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Uchi-Deshi Life: The Value of Illuminated Dialogue

This is a part VII in a series of posts on Uchi-Deshi Life and is the final installment, the original has been shelved for a future series. The first was an “Introduction to Saotome Sensei”, published prior to this one and has been read in sixty-five countries. Unlike prior articles, this is a semi-fictional conversation grounded in memos from historical in-vivo dialogues with several individuals during evenings over dinners and walks, and are quite saturated through various cultures, languages, and individuals from business, governance, militaries, leadership, creative arts, and martial arts. MDL is used to demarcate diegetic source music with level 1 (i.e., “[“ & “]”), non-diegetic music during authoring with level 2 (i.e., “[[“ & “]]”), credits during titling with level 3 (i.e., “[[[”, “]]]”).

Goats @ Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ (Roy Æ Hodges, 2016)

[編集済み]: “Are you enlightened?”

路意: “Enlightenment is not self.”

[More Than A Woman, Tavares, 1977; “More than a woman…”]

[編集済み]: “Hahaha!”

路意: “‘We can take forever, just a minute at a time.’”

[編集済み]: [Shakes head.]

路意: “This is it; go beyond ‘it’.”

[編集済み]: “What is it?”

路意: “Songs end. Impermanence.”

[路意 gestures at the sign on the wall.]

路意: “Limitless, beyond ‘all’, signs point the way, it’s a matter of perspective; beyond limitless geometries”.

[編集済み]: “Like a fractal.”

路意: “That’s a start, a little bit twist.”

[[編集済み] takes a sip.]

路意: “‘If I can’t have you…,’ this is craving.”

[A Fifth of Beethoven, Walter Murphy, 1977]

[編集済み]: “But you got to start somewhere.”

路意: “There’s the flaw, self-view is limitless too. Grasping at ‘start’.”

Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ (Roy Æ Hodges, 2016)

路意: “Step, step… step, step… step, step, step step… rhythm… flourish….”

[編集済み]: “Always new.”

路意: “Always?”

[編集済み]: “You know what I mean.”

路意: “A tangle of knots; in the reeds the Ch’an monks would say; copy copy copy, limitless echoes.”

[More Than a Women, Tavares, 1977; “Let history repeat itself…”]

[編集済み]: “Do you sense everything?”

路意: “It’s not me, not you, it really isn’t.”

[Manhattan Skyline, David Shire, 1977]

[編集済み]: “Groking.”

[路意 writes “[to]grok[ed]” on a napkin.]

路意: “‘See’ the entire wavefunction at ‘once’; ichi-go, ichi-eh; one-life, one meeting. The character for ‘meeting’ is curiously translated as ‘organization’.”

[編集済み]: [chuckles]

[Calypso Breakdown, Ralph MacDonald, 1977]

路意: “Just stop. This is bu. Stop the spear. The spear is double pointed. It’s in the ‘hand’, yet… this ‘hand’ is the entire length of the body. To move the spear one direction, it ‘pulls’, to move the spear the other direction, it ‘releases’.”

[編集済み]: “Like drinking, eating.”

路意: “Yes. Pull pull, down the hatch.”

[編集済み]: “And the ears do that too?”

路意: “Yep. Stimulus shy, stimulus hungry, some psychologists called it. Maybe discover ‘stimulus satiated’.”

[編集済み]: “And you can, I mean, crap! This is hard!”

路意: “Hard, soft, beyond that too.”

[編集済み]: “Is this connecting to the ‘earth’?”

路意: “The top spins. Language stereotypes, standard deviation, distributions. Sisyphus pushes the rock up the hill. The hill distribution. Go beyond pushing.”

[Night on Disco Mountain, David Shire, 1977]

[編集済み]: [Shakes head.]

路意: “The wish fulfilling gem… this is the tip of the spear… piercing emptiness.”

[編集済み]: “The matrix.”

路意: “Mountain assembled on each summative permutation.”

[編集済み]: “Is there choice?”

路意: “Thomas Theorem strikes again, the belief in free-will is very powerful in a pinball realm.”

[Open Sesame, Kool & The Gang, 1977]

[編集済み]: “Really?!?!?!”

路意: “Shazaam indeed, the best is when the songs are ‘random’, even elliptic curves are not random; real random, never heard before. ‘Groove with the genie…’”

[編集済み]: “Why is that?”

路意: “Into the beautiful black!”

[“Abracadabra!”]

[編集済み]: “What?!”

路意: “’Don’t play the butter notes,’ Herbie Hancock says.”

[編集済み]: “Who?”

路意: “Different band. Double entendre, wait, nope, triple…”

[Jive Talkin’, Bee Gees, 1977]

[編集済み]: “I got nothing.”

路意: “Good, this is good, don’t move from there. Just remain. The body factors repetitive movements to primes. Boredom might come, so deploy the parachute.”

