Ainuke, yeah……maybe not

There are very deep philosophical principles hidden in the art of Aikido. These principles aren’t discovered by the Ancient Greek version of philosophical debate, but rather discovered in the forging of the physical body, through hard work and tenacity.

Anyone can endorse a Japanese philosophical idea, anyone can claim to have a Japanese sword master hero whose philosophical ideas they uphold.

But to understand, and I mean understand as in have these philosophies enter your very essence, you have to have walked through the fire that these masters walked.

Take Yamaoka Tesshu for example. For his students to reach the level of understanding he believed necessary, he devised an arduous training regime of one thousand matches a day, beginning at one day, then three then seven. These were designed to “test the metal and elevate the spirit” of anyone accepting the challenge. Very few did…..

You cannot know his truths without entering his gate.

In Aikido, this is done as Uke. 

When I say uke, I don’t mean falling around a little on the mat, I mean actually training to a point where the line between life and death are blurred together. 

What does a master see in one student that they don’t see in others when they “test” their ukes? What is the measure of a man? (or woman)

Concepts that are deeply rooted in the essence of Aikido can only be understood from the perspective of one who has sacrificed themselves entirely in the furnace of ukemi. This understanding is in their bones, it isn’t just in their soul, it becomes their soul. 

Concepts like Ai-nuke, like fudoshin, like Mushin, like zanshin, these are just pretty words that have absolutely zero meaning to the person saying them if they haven’t been grasped in the physicality of arduous training. 

This is tanren. 

This isn’t a debate of an intellectual nature, this is being thrown in the forge, and passing through to the other side.

I will give you an example.

2006, Brisbane Australia. It’s been 40 degrees Celsius for 4 days, we are in a room with a low ceiling and there are 70 people in a room where the capacity really should have been 50. 

We are four days into a 5 day seminar, training 5 hours a day. I have been the uke for sensei for virtually the entire seminar. There was no breeze coming through the windows at all, and if there were, the room has only got windows on one side. 

It’s so very hot. 

I am from Tasmania, the day before I go to Brisbane it is still snowing. I have no time to acclimatise to this new heat and humidity.

I am sitting in seiza next to sensei, it’s the afternoon session, and he has just finished throwing me and is discussing a point about technique. 

I feel a strange sensation, my body has pins and needles all over and I start to feel my consciousness slip away, my vision tunnels and begins to go dark…. Am I fainting? 

I wonder, am I dying? 

Having a stroke? What is this strange sensation? I am calm, I remember thinking, if I go now, if this is the end, then there cannot have been a better end. I have given all there was to give…..

Luckily, sensei talks for a while, and this sensation slowly passes. I have no recollection of what he has said as my consciousness drifts between here and there.

He calls me again out of seiza, from my daze. I respond. He throws me again and again. I feel like vomiting, I feel heavy, I feel nothing…..

It ends and I bow to sensei. I need water. 

I stumble to my feet and in a trancelike state make my way to the back left corner of the room. My mind is still not with me. I am suddenly awakened by the beautiful voice of Yasuko san, it’s sensei’s wife.

In Japanese, she asks me – am I ok, and tells me I look terrible. 

Apparently my face is white, my complection having left my body completely. “Daijoubu”, I respond, I am ok. 

I need water. 

She fills my drink bottle whilst I take her seat, I drink my fill, she has a concerned look on her face for me, but sensei’s hands clap and shatter the respite. 

I am up again, and heading to the front once more. 

As I walk to him I glance to my right and out the door. On the balcony is a set of abou 8-10 chairs, and sitting on these chairs, in the shade with gi tops pulled open is every other senior instructor that was at the seminar, no time to digest this, I am asked to dive into the fire once again. 

“Hai” – Yes, sensei, I am there…….

When we ask ourselves why we failed to grasp the essence of the teaching, (if we ever do) why one is held above others at the reckoning, it’s quite simple.

When the time of testing the metal for the blade that was to be forged was at hand, the metal hasn’t been tested, and therefore wasn’t worth the time in the masters hand.

This is the essence of Tesshu’s philosophy, understood through great sacrifice.

This is the essence of Aikido Shugyo, – of tanren.

And this is the very heart of Ai-nuke.

Words! – There essence as hollow as a cry for help shouted through an empty valley.

Let’s train to understand true Aikido, and share a coffee ….after the mat time is done…

Peter Kelly

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