David M. Valadez
An important part of training is to look beyond the obvious and the superficial, past technique and the trappings of tactical architecture, to principle and ultimately to being.
Two of the necessary components of power are body organization and grounding. Without these things, technique lacks Kokyu, and ultimately Aiki - without these things there is no Aikido
Historically, self-cultivation always included and made use of suffering. This was because the sincere and honest human being knows that he or she is more likely to act or respond without virtue when under pressure to depart from their given comfort zone. An insight arose out of this fact: The greatest and most authentic virtue can only be cultivated or brought into existence under or within conditions and environments of great stress. "Virtues" present under comfort or convenience were viewed with suspicion and doubt. Woe then to those who seek to train in Budo but makes no room for or have no use for suffering. For those who do, keep up the good work, the real work. Virtue awaits you!
Self-awareness is key to the cultivation of spiritual maturity. And, it is within states of fear that we are most exposed and most revealed - when we are the most visible to ourselves. For this reason, and in this way, Budo uses fear. In Budo, fear is both the magnifying lens and the hardened stone by which we sharpen ourselves into the state of being known as warriorhood.
The secularization of Aikido has taken place in and outside of Japan. It was brought about by both those whose aim to do without its spirituality was intentional and shrewdly political and by those whose ignorance of what Aikido truly is sparked a kind of negating foolishness, one usually reserved for infants. Like this, many of the masses have come to do without what is central to the art, believing they can do Aikido with merely their intellect or their bodies. In the irony of this history, the modern "spiritual" Aikidoka was born as "the other side of the coin." But, such an Aikidoka is a deformed being, a being that believes that in adopting the modern characteristics of weakness (held up as "meekness") and un-surety (held up as "open mindedness") that he or she is made holy and righteous. Today, the "spiritual" Aikidoka is so frail, both inside and out, that were Bodhidharma to come upon him/her, like when he came upon the Chinese monks of old, he would again say, "You are too frail for authentic spiritual training!" However, unlike then, when he suggested that those ancient monks practice martial arts to fortify and make resilient their bodies and minds, these modern "spiritual" Aikidoka would say, "We already are!" and thereby totally miss the point.
There is no innate virtue to Aikido waza (technique). What cultivation the practitioner gains from the training is only what they bring to each moment on the mat and in the dojo. For example, you cannot practice a non-violent art, you can only be a non-violent person. The art owes you nothing and so it will not make anything out of you. Aikido will not make you more mindful. Rather, it is you that can make your own Aikido more mindful. Aikido will not make you more brave, but you may practice your Aikido from a state of fearlessness. Do you see how this works? You are the worker, the work, and that which is worked upon! Aikido outside of you does not exist. The wise will get this. The ignorant will call me insane. Let he/she that has ears listen and hear!
It's not that keeping the back foot still and in complete contact with the ground is the only way to ground a technique at the point of projection, but it is an easier path for learning how to employ a ground path. While the ways of grounding techniques can vary, it is highly unlikely that you can do so with an over-weighted front foot that supports and is conjoined with the movement of a rear floating and ruddering back foot. The fact that today most Aikidoka have a floating and ruddering back foot does not lend itself well to the position that people are employing ground power in their projections. If you want Kokyu-Ryoku, the power of Aikido, then you're going to have to separate yourself from the masses. You’re going to have to take a stand, and plant that back foot.
There is a tactical co-dependency between weapon systems that must exist before any one element can reach its full potential. This is more than the mere inclusion of a so-called distraction strike awkwardly thrown and seriously disrupting the harmonious paths of action in a given throw. Tactical co-dependency means, for example, that strikes exist not only within a given throw but that a whole platform of pugilistic destruction looms on the strategic horizon of a given throw and that works to (so to speak) motivate the attacker to stay within the maai (correct space/time) of throwing. This co-dependency must exist not only amongst the empty-handed weapon systems (e.g. strikes, throws, pins, ground-fighting, etc.) but it must also exist between empty-handed and armed weapon systems. That is to say, for example, to understand the maai of throws and pins, you must know the maai of drawing and of using the knife, the handgun, etc.
