Here (see below) are some interesting quotes from an interview with a Japanese 10th Dan Aikido sensei, Michio Hikitsuchi (published in Aikido Journal). It’s about the importance of being connected and in unison with the Kami (the Divine). The whole interview could very well serve as a plea for a “Return of the Kami” in Aikido practice.
Hikitsuchi sensei talks about the teachings and the experiences he had with Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei since he was 14 years old. But above all he talks about the vision and goals and, most interesting, about the Kami qualities of O-Sensei.
This interview exactly points at the essence of Aikido and Budo, namely to be united with the Kami. Within the Aikido and Budo world, this has always been unknowingly or purposefully overlooked by the majority of their practitioners.
Even the most prominent aikido teachers, Japanese and Western alike, don’t pay or hardly pay attention to it. Maybe they don’t know how to properly deal with this for most people formless, vague and woolly Divine reality. Or they just prefer, for various reasons, to avoid mixing this abstract, non-physical Kami aspect with the conventional, concrete physical Aikido techniques.
Too bad really! Either way, most of all the conventional Aikido as we know it can, because of this persistent omitting of the Kami, be fundamentally considered as fear based approaches of Budo. Far from what O-Sensei had visioned.
This fear however is very understandable, because it’s a fact that the first and biggest fear human beings are suffering from is an unconscious, deep rooted “Fear of God”, known as “Theophobia”. Almost all other fears and phobias are based on this fundamental fear.
And as a consquence of this fear, there is of course also the fear that by introducing the Kami into the dojo practice, Aikido can easily get associated with religion. But striving for being united with the Kami doesn’t automatically mean being religious. This has always been a big misunderstanding.
All Aikido students and teachers could anyhow use this interview (at least the content of it and maybe not per se Hikitsuchi’s style of Aikido) to check for themselves if they have put their understanding of Aikido’s essential goals (O-Sensei’s vision) into practice in daily life. And moreover, if the Kami also has gained a significant and rightful place in one’s own personal life, as it was in O-Sensei’s life.
If so, then one should find abundant peace, love, happiness, compassion, joy, tenderness, kindness, harmony, unity, non-aggression, etc., all qualities that aikido promotes, in one’s day to day life, i.e. in one’s family and personal relation life, in one’s work life and in one’s social life.
If this is not the case, then one’s aikido is merely not more than a nice practice on the tatami, with only talking and theorizing about peace and harmony.
Then one should profoundly contemplate and re-evaluate thoroughly one’s own aikido practice, and especially consider, according to Hikitsuchi sensei, the “first and foremost” importance of bringing the Kami back into Aikido. A difficult but great and beautiful challenge. I believe though a necessity for our new age.
PS: The text of the original interview actually was much longer, but I extracted the most important quotes.
Quotes extracted from interview with Michio Hikitsuchi Sensei, Aikido 10th Dan
By Laurin Herr and Tim Detmer – July 20, 2014
“What I learned directly from O-Sensei is that the spirit of creating world peace comes before waza (techniques). Without that spirit, our Aikido cannot progress.”
Michio Hikitsuchi: I first met O-Sensei when I was 14 years old. I believe that I was predestined to meet O-Sensei. He had told me that I was born to learn Budo and that Aikido was the highest expression of Japanese Budo.
O-Sensei’s gaze was very kind, but his eyes also had a fierce light in them, as though they were glowing. O-Sensei always stared sharply at someone he was meeting for the first time. His eyes gleamed and, in that moment, he knew everything about the person.
Sometimes, just a glance from him could make me feel as though I had been shot through with an arrow. His glance could be very stern at one moment and very soft and kindly the next.
Since O-Sensei departed for the heavenly realm, I have never felt separated from him. He is always present and I can hear his voice every day and night.
Waza (techniques) spring forth from kototama [word souls]. It’s not possible to fully understand a waza without speaking about its meaning, what gives birth to it. So, O-Sensei would teach by talking about the [kototama] origins of the waza.
There was no pattern to O-Sensei’s waza. It was kamigoto [divine working]. O-Sensei did waza according to his ki of the moment. Nothing was fixed. Every time it was different. O-Sensei did not usually teach people individually. He just showed a technique once and told us to imitate what he had done.
Sometimes, when O-Sensei touched me, I felt my power suddenly increase. And, sometimes, when he touched me, I felt my strength drain away. When I came close to him, it sometimes seemed that my strength was absorbed. Other times, I felt a tremendous pressure… Always, I felt the power of the Kami flowing through him.
After the war O-Sensei once said: “Japan lost the war because the army was mistaken.” “Until now, he said, all Budo has been for destruction, for killing. But, from now on, Budo must give joy and happiness. It must be a Budo of love.” “I am going to start teaching the Budo of love”.
O-Sensei had changed during the war years. His thinking about Budo had changed radically. And the way he related to people also changed. His fierce gaze had become more tender. One felt more like getting closer to him.
After the war, O-Sensei’s thinking about waza also changed enormously. Before the war, the purpose of waza had been to kill the attacker. After the war, he urged us not to attack opponents or to think of beating them up. “If you do that,” he said, “it will be the same as before. I have changed how we do everything.”
