“Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” is written by a longtime practitioner of Aikido, Alister Gillies. In this text, he relates some of the things he has learned throughout the years. These include some insights regarding the connection between the mind and body, and the training undertaken in order enhance this relationship. The book also includes information about the development of internal power, and the existence of specific (aiki) movements in Aikido that can be traced to its parent art, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu.
The book is a collection of essays in which the author reflects upon his personal experiences while training in martial arts, and on the practices used in order to increase the connection between the mind and the body. Due to the nature of the book, there is a variety of topics covered. These topics include the “therapeutic value and function” of Aikido, and the diversity of different styles of Aikido. For example, some styles emphasize spiritual development and allow martial efficacy to take a back seat, while others value martial effectiveness and train in a manner that aims to increase such skills.
“Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” also points out the popularity of Aikido (and Zen) in Italy and France. Comparing the ideas of French philosophers with the viewpoints found in Japanese martial and spiritual practices, the author explains how such seemingly diverse traditions actually blended together logically for Europeans. It is primarily for this reason that “there are more people practicing Aikido in France today than in any other country, including Japan.” Italy also retains a strong connection to Japan, and it too has a flourishing Aikido community.
In my opinion, the most interesting aspects of the book were the chapters in which Mr. Gillies delved into the history of the art. He explained that O-Sensei taught different things to different students, and that this must be kept in mind in order to understand the complete whole. He also explored the connection between Daito-ryu and Aikido with an emphasis on the changes that O-Sensei made in order to formulate Aikido. In addition, he discussed the connection of Aikido to Zen. Although O-Sensei was not a member of this sect, or any Buddhist sect, there are some practitioners today who like to make this connection. As such, this book may help to clarify such connections for students who choose to combine these traditions, modifying Aikido in order to suit their own purposes. Mr. Gillies also compares the teachings of Aikido, specifically the notion of Tenchi, to various other religious and cultural traditions on the planet, including shamanism.
“Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth” does not lead readers along a linear, step-by-step voyage. Rather, it is a free-flowing, drifting text, in which the readers might not know where they will end up. However, at the end of the trip, they will be richer due to the experience. This text is worthwhile for practitioners of Aikido, and it may lead to future research regarding the connections between Chinese and Japanese practices and similar exercises found in cultures throughout the world, both new and old. I recommend it.
Tenchi: Building a Bridge between Heaven and Earth
by Alister Gillies
2012, CreateSpace, 134 pp.
Review by Ken Jeremiah, Ed.D.