[編集済み]: “Parachute?”

路意: “The chute is packed dense in the pack, must be an expert to pack the chute properly, it’s not just stuffed in there, and it’s quite strong.”

[編集済み]: “My brain is on fire.”

[You Should Be Dancing, Bee Gees, 1977]

路意: “‘…as if your head is on fire,’ ‘you should be dancing…’, though ‘should’ is a form of tyranny, it’s a heuristic, Karen Horney’s ‘tyranny of should’. Beyond dancing, beyond not dancing, beyond both dancing and not dancing, beyond neither dancing nor not dancing. Tetralemma. Speaking of dancing, how about walking? Time for the check…”

[Boogie Shoes, KC & The Sunshine Band]

[編集済み]: “Boogie Shoes…”

路意: “Can’t make this stuff up… it’s like programming, does the programmer program or does the program, program the programmer? Four way mousetrap applies even here; tetralemma. Go beyond programming, go beyond not programming, go beyond programming and not programming, go beyond neither programming nor not programming. Programming is an interchangeable indicator for ‘insert procedural function here]’-ing, where that procedural aspect can also be interchanged…”

[Salsation, David Shire, 1977]

[編集済み]: “There’s the tessellation.”

路意: “Yes, that’s the tilt, and that’s subject to redaction. ‘Loose lips sink ships.’”

[Signs checks; walks out of the restaurant/bar under the chainsaw chandeliers.]

Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ (Roy Æ Hodges, 2016)

路意: “Leary way… how appropriate… yet not necessary.”

[編集済み]: “Have you ever tried any?”

[HD Supply @ Leary]

路意: “Nope, look at that, ‘HD Supply’, ‘high definition supply’”

[編集済み]: “Hehe.”

[Newspaper Recycling @ Leary]

路意: “‘Nice Moves… Only recycled… news… paper…,’ this IS the recycling. Compost.”

[We sell boxes @ Leary]

[編集済み]: “Ok, ‘we sell boxes.’”

路意: “We-view does indeed sell boxes. It’s an entire cardboard straight jacket of boxes, conceit… the great cognitive insulator.”

[[Disco Inferno, The Trammps, 1977; “Burn baby burn”; Smiley face @ Leary]]

[編集済み]: “Smiley face…”

路意: “Yep.”

[[Disco Inferno, The Trammps, 1977; “Just can’t stop… when ‘my’ spark gets hot.”]]

路意: “Perception has valences [of perception]; self-view, we-view, these kinds of perceptions, goes toward ‘enduring’-view, basically distribution views. Stereotypes, illusions.”

[編集済み]: “And the other direction?”

路意: “It’s not exactly 180 degrees, no pun intended. Cornering without target fixation; brake late, look through, lean, apex, accelerate, punch it.”

[Swinging at the Bus Stop @ Leary]

[編集済み]: “Is this why sensei said to you, ‘I cannot… too smooth.’”

路意: “Yes. It’s the smoothness of the cornering, even when the amplitude swings are tremendous. Looks smooth at a distance, rough up close, brachistochrone smooth around the corners of the breathing. There’s a hint in there, there are apexes to the corners of breathing. Breathing volume distribution changes shapes, it’s like a track, not always the same. Three ‘standard’ shapes. The track banks, gets wider, narrows, turns, goes up, goes down, and this track inverts too.”

[[Mine All Mine, The Stylistics, 1980]]

[編集済み]: “It doesn’t ever stop does it?”

路意: “Of course it does, the stopping is exactly the going.”

[[Mine All Mine, The Stylistics, 1980; “Take my hand… I want to see if you… can make this dream come true…”]]

路意: “Flow state paired with working on the most valuable problem to work for beings.”

[編集済み]: “Suffering.”

路意: “Yes.”

[[Dance and Shake Your Tambourine, Universal Robot Band, 1975]]

[編集済み]: “But missing is ok isn’t it.”

路意: “Ok, not ok, ok and not ok, neither ok nor not ok. Shredded.”

[編集済み]: “Grueling, but… liberating.”

路意: “To liberate, liberating, liberated. See beyond…”

[編集済み]: “I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to sleep.”

路意: “Not surprising.”

[編集済み]: “Let’s do this again.”

路意: “‘Let’s…,’ a strange attractor.”

[編集済み]: “Haha. Goodnight.”

路意: “Good night…”

[[Somebody’s Gotta Win, The Controllers, 1976]]

Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ (Roy Æ Hodges, 2016)

[[[Stop and Think, The Trammps, 1975; “Stop and think a while… before you leave and say goodbye… if you leave I know my life will never be the same… one more chance, that’s all I ask… my heart is full of shame… let me explain… I’ll confess the wrong I’ve done, if you say your mine…”; [the devas at play… oh brahma…] ]]]

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Uchi-Deshi Life: Discovering the True Students and Masters

This is a part VI 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.

