Reflections on Children’s Testing by Kim Gold

Congratulations to all of the kids who recently passed their belt tests! And parents: thank you for your commitment in supporting your children’s training. They couldn’t do it without you.

I had the opportunity to help some of the children prepare, as well as watch some of the tests. This is the sixth year that I have been involved in the children’s testing process, and I thought I’d share some of my observations. I’ve been meaning to put some of them down on paper for quite awhile. Now that I have a knee injury, I have finally found the time!

When an adult watches a typical Scarsdale Aikido children’s class, they may wonder if the kids are learning anything resembling Aikido at all (be honest, you’ve had this thought!) There is a playful, relaxed spirit. There are games. There is socializing. And there is often a lot of noise. The techniques that the children perform often do not look like the detailed, complex, and precise movements that the adults perform. Even when the tests come around, the children are often coached through their techniques to jog their memories. So…what exactly are they learning anyway?

As someone who has observed many tests in the children’s program, I can answer that they are learning a great deal First, I’d like to clarify what a test is. At Scarsdale Aikido, the testing process is another variant of the learning process. It is not an indication of mastery, on any level. We don’t give black belts to children, as the primary emphasis for children is to learn. From a technical perspective, young kids are not able to emulate adult proficiency and are not held up to adult standards. But if looked at from the standpoint of their developmental levels as children, they are indeed learning the art at a profound

It helps to look beneath the literal movements of the technique and look to principle. In doing this, you begin to see increased mind- body awareness, timing, spatial awareness, evasive movements, balance (or base), extension, and the all-important ability to maintain the center. This can be observed with children as young as 5 years old who have been training consistently. On a non-physical level, you can observe improvements in concentration, relaxation, and confidence. The children are also gaining a preliminary knowledge of martial strategy (i.e. inviting the attack/counterattack, invading the space,
etc.) that matures as they mature.

Most importantly, the children are absorbing the core philosophy of Aikido. This can be observed during the part of the testing process known as “the questions.” To the consternation of the parents trying to prepare their children for the tests, there is no magic right answer to “the questions.” These questions are designed to bring forth what the kids have learned, help them to take their lessons off the mat and into life, as well as to open up a dialogue about philosophical and ethical issues. (Parents: if you want to do anything to help your kids prepare for this portion, encourage them to listen to the responses of
their peers’ tests and to think of their own answers.)

Personally, I find the questions to be the most interesting part of the tests. Here are a few:

“What is Aikido?” “Will being angry help you in a self-defense situation?” “During class, what should you be paying attention to/not paying attention to?””When someone wants to hurt us what attitude should we have and why?” “When someone wants to hurt you should you be afraid, confident, or tense and why?” “Is Aikdio purely defensive?” “Can a weaker opponent defeat a stronger opponent?” “How do you react when have something very difficult to do?” “What are the benefits of receiving pain when someone does a technique on you?”

The thoughtful, sincere, and often profound answers that I have heard over the years could fill a book. But I’ll give one recent example to illustrate how the testing process shows what the children have learned, and provides an opportunity to expand upon that learning.

The question was “When you are in class, what should you be paying attention to/ not paying attention to?” Several kids chimed in with different answers: “The teacher” “Your partner” “The teacher and your partner” Sensei then had the kids act out their answers. The child who was paying attention to the teacher, got attacked by his partner. The child who was paying attention to the partner, got attacked by the teacher. The child who was paying attention to both, got attacked by another attacker. You get the idea. It was concluded that you need to pay attention to everything in your environment. What you
overly focus on becomes your weakness.

One child did point out that we did not need to pay attention to the noise from the Irish dancers upstairs. We jokingly admitted that the Irish dancers are probably not a threat, but you never know. I think that groups of people who practice kicking in a line could be a force to be reckoned with. But on a serious note, practicing amidst noise is an opportunity to learn how to not be distracted or disturbed by the unpredictability of your environment.

For some of the children who have been with the program for several years, it becomes even more apparent how much they are learning. And as they grow older, their training begins to take root and branch out into all areas of their lives. My older daughter, Chloe (12), has been training for five years. I recently had a conference with her math teacher in which he described to me a child who was happy to meet challenges, relaxed and confident, and comfortable taking risks (i.e. not afraid to be wrong). I attribute that in part to her training in Aikido, as those are subtle principles that we seek to impart in every class. Along with, of course, the games.

If there are any parents who have similar stories of how their child’s Aikdio training has become part of their lives, feel free to share in the comments!

On Power by Steve Kanney

Let’s look at power for a moment. Power in the animal world may come mainly from physical strength. But as humans, as soon as we emphasized intelligence, physical power became obsolete. In the context of human existance, we will look at two types of power – authentic and temporal. Consider for example Stalin and Mohatma Gandhi.Which of these two individuals is respected and admired to this day? Both developed a mass of followers. Stalin accumulated power first through ideals and used the power for personal gain, which was destructive to the people he lead. He retained the power through violence and intimidation. But in the context of history how long did his power last? How many people were lead by his example and continued the direction he set even today? History tells us that he was broadly disliked internationally, but even more so his reputation was badly tarnished among his own people.

Gandhi, on the other hand, accumulated followers by peacefully bringing the attention of the world to great injustices and worked to benefit his followers. In reality, by short circuiting the injustices being done, he also stopped the disturbances created in the minds of the people inflicting harm to the Indian people. Everyone respected Gandhi, listened to his advice and supported him. In this way the energy of many people were channeled through him and he was able to overhaul the government of a major world power without any army. History here treats him as someone beloved by his own people and revered for the enormous task he undertook successfully. He is even respected in Britain. This power was more authentic and long lasting.

