From Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba
In the fall of 1978 I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico where the aspen in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains were beginning their magnificent dance of flaming gold. I was teaching at The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and during a faculty meet-and-greet, Aikido slipped softly into my consciousness.
A small group of faculty was chatting up a visiting Manhattan artist, Harmony Hammond. As I approached the group I heard her say that she practices a martial art called Aikido.
“What’s that?” I asked, never having heard of it.
She turned to me, her eyes alight; she became animated, almost zealous, I thought, as she described Aikido.
“Why don’t you come to the dojo where I’m practicing and see for yourself?”
Curious about the art and wondering if she were a devotee or a fanatic I went with her to the tiny space and sat where visitors watched. As I waited for class to begin the Aikidoists emerged from the dressing rooms in samurai outfits, bowed, stepped on the mat and silently rolled around the dojo! I want my body to do that flooded my cells. Aikido flowed gently into my being.
In the summer of 1979 I moved to Manhattan and almost immediately found myself walking up the narrow stairs of New York Aikikai to sign up. I knew nothing about the philosophy of Aikido or about O-Sensei; only that I wanted my body to do that. I had no idea I was signing up for life.
Now I look at O’Sensei’s words and wonder what he meant. The completion of everyone’s mission suggests something beyond the physical practice of Aikido in a dojo. Do we have a mission specifically in our Aikido practice to protect one another and to allow each other to develop their own path in Aikido and have another mission as well?
True martial arts is the loving protection of all beings. That sounds very shamanic and again suggests Aikido practice expands far beyond the dojo. As if the mat and Aikido practice is a metaphor for one of our missions in life.
I used to think that everyone had the same mission in Aikido—to practice in a prescribed way, trying to attain the same goals. Then I realized that people are on the mat for many different reasons. To get out of the house, to meet people, to feel happy, to not think, to take up time, to feel a part of a community, to build muscles, to lose weight, to build confidence, to have a place to take a shower, to wear a uniform, to look like everyone else, to learn self-defense. An endless list. We’re on the mat for different reasons, making for great personal diversity in everyone’s relationship to practice. Completing our missions?
Is O’Sensei saying that the essence of budo is expanding our mental, emotional, physical embrace of every living being? That the physical practice of Aikido can lead us to this metaphysical reality?
The memory of a New York Aikikai morning class flashes in my mind. Steve Pimsler was demonstrating, encouraging nages to throw uke with open palms.
“To hold on is human,” he said holding on to uke. “To let go is divine,” which he did and uke went flying. My mind cracked open. I laughed and let go.
I’m amazed that I’ve moved from knowing nothing about Aikido and not being interested in anything except the physical practice, to contemplating O’Sensei’s words and to noticing its manifestations in my life. Aikido has soaked into my core.
And here, as journalists would say, I’ve buried the lead. I began writing this article with the intention of announcing the publication of my new speculative fiction novel, The Power of Indigo, whose epigraph is the O-Sensei quote.
The novel is a surprising example of Aikido’s vibrant life inside me. When I began writing the novel I didn’t have Aikido in my mind. Only after I finished the novel did I realize that I had Leila, an Aikidoka protagonist, and that she and the other characters in the future world were illustrating O’Sensei’s words—revealing their missions. How uncanny is that? Is that random or beshert? Or, Aikido is the rain that soaks into our beings generating blossoms?
The cover of the novel is smashing. One of Harvey Konigsberg’s paintings.
Whether or not you read, I urge you to take a crack at it. Expand your consciousness; move into a future with a strange Aikidoka at your own risk.
You can see more details at the dedicated website, www.alesiakunz.com.
You can order it from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Dog Ear Publishing, and your local bookstore. The Power of Indigo will be on the raffle display at summer camp.
Rolling around at San Francisco Aikikai.