Training With the “I”

Training With the “I”


We worked in the first series of on-line classes on experiencing the fundamental states of consciousness as outlined by O Sensei and many other spiritual traditions, using some basic Aikido exercises.

Today, we will begin a series of classes on working with the I and later in the series, the unit.  In today’s class we will use the ushiro-tori undo exercise as our reference. 


The “I” is the part of us that is the center of personal identity.  The experience of I is always present regardless of which persona or unit we are currently adopting.  When we are weeding the backyard there is I.  If we go to a state dinner at the White House there is I.  The unit is the clothing we wear to accomplish particular tasks or assume particular roles. 

This process as I of “inhabiting” particular units is often unconsciousness.  When we walk to our car to drive home, that is a unit.  Some basic units are much more a part of our identity than others.  Your choice of work; your place in a family or other important social groups are examples. 

The unit is the part of our selves that contains the skills and abilities necessary to accomplish the tasks for which that unit is created.  The content of the unit is decided by the skills necessary to perform that particular function and therefore will vary from unit to unit.  Performing brain surgery is a very different unit than running a marathon.  Being a parent is very different than being the CEO of a company.

The I is the part of our system, at a basic level, that provides a qualitative experience of satisfaction and meaning to our activities.  It is the source of our perspective on our lives and our world in both an immediate and overall sense.

The health of the I is a big factor in how well we forge with the units that are important to us both in the sense of personal satisfaction and wellbeing and our functional performance in those roles. 

The overall goal of these classes is to help create a more balanced and integrated I and with some similar practices, a more balanced and integrated unit.  This allows a better forging to occur between the I and the unit resulting in more personal satisfaction and better performance. 

We will use the ushiro-tori undo exercise as our focus to experience the two parts of the I.  Then we will move on to  experience the relationship between these two parts of the I and how they can be further developed.

The two parts of the I are, as outlined by O Sensei and many other traditions, the part that is more awareness oriented and the other that is more experientially oriented.  Our shorthand for these is the mind of I (awareness/thinking) and the body of I (feeling/experience).

Our goal initially, is to experience these parts of the I and their interaction with each other.  It is in this interaction that a real  opportunity for growth and development of the I exists.  When there is a lack of connection or even conflict between the parts of the I we are starting out from a place of fragmentation rather than wholeness.  If the lack of integration is not experienced we will experience the effects of it in reduced satisfaction and performance. 

One way this happens is that part of the I ranges out and tries to obtain satisfaction from outside itself.  One example is when the I tries to direct the unit, it results in both maintaining the fragmentation of the I with itself and interferes with the unit’s ability to perform. 

Everyone has had occasions when they noticed the harder they try to accomplish something the more frustrated they get (I) and the worse their performance becomes (unit).  The image of the kitten trying to extricate itself from a ball of yarn comes to mind, the harder it tries the more entangled it becomes.  From O Sensei’s perspective this tendency toward entanglement and its results is a key part of the difficulty of the human condition.

Bringing the two parts of the I into a more whole experience with each other is a big step toward reducing entanglement and its resulting negative effects.

Before we go on, let’s look at how O Sensei and others describe the I-The Secret Teachings of Aikido