In our society many who have acquired power have done so through politics or success in business. Our first reaction may be automatic admiration for names such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Ronald Reagan. But these leaders are subject to the same criteria as Stalin and Gandhi in evaluating the exercise of their power.  In fact, leaders must be careful particularly about how they exercise their power, as their position allows them to affect far more people than those with little power. If they allow destructive activities, the results will not harm one or two people, but many more. Consider the head of Exxon who put off addressing global warming resulting from fuel consumption. They wanted to increase profits, but the resultant destruction to the environment now threatens far more damage than their profits can cure. Now they and their families must live in this world at greater physical risk, so they did not escape the consequences of their actions. To the extent you make destructive decisions as a powerful person, your consequences will be larger. For this reason, a sincere aspiration to develop authentic power versus temporal power is critical for those who attain leadership positions.

To insure proper use of their power by leaders in our political system, the structure attempts a healthy approach to diffuse absolute power in this country, preventing the Stalins of the world from gaining control. Distributing authority among 3 branches of government, frequent elections and freedom of the press all act to bring transparency and responsibility on the part of politicians towards those they serve. It is important not only for politicians to keep a close eye on their motivations to insure they sincerely serve the people properly, but also members of the press. Any dilution in the sincerity on the part of these groups will certainly lead to problems of the ilk described above. The protections we have against abuse of power in this country are good, but if not implemented with sincerity in our society, we may need something more.

On Money by Steve Kanney

Money is an important aspect of our society that lubricates the wheels of commerce. Looking at the history of barter and the gold standard, fiat currency is clearly better. In this sense money is undeniably a good thing. But our culture revolves around the accumulation of money, so how important should we view it in the whole scheme of life and why?Well, in Aikido we seek an ultimate sort of happiness not only for ourselves, but all beings. In that process we also need to produce a more temporal sense of happiness. For temporal happiness we need peace of mind, good health, wholesome friends and then money – in that order. Peace of mind is key. If you had lots of money, no peace of mind, no friends and poor health, chances are you would not be very happy. But the person with peace of mind who is poor, with few friends and poor health would at least have a fighting chance to find some moments of happiness. In fact, with peace of mind they might improve their health with lower stress and also find some decent friends. But the person with only money and no peace would be less likely to work their way out of their problems. Even in the west we say you can’t buy happiness, or friends and good health for that matter either.Despite the tertiary importance of money in producing happiness, in the west it takes on a central role in our lives. If our GDP growth rates stagnate, we panic. But look at the people starving in Africa. They don’t even know what a GDP growth rate is!? They just want enough food to make it through another day.  This huge divergence between the wealthy and poor, not only among countries but within them as well, is a serious problem on a global level This gap should inform our views on money. Let’s take a closer look.

The poor countries have problems with low levels of education, population explosion (related to poorly educated women), and the elite often take the majority of the country’s assets. Then should they ever climb out of their abject poverty (think China & India), their new found wealth would place the world’s natural resources under unbearable stress.

In the western world, we enjoy high standards of living (although the rift between wealthy and poor has reached alarming levels) and better education. At the same time we absorb a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources to support our lifestyle. Again, we spend our time worrying about the rate at which our GDP grows while a large portion of mankind worries about starving.

Low levels of education and dire circumstances in the poor countries act as contributing factors to terrorism in the west. We should not be surprised, as historically the result of a wide rift between rich and poor is typically political instability, of which terrorism is a form. Should everyone in China and India start driving a car, we will quickly find our lifestyles called into serious question as well. Our myopic concerns about individual nation’s GDP growth need to take a back seat to more pressing matters. In the west we cannot divorce ourselves from the poverty of the remainder of the world.

We tend to bring money into the center of our lives as we view it as having some sort of lock on the ability to produce happiness. As we have seen above, nothing could be further from the truth. We need to look at money as a practical tool; the view that it can do more only serves to distort our reaction to the world around us. We need to look at the status of the human race and spend our time figuring out real solutions to population explosion, starvation, resource allocation and low levels of education, all symptoms of the gulf between rich and poor. Then our energies and resources will be properly balanced and therefore allocated in the most moral fashion. Next topic is power…

What Exactly have we Stumbled upon Here? by Steve Kanney

We are all very busy in our lives. We need to earn a living, take care of family, etc. In the midst of our busy lives, we suddenly stumble upon a practice that teaches us viscerally to respond to violence with compassion, and not just on a superficial level. As we have seen in previous posts, by cleansing our minds with this process thoroughly over time, we can wipe out all sources of discontent. At the same time, we can improve our ability to function in the world enormously. The objective is bold and all encompassing.One of the properties of this approach is an ability to provide an endless spring of benefits. If you plant a seed for a strawberry plant, you will get a few strawberries that year. Next year you have to plant a seed again. But this process of replacing a selfish mode of existence with a more altruistic alternative is first of all enjoyable and secondly bears fruit in geometric proportions over time.  For example, Koichi Tohei talked about his experience in World War II as a commanding officer in the Japanese army on a mission to penetrate deep into China. Imagine for a moment the psychological damage one might sustain engaging in warfare and killing other people and losing friends in the name of the Japanese Imperial cause (think Viet Nam Vets). Imagine the damage to the families of those who died. Koichi Tohei used his meditation practice to learn to center himself during combat. Yet as a practitioner of Aikido he found taking life reprehensible. When he caught a Chinese enemy, he was supposed to kill or imprison him. Instead, he disarmed and released the man. The Chinese subsequently realized his wish for peace and would simply wave at his forces in the fields rather than shoot.  He was able to accomplish his mission without losing any of his own men or killing any of the enemy. What better outcome could you desire than have no one die? One simple act of kindness led to saving countless lives in horrific circumstances. (Journey to the Center:  Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind and Spirit by Thomas Crumb pg 79-80)

Morihiro Saito explained that there are two types of people in the world of Aikido, those who talk about it and those who do it. Saito Sensei tended to use very simple language. Given the benefits Koichi Tohei experienced, we can recognize the level of responsibility he took towards his own practice and the wonderful results. Talking about Aikido is simply a lower level of responsibility towards one’s own practice, an aspiration to practice without any application of effort.  Compare for a moment a person who spends their days immersed in anger and a desire for vengeance towards anyone who trespasses their interests, with another person who wishes to develop a more altruistic attitude but has yet to act upon it. If an aggressive person ran into both of these people, clearly their interaction with the vengeful person would spark violence like a match to dry wood. But their interaction with the person who has altruistic aspirations would be far less likely to produce a violent outcome. So there are obviously some substantial benefits to maintaining only an aspiration. But next to Koichi Tohei’s outcome when faced with mortal combat, there is no comparison.