Stories of living with masters can be found in all matter of religions, philosophies, arts, sciences, and businesses. If there is doubt, study remedies this doubt, and this too requires study. In budo, what is studied is the very phenomena of mastery; behaviors, emotions, cognition, perception, social interaction etc. This is a way of illuminated wisdom; tada-ima, ichi-go ichi-eh. It has been said that “when the student is ready, the master appears,” and I’d challenge students to really investigate what readiness really means, what appearance really means; what that “comma” means. The student is not me, the student is not you, the student is not we, the student is not they; the student is perception, the student is kikubari, the student is sincerity, the students are these very senses, the students are these very hands. The master is wisdom, the master is skill, the master is study, the master is joy, the master is love, the master is compassion, the master is equanimity; all things the phenomena of “Sensei” professes, and the phenomena of “Shihan” models since the dawn of keiko.

For the first decade I knew Sensei, he was very public in stating, “uchi-deshi, no more.” Today, Sensei says it openly, and proudly, “you are my uchi-deshi; connection to O’Sensei.” He says, “too much humble, nobody respects you. Must be proud, make good aikido life.” These are difficult words to translate. When Sensei talks, it is the concept that is transmitted mind to mind, and when Sensei moves, it is the concept that is transmitted body to body. The entire being of Saotome Sensei, is as the women in May planting rice in the spring to prepare for a bountiful harvest. Sensei’s name is also a teaching, even the characters for “sensei” are also a teacher. As Basho once wrote, “do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.”

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan
Redlands Aikikai, California, USA
(Roy Æ Hodges, 2018)

Missing Times: The Noble Search, Part V

Late while living in D.C., I had decided to work at the Big Bad Woof with Pennye Jones-Napier (a dojo member) and her present wife, Julie Paez. Things changed quite rapidly working with them. These two women helped in many ways. Past artistic behavior, through drawing, fabrics, and more came alive here. Clothing started changing to accommodate for this work life. Practice at the dojo was diminishing as work and a distance relationship with the tulku from San Antonio was being developed. While working with the two ladies, software had been built to build a mobile inventory management system based on IP developed prior. It came together quickly.

Shortly thereafter, when evaluating vendors for a new point of sale system, the owner of the vendor asked to see this software, and right on the call in front of Pennye and Julie, he offered to buy the software in return for equity, deferred compensation, and a decent six figure salary. He invited me to join his business. He was based out of Laguna Beach, California. It was yet another difficult life choice that would walk from the two women that really helped “me” come out, and the career that was forming. They blessed it knowing that the chance would not arise again, and I started working with Mike and his small garage-team on trying to make a difference with Main Street by adopting technology that Wall Street was using much to Main Street’s demise.

Entering the Inner Shrine

If an inner shrine of uchi-deshi life is entered directly, this is the spirit of irimi. Without wavering, profound transformation is possible, this is human potential; it is driven as far as sincerity is deep. Through sincerity, without obscuration of self/other, one learns to forge and temper potentiality in relative safety of an inner shrine. Uchi-deshi life is a life of refuge, just as it is for Buddhist monastics, Shinto mountain ascetics, Christian monks, Islamic Sufi, Hindu ascetics, and native warrior-shaman. Conventionally, uchi-deshi need not be warriors, some arrange flowers, some devoutly pray, some tend gardens, some brush calligraphy, some drive vehicles, some sign executive orders, and some draft mission plans. What is present is a deeply profound sense of refuge, that there is a safe place to do the work of not only human maturation, but eventually social maturation, and for a few, universal maturation. If an uchi-deshi is blessed with direct perception of emptiness, which is required for mastery of aiki, the deshi might realize that the entirety of the universe is the refuge, the entirety of the universe is the blade­–inseparable. Emptiness is exactly form, samsara is exactly nirvana. Beyond past, beyond present, beyond future; marubashi–illuminated.

Meeting one of “The Inner Shrine Guardians” of the Track
MotoFit Group, Oregon Raceway Park (ORP)

The Oral Tradition of Katsu Hayabi

The last thing to share before closing, is the role of an oral tradition. It is now realized that an uchi-deshi receives a sensory transmission beyond words that illuminates words. This is the power of kotodama, this is the power of punctuation, the power of rhythm, the power of syncopation, the power of thematic transformation. Over time living with a master, truly deeply living with them, millisecond by millisecond, day by day, one may, if listening empathically, without any sense of identification, without any sense or desire to change the situation, see intentions bridge variable gaps of space and time to expressions; completely unseen before. This is where an uchi-deshi truly enters the inner-shrine, everything before is the outer-shrine. This is hiden, and it is here where gendo shihan gather in the shrine’s accommodations and where the manifest, and hidden, meets the divine. Without this key, words will only discover the shrine’s location, but one will not be able to enter it, and even when entering, one may not be able to see it. When the world needs what is in the shrine, it will shine brilliant. Katsu hayabi is as the vajra, it is as earth to the peak of a temple’s pagoda. It is as a lightning bolt, sharp, and piercing, such is the power of divine punctuation.

