This letter is written to potential deshi responsible for the health and affairs of Mitsugi Saotome Sensei, and had become much more in the making. As with any work of the mind, body, and spirit, it is written as a strong suggestion, in the spirit of, “until you, yourselves know”, which is exactly “until [<self|other>-view], [<we|they>-view] know.”
Welcome to a new world, “when I meeting O’Sensei my life goes…,” Saotome Sensei demonstrates with a hand gesture going forward, and then gesturing an abrupt ninety degree turn. This turn requires the strongest brakes, and since you have received this letter, it is evident that there is skill rough or refined in the application. Usually I give this face to face over a period of time, adjusted and sensitive to sensibilities, however due to circumstances, I have chosen to write this as a letter.
Applying the Brakes
Brake with renunciation, do not break with rejection.
In motorcycling, and on superbikes, especially on the track, one drains velocity significantly before entering a corner, and this braking is hard, and fast. Look through the corner, and accelerate on exiting. Nowhere was this learned better than on the track at Oregon Raceway Park on a heavy Yamaha R1 with MotoFit Group.
Know that this life change requires tremendous ability to brake, and this braking is what is required to unlearn, this braking is an ability foreign to the world, yet known to monastics, yogi, and warriors, deeply, it is renunciation, it is a heart of Bu, to stop the spears of aggression, and… it brings peace upon the world. It’s an absolute necessity to navigate corners, right down to shears turning within the heaviest cardboard (cough).
In this generalized environment you will unlearn conventional habits. In this generalized environment, you will unlearn unconventional habits. It is these habits that obscure peace of heart, mind, and spirit. It is also here that habits are seen for what they are, just habits, good, bad, just habits, and sensei says “which is better?” Know this question, get intimate with it.
In this practice of unlearning, you may, if attention is sharp, keen, and budding in wisdom, then learn abilities to join limitless aspects of a generalized environment, to craft specialized environments, on an approach to the peak of the way of aiki.
On the Rarity of This Occasion
Practice Aiki ethically, do not practice Aiki selfishly.
This is a very uncommon way, it is very rare, it is very fortunate, it may not be understood by friends, family, majorities, minorities, or even one’s own teachers. There may be activity received, driven by this misunderstanding, and it may bring about stress, yet not a breaking stress, more of a bending stress. If the material is dry and brittle, it cracks, if the material is wet and soggy, it flops.
Find a middle way, join Heaven and Earth, as O-Sensei even said, sometimes it appears as if even the Gods go against you, press on. Release bravery, release courage, release certainty, release conviction for there may be, and most likely will be, wars of heart, of mind, in flux of spirit, paving the journey—forging begets eating a sword of wisdom. Yet, as forge, release immediately flexible, immediate retreat, immediate uncertainty, immediate doubt, see seeing for what it is, truly.
Now to go straight at it: Immediately extinguish self vs. other. Immediately extinguish us vs. them. Immediately extinguish elite vs. common. Meditate, releasing these conceptions (i.e., Z-ring(1/2) abstractions) on arrival, beyond limitless judgement. This is the wisdom of masagatsu agatsu, katsu hayabi, and this is where the work/release is done—not a secret, ancient wisdom. This wisdom sees phenomena at hand, as waves on the sea, it sees each water droplet moving, go here, go between. Do not waste time, “only one life,” this life.
Ethical living requires continual reflection in appreciation, at limitless valences of living, even down to appreciating the little bump of imperfection in a coffee mug, that releases one to find it in the dark on a battlefield, and know that it is the general’s cup.
Mission and Discipleship
There are two missions as a deshi:
- Serve Mastery and thereby Comings
- Observe Mastery and thereby Goings
To get this out of the way: “I am”, not a slave; “I am”, a disciple, first to a great many masters, and then to Sensei, and now to Universal Wisdom, and on top of this know that as Alan Watts once said [quoting Robert Anton Wilson], “a disciple is an asshole looking for a human being to attach itself to.”
This quote of Watts was chosen to provide some comic relief on occasion so as not to take this phenomena of discipleship <as self|too seriously>, not to cling to it, as limitless beings at some point in some life will live, are living, and have lived as a disciple. Is it special? Of course it is, babies are model disciples, and now dispense with this thought. Keep climbing, because that’s the life of a disciple in the environment of a master.