We know practice is difficult; it takes time and effort and further we need to find opportunities to train which do not always abound. We put effort into more mundane activities and find we must constantly work to produce results. The practice of Aikido, however, can produce very positive results and with a geometric response to our efforts. An aspiration to practice is at least helpful, but actually engaging in training is far more powerful.

The State of the World: The Legal System by Steve Kanney

In this blog we will take an approach that is more casual and looks to relate Aikido principles to our experience in daily life. We will start out observing the state of our world and comparing it to the principles of Aikido noting the differences. Later we will move into more practical individual problems in daily life.We will start with the legal system.

The point of the legal system is to promote the positive use of human activity. Totalitarian systems (e.g. communist) that provide unrestricted power to one ruler generally tend violate human nature. If we look at our history in the west, democracy as a form of protection for human rights began in Greek and Roman times. It was expanded in Europe after the dark ages and we added religious tolerance here in the US. So while our right to life (one named function of Aikido – see philosophy blog), liberty (another benefit of Aikido) and the pursuit of happiness (the other named function of Aikido – see philosophy blog) are clearly on track, the democratic systems may also leave some room for improvement.

Let’s step outside the box a little bit. While protecting human rights is obviously good, what about the protecting the rights of animals and the environment? Pollution in the industrialized society has been virtually unrestrained for 100 years and we are on the verge of destroying our own ability to live safely on the planet. Humans are not the only ones who suffered as a result. No one was imprisoned or penalized in any way for these transgressions against the environment.

What about animals? Obviously, we are somewhat at odds with the interests of animals in that some humans cannot survive on a vegetarian diet for health reasons. I suspect many animals may not feel our eating them conforms to their basic rights and we might have difficulty disagreeing. But if you look at the structure of farming, you will find we eat far more meat than necessary and the impact on the environment is potentially serious. Also, before we kill animals for food, our farms can be violently abusive towards them, again practically without penalty. We have animals work for us and are abusive as well.

The other point to consider is the implementation of these laws. Think about Bill Clinton’s response to the question of whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky. Another example is a whistle blower who worked at Lehman Brothers and filed a complaint about their shady accounting practices. He was fired for his action, while the firm boldly misrepresented their financial condition, and the perpetrators of this act still were not brought to justice even after the demise of the firm. People in power, politicians and business leaders, seem to be subject to a different set of laws than the rest of society.

The purpose of the legal system is to inspire basic humanitarian values, and in our society many laws do work quite well. But to move more in alignment with Aikido principles, the laws should be applied consistently and some consideration for the rights of animals and the environment should be included as well. Next we move on to money and power…


Section of The Fire Book from Musashi’s “A Book of Five Rings” which describes subsidiary strategies

To Hold Down a Pillow

To Hold Down a Pillow means not allowing the enemy’s head to rise.

In contests of stategy it is bad to be led about by the enemy. You must always be able to lead the enemy about. Obviously the enemy will also be thinking of doing this, but he cannot forestall you if you do not allow him to come out. In strategy, you must stop the enemy as he attempts to cut; you must push down his thrust, and throw off his hold when he tries to grapple. This is the meaning of “to hold down a pillow”. When you have grasped this principle, whatever the enemy tries to bring about in the fight you will see in advance and suppress it. The spirit is to check his attack at the syllable “at…”, when he jumps check his advance at the syllable “ju…”, and check his cut at “cu…”.

The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions. However, doing this alone is defensive. First, you must act according to the Way, suppress the enemy’s techniques, foiling his plans, and thence command him directly. When you can do this you will be a master of strategy. You must train well and research “holding down a pillow”.


Crossing at a Ford

“Crossing at a ford” means, for example, crossing the sea at a strait, or crossing over a hundred miles of broad sea at a crossing place. I believe this “crossing at a ford” occurs often in a man’s lifetime. It means setting sail even though your friends stay in harbour, knowing the route, knowing the soundness of your ship and the favour of the day. When all the conditions are met, and there is perhaps a favourable wind, or a tailwind, then set sail. If the wind changes within a few miles of your destination, you must row across the remaining distance without sail.

If you attain this spirit, it applies to everyday life. You must always think of crossing at a ford.

In strategy also it is important to “cross at a ford”. Discern the enemy’s capability and, knowing your own strong points, “cross the ford” at the advantageous place, as a good captain crosses a sea route. If you succeed in crossing at the best place, you may take your ease. To cross at a ford means to attack the enemy’s weak point, and to put yourself in an advantageous position. This is how to win in large-scale strategy. The spirit of crossing at a ford is necessary in both large- and small-scale strategy.

You must research this well.


To Know the Times

“To know the times” means to know the enemy’s disposition in battle. Is is flourishing or waning? By observing the spirit of the enemy’s men and getting the best position, you can work out the enemy’s disposition and move your men accordingly. You can win through this principle of strategy, fighting from a position of advantage.

When in a duel, you must forestall the enemy and attack when you have first recognised his school of strategy, perceived his quality and his strong and weak points. Attack in an unsuspected manner, knowing his metre and modulation and the appropriate timing.

Knowing the times means, if your ability is high, seeing right into things. If you are thoroughly conversant with strategy, you will recognise the enemy’s intentions and thus have many opportunities to win. You must sufficiently study this.


