I want to tell you about something that happened on Friday in the Kenshusei course. I think I did aikido!
Last week, I was reading Aikido Shugyo again as research for the paper we have to write at the end of the Kenshusei course. I read the book years ago–maybe 2006–but I haven’t read it again since coming to Kyoto.
Re-reading it now after doing Kenshusei, however… whew!! Shioda is so straightforward, open, and transparent about aikido. It’s pretty amazing, but it’s still difficult material. Center line… focus… breathing… simple in theory, but to understand them with the body is another thing.
And then there’s the chapter called “Ki is the Concentration of Balance.” The concentration of balance? What does that even mean?
I was thinking about these things on Friday during class when Payet-sensei had us simply work on sotai dosa. As Izzy and I were doing Tai no Henko Ni, sensei came over to us and did that thing he does.
That thing is where he physically repositions your body for you so you can feel what a technique is supposed to be. As I was standing in kamae, he extended my arm and told me to relax, then had Izzy put all his force into pushing. And when I say relax, I really mean relax–no power, no tension, just shape.
Voila! I was immovable and all of a sudden could feel so many things Shioda writes about in Aikido Shugyo… getting rid of your strength, maintaining body alignment without tension, power surging through the big toe… My mind was blown!
All of a sudden, I understood “Ki is the concentration of balance.” This is a phrase that you can grasp only through experience. I never could have reasoned it out, but once Payet-sensei aligned my body and arm correctly, I had direct access to the experience. How can you have a feeling of dynamic energy flowing through your body to defy your opponent when you are weak? How can it get stronger when you get weaker? Perfect alignment. When balance becomes perfect, it transcends itself and makes your uke struggle with the earth underneath you.
Of course, as soon as I moved, I lost the feeling and couldn’t get it back on my own. But for a moment, I was experiencing aikido!
I wonder… without training under Payet-sensei at Mugenjuku, how long would it have taken me to realise this feeling? Would I have ever done it? Will I ever find it again without Payet-sensei?
This is why people train under masters. It’s why Shioda spent eight years with Ueshiba, two training from 5:00AM to 9:00PM. It’s why Payet-sensei spent years with Shioda. It’s why Crampton-sensei and Carter-sensei moved to Kyoto. You could spend years training pointlessly on your own. Transmission is directly from teacher to pupil, not through scrolls, books, or videos.
Moreover, you don’t know when the transmission is going to happen. You have to have the right mindset and be practicing just the right technique and have sensei there to show you something at just this time.
You can train in California or Canada or Russia or anywhere, and Payet-sensei can be your shihan. But if you see him only for an occasional seminar, you aren’t letting the right confluence of circumstances take place for you to receive the transmission. In a seminar, the only thing you can be sure to find out is whether you are performing the outward form of techniques correctly. If you get some insight, it’s luck, but you can’t count on it. You need to see sensei in the dojo as much as possible and come with your ears open and your body and heart prepared to train. Then you can be ready for lightning to strike.
Dai Yon in The Course
Now that we are in the Dai Yon portion of the Kenshusei course, we are supposed to go to the classes for regular students and act as Payet-sensei’s uke.
Apparently, when Payet-sensei was at Yoshinkan hombu, all the uchi-deshi used to scramble to try to be Shioda’s uke. We are to do the same. If Izzy and Naomi and I are all at the same class, we have to compete with each other and with Andy-sensei and with Nick to take uke for Payet-sensei.
When I was first told this, I thought it was a bit over the top. But like everything in Yoshinkan, the form comes first. I think I understand now that the uchi-deshi compete to be uke because you never know when you are going to get some transmission. You have to create the opportunities for it to happen.
This is why you need to come to Kyoto. If you are studying Yoshinkan two times a week in between watching episodes of Duck Dynasty, you should stop wasting your time and money.
Do the Kenshusei Course. If you don’t have time, come visit for a month or two in the summer when you are ready to focus and can go do misogi at Nanzenji with the Kenshusei. If you are serious about Yoshinkan, you need to come to Kyoto.