Stillness and movement

Or dying gracefully

A weekend seminar with Miles Kessler

This weekend, september 28 – september 30 2018, Miles Kessler of the Integral Dojo, gave a seminar in the dojo of Aikido Maastricht. Training with Miles Kessler is training outside of the mainstream aikido context. Miles, 6th dan aikikai, has integrated his 8 years of Burmese meditation and spiritual path with his aikido. As lineage holder of the Iwama tradition, he has trained intensively with Saito sensei. His teachings are deeply inspiring, as he works on universal principles that fit the human body and mind.

Friday and saturday

This weekend we have been working on stillness and movement. Everything, object, living creature, is moving in essence. This becomes most obvious when we look at living creatures, like us. We move, even when we are sitting in stillness. When in meditation the mind becomes close to stillness, we become aware of our breath, in and out. I sometimes even feel my blood running through my veins. Movement and stillness.

Integrating this in aikido practice is where Miles shows his mastery. A full focus on developing the subtle feeling of connection between uke and nage. Not martial, no leverage. But really connecting, and feeling the movement of your training-partner. This is the aikido my body and mind are longing for. For me this is the true spirit of aikido I have been searching for for 35 years. After two days of working to establish and improve this connection, the energy really starts to flow, and the aikido practice becomes more and more dynamic. Techniques evolving from the emptiness of the stillness. Even the beginner, without aikido-experience, is moving without hesitation.

Sunday: the three primary perspectives

I, we and it. These are three universal perspectives. We began with exercises to become aware of the energy and direction of a very light touch, with a hand, then with the tanto. Next we started to practice from these perspectives. First the I-perspective. In this perspective the other person is there, but you make no connection. No eye-contact. Just avoid the attack, maybe make a technique, as long as I am safe. For me this felt comfortable. This is who I am as a person. Being on myself feels comfortable.

Then the it-perspective. The attacker is a just something that needs to be taken care of. Apply a technique, finish the interaction. Whoah! Explosive energy, throwing the uke in all directions. Uke has to be able to take care of IT-self. Funny, energetic. Not a lot of compassion. This was for me back to my first years of aikido-practice, with friends I trusted, full of energy. But also you could feel the danger of collision, the potential of crossing a line, where uke might be hurt or even damaged.

Lastly the we-perspective. Connect, make eye-contact. Be in movement together. Both need to comply to the ‘we’. This aikido becomes fluent, almost like dancing. Becoming aware of the energy that flows in two directions, and needs to become one energy, one direction. This is beautiful, and difficult. There is always a shift from ‘we’ to ‘it’, when ego takes over to finish. Then start over again. Like the cycle of life. Breath in, breath out. Connect, disconnect, reconnect, disconnect. On and on.

Stages of development

The three perspective exercises felt like three stages of development in aikido. It all started from the it-perspective. Somewhat naive, lots of energy, lots of fun. After that, I began to internalize my practice. Feeling what aikido meant for me, becoming aware of ‘me’ in the conflict. This was an important development, and it accelerated personal growth. The we-perspective is what I am researching these days. How can we become truly one with our opponent, both on the tatami, and in daily life. By acknowledging that we are in conflict, and we do see the other as an opponent, the conflict changes. We find solace, even if only for a moment. Then I feel aikido as life, as part of my life.

Techniques divide, principles unite. By training principles, which are universal, differences in technical level seem to fade. We are all equal on the tatami, all there to evolve our being human. Which makes us better aikidoka.

Training in Maastricht for me is also back to my roots. In this area I was inspired by zen-aikido teacher Ad van Dun, when I was a 15 year old boy in 1983. Now, close to becoming 50, I feel I re-found my path. Only few kilometers from where it once started, in a dojo where Ad van Dun is still present in the form of calligraphy ‘One Heart’. Aikido never left me, and it is more present then it ever was.

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