[This article is the second of a two part series concerning a recent seminar given by Katsuyuki Shimamoto Sensei in Toronto, Canada. The author, Anna Sanner, gives a detailed presentation of the event, with particular emphasis on the concepts explained by Shimamoto Sensei. Click here to read part one of the seminar report.]
1. Sunday – Morning Classes
Key Words Day 2: love (ai), harmony (wago, wa), invite (sasou), respect (soncho), accept – never reject (kotei, not hitei), remaining distinct while creating one harmonious sphere (ichinyo – like one, but not really one)
Ai – Love
‘O-Sensei said the 合ai in aikido that usually represents the aspect of harmony in the art can also mean 愛ai – love. L-O-V-E. Remember this when you train. No fighting.’
Shihan hunches over and tries with strength and force to push Yano Sensei down, but to no avail. ‘This doesn’t work, but this…’ He straightens his back and lets his arms and hands flow freely from his spine, now making it impossible for Yano Sensei to get up. ‘is love. It works.’
Plus, not Minus
Shihan has Alex and a different Marc, two former Shosenji students who have put a lot of effort into organizing this seminar and our stay, grab his arm and tells them ‘Gambatte!’ – Give it all you have. He effortlessly makes them tumble.
‘I can do this because I am not fighting their attack with strength. If I tried that, it would be hopeless. In a way I am lucky that my shoulder is hurt. I tore a muscle in it, so it’s been hurt since November, and I cannot lift this arm on its own. But I don’t need strength. Alex attacks with 50% strength, Marc attacks with another 50%. I add 10% strength, and we have a lot of strength combined, and easily achieve a nice technique. Osawa Sensei always said: aikido is not a minus martial art. It is a plus martial art. There is no fighting involved. True aikido always adds strength to strength.’
Wago – Harmony
‘In aikido, we want to create 和合wago, or harmony. The character 和wa can mean harmony, but it can also mean ‘plus’. There is a Japanese kind of dish called 和物aemono which uses the same character to write ‘ae’ (mono just means ‘thing’). In this dish, two foods are combined to create a very delicious flavor together. Like Pineapple and cheese. Or a spicy and a mild vegetable.’ (Other examples may include peanut butter and jelly, cornflakes and milk, or pancakes and maple syrup). ‘But the two flavors do not become one single flavor. They both remain intact and distinct. But by putting them together, we can taste the harmony between them, and our palate rejoices.
This is what I would like you to try and achieve with your partner. If you get it right, it will feel good for both of you. And everybody who watches will feel good, too. I want you to think after training: That was fun, I want to go again! Not: This was hard, I don’t know if I’ll go next time.’
Be Yourself and Respect Others to Create Harmony
‘There is an old Chinese saying that goes:
Small souls know no harmony
However much they chatter and hug.
Big souls stand apart in harmony
Respecting each other’s place.
Yano Sensei is a completely different person from me. We have different personalities. And that’s how it should be. We are two people. But I fully respect him and accept him and whatever he gives me. I welcome it in, and we can create harmony together. As I said in the beginning, I want to search for the kind of aikido I’m looking for with all of you, so let’s try our best to achieve harmony together.’
‘Whatever attack you get, accept it fully. Do not say no to it.’ He bends back and stretches out his hands, shoulders tense, neck pulled in, in a gesture of rejection. ‘Only if you say thank you and welcome it in can you absorb it and control it.’ He demonstrates an elegant technique. ‘As long as you reject it, it remains outside your sphere of influence, and you have no control over it.
So when your wife says ‘Buy me something!’ you must never say no.’
‘OK, sometimes maybe you can say no. The other day, my son asked me to buy him a bike, but I said, no, you’re too old! But watch.’
He sits in seiza, and Yano Sensei attacks him. Shihan fights and shoves his arm desperately but cannot get it off him. ‘Now I’m saying no.’ Yano Sensei attacks again. This time, Shihan effortlessly continues Yano Sensei’s movement by inviting him in and down, which makes him crumble into Shihan’s sphere of influence. ‘This time I said yes, thank you.’ He lets Yano fall to the side. ‘And then, he agreed with me of his own accord and fell. This is what we do in aikido. Whatever we get, we always accept.’