If you have to move quickly in your technique, it is because you are late in your timing. If you are having to move slowly, it is because you were early in your timing. If you are having to pull in your technique, it is because you are too far in your spacing. If you are having to push, you are too close. The perfect technique is more a matter of organizing your own body and then placing it in a particular place at a particular time. It is closer to doing nothing than to doing something.
If fighting capacity has anything to do with the authenticity of your art, then you better be fit and you better be strong.
The Way is a path of constant self-observation, a commitment to never disengage from this practice of self-observation, and to die doing it.
Drive, the capacity to better oneself, the desire of this, and the associated and extremely healthy repulsion of not doing so, is vital to human wellness. Modern Man, which includes children, seems both unaware of this drive's relationship to wellness and of this drive's absence to unwellness. Much of training children in Budo first includes cultivating this drive within. When doing this, however, you have to be there every step of the way, never ever giving up on the child, never ever setting them up for failure, always giving them an infinite amount of opportunities to develop the drive and the improvement that comes with it. Training like this sounds tough, serious, even harsh, but if you look at the physical actions, you see that the teacher is 100% devoted and sacrificing non-stop.
Yes, there's a problem with modern Man losing the mentoring system as a whole, particularly in terms of gaining wisdom and developing a practice of self-cultivation. But, the bigger problem, one that has pretty much gone unnoticed, is modern Man's inability to be mentored, his/her incapacity for discipleship, or more particularly the incapacity for the kind of humility that can allow him/her to get out of his/her own way and to thereby be able to actually learn something and in the end transform him/herself. Thus, the hardest thing about Budo is you. You and you alone are the sole reason why you cannot do it. If you want to learn Budo, you're going to have to first learn how to get out of your own way. You're going to have to first gain a true and practical humility.
Pre-Modern man did not separate body from mind, did not separate imagination from reality, or virtue from wellness. For example, only Modern Man believes he or she can afford psychologically and physiologically to be cowardly or to be without commitment or without a sense of or a capacity for reverence. In the rejection of ancient systems of wellness, in the quest for mundane and material gains, Modern Man believes he/she is doing him/herself a favor by seeing virtue almost as a garment that could be donned, as a choice, as something he/she could do without and be nonetheless fine. The ancients knew, however, that the virtues are anchor points for our minds and for our experience of body and of the world. They knew that the point of a code of virtue, such as a Warrior Code, or a Bushido, was not to seek a once and for all cannon or to establish truth with a capital "T," but to stave off the waxing and waning of anxiety and depression and the conjoined physically degenerating ailments and behaviors that come with these things. For the ancients, the use of virtue, codes to which one aligns oneself, etc., was more akin to our concept and use of taking an aspirin for a headache a a multivitamin for nutrient deficiency than they were about our sense of moral self-righteousness. The practice and cultivation of virtue was a time-tested prescription for what ails human beings, all human beings. The practice of virtue was a technology of the self. Budo still holds this technology as true and as needed.
The warrior, the Budoka, does not ask him/herself if she "feels" like training, nor even if he/she likes training. As the warrior breathes, so does he/she train. There is no more connected intellectualizing than this. This is because the warrior knows that the point of training in Budo, the ultimate aim, is Awakening, the reconciliation of ego attachment, and that such questions of "feel," "like," even of boredom, or even of interest, are nothing but ego attachment going unreconciled. The warrior asks only one question of his/her training, and it is asked only one time, at the very beginning: Will I start? That question is different from all these other questions, for the question of "Will I start?" is the utilization of the tool of commitment, the practice of commitment. Make no mistake, the tool of commitment is not the use of will power, for will power is the taking place of an internal debate that isn't even supposed to be happening. Will power is a thing of "feel," "like," etc. Commitment is a practice of contract, one made with oneself, and in the case of Budo with one's sensei as well. Commitment is a action used precisely to stop the internal debates, to subvert them by making them meaningless. When you ask, "Do I feel like training?" "Do I like training?" "Should I try something else that I might like better?", etc., you are losing the battle, so to speak, with your ego. If you answer these questions, even in the positive, you have lost completely. Here, you might want to ask, "How do I get commitment?," but in doing so, you will have missed the point of everything just said.