An uchi-deshi is a key holder of oral tradition, and with completely common words and expressions, their punctuation, as atemi, ride waves of sensory impressions where the warrior heart of love works in the world with what is given, beyond complaint, enjoining sagely compassion. An uchi-deshi moves through life, dynamic, and truly stands on a floating bridge uniting. O’Sensei shared with Saotome Sensei, “irimi-nage, ten years; ikkyo, whole life.” This is the spirit of ikkyo, and the spirit in which this text was written. I hope that you too can find this spirit, for the things in this article are things the world needs joy’s, love’s, compassion’s, and equanimity’s help with. To discover a peaceful living amongst limitless beings in this world, and the next.

Keiko: Atemi I

Speed & Alignment. In the United States Army, the fighter who was training with us and who had become quite a good friend, shared striking tips and helped develop impact alignments that had been passed through his family and his own teachers. He was Korean American, and struck very hard. This was a good foundation for bare handed precision strikes.

Fluid Momentum. Another practice that paired with this at the time was iron palm, because it had been read briefly that the “iron palm slap” had been validated scientifically, at the time, as the strongest in foot pounds of force per square inch. This is when I started slapping and “tapping” stumps, sand, ball bearing sacks, and eventually, steel plates (the Army had lots of heavy steel, and depleted uranium armor).

Compression Wave. If I ever was in a waiting moment, I used to sit and drop the palms on concrete and work with reverberations. Sensei of course would catch this on occasion, and I know when Sensei is interested in something because the eyes “brake”. That changed one evening when he shared with Mike and I, a practice he was excited to share. He described placing an hanging egg in a little string net behind a hanging pillow. The practice was to punch the pillow fast enough to break the egg, but not moving the pillow or the egg. Immediately when he had described this, things changed in the subsequent keiko sessions with bare hand, aiki-ken, and aiki-jo. Unannounced, the practice was executed at my mother’s house, in Virginia, and is helpful.

Reverberation Ratchet. The next big help in striking came from Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, and a particular individual and his close personal students. These were the hardest hitters I had ever met, besides a few others later. It is an evolution on iron palm and what Sensei had shared, and the lesson had been contained in the discovery of Contrapposto as illuminated by John Willson. Now, it goes without saying, the warning, “if you don’t practice this every day, it will make your taijutsu worse,” John said emphatically, and so did his practical deshi, koinu (a close friend and confidant of many years). This warning is true, as examples were provided, so I practiced it daily after everyone left the dojo, and committed to only practicing it on the mat when Sensei was teaching deep stances reminiscent of “ship fighting”. It now only comes out if “kiba” comes out, otherwise it “sleeps in the heavens”.

There are many more principles, and this is a good start. Nature provides the best teacher for studying atemi. Earthquakes may be studied for practitioners well versed in the aforementioned.

Refuge for the Benefit of the World

An uchi-deshi life is critical for the transmission of aiki, take musu aiki, shobu aiki, and future evolutions of aiki. Sincerity, timing, distance, principles, perception, insight, joy, love, compassion, equanimity, wisdom; these are just a few phenomenon that an uchi-deshi studies from beginner to mastery, setting aside force or manipulation. This is no different than a student of psychology or medicine pursuing a Ph.D. in the refuge of a university, or a soldier pursuing warriorship in the refuge of basic and advanced training. For a budo uchi-deshi, true to the meaning of budo, the refuge is in the presence of one who has went before, a guru, a master, for the body, speech, and mind is a living shrine. This is a path where direct perception of emptiness is victorious over interruptions of concepts of self, and when that self is defeated by insight, the friends of joy, love, compassion, and equanimity can be recognized and simultaneously live in harmony without interruption, just as the four spirits, and do its work in the world selflessly, as a warrior, as samurai. Masagatsu agatsu is exactly the whole of uchi-deshi life and it truly is the first step of take musu aiki which gives birth to shobu aiki, and beyond. As for the Katsu Hayabi, that’s transmitted directly, mind to mind. It truly is a divine gift of kami, for the benefit of limitless beings. 

And what is an uchi-deshi? It’s beyond me, it’s beyond you, it’s beyond we, it’s beyond they. The true uchi-deshi is this very mind, this very body, and this very spirit. The uchi-deshi is that which unites heaven and earth, life itself, between the thin crust of this planet and the vast space above; it is worthy of divine love and compassion. As Sensei has said, “if I can do, you can do.” That’s the written transmission, and now for the courageous, what remains is the physical-oral tradition, mind to mind, for the benefit of limitless beings and the care of limitless planets, called “home”.