To Tread Down the Sword

“To tread down the sword” is a principle often used in strategy. First, in large-scale strategy, when the enemy first discharges bows and guns and then attacks, it is difficult for us to attack if we are busy loading powder into our guns or notching our arrows. The spirit is to attack quickly while the enemy is still shooting with bows or guns. The spirit is to win by “treading down” as we receive the enemy’s attack.

In single combat, we cannot get a decisive victory by cutting, with a “tee-dum tee-dum” feeling, in the wake of the enemy’s attacking long sword. We must defeat him at the start of his attack, in the spirit of treading him down with the feet, so that he cannot rise again to the attack.

“Treading” does not simply mean treading with the feet. Tread with the body, tread with the spirit, and, of course, tread and cut with the long sword. You must achieve the spirit of not allowing the enemy to attack a second time. This is the spirit of forestalling in every sense. Once at the enemy, you should not aspire just to strike him, but to cling after the attack. You must study this deeply.


To Know “Collapse”

Everything can collapse. Houses, bodies, and enemies collapse when their rhythm becomes deranged.

In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse you must persue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover.

In single combat, the enemy sometimes loses timing and collapses. If you let this opportunity pass, he may recover and not be so negligent thereafter. Fix your eye on the enemy’s collapse, and chase him, attacking so that you do not let him recover. You must do this. The chasing attack is with a strong spirit. You must utterly cut the enemy down so that he does not recover his position. You must understand utterly how to cut down the enemy.


To Become the Enemy

“To become the enemy” means to think yourself into the enemy’s position. In the world people tend to think of a robber trapped in a house as a fortified enemy. However, if we think of “becoming the enemy”, we feel that the whole world is against us and that there is no escape. He who is shut inside is a pheasant. He who enters to arrest is a hawk. You must appreciate this.

In large-scale strategy, people are always under the impression that the enemy is strong, and so tend to become cautious. But if you have good soldiers, and if you understand the principles of strategy, and if you know how to beat the enemy, there is nothing to worry about.

In single combat also you must put yourself in the enemy’s position. If you think, “Here is a master of the Way, who knows the principles of strategy”, then you will surely lose. You must consider this deeply.


To Release Four Hands

To release four hands” is used when you and the enemy are contending with the same spirit, and the issue cannot be decided. Abandon this spirit and win through an alternative resource.

In large-scale strategy, when there is a “four hands” spirit, do not give up – it is man’s existence. Immediately throw away this spirit and win with a rechnique the enemy does not expect.

In single combat also, when we think we have fallen into the “four hands” situation, we must defeat the enemy by changing our mind and applying a suitable technique according to his condition. You must be able to judge this.


To Move the Shade

“To move the shade” is used when you cannot see the enemy’s spirit.

In large-scale strategy, when you cannot see the enemy’s position, indicate that you are about to attack strongly, to discover his resources. It is easy then to defeat hin with a different method once you see his resources.

In single combat, if the enemy takes up a rear or side attitude of the long sword so that you cannot see his intention, make a feint attack, and the enemy will show his long sword, thinking he sees your spirit. Benefiting from what you are shown, you can win with certainty. If you are negligent you will miss the timing. Research this well.


To Hold Down a Shadow

“Holding down a shadow” is used when can see the enemy’s attacking spirit.

In large-scale strategy, when the enemy embarks on an attack, if you make a show of strongly suppressing his technique, he will change his mind. Then, altering your spirit, defeat him by forestalling him with a Void spirit.

Or, in single combat, hold down the enemy’s strong intention with a suitable timing, and defeat him by forestalling him with this timing. You must study this well.


To Pass On

Many things are said to be passed on. Sleepiness can be passed on, and yawning canbe passed on. Time can be passed on also.

In large-scale strategy, when the enemy is agitated and shows an inclination to rush, do not mind in the least. Make a show of complete calmness, and the enemy will be taken by this and will become relaxed. When you see that this spirit has been passed on, you can bring about the enemy’s defeat by attacking strongly with a Void spirit.

In single combat, you can win by relaxing your body and spirit and then, catching on the moment the enemy relaxes, attack strongly and quickly, forestalling him.

What is known as “getting someone drunk” is similar to this. You can also infect the enemy with a bored, careless, or weak spirit. You must study this well.


To Cause Loss of Balance

Many things can cause a loss of balance. One cause is danger, another is hardship, and another is surprise. You must research this.

In large-scale strategy it is important to cause loss of balance. Attack without warning where the enemy is not expecting it, and while his spirit is undecided follow up your advantage and, having the lead, defeat him.

Or, in single combat, start by making a show of being slow, then suddenly attack strongly. Without allowing him space for breath to recover from the fluctuation of spirit, you must grasp the opportunity to win. Get the feel of this.


To Frighten

Fright often occurs, caused by the unexpected.

In large-scale strategy you can frighten the enemy not by what you present to their eyes, but by shouting, making a small force seem large, or by threatening them from the flank without warning. These things all frighten. You can win by making best use of the enemy’s frightened rhythm.

In single combat, also, you must use the advantage of taking the enemy unawares by frightening him with your body, long sword, or voice, to defeat him. You should research this well.


To Soak In

When you have come to grips and are striving together with the enemy, and you realise that you cannot advance, you “soak in” and become one with the enemy. You can win by applying a suitable technique while you are mutually entangled.

In battles involving large numbers as well as in fights with small numbers, you can often win decisively with the advantage of knowing how to “soak” into the enemy, whereas, were you to draw apart, you would lise the chance to win. Research this well.


To Injure the Corners

It is difficult to move strong things by pushing directly, so you should “injure the corners”.

In large-scale strategy, it is beneficial to strike at the corners of the enemy’s force, If the corners are overthrown, the spirit of the whole body will be overthrown. To defeat the enemy you must follow up the attack when the corners have fallen.

In single combat, it is easy to win once the enemy collapses. This happens when you injure the “corners” of his body, and this weaken him. It is important to know how to do this, so you must research this deeply.


