Hombu Dojo 1968

Hombu Dojo 1968

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sumikiri: Stillness in the eye of the storm

Sumikiri: Stillness in the eye of the storm

The first time I came across the word sumikiri, was when I read a small but marvellous book called "The Spirit of Aikido" by 2nd Doshu - Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
The word "sumikiri" can be translated as perfect clarity, or pureness, but the book did not give any further explanation.

So... what exactly is sumikiri?
Our most basic training method, is with one partner, slowly and according to clear demonstration of our teacher. Later on, our training becomes more free, creative and dynamic, the attacks and the techniques become more realistic and versatile, and we also learn to resolve situation dealing with a large numbers of opponents.
In such dynamic training, we tend to get very excited and quite often we feel mental pressure and fear. If we continue our training for years and gain experience, we realize that gradually our mind remains relaxed even in such training. Although our body is moving fast and many techniques are applied quickly, our mind remains relaxed and clear - some describe it as: Stillness within motion.

Sumikiri in daily life:
Taking the risk of being crude, I would explain sumikiri as a mental state in which we act correctly and remain clear and relaxed in the midst of stressful situation. I think this can be a result of many years of training, and can affect all aspects of life: family, relationships, work, driving, inner conflicts, etc. Staying completely clear and relaxed under pressure is sumikiri.

Let the mud sink:
The most common example for sumikiri, is of a glass of water with some sand in it. When the water is in movement, the water will be muddy. When we let the water stand still, the mud will sink to the bottom of the glass, and the water will become clear. Even if our body moves dynamically, even if many people attack us at the same time, as a result of our years of training, our mind remains still and we can attain the state of sumikiri.

The eye of the storm:
An important teaching common to all martial arts, is the ability to be in the eye of the storm - where quietness prevails, and where we can remain relaxed. Storm is outside, but inside there is clarity and stillness. Developing such ability takes years, but each and every stage of development, affects all aspects of our life.

In the year 2004, a new book was published: "The Art of Aikido". The very first chapter is dedicated to sumikiri:

"Focus on stillness rather then motion in order to master aikido techniques.
for a heart instantaneously at one with the clear and serene sky, all of existence appears in crystal clarity. When the founder Morihei Ueshiba realized this state of mind, he felt bathed in golden light, and perceived the true mission of Aikido. The centre of a spinning top, appears to be completely still. That kind of stillness, rather then the rapid motion of the top, is where we should focus. It is where the secret of perfect clarity (sumikiri z.e) can be perceived. That stillness also lies at the heart of Aikido techniques. When speaking of the mysterious of centripetal and centrifugal forces, Morihei (O-Sensei z.e) Said: Large has no outside, small has no inside.
This is a maxim we need to reflect deeply."

Sumikiri zoom:
I think this wonderful photo of 2nd doshu is a perfect example for sumikiri. Please look at his relaxed face while executing a dynamic throw:


  1. What if the eye of the storm is at the centre, where uke and nage meet/connect. Instead of looking for this stillness solely in ourselves, which is great while we are by ourselves, I believe we should find this still point at the centre of where the two bodies connect. That is the eye of the storm. We must we totally relaxed and alive to be aware of this point; as it is present in every single aikido move, it gives us a clear reference point from which to move, every time.

    1. Dear Esther, thanks for reading and thanks for your reply.
      I my humble opinion and my very small understanding, Sumikiri refers to state of mind and not the phisical aspect of aikido. Of course it refers to the state of mind while practicing aikido and not when we are alone.

      Yet, it can be aplied also in daily life and also when we are alone.

      If you don't mind will you please write about your aikido experience? It is nice to have a conversation with people who tell somehting about themselves.