Did you really think you were going to learn Budo, reconcile ego attachment, not have to practice commitment, and that your ego was just going to let you do it, offer up no resistance, and let you "like" it the whole time? Fool.
In 2013, data was collected in the United States to determine how people die. Two sets of numbers, when compared, are most interesting:
When we in Budo, or the martial arts in general, speak about "self-defense," at whom should we really aim our training? In light of the fact that we 155% kill ourselves more than we are killed by others, shouldn't we make sure that we aren't just preparing for a mass-attack of ninja hordes, not just training for the "you're in a bar, when..." situations, or when "you are walking down a dark alley," or, worse, for some sporting event, some soon-to-be-forgotten moment of shiny plastic glory, etc.? Shouldn't we make sure we place our main emphasis in training where harm is likely to occur, on the harm we do to ourselves, the harm we commit and suffer in ultimate acts of violence like suicide, and, perhaps even more so, in the the daily ever-accumulating harm we do to ourselves day after day, hour after hour? Obviously, yes.
When Sensei granted permission for me to open Senshin Center, I asked him if he could share some wisdom on being a teacher. In reply, he answered, "Never lose Shoshin, Beginner's Mind. Never stop studying and learning. And, never give up on your students. You will think they are not getting anything, and then they will surprise you. You will see they are understanding."
The Way of Union is like this: If your heart remains open, you will hear God's words and He can never leave you. If your heart is closed, even in the slightest, He can never be with you.
This too is how it is with me. If your heart remains open, I can never leave you. If your heart is closed, I can never be with you.
If you are not strong enough or disciplined enough to even handle the dojo rules, why do you think you can handle the training that takes place here?
Here's how to prioritize knowledge or information, starting at the bottom with the last means listed being the most valuable form:
- Knowledge/information gained through research.
- Knowledge/information gained through experience.
- Knowledge/information gained through experience that is supported by or coupled with research.
As you can see, opinions, or points of view absent of research or experience, are not and should not be considered knowledge/information.
When a new person starts Budo training, it is often suggested to them that they hold and keep "Shoshin," or "Beginner's Mind." Sometimes, the famous story of the Zen master and novice having tea is also told to them. The story goes like this:
A Zen master was having tea with a prospective novice that sought him out to learn and study Zen Buddhism. While the master was serving the novice his tea, the novice proceeded to tell the master all that he has accomplished, all that he has read about Zen, and all that he thought about Zen, etc. The master continues to fill the novice's cup with tea, but then does not stop once it is full. Tea starts to spill all over the table in front of them, and the growing mess forces the novice to exclaim, "What are you doing?! You are spilling tea all over the place. The cup was already full!" To which the master replies, "Your mind is like this cup. It is already so full of ideas on what you think Zen is that I can put nothing more in it. If you want to study Zen, you must first empty your cup, empty your mind."
When you come to learn from someone that has studied Japanese religious culture and history at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate level, from someone that has lived and trained in Japan, from someone that has studied under world recognized teachers, from someone that has trained in Budo for over three decades, and from someone that works in law enforcement and has faced resisting and aggressive subjects in open and uncontrolled environments, you're going to not only need an empty cup, you're going to need a large empty cup. Best to make that so.
We open the door to Hell ourselves. This would seem tragic, but it's not. It's not because this premise also means that we have the power to close that door and to keep it closed.
It's simple. To be strong on the inside, you need to be strong on the outside. To be strong on the outside, you need to be strong on the inside. To not be strong is to be fragile. To be fragile is to not be a warrior.
