Inspired By London

Inspired By London

In Budo, it is commonly understood that sincerity, Kokoro or Spirit is the highest human virtue for practice. Beyond skill beyond smarts even beyond mastery, sincerity stands on its own as the pinnacle of human virtues within the martial arts path. The word Shoshin means beginners mind but here again, the Shin part of the word means spirit and not mind in its western sense. The term Shoshin is commonly used in relation to correct training path and life path for that matter and is to my senses pretty much the same as sincerity. I believe it was during the question and answer period I was having with the students at the Aikido of London summer school recently that something began to open up inside of me in relation to all of this.

Probably this was due in some large part to the fact that all the London students had an extremely high level of Shoshin themselves. Normally when one says everyone it is a generalization to either accommodate or express an overall sense of a situation, not in this case though. During the course of the practice all weekend, I never once heard bad dead or dull sounds out of peoples weapons. Also, I had the extreme pleasure of being able to literally use anyone I glanced at all weekend long for Ukemi. No matter what their appearance or skill level they were all totally present awake and connected. This is the basics of Budo, this is Shoshin.

Of course, I can’t help but feel that a lot of this is due to the level of Quality and particular blend of elements that is consistently put out by Ismail Hasan Sensei. My observation of his methods were that he 1. Cares a lot about his students and 2. Yanks them out of their comfort zone consistently enough for them to expect the unexpected and remain open to whatever the moment brings. This made my job very easy, in fact, it made it into not a job but rather into an extremely pleasurable experience.

What really made me stop and take a closer look was when one of the students asked me about my sense of Aikido practice and it’s relationship to daily life. In other words how much of one blends and infuses into the other. It’s a pertinent question possibly the pertinent question in relation to our practice.  Aikido is a spiritual or life path much is all of the Japanese path or “Do” paths that are born of the Buddhist spiritual influence in the Asian and Japanese culture. I’ll be honest as well. I lived in Japan for several years and have seen firsthand how basically all endeavours are stretched into this arena as well. Even a company job is basically seen as a spiritual path,a fact that is so commonly understood that it’s never even particularly spelt out. Again the flavour is different from our connotation of spiritual, but that is only because the culture is different as well.

This being the case my first answer was and still is I don’t really know how we are to do this, it’s something we all have to sort out on our own. We have no unified idea and culture like the Japanese.   Yet let’s take a further look at this as best we can. A “Do” path denotes walking forward on a course. When seen linearly the implication is that today you are here at this lower spot and tomorrow or several days or weeks later you have gained something and progressed or moved forward and maybe even achieved something which is fine.  Achievements are good we all need them. Yet I don’t feel we can really look at the sense of Path through these type of eyes is all I am saying.   The basic notion of Zen Buddhism is that the first step equals the last step. This is the last step the final step and only this one step exists, only now as all else is a dream an illusion. Then I began to think about all the times I sort of let myself off the hook on encountering a situation or making a good decision that could be painful nonetheless. All the times I slip off my Shoshin and stop paying attention to the little details and actions that envelop the absolute beautiful radiance of what life naturally is. When I think of this I feel extremely encouraged as there is always there is always the next moment, and this moment-this one-moment is-always has been, and always will be everything.

By Yahe Solomon
Originally written in Sept 17 2015.

A beginners thoughts on starting Aikido

A beginners thoughts on starting Aikido

I found Aikido when I thought it would be good for me to start learning some form of self-defence. I know a few girls at school who learn various different martial arts and they all speak very highly of it and so I thought it would be a good thing to look into further. As someone who is intrigued by Japanese culture I thought Aikido would be an interesting place to start. But I didn’t really know much else about it and so when I went to my first session I really didn’t know what to expect. I think it’s safe to say that from the beginning I was hooked. It was better than I could have hoped, and I knew that it was something that I would want to continue with long into the future.

One of the many things that made me stick with it, is the fact that I can get away and take a break from some of the stressful things going on. While I’m there I don’t have to worry about my mountain of school work and passing my exams. I can’t think about all that as I need to focus on getting my technique and my movement’s right. It’s a way for me to take a step back and focus on something else.

Something I didn’t expect was how quickly I would progress. It’s only been a few months, but I’ve already learnt so much, and I know there’s more to come. I can still remember learning how to do a forward ukemi (falling) and how nerve wracking it was doing something that went completely against my instincts. But now not only can I do them, I can also use them confidently when being thrown. And while I know they’re not perfect and I can still improve, it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in so little time.

Starting something new has always been difficult for me, I’m a very self-conscious person and I hate drawing attention to myself. Aikido has helped me to push and overcome those boundaries and has helped me become more confident in myself. This was helped by the amazing people I train with. I was nervous when I first started group classes and I was worried that I was going to be far behind. But that quickly vanished. The people there were so welcoming and always happy to help me if I made a mistake. It’s partly due to that, that I really look forward to my sessions which have honestly become the best part of my week.

by Beth Harris

British Museum Great Wave Exhibition

British Museum Great Wave Exhibition

On the 24th of June, Aikido of London was invited to teach at The British Museum to over 300 children and their guardians participating in the event “The British Museum Young Friends Sleep Over”, celebrating Japanese culture as a part of the “Hokusai’s Great Wave” exhibition.

As the doors closed to the departing general public we entered the museum. It was a different experience to be able to see all of its architectural beauty and grandiosity without thousands of visitors walking, talking and taking pictures.

Our group of 9 Aikidokas was taken downstairs where a big carpeted area was waiting for us and as I started reading the space, I started to pre-occupy my mind: where will we line up? Will the children enjoy? There were no mats, so is the floor too hard for them to take ukemi (which means, in a simplistic way, the technique of falling after receiving an Aikido technique)? What’s the intensity my sensei (teacher) is going to throw me and my peers on this carpeted hard floor? As the noise in my head continued I noticed three of our younger Aikidokas, all less than 10 years old: Joseph was calm and the younger brothers Buckley and Cutler were already  rolling on the floor, hitting each other and laughing… They were in the present and open, without any expectations. I guess we would be ok!

Soon after we changed into our gis, the first group of children entered the space. We lined up and sat for a brief breathing exercise, seated meditation if you wish, followed by a warm up and into basic ukemi (falling) and into techniques. With an age span of 7 to 15 years old, four groups of girls, boys and a few of their parents came and went, training and having a good time and my worries about the space, the hard floor and everything disappeared quickly and we were all present in the moment.

They were attentive, interested and quite happy to be grabbing, falling and learning all these new moves and like children, they were living in the moment and being truthful to themselves in training. Aikido training can only be done between two people, called nage (person performing the technique) and uke (person receiving the technique) and we are often reminded during training of the importance of keeping contact with our partners, being present and sincere. Practising with the children in the museum made me realize children can be some of the best ukes! They have fresh minds and are just keeping the contact, moving, not worrying about what came before or what is coming next… Their openness and sincerity also means that when it is passed their bed time and they are tired and grumpy they will let you know! That is true beginners mind!

In the challenging and potentially divisive world we live in, in that room at the British Museum, a space which celebrates and guards art and history of the whole world, children from all nationalities and corners of the world came together to practise Aikido. If you read the words of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, his biggest wish for his art to bring people together, respect and work through their differences.

Lastly but not least, training with them reinforced and inspired me to keep looking for that fresh and welcoming mind set in my training and in my life outside the mat. And my wish is to invite whoever is reading this article to do the same.

Written by Ivan Melo

Ivan is a musician, music teacher and a senior assistant instructor at Aikido of London