Sensei may press the gas pedal hard reaching the apex of a corner, be ready for this acceleration. Be ready for the lack of acceleration, just coasting, smelling the proverbial roses. Regardless of what comes, it is a blessing, it may come in the form of pointing out a flaw directly, and it may feel like the entire universal bell rang. Sometimes it is a complete lack of teaching, even Sensei has said, “sometimes no teaching is the best teaching,” and that’s absolutely true, imagine the first humans discovering fire, this is keiko, this is shugyo, this is ancient wisdom, intuition.
Study the Ox, this very all-i-gator brain, this body, this heart, this mind, every nuance of it, observe clearly, watch, like the eagle, hawk, or owl if natural animal spirits speak to you. Study it as the detectors in the Large Hadron Collider. Study the moment of impact, study the scattering, it is here the causes can be seen clearly, inferred from the data, see with eyes opened. Yet if wisdom is not developed enough, causes will be seen conventionally, and not truly.
Build the compass, do not copy the map.
Sensei one afternoon came downstairs, it was my first year at the dojo living there, “[R]oy, many people giving you map, many maps, world make many maps, but… no compass, no compass! Sensei giving you [a] compass,” he gestures gently with gnarled hands, looking like some of the wood carved in the dojo, he extends a hand, after which it was gestured, a bow in appreciation. He smiled, and I want to share this with you, because that’s how transmission works, we strike the needle to magnetize it and it will find magnetic north. Yet know this, there is magnetic north, true north, and grid north; be ready for adjustments! Only the right kind of metal can be magnetized, so yes, fair warning here.
Please remember that sensei will not, is not, and did not teach ‘me’. Everything was learned via observation and experimentation. Sensei merely provided the environment to bake off ammunition: ignorance. In fact, when sensei tells a story, the instructions are now quite clear, yet wrapped in “off-ramps” which guarantee that aiki is only for the peaceful, humble, yet brave, and courageous. This is for you to see, directly, yet only when ignorance unclouds vision. Using cryptographic language, wisdom of emptiness provides the private key, and intellection of emptiness the public key; the public key won’t get far, discover the private key. Yet it doesn’t stop here, further cryptographic wisdom knows the crown jewel, indistinguishability obfuscation (iO); master of limitless keys.
Your job is now to approach, and on occasion, complete a clearing the way for sensei, cut the brush down, open doors, fill cups, arrange the shoes before walking out, fill the cart, etc. And what is sensei? That which has gone before, and what goes before wears down the path, and now the disciple walks upon it, and forges it, and as in the Tao Teh Ching’s opening primer, “the path pathed, is not the path,” talked about in the remainder of this book.
Your job is now to interrupt at the right moment when an appointment is approaching; without anger, without selfishness, this is difficult. Get in there!
Your job is to remind, attend, not only to sensei but the home, and to the mission. You must find your own voice here, I will not tell you a kata, do not seek kata, this is foolish. Maybe except for the narrowest of kata, language, of vocal intimation or bodily communication; “please”, “excuse me”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome” to get started. Sensei, those who have gone before, cherish natural communication, it is a sign of maturity, and maturity in the face of adverse conditions is one of the most difficult to master, just look around, even the most educated find it challenging, even the most kind may benefit from enslaving a large proportion of beings through their addictions, and even the credentialed may land in wars, or very near them due to negative behaviors.
Do watch the movies with sensei, really watch them, sensei says, “these are very educational,” yet really ask the entirety of being, what does sensei see? I hope he still won’t tell you, because he never told me, and one day it became clear, because when you see it, when you truly do, you’ll know, it’s the proofing window of insight meeting accomplishment.
Cultivate spiritual friendships, do not build spiritual hierarchies.
I cannot emphasize enough spiritual friends, and this is the whole of a holy life. This friendship is beyond co-dependency, this is a friendship where there is mutuality in clearing the way, there is care in living together, there is love in living together. There is unity not by rule, but unity by love. The entirety of aiki is expressed in “friend”, and it is a bugeisha that sees limitless beings as friend, no matter what the public or legal perceptions perceive. If there is progress in the aforementioned, these friends just start appearing, yet do be careful, stay guarded not of beings, but of activities, under the blade, perseverance under nin.
After a teaching in a spiritual context by a great leader of a Tibetan Buddhist Lineage, Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, an audience member asked, “Rinpoche, you talk about this beautiful stuff, you talk about emptiness, you talk about self-less, you talk about this with so much certainty, yet why does it feel like to me, that you seem the most egotistical and arrogant in the room?”
He replied with a curt answer, “do not mistake arrogance for certainty,” and not a word was spoken more. That’s bu! This helped tremendously, and may help others on this journey.