This is the loft over the mat where I had lived.
Aikido Shobukan Dojo, Washington D.C., U.S.A
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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.

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 new 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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Uchi-Deshi Life: The Role of an Uchi-Deshi

Preface

This is a part IV 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.

The Role of an Uchi-Deshi

The role of an uchi-deshi is undefined, uncertain, and beyond conventional understanding. This may be uncomfortable, and it is not without reason. While there have been many writings about experiences and expectations of uchi-deshi, I’d like to offer a different approach, and focus on core abilities developed through a close relationship with a being that has truly realized emptiness. Morihei Ueshiba, Mitsugi Saotome (Sensei), and now it is confirmed…. realization of emptiness is truly a prerequisite for mastery of aiki. Carl Rogers, a renowned psychologist once wrote, “empathic listening provided one of the least clouded windows into the workings of the human psyche, in all its complex mystery.” An ability to listen empathically is the primordial disciple’s skill. This is yin, it is emptiness. Just as ikkyo is the first principle, mu (emptiness) is the first principle’s context, and it is here beyond mu that an uchi-deshi commits to keiko without trying, changing, and forcing natural behaviors.

五月女貢師範が入り方を教えてくれます。
Mitsugi Saotome teaches entering.
Left to Right: Robert Deppe, Mike Rosario, Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, and Cliff Judge
(Roy Æ Hodges, 2005)

An uchi-deshi places all efforts in studying more than technique, more than strength, an uchi-deshi studies straight to the heart of keiko itself, straight to an intimate understanding of the ways of the ancients and the many future beings to come, and it is through keiko that bu is realized, where aiki is born. This requires study without interrupting what is studied. Just as a doctor cannot ask a mother to stop mid-delivery to study birth, an electronic technician cannot stop a rocket in flight to repair it, so too a warrior cannot stop the battlefield to fix a strategy. True budo is beyond a turn-based strategy game­—it is visceral, it is organic, it is the world in which limitless beings live. While the dojo is a place to practice the way, an uchi-deshi chops the proverbial wood, and carries the proverbial water.

Keiko: In Buddhist canon, there is a concept of śrāvaka. This crudely is translated as “hearer”; a being that immediately puts what is heard into practice, beyond habituating ritual. These beings are asymptotic in that words, expressions, and art truly are as street signs pointing to phenomena. Sometimes the lag is so short, that it may not be clear that the shravaka has already considered heard, placed, perceived, studied, changed. The hearing changes decades of perspectives (passed) and behaviors (to come). Only śrāvaka can recognize śrāvaka. The śrāvaka is exactly a tantra-ka; these are inseparable aspects of tranquility exactly as insight. The gap from hearing to change for śrāvaka approaches zero speed – instantaneous insight accompanies limitless tranquility. Instantaneous tranquility accompanies limitless insight. It is a mistake to think “in these” or “of these”. Words are shredded by wisdom; limitless entry is exactly limitless emptiness.

“Where is a beginner to begin?” is asked. The novice treads water only to discover begin, only to discover tread. The śrāvaka is exactly budoka, where budoka arrange hearing and production of sounds, verbal intimation, for benefit of limitless beings, pointing through sound. The same in sight, taste, touch, smell, mentality. Self-view no longer interrupts, the entropy cost of maintaining self-view gives way to joy; other-view no longer interrupts, the entropy cost of maintaining other-view gives way to love. We-view no longer interrupts, the entropy cost of maintaining we-view gives way to compassion, they-view no longer interrupts, the entropy cost of maintaining they-view gives way to equanimity. Just seeing the fact of “enduring” (the original etymology of “suffer” when Buddhist teachings reached European languages) helps liberate life [ from [ high entropy maintenance of ] fixed views ]. This is bodhicitta, this is aiki wisdom, this is nigi-mitama.

Dedication

It is a firm conviction that O-Sensei and Sensei are both truly deeply realized human beings, and while initially this had been understood by faith, this has become understood more directly. Each deshi is going to come with different habits and potentials, and these habits and potentials will vary with contexts. The Japanese language is highly contextual and implicit, whereas English language is less contextual and explicit, and I feel that culturally, the Japanese need for contextual awareness is perfect for a budo practitioner to learn how to see. One need not speak Japanese to learn this ability, one can practice poetry. This contextual awareness is important in learning how to truly and deeply see, listen, taste, smell, touch, and increase awareness of the workings of mind. Dedication is important, and dedication to context, and the teachers of compassion and love is profoundly necessary. If an uchi-deshi is dedicated to these qualities, there will be little trouble, yet if an uchi-deshi is dedicated to selfish behavior, dedicated to preferred others, or dedicated preferences of this or that group, there will be tremendous trouble.

