O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, told us that we should practise every day. In our modern and demanding world, this may well be an impossibility, as family and work demands bite into our time and energy.
However, having made a choice to make some time for ourselves and to practise aikido, it is good to focus on the fact that aikido is, after all, a martial art. Although unlikely, we may be attacked at any time, for example, when we are tired, too cold, too hot, too sleepy or just not at our best. A martial discipline should be just that, “disciplined”. Keying in to the discipline and responding to attack teaches us to move beyond the lack of focus within ourselves to new levels of understanding. An important point to remember in our training is that there is the training that we want, when we feel like training; or the training that we need, like it or not, when it’s our time to train. Real Aikido practice is training to become self-reliant, to overcome our discomfort, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and to learn to cope with any situation that we find ourselves in. This is not just for ourselves, but for the people around us as well, who we may even be called upon to protect. Real aikido takes regular practice.
There are so many diversions these days. Just returning from our work, we perhaps find ourselves exhausted and fatigued. The serious Aikido practitioner knows that s/he could be attacked when tired and fatigued. S/he goes to practice irrespective of how they are feeling, often feeling better after training. Indeed, when we least feel like training, we can, surprisingly, have our best practices as Aikido has brought us back into balance and in to harmony with ourselves, others and the world in general.
When we stay at home watching too much television, we are watching someone else’s experience in the unconscious illusion that perhaps it is our own experience. We can become anesthetised into a mindless apathy that adds no value to our lives and, in fact, can subtract from our awareness of life itself! When we practise Aikido, it is real. We use our body, mind and spirit. We have the opportunity to develop as a human being, to develop the physical skills as well as being able to evolve emotionally and spiritually. Even in our discomfort, or pain, we can say ‘Yes! I am alive!’ Aikido is not to correct others, but to overcome our own negativity and illusion and to realise, through intensive training, the deep harmony of all things. O Sensei said “I am at one with the Universe”.
How do you achieve regular Aikido practice? What helps you to find the motivation to come in those times when you think you don’t want to?
Aikido has many facets, one of which that it is very important is posture. In our daily lives we can see that our physical posture is often a reflection of our mental and emotional state. For example, if we are feeling down our physical posture will quite often reflect this; there may be a slight shift in our centre of gravity, we may even slouch a little. This posture is quite different to the posture of a person who is jubilant. Again, an aggressive person will have what may be described as an ‘aggressive’ posture, and an anxious person will have an ‘anxious’ posture. So we can see that different mental, emotional and spiritual states are reflected in a person’s physical posture.
If we are lucky enough to see an experienced Zen monk seated in meditation, it is possible, just from his posture alone, to gain a feeling of serenity and peace. When we are sitting in seiza during an aikido class, we have a special opportunity to develop this same feeling. Therefore the time sitting in seiza can be used to our benefit to develop our physical posture and mental state, or can be needlessly wasted. During seiza your posture should be erect and firm, but with your shoulders and upper body relaxed allowing your Tanden (lower belly) to open and gently expand against your obi, which should ideally be tied just below your navel. The distance between your knees should be approximately the width of two fists. Your chin should be slightly pushed back so that the back of your neck feels like it is almost touching the collar of your keikogi (in other words, your chin should not protrude forward). Your head should be upright as if someone were gently pulling your head upwards by your hair. Your face should be perpendicular as if pressed against a sheet of glass. Your hands, with your fingers together, should be placed at the top of your thighs with your elbows close to your body. Sitting in this manner will allow your gravitational centre to stabilize. Breathe naturally from your Tanden inhaling and exhaling through your nose with your mouth closed and jaw relaxed. Develop a continuity of consciousness from moment to moment as you sit, using peripheral vision (ten direction eyes). Cultivate being alert whilst centred in a state of calmness. Try not to move whilst sitting in seiza, remaining still for as long as possible, but if you do experience some physical discomfort try to let go of the pain from moment to moment. If the pain becomes unbearable, then briefly wriggle to alleviate the discomfort and return to sitting motionless.
If you have a physical problem that prevents you from sitting in seiza, then ask permission to use either a small bench, zafu (meditation cushion), or chair (if necessary). However, there is no need to torture yourself! But having said that, learn to deal with minor discomfort as this is part of your training.
In conclusion, by sitting in seiza as described above we have the opportunity to cultivate a calm and serene state of being which we can take into our Aikido practice as well as our daily lives, providing that we are mindful to do so. There is an ancient saying, ‘Seiza can set you free’. This is our practice.