A very accomplished in martial arts and martial wisdom, John Willson from Canada, of Bujinkan and a close friend of Ishizuka Sensei, and Hatsumi Soke said this after I asked when receiving so much flack, “what do you say to someone when they say, ‘do you think you’re better than everyone else'”?
John was quick, not skipping a beat, “You say, ‘why yes, yes I am,’ and be sure to be carrying a big stick,” and he mic-dropped that line, it really has sunk in. Now keep in mind John is retired from working on the Saint Lawrence Seaway, he has a beautiful family, and lives practically in paradise. He built a private invite only dojo, where tabi footprints were left on the ceiling because the ceiling was so low, you could literally walk on the ceiling while flying upside down in a break-fall.
There are so many spiritual friends, “<I|self-view>” cannot list the limiltess, so many. Maybe some day… so please work on it, one such friend appeared out of the blue while sitting in a lobby at Travis Air Force Base, an Air Force Colonel, retired. She was traveling to Alaska to work on paintings out of a portable boat, she was asking about duty station etc., and then she broke stride, looked directly at me, piercing eyes, tamed by gentleness and wisdom, “sometimes it’s alright to run away,” yeah, that happened, for real, and it’s a-l-l the time, no joke.
So be on the lookout, they’re everywhere, and know that it isn’t the person, just as it’s not self, it’s not other… this is the bitter pill, it truly is. It’s wisdom, the spiritual friend is Wisdom. And there are four obfuscated by “antiquity”: Joy Courageous, Love Profound, Compassion Still, and it is Tranquility and Peace abundant… these are the friends… and wouldn’t self-view know it. The cause of suffering profound, that mud, this mud, sprinkled with a bit of that rain of wisdom, inviting the lotus seed to germinate, grow, and blossom. Perhaps Mary Oliver’s “harsh and exciting”, is “harsh and inviting”.
Some mind trip eh? Go figure, “it’s not about you…,” Tilda Swinton delivers as the Ancient One so eloquently to Dr. Strange in the film of the same title.
Open the rock door!
Climb the Right Mountain
Climb the right mountain, do not climb not the wrong mountain.
What was written above? Not a word spoken, not a word heard, see clearly the fellow with or without a beard, yet don’t get stuck in the or’ing, because that is a life, very boring.
The final word will be this, and it was shared with only a few, “Sensei climbing mountain. Many students climbing mountain. But, sensei looking across,” he gestures as if looking way across a deep valley to another mountain, “and sensei seeing students… climbing wrong mountain.” This was immediately sobering, in so many ways, what is the right mountain? What is the wrong one? Are there less rights and are there more wrongs? What does this mean? It is worthy of to investigate.
Sensei shared this in a small group very early when I was in the dojo, and it is now part of this patchwork robe, it’s my expression now, I’ve inherited it… more treasure words… so with that said… don’t climb the wrong mountain, this wisdom is not for you, it’s not for me, it’s for life, it’s to protect and serve limitless this en-route to liberation. Cider House Rules, “be of use”; leave it better than you found it. This is the way of maturity, of true spiritual maturation, finding a peaceful heart, a peaceful mind, a peaceful spirit and bringing that to the world, protected by the spiritual friends, through the wisdom of bu.
Live with Sen-Sei and know the fruits of a life, well lived, and see through the results, clearly, the cultivation. Sen-Sei was never about self, never about other – a life, well lived, arrives at peace with neighbors, rather than artificial peace, warlike, at neighbors. Should the world need your help, then absent self-view, wisdom of emptiness armed at the ready, it will be known what to do, and there will be no doubt; the spear of wisdom yet remains flexible.
Now, this is the life of an aiki disciple.
So here, imagine that, it’s partially laid out for you, now I am curious, what are you going to do with it? Because, as much as Sensei and I can teach you, you teach us. Here in the care of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, you’ll live with a true master at work for the benefit of limitless beings, and what better way than to do this, together.
And Finally, the Invitation
Congratulations, you didn’t forsake the noble search for a conventional life. There is good company, the way is sound, the sky is clear — now get “let’s” out of the way, and bathe in the rain of wisdom; now here, the body may begin to forge itself as a weapon, selfless and do the work of the spiritual friends and guide the world…
Roy Æ Hodges
Another Disciple of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan
PS: Blind person can reading book; I told you, you would know, every<| >thing.
PPS: Without Josh Drachman, this letter would never have been written.
- An earlier version of this omitted attribution for a quote, this is corrected [June 19, 2022].