To Throw into Confusion

This means making the enemy lose resolve.

In large-scale strategy we can use our troops to confuse the enemy on the field. Observing the enemy’s spirit, we can make him think, “Here? There? Like that? Like this? Slow? Fast?” Victory is certain when the enemy is caught up in a rhythm that confuses his spirit.

In single combat, we can confuse the enemy by attacking with varied techniques when the chance arises. Feint a thrust or cut, or make the enemy thing you are going close to him, and when he is confused you can easily win.

This is the essence of fighting, and you must research it deeply.


The Three Shouts

The three shouts are divided thus: before, during and after. Shout according to the situation. The voice is a thing of life. We shout against fires and so on, against the wind and the waves. The voice shows energy.

In large-scale strategy, at the start of battle we shout as loudly as possible. During the fight, the voice is low-pitched, shouting out as we attack. After the contest, we shout in the wake of our victory. These are the three shouts.

In single combat, we make as if to cut and shout “Ei!” at the same time to disturb the enemy, then in the wake of our shout we cut with the long sword. We shout after we have cut down the enemy – this is to announce victory. This is called “sen go no koe” (before and after voice). We do not shout simultaneously with flourishing the long sword. We shout during the fight to get into rhythm. Research this deeply.


To Mingle

In battles, when the armies are in confrontation, attack the enemy’s strong points and, when you see that they are beaten back, quickly separate and attack yet another strong point on the periphery of his force. The spirit of this is like a winding mountain path.

This is an important fighting method for one man against many. Strike down the enemies in one quarter, or drive them back, then grasp the timing and attack further strong points to right and left, as if on a winding mountain path, weighing up the enemies’ disposition. When you know the enemies’ level, attack strongly with no trace of retreating spirit.

In single combat, too, use this spirit with the enemy’s strong points.

What is meant by ‘mingling’ is the spirit of advancing and becoming engaged with the enemy, and not withdrawing even one step. You must understand this.


To Crush

This means to crush the enemy regarding him as being weak.

In large-scale strategy, when we see that the enemy has few men, or if he has many men but his spirit is weak and disordered, we knock the hat over his eyes, crushing him utterly. If we crush lightly, he may recover. You must learn the spirit of crushing as if with a hand-grip.

In single combat, if the enemy is less skilful than ourself, if his rhythm is disorganized, or if he has fallen into evasive or retreating attitudes, we must crush him straightaway, with no concern for his presence and without allowing him space for breath. It is essential to crush him all at once. The primary thing is not to let him recover his position even a little. You must research this deeply.


The Mountain-Sea Change

The “mountain-sea” spirit means that it is bad to repeat the same thing several times when fighting the enemy. There may be no help but to do something twice, but do not try it a third time. If you once make an attack and fail, there is little chance of success if you use the same approach again. If you attempt a technique which you have previously tried unsucessfully and fail yet again, then you must change your attacking method.

If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack like the sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack like the mountains. You must research this deeply.


To Penetrate the Depths

When we are fighting with the enemy, even when it can be seen that we can win on the surface with the benefit of the Way, if his spirit is not extinguished, he may be beaten superficially yet undefeated in spirit deep inside. With this principle of “penetrating the depths” we can destroy the enemy’s spirit in its depths, demoralising him by quickly changing our spirit. This often occurs.

Penetrating the depths means penetrating with the long sword, penetrating with the body, and penetrating with the spirit. This cannot be understood in a generalisation.

Once we have crushed the enemy in the depths, there is no need to remain spirited. But otherwise we must remain spirited. If the enemy remains spirited it is difficult to crush him. You must train in penetrating the depths for large-scale strategy and also single combat.


To Renew

“To renew” applies when we are fighting with the enemy, and an entangled spirit arises where there is no possible resolution. We must abandon our efforts, think of the situation in a fresh spirit then win in the new rhythm. To renew, when we are deadlocked with the enemy, means that without changing our circumstance we change our spirit and win through a different technique.

It is necessary to consider how “to renew” also applies in large-scale strategy. Research this diligently.


Rat’s Head, Ox’s Neck

“Rat’s head and ox’s neck” means that, when we are fighting with the enemy and both he and we have become occupied with small points in an entangled spirit, we must always think of the Way of strategy as being both a rat’s head and an ox’s neck. Whenever we have become preoccupied with small details, we must suddenly change into a large spirit, interchanging large with small.

This is one of the essences of strategy. It is necessary that the warrior think in this spirit in everyday life. You must not depart from this spirit in large-scale strategy nor in single combat.


The Commander Knows the Troops

“The commander knows the troops” applies everywhere in fights in my Way of strategy.

Using the wisdom of strategy, think of the enemy as your own troops. When you think in this way you can move him at will and be able to chase him around. You become the general and the enemy becomes your troops. You must master this.


To Let Go the Hilt

There are various kinds of spirit involved in letting go the hilt.

There is the spirit of winning without a sword. There is also the spirit of holding the long sword but not winning. The various methods cannot be expressed in writing. You must train well.

Basic Strategies by Steve Kanney

In Aikido, we are taught that O’Sensei utilized two major strategies: Break Maia (or distance) and inviting the attack in order to counter attack.  While there are other strategies, these are the two he emphasized for the most part.  First we will look at these strategies.  In a later article we will consider ancillary strategies.  The text we will utilize is Miyamoto Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings, particularly the Fire Book within the text.

Specifically, Musashi includes three methods.  (1) You launch the attack, (2) you feign weakness and counter attack or (3) you attack simultaneously with the enemy’s attack.

In Aikido, when inviting the attack, we attempt to create a vacuum or suction like feeling, drawing in the attack.   Then we evade the attacking movement and control the attacker so as not to harm them.

Breaking maia is straightforward.  When the opening is there, or you have taken your partner’s center, then a straightforward attack can abruptly end the violence.

