By Christina Sulzman, Ventura Aikikai
As a student of Aikido, I have not yet pursued a thorough study of the writings of O‐Sensei. However, one concept that I have come across more than once in his teachings and that I find particularly interesting is infinite or unlimited possibility in Aikido.
“The body should be triangular, the mind circular. The triangle represents the generation of energy and is the most stable physical posture. The circle symbolizes serenity and perfection, the source of unlimited techniques. The square stands for solidity, the basis of applied control.” (Art of Peace 66)
“It is necessary to develop a strategy that utilizes all the physical conditions and elements that are directly at hand. The best strategy relies upon an unlimited set of responses.” (Art of Peace 55)
In a martial art where we train on a finite number of basic forms and techniques, and then test on these techniques, I find this idea particularly intriguing and a challenge to grasp. How can there be infinite possibility of forms in such an art? How does the concept of the infinite or unlimited fit into Aikido training?
In his pursuit in the development and creation of Aikido, I think O‐Sensei could see new possibilities in martial training. He envisioned a marital art with a focus on neutralizing the attack of an opponent; where the pursuit of peace and harmony is a central focus. His vision of the possible was to develop a form of martial training which focused on neutralizing and blending with an attack and seeks to do no harm, or as little harm as possible – creating peace from war, of no harm from an attack that seeks to harm, reducing force to no force, creating harmony from aggression. Though he points to stable form and applied control, as described above, the application of the circularity of the mind to Aikido expands the potential application into infinite possibility. The basic forms are full of circular movements and continuous flow. For example, the form of a figure eight is evident in many movements and applications within Aikido, a form similar to the symbol for infinity. Therefore, continuous possibility stems from the expansion of practice with the application of the mental, circular component of this martial art.
By introducing the concept of the infinite in Aikido, I believe O‐Sensei was trying to convey that Aikido is less about control, and more about possibility. In other words, if you focus on controlling your uke, or the anticipation of an attack, then your practice will not take you into an understanding the infinite, circular nature of Aikido. Though we study a set, limited number of basic forms, there are always variables involved that lead to infinite possibility of application. The size of an opponent, great or small, the strength of an attack, the speed and force, are always going to be different, to name a few. These variables will always be different with each experience between uke and nage. Your uke may be tall or short, have great strength or great speed, stiff or yielding. An attack may come with great force or be weak, may be quick or slow, be given with great emotion and passion, or be very cold and precise. True practice requires an expansion of consciousness in order to continually develop sensitivity to such differences, and the ability to adapt to them with the application of infinite forms and variations of basic Aikido techniques.
As I have continued with practice, one challenge that has become particularly evident in broadening my training is the expansion of nage’s focus in regards to the attack of an uke. If the focus of nage is on the point of attack, possibility becomes narrowed and limited, and infinite possibility collapses. An evolution in training requires integrating a greater consciousness into one’s practice to develop greater awareness by broadening the senses beyond the point of attack. This expansion leads to a greater perception of the quality of the attack, and even into the space surrounding the attack. The simple act keeping your gaze up as you meet the challenge of an attack and opening your awareness to your surroundings suddenly exposes new possibilities, such as new avenues to apply technique in neutralizing the attack (for example, omote or ura, in front or behind), obstacles nearby, or even another attacker, to name a few.
The idea of limitless possibility can be expanded into everyday life and translates directly into our lives as individuals, as part of a nation, this planet, and beyond. Aikido can better equip us with wisdom in how we handle what possibilities are presented to us each moment. As individuals, do we pursue what is presented to us each day with a mindset of control and comfort, thinking we know how each day will unfold, or do we start each day with the knowledge that we cannot truly know what will happen next? If the decisions or challenges we face in each moment are approached with a desire to control, or a sense of certainty, instead of harmony, life will continually disappoint, and possibilities will narrow.
Looking beyond the individual and considering the challenges we face as a nation, is it better to promote the rights of every citizen or to impose control (for example, do we deny basic worker rights, or offer a simple right to sit down at a negotiating table to discuss out concerns)? Do we want a society that promotes a more balanced income equality, or one in which a few prosper at the expense of all others? Globally, do we in the “west” interfere and try to impose some form of control to a region that is attempting to forge a new course by ousting repressive regimes, or let things evolve as each nation tries to steer a new course? Do we turn a blind eye to the possibility that our use of fossil fuels is changing our planet, or do we seek solutions to the problem?
These are but a few of the things that we face as individuals, members of a nation, and citizens of a larger global community. If we face these challenges and situations with a sense of expanded consciousness, awareness, and possibility, the outcomes along the road ahead become infinite. Our individual reaction also has limitless possibility. We can choose to face each day with a sense of fear and doom with the challenges that lie ahead, or open our mind to the idea that our path forward is not set in stone – and is infinite in opportunity. If we approach each day with the sense that anything can happen, or a sense of the infinite in life, well, in my opinion, the world (whether at an individual, local community, or global level) expands into a richness of experience to be embraced.
As I continue with my practice in the art of Aikido, I look forward to expanding my awareness and consciousness, and exploring new, infinite possibilities.
This essay was submitted for a shodan test at Ventura Aikikai.