Uchi-Deshi Life: A Unity of Shin Jutsu and Tai Jutsu


This is a part V in a series of posts on Uchi-Deshi Life written for a Japanese Publisher as a series of requests for more came rapidly. The first was an “Introduction to Saotome Sensei”, published prior to this one and has been read in fifty countries. Two vignette sections have been added that were not part of the original series, these are in the grey (“Keiko”) and blue (“Missing Time”) and will remain in subsequent series for practitioners wanting more details of physical practices and spiritual challenges, respectively. There is a little MDL embedded.

Unity of Shin- and Tai-jutsu

Sensei breaks silence over a cigarette, “aikido is shin jutsu; not wrestling”, writing a diagram of the relationship. He pairs shin jutsu and tai jutsu together and connects them with a line. Included in this shin jutsu, he exclaims, “aikido is [a] culture business, not show business.” He shares this direct guidance in disjunct timing for students, it might take many years for some to hear the next teaching. This is how he received teachings from O’Sensei. Students under O’Sensei worked at honing perception rather than instructed step by step with kata. “Must develop sharp perception,” he says. Deshi must do this to realize O’Sensei’s teachings intimately and directly for themselves, “aikido has no style.” Sensei believes that all students have capacity for this kind of perception, that all students are capable of developing these capacities often exclaiming, “[are] you not seeing? Perception!”

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, Sarasota, FL
(Roy Æ Hodges, 2021)

Give Me Your Cigarette

Another moment that is well remembered, and some already know this story, is when we were just about to return from a meal downtown. Sensei, Mike Rosario, another uchi-deshi that lived at the dojo, and I were waiting for Robert Deppe to return with a car to pick us up. We were on the sidewalk with Sensei, and he was casually smoking a cigarette. A man in disheveled clothes walked down the street and stopped right in front of Sensei almost touching face to face and shouts, “give me your cigarette!” and Sensei simply takes the cigarette out of his mouth, turns it around and places it at the man’s lips. The man takes the cigarette, inhales quickly, and then blows the smoke straight forward at Sensei, and then turns the cigarette and puts it back in Sensei’s hands. The man walks off, and Sensei says without breaking awareness, “you know, some people, no understanding.”

A man in disheveled clothes walked down the street and stopped right in front of Sensei almost touching face to face and shouts, “give me your cigarette!”

Beyond fighting, beyond arguments, beyond force, beyond manipulation. It was a simple and pure exchange human to human. A man came, a cigarette rotated, some smoke blown, some smoke dissipated, a cigarette rotated back, a man gone. To Mike and me, it was an amazing moment, simple, instructional, and struck at the heart of our study. This tremendously impacted training; uke comes, threat is exactly neutral, and then uke goes. If uke stops attacking, what more is there to do? Even on the mat, if uke stops, then just stop. No need to force a technique, or do anything, the attack has stopped, bu has been fulfilled, the spear has been halted. Now of course, sharp perception keeps track of the position of the halted spears, so if another uke attacks, the stopped uke can be used as a shield or as a lever in an interception. This is budo.

Missing Times: The Noble Search, Part IV

During times at the dojo, a close friend once shared, “I’ve been approached by six to seven people about you.” The discussion at the time, leading right up to this comment, was on the responsibility involved in “do not confuse people.” Apparently there had been quite a few individuals of numerous sexual identities, that were curious on how to even approach dating this walking sack of cells, called “me”. Nobody knew how to do, it, though there was one in the remaining years at the dojo who I did develop a close relationship with. It was beautiful, and quite storybook, in hindsight. The relationship was abruptly halted in a flash, and the words out of this mouth were simple, “I cannot do this.” It brought to attention the earlier directive. It was terribly harmful, and is not suggested. Looking back, however, without that try at a relationship, and realization, however stressful, there’d be a lack of what in psychology is called, “depth of processing”.

There is confusion. There is clarity. Confusion and clarity are inseprable, that is understood now. A relationship formed with a tulku in a Tibetan lineage who had lived in San Antonio, TX; a veritable prophet. He had been visited by lamas and rinpoches, and identified as such, though told that he had to live very specific ways, yet still could live at home. His family agreed to this, and it was here that our relationship blossomed from. The fracture of going from dojo life to the “real world” was more like an earthquake, and it came out in speech and social norms of expected behavior. Neither of us were models nor adepts at socially expected behaviors. It was like fireworks, and it often came down to very specific instances of communication, tripped up by what today a Harvard psychologist called, “residual echoes” of past trauma.

At the time in this relationship, we had our own self-volunteered therapist, a psychologist that worked closely with the U.S Navy’s SERE School. His trauma therapies were as moving as the finest musical scores to film, both cognitively and emotionally. A few letters remain from him; he believed in both of us. Even though we parted, these lessons had been taken to heart, and I made a vow to be ever more responsible with the society I had been born into. Fast forward to today — the noble search continues, with a gentlemen, a spiritual friend, a noble friend who too is very much on a noble search too.

Guarding the Honor of Transmission

On another birthday, Sensei had again came downstairs out of the house, and I was in the process of straightening and dusting the photographs of O’Sensei and Sensei, along with awards and gifts that line the walls of Aikido Shobukan Dojo. “You know Roy,” Sensei paused looking around at the dojo, “this is Sensei’s honor.” He gestured at the photographs, O’Sensei standing majestically, “this is Sensei’s honor.” He paused again, and reached out, “you guarding Sensei’s honor.” I came to revisit this memory many times, and still do today, and it has evolved since that day. Guarding the honor of transmission need not be for just aikido alone, an uchi-deshi guards the honor of transmission for all arts, an uchi-deshi becomes a friend of the work of transmission for the benefit of humanity, for society, for wisdom. This the role of an uchi-deshi, and this role guards the truth of the source of a transmission’s true lineage, the qualities, and characteristics that engender limitless potential. An uchi-deshi becomes an inner shrine guardian, by resolving ignorance, truly. It will take much courage, and work to overcome negative affliction, while retaining enthusiasm and zeal of raw and natural motion.

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan w/ Guests for Coffee
(Roy Æ Hodges, 2019, Silver Springs, MD)

A Distant Future

Sensei exemplifies dedication and commitment to the aikido mission, affirming belief that true budo, the pairing of shin-jutsu (心術) and tai-jutsu (体術) moved by ki (氣), manifests changing shapes of waza (技). Part of the pinnacle of this waza is demonstrated by O’Sensei’s building of an Aiki Shrine in Japan, where later Sensei himself took up the mission to build an Aiki Shrine in Myakka City Florida in the United States. We drew a timeline together to encompass the relationship between the Aiki Shrine in Japan and the Aiki Shrine in the United States, and I was inspired by Amaterasu Oho No Kami and wrote the kanji for sun at the beginning of the timeline before O’Sensei built the first Aiki shrine, and later where Saotome Sensei built the second, yet far to the right, an insight arose. These hands then wrote the kanji for moon far off in the distance as if to symbolize a limitless future reflecting the radiant limitless past. He smiled, and then said simply, “yes, like this.” 

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, Aiki Corral, Myaka City, FL
(Roy Æ Hodges with Don Ellingsworth & Jet Blossom

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