Mushin ~ A State of No Mind

My take on Mushin is creating a state of relaxed calm leaving the mind open and clear of thought, not stopping or resting at any point.

Mushin

 

 

In his book “The Unfettered Mind” Takuan Soho talks about not allowing the mind to stop. “Stop stopping!” he tells us. The open mind is always flowing, all directions at once yet finely focused and fully committed with total resolve.

 

 

From The Unfettered Mind ~ “If ten men come at you with swords slashing, if you parry each sword without stopping the mind at each action, and go from one to the next, you will not be lacking in a proper action for every one of the ten.” ~ Takuan Soho

One way of coming to experience this state in aikido was to engage in around two hours of solid training then be subjected to Jiyu waza, continuous multiple attacks, with four or six attackers. One became so tired that the conscious mind just switched off and you went on auto-pilot. The object was to then recreate this state of mind at a later time during general training and eventually be able to enter this state at will. Relaxation and breathing were important factors in this.

The mind-body relationship that we see in Budo is often best described in paradoxical terms. As is true for most principles in Budo. I used to tell my students quite often that “the body teaches the mind”. This was mainly in response to questions of why we needed to practice repeated suburi, aikido undo and tai sabaki exercise routines. But also to get across the importance of conditioning and readiness for the experience of Mushin.

All movements need to become totally ingrained into the psyche so that when we need to respond instantly to a surprise attack, or other happening, the body will be moving in the right way before we even form a conscious response to the situation.

takemusu

All Shinryukan dojos have a banner on the front wall (Shomen) facing the training area with the kanji script for Take, Musu, Ai and Ki.

Takemusu Aiki is a term used by O Sensei to describe the correct attitude and mind set for training in Aikido. The literal translation is – Takemusu = spontaneous and continuous technique, and Aiki = blending with movement, or harmony.

The meaning however is “Life-generating force capable of unlimited transformations” ~ O Sensei.

Takemusu Aiki is seen as both advice in correct training and also a goal that can be applied to one’s own lifestyle. When you look at how this sits in with the advice of Takuan Soho’s concept of Not Stopping then it becomes evident that training hard in the spirit of Takemusu Aiki sets one up for reaching the state of Mushin.

The one thing that needs to be remembered is that the attainment of Mushin can never be forced and no amount of training will ever suffice if the spiritual attitude is not in place. Mushin just happens. Often with surprise and when you least expect it, but once the body has experienced the state it will always remember it and will return to it as needed without any conscious invocation.

~ Dent
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Dojo Files ~ The Other Dynamic

I see discussions on-line regarding comparisons between Aikido, Karate, BJJ, Taekwando and MMA — but one of these things is not the same, and that is Aikido.

 

Aikido is not a martial art.
(Excuse me while I remove the arrows from my back.)

 

Aikido is Budo and shares the Bushido ethos. The related martial art is aikijutsu, often also referred to as akibujutsu and these are fighting styles.

 

O Sensei developed his Aikibudo out of Aikijutsu and Jujutsu as a spiritual method of training the mind and developing a focused centre. His intention was that Aikido should be a method of spiritual development with the personal self defence component as a side benefit. Aikido was never intended as a fighting, or combat, form but more as a means to develop personal confidence and the ability to avoid confrontation, yet also have the skills to fend off an aggressive attacker. The attacker envisioned here being some random street thug and not a trained specialist fighter.

 

The key is ‘do’ meaning way or path in contrast to ‘jutsu’ (jitsu) meaning art, or mystical skills. Hence you have judo as the sport variation of jujutsu and kendo as the sport variation of kenjutsu. The development of the ‘do’ styles was for the purpose of zen practice and not as fighting styles or bujutsu.

 

To my way of thinking, Budo is the way of warfare, tactics and strategy and is the domain of the warrior monks and samurai, whereas bujutsu is the art of war, fighting and soldier craft.

 

So, although there is a definite bujutsu component in the taijutsu routines in aikido training it is only half the story. The development of ki and attitude form a large part of the skill development through the practice of ‘breath throws’ (kokyu-nage and zagi kokyu-ho) plus the sweeping dance-like movement of the basic throwing techniques.
These are meant for the development of poise, balance, control and follow through, and those are the main components that make the bujutsu versions of the techniques actually work.

 

During the later years at my dojo in Greerton as membership grew and senior students became more advanced I introduced back to back classes two evenings each week. The first was a general and beginner’s class where the slower flowing forms were practiced, then this was followed by a senior class of faster, harder and more dynamic technique execution. Jo-dori, tanto-dori, jiyu waza, etc.

 

There was no warm up at the second class: the first class was the warm up. For a senior to attend the second class they had to also attend the first.
So, in consideration of this I offer that aikido is in fact a warm up for aikijutsu.

 

This is really putting it in a nutshell and you really need to think harder about this to gain the complete picture. These are personal observations and the reader really needs to explore these concepts and relate them to their own experiences and ethos.

 

~ Denton

 

Dojo Files ~ Style Wars

Often when training in Aikido dojos I have heard discussions about what style of Aikido is better, or the best.

I always think that trying to compare aikido styles, or schools, is a rather counter productive exercise.

My Sensei [Takase Shihan] lectured about this at one of his early instructors seminars that I attended and said basically that each dojo and every individual instructor was their own “style” of aikido.

I have found from experience that this topic is fairly prevalent with the lower grades and tends to diminish and eventually vanish as one progresses upward into the Dan grades. I have seen and experienced very marked differences with the basic teaching methods of differing styles as I have often invited instructors from other styles to come and give a class.

Once we organised an afternoon seminar where instructors from three different schools each took a class each teaching the same techniques so that all students could see the differences which were then analysed and discussed.
This generated great respect between the students of the different dojos as well as the instructors involved, particularly when the most senior instructor demonstrated the natural progression of the techniques evolving through the developing skill level of any given student. (Lesson elements heavily borrowed from Doshu’s class at the 8th International Congress in Tokyo, September 2000.)

The main point now is the fact that when Dan grades reach Nidan or Sandan there are very little, or no differences. The techniques have all developed to the same level, regardless of the path, and it is hard to spot who belongs to what school based on execution or delivery.
Often certain aspects of the techniques that may be emphasised by one school or another at basics level will develop naturally as the student progresses.

Doshu’s lesson mentioned above looked at the evolution of the base technique. He said that one must explore every variation and aspect of the technique, find what fits, then make it your own.

~ Denton

[Nobuo Takase Shihan, 7th Dan, is my Sensei and is head of Aikido Shinryukan the NZ  Aikikai school. His Sensei is Seijuro Masuda Shihan of Shinjuku Hombu.]

The Nightingale Floor

While visiting the Japanese city of Kyoto I had the great pleasure to walk in the footsteps of my heroes and spiritual mentors, Miyamoto Musashi, Munenori Yagyo and Takuan Soho, across the nightingale floors of the Shogun’s Imperial Palace in Nijo Castle.

This was not a planned visit but happened by accident. We were staying in Tokyo and decided to take the Bullet Train to Kyoto and booked an afternoon walking tour for the following day. On arriving at the hotel we had booked on line we saw an interesting structure across the road and found that it was Nijo Castle.

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After breakfast the next day we decided to go and check out this castle while waiting for our walking tour after lunch. Once inside the castle grounds we discovered the Imperial Palace, but it wasn’t until walking in the palace corridors that the penny dropped.

As we walked down the polished planks of the corridor my wife nudged me and said “listen!” I could hear the chirping and said “it must be a recording”, but no, it was a real and active Nightingale Floor. Then I saw the signs on the static displays in the audience rooms and I realised that we were in the Imperial Palace of the Tokugawa Shogun.

For some odd reason I had thought that the Shogun was based in Osaka and had forgotten that Kyoto was the seat of power at that time. Tears came to my eyes as I realised where I was and who had passed in these corridors before me. Not only the corridors but the whole castle grounds.

I never ceases to astound me just how many significant things happen in life purely by accident. Or do they?

Nijo by Night

Footnote – A Nightingale Floor is formed with close fitting polished boards with the edges not connected so that they move independently when walked on. There are also metal spikes set to the underside in pairs that cross the joins so that they rub together as the boards move, thus emitting a distinctive chirping sound. This will alert anyone sleeping inside the rooms that are surrounded by these corridors to the presence of intruders, Ninjas or assassins.

 

Aikido that Works

I have recently seen people referring to aikido styles as ‘Aikido that Works’, and that really made me stop and think.

Is it the style of aikido that works or is it the execution by the practitioner that works?
I am sure that a lousy effort by a student of a ‘strong’ style will be ineffective, just as the strong execution of a ‘soft’ style technique may be devastating. I have both seen and experienced these situations many times.

I have seen, though, examples of the bullshit aikido that looks totally staged, lame ass and sometimes downright embarrassing. This is what gives aikido a bad name and certainly needs to be buried somewhere with a bucket of lime.

Putting these ‘side show’ efforts aside though and looking at the more serious schools there is still scope for comparison and consideration of the differences. I have been looking at videos held as good examples of ‘Aikido that Works’ and liking what I see, however I do also see techniques executed the same way as I have been shown, taught and practiced in my own training and development and my mind recalls the dynamic executions of Miyamoto Shihan and Yokota Shihan, both of Hombu Shinjuku, as examples of a direct, dynamic and very effective form of delivery.

This is in direct contrast to other shihan that I have trained with, like Ichihashi (RIP) and Masuda, who’s rounded and relaxed styles do tend to look somewhat ineffective. That is until you happen to come to grips with these guys and be on the receiving end. The power is awe inspiring and it is like trying to move a tree.

So, I think that the answer to developing an effective aikido, and making it work, is to take in all that you see and learn then develop the techniques that suit your personal abilities best. Practice hard and make the techniques your own. In fact, own them.

It does not matter how good, powerful or proficient your instructor may be, you need to make the effort to hone your techniques into the effective dynamic yourself.

~ Denton

[Related post – Making it Matter]

Photo – Seki Shihan teaching at Auckland gasshuku 2006.