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Footwork is essential

ueshibamoriheipiedUeshiba Morihei sensei, my master’s master, awaking his foot.

Noro Masamichi sensei told us one day that there was a book of drawings Ueshiba Morihei sensei had done to promote his art, Aikido. Noro sensei took a look at these drawings and said to his master: “They are useless. One cannot see the footwork!” Ueshiba sensei smiled to his student and answered: “That is the point!”

In martial arts, footwork is of great importance. The feet connect to the ground and provide stability as well as mobility. Footwork is a signature for each martial art, for each school and for each master.

To Noro sensei, it was the opportunity to remind his student that energy has to go from earth to sky. Yet his earlier movements did go low, very low; I remember in the beginning 80’s, his Kaeten Nage was very low. Tori did Shiho Nage from a standing position while Uke was seating on his heels. Noro sensei’s teaching has evolved and I now am gathering his 30 years research into one scope. In Ringenkai Aikido, we contact the earth as one holds a sword. The quality of connexion between earth and our body should be the same as between our body and the sword. Connexion is a two way road along which intent and information flow constantly.

The reason why Noro sensei used to massage his feet was because it is what his master did: awaking to the earth. I too point my attention to footwork. Once, after practising Musashi’s kenjutsu all day, I went in the evening to Noro sensei’s dojo and applied incidentally Musashi’s footwork to the movements of Aikido. The result was that Noro sensei spent 2 hours examining my foot work, ashi waza. He had until then promoted the heel high up, not touching the ground. Through my ashi waza that day, he was discovering another possibility of using the foot to bring energy from earth to sky. His essential question was how to orientate energy from earth to sky. One answer was lifting the heel. That day, I answered his question in a way new to him. He did not refuse new answers if they were a response to his essential question.

This is one of my differences with my master. I answer differently to his question. I am faithful to his questions and like him, I am never totally satisfied with the answer. He practised Aikido because he was not satisfied with his understanding. That was how he understood practice, keiko. To that lesson too, I remain faithful.

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Walking throw door and bramble

porte-verger-2Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2018

Noro Masamichi sensei: “How does the movement travel from toe to finger? This is mystery.”

I understood his words as an invitation to look onto Noro sensei as he repeated what he had witnessed within the movement of his own master, Ueshiba Morihei sensei. Others thought “This is Noro’s technique” while, at the same time, I was looking at Ueshiba sensei through the body and mind of my master, impersonating a magnifying lens. His invitation to mystery was like a door open onto a thicket of brumble and beyond a tower, a princess and a dragon. I believe our study is limited by our expectations. We have to foster dreams and then work our way through the thicket and never forget “There is a door.”

To extend knowledge to the utmost

欲誠其意者,先致其知,致知在格物。物格而後知至,知至而後意誠,意誠而後心正

Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere.

Daxue

To extend one’s knowledge to the utmost is to go to all extents of knowledge, reaching out to all parts, gathering even the crumbs fallen from the table. It is examining what is cast aside. It means knowing every element so to understand the proportion of each in the building of knowledge. This is the meaning of the wheel as symbol of knowledge, each segment at equal distance from the centre.

The lost teaching within Aikido, part 3

Next: Soon online

Being faithful

物有本末
事有終始
知所先後
則近道矣

Things have their root and their branches.
Affairs have their end and their beginning.
To know what is first and what is last
will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.

Da Xue, the Great Learning

This summer I was listening to Anne Cheng on French radio, France Culture. I then heard of the Da Xue, The Great learning. What I heard was a mirror to my understanding and to my study of martial arts. We carry within ourselves the cultural inheritance of our fathers, in blood and in spirit. That is how I see the continuity inside Noro sensei’s teaching and in my own study. We have a spiritual backbone. We have to study to unveil what we carry, unknowingly. This is “being faithfull to the master and to the student”.

An introduction to Ringenkai Aikido, part 5

Next: The will to build a dojo

One midsummer afternoon

“(When I was 12 years old), I saw Kote Gaeshi. I knew immediately it was something different. I said to myself : This is what I want to do later.”

I always listen to what others say with extreme attention. They really mean what they say or they really need to conceal what they think. The path to their mind winds through their words and silences.

There is often a lack of consideration for what a child sees and says, sometimes even to the child one was. Yet when I recall my own words and dreams, I wonder at the amount I have achieved. I am a martial art teacher. I have been the student of great masters. I have entered an ancient sword school, sleeping at the Grand Master’s house. I have had hundreds of students. And what is more, I am still studying!

All these deeds have their root in a child’s dreams, insights and questions. I had to dispel greed, growing interest for new objects, immersion into social life, friendships that last the time of a sight. I had to stick to those questions as to how does a weak boy become a strong man, how does a man use his strength going by his intelligence, how does a kid grow to stand up to what he believes in, how does a woman look into a man’s eyes saying “No” with calm and composure. All this has grown into a dojo, a life dedicated to studying and, after, to teaching.

It has been done with the trust of my masters, of my friends, of my students. It has been done with my own trust that what worked for my masters would work for me.

Then, sitting in my dojo, I go back to the hour I witnessed Kote Gaeshi for the first time.

An introduction to Ringenkai Aikido, part 4

Next: Being faithful