Sep
05

“Journey to the Heart of Aikido: The Teachings of Motomichi Anno,” by Linda Holiday

journey-heart-aikidoReview by Robert Noha

Introduction

Journey to the Heart of Aikido is an inspiring story of two people’s experiences through a lifetime of Aikido practice.

Linda Holiday Sensei is an Aikido 6th Dan. She is Chief Instructor of Aikido of Santa Cruz, one of the leading dojos in the United States and a longtime student of Anno Sensei.

Motomichi Anno Sensei is an Aikido 8th Dan and a direct student of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. At age 82, he is one of an increasingly small number of direct students of the founder still actively teaching.

Much of the book takes place in the small Japanese seaside town of Shingu. Shingu is the home of the Kumano Juku Dojo, started at O Sensei’s request in 1952. The dojo is located in the Kumano Mountains area of Japan, near the founder’s birthplace and grave. It is an area of great natural beauty and home to some of Japan’s most revered shrines. Both the dojo and the natural setting feature prominently in the book.

Journey to the Heart of Aikido is much more than the life and teaching of two of Aikido’s most prominent 2nd and 3rd generation teachers. It provides a deep focus on the spirituality and philosophy of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. This focus provides very valuable insights into both his teaching and, very importantly, on how to connect them with daily Aikido practice.

The stories of Anno and Holiday Sensei’s lives offer two examples of the fruits of a lifetime dedicated to the practice and teaching of Aikido, when the founder’s teaching are the central focus of the training.

The book is also one of the first major works by a 3rd generation teacher, who is a prominent head of a major American dojo.

There is a large and impressive number of endorsements from both the Aikido community and outside it as well. These include: Robert Frager (Founder and President of the Western Aikido Assoc., Founder of Sophia University and the first Aikido teacher in Santa Cruz CA.); Stanley Pranin (editor of Aikido Journal); well-known author John Stevens; Robert Nadeau 7th dan and direct student of O-Sensei. There is also an endorsement, on the cover, by world renowned Zen teacher and peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh.

It will be available through Amazon and other outlets on September 10th. There will also be a book release party and seminar in Santa Cruz on October 5th and 6th with Anno Sensei and Holiday Sensei. Consult the Aikido of Santa Cruz website for details.

Contents

The book is divided into two parts with a total of eight chapters. There is also a foreword by Anno Sensei, and an introduction by Holiday Sensei. Each chapter is subdivided into sections. The book concludes with an afterword by the author, an appendix, a note on the translation and a glossary of Japanese terms.

In the foreword, Anno Sensei explains the book’s central focus:

“Aikido is a path, both extremely old and extremely new, which shows us how to live as human beings… The purpose of Aikido is not to create opponents… it is a way to develop the heart… It is my hope that this book will present the philosophy of Aikido in a way that makes it accessible to many people. My sincere wish is that the book will inspire you to a deeper understanding of the heart of Aikido-the heart of harmony, love and gratitude – and illuminate the future with the light of new hope.” (Pages vii and viii)

In the introduction, Holiday Sensei explains her goal in writing the book:

“As the lifetime of Aikido’s founder recedes into the shadows of the previous century, there is a new challenge to be met… without the personal presence of O-Sensei or his direct students, how will Aikido continue to revitalize its essence in new generations, as the path of spiritual evolution envisioned by its founder… The aim of Journey to the Heart of Aikido is to increase the accessibility of the founder’s spiritual teachings around the world. It brings into print for the first time the wise and compassionate voice of Motomichi Anno Sensei.” (Page xii)

She also shares her personal motivation in writing the book:

“My own motivations in writing Journey to the Heart of Aikido are simple ones: gratitude and service… Step forward with us on the Journey to the Heart of Aikido. It is a work of love, an offering of the heart.” (Page xv)

Here is a brief summary of each chapter.

Part I. The Journey

Chapter 1 – Steps on the Path

The opening chapter tells the inspirational story of Holiday Sensei’s early experiences in Aikido, both in America and Japan. It details the struggles and the triumphs as she learned to live in Japan while pursuing her goal of practicing Aikido at one of the major centers of the art in Shingu.

“Despite my nervousness in the unfamiliar environment on the Aikido mat, I was captivated from my very first class (at UC Santa Cruz) by the connections of mind and body in Aikido.

What fascinated me was the visceral experience that the mind, or ki as we called it, could lend strength to my body in perceivable ways. ” (page 6)

In a later section entitled New Year’s Purification Practice, we follow Linda, with support from Anno Sensei, through the preparation and the rigors of the New Year’s Day immersion in a frozen river.

