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Humility: Embracing the Right Mind-set and Attitude Toward Training
By Sensei Ryan Goettsche
It's amazing to me how much martial training has changed since I first started. It seems that "the gym mentality" has become more prevalent over the years and the newly termed "me" generation has become more dominant, which I believe can be attributed to the advances in technology. The attitude that "I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it and how I want to do it" is everywhere and, unfortunately, isn’t congruent with the correct way to approach martial arts training. If one chooses to train in a martial art, one must truly desire to learn the art.
The first step to learning the art is to be humble to the fact that, being a beginner, one knows nothing. Knowing nothing means just that, one has no experience or even more so, no experiences. Just because one has read books upon books based on the art they desire to practice, does not mean that they know how to train. Training is about learning… so how can one learn anything if one doesn't listen to and respect the position of the instructor. If one doesn't humble themselves to the art and the instructor, then they don't really want to learn, they want something else. This something else is not truly known, so they become the fool and will prove this fact in due time.
Humility is the foremost quality of any student of the martial arts, and this humility is what opens the mind to new ways of thinking. This new way of thinking opens the soul to understanding, and this understanding is what opens the body to the unification of mind, body and spirit. The lessons of each and every class are important, and are presented to the student whether they are ready to see it or not. If the student is accepting to the lesson then they will progress, if they are not, then they will become more combative. In the long-term, this delays their progression, or even forces them to stop training because they believe themselves to be more knowledgeable than the instructor. They may become frustrated with the fact that what is being offered is not what they believe they desired to learn.
The lessons in any "Do" based martial art are deeper and broader than anyone can imagine, so to read a book, and think that one understands it all, is ignorance at its peak. The act of stepping into, asking to train, and then beginning training in a dojo, is where true learning occurs. The act of throwing, being thrown, getting up off the mat time and time again is what matters and listening to what the instructor provides is paramount, even if at that moment, one doesn't agree to what is being shared.
I can remember many times sitting in seiza for hours listening to my instructor and wondering what he was talking about and even disagreeing (in my own conscious mind, not vocally). The humility expressed by not arguing/debating the subject is what allowed me to think about the lesson; even if it was something I didn't believe at the time, which is what allowed the subconscious to ponder the lesson over time. It's difficult to change, to accept the necessity to change, and to know that one needs to change.
The ability to let go of self-comfort, look at oneself objectively, and polish the rough edges, is what martial training provides. The thought that walking into a dojo, believing that it is just a place to solely practice self-defense, or just have a physical workout, is inaccurate. A dojo which trains in "The Way" is about far more than physical prowess and must be approached with the respect and humility that it deserves, because it represents far more than what one sees on the surface.
The Trinity of Aikido
by Ryan Goettsche Sensei
Although the symbolism of the triangle, circle and square can be traced back to the Shinto cosmology theory of Gogyo Gogen and can have pages upon pages of explanation and description written and debated, they can simply relate to Aikido as trinity, perfect resolution and solid beauty. All three have more meanings attached to them as O'Sensei taught but these are the basic three.
The trinity would be the multiple grouping of three which we see in life and nature; mind, body and spirit is one that is commonly related in many martial arts schools which is something that we should all strive to unite within ourselves. Other examples of the trinity would be; birth, life and death; man, woman and child. The natural grouping of three in nature also show up in the physical, triangular stance of Aikido which is grounding and stable and which also allows for powerful entering (irimi) while incorporating the manifestation of Ki (life force, energy).
Perfect resolution as it pertains to the circle corresponds to harmony with everything and no flaws. The circular movements of Aikido are part of what makes Aikido what it is because it is what allows the blending and harmonizing to occur. Perfect resolution represents the heart of non-violence while still maintaining self-preservation. The combination of those two results in a powerful martial art which can also protect the attacker from harming themselves.
The solid beauty references the necessity to perform the Aikido techniques (waza) correctly. It represents the power of the waza and the beauty of it when performed solidly with proper breath power and mind extension.
All three of these principles work together during Aikido practice and they are also carried into daily life. During practice, the triangular stance, the harmony of the circular movements and the power of the waza are all demonstrated. In daily life, the development of Ki, harmony and breath power keep us vibrant and thriving in life.
