There and Back Again

pierresPhotography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2016

Noro Masamichi sensei often reminded us that we should direct our energy toward the sky. I always wondered why he did so when he used to do mouvements so low that Tori’s hands where stroking the tatami. I remember a Kaeten Nage which beauty burnt into my eyes, some 37 years ago. At the time, he stressed that we should be flexible, and stretch in every direction. Later he came to privelege that we orientate our mouvements upwards. Still he did at the same time tell us to go deep, river deep and then mountain high.

I have dug into his teaching, getting right down to the rock bed, and even lower to an ever darker layer.

Noro sensei did ask his students to reach high. To those who did what was asked, he also asked more. This further lesson set them on balancing high and low, not as a medium request but as a quest to the extremes and back.

This is what we study in Ringenkai Aikido: There and Back Again. This is one way of understanding my vision: the wheel is pushing in all directions at a time and bringing them all back to the one central point which is void. Kaeten Nage translates as “throw in circle”.


Through the looking glass, reaching to the master

When Noro Masamichi entered Ueshiba Morihei sensei’s dojo, he was a young medical student. This was a new world to him. He often described how he aimed at becoming Ueshiba’s closest student. He wanted to become “Chouchou“, the beloved disciple, the one who endorses the expectations of his master. Before he came to the dojo, it was Tamura Nobuyoshi sensei who was in this position. Soon after his arrival, a semester or a year, I do not recall the detail, Noro Masamichi was the one who was to receive the techniques his master .

These first steps of Noro sensei were to set the road for Noro sensei and Tamura sensei for the next decades. To please his master, Noro sensei had to become the best student to receive techniques, the best Uke among his comrades. He studied the art of Uke, the one who recieves the technique, the one who strikes, sends the energy, pushes forward his intent.

When I read that Tamura sensei was teaching that there is no such art to be studied as the art of Uke, I was at first surprised comparing to the teaching of Noro sensei but soon undertstood the different standing points of these masters in regard of how they had come to meet in the dojo. Once Noro sensei had become the demonstration partner of Ueshiba sensei, Tamura sensei was left with the study of the art of Tori, the study of the art of Uke being bestowed on to Noro sensei.

On creating the Ringenkai Aikido to host my study of the art of Noro sensei and through him of the art of Ueshiba sensei, I have come to examine closely the intent of my master. When at first I did not think much of the ambition of becoming the beloved disciple, I have now come to grasp what was at stake in the path of my master on approaching Ueshiba sensei. To understand my point of view, lets go back to film photography, where the film is the negative and the picture on paper is the positive. Uke as Noro sensei studied directly from Ueshiba sensei is the reverse, the negative of his master’s action. It is the exact replica of the art of the founder of Aikido. It is as close to him as the image in the mirror. Studying the art of Uke is then as walking through the looking glass and setting one’s body and mind in the exact pace of our master’s. This is one  meaning of “The master is the mirror of the student” in which the student is invited to walk through the looking glass to reach his master.

I in turn studied the art of Uke before the art of Tori. I was in my first years the Uke of my teacher who himself was the Uke of Noro sensei. I later entered the dojo of Noro sensei to experience directly Uke in his hands. I have set on the path opened by my master to join the standing point of his own master. I am now opening once more this study within Ringenkai Aikido and sharing it with my students. I have kept silent so long about this study because it is a journey one walks in silence, in the shadow of the technique, with no space in between the master and the student, between Uke and Tori.

Where thyme, marjoram and lavander grow

pissenlit05Dandelion, the easily forgotten one, from French Dent-de-Lion meaning “lion’s tooth”. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2016

I once read about Jean-Henri Fabre, the entomologist. He wrote beautiful texts, one of them on a beetle rolling its ball of dung, the jewel of his day, the food for his seedling. One other beetle comes to cross his road and joins his efforts to his. The first beetle happens to fall and loose control of the ball and the befriended beetle to rush off with his new treasure, not to be shared.

Jean-Henri Fabre was famous as an entomologist. Most of his observations were done in his garden or on the other side of its wall, in the backcountry of Montpellier, where thyme, marjoram and lavander grow.

Jean-Henri Fabre inspired me immediatly although I did not know why. Now I understand that he could grasp the most universal teachings when looking down at the dust of the path, at the shrubs growing beside his daily walk, at last night’s rain drying out under the burning sun of Montpellier and the thirsty wind flowing in from the Mediterranian Sea.

In the same way, I see research in Aikido. I named my school Ringenkai which indulges to see through the teaching, within and without. I like to dig the lessons given to me by my master, Noro Masamichi sensei. I am in no need to run away from them.

So do I understand these words: “Welcome the light of the instant to come.”