The weak always look for exceptions, a way out, a way for things not to apply to them. The strong smells this and it reeks to them.
An unsaid problem of contemporary Aikido is that it attracts the spiritual seeker. You would not at first glance believe this to be a problem, but the Modern seeker is soft, almost by nature, and has zero to little capacity for work. He is often fragile. He is a quitter. The problem is that there is no spiritual maturity without work. As a result, Aikido dojo are today often populated by both martial frauds and spiritual frauds and no one can tell them apart. Looking at it now, this is likely because they are the same people.
When a technique is in harmony with Nature, it only requires the same given weight to be moved, and this weight remains consistent regardless of the size of the attacker. Meaning, and for example, whether the attacker weighs 200 pounds or 100 pounds, the same weight, relatively light, is all that is moved or manipulated in the technique. Let us represent that weight abstractly as 10. So, whether the attacker weighs 200 pounds or 100 pounds, nage only requires a work capacity of 10. This is the beginning of technical skill in Aikido. Said skill is mastered as the nage becomes able to reduce the weight of the attacker to less than 10, and as nage becomes able to produce a work capacity greater than 10.
Parents of child members have to participate in their child’s training, in their child’s self-cultivation of good character and spiritual maturity. Budo is not a sport, or an activity, or a hobby. It is a Way, a life-practice, a technology of the self. Budo is a path to self-awakening and to psychological balance, to overall wellness. It is not something you can just drop your kid off at so as to distract them for an hour or so they can do something they like or find fun. Budo is not something you can just leave entirely up to them.
As the eyes cannot see itself, so too the undisciplined mind cannot discipline itself.
There's a difference between "traditional" and "traditionalistic." The former uses Aikido pedagogy to transcend the basics and to take art and transform it into being. The latter makes a fetish out of form and wrongly assumes that basic architectures are the apex of one's practice. The former is how things used to be and how things still are for the masters of the present. The latter is what most are doing now days.
I used to understand Iaido like my teacher, emphasizing its forms and its martial aspects. You can note this emphasis in my teacher's repetitive attempts to do the forms faster and stronger each time. However, once I began to separate myself from understanding forms as a one-to-one ratio between action and reaction and the related self-defense paradigm, I came to realize that such a perspective was not only limiting or self-subversive but also self-contradicting, for in Iaido, with its lack of kumitachi, it is clear that I am the opponent to be defeated, and how could it ever be that I move faster or stronger than myself? I cannot. Rather, then, today, I search for a loss of self through my Iaido, looking for that perfect cut, that sword movement that takes place on its own without any fear or pride, without any ego attachment at all. For me, different from my teacher, Iaido is a technology not wherein the self is conquered but one wherein the self disappears and I along with it.
Budo, like all East-Asian spiritual paths, by western standards, is primarily a body art, a body praxis, or at least it will primarily feel like that to Modern Man. But, in actuality it's something slightly different, something neither mind nor body, something both mind and body.
A long time ago, ancient masters gained insights into ourselves and found an interdependence between the physical use of one's center, or hara, and being spiritually, mentally, and emotionally centered, or not being prone to the extreme states of unwellness often associated with these arenas of our humanity, such as being in states of fear, anxiety, depression, or anger, etc. Because of this interdependence, Budo works forward and backwards, from right and left, and inside and outside of the practitioner, sometimes using physical exercises meant to strengthen and bring awareness to the presence of one's center, such as in dead-lifts or in suburi training, and sometimes it uses moral and spiritual contemplations meant to hone and bring awareness to the absence of one's center. To practice Budo correctly, one must train like this. One must not choose to do only the physical or only the mental or spiritual. To do so is not to practice Budo.
