ki and physical training come naturally." In addition it is said that Ki without Shin is useless..."when heart (shin) dwells on some technique then ki tenses and the hands and feet do not move as they should", and "..thinking even a little, ki assumes a particular form and the enemy has something at which to strike."

The training of shin is by sitting zazen (chinkon kishin) and by repetitious practice of technical forms .Ki training according to the old schools involves breath training and focussing on the one point (tanden) and includes breath chanting such as AUM. A poem from an ancient spear school the Kagoshima ryu says this:-

" A......................UM
Study the natural state of the heart
Study it well to the limit of the two characters A and UM
The two characters A and UM are killing and saving,
In the palm of a hand........."

Shin and Ki are not principles that can be taught, rather they must be discovered for oneself, even the most mundane situations in life, such as sweeping or polishing provide us with a vehicle for the development of these faculties.

ISSHIN and ZANSHIN

Unlike the above these two principles are neither opposites nor complementary . In fact some of the older schools recognise one or the other of these and some recognise both .They are basically two states of mind or awareness.

Isshin, one heart, implies a total commitment to a technique with no shadow of a doubt and no hesitancy. If the one-heart is split the technique will surely fail. Zanshin is the remaining heart, an all round awareness which exists before and persists after the technique has finished. Isshin and Zanshin may be likened to a wave and the sea, the wave being a part of the sea momentarily focussed into a particular form whilst the sea persists all round. Whilst Isshin relates to Ji, Zanshin is Ri and both of these of course are aspects of Shin. (confused?-well I am!)

The importance of these principles is traditionally expressed using this hypothetical scenario:-

An expert in the martial arts is involved in a confrontation with a totally unskilled man.Whilst he should have a clear advantage his opponent is totally carefree, unafraid with lots of energy and spontaneously rushes him. Despite our experts skills he is momentarily rattled by the gusto and enthusiasm of his adversary, he hesitates in his technique and is knocked to the floor. This of course should never have happened but shows the result of training in technique without also training the heart/mind.

Thus it is my contention that true Aikido, in the spirit of O'Sensei and the masters of old, should encompass a wide range of practices to train the Body-Mind-Spirit and not be fragmented to focus on one particular aspect based on somebody's whim or preference. Of course people may practice their Budo however they like and for whatever motivation they choose, but perhaps they should consider renaming their art rather than misrepresenting what they do. In my humble opinion the Way of Aiki should contain the "Whole Way and nothing but the Way".

Tony Hughes - Nidan - Assistant instructor, Koshinkan Aikido

 

   
© Koshinkan Aikido Society 2002 - 2004 Designed by Dennis Poole