Gives You Wings
Shihan demonstrates a technique with Brad, another former Shosenji student who has come from Vancouver to attend the seminar. First, the techniques he demonstrates are conventional, but suddenly, Shihan’s leg shoots up towards Brad’s stomach, he rolls backwards, and Brad flies so high, everybody’s faces tilt upwards as their jaws drop. Thus, we witness the completely unexpected flight of Brad.
The Short-Handed Monkey (Shuko no Saru)
‘A lot of the time, we rely on our arms and hands too much. Because we have such long arms, we try to stretch them out even more. It is our nature, our weakness. It often means that we use our arm strength instead of efficient body movement to execute techniques. Musashi passed on a teaching called shuko no saru, the short-handed monkey. I’m not sure if this short-handed monkey really existed, but the story is that he could do everything just as well as a normal monkey by moving his body efficiently. Let’s try to be the short-handed monkey and do iriminage without our arms.’
Again, we get to witness a beautiful demonstration. Shihan introduces Ai by saying: ‘She has lost her arms. She has no arms.’ While she clearly has arms, her technique really doesn’t use them but works perfectly well and flows smoothly. Applause for Ai, the short-handed monkey.
Yano Sensei has told me on the plane: ‘On Sunday, you’re going to do a little demonstration, so please think of 4-5 waza you would like to do.’ I spend a while thinking about it and write the waza I want to do in my fresh note book started especially for this trip.
After this I don’t hear about the demonstration again until about 5 minutes before. We are all practicing a waza, but Suzuki-san, the other student from Shosenji dojo who has come along on this trip, has located me quickly. I have slightly modified my list for the demonstration after I believe I have identified some waza yesterday that embody the typical Katsuyuki Shimamoto aikido:
First, the kind of sumiotoshi from katatedori where you either simply sit down (slide down the rail that goes through your center, Shihan says), taking your partner down with you, or hold your hands outstretched while doing tenkan, taking your partner around in a downward spiral, and finally cutting through his center with your other hand as you sit down.
Next, Shihan’s pretty static shihonage from katatedori, where you move your arms outside and up in a circle and cut through your partner’s center at the end.
Then, ikkyo from kosadori. Shihan emphasizes that this should be very natural, first take your partner to the inside of your body a little before you turn the other way and stretch your (and his) hand towards his face and further along in an arch, until he has bent all the way down. Important is especially the second hand that touches the arm pit/ shoulder area after this. ‘There is no strength or strange shape in this arm,’ he says. ‘It just comfortably hangs straight down and connects with your partner’s shoulder.’
And finally, tenchinage from ryotedori. For tenchinage, Heaven-and-Earth throw, Shihan says, you first step off to the side and stretch your hands palms up towards your partner’s throat, as if trying to stab him with a spear or a sword. Next, you slide your closest elbow up towards his chin, keep spiraling the arm further up from there and finally turn your upper palm inward and up facing the sky, while the other hand spirals down and in, palm facing the earth as you step through. In his favorite kind of techninage, the upper hand does not go down at the end, but you end up in a pretty dance like pose resembling that of the Nio temple guardians standing on both sides of a temple’s gate, usually one hand up, one hand down, although the tenchinage pose is a more delicate, dance-like take on the Nio pose.
To get things started I tell Suzuki-san: first katatedori, I’m going to do sumiotoshi. Next katatedori again. I’m going to do shihonage. Then, kosadori for ikkyo. Finally, ryotedori for tenchinage. He says two shomenuchi, then katadori, then munadori please.
Shihan stops the practice and announces the demonstration. ‘Now, the people who have come here with me will do an informal little demonstration. When we do a demonstration, we don’t put much thought into it. In my opinion, a demonstration should be no different from your normal training: you just give it your best. So please sit relaxed and just take this as a sample of the kind of training we do at my dojo.’
For some reason, Suzuki-san starts attacking me with shomenuchi. I whisper to him ‘Katatedori, please.’ Next, he attacks me with ushiroryotedori. ‘Katatedori again please,’ I whisper. Maybe there were some ripples in his mind when I told him what attacks I wanted. Or maybe there are some ripples there now during the demonstration, distorting his attacks into different ones.