Again, in Aikido, the objective is not to kill the attacker, but control them without harm.  In this manner, we may launch a strike to trigger a block from the potential attacker.  When they block, we use their blocking motion to apply a joint lock, pin or throw.  The emphasis is not to strike with the intent of causing damage.  We can also actually strike as a distraction to apply a controlling technique causing damage.  We can also actually strike as a distraction to apply a controlling technique afterwards.  At times, we withdraw the force of the attack  before making contact.  Should the attacker expect the pressure of the attack and then suddenly not receive it, he/she may become unbalanced and we can then lead them with a more typical controlling technique without really making contact.

The objective in Aikido is not to harm or kill, or even to win a competition.  It is to defend oneself while protecting the attacker to the best of our abilities.  However, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.  Therefore, we do not simply wait for an attack passively and try to defend ourselves after it is launched.  In this sense, Aikido does not conform to the mainstream ideas of a “defensive martial art.” Effective strategy suggests a need to keep the attacker off balance by taking advantage of any opportunity to attack.  However, the point of the attack, again, is not to harm, but to control.

Below is an excerpt from Musashi’s  Book of Five Rings (Fire Book) that details his view of the strategies:

The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy

The first is to forestall him by attacking. This is called Ken No Sen (to set him up).

Another method is to forestall him as he attacks. This is called Tai No Sen (to wait for the initiative).

The other method is when you and the enemy attack together. This is called Tai Tai No Sen (to accompany him and forestall him).

There are no methods of taking the lead other than these three. Because you can win quickly by taking the lead, it is one of the most important things in strategy. There are several things involved in taking the lead. You must make the best of the situation, see through the enemy’s spirit so that you grasp his strategy and defeat him. It is impossible to write about this in detail.

The First – Ken No Sen

When you decide to attack, keep calm and dash in quickly, forestalling the enemy. Or you can advance seemingly strongly but with a reserved spirit, forestalling him with the reserve.

Alternately, advance with as strong a spirit as possible, and when you reach the enemy move with your feet a little quicker than normal, unsettling him and overwhelming him sharply.

Or, with your spirit calm, attack with a feeling of constantly crushing the enemy, from first to last. The spirit is to win in the depths of the enemy.

These are all Ken No Sen.

The Second – Tai No Sen

When the enemy attacks, remain undisturbed but feign weakness. As the enemy reaches you, suddenly move away indicating that you intend to jump aside, then dash in attacking strongly as soon as you see the enemy relax. This is one way.

Or, as the enemy attacks, attack more strongly, taking advantage of the resulting disorder in his timing to win.

This is the Tai No Sen principle.

The Third – Tai Tai No Sen

When the enemy makes a quick attack, you must attack strongly and calmly, aim for his weak point as he draws near, and strongly defeat him.

Or, if the enemy attacks calmly, you must observe his movement and, with your body rather floating, join in with his movements as he draws near. Move quickly and cut him strongly.

This is Tai Tai No Sen

These things cannot be clearly explained in words. You must research what is written here. In these three ways of forestalling, you must judge the situation. This does not mean that you always attack first; but if the enemy attacks first you can lead him around. In strategy, you have effectively won when you forestall the enemy, so you must train well to attain this.

Methods to Remain Calm during Violence by Steve Kanney

This is a very good question as a suggested topic.  While it may be possible to write extensively on it, I will give several examples.

I recall when I was about 18 years old, and had been practicing aikido for about a year or two, my teacher developed an exercise where he would attack with a wooden sword and we practiced evading it. As a Vietnam vet, I think he wanted to impart something he experienced while facing his fears during 2 years of combat.  So one day he picked up a real samurai sword and began attacking us with that during these exercises.  Slowly, he built them up to the point where I found him attacking me 7 times in rapid fire movements at full speed and with full commitment.  He did not have the experience or control to train people in this manner, and we have disagreed on this practice he developed ever since. However, on the last sword cut, I realized I was too late to evade the attack.  I immediately felt panic welling up.  However, at the moment I noticed panic develop, I had a powerful reaction to it: I knew panic = death.  I shut it down instantly and began an evasive move.  After I began to evade the attack, again, I knew it was too late.  I recall seeing that the sword was going to cut off my right shoulder and arm.  I thought there was a hospital across the street from the dojo so I would be alright, but then I realized I would not even live to get to the hospital.  There was nothing left to do, so I relaxed and waited for my fate to complete itself.  What I did not realize was that at the very moment when I shut down the panic and began to move, my feet went into the air and my movement continued.  As I watched the sword come down to slice off my shoulder, my shoulder continued to move out of the way from my initial reaction.  One could say that the sword practically shaved the hair off my chest rather than slice off my right shoulder.  I remember how my face became pale and my knees began to shake.  My instructor was also quite shaken up as well.  I tell this story to highlight a method of staying calm in an attack.  To the extent one learns the lesson that fear is self defeating through awareness, one will learn to cut off the reaction and do what is necessary constructively.  In my case, this situation was an example of plain dumb luck, I was not aware so much.  But I use it as an example that can help others realize the importance of cutting off one’s fears through awareness and then returning to appropriate action a hand, an important tool in staying calm during a violent situation.

In point of fact, the entire practice of aikido is a method to help one remain calm during a violent situation.  We practice having someone attack us.  We learn a movement.  We practice it over and over until muscle memory takes over and the calculating mind dries up.  We focus on closing openings by being aware and relaxed.  Our partner should, in a non-combative way, show us where we are open during regular practice so we can close each opening over time.  Then we practice defending ourselves in more pressured situations where numerous people are attacking us simultaneously.  We learn to become relaxed and aware of our entire environment, so we can perceive sneak attacks, etc.  Through awareness during practice, we learn to calm ourselves down and become more efficient, and importantly we learn that this is critical in making our efforts effective.  We also perform during tests so people who feel that environment as pressure will learn to relax while coping with it.  All these forms of practice lead to a substitution effect: when an emergency situation develops, rather than become tense, we are relaxed, aware and react reflexively based upon muscle memory.  This practice is called takemusu aiki, or the highest form of practice in any martial art (obviously with different names for each art, but the practice is the same).