O-Sensei told us that we must give our opponents joy. To do this, he said, we must become capable of immediately sensing their ki. And, to do this, we must unify ourselves, we must unify our words, our body, and our mind. We must become one with the workings of all things in the universe — with Kami and the forces of Nature. O-Sensei said, “then true Budo will be born. The Budo of destroying others will become transformed into the Budo of offering joy and compassion to others.”
After the war, also the method of practice was the opposite of what it had been. We no longer attacked. We looked at our partner’s ki in order to see the whole of them. From the top of their head to the tips of their toes. Not just external appearances. We needed to become able to absorb our partner’s minds.
Now all the techniques I teach are those of the postwar period. They are the true waza of O-Sensei’s Aikido.
If we are always one with the universe, one with great nature, there is no space for the opponent to attack.
When opponents do try to attack, we must not rely on form alone, but spontaneously create technique.
In the old days, when the opponent attacked, we parried the blow and drove forward. After the war, things changed. The instant the opponent raised his arm to strike, we were already changing position. To do it well, we had to become one with nature and move without thinking.
Another aspect of postwar Aikido was O-Sensei’s even greater emphasis on “Shinji” (Shinto ritual) for spiritual purification. At the beginning of every practice session, he’d always begin with purification.
The most important lesson that I learned from O-Sensei
First and foremost, I learned from him to pray to the Kami and Buddha. At birth, we don’t think any thoughts; babies are one with the Kami. But, as we grow up, in the process impurities are produced. If we can go beyond thought and be one with the Kami, we can return to Kami mind. We call this chinkon kishin. To quiet our spirit and return to the heart of the Kami. The heart of the Kami is love.
The teachings of Aikido are for the purpose of returning to the heart of the Kami and receiving the power of the Kami. Basing our actions on this foundation, we work for the peace of the world.
We cannot understand Aikido without studying its essential spirit, without studying how O-Sensei gave birth to Aikido.
The Way of Aikido exists to create a person who is sincere and kind — a person with a true heart. Waza exists as Aikido discipline. But, to put aside the spirit and do only waza will not lead to an understanding of Aikido’s heart and will not even lead to true waza.
Just practicing technique will lead nowhere, no matter how many times you do it again and again.
O-Sensei moved like a Kami. We thought we were seeing a real Kami. I therefore endeavored to absorb everything as it was — to do exactly as O-Sensei did. I wasn’t just “studying” in the ordinary sense of that word. In serving him, serving the Kami, I was receiving a spiritual transmission. That is how I received O-Sensei’s teaching.
O-Sensei was actually always relaxed. Outside of keiko (training), he would read books and talk. He always talked of spiritual matters. And the books he read, some very old, were always about the Kami.
O-Sensei was trying to teach us to rid ourselves of the desire to fight with our opponents, and to replace it with the desire to create harmony. Aikido is the Budo of love.
If we harbor anger, we cannot have good relationships with one another. Our anger will infect our partners, and that must not happen. Instead, we should offer happiness and compassion. If we do that mutually, we will make harmony and become like a family. O-Sensei said: “I am alive to make the world one family.”
O-Sensei was interested in cultivating sincere human beings. But he never forced others to act one way or another. He never ordered anyone to do anything. But he would want us to walk the path for ourselves. “I can only explain to you what the Kami have shown me,” he would always say.
O-Sensei also told us to have a sense of gratitude, to be thankful to others and to Nature. Without humility and a grateful heart we cannot become true human beings.
The Kojiki, Japan’s oldest book, tells the story of the Kami. At first, there was nothing — no heaven, no earth, no ether. Then a point appeared in the void. We might call it The Center or The Great Power of the Kami. Clarity and purity soared high and created the pure sky. The impurities fell down to create the earth. In this way, the Kami divided heaven and earth.
Then the Kami gave birth to everything on earth: plants, trees, fish, and so on. Among the best things on earth are human beings. Our function is to love everything and take care of everything for the Kami. But humans are also the ones who do wrong by destroying nature. Thus, the need for spiritual purification, so we can become able to help purify the world and create harmony.
O-Sensei was a very sincere, very pure person. His words are very important. He said that Aikido’s purpose is to create people of truth and sincerity.
A message for Aikido teachers
I would like all Aikido instructors to talk to O-Sensei before keiko — not just to put up a photo of O-Sensei and bow to it saying “Onegai shimasu” and “Arigato gozaimasu”. It is important for people to show their gratitude through their actions. This will help them come to understand O-Sensei’s teachings. Form alone will not work; one must show gratitude with a pure heart. So, speak out.
O-Sensei often expressed gratitude to the Kami. He told us to look at nature to understand the working of the Kami. He told us to decide on the right path by observing the workings of the Kami every day.
O-sensei taught that if one has a benevolent heart, one can give love. From love arises harmony — and harmony gives birth to happiness. Happiness and joy are the greatest treasures. This treasure is not gold or diamonds. It is a spiritual.
It is most important that the world become one family. Aikido is for the purpose of teaching that with the heart of love we can make all one family.
Translated by Aya Nishimoto and Laurin Herr
Excerpts from this 2001 interview conducted in Shingu, Japan were originally published in “Remembering O-Sensei”, edited by Susan Perry (Shambhala Publications 2002)