But this way of thinking is rather unkind and will not get me anywhere. So I conclude that there must be ripples in my own mind, expecting certain attacks in order to do certain waza. My mind is not calm enough to simply accept whatever attacks Suzuki-san is providing for me to do my embu, not ready to turn them into pretty, dancing waza. Whispering during a demonstration is really uncool. But as I have started this, Suzuki-san adopts it and whispers the attacks he wants me to do, too, when it is his turn to be nage. O well, if it is meant to be a sample of our real training, it is. We both try our best and help each other out.
Next, Yano-Sensei throws the two of us, as we attack him first from both sides with morotedori, next grabbing one arm with four hands. These kind of waza: multiple attackers who grab him with all their strength are what he is famous for at our dojo. Every Saturday after training, a group of people comes together around him: the Yano-groupies (count me among them). First, we have him throw us individually, between ten and twenty times each, from morotedori. Next, he asks three men to come and grab his one arm. Then three women. And so on. Every time anew, we are freshly awed and fascinated.
One of Yano (which, by the way, means field of arrows!) Sensei’s nicknames is ‘The Rock’. Because if he decides that he is not going to move, you cannot move him. He is incredibly strong, yet treats us incredibly kind during the demonstration. And in a flash, the whole thing is over, and we bow thank you for watching to everybody.
For everybody who complimented us on our demonstration, thank you for your kindness. The simple fact that you did serves as evidence that you are a great aikidoka showing acceptance and kindness to your fellow beings. Feel bowed to deeply.
Three Levels of Victory
‘There are three kinds of winning. The lowest level is to simply fight your opponent and win. The second level is to prepare yourself well, make sure you have the advantage and then fight your opponent and win. But the highest level of winning is to win without fighting. This is what we’re trying to achieve in aikido.’
True Aikido Victory
‘We are human beings, and we are weak. We often feel like getting up, sitting, or walking in a sloppy way. We feel like throwing our opponent to the ground violently. We feel like using strength, bending backwards, or holding our breath when countering an attack. This is our weakness.
But in aikido, we do not try to win against our partner. This kind of victory is meaningless. In aikido, we try to win against our own weakness. We try to win against ourselves. Only this kind of victory is truly meaningful.’
The All-Inclusive Aikido Spirit
‘There are people in my dojo who cannot see, people who have a disease that makes the nerves come out of their spine, people who have bad legs and cannot walk normally. But still they wear hakama, come to the dojo and train. Aikido is all-inclusive. True aikido spirit dictates to welcome everybody.’
2) The ZEN Seminar (zazenkai)
Shihan comes out in a dark robe with a chord around it. It is one of his professional priest outfits. He greets us humbly and begins.
‘This time I was asked to add a Zen lecture to my aikido classes, and it is my first time to do this kind of a lecture abroad. Please relax, sit comfortably and lend me your ears as I tell you a little bit about Zen and 座禅zazen.’ (sit, Zen)
The Meaning of Prayer
Zen uses certain gestures. For example合掌gassho (‘unite’, ‘palms’）the Buddhist prayer pose.’ He puts both hands together in front of his chest. ‘Christians draw a cross.’ He touches his forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder,’ and fold their hands.’ He folds his hands. ‘It is the same kind of thing. When praying’ – he returns to his Buddhist prayer pose – ‘it is important to be relaxed and natural, to maintain shizentai.’ He presses his hands together and tenses his shoulders. ‘This is no good.’ He lets his hands drop and relaxes again into shizentai.
‘It is important to note that there are two components to praying, symbolized by the two hands coming together. This concept is called 願誓gansei, written with the characters for ‘request’ and ‘pledge’. It means that on the one hand, you ask your God to help you, or fulfill your wish. This is the requesting part. But the other part, the pledge, is just as important. With the other hand, you promise that you will do your best to move actively towards this goal yourself. That you will eat healthy, do your homework, get her flowers, or whatever. So when praying, we unite these two parts. The humble search for help and the genuine promise to make an effort. Gansei. Praying is not a passive act.’
‘There are also various other gestures associated with Zen. You may sometimes see this’ – he puts his index finger and thumb together and leaves his other fingers stretched out upwards. ‘Or this.’ He stretches out all his fingers, puts them close together and shows us his palm. ‘These gestures are called 印 in.