For some people, learning to concentrate on their center of gravity is a useful form of practice to learn to control their fears.  The center, or hara, is an infinitesimal point about 2 inches below the naval.  We practice learning how this center is a receptacle where we receive ki and allow that ki to flow from there. Ki flows freely and should not be obstructed, but it is also not something “special.”  Like air, it is everywhere and ordinary.  This is not a method of training we regularly use in our school, but it can be a useful to help people learn to control their fears and remain calm.


First, let’s look at what ki is:

(Note: All quotations with pages given are from Zen and Aikido by Kamata Shimizu)

“Aikido is a martial art which aims at the cultivation of ki. The aiki in aikido refers to harmonizing one’s ki or vital energy not only with a partner, but with all living beings of the universe. This harmony enables one to realize that the flow of an individual’s ki exists as part of the flow of ki of the universe…” (pg 4)

“…it is often difficult to get up early for work whereas it is easy to rise early for pleasure. This is entirely due to the action of ki. It is our ki that orders the body to take some action and, therefore, it is essential to cultivate the spirit to develop ki-power.” (pg 10)

In aikido, the philosophy of ki can also be explained in terms of kokyu power, or breath power. “Kokyu-power is a force which unites one’s consciousness and breathing, which emanate from the center or lower abdomen (seikatanden). This power is not physical strength or a form of trickery. Using kokyu-power, which originates in the lower abdomen, a practitioner can entirely absorb an opponent with his breathing…” (pg 38)

Before one goes off and spends all their time focusing on their lower abdomen, remember Takuan’s comment from the first entry: “You should not place your mind within yourself. Bracing the mind in the body is something done only at the inception of training, when one is a beginner.’

Continuing: “Then, what is kokyu-power? I regard it as a power which fundamentally unifies the movements of consciousness, breathing, and the body. There is a phrase in Zen philosophy referring to the ‘oneness of mind and body.’ The mind is ‘the spiritual body’ while the body is ‘the physical spirit.’ To consider mind and body as separate is abstract thinking. In Zen, the most important thing is to act.  And action is nothing but the physical manifestation of will.” (pg 38)

So how does this apply to the actual performance of technique?

According to Munenori Yagyu, mentioned in the Takuan post, “That which is kept inside one and which thinks continuously is called the will. That this will, which remains inside, emits outwardly is called ki. For example, the will is the master while ki is the servant. The will remains inside and uses ki. If too much ki is emitted, one will meet with a setback. The will should control the ki to prevent it from excess.” (pg 85-86)

“…In all aikido techniques, you control your opponent with the flow of ki which comes from the center.

It is important in aikido to begin the flow of ki to control the opponent before he projects his own ki. This concept, known as kizen, is also considered to be important in the teachings of Yagyu-ryu swordsmanship…

For example, kizen must be utilitzed when executing the aikido technique ikkyo. Unless you are able to step in at the exact moment your opponent strikes you, you cannot make the technique work fully. Kizen is to take advantage of the instant just before your opponent projects his ki.” (pg 86-87)

A very famous analogy suggests that there is no space even for a single strand of hair. “If your mind hesitates with the movements of your opponent’s hands or legs, an opening appears, your defense weakens and the maai (combative distance) is lost. You should make sure not a single strand of hair can fit between the opposing technique and the movements of your hands and legs in response.” (pg 88)

Regarding another famous phrase, swift as sparks from flint, “This expression should not be misunderstood to mean simply instantaneous. It means that one’s mind does not stop even for a second. In aikido terms, it means one’s ki does not stop even for an instant…If one thinks about doing something quickly, his mind will be carried away with that thought and this will create an opening…

The importance of seeing this ki – [timing [meaning that the flow of ki should not be stopped even for a second, as opposed to the ki of aikido]] is explained in the following manner in the Katsujinken.

‘The first strike of the sword (itto) is not actually made with the sword, but is rather to see the ki [timing] of your opponent. The first sword sees the movement of your opponent and is thus the secret of swordsmanship. You should keep in mind that the ki [timing] of your opponent is seen through the first sword, while you strike your opponent according to this principle using the second strike of the sword (nitto).

‘The essence of the first strike does not lie in the sword itself, but rather in seeing the ki [of aikido] of your opponent. It is most important in swordsmanship to see the movement of the ki [of aikido] that your opponent emits. You see the ki [timing] of your opponent through the first strike and actually cut your opponent with the second strike. It can be understood that grasping the concept of ‘swift as sparks from flint’ is the essence of the martial arts.” (pg 89)

So the next question is what is this seeing…

“Musashi distinguished ‘physical seeing’ from ‘mental seeing’ because he believed that ken [sight] means to see something with your physical eyes while kan [perception] means to see things with your mind…Normally, we see [and hear] things with our physical eyes [and ears]…our eyes and ears only see and hear well the things which we like; this occurs merely because of our personal prejudices. We see and hear things with our own egos. Although we believe that our eyes and ears accept things quite objectively, we are totally mistaken. No matter how much we can see or hear, we do not see or hear what does not interest us.  Therefore, it can never be said that we always see and hear things correctly.” (pg 91)

“…Although usually when we talk about hearing we are talking about the ears, here it says that to hear something with your mind is the equivalent of perception….one can hear the movement of the opponent’s ki [with one’s mind]. Since you hear with your mind you don’t have to see with your eyes…You feel the movement of your opponent with your mind and this is perception. Perception is seeing the will…you should see things without stopping your mind in any one place. Mental seeing is not seeing the movement of your opponent , but rather the movement of your opponent’s ki…

It is not possible for one to learn to use this perception in a single day…Seeing with the mind comes first. Seeing with the eyes must follow seeing with the mind. We see things with the mind in order to see things with our eyes. Therefore, it is necessary to train ourselves to see things with the mind.” (pg 92)

Some of these concepts may be difficult to fathom. The text itself repeats these points many times in the discussion; but we don’t have space here to rewrite the text in its entirety. Rather, perhaps a rereading of the discussion above a few times may help. However, these ideas may simply be difficult for many people to fathom, and training is an essential element in developing an understanding. Genuine understanding cannot come simply from the conceptual mind. For example, while I cannot find the quote at the moment, I seem to recall a poem where the founder talked about seeing with the ears and hearing with the eyes. While the topic is the same as above, clearly trying to understand a statement like this with the intellectual mind will not be fruitful. In answer to such questions as these, my teacher often replied with a “just practice.” Through training, that is the quickest way to understand the meaning. Anyway, the above explanation is the best one I have found in discussing the uses of ki in the context of martial arts training, while simultaneously integrating the discussion with the key points from Takuan regarding the stopping mind.

On Ki – History of the Term (first in a series of two articles) by Steve Kanney

Ki (or Chi – Chinese) are central to many martial arts.  In fact, two martial arts use the term in their name: Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan.  The notion of ki will be explored in two articles below, detailing the historical development and usage in martial arts training.

Before embarking on these two topics I first wish to tell a story.  I took a number of classes in Tai Chi where chi became a central topic of conversation.  On one occasion, the master said that people should not think about chi as if it is something special…it is like air…all around us.  Then, he replied to questions about the location of chi in the body, in the center of gravity normally assumed to be 2 inches below the naval.  He explained that the real center of gravity is in a central point on the left foot when one’s weight is on the left foot, and in the same location on the right foot when their weight is on the right foot. Some time afterwards, he updated these comments and said the real center of gravity is in thenose.  Being Jewish, I naturally had to ask whether that particular instruction would apply equally to Jewish people as to say Chinese.  For example, in my case I was concerned about becoming top heavy…

On Ki: History

“The original idea of ki developed as a metaphysical principle in a number of Chinese schools of thought.  Ki was, for example, the essential principle of harmony, and it was the source of creativity expressed in the form of yin and yang (Lao-tzu), the vital fullness of life (Huai-nan-tzu), the courage arising from moral rectitude (Mencius), the divine force that penetrates all things (Kuan-tzu).

As a term, it was never clearly defined.  Sometimes it was equated to empty space (the void) or nothingness (Lao-tzu), at other times to the formative energy emerging out of chaos (Chuang-tzu).  It was regarded by some philosophers as the dualistic principle that structures the universe…this dualism evolved into the ki operating as yin and yang, darkness and lightness, from which arose the Five Elements Theory and the divinations of the Book of Changes.” In point of fact, I have heard ki equated to prana and even the Holy Ghost.

“The primary metaphysical principle of ki was introduced into Japan in the Nara (710-94) and Heian (794-1185) periods and generally upheld, but the introduction of Buddhist thought from India to China affected its meaning, due particularly to the idea of karmic retribution.

More significantly, the idea of ki combined with indigenous views of nature responsible for the cyclic process of growth, budding, flowering and the withering of plants and trees…

The most dramatic changes in the interpretation and application of ki began to take place with the rise of the samurai class from the late Heian period…reaching its apex in the early Tokugawa (1603-1868). The samurai who faced constant threats of death in an age of warfare understood ki in terms of courage, shi-ki; will power, i-ki; vigor, gen-ki; and bravery, yu-ki.  They were also concerned with equanimity, hei-ki; and conserving energy, shu-ki; which attempted to prolong breathing, ki-soku, as a matter of life and death…”

Ultimately, O’Sensei discussed his ideas of ki: “…I saw clearly that human beings must unite mind and body and the ki that connects the two and then achieve harmony with the activity of all things in the universe.”  Later, “When one unifies mind and body by virtue of ki and manifests ai-ki [harmony of ki], delicate changes in breath-power occur spontaneously and waza [proper technique] flows freely.”

According to Kisshomaru Ueshiba, “[the unity of individual-universe] inherits the idea of ki held by the ancient Chinese masters… [the free, spontaneous expression of breath power] teaches that a person’s breath controls his thoughts and bodily movements…The reason for Master Ueshiba’s emphasis on the dual functioning of unity and spontaneous expression is that he saw the essence of ki as being the essence of his budo.”

[Quotations above from Spirit of Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba pg 21-25 – [bold brackets my own]]

As Aikido continued to develop, unfortunately, the term ki became a political football.  Koichi Tohei, a top student of the founder, separated from the founder’s organization (Aikikai) a few years after his death and formed his own style of Aikido, called sometimes ki-Aikido or Aikido with mind and body coordinated. During his years under the founder, he was known for giving detailed and clear explanations of ki. While O’Sensei gave primarily mystical explanations, Koichi Tohei explained ki almost as a mathematical formula, easily understandable by contrast.  The Aikikai responded by virtually writing Koichi Tohei out of the history of the organization and cleansing the term ki out of the records of instruction.  Meanwhile, Koichi Tohei’s trademark became the ki of his Ki-Society, and while many aikido masters left the Aikikai for his organization in the early 1970’s, they all left in droves beginning in the 1980’s.  Fumio Toyoda Sensei was one who followed this path, later to rejoin the Aikikai.  We now have the relics of this political strife in our midst.  For years training under Sugano Sensei, the term ki was never to be heard.  It simply developed naturally with practice and there was no need to discuss it.  Under Toyoda Sensei the training left from Koichi Tohei, considered to be a valid method, continues on only absent the word ki as it is replaced by the term energy in daily practice.

When asked once about all the different teachers in Aikido and their political strife, Sugano Sensei wryly commented how strange it must seem to outsiders for us to call Aikido the art f peace.  They then observe how we all fight vehemently over who is teaching the real art of peace.