Your Budo should bring you into an intimate relationship with death. Masters of the past have told us that Budo is "The Way of Death." This is one of reasons why Budo is at odds with the way of Modern Man, as he/she often lives life with no awareness of its finality, and/or lives a life filled with wasted days and wasted hours, or he/she lives life so as to distract by all means him/herself from the one thing that all men and women have in common - inevitable non-existence. The warrior on the other hand contemplates daily on his/her death, using his/her life as a preparation for that final cessation, even mentally rehearsing that final sleep. By such practices he/she hugs his/her spouse and children every time as if it is the last time, looks upon Nature and is emotionally overwhelmed by every sunset, every star, every stream, every wave, and every tree - seeing them always for the first and last time. Through death the warrior sees clearly what is important and what is not import in life and acts accordingly, bringing this wisdom into every experience of the world and with people. For the warrior, death is a tool, a technology of the self. It is far from something to avoid or fear or to distract oneself from.
There are higher and lower levels of skill in Aikido. One is often a precursor to the other. They are always interdependent. As a guide, here are some:
Using external leverage in a technique is lower than using internal leverage in a technique.
Using leverage in a technique is lower to using body organization in a technique.
Using momentum to cause a loss of balance in uke is lower than deconstructing uke's base and allowing gravity to work upon it.
Using isolated muscles to generate force is lower than using Kokyu to generate force.
Using Kokyu to affect uke is lower than using Aiki to affect uke.
Martial prowess is lower to spiritual maturity.
Being able to occupy a tactical space is lower than not competing for tactical space.
Pulling uke is lower than pushing uke.
Pushing and pulling uke are lower than letting uke be.
Training out of convenience is lower than training out of commitment.
Training with form is lower than training without form.
Training for rank and political affiliation is lower than training for personal mastery.
Training to win against uke is lower than training to disappear with uke.
Training under ideal conditions is lower than training under extreme conditions.
Using rage and hype to overcome fear is lower than accepting one's death and reconciling fear.
Controlling others is lower than sacrificing oneself.
Seeing others clearly is lower than seeing oneself clearly.
Knowing is lower than being.
Finding peace outside yourself is lower than finding peace within yourself.
Serving oneself is lower than serving others.
Training here and there is lower than training regularly.
Training regularly is lower than daily training.
Be mindful of the momentums you create and the ones you slow to a stop. Make sure you are actually doing what you want to do, and then have your words match that exactly, being no more or no less.
You can't do bad Aikido and then talk about risks and openings in Aikido. When you do bad Aikido, you're only talking about the risks and openings of bad Aikido, otherwise known as that which should not be called "Aikido."
This truth is simple: Train out of convenience, and you will look for that "perfect time" to start or continue, a time that will never come or stay. Train out of convenience and you have enslaved yourself. This truth is more subtle: Train out of commitment and discipline and you will free yourself.
Unnecessarily feeling the need to say something, to say anything, most utter some variant on the phrase, "This is the hardest decision I've had to make," whenever a person has decided to quit their Budo training at the dojo. Upon hearing it, no matter how many times, I think to myself, "Shit, that can't be true. Quitting is easy. Anyone can quit." Then, I take note of the following truth: The hard part is continuing to train no matter what, to have no quit in you. Not just anyone can do that. That, only the elite can do.
It has become odd with how much time we have to spend on basic human skills in our training nowadays, skills like focus, strength, and mobility, how we can never take seriously the quest for takemusu aiki or divine union because we can't get past these other mundane and basic assumptions of training. Under such conditions, it is easy to make a big deal out of these mundane lesser elements, and it is easy then for the Budo student to feel like these are the goals they should be shooting for, that these are big deals in and of themselves. I as a teacher can feel the pressure even to mark them as achievements or accomplishments, but these things are like this because of the state we are in as modern people. Meaning, it is like giving a crumb of stale bread to a starving person. The starving person is going to feel like it is a feast, the best food he has ever tasted in his life, and in some ways this will be true. However, it would be a huge mistake for a chef to then start looking into how to master the making of stale bread, looking to create a cuisine out of stale bread crumb. Likewise, how wrong it would be to make a big deal out of these mundane elements, how such a lowering of our standards it would be, how pitiful a departure it would be from the true goals of Budo. Rather then we must look to keep our standards in Budo, keeping these mundane elements as the no-big-deals they are. Yes, you need them. Yes, better now that you have them than when you didn't. But you should have had them in the first place, and in light of the true goals of Budo these things are nothing and you have achieved nothing by gaining them.
