Friday, October 19, 2007


The video shown here is courtesy of Sergio & Candice Cuevas and is the introductory collage of a DVD documenting a series of aikido seminars by women instructors in 2006. It is a short, beautifully-edited piece which shows aikido’s principles in action throughout, while highlighting individual personalities. I am honored to be included, especially among these powerful, centered, accomplished women –- my teachers, friends and training partners: Karen De Paola (Skylands Aikikai), Laura Pavlick (Litchfield Hills Aikikai), Claire Keller, Ruth Peyser and Sharon Silberstein (The New York Aikikai).
ai – ki – do

a Japanese martial art based on joining with and then redirecting an attacker’s energy through the use of circular and spiral movements

ai = love, harmony
ki = energy, life force
do = way or path

a method for harmonizing the life force, a path to loving all beings

A Japanese sensei (master teacher) of ours recently told me that he felt that one of the common translations of aikido “The Way of Harmony” did not adequately describe what O’Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido) was working towards in his development of the art. This teacher had been an apprentice to the founder and his recollection was that O’Sensei never spoke about aikido in this way. He spoke of it as being “your relationship to your God” and that was about all he ever said, leaving it to each individual to find the meaning of that phrase through repetition of the techniques. This implies a very personal process -- both an internal journey and a finding of your place in the world.

Back to the dictionary:
harmony - congruity of parts with one another and with the whole

1. agreement, accord, harmonious relations
2. a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity
3. Music:
a) any simultaneous combination of tones

—Synonyms 1. concord, unity, peace, amity, friendship. 2. consonance, conformity, correspondence

Well, there is a lot of “peace, love and agreement” in the dictionary’s description. And you may be able to sense some of that in the video, as what starts as an attack seems to somehow end up turning and spiraling around and dissipating. You may also feel the conflict, the power and the martial application. And you will sense the different personalities and energies of the practitioners -- it’s all there on the mat -- a microcosm of our world.

But this condition of harmony does not have to be consonant -- it can also be dissonant (as in 3a above): "any simultaneous combination of tones." In other words, it is not always pretty, in a conventional sense. Things don't always appear to be peaceful and lovely or free of conflict, yet aikido contains, even in the apparent chaos, an underlying order -- “congruity of parts with one another and with the whole.” I think that really says a lot about what happens to a person as they become more integrated within themselves through aikido practice.

The primary means of transmission of aikido was through direct physical contact with O’Sensei, as the students initiated the attacks and had to learn to absorb his powerful response. Learning to absorb a powerful infusion of energy -- this seems to me one of the things we are doing when we ride a horse. You could say the same of sports involving other forces of nature: surfing, skiing, windsurfing. In aikido (and in riding?) we must learn to both absorb and to project energy. One person gives the attack (“uke”) and one person receives the attack (“nage”). Uke takes ukemi -- “ukemi” translates roughly as the art of falling. This interaction has a kind of leader-follower structure, but upon closer observation you may notice that the distinction between who is leading and who is following starts to become less clear. The roles seem to reverse and sometimes seem to contain each other.

So I am wondering what you get out of watching this footage. Do you see a graceful, choreographed dance, a series of conflict resolutions, a playground of energies? No longer able to see aikido from an objective, outside perspective, as I watch, the movements resonate in my muscle fibers. The riders I am meeting all impress me with their ability to see movement in horse, rider and the interaction between the two. Alexander colleagues who worked with Marj Barstow (a horsewoman herself) were all certainly trained to see, both deeply and broadly. So I leave it to each of you to enjoy this small taste of aikido. The beauty of the art and the power of its principles in action inspire me every day. The intense interaction, the connection to a greater power -- these also draw me to horses and help me persevere in riding.

For my Centered Riding friends who have asked about places to learn aikido, visit the website of the United States Aikido Federation to find a list of dojos near you.


Paula said...

You say: In aikido (and in riding?) we must learn to both absorb and to project energy.

in answer to your question, yes, in riding too. Most certainly in riding too.

Debra's Healthy Gourmet said...

Such softness. Effortless. Really beautiful to see! Thank you!