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan – 30th Anniversary Series – Michi III (2006)
(Roy Æ Hodges, Photography)

Missing Times: The Noble Search
Part III

A fast friend from New York City who I had been introduced on a few occasions invited me to a comic-con, as an animal, and it was suitable. Fast forward to today having attended furry conventions, there is a phenomenon of evolution. Living in a dojo, to visiting gay cultural environments touched by the AIDS crisis, to working with ABHPM in support of a mission to realize death and dying as part of western medicine was a blessing. Comic-cons where identities are mutable; furry-cons where identities mesh with zoomorphic tendencies, are familiar. These facilitate a wonderful iconoclastic presentation alongside native traditions, martial, as well as spiritual traditions. I cannot think of any native culture finding equilibrium with an environment, that also did not experiment with and adopt these.

I had never been satisfied with limitless offerings of identity nor the mechanics of identity. Peggy Kroder, a key supporter while in Shobukan, once said that others paint on your blank canvas, and I’m also left no longer wondering as to the fact that the blank canvas is perhaps a painting too. What had been painted over to arrive at “blankness” temporary? Observations mutated into questions.

A chief question—what problem did a monastic robe originally solve? Adopting a robe has always been a motive, it has always seemed the right thing to do, yet which one to choose? What is the function that quantizes selection? This is part of the noble search, it is a requisite condition. The robe’s function is exactly related to a protection of environments within which beings live. Blood from a tree related to many cultural fetishes suddenly becomes a reminder to asuras, devas, and brahmas of tolls that technologies, arts, and identities place as yokes, exacting, upon humanities who had reached equilibriums with environments. The thus come (tatha), the gone forth (gatha) is truly no longer part of a hierarchy.1 Hierarchy, class, caste; limitless illusions.

Communal Autonomy

It is important to understand that an uchi-deshi’s skill in private sessions might be revealed slowly, and in public sessions might be hidden. This is reminiscent of stories of bodhisattvas, where people might not even know that a bodhisattva is right in front of them. Perhaps a tengu or enlightened being is right before you, one might not know due to obscurations. Some uchi-deshi hide talents and practices, and others may not, yet I find that uchi-deshi that progress the furthest do a fair share of hiding of skill beyond peers, even those of great renown. Behind closed doors however, or intimately traveling together, one might see or experience these talents and abilities. Many ascetics intentionally refrain from gaining renown to retain independence and autonomy, much like how Japan isolated itself for many years to find its way. I find this need for communal autonomy honorable and dignified. This also can be found in budo and academic life as well. This sense of autonomy is critical for uchi-deshi, and I consider uchi-deshi as highly respectable as doctoral students. Doctoral students have achieved a high level of autonomy in their contributions to the field they work in, an uchi-deshi is no different. I would expect an uchi-deshi to contribute to the welfare of the world’s beings and the environment’s homeostasis. 

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan & Roy Æ Hodges
Co-Collaborative Notes on Annutara Samyok Sambhodhi Principle
(Mitsugi Saotome Shihan & Roy Æ Hodges, 2020)

There is an outer shrine and an inner shrine, and there are outer shrine guardians and inner shrine guardians. The outer shrine guardians are easy to recognize publicly yet amidst an interior of a shrine, inner guardians may defend a shrine in strange ways. A kinship with Buddhist monastics is familiar. Monastics make vows not to display abilities for the purpose of gaining followers, gaining good food, gaining good robes, yet spontaneously manifest abilities as needed to resolve suffering through joy, love, compassion, and equanimity. Their efforts pay homage to these very practices and their merits accumulated are dedicated to the benefit of limitless beings.

The Gift of a Compass

On my first birthday at the dojo, which was always around the time Sensei would return to town for three to four weeks before Aikido Schools of Ueshiba’s Summer Camp, he gave a precious gift that I recall vividly, he came downstairs in the afternoon while the dojo was quiet, and the lights were dim. I had finished practicing aiki-ken with a few students privately and sat in the office tidying a bit. Of course, I stood up quickly when Sensei came downstairs out of the house. Sensei held my shoulder and said, “the whole world giving you a map, so many maps,” and Sensei gestured as if people from all directions are giving me maps, “parents, university, job… but nobody giving you compass.” My heart moved greatly. Sensei smiled, and grinned, “Sensei giving you compass,” and he reached out with his hand to put an imaginary compass in my hand, and I remember closing my hand gently. It is an uchi-deshi’s practice to, as deeply as Zen haunts the forests, “to drill in at every angle,” and that is exactly what I did day after day when observing Sensei, and “myself”.