Your Progress Is Proportional to Your Commitment
By Ryan Goettsche Sensei
When I first started my Aikido training in 1994, I would never have guessed I would learn so much about a martial art or about myself and even more, to still be working on perfecting both counts. I have always loved and been fascinated with martial arts ever since I was a child and wanted to be a great martial artist someday. But, this notion was in my head and that someday was never really pondered or scheduled. I never pushed myself to get a black belt in four years and I didn’t eat, sleep and breathe Aikido.
I was very excited when I first started. I trained as often as I could which usually ended up being about 5 or 6 classes per week. When I first started training I was working night crew at King Soopers and my dojo offered morning classes from 9:00-11:00AM on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and evening classes from 6:00-8:00PM on Tuesday and Thursday. There were a core group of students which regularly trained during the evening or morning times and once in a while show up to the other classes. So my regular schedule was to go home after work at 7:00AM and stay awake by playing some music and a Game Boy. I had to stay awake because I’m not the type of person that can nap for one hour; it’s all or nothing for me. So I would stay at home for an hour and a half then go off to class.
One of the regular students of the morning classes also worked at night but he would just drive over to the dojo after work and sleep in the back of his van. I would always get to class about 20 minutes early and sit in my car waiting for the dojo to open. When it did, I would knock on the van to wake up the other student and we would all file into the dojo and train. I’d then go home, shower and head off to band practice then go back home and sleep before work.
As time went on I changed jobs and had to rework my entire schedule around work and training. It was my first day job and I was still in a rock band at the time. So I couldn’t change the times I went to work and train in Aikido, but band rehearsals could be changed. I couldn’t train in the morning anymore either so now I started going to the evening classes and Saturday morning classes. Three days per week was all I could make it to now. It wasn’t a hard adjustment to make but it was strange because it was a different group of people and I felt like a brand new student again. Plus the evening classes were much larger than the weekday morning classes and that was intimidating as well. But I had to keep training and polishing my techniques and my spirit. My desire to learn the art and commit myself to the school was the most important thing. I didn’t care how long it would take to master the art…whatever it even means to “master” something. It’s kind of like halving a number and then halving that number and so on, you never get to zero…the number just gets smaller and smaller. If you keep training, you never master it, your movements just become more refined and your Ki starts to replace the physicality of the movements.
As time marched forward I moved 25 miles from the dojo, started working 50 miles from where I live, have a wife and three children. Schedules outside of the dojo always need to be worked on, just like in the beginning; work and dojo times stay consistent so it’s up to me to work on everything outside of those times. I only have so much free time outside of work and my time at the dojo will not be sacrificed for another activity I may want to start doing. I would love to play in a band again but there is no time to commit to it so I don’t for now. We also have a lot of activities that my son Brandon is involved with such as Cub Scouts which takes time (thankfully the meetings are on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Personal schedules can always be changed to support the things one truly wants or needs to do. I will work until 2:00AM so that I can go to class that night, come home and do the things I needed to get done for the day vs. not going to class so I can get the things completed and go to bed at my usual time.
I am still trying to figure out what has changed over the years but I don’t see the excitement and enthusiasm in the martial arts community, which used to be there when I first started training. I do think that it is partly the “now” society we have created over the past fifteen or twenty years. Most people are all about instant gratification because of the technology we are told we love and have to have, the crash course certifications we can get online, etc. When people become more disconnected from society and everything that is happening every day, at any given time, the desensitization is, I think, astounding. True martial training is not about those things but rather the slow, relentless commitment to the polishing of the human soul. It is that constant desire to be better tomorrow; not just better at work, a better father, a better husband, a better guitar player…an overall better person. If you’re a better person, everything else is just a given.
The pleats represent the seven virtues of budo: Benevolence, honor, etiquette, wisdom, sincerity, loyalty, and piety. These seven virtues are placed into the hakama so that every time it is donned, one is reminded of these virtues. The virtues date back to the samurai and the values by which they lived their lives. We are not of that era, but that doesn’t mean that the values don’t hold up in today’s society. That is the power of their meaning; they are timeless and will never die.