“After class one morning, Anno Sensei mentioned the New Year’s Purification Practice. He explained to me that every year, the members of the Kumano Juku Dojo plunged into the cold waters of the Kumano River… Anno Sensei must have seen the look of apprehension on my face… I think we’d better prepare… He suggested a program of… pouring 10 buckets of icy water over my head each night… ’If you do it, I’ll do it too!’ Anno Sensei enthused… The long awaited day was frosty and clear… As the shock of the cold water hit… I sank deep into the river’s cold, familiar embrace… I felt a sudden surge of gratitude to Anno Sensei for challenging me to face my fears. Searching for him, I saw him in the river, farther from shore. Anno Sensei was looking toward me with a radiant smile, relaxed and completely at home in the flow of nature. This is living Aikido, I thought. This was the example I wanted to follow.” (Pages 34 and 35)

Chapter 2 – From Kumano to the World Family

This chapter covers Anno Sensei’s early life and his introduction to Aikido:

“At the age of 23… Motomichi Anno encountered Aikido and its founder, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. With that fateful meeting, he had found the teacher who would lead his life away from the wounds of the war and onto a lifetime path of peace – the teacher whose meessage was love, and whose method was martial arts.” (Page 55)

Chapter 2 describes Anno Sensei’s growth in Aikido as he continued his training to the very end of the founder’s life:

“In all the time I knew him and to this day, I have felt O-Sensei’s existence as something absolute. O-Sensei was and is a person of greatness. I don’t have the feeling that he has died, or that I have parted from him. I think O-Sensei will live forever.” (Page 88)

The chapter concludes with some words of deep humility and inspiration:

“Anno Sensei has devoted his life to studying the heart of O-Sensei’s teaching. He often reminds us that all people who learn Aikido are the inheritors of O-Sensei’s legacy, and bear the joyful responsibility to convey it to the next generation. The heart of Aikido is in your hands.” (Page 94)

Part II. The Heart of Aikido: Teachings of Motomichi Anno Sensei

The second part of the book contains Anno Sensei’s direct teachings. These were recorded by Holiday Sensei, starting in 1999 when he made his first trip to California.

Chapter 3- Learning From the Founder of Aikido

Each section in this chapter describes a particular aspect of O-Sensei’s teaching, as received by Anno Sensei. Here is an example from a section called “No Opponent”:

“O-Sensei may have been standing on the same mat as his students, but his state of being was vastly different. O-Sensei was not standing in the relative world. He was standing in a world in which the great sky was constantly clear. His world could not be reached by the power of people who burned with the desire to fight.” (Page 107)

The chapter concludes with a section called “Take a Step Closer to O-Sensei”:

“If we want to take a step closer to O-Sensei we have to apply ourselves… But the nature of our effort is crucial. It’s not a matter of just trying to become strong… What is essential is the heart. We need to hold the sincere desire for everyone to progress along the Path. That’s the kind of spirit O-Sensei had.” (Page 130)

Chapter 4 – The Heart of Aikido

In this chapter Anno Sensei highlights many of the most basic questions about Aikido – starting with “What is Aikido?”

“What is Aikido? Ultimately, Aikido is love. This is the founder’s teaching and must not be changed. Aikido training is a method that allows us to reach a state of love.” (page 134)

The chapter continues with a discussion of “The Process of Self-Reflection”:

“O-Sensei taught us to engage in a step-by-step process of self-reflection… I believe this five-step process is a very important teaching for the continuation of Aikido in the future. The significance of self-reflection is universal.” (page 141)

The chapter concludes with a section of questions and answers from students:

“Sensei, I appreciate the ways you shine a light on my training and reflect back to me, like a mirror, the areas in which I could train harder, improve or explore. How can I develop this quality of illuminating light?

Through Aikido training, each of us polishes our own heart, and as we become reflective, we are made radiant by the light shining from other people. When another person’s light reaches me, I, too shine. By polishing ourselves mutually, we shine mutually… If you keep training you will shine.” (pages 158 and 159)

Chapter 5 – Aikido Training: Polishing the Spirit

This chapter continues Anno Sensei’s discussion of some of Aikido’s most basic principles. He begins with “Spirit in Form”:

“Aikido technique is the expression of spirit in form… Spirit comes first. I believe that if you make the spirit primary, if you give it the central place in your mind as you practice technique, then what you are doing will become Aikido.” (page 165)

As with the previous chapter, this one concludes with questions and answers. The question called “Everything Teaches Me”, is a deep discussion about Aikido off the mat:

“You speak of cultivating a sense of connection with heaven and earth, with everything around us. Do you engage in any practices outside the dojo that foster that connection?

Actually, it’s the opposite. It is because I practice Aikido that no matter where I go in my daily life, everything teaches me about connection.” (page 179)

One of the last questions explored is called “The Summit of Aikido”:

“If Aikido is a mountain, what is the summit?

