An Unlimited Supply

Sensei asked, at the beginning of one of our meditation sittings, a question for us to consider: “What if you had an unlimited supply of something everyone on earth wanted?”

Deep breath in, and out. Letting the eyes close.

*ding*

The obvious answer is our love. But does everyone really want love? My love? Do I want theirs? What if everyone wants everyone else’s love? Why not give it to them? Why do we hold back? What would we lose? How would the world be if we all loved each other without reservation? Is there a downside to that?

What if it were our approval? Would it be better to give it to just anyone, freely? Does that really serve them? Or does that make it meaningless? If you are accepting and reassuring for no reason, that’s kind of hollow.

But loving people doesn’t make love meaningless. 

What if were a thing, like gold? Then the scarcity is exactly what makes it valuable. If you have a lot of it, and just dump it one everyone, then its value is lost. So by your intent to be generous you’ve not given anyone anything of real value. 

If you dole it out a little at a time, or to just a few people, it keeps it value. But are you doing that so the people who have it will appreciate it? Or so they will be beholden to you? Is it a selfish ego thing to hold back? Or is it wise stewardship of a resource? I suppose it’s in how you think about it.

Deep breath in, and out, noticing the expansion in the ribs, and wooshing of air in the nostrils. In, and out.

It must be love…

Breathing in. Breathing out.

*ding* 

O Sensei Raised Horses!!!

I have wondered about this, and tried to find any information on whether O Sensei may have kept horses, or worked with them. I thought maybe… I knew he was a farmer, but he could have farmed by hand, or with oxen. I had not found any mention of horses, until just now, in The Art of Peace, by Morihei Ueshiba & John Stevens. From Part One – Morihei Ueshiba, Prophet of the Art of Peace:

“Looking for new worlds to conquer, in 1912 Morihei led a group of settlers from Tanabe to the wilds of Hokkaikdo, Japan’s northernmost, largely undeveloped island. The group settled in remote Shirataki, and started to build a village from scratch. Morihei worked tirelessly to make the project a success. He put up buildings; cleared the land for the cultivation of potatoes, peppermint, and sesame; engaged in prudent logging of the great forests; raised horses; and eventually served as a local councilman. (Despite Morihei’s great efforts, the settlement never really succeeded. Crops failed the first few years, and there was a disastrous fire in 1916 that destroyed 80 percent of the village, including Morihei’s first home. Morihei did learn how to tame wild animals, though, becoming pals with several big Hokkaido bears.)”

O Sensei raised horses!!!

If anyone has more information, details, stories, references, anything, I’d love to know about it. Did he ride? Did he train them? Use them as draft animals? Did he raise them for sale? For meat? I’d love to add notes here with any links, book recommendations, etc. If you have anything to share.

And bears? I’d love to hear anything about that, too. 

I have always seen animals as a great common thread across time and borders. When I see a worn black and white photo of someone many decades ago, in a very foreign land, with a cat in the doorway, I know their life must have been quite different from mine, now, but I also know their cat was a cat like any cat I might know. I’m sure it meowed around their feet while they cooked, scratched at the door to be let in, and left dead “gifts” on the doormat. I know a little about their life, and know they can’t have been so very different from me, really.

I’ve always wondered if O Sensei had a cat, too. I can see him after a long day regaling uchi deshi with stories of Shinto gods, and overseeing dojo activities, sneaking a purring kitty a bit of meat from his dinner. It makes him seem so human, and so timeless.

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I’m adding a couple of comments here that I made when I posted this to Facebook, in case anyone has any info/thoughts on them. I don’t have commenting enabled here, but if you are on AikiWeb you are certainly invited to add your thoughts or information on resources to this post there: http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/my-path-17246/o-sensei-raised-horses-4436/

– I’ve also thought there was a strong connection between farming and Aikido. Living with nature and learning to take what’s in front of you and use it seems like something anyone dealing with seasons, soils, insects, etc. would have to learn. You can’t push back against a storm, or take a stand against a swarm of bugs. You have to notice “OK, it’s pouring. I can’t plant today. How can I move forward from here?”

– Do you know where I can find information about the Settlement? (Or O Sensei’s other farming activities, before or after?) I’m curious about this aspect of his life because I find that training one’s body is not very different from training a horse (same learning patterns), and that working with nature and the land seems entirely compatible with Aikido principles. I’d love to know if/how that experience might have influenced his creation of the art, teaching, or view of how the world works.

Life in the Dream World

A couple of years ago, after my first few months in Aikido, I had a vivid dream, which I posted about then. When I woke up I could see and feel it in great detail, and I still can. It wasn’t until later that day I realized it was about Aikido.

In the dream I suddenly found myself in a totally unfamiliar, incomprehensible new world. A simple, quiet, calm place, where the people seemed to share a sense of purpose and belonging. Sensei was an old, wise woman, a compassionate leader, trusted by the people. I knew there was no going back, that this was to be my new life. I was upset, but I knew I was safe. I knew the leader and the people could be trusted. 