It is easy to fall into the realm of thinking that when you are allowed to wear the hakama that you have achieved something over other people and that it is a symbol of “arriving.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That is the time to start honoring those virtues. The hakama should always be worn with those seven virtues in mind because then you will always be reminded of them when you train, you will live your life with them in mind. The small act of wearing the hakama will have significant effects on the way you live your life. Throw the pebble into a calm pond and the waves will go on for a great distance.
The hakama must also be worn with the respect it deserves. You are a representation of the school and the art of O’Sensei. If you wear your hakama without paying attention to keeping the pleats crisp, clean, and sharp and if you don’t fold your hakama to keep the pleats crisp, clean, and sharp, then you dishonor everything it represents. To wear a wrinkled hakama with nine or ten pleats because time was never taken to make sure the original pleats didn’t drift and careless folding created new ones is an insult. I’ve been to schools where students just take their hakama off after class and role it up into a ball and put it in a duffle bag until the next class. Everything has meaning, substance and purpose in budo training. That is the tradition and there are so many lessons to be learned by paying attention to every little action and setting them in motion. We may not see the value right away, but with time and open eyes they will come one by one and enrich our lives. After all, that is the real reason for training; to be a better person than we were the day before.
The Meaning Behind Aikido's Hakama
by Ryan Goettsche Sensei
Everything we do in Aikido has meaning. The way we enter the dojo, remove our shoes, bow, put on our uniforms, line up, train, fold our hakama etc. Everything has purpose; the incense, how the tatami mats are positioned, which wall the shomen resides etc. Our school allows a student to wear a hakama at the rank of third kyu. There is reason behind that as well as there is reason behind the seven pleats of the hakama, which most people do not know about or think to question.
Exploring our Colorado Aikido Community: Reflections from Recent Training Experiences
By Sensei Ryan Goettsche
2009 has been a very busy year so far with all of the seminar activity in Colorado.
Last summer there was the Expo with Sabo Sensei and a weapons camp with Kashiwaya Sensei. Kashiwaya Sensei recently returned to Colorado for a three-day seminar which included him visiting several Aikido schools in the Denver/Boulder area.
Our most recent experience with Kashiwaya Sensei was amazing. He offered a children’s class on Saturday morning at the Denver dojo. I told the parents of our children’s class that this would be a wonderful opportunity for them to experience someone like Kashiwaya Sensei. They were excited to hear about it and allowed me to take all of the kids up to participate. It was great to see how interactive Kashiwaya Sensei is with children and how he handles a group of children as large as this one was. They all did some basic stretches in a very spirited way and then did some basic rolling and more advanced falling. After the one hour long class, I took my children home and they talked about his class all the way back. I hope it’s something that they will remember forever.
The next day, I visited to an Aikido dojo in Westminster to train for the day where we practiced MUSOGI breathing, lots of KI exercises, BOKKEN cuts and listened to Koichi Tohei Sensei talk more about Aikido. It was all very exciting. To think about his history, training with Koichi Tohei Sensei and everything he must have seen through his years is mind boggling. He moves with incredible power yet with softness that you can’t believe unless you see and feel it live. As usual, everyone was very friendly and I had a great time.
Most recently was the 9th Annual Aikido Summit at the Buddhist Temple in downtown Denver. This year’s Summit featured seven different instructors including: Chandler Sensei, Izawa Sensei, Itoh Sensei, Tanaka Sensei, Hayashi Sensei, Threadgill Sensei and Ikeda Sensei. There were students and instructors from all over the United States, Japan, and other countries. We basically trained for seven hours with a one hour lunch break where we enjoyed a KODO drumming session by a local Denver TAIKIO performance group. It was an exhausting day but a great learning lesson, as well. To see instructors from a wide variety of styles including Ki Society, ASU, Tomiki Aikido and Jujitsu all in the same day was very interesting and reminded me of the diversity of the art of Aikido. Everyone had very different approaches to training and different approaches to teaching. Most of the morning was hard training while the afternoon was softer training but still difficult nonetheless. I hadn’t seen Ikeda Sensei in more than ten years and I was so amazed at how his Aikido has evolved... or perhaps it was my perception of his Aikido that had evolved... or both, I hope! Everything he did was about energy, leading and redirection. Not that he never talked about that before or showed it, it was just very different than what I remember. The Summit was a wonderful experience to be able to participate in them and train with Aikido instructors from all over the United States and abroad.
There are more seminars to come this summer and we are in for some more great opportunities to experience some great history and see how it’s all tied together. Mary Heiny Sensei is coming out in April, Kashiwaya Sensei is coming back out in June and Koichi Tohei’s son will be coming out this summer as well. Like I said earlier, there has been an incredible amount of seminar activity this year and there is still so much more to come so save up the pennies, don’t go out to lunch a couple days per week to save that extra money so you can attend these seminars because they don’t happen very often and the likes of some of them may never happen again!
This is one of the many poems or ‘doka’ by O’Sensei, which his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba chose to include in his book The Spirit of Aikido. Aikido is partly about relaxing, extending ki, keeping the “one point” and cultivating the “weight underside” concept. All of these principles are exemplified in this poem. Ki cannot flow unless the body is relaxed. The relaxed body, flowing with ki is free of stress allowing dedicated focus on everything at hand during any given moment of time. The relaxed body which is extending ki allows for focus on allowing all movements to originate from the hara (anatomical center). The relaxed body, extending ki, moving from the hara can then be rooted to the earth.
If training is solely focused on what is before the eyes; the body, the attack, the thought of what technique to perform and how it should be executed, then the principles will grow but not be as powerful as when the principles are in motion and accepting of all energy from all directions. The mind must be mindful to the rear, to the front, to the left and to the right. It must be in the hara, in the arms, beyond the arms into the group, beyond the group to the walls of the dojo and beyond the walls of the dojo to the mountains and the plains. The power of ki will always be in direct relation to how far it is sent in every direction.
Ki training must be done while alone as while in the company of many, whether it be in the dojo or a crowded public venue. It cannot be turned off if it is to grow and it cannot be forgotten when the overwhelming occurs. It is the root of what we are and how we live. The physical aspect of Aikido training can be soft and hard, yin and yang, but the connection of ki between one-to-many participants dictates the power and perception of hard versus soft Aikido. Multiple attacks can be overwhelming but only because we choose to view it in that way. It is a group of attackers and the word “group” is singular so it is truly a singular attack which requires attention. If focus is given to each individual in the group then focus is truly lost because the mind is drawn into many directions, preventing the ki to flow, breaking the connection to the hara and the earth. Train daily with multiple attack in mind. Treat all moments in the work place and in the home with a relaxed mind while extending ki in all directions. In the dojo, treat all single attacks as if from many approaching from all directions.
The Ever-Present Mind
by Ryan Goettsche Sensei
"Even though surrounded
By several enemies set to attack,
Fight with the thought
That they are but one."
- Morihei Ueshiba
The Long-Term Value and Importance of Proper Dojo Etiquette
By Ryan Goettsche Sensei
Over the past several years I have participated in many seminars and special classes at other martial arts schools. I am constantly surprised by the lack or absence of etiquette. Many martial arts teachers will judge you by your etiquette more so than your technique every time and that is another example of what we strive to perfect in our chosen arts. There are so many details to proper DOJO etiquette and they can be adhered to very strictly or not at all. Here in the United States, there seems to be a disconnect from this because we learn the history of why it is the way it is. We have a tendency to want to disregard all of the formalities and get right down to what we want...technique. We always need to polish our etiquette from the time we enter the DOJO to the time we leave and even outside of the DOJO.
There is also the senior student to junior student relationship; what is also commonly called the SEMPAI-KOHAI relationship. The dynamic of this relationship is very important. KOHAI, the junior student, should always be the first to bow to SEMPAI and should not rise before SEMPAI rises. They should also always refer to SENSEI as "sensei," not "Hey" or just "Good evening." This is one of the many ways KOHAI show your respect for the years SEMPAI and SENSEI have spent perfecting the art within themselves, so that they may, in turn, share it with the junior student.
When a new student comes in to our Aikido DOJO in Colorado Springs asking to be taught the Japanese art of Aikido it is the responsibility of the school, SENSEI, and SEMPAI, to impart proper DOJO etiquette; and it is the responsibility of the new, beginning student to let go of all of their preconceptions about what it is they asked for and always do their very best to perfect daily everything they are taught. I remember a long time ago my teacher had our school go to another school and train together. It was a separate art, but an art, which still demands the etiquette. After the class was over, the instructor of that school told us that our school has beautiful etiquette and he needed to improve the etiquette of his own students. Nothing was mentioned of the technique our school demonstrated, what was noticed was solely the etiquette.
Other things to consider with etiquette are how you should always bow when entering and exiting the DOJO and also to bow both getting on and off the mat. When you bow, you show humility to the Founder of Aikido, O'Sensei, for dedicating his life to creating this art, which carries on well after his passing. We, practitioners of the art, have a responsibility to carry the torch. If we dismiss all of the things we don't want to do, and take only that which we want, the art will disappear. If students train sincerely and with an open mind, they will grow in the art, but if there is a personal agenda or desire for just technique, they will fail. The art is always there but the DOJO may not be, so students must train like it's the last day the school will be open. Treat all students as seniors and whenever you bow to somebody, imagine the years they have spent picking themselves up off the mat.
When you enter the DOJO, recognize its history not just as a building, but as a place that contains the teachings of O'Sensei. Remember, Examine closely every aspect of your practice; recognize excessive ambitious behaviors.
A Traditional Japanese Martial Arts School for Adults & Children in Colorado Springs, CO
The Value of Aikido Training in an Overly-Technological World
by Ryan Goettsche Sensei
Marketing of technological advances in popular society is growing exponentially; and it has not only driven our society to be dependent on it but has made us love it and look for the next thing we “need.” From iPods and iPhones to Wii entertainment systems and big screen plasma televisions, it’s everywhere. Instant messengers and BlackBerry cell phones have enabled us to be contacted at all times. With all of these technologies, we’ve become a society of “NOW!” Everything has to happen in the immediate moment and if it doesn’t we get frustrated.
Businesses have embraced this as a way of getting more out of their employees and children have expounded upon it to get dirt on their classmate enemies via the Internet at astonishing rates. It seems that there is more of a focus on “What can we do to make more money?” vs. “Should we do it?” in the executives that approve the development of the technology.
In this now society, the values of discipline and values are being lost. There is a huge disconnect from social interaction occurring, which is disturbing. One-on-one contact is no longer required, which is taking away the ability for people to interact on a personable level. This disconnect is resulting in the inability for individuals to socialize with live humans on a personable level which is what life is all about. We are here to experience the interaction of life with everyone around us…to participate with all that we encounter and learn from those experiences.
Aikido allows people to experience the interaction of one another. Aikido is a martial art but it maintains the natural design of human interaction. There will be a time when Aikido is portrayed in a video game and someone becomes very advanced at the game and feels the need to join a dojo and sees the disconnect. You can’t play a game or just read the writings of those who have trained and walk into a dojo and assume you know what it’s all about. There is so much more to training in the art than what could be portrayed through technology. That’s what makes Aikido so invaluable, the ability to come back to the basics of life. Aikido makes every practitioner look in the mirror and let them decide if they want to make themselves a better human or not. If they don’t, they quit and if they do, they listen and learn the principles and apply them to their lives every day.
There is no winning or losing in Aikido, there is no competition to be better than the student next to you in line. There is only bettering yourself from where you were the day before. Technology can’t provide that. Technology is allowing society to have shortcuts to make life simpler and that is just a facade which allows us to become lazy. I went to see the movie “Wall-E” with my children and it had a huge message. The population became…and was encouraged to become lethargic. They consumed the resources of their world and when they had destroyed their world, they followed their leader in a spaceship to continue their existence not knowing what he knew and they waited for something to come along to provide them the ability to consume at the same rate. Technology is providing us instant gratification and fulfillment with no real effort required. The only thing that can truly give us fulfillment is the fact that we do our best and to be the best that we can be. That is, be the best friend we can be. That is, be the best parent we can be or be the best student we can be. That desire is translated in our support of the place we train by being there when we can and training diligently.
We come to Aikido class before it starts to help clean it and purify ourselves. We don’t get off of work ten minutes before class starts and just go home because class will have started before we get there. We strive to support the school and each other and through that we strive to support the social interaction which is what this life is all about. There is no excuse for our “NOW” society and Aikido training proves it. If one really wants to improve themselves, they train, if they don’t, then they quit and subscribe to the powers that allow them to grab that instant gratification.
A Day in the Woods with Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei
By Ryan Goettsche
A few summers back, I attended a camp ground about 30 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado to spend the day learning from (more) Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei. Kashiwaya Sensei was born in Yamagata, Japan in 1949. He began his Aikido training in 1969 and trained exclusively for many years with Koichi Tohei Sensei and even acted in the capacity of an Uchi Deshi, or live-in student, with Tohei Sensei. In 1983, Kashiwaya Sensei was appointed Chief Instructor for Ki Society USA by Tohei Sensei.
The Rocky Mountain Ki Society was hosting a weekend campout with three days of weapons training featuring Kashiwaya Sensei. Friends picked me up at 4:30AM and we hit the highway. We made good time up through Denver and thought we would be too early but we ended up at the camp ground about thirty minutes before training was to begin. We got registered and were able to meet Sensei and speak with him for a little bit before class. Training began about 9:00AM and the group was separated into two groups, one which was there for the whole weekend and one that was there just for the day. Each group faced each other and we practiced cutting with a bokken. Sensei would demonstrate how to hold the bokken and how to cut. Then ten people from the group that was there for the whole weekend would count to ten each. After each round of one hundred cuts, Sensei would demonstrate some more refined aspects of the cuts and we would go through another one hundred cuts. We did a total of one thousand cuts…one hundred of them we did holding the bokken with just our right hand. The last few hundred cuts, the group that was just there for the day closed their eyes and turned to cut towards the voice that was calling out the numbers.
This was really good training. After the two hours of cutting we stopped to have lunch so we all sat with other from the group who had brought some light sandwiches and power drinks for everyone. The next class Sensei showed sections of a common jo kata. At first he was demonstrating moves which I thought were from the 21 jo kata but with some variations. I recognized some of the motions from what other teachers had showed me but then some were very different. Sensei went through all of the motions of the jo kata and by the end of the class and we worked on all of the moves with partners. It was very interesting to go through the movements while outside in the forest and trying to watch your step with how the terrain was. The campground was not flat and there were little trees and rocks to work around. We ended the class by watching Sensei perform the full kata very quickly with two students attacking from the front and the rear.
Sensei is very precise in his movements and even more precise in his explanations of what is happening before, during and after the movements. He was always smiling and describing what is going on with the mind and body and how each movement works to merge the two using Ki. The last time I saw Kashiwaya Sensei was in Fort Collins back in 1997 at the University gymnasium and I remember watching him and being blown away at how powerful he was, especially when moving with weapons like the bokken and jo. You could just tell that they were extensions of his body and Ki. They weren’t just something used to cause damage to another individual, which people who don’t train assume it’s all about. The movements he demonstrated this time were just as strong as I remembered from eleven years ago. The constant strive for perfection is truly what it’s about and he demonstrates it so well.
During the breaks, lunch and dinner, we were able to spend a lot of time with the students and instructors of the Rocky Mountain Ki Society dojos. There were about forty people from all of the schools in the area (Boulder, Fort Collins and Denver) along with students from Kansas and Canada. They were all very hospitable and very excited that we came up to support the seminar. They knew that we were not part of the Ki Society association but they didn’t treat us as outsiders which speaks volumes to how they train. We had lots of comments on our posture and etiquette and we even had a comment that it was very rare that they had three black belts from the same school come to one of their seminars. This was a great experience and worth every minute of sleep lost to participate in the teachings Kashiwaya Sensei and his students had to offer. I look forward to training more with him in the future.
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