The first glimmer of a strategician’s dream of ultimate victory tactics first arose in the mind of a young man who had stopped to sit and drink tea.
The rays from the early morning sun shining through the trees glistening as they reflected gossamer threads, caught his eye, just like mine did this morning as I sat, also sipping tea on the back veranda. In noticing the almost perfect creation I reminisced about Yoshimitsu in those days long gone.
There it was, a perfect web shimmering delicately in the breeze. As the light caught it, it would coruscate alternating bright silver and then rainbow colours and back to silver. How could one miss noticing?
As my mind cast back again to Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1036-1127), that famous warrior of the Kamakura period of feudal Japan, I had visions of many things in this pivotal human journey, as if passing through time itself.
Of course, he could not have been the first battlefield strategician to aspire to endless victory. There were many before him who had dreamed of finding better ways to defeat their enemies.
And there have always been people who begin their day with a cup of cha. And who notice nothing more than their own random thoughts chattering idly. If that.
What made this one man different?
Observing this perfectly woven circle of subtle but all powerful connectedness, he became inspired. No matter how a moth or any other insect entered the circle, it would never leave alive. No matter from which direction or approach, the spider was not bluffed by any change, and he would be difficult to attack at the hub of the in-depth backup of his web. Not even those considerably larger than the small spider who had woven that web could hope to reach him with ease. Resilient yet tenacious, the web did most of the work. The arachnid would simply sit at the centre and feel the messages transmitted along fine lines.
The spider did not waste energy. As he sat at the centre, he would allow the invader to entangle himself, until worn out, he would stop struggling. Once in, there was no way out. Then the spider would take action. In his or her time. Just like training practice and good strategy, the web was set up well in advance, in anticipation of the event.
In an instant, efficient and economical, having pre-spun and woven the almost non-existent pathways well understood, the conclusion would finalize with comparative ease. And yet, the power of these delicate nuances would hold fast and immutably so.
For some reason the recollection of this insight would stay with young Yoshimitsu. Often, on sleepless nights, sometimes after a battle or in between campaigns, he would wonder how he could have done things better, how he could apply this principle of effortlessness following advanced preparation to attain swift and decisive victory in both heiho and gunpo. No matter what the circumstance, skill in preparation, just like the arachnid, would augment favourable outcomes.
The geometry of the universe is a mass of interconnected similitudes conjoined by communicating fine threads of possibility. The Buddhists had called this predisposition, “Indra’s Web.” Science studies matter, space and time and discovers multidimensional polytopic webs of interaction such as the E8, not merely flat ones to capture insects in the breeze.
This co-creating unity forms an harmonious immensity of symbiosis with an interest in maintaining and protecting what is mutually advantageous. Anything that acts against the sustaining great harmony does not fare well. It is an ancient lesson well established throughout the universe without which life would not be possible here on Earth.
As time passed and young Yoshimitsu matured in his practice drills, he recalled the spider’s effortless grace in deploying a subtle web far greater than itself in the protection of all it valued. He found the harder he trained the easier it became to fight. More so when tired, worn out and depleted, as often happens in survival. It was here that reliance on nuance would come into its own. This legacy he passed on to the generations that followed. They preserved and developed this great gift, often in secret, through many changing times with various notables contributing their insights.
Over the centuries many legendary individuals developed and preserved the science. Because of their very extreme effectiveness, the secrets of Aiki-jujutsu were kept hidden and exclusive, revealed to proven members of the elite Samurai of the Aizu clan alone. This was to give them a decisive edge in combat, as it had their predecessors over the hundreds of years of battle scarred history preceding modern Aikido. A culmination was reached in late Edo period with Tanomo Saigo who taught Sōkaku Takeda , the teacher of Morihei Ueshiba.
Eight hundred and twenty six years after Yoshimitsu’s inspiration, there emerged a young man of indomitable spirit, determined to discover the secrets of budo and to learn the mysteries of the universe as well. In 1915, Morihei Ueshiba, then aged 32, was to meet one of the last surviving exponents of the fearsome Daito-ryu secret aiki combat arts, a jujutsu master of the Aizu clan, the irascible and unbeatable Sokaku Takeda.
Ueshiba, already a renowned martial artist in his own right and a deeply philosophical man, was amazed at the efficacy of this small man’s skill in combat and took instruction from Takeda. Over time he became dissatisfied with the destructive emphasis of the old style bujutsu. Although he was inspired by these techniques which had topped all that he had previously mastered, he continued to refine the art, transforming it into what he was to eventually name Aikido.
Because of his clear insight he was able to properly integrate the essential elements of the various martial arts with his spiritual disciplines and connect the relevance of self improvement, mind-body link, also described as ‘ki’, with the dynamics of bio-mechanical efficiency, physics and metaphysics into a unique training methodology which would give rise to a “Do” or Way of developing a productive, well rounded human being, enabled to navigate life itself with all the challenges it provides the traveller in time and space on this Earth.
Following the experience of learning Daito-Ryu techniques, Ueshiba was able to pluck out the common predispositions of all fighting arts and more than just synchretise what had previously been an eclectic and disparate hodge-podge of different things. Indeed, he may not have been the first to integrate the simplicity of action interaction by removing the excrescent, redundant and unnecessary extra moves which achieve nothing but loss of energy and timing. But the Aizu secretiveness, whilst necessary to provide the edge in battle, almost saw this core art lost.
Intuitive Ueshiba unfurled the art again but also infused a new dimension. In particular following an enlightening experience under a persimmon tree in the spring of 1925, he saw the mysteries of the universe expressed in all things and Aikido as a key to unlocking them by converting adversity and capturing its energy to restore harmony. Aikido becomes a study in the practical predispositions of efficiency, economy and relationship of energy in action. Whilst the ergonomics of aiki can be used to make all budo arts more effective, short path and efficient, Morihei attained the quintessential realization that the only “ultimate victory” possible is that of victory over oneself. Once that is achieved everything else will follow effortlessly. Hence the Path, Way or Do of AiKi!
All that is needed are just over a dozen or so basic techniques, the key kihon-waza, properly drilled to a preconditioned response stage. These foundational kihon waza of aiki are not arbitrarily invented but constitute the natural pathways of balanced least resistance, the ju of the jutsu which are able to unlock limitless possibilities. When unraveled through regular training, these infinite takemusu variables of dynamic body-mind flow predispositions form a dynamic polytope of immense complexity and latent possibility. Explored in practice it frees the mind from the shackles of stagnant thinking. In time it is as if an invisible aura-like mandala, a matrix of practical understanding forms in and around the practitioner, comprising a multitude of interlinked convergences which respond spontaneously in spiral flows, depending on how he or she is attacked.
Because it addresses the intense energies of violence with integrity, unmitigated honesty and authenticity of intent, Aikido enables us to dig deeply into our Selves, there to find and to bring forth the essence at the centre of the centre of our being (with all its otherwise latent potentials) and to activate the spark of that eternal essence many imagine to be separate and “far away,” but is in fact closer than the twinkle in your eye, here and now.
That Aikido enables the harmonizing of adversity is more than just a platitude or theory. Personal application to the art delivers practical tools to the dedicated practitioner who goes on to unlock hitherto undiscovered human potentials.
On this basis Aikido, the Way of harmonising intention further enables the harmonising of action and response to action and is a good path clearing the mind to enable navigating life more happily.
Did Yoshimitsu fulfil the dream inspired by serendipity in observing a simple act of nature nine hundred and fifty five years ago?
Perhaps in more ways than he could have imagined.
And it’s still unfolding.
“There is no form or style in Aikido. The movement of Aikido is the movement of Nature whose secret is profound and infinite.” Morihei Ueshiba
Now an e-book:
by Nev Sagiba
The ability to adjust seamlessly between techniques defines mastery. In most cases, this essential attribute of Aikido has been either ignored or guessed at. This book not only reveals the innate simplicity behind the apparent complexity of Aikido Transitions and Counters, but it provides a full spectrum of possibilities for practicing. Here it is, simplified in drills of two techniques. When you can do these drills easily, you will be able to effect spontaneous responses to any attack. If you know your basic techniques this book is recommended and will enrich your Aikido. FOUR DIAMONDS 1024, provides complete sets of exercise drill guidelines to enable exploration of the available range of basic transitions and counters and unlock their potentials.