“John Stevens Workshop features Aikido, Sword and Brush” by Gary Ohama

“Sword and Brush” became a reality when standing face-to-face with an original Ueshiba calligraphy scroll. Kneeling in seiza made the experience even better! This had to be the highlight of this year’s John Stevens workshop. Professor Stevens brought this scroll so we could experience the spirit of O Sensei during our training. “AiKi O Kami” (Great Spirit of AiKi) was brushed so radiant and distinct that even when viewing from across the room it was crystal clear. For me there was a sense of extreme reverence in the brushwork of “O Kami.” (I even looked for the stains of tear drops!) (There weren’t any.)

The Aikido textbooks, lectures, and workshops of John Stevens are major sources of Aikido information. Much of this information is unavailable from any other source. For over 12 years the annual John Stevens East Coast Workshops have been evolving into a study on the deeper aspects of the fundamentals of Ueshiba’s Aikido. There are two new texts about to be released based on Ueshiba’s workshops/lectures which will most likely be included in next years sessions. I believe one will be a translation of an Ueshiba lecture.

This year, two days of Classical Aikido training were followed by two days of Zen Calligraphy.
The two days of Classical Aikido included kotodama (sound spirit). Primary sounds include A-O-U-E-I and Su. Kotodama sounds were paired with specific movement patterns. This trains the body to move with sound, coordinated by breath and breath rhythms. Sound and breath spirit translate into movement, and subsequently into technique. (The 2nd two days of training focused on Zen brushwork. This style of brushwork is characterized by the essence of the writer being transmitted via breath spirit, brush and ink to become a permanent, observable, living creation of a Zen state now affixed to paper. Thus the “Sword and Brush” connection that was also illustrated by Ueshiba’s scroll.)

Paired and solo weapon katas of Ueshiba, via Shirata Sensei, were also taught. Of note was that the “AiKi” sword of the katas is not the same as the bokken training in many styles of Aikido. In my case, the bokken training is of the very martial, forward focused, and powerful Doshinkan style of Philadelphia’s Kancho Utada. I had to change to an “AiKi’ sword style which made the spiritual connection of the katas work nicely. Plus it broadened my number of sword techniques.

The second two days were held on the grounds of Nakashima Woodworkers in New Hope, PA. The master level architecture and furniture design follow a similar foundational theme of “the forms are fairly easy to duplicate, but the path of creativity is not.”

Mira Nakashima “Nature Form and Spirit”
This setting provided the perfect environment for continuing our study. Forty-one Zen Scrolls were exhibited and offered for sale in the Minguren Museum of the Nakashima Woodworkers. A Zen brush class was also led by Professor Stevens, a master of Japanese Calligraphy who also curated the exhibit.

A scroll by Tesshu had two long lines of calligraphy. Professor Stevens pointed out that these two lines were brushed in a single breath rhythm. Once this was revealed, the impact of the effects of the mastery of a single breath movement became a marvel to experience. Tracing the breath rhythms of the other scrolls subsequently became a part of their experience; and made them more spiritually personal.

A favorite scroll was by one of the Marathon Monks who brushed the character for “courage” in way that resembled a running person.

Our study of Aikido is so vast. We thank John Stevens for helping us along our Aikido journey.

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