In zazen, we make this hand gesture.’ He puts the back of his left hand on top of his right palm. ‘Left hand on right. Then put your thumbs loosely together.’ He demonstrates placing his hands in front of his abdomen. ‘This is the in used in zazen. In 歩行禅hokozen (walk, go, Zen) a walking type of zen meditation you bend the thumb of your left hand inwards to fold onto your palm. Then you loosely wrap your fingers around it. Place your left hand horizontally in front of your solarplexus palm down and comfortably wrap your right hand around it from above. Relax your shoulders and let your 気ki flow through your hands, so you can feel a connection of slight mutual pressure between your hands. This is the in used for walking zen.’
Musashi and the Snake
‘Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese swordsman who lived about 400 years ago. He did everything in order to win. When he sat in zazen meditation, he always had the possibility in mind that at any minute, somebody might attack him. He did zazen in order to clear his mind of distracting thoughts and always be ready to react to any kind of attack. His zazen was a kind of strategic weapon.
One day Musashi was sitting next to a professional monk in the mountains. Both of them were meditating, sitting in zazen, with correct leg position, good posture, and calm breathing. From the outside it looked like they were doing exactly the same thing. You couldn’t tell the difference.
As they were sitting there meditating, a snake came along. When the snake saw Musashi, it stopped dead in its tracks and pulled back its head in a startled swan neck pose. Even its constantly moving tongue got stuck in its mouth for a second. The snake caught itself, cautiously made a U-turn around Musashi and slithered swiftly across the monk’s legs to disappear back into the mountains.
So even though to us there seemed to be no difference between Musashi and the monk, the snake could not be fooled. It clearly felt that Musashi was ready to cut any attacker at any moment. The monk on the other hand, who was doing zazen in the sense of true Zen meditation, was in a state of 空ku (emptiness). To the snake he was the same as the grass, the stones and the earth it slithered across daily, and slithering across his legs did not make the slightest difference.
Musashi was a great swordsman. But when he did zazen, he did it with a purpose. In Soto Zen, the school of Zen I belong to, we say that when doing zazen, there should be no purpose to it. You simply sit. That’s all. So when we try zazen later, please just sit. Don’t think about relieving stress, becoming a great fighter, or attaining enlightenment. Don’t think about anything. Simply sit. Only then will you be able to achieve fudoshin, mushin, or ku, a true state of emptiness.’
God Inside, Peace Inside
‘The theory of Zen is that God is not outside but inside ourselves. If we empty ourselves of egocentric thoughts, our hidden God-like nature will fill us like it filled the monk sitting next to Musashi in the mountains.
If you sit in zazen, nothing can shake you. Not even an earthquake. If the earthquake wants to kill you, so be it. You might as well accept it. Let it be.
Like I said about aikido, whatever attack hits you, accept it. Then, it cannot harm you. You can control the impact it makes with your attitude. If you achieve this state of mind, fudoshin, nothing can disturb your peace of mind.’
‘This effortless emptiness of mind can also be achieved in everyday activities. Watch a housewife peel potatoes. There is a blade, there are unshapely bulbs to be peeled. Peeling potatoes could easily turn into a dangerous and ugly business. But the housewife does this every day. The knife sits snug in her hand, moves swiftly and smoothly, taking off long, thin strips of peel. The housewife has perfected the art of peeling potatoes so much, she can look out the window, or tell her husband to buy her a new bag, and still, her hands keep peeling potatoes in a perfect, efficient, beautiful way. They are in a state of mushin, emptiness.
So whether you clean your toilet, polish your shoes, or play golf, everyday activities can be an experience closely related to zazen. For me, aikido is the same as zazen. The only difference is that in aikido I’m moving around, and in zazen I just sit. See whether you can find pieces of zazen in your everyday life.’
Zazen and Hokozen
‘I would like to do ten minutes of zazen with you today. Ten minutes is not a long time, so during these ten minutes, let’s do proper zazen.
The correct pose to sit in is the lotus pose. For this, you put your right foot on your left thigh first, and then your left foot on your right thigh. Try to leave your knees on the floor. You may sit on a cushion, which will make this easier.’
Shihan demonstrates this with perfect ease. While he apologizes that he has no cushion, so his knees are not so perfect today, to me they look perfectly connected with the floor. He is 73 this year.
