Sky above

Fuji-Fash-AF108.WebEvening walk by the dojo. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2017

Our dojo in the French countryside sits on the northern slope of the Dordogne Valley. Its many hills create whisks of air climbing suddenly from the moist undergrowth as the sun shines through scarce clouds. Each evening, we look up at the sky and wonder at its beauty. Here the sun sets in a vast fiery of curling colours.

I have always practised with surrounding beauty, being inspired by it, supported by it. Strength is also to be found in beauty. And beauty is the limit to strength as it should not brutalize it nor damage it. As a child I happened to witness dead bodies as our car drove by, it was war in Vietnam. Since then, I have learnt that beauty is a limit to strength. Strength has to halt before beauty.

A dojo surrounded by beauty is a blessing as it is a reminder of the limit of our power on ourselves and on others. In Ringenkai Aikido, rin stands for wheel in Japanese. The wheel is efficient so long as its radius is limited. Should its radius tend to infinity, it would loose its applicability.

In force lies the necessity of self restraint.

In beauty lies a reminder of its limit.



Down and low

2017.03.15.009.webNotre-Dame from the towpath as I look back through the arch of the Pont Saint-Michel by the River Seine, Paris, France. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2017

Light is most important when one is down. The standing position is most important when one is lying down. I like to practise the art of standing up as I am pushed down. This too is the art of Ukemi, the fall, the break-fall, the roll, the leaf flop, what ever you may name it. From darkness, one looks onto light with hope, determination, eagerness to enter the fight.

Within or without, one has to fight all the way up. This is an important part of Ringenkai Aikido. Martial arts starts with a bow and ends with a bow. This is a martial proverb. Yet one has to find an application to these words, to all words that come out of our mouth. We should never talk in vain. As I understand them, I enter the confrontation with a bow and I have to fight to find the conditions to end with a bow. I enter the darkness of opposition and have to fight the way back to a position when both of us are standing, facing one another with respect, setting behind our grudge, our misunderstanding. This is how I understand “Welcome the oncoming light.” I have to build the conditions for light through arduous efforts, overcoming my blindness as well as that of my opponent.

This is ukemi as I look up at Notre-Dame from the towpath.

Down by

2017.03.15.008.WebThe Seine River by the Pont de l’Archevêché looking eastward, Paris, France. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2017

One thing that I learnt from Noro Masamichi sensei and that I keep in the heart of my practice is the energy, ki, which is breath and flow, maturing force and constant movement. In what comes down from Ueshiba Morihei sensei through the scope of my master, I see a river, an element always seeking its destination, even at its quietest, ever adapting yet never giving up its own law, running, crawling, bursting to the deepest end.

In our movements, we are inspired by water. We start as solid ice, we move to dripping water, then we come to evaporation as we reach mastery. I experienced it directly in the hands of Noro sensei. There is on origin, the student. There is a destination, the master. There is a way, the well directed practise. There is a standing point, today in the dojo. This is the water’s law, as I understand it, coming down from the masters of old.

In this picture, the Seine River flows through Paris. Mighty energy through the city of men, it flows beyond without inflicting harm, yet true to its self, a few times in a century reminding us of its might.

This is how I remember Noro sensei’s ki, this is how I like to practise in memory of him.

In the end

2017.03.15.006.WebTeenager by the Quai de la Tournelle, Paris, France. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2017

We have to choose, to go our way, take the road that will become ours. Whatever the direction, we have to stand up to our expectations. Never worry about where the crowd goes so long as we stay in good company. Ringenkai Aikido is about choice making, energy directing. It is not enough to burn energy, to move fast and strong, to achieve a goal. One must see and choose the good direction and the good friends. The direction is what brings the fruit of an action to the best benefit of the next move, when each step builds the strength of all, in the end and to the end.

I named my school the Eye of the Wheel because one has to see way ahead, beyond the teaching. It is the eye that secures the end.

Balance of forces

2017.03.15.010.WebPublic bench, Notre-Dame de Paris, France. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thiên © 2017

In the building of human relations as well as in the building of houses or churches or of any human construction, there is balance between forces. Not only does one need a desire to go toward the other, not only must one walk beyond fear of the other, one also needs self restraint so that one’s force does not overwhelm that of the other.

Martial art is all about balance and bounds. I have chosen the character rin, wheel, in Ringenkai Aikido to express this truth.

Conducting energy

2017.03.15.013.WebThe way a city is built orientates the energy of its people. The way a teaching is conceived orientates the energy of its students. Notre-Dame de Paris from the Pont de la Tourelle, France. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2017

One day I asked a Maître d’Armes, a traditional fencing master, my friend Ricard, a question. He went silent for a moment then answered: “We do not like answering questions about our art. We are not so proud of it as it is an art of killing.”

One day, Noro Masamichi sensei told his old friend and an Aikido sensei: “What you do is disgusting.”

I was listening to a radio program. The speaker was saying that one deprives only animals from their freedom. This should not to be applied to Humans.

As a martial artist, I have to reflect on the orientation of my efforts. As the founder of Ringenkai Aikido, I have to set this path in the correct direction and this manner in a humane perspective.

This is a teaching passed down by the masters. I have heard it. I have witnessed it. It is now to me to care for what my students study and where it brings us.

In the middle flows a river

table verre002In company of Omar Khayam. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2016

When looking at the wine glass, I gaze at the tablecloth. When looking at a mountain afar, I wonder at the space in between. On a Chinese scroll, the landscape between the mountain and me is filled by a cloud or some mist. When uncovering a Japanese woodblock print, I have to cross a river or a lake to reach the mountain. When I bow to my partner, I have to inhabit the space between us. This is a teaching I understood when visiting a Japanese garden in company of the gardener. “Void must flow among the bushes, the twigs, the branches. Void flows and should not be stopped.”

We have to enter this river when doing Ikkyo or Shiho Nage. This was shown by my master. I felt it. I learnt it.

Now I study and share it with my students, in the most simple manner, through keiko, by the means of Ikkyo or Shiho Nage.