Attaining the summit of the mountain is not my greatest desire. I’m happy to give my full effort to the climb, but my goal is not to arrive at the summit. My pleasure is in the process of the journey… How wonderful it is when everyone makes the climb together.” (page 205)

Chapter 6 – Aikido and the Practice of Purification

In this chapter Anno Sensei teaches about one of O-Sensei’s central concepts purification (misogi):

“Misogi practice is a way of restoring our minds and bodies to a state of purity. No matter how correct we think we are, we inevitably develop some impurity in our thoughts and feelings… Misogi is undertaken to cultivate that strength of spirit. To develop an undefeatable heart.” (pages 213 and 214)

The chapter concludes with a step by step description of Chinkon Kishin, as taught by O-Sensei to Anno Sensei. This practice is further detailed by Holiday Sensei in the appendix.

In this chapter the focus is on the concept of the kami, a term used by O-Sensei to express divinity. In one aspect of understanding kami, Anno Sensei talks about a “World of Connection”:

“Kami is the power of mutual assistance. Our lives are sustained by this power of mutual cooperation… Everything is mysteriously connected… This world of connection is the power of the kami.” (page 240)

In another section, called “A Larger Perspective,” Anno Sensei describes the tremendous scope of O-Sensei’s views on life and training:

“O-Sensei’s level of thinking went beyond ordinary consciousness. He seemed to look at everything from a larger perspective… It was as if he were engaged in conversation with the universe.” (page 251)

Chapter 8 – Aikido in the World

The concluding chapter discusses Aikido as a force for peace in the world. Anno Sensei outlines how Aikido can play a role in “The Possibility of Cooperation”:

“Our function as we practice Aikido is to develop our training so that we can show the power of harmony and the possibility of cooperation… People who don’t do the physical training themselves may still be able to glean useful ideas from what they see… If you plant the seed of Aikido, at some point it will sprout.” (page 268)

The last part of this chapter contains some very moving dialogs between Anno Sensei and students about Aikido’s role in the world. The final one is called, appropriately, “The Heart of Aikido”:

“Sensei, as you look at the world today, what do you feel is the most important thing we can do as people on the path of Aikido?

Now is the most important time. The world today is chaotic – you know this. But the age of the heart will come. O-Sensei emphasized that we must return to the heart. Firmly grasp O-Sensei’s philosophy – the heart of Aikido and integrate it into your own technique, into your own body. Train hard and well, until like O-Sensei, light shines out from your heart. Then what comes naturally will be Aikido. Please understand the heart of Aikido and spread it widely.” (pages 295-296)

In the afterword Holiday Sensei concludes with:

“’Aikido is for the whole world,’ said O-Sensei. ‘Train ceaselessly for the good of all.’ Our journey to the heart of Aikido continues.” (page 300)

Personal Reflections

One of the strengths of the book not already mentioned are the numerous photos (many in color) of O-Sensei, Anno Sensei, Holiday Sensei and students training together. The pictures add a powerful visual representation of the ideas.

The book also touches the deep emotional core of why people train with such dedication and longevity in this art.

Conclusion

Journey to the Heart of Aikido is a worthy contributor to meeting the challenge Holiday Sensei laid down in the introduction, which is to keep the founder’s vision of the art alive for future generations.

Journey to the Heart of Aikido: The Teachings of Motomichi Anno
By Linda Holiday
Foreword by Motomichi Anno Sensei
Published by Blue Snake Books-release date September 10th, 2013
ISBN 978-1-58394-659-6
Cover Price $21.95, 341 pages

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Comments

  1. I hope there is mention of Hikitsuchi Sensei. Was he not instrumental in the dojo?

    • Hello Wan Jones,
      Absolutely! Michio Hikitsuchi Sensei was a close personal student of O-Sensei and the chief instructor of the Kumano Juku Dojo for nearly half a century, until his passing in 2004. You will find many references and stories about Hikitsuchi Sensei in Part One, “The Journey,” which recounts my experiences training in Japan, and presents some of the history of Aikido in the Kumano area. There are also numerous historical photos of Hikitsuchi Sensei and O-Sensei. Part Two of the book focuses on the teachings of Motomichi Anno Sensei, based mostly on teachings he has given when I have hosted him at my dojo in California many times since 1999. I hope you enjoy the book! Thanks, Linda Holiday

  2. Thank you, Bob Noha Sensei and Stan Pranin Sensei, for publishing this wonderful review of my book! My sincere hope is that the book will be of service and inspiration to the world Aikido community. Thanks for spreading the word!

    More info is listed on my new website: Please join us for the Oct. 5 & 6 Book Launch events in Santa Cruz (details on website). Note: tickets will be available online after about a week.

    With gratitude for all the great work you do for Aikido, Pranin Sensei!. –Linda Holiday

  3. Well done, Linda. This sounds like a wonderful book. It will hopefully serve to remind and inform the aikido community what O’Sensei was all about and so what aikido is all about!