‘This is one way of doing it, but it is difficult for many. Another way of doing zazen that is just as correct, is putting your right foot on the floor instead of your left thigh and only putting your left foot on top of your right thigh. Again, try to keep your knees on the floor.’
He demonstrates this, too.
‘But really, what matters most is that you can sit straight, breathe right, and adopt the appropriate attitude for zazen, so seiza is OK, too, sitting cross legged is OK, too, and sitting on a chair is OK, too.
Usually, we do zazen facing the wall. Your eyes should be directed at a point on the floor in front of you, about 3-4 ft away. Look at this and relax your eyes, but do not close them. You would fall asleep.
Put your left hand on your right, thumbs together as I demonstrated earlier, and rest your hands in your lap in front of your abdomen.
Breathe in slowly through your nose into the top of your head at the very back, and let the air circulate down your spine. When it has arrived in your stomach, breathe out through your mouth in a straight, long line that stretches forward into eternity. Then repeat the same process again.
Sometimes when doing zazen you get sleepy.’
He shows us a wooden staff about 2 ft long.
‘This is called a kyosaku. Don’t worry, I won’t use it on you. But we sometimes do use it on people. If you want to be hit with the kyosaku, put your hands together in gassho, the prayer pose, and bow your head.’
He invites Yano Sensei to sit and demonstrate. Yano forms gassho with his hands and bows. Shihan runs the kyosaku gently down the side of his neck and pushes his head to the side.
‘If you strike him when his head is upright, you will take his ear off, so I tilt his head to the side and hit him on the shoulder.’ He hits Yano on the shoulder with a high smacking sound. ‘Wow, that made a good sound.’ He sounds satisfied. ‘If it sounds hollow like this, it means it didn’t hurt. Right?’ Yano smiles mysteriously.
‘Of course we don’t use the kyosaku because we enjoy it,’ Shihan clarifies. ‘We use it to make sure people’s posture and attitude remain good throughout their zazen session. After I have hit you, bow thank you and return to your original upright zazen position and the right in.
After we have sat in zazen for ten minutes, I will tell you to rock your body left and right, slowly disentangle your legs, and stand up. We will then do some hokozen, walking zen together. For this, I showed you the right in to use. Gather your hands in this way in front of your solar plexus and keep breathing the way you did before. Walk half a step at a time, quietly lifting the heel of the other foot not stomping, keeping your feet on or very close to the ground. We will then return to our previous spots and sit down again.’
And as promised, he guides us through a ten minute zazen session followed by a round of hokozen.
Wrapping up the Zazenkai
‘So what were you thinking when you were walking around in hokozen? The guy in front of me is so slow, or The woman in front of me is so fast, or The girl next to me smells of coconut? Not thinking anything is very difficult, so if it didn’t work this time, don’t worry.
I will now accept any questions you may have about today’s lecture.’
A question is asked about whether many mudras are used in Zen. The word mudras causes confusion, so I translate the question to Shihan after a wave of unrest has swept the room. He clarifies that only one in (the Japanese word for ‘mudra’) is used in zazen, and gassho is used when asking to be hit with the kyosaku, and thanking the guide of the meditation for the beating.
Then Shihan suggests to end the official session as the time is up, but offers to accept questions after the lecture. Indeed a line of people gathers quickly in front of him with questions, and he accepts and answers each question kindly and indiscriminately.
Finally, he poses for a picture for David the photographer (
Wrapping up the Seminar
‘Please,’ Shimamoto Shihan says to everybody, ‘feel welcome at my dojo in Japan any time. Think of it as your second home. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful weekend.’
Hearts and minds open, heads bow, and hands unite as Shimamoto Shihan’s multi-faceted message reverberates and resonates throughout the hearts, minds, and bodies of everybody present:
Let’s search for this thing I’m looking for together. Let’s pray and promise to try. Let’s always accept gratefully. Let’s seek good form and good attitude. Let’s be ourselves, and respect others. Let’s train hard and give birth to beauty. Let’s dance. Let’s peel potatoes. Let’s play golf. Let’s ask to be hit when we need it, and be grateful when we receive the beating. Let’s just sit and be silent. Let us connect with ourselves, each other, and the world and create harmony.