There is a tactical interdependency between various techniques. For example, an overly challenged or failed Ikkyo can often flow seamlessly into a Rokkyo, or a Kote Gaeshi, or a Koshi Nage. In fact, this interdependency causes each technique to loom as a threat on the horizon, a threat an attacker looks to avoid or counter while it exists only as a potential outcome. It is this countering of the potential that in the end works to keep and make a response with Ikkyo viable and valid. So too do we see this interdependency with the various tactics associated with the different ranges. In other words, and for example, throwing techniques become viable and valid because the threat of strikes, or of grappling techniques, or of pins and locks, looms on the horizon. As the attacker looks to prevent him/herself from falling into the arena of these ranges and their associated techniques he/she opens him/herself up to being thrown.
I leave it to you to discover what an Aikido can be or do when it has excluded from its training curriculum buki-waza (weapons), atemi-waza (striking), and/or ne-waza - an act of omission carried out today by most Aikido lineages. Such a negation is not so simple or innocent an act.
We cannot separate psychological commitment from psychological centering, since the latter can only rest upon the former. This is how the budoka uses commitment in his/her praxis, as a technology of the self. Commitment for the budoka is not a moral or ethical lifestyle. Rather it is a tool, an instrument with which to cultivate, and so it is used in the way that an athlete uses water to remain hydrated or uses food to remain nourished, both for the sake of enhancing or maintaining performance. Through commitment to the Way, the budoka centers his/her mind, and by doing so he/she improves his/her performance of the virtues of Budo, be it a matter of fearlessness, service, honor, integrity, sacrifice, wisdom, or compassion, etc. The inverse of this is also true: Those that cannot practice commitment, those plagued by convenience and/or by an ever-threatening shadow of cessation, lack the centered mind, and as such they perform the virtues of Budo in the same way that a dehydrated or malnourished athlete would perform at his/her sport – poorly.
In Budo, it is understood that the budoka, or Budo practitioner, is made in the same way that the sword is made. Noting this process, you can see how most folks quit the Way at the mere lighting of the forge or maybe they last to when a piece of iron is hammered warm enough to generate only enough heat to light a piece of paper - so far from the final forged weapon.
There has to be something said for not wasting time, for being efficient and deliberate in one's training, but today's Life Hack culture is missing something very powerful, something that can only happen in the longue durée. It is that moment that comes up from facing infinity, from staring at that "no end in sight," the moment that makes you feel like you've been and are still wasting your time. You need that moment if you're truly seeking mastery and not just expediency. You need that moment because it is only at that time that you can surrender, fully surrender, so you can reach an ecstasy of pure humility and simplicity. For it is this ecstasy that tells you that you have simultaneously achieved both nothing special and everything divine. This is communion of act and actor, a state of being one's art or craft, a cessation of merely doing one's art or craft. This is a sign of mastery and it is antithetical to the shortcut.
Think you're ready for Budo? Think you've been challenged before in your life?
While patience is a part of Budo training, wasting time is not.
Budo knows how to cultivate grit. Are you tough enough for Budo, or are you a quitter, what Hesse calls a "child person," what Drax the Destroyer calls a "paper person" - are you fragile? If you're living today, especially if you live in the first world, you should bet you probably are fragile. But if you don't want to be so breakable anymore, if you realize you cannot afford to be frail anymore, then start Budo, the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, and stop being a quitter.
For more and more people, living (I won't call it Life) has become so formulaic, an existence filled with long strategies, hacks, mimicry, impersonation, etc. This denies and attempts to defy an underlying aspect of reality: spontaneity and the need for originality.