Volume 6 / Issue 1 SPRING 2020

5 4 S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 6 - 1 S p r i n g 2 0 2 0 2 Practice as Path, Path as Awakening The compositions below can be defined as maxims, or apho - risms. I have written them with the idea of advice literature in mind. I have composed them naturally with the intention to reflect the spontaneous and unconstructed process of realization behind them. These compositions are inspired by and freely modelled on the style of the Japanese poetry tradition of tanka andwaka . Unlike Japanese poems, however, these maxims are not structured metrically nor do they follow a consistent volume of syllables or lines. They do retain some similarities with the Japanese poems in that they are limited in length and concise in content in order to facilitate memorization. By virtue of their didactic and martial content, they are more in line with two other genres of Japanese traditional poetic composition generally referred to in Japanese as kadenor “transmission of teachings” and dōka , “poems about the way” [1]. These are short aphorisms that convey a message with an ethical and pedagogical intent to com - municate the feelings and the ideals of the martial ways. In this case, these compositions reflect one’s aspirations in the practice of budo and they are meant to remind of the true essence of Aikido ( aiki ), which is its practice ( keiko ), while at the same time to help develop the ideal attitude of the budoka (martial artist) the immovable mind ( fudōshin ). Because of their intuitive and spontaneous nature as well as their Buddhist context, I think of these doka as zenki . Zenki is a concept that according to the renowned Zen scholar and Japanese Zen poetry expert Dr. Lucien Stryk (1924-2013) represents “ the sense of a spontaneous activity outside the es - tablished forms, as if flowing from the formless Self. ” In his now classicZen and the Fine Arts , the Zen Buddhist philosopher, scholar, and chado tea ceremony master Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (1889-1980) proclaims that the feature of zenki represented in all Japanese Zen works are among others “asymmetry, simplicity, naturalness, and freedom.” For one thing, these poems express the essential feature of budo , the power of the mind ( shin ) over the sword ( ken ). They also aim at evoking the benefits of a pure and simple mind in martial arts, devoid of excessive conceptualizations and attachment, even between the mind and the sword. The mind is the sword. In the past several years, I have had the fortune to learn and practice the art of Aikido under the instruction of experienced teachers not only in Europe and the United States, but in Japan as well. Trough frequent observation and conversations, I have pondered the essence of Aikido in its innermost meaning. Most of the fundamental aspects of the art are well evident to any advanced practitioner, but they are also frequently misunderstood by many others. For instance, while in Japanese traditional martial arts ( kobujutsu ) the objective of fighting techniques and strategies was to cut down or maim an adversary either at war or in a duel, the modern combat disciplines ( budo ) aim at taming the Self, the Ego, and becoming a better person. They are ways to perfect one’s mind, behavior, and attitude. These are best evinced in the art of Aikido, where there is no competition, no desire to win over a partner. The confrontation in the practice of Aikido is meant to lead to perfecting the technique until harmony between body movement, mind, and breathing, but also that between two practitioners, reaches its pinnacle. Yet, the spirit of budo remains combat. Unlike in the past, however, budo is a way ( dō ) not preparing for lethal confrontations, but for forging a sharp mental attitude and the union of thought and action. My reading of O-Sensei Ueshiba Morihei (1883-1969) understood in the context of modern Japanese history, budohistory, culture, and language suggests that his notions of harmony, peace, and universe refer exactly to this message. His abundant use of Buddhist terminology and concepts conveys this shift of purpose, from killing the other to subduing one’s self, by means of the cutting hand ( te gatana ). Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that O-sensei’s views were not at all unique at his time. They should understood in the context of decades of philosophical and ideological change brought about by the modernizing winds blowing through Japan already in the Meiji era (mid-19th century). Notes [1] I have collected 109 such doka compositions in a forth - coming publication titled The Moon in the River: The Budō Path to the Empty Mind .