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan cuts cardboard for Kata-Gami (Roy Æ Hodges, 2020)

References

1 See “48(8) Things” in Anguttara Nikaya: Book of Tens

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Uchi-Deshi Life: Early Life at Aikido Shobukan Dojo

Preface

This is a part III 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 additional sections not part of the original series are enclosed, and may be skipped, these are the grey (“Keiko”) and blue (“Missing Time”) sections and will remain in subsequent series for practitioners wanting more details of physical practices and spiritual challenges, respectively.

Early Life at Aikido Shobukan Dojo

At the time a caretaker lived at the dojo, Ivan Menjivar with his girlfriend, Janet Smith. Ivan was a tremendously talented student and Janet was studying East Asian Chinese Five Element Theory and acupuncture. We grew a friendship with each other, though I think in those times Ivan and Janet were mentors to me in daily life as well as dojo life. I started helping around the dojo, painting, scraping old finish off wood, oiling weapons, gardening, and a personal favorite was acquiring moss from deep in the mountains to distribute in the gardens. After some time, Ivan invited me to stay weekends to prevent the long commutes, and I gladly accepted. I used to sleep in the dojo’s tearoom, which is a beautiful space, very calm and serene. I used to wake up to the smell of cinnamon and spice because Ivan used to crack open the tearoom door and set a hot cup of tea just inside. This was the alarm clock to wake up and do chores, I never experienced this kind of care in my life, nor read about it, and always wanted to do it for someone else. This was the kind of behavior Saotome Sensei, the dojo atmosphere, and the students inspired, it was never demanded, ordered, or expected; everyone was inspired to human potential.

Roy Æ Hodges – Aikido Shobukan Dojo
(Provided by Sharon Hainsfurther)

Just after returning from work one day, I received a phone call, it was Ivan and he abruptly said, “can you move to the dojo this weekend, we are leaving,” it was so sudden. I was about to be hired into a special position where I had been working and had to decide. At this time, I had also been offered a position at U.S. State Department. Of course, the tension was high, I had three dreams competing at once. Where was I working? Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Yes, that’s where I worked. Between C.I.A., State Department, and living at Aikido Shobukan Dojo with an opportunity to train Aikido in a dojo that at the time was one of the largest and healthiest with Saotome Sensei as the chief instructor, which would you choose?

People thought I was crazy, and I most likely was. Of course, the dojo was chosen, Morihei Ueshiba’s stated mission of Aikido spoke to me greater than C.I.A. and State Department. Once this door was closed, it would never be open again, yet was not a tough decision; the decision was clear. I basically moved in with few clothes and few items, then met the dojo-cho, Peter Trimmer and under his graces trained nearly every session. There were about four keiko sessions a day at that time, including generous time before and after scheduled training, so one could train about six or seven hours a day, or more.

Missing Time: The Noble Search, Part II

While at the dojo, there was a very clear effort to connect to people. The visits to Boston were welcome, and the gentlemen, deserved of the characteristic of gentle men, had been wonderful. They lived like a family, and I still catch this body replicating some of the habits picked up from this environment. The care within which ingredients were selected, prepared, placed into small dishes, and organized in the small kitchen environment were nothing short of wondrous. Everyone worked together for meal prep, it left a very powerful impression. This was not what people had done when I was young. So many beings growing up were on separate clocks serving different industries: some were in recovery, some were not home. Here, things were different, everyone made an effort to prep together.

There was an extremely intelligent gentlemen with a penchant for leather who had traveled to bars, bald head of course, and was nearly the head chef; he did much cooking prep. There was another, a professor it seemed like, well versed in language and communication, and who loved antiques. These folks shared stories of the AIDS crisis and were an exposure to a suppressed gay culture from where I had grown up. There was a gentlemen that was more of a guest, then there was Wayne, the gentlemen who picked me up at the station. Wayne was, and still is, very respectful of the training at Shobukan and of Sensei. He was also intrigued by Aiki philosophy, never once questioned it, and saw that it had an effect on this body’s movements and speech.

Wayne was an inventor and repaired organs for many churches around New England. Fortunately Wayne brought me to empty cathedrals, churches, and recitals to hear organs, accompanying along, observing his skills in repairing the intricate pieces of these massive machines. He would become completely absorbed in his works. Access to such machines of great adoration required him and people like him to live compartmentalized lives; priests knew. It was more like priests protecting the angels at the gate from the parishioners in this time; such is the complexity of samsara.

