This weekend John Stevens, a 7th dan Aikikai and Buddhist priest came to our dojo, Bay Marin Aikido. Stevens, who has written over thirty books on Buddhism, Aikido and Asian culture, is considered one of the foremost authorities on Aikido. The experience was enriching, wild-hearted and intense.
Beginners and experienced Aikidokas (Aikido practitioners) were challenged by Stevens’ examples of how to practice. He demonstrated eight ways of practicing the first pillar of Aikido, Shiho-Nage, 4-directions throw, which we were then to practice. A bit of chaos ensued. The mood of the dojo was filled with excitement, joy, bewilderment, a place of opening, which had us laughing and sometimes straining to understand.
He kept saying, “This is training. This is practice, eh?” He has a lovely lightness to his presence and practice. He said that, at this time in his life, because he couldn’t use as much physical power in Aikido he had a much better understanding of its essence. This came through quite clearly when he demonstrated throws. The energy and lightness of his touch is something I want to emulate.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was learning Kototama, the secret sacred sounds of Aikido. These sounds evidently sunk in to my unconscious mind. My sweetie informed me that I was practicing them (loudly) in my dreams and was driven from the bedroom to the guest room so he could get some sleep!
You can hear John Stevens Sensei performing Kototama or sound meditation in a church in The Netherlands here. He said that on the first take he was too self-conscious about how he sounded so it didn’t turn out. It was only when he forgot himself that he found the freedom to let the sounds come through unobstructed.
As you can hear, they came out whole and strong and clear. I find that when I media coach people this is true for them too. When we speak from a place of no-thinking our stories universally come out whole and complete. They don’t need editing. If we can drop into this place and rest there our thoughts and actions serve us well.
After two hours of practice we took a break for lunch and then began several hours of calligraphy using breath, kiais (short yell before or during a strike or technique) and lots of ink and paper. Of course our practice and life experience show up here as well; In the way a line is too thin or forced or broken, how we flow, the way we begin and end a stroke, our attention, the ways we stop ourselves or critique in the middle of doing. Whether we will it or not who we are is seen clearly, in the black ink of our doing and on the white paper of possibility.
Stevens suggested we put up our Calligraphy in the dojo and live with it, and watch how it evolves. He commented on how our sensei, Hans Goto’s, strokes had changed since last year. Both of them have been practicing Aikido for over 35 years. Often we don’t notice the shifts that happen over time as we move through our busy lives as we do.
Since starting to practice Aikido I’ll try to apply what I learn there to PR and to life. The phrase, “How you do anything is how you do everything” has truth to it. When you put yourself out in the world and connect with others everything shows up: whether you’re doing calligraphy, cutting a flower, speaking to your children, or handling yourself on-camera, we see who you are.
I remember Hale Dwoskin, CEO and Director of Training of Sedona Training Associates, saying, when you think of someone as a stranger they are really just a forgotten part of yourself. Aikido, and PR bring those reminders quickly present to right here right now. Everything that you do, say, are and think is your private dojo, and noticing how you respond to every given experience, an opportunity to practice.