Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Retreat Musings on Warriorship

A couple of thoughts on the Menlo College Summer Retreat. First, the weather was extremely good for almost all of it. Warm but not hot. Evenings cool. Good training weather. It was nice to see old friends. I got a chance to train for a couple of brief stretches with Mary Heiny sensei(who by the way will also be teaching at the Santa Cruz Retreat July 9th thru 12th). After the retreat ended I got a chance along with Nadeau sensei to hang out a bit with both her and Hiroshi Ikeda sensei. It was nice to see both of them. In the '80's Ikeda sensei taught a couple of seminars at our old location in Japantown. We're talking now well over 20 years ago.

One of the most memorable themes for me at the retreat was that of warriorship. Aikido is non-competitive and stresses harmony. So how does warriorship apply to aikido and does it even apply at all? One sense is that a warrior has to do with, well, war. This involves combat, fighting, and facing the possibility of death. One thing aikido does provide is a supportive environment for people to come into and feel a nurturing presence they might otherwise not have in their lives. How can we connect the more commonly accepted sense of being a warrior with much of what aikido provides?

My feeling is that we must connect the sense of being a warrior with the creative path of personal growth. On this path we run into the level of self created by what might be termed the "small mind". On the path of aikido we will run into energies that the small mind will label as threatening or fearful. Yet those energies must be experienced and digested in order to transcend the small levels of self, what Nadeau sensei referred to as "level one". To do so will be to encounter energies that the small self finds much too powerful, or in another way of perception, primal. Instead of facing physical death, we are facing the death of the lesser levels of our own being. To proceed, then, is to be a warrior.

My feeling is that warriorship involves the body. But I mean the body as a system of intelligence that includes the mind. Unless body and mind are equal forces, there can be no true harmony between them. There is the tendency to "mind" almost everything. Tojima sensei would often tell me that he was putting something where I would never forget it. He was putting it in my body. One of the major principles of the Casteneda, don Juan books is that of "stopping the world". Tojima sensei bent my "unbendable" arm, lifted me up when I thought I was "unliftable", and uprooted me with an inch punch a la Bruce Lee when I thought I was strongly grounded and centered. Stopping the world is really stopping the world of the conceptual mind. My body still remembers how it would amaze me when he would just destroy one of my preconceptions. After a while I just came to even expect it. So training with him was one shocking surprise after another. The easiest things are to "mind" it. "What is this weird guy from Southern Japan think he's up to?", ie to take it personally(self-importance). The other mind function is to try to figure it out. All magicians are really tricksters, aren't they? I should be able to just figure it out, can't I?

What about just being able to hang out in the wonder, without having an explanation? Without having to be right or in control? Without having to justify myself? So in the Casteneda/don Juan sense we go from "Stop the World" to "Not-doing". This is not a place the small mind or mind in general finds comfortable. So here we get into the importance of the body.

In an increasingly mind run world, the real work of Aikido is to make sure that its message stays true. Things like love or peace or beauty cannot be fully appreciated by the mind. Heart and belly and what they represent are not just the territory of the mind. The real challenge for aikido instructors is to make sure things stay fresh and vital. To live in that sense of wonder. Aikido must not be reduced purely to training on a form only basis. Nor must it be confined purely to a social activity, however wonderful that may be.

One thing Nadeau sensei mentioned was the sense of a monster. That is an energy that the small mind has encountered and has repeatedly run from. From neglect it has gone from something in the normal range to something that illicits fear, sub-conscious avoidance. Yet the monster is really an ally. Once it is fully experienced it is the key to much finer dimensions of self. A good book for this is "Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. LeGuin.

So are you ready to face your monsters?


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