The Aikido Spirit Dojo:

Setting the Foundation

True Story

by Terry Dobson:

THE TRAIN CLANKED and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty – a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.

At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car. He wore laborer’s clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that she was unharmed.

Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that on of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.

I was young then, some 20 years ago, and in pretty good shape. I’d been putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training nearly every day for the past three years. I like to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. Trouble was, my martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of aikido, we were not allowed to fight.

“Aikido,” my teacher had said again and again, “is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”

I listened to his words. I tried hard I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the chimpira, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.

This is it! I said to myself, getting to my feet. People are in danger and if I don’t do something fast, they will probably get hurt. Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. “Aha!” He roared. “A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!” I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.

“All right! He hollered. “You’re gonna get a lesson.” He gathered himself for a rush at me. A split second before he could move, someone shouted “Hey!” It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it – as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he suddenly stumbled upon it. “Hey!”

I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a little old Japanese. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.

“C’mere,” the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly. The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.

The old man continued to beam at the laborer.

“What’cha been drinkin’?” he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest.

“I been drinkin’ sake,” the laborer bellowed back, “and it’s none of your business!” Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.

“Ok, that’s wonderful,” the old man said, “absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night, me and my wife (she’s 76, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree had done better than I expected, though especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening – even when it rains!” He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.

As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said. “I love persimmons too…” His voice trailed off.

“Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”

“No,” replied the laborer. “My wife died.” Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife, I don’t got no home, I don’t got no job. I am so ashamed of myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body.

Now it was my turn. Standing there in well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was. Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. “My, my,” he said, “that is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.”

I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair.

As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with an entirely different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about the resolution of conflict.

From the first time I read this story it shifted perspective on my Aikido practice, and possibly my whole life. I can remember thinking "I want to be the old man in the story." My journey towards that end may have begun long before I read this story, but it gave my a clearer picture of where I was headed.

Below is my Aikido own story, written in 2011 for my Shodan presentation. It was written over 10 years ago, and it still contains all the basic principals of my teachings. Like O'Sensei said many times, "Aikido is misogi." Misogi is the purification of mind, body, and spirit. My approach to Aikido holds true to that principal. We do study martial arts techniques, for several reasons:

1. To study the flow of energy within the body. Movement is good for the body, and the body reacts accordingly.

2. So we can be less fear driven in the event of an unavoidable physical altercation. When we are less fear driven, we have greater access to the parts of us that can end an event through love, compassion, and a deep connection with another person whose suffering is being expressed as anger. It is my belief that most anger (if not all) is an expression of suffering. The question is: Do I wish to add to someones suffering or lessen their suffering?

3. Nature contains a unique kind of power, which is much different the the common version of power that humanity seems to be so deeply attached to. The ability to use force is the power of the ego, and is limiting as well as self defeating. Through the martial techniques we study, we gain access to the power of nature, which is much stronger than any ability to use force.

My Aikido Journey

by Keith Hummel

Sometimes you go because you love it. Sometimes you don’t go because you love it too much. Sometimes the little voice between your ears is reciting all the reasons not to go as you are driving here, and you go anyway. The biggest lessons are often learned when you don’t listen to the little voice’s reasons to do or not to do something. I have learned to listen when it simply says “do that” or “don’t do that” and there are no reasons attached. That is when the universe is sending you the message. It will always be without any attached reason, which is why it is always so wise. O’sensei’s often used quote “True victory is victory over self.’’ Says to me that it is victory over the part of us that needs the reasons and justifications for everything we do. When leaving reasons aside, we begin to find our best movements are sourced in a natural intelligence. I like to think of it as the intelligence of love. Love intelligence is what O’sensei may have been referring to when he said:

“In true Budo there are no enemies. True Budo is a function of love. It is not killing or fighting but to foster all things and to bring them to fruition. Love protects and nourishes life. Without love nothing can be accomplished. Aikido is the manifestation of love.”

One must create reasons to have enemies, and those reasons will never be created from love, and the natural unbending intelligence that can only be found in the naturally clear, unreasonable, love intelligence. As I progress away from reasons for everything, I progress toward love intelligence. With thanks to the teachings of Aikido it has become a new guiding factor throughout my life. Learning to listen to the gentle whisper in my ear, the voice of simple flow, the one that says, that way, there is your path, follow it, see what’s there. With no reason, no thought of personal gain…. Simply go.

In this same line, Aikido, for me, has been more about unlearning than learning, reexamining my closely held beliefs about myself, beliefs about what I can and cannot do. When I started this practice 8 years ago, had you told me I’d be here today, doing this, you would have been going against some strongly held beliefs of what I thought was possible, and, I would have recited all the reasons I can’t be here doing exactly what I am doing in this moment. All of our beliefs, must be examined and reexamined, most discarded, and those not discarded, reexamined again, always asking, “is this belief true?” Examine it until the answer comes back, “it is only true because I believe it to be true”.

I’ve never been one who followed the path that runs straight up the side of the mountain, I always preferred the spiral route that gradually worked its way around and around up to the top. When you charge to the top you miss the meadows, waterfalls and hidden canyons of life. You miss fishing in the streams and finding little parts of yourself tugging on the line, and, if you are really lucky, you catch a part of you that’s a real keeper, or perhaps it will catch you. The gold is in these mountain side streams too. When you find these nuggets they will bring a smile to your face as you say “that’s the part of me that is real,” and you put it in your pocket and carry it with you the rest of your life. Taking the long way gives you the moments to find your heart again, you inner workings, and the dreams that carried you to this mountain in the first place. Aikido is about finding all these things. It is all about falling down and getting up, but only a half of a percent is the kind you see here on the mat today. Aikido teaches you to fall gently, roll with the punches, step aside, and when danger approaches, simply let it pass. Aikido teaches us another kind of love, the one that says never condemn, so forgiveness is not necessary; know you are one with everything, so you don’t need to “try to connect”; release yourself from seeing yourself as small and insignificant, and discover yourself as O’Sensei saw himself, as the whole universe. Aikido is BIG, but only as big as you allow yourself to be. You are already on O’sensei’s bridge between heaven and Earth, there is no getting off it, there is only allowing yourself to awaken to that’s where you are! You can’t be anywhere else.

Keith Hummel

October 8, 2011