And that’s exactly how it’s been.

On a recent Thursday evening, just two days before a friend’s exam for 4th kyu, I limped into the dojo hoping I could at least sit for the 15 minutes of meditation before class. I had gotten out of a chair the wrong way, and badly screwed up something in my right hip. I’d been kept up by the pain most of the previous night, and had only gotten around the house that day by using a jo as a walking stick. My dear husband, Michael, drove me to the dojo, because he knows how I am. He insisted that I go, if only to watch. Bless his heart.

I had been training with my friend for her exam. When I got to the dojo I told Sensei that I wouldn’t be able to take ukemi for her – he’d need to find someone else. In the past, never half as bad as this time, it had taken weeks for my hip to get better, and her exam was to be on Saturday morning. Sensei was unfazed. “In my world it’s normal to be taking ukemi 2 days after you can’t walk.”

Really? Like a little kid hearing a fantastic story, I wanted to believe in it. I wanted to live in that magical world.

Let’s just say I was skeptical. Hopeful, but skeptical.

Someday I will stop being surprised at this, or maybe, stubbornly, I will continue to be surprised every time: Sensei was right. He guided me through some stretches, and I was actually able to participate in both classes that night. By Friday night’s class I was better still. By Saturday morning I had to think hard to remember which hip it had been. There were some big ups and downs in the next couple of weeks, and ultimately it got better. But that Saturday I was able to take ukemi for my friend’s exam, no problem. More significantly, I had learned I could be perfectly fine in a much shorter time than I’d ever thought possible.

“In my world it’s normal to be taking ukemi 2 days after you can’t walk.”

That’s a pretty awesome world. That’s the world I saw in my dream. It’s real.

It’s a world where we are pushed to go beyond our perceived limits, to explore outside of the arbitrary boundaries we have declared to be our reality. In this world teachers and friends don’t buy into our stories and whining. Instead they lift us up and help us see further, and then kick our butts to get us into action. Sometimes they help us to understand that patience and gentleness with ourselves is part of the process, too. And we try to do the same for them.

In this world I’ve never encountered the sympathetic-sounding, but ultimately defeating excuses and dismissals I heard so often in my past: Don’t expect too much of yourself; Don’t get your hopes up; Not everyone can be good at this; Maybe when you are older; Maybe if you’d started when you were younger; Old habits are hard to break; It’s rough out there, be careful; You can always do it just for fun; Don’t work so hard, that’s good enough; Besides, it’s not like you’ll actually need to know it, you’ll never do anything with it anyway.

This is a world where it’s OK to pursue mastery. It’s OK to expect that continued growth and development are available to anyone who applies themselves. It’s OK to be a serious student. It’s OK to ask for support, and to give it, so we all grow together. It’s OK for the impossible to be quite possible. It’s OK to make big changes. It’s OK to heal. And it’s OK to do it right now.

The world I saw in my dream was a simple, quiet, calm place, where the people seemed to share a sense of purpose and belonging, and I knew the leader and the people could be trusted. It’s a real place. I like it here.

Stop Resisting.

It’s funny how we have to keep learning the same thing over, and over, and over, and over again. An old lesson looks unfamiliar in a new situation. Principles that are old friends in one context seem strange when seen in a different light.

The lesson? Stop resisting. Stop denying. Stop wishing. Notice. Feel. Become aware of the actual direction of the energy. Not your story about it. Not how it was supposed to be. Not how you meant to have it work out.

Notice what’s actually happening. Blend with that. Align with that. Move into that. Use that. Act from that

Being in harmony with the reality of the circumstances is the only place you have any power. You can’t act from resistance, denial, and wishing. Effective action is only possible from awareness and acceptance. Not resignation, acceptance.

This is what’s so. Stop dragging your feet, and move.

I think I get it… Again.

Master Pat, A True Force of Nature

This is a guest post, by Michael Hancock, one our instructors at Aikido of San Diego. Originally from England, he teaches, and leads meditations, with a lovely Brit-dialect, respect for tradition, thoughtful insight, and a gentle sense of humor. Michael is an avid golfer, pilot, and horseman, and when living in England was an accomplished polo player, having once been Chairman of the oldest club in the world, Silver Leys. He is an entrepreneur whose focus is on his family and community. Among other things, Michael is active in promoting and advising the Wampler Foundation, providing camp and outdoor education programs for kids with physical disabilities. Enjoy.

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Master Pat – A True Force of Nature

By Michael Hancock
Written Early 2011

Because my Google search gave me little since he received an honor from the Japanese Ambassador on behalf of the Emperor in London several years back, I wrongly assumed he had since passed on. I’m back in England, and last night, by chance or providence, I’m nearby the dojo of ‘Master Pat’ Stratford, my first mentor.

