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Aikidoka’s Shugyo

Aikido Demonstration of centerline

Aikido Demonstration of the Centerline: this centerline forms from the head, the hips to the tips of the toes acting as the structural integrity of the body. http://www.AikidoDelMar.com

I saw a translation of the Tao Te Ching (道德經) naming the Tao (道) as the Great Integrity. In my engineering experience the word integrity means ability to withhold structural properties. The Cambridge dictionary definition of integrity refers to the quality of being whole and complete, or the state of being unimpaired. In mechanical engineering we also stress the importance of structural integrity. In any kind of construction, we combine materials together to complete a working whole. And this working whole must withstand outside stresses being applied. If the bridge you are standing on is unable to hold its structural integrity, the whole would break apart and the bridge might crack or worse collapse.

What does structural integrity have anything to do with Aikido (合気道)? In my experience, there are three levels to Aikido integrity. First, the physical level – the strength of the body’s integrity can produce extremely effective techniques. In Aikido Shugyo, Shioda Sensei explored this effectiveness from the angle of the body’s centerline. This centerline forms from the head, the hips to the tips of the toes acting as the structural integrity of the body. We have seen demonstrations of a student standing on a sensei’s back leg without causing the leg to bend and the body to collapse. The strength of the body’s centerline is due to years of training where the body eventually learns to find and stays within its most productive state. For a beginner it takes longer for us to find our centerline and it is also more difficult for us to maintain it. On the other hand, a master might momentarily lose his balance yet within no time he can gain the balance back to maintain his center.

Second, the psychological level – the strength of our mind’s integrity can bring certainty into our choices and peace into our hearts.  Many of us spend hours per day planning and deciding what to do and what not to do. Many of us second guess ourselves and question if our earlier decisions were indeed the best for us. As you can see this can often bring added stress and wasted energy. According to the Harvard strategy expert Michael Porter,“the essence of strategy is deciding what NOT to do.” Basically in order know that we have made the right decision we must see that the decision does in fact align with our integrity so we can let go all the choices out of alignment with our values and beliefs. For example, I believe in doing our part to help bring-forth a green planet. Therefore I don’t spend my time looking at merchandises with extensive and unnecessary packaging and I find peace within myself by purchasing items that are green-oriented. The more I chose to be in alignment with my values and my beliefs, the easier it is to make the next decision and the more peaceful I feel.

Third, the spiritual level – the strength of our spirit’s integrity can reduce ego conflicts and cultivate harmony. Most of us have learned very early on to use our ego to manipulate or force a situation. We don’t listen to our intuitive soul urges instead we follow the logic of linear thinking. By using our ego instead of our spirit to accomplish goals, we have overlooked the fundamental reasons why we are alive. We are here to learn the right way of living that will bring-forth more love and harmony into the world as well as to cultivate our spirit to align with the longings of our soul in order to become purified into our authentic self – our natural structural integrity. Whenever we follow the demands of our ego instead of listening to the guidance of our soul, we drift further and further away from who we really are and we deteriorate inside out. The results can range from emotionally wounding ourselves and those closest to us to killings thousands of innocent people to achieve a stand of superiority. Hence it is essential to build the strength of our spiritual centerline and practice coming back to our loving nature whenever we are out of alignment.

Where does shugyo come in? In shugyo, the kanji characters are 修行. Some have translated 修 as “using a brush to strike away the dust that obscures the viewing of a person’s original elegance“. The combination 修行 are often translated into “conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery“. To me these popular definitions have over simplified the ultimate intention of shugyo. The deeper meaning of shugyo really lies within cultivating oneself’s own state of wholeness and nature integrity while using that personal integrity to harmonize with Tao of the world.

I came across shugyo (修行) when I learned to meditate in a Buddhist temple at the age of six. We learned that shugyo is the life-long devotion to one’s Tao. It is often called kugyo (苦行) where 苦 means long-suffering. In my Chinese calligraphy training at the same time I learned to examine each part of the kanji characters to find deeper meanings. My grand-uncle the 77th descendant of Confucius showed me ways to decode the meaning within each characters as Confucius did in his study during the late 500BCs.

If we were to break down shu (修) into pieces, we will find the left side of this kanji represents one individual. The line in the center was explained to me by the head monk in the Buddhist temple as ku (苦) – the long-suffering obstacle the mind must overcome in order to find itself in harmony (合) with the origin of the Self. On the right side of shu (修) there are three layers of training to achieve purification of healing (which 修 also represents healing in ancient text). To me these three sideways lines represent the physical, psychological and spiritual levels of shugyo training.

The second part of shugyo 行 can also be broken down into parts. The left side is no longer one individual instead two people or multiple of individuals. The right side becomes 亍 which means to take small but deeply grounded steps. The whole character carries the meaning of traveling, to walk on the Tao (道 or Do). By seeing the combined effect of 行 we can tell that this traveling on the Tao no longer consists only one individual but must be achieved by sharing the journey with others. In a way, just like the principles of aikido, shugyo (修行) means first we must overcome the obstacles in order to heal and purify the self to become one’s original elegance by finding our own centerline then we can form relationships with others to combine our individual centerlines to form something even more powerful. Together, we can become a bridge that can function on a holistic unimpaired level for the goal of greater goods.

On the physical level, the development of our physical centerline will allow us to attain holistic execution of movements that results in combined energy of powerful techniques. On the psychological level, the cultivation of the mind in alignment of our truth will allow us to become less stressful and more peaceful. On the spiritual level, the purification of the self into alignment with the depth of our soul will allow us to become authentic and form impactful relationships with others. In the end, Tao Te Ching is indeed the Great Integrity and Jacques Payet Sensei is dead-on when he signed my copy of Aikido Shugyo with “Aikido is Life!”

To all the aikidoka sharing the journey of shugyo, this kind of complete devotion to our Tao is not for the faint of heart, we are walking on the road less traveled and that will make all the difference. Osu!

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Aikido Wisdom, Chinese, World Transformation | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments