Hombu Dojo 1968

Hombu Dojo 1968

Monday, March 9, 2009

monks, peackoks, and twenty mistakes

ONE (Ichi)
monks, peackoks, and twenty mistakes

In our dojo, at the shomen, we have a monthly Japanese shodo (calligraphy). We opened the new year with the shodo of the number "one" or in Japanese - Ichi.
It looks simple, its just a single line, but it can remind us of many important aspects in our Aikido training at the dojo, and in daily life.
When learning Japanese calligraphy, beginners first learn how to write the kanji for "ichi". It looks so simple, and like such an easy challenge. Just good for my first rendezvous with the brush and the Japanese soft paper. I remember my first calligraphy lesson in Japan. The teacher painted the kanji "ichi" on a paper, and asked me to copy. After I did my best to write it nicely, and I was quite satisfied, she drew on my kanji, 20 circles, each of them marked a mistake I made...
It was a good lesson for me, as I realised, shodo is a serious art, and that I should concentrate in Aikido which I just began to learn.

In Japanese calligraphy, one learns for a long time the very basic lines and letters, and later on, he learns how to combine them together, to create more complecated kanji - All based on the basics. Just like in Aikido. We learn basic movements, principles and techniques, and only after we begin to understand them we can execute more complecated aikido techniques and applications.

Even the most complicated aikido techniques, are actually made of several basic movements. The more we learn and practice the basics, the more we are able to execute correctly complicated and flowing techniques.

A healthy tree, is a tree that grows on good soil, and with healthy roots. Our constant training on the basic aikido techniques, is equal to maintaining the soil and keeping the roots healthy. Such training will create fruitful and blooming aikido, beautiful and effective. A good teacher is like a good gardener. He knows which branch he should cut and when it should be cut, and which one should keep on growing. A good sensei knows, when to let the student keep on making his mistakes and learning alone, and when to correct and teach. A bad instructor rushes to correct everything he thinks is wrong. A good sensei knows, that in most cases, mistakes lead to learning. So, we should let our students make some mistakes. By teaching basics in every class, the students will learn good aikido. No need to correct them too much.

So... why did we hang the kanji ICHI at our shomen? In Japanese culture, and also in western thought, the number "one" symbolises many things. The most important idea, is that in most cases, each of us, is actually two. One is the person I really am. Two is the person I try to be or try to show. In our hard training, one by one, we peel the layers that are hiding the true self. Slowly slowly, we get closer to being one. Of course, it is impossible to be 100% natural with other people, but our training brings us closer to that desired oness.

We used to have in our dojo one man, who was very modest and nice when he was with a few people. But, when there were many students around him, his aikido became full of pride, and he behaved just like a peacock.

I would like our dojo members to have modest aikido. I love modest art, and modest people. I dislike "aikido shows". I love simple and clean aikido training and demonstrations.


To be one - inside and out - act naturally, honestly and with no masks.

Begin each training form "one" from A. From very basic movements.

Never forget beginners mind. The curiosity, the freshness, the wonderful privilege to create on white clean paper.

Unite your ki with your partner's ki, with the universe.

Train single minded.

Be like the pine-needle, looks the same from every direction.

Other leaves, have two faces.

Pine leaves are like a needle, they don't have two faces. The Samurai strived to be like an "ippon matsuba" - a pine-neadle.

There is a beautiful story about a very famous zen monk who was asked by the emperor to write a kanji for one of the palace gates. He came with his disciple, and the disciple began rubbing the ink stick (sumi) against the stone plate (Suzuri) to create black ink for shodo.

The master wrote a big and impressive kanji, and he looked satisfied. But, the student told him: "Master, excuse me, but I think you can do much better". The master tried again and again, but each time the student said he should try better. At last, the student had to go somewhere for a minute. The teacher thought to himself "oh! its my chance to work alone", and he created a perfect kanji which the student admired and praised.

What we learn from this story is that even for a great zen master, it is difficult to act freely when someone is watching. Its hard to be free and natural when we are with other people. But again, good training brings us closer to it.

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