It was 7.25 pm for the 7.30 start and the door was still locked. He looked old to me 25 years ago, but I was still surprised to see a pensioner struggling to climb out of someone’s car and stagger across on crutches at 7.29 on the dot. Yes, same face and instantly recognizable except for a few more good vintages behind him. For a fleeting moment I wondered if this was a good idea, but I reintroduced myself anyway and he cheerfully engaged. We chatted about old times and old members for a short while.

We sat for a few minutes to one side. I declined his offer of tea that I’m sure had an aromatic whiff of medicated navy rum as he drew on his pipe. He informed me that there are now eight aikido clubs in the Coventry area alone, but added that they are losing their way. He believes they are generically too mindful of ego and money.

A couple of the old boys are still around, reminding me of the clichéd movies of boxers or ball players of a bygone age, still with the enthusiasm of teenagers and a wickedly dry wit that bantered between them. The warmth of camaraderie made me feel right at home again.

He shared with me his thoughts on Japan and said there is a lot of “crap Aikido” because the culture has changed so much as a result of the Americanization of the country after the war, and that most are now chasing the dollar and missing the fundamentals. I sensed an air of nostalgia or sadness when he added that no one turns up here anymore. Master Pat has an endearingly maverick character that is so likeable. He’s the real deal. You cannot question his dedication, yet I think he inevitably divides opinion.

Master Pat was sincerely and genuinely, “…worried for the future of pure Aikido, as there isn’t another martial art that comes close to the practice of Zen and Budo. This is now just a club for black belts only, and anyone who wants to study Aikido, I mean really study.”

In fact, he is worried for the state of the world in general and was satisfied to be his age. He added that a couple of the other dojo owners still come back once a month or so and are very welcome. Years ago he would teach all over Europe, however, he still leads monthly Aikido events, albeit these days hosting at his home dojo as traveling is difficult.

Master Pat founded the Aikido Union of England in 1958 with the support of his teacher and close friend, Shigeho Tanaka Sensei. He explained how he has dedicated his life to the study since his time in Japan through the 1950’s and 1960’s. “Aikido was around long before the Samurai.” He paused, looked me intently in the eye, “I am in my mid 80’s and if it wasn’t for Budo, I would have been dead thirty years ago. I am in pain 24/7, but never let it beat you, take charge of thought and you will never be depressed or stressed.”

I declined his invitation to train and told him I’m sporting an injury. He ordered me through his wry smile, “Don’t be a soft nancy boy and get on the bloody mat, you’ve been in bloody America too long!” Ah yes, I remember him clearly now, and started to stretch. Six turned up last night and I made the seventh.

After a brief warm-up, he stepped onto the mat a different person and I could not believe what I saw. He was incredible, so amazing. Master Pat transcended time and his presence was dominating. He focused on the essence of ‘feeling’, in understanding the body. He ‘touched’ my chest and I instinctively slapped out on the mat with a pounding in my lungs. Then he came around each of us and we dissected it. He was demonstrating the force of nature and allowing its power, “…without the laying on of hands, which will create resistance.”

I am somewhat ashamed for playing my part in not returning for 25 years, and to say that in my opinion, he is an under-valued magician, a somewhat forgotten Master that by all that is right, he deserves to have a huge entourage of followers surrounding him and absorbing this beautiful art while they can, not a mere half dozen. Inevitably, he won’t be here for long.

I learnt something about myself last night and will consciously embody some of his thoughts and his portrayal of ‘feel’ in my own personal training hereon. In fact, I wish I could get back here again soon, but living six thousand miles away in San Diego creates its own difficulties.

He declared while teaching something that still lifts and resonates with me. “There is nothing more perfect than nature. It has no muscles and no physicality. We must copy it. Everything else is bollocks!”

Thank you, Master Pat, you are one of a kind and still remain an inspiration to me.

Master Pat Stratford, 8th Dan & Michael Hancock

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A bit of follow-up information, from the News page at AikidoUnionEngland.co.uk:

On 26th May 2009 “Master Pat Stratford was awarded [by the Japanese Government] the honour of the ‘Order of the Rising Sun’ Gold & Silver Rays upon him in a special ceremony at the Japanese Ambassadors Residence, Kensington Palace Gardens, London. Master Stratford is the only ‘Budo Sensei’ outside of Japan to receive such a high level of the ‘Order of the Rising Sun’.”

On 6th November, 2011 “Master Pat Stratford [8th Dan], Honorary President and Chief Technical Advisor of the Aikido Union England, sadly announced that he would be retiring from active teaching on the tatami due to on-going knee problems and strict medical advice. He maintains his weekly presence at the dojo to give Technical Advice to the Instructors and will continue to attend each Aikido Course at Coventry as long as he is able to do so. …”