Tuesday, August 29, 2006

more Oh, the sword and aikido

One of the most fascinating aspects of Sadaharu Oh's autobiography is his very detailed description of the similarity between cutting with the Japanese sword and hitting a baseball. Because of his relationship with Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, he raises the question of what exactly does the sword represent in Aikido?

I've always gotten the sense that for the founder, the sword represented an interior place. Apparently he did not like students picking up weapons and getting caught up in moves they had picked up in "chambara" films. Terry Dobson and Robert Frager have both told me stories of how they were reprimanded by Osensei for handling weapons in a way that he considered incorrect. So what did Osensei consider a correct model for the sword?

Hikitsuchi sensei once related a story of a late night session with Osensei. It was just the two of them in the middle of the night training with bokken. Osensei's bokken was black. Hikitsuchi sensei had high ranks in both kendo and iaido.After a few exchanges Hikitsuchi sensei felt that even though he was holding a wooden sword that he had cut through something. Moonlight streamed through an open window and Hikitsuchi sensei saw that the end of Osensei's sword had been sheared off. He said he started groping around on the tatami in the dark looking for the sword tip. Osensei then asked:"Michi-san wa nani o sagashiteru ka? [What are you looking for Michio-san(referring to Hikitsuchi sensei)]. Osensei then reached into his kimono and pulled out the sheared off tip of his own sword and handed it to Hikitsuchi sensei. Hikitsuchi sensei was then told by the founder that he had mastered the Aikido sword. Hikitsuchi sensei later said that for one who possesses the secret of Aikido, even a wooden sword is transformed into a live cutting weapon("bokken demo shinken ni kawatte kuru.")

So perhaps Osensei was stating that the sword represented a magical and deeply transformative inner state that could then be translated into the outer world through a seemingly magical function(cutting with a wooden sword). This is something that is past purely technical understanding expressed through blindly rote practice.

Having personally done sword to sword practice with Hikitsuchi sensei, you felt great intensity and that what was seemingly wooden was really sharp and could cut. He himself was not big into set forms. He taught triangle, circle, and square, which, when freely allowed to formulate, create shochikubai no kempo. Sho is pine, representing square. Chiku is bamboo, the circle. And bai is plum, the triangle. More on the sword and aikido at a later date.


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