So that’s how my life started at Aikido Shobukan Dojo. About a month or two after I had arrived, another student moved from New York City, Mike Rosario, he had been a student of Paul Kang Sensei in Bond Street Dojo and was, and most likely is still a very talented professional drummer. Sensei at first kept his distance, and over time would start dropping a story or a lecture. I did much work in the dojo including daily cleaning, gardening, electrical maintenance, lighting maintenance, and painting. Over time my responsibilities grew, and I took on greeting and signing up new students. I also created the dojo’s website and programmed a new membership management system. I acquired a Canon Digital SLR from part time work when these first came out and started taking photographs of the dojo and Sensei; he didn’t seem to mind, and Patty approved. Over time Sensei and I had developed a close relationship through shared interest in arts like photography, calligraphy, studies, design, and meditation. I started working with sensei on drafting ideas for improvements to the dojo, and we collaborated on them. Peter Trimmer and the board funded them, and Mike and I built them with occasional help; some of these improvements are still visible in the dojo to every member.

五月女貢師範は自然体を発揮する。
Mitsugi Saotome Shihan demonstrates natural body.
(Roy Æ Hodges, photographer)

Sometimes Mike Rosario and I were tasked with taking care of out-of-town guests visiting Sensei, driving them to/from airports, coordinating their travel around the city, and to/from hotels. The professionalism continued increasing every time. Though I use the term “uchi-deshi” now, at the time, Sensei was very clear in letting the world know that uchi-deshi was not possible, because to him, uchi-deshi are traditionally supported by a Sensei, and he could not commit to it. Sensei quite clearly would say that there are no more uchi-deshi, though behind closed doors things were different. One funny note about sensei’s guests, one day we went to Dulles Airport to pick up a friend of Sensei from Japan, either calligrapher and aikido instructor, Yamamoto Sensei (山本忠英), or an Ona-Ha Itto-Ryu instructor, Hideyuki Kaiwa Sensei. While we were waiting, we saw Takamiyama Daigorō coming out of customs with an entourage, so Mike and I were amazed and felt fortunate to study his body movement in the brief moments we saw him in person–very valuable. Now, this might seem odd, but when traveling with Saotome Sensei, things like this happen. There are so many stories, and a tremendous and wide range of keiko.

Keiko: Instantaneous Synchronization

During the first years in the dojo, Sensei taught things so quickly, that it left little room for slack in perception. That said, before seminars, Sensei did his best to make the “unit fit for deployability”. This is reminiscent of military efforts: the unit is medically conditioned, trained to rules of engagement in context, barracks are tidied, offices organized, vehicles checked and serviced, immunizations and medical records are brought up to date, and the unit entire is made ready, usually also preceded by company or battalion runs in advance of a brigade run (quite the accordion effect). The dojo received pre-seminar training, and Saotome Sensei during these sessions pushed dojo members harder than he would in a seminar. Conditioning presence, lead by re-establishment of martial qualities, Sensei built perception and intensity. These students, in advance, are collectively responsible for time signatures and rhythmic tempos of a seminar’s environment.

It was becoming apparent that Sensei’s skill had developed in not only the development of individuals, but also rapid synchronization of groups. Many students have noted that when practicing in Saotome Sensei’s keiko sessions that practice just feels “better”; things work “better”. Students would feel “on” when Sensei lead. It would be a mistake to say that these efforts of Sensei, one who has went before, are calculated, are planned, for it is not. It is also beyond heuristic. It is beyond planning, it is beyond winging it. When it was just Mike and I around Sensei, there had been many evenings were Sensei emphasized “not calculating”, “no calculate”.

Saotome Sensei’s messaging might have seemed outright heretical and irresponsible to tell a young impressionable being that should be partaking in calculating and planning for a future of independent living, yet it was straight at ancient wisdom. These instructions empowered motivation inclination toward meditative practices powerfully. Sensei so actively pointed toward meditation without relying on rituals. With exposure to more of Sensei’s life off the mat, observations private lead to practices public.

I lived at Aikido Shobukan Dojo for a just about a decade between 1998 to 2008. I remember the day I departed; it was extremely emotional for Sensei and I. Sensei gave me the greatest gift he could at that time, a lesson, and someday I shall demonstrate, yet it is a gift too early to share with some, because now it is now this body, speech, and mind’s gift to give to others. After departing the dojo, I made it a mission to go put what I had learned into practice. There have been many great things achieved and there are so many more stories, it is an amazing life, and I have met so many wonderful people. It is hard to describe the keiko during that decade, some students call the ten years before and ten years during, the golden years of the dojo. I, and all of us feel such gratitude and fortune that Saotome Sensei came to the United States. He has touched so many lives through his own experience with Morihei Ueshiba in so many parts of life, and many people in the world have changed their own lives through practice with Sensei. We all feel a bond with the Ueshiba family and the people of Japan.

Left to Right: Patty Saotome Sensei, Mitsugi Saotome Shihan (五月女貢),
Doshu Kisshomarou Ueshiba (植芝吉祥丸), Second Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba (植芝守央)
(Photograph Provided by Patty Saotome Sensei)

This is a third in a series of articles on uchi-deshi lifestay tuned for more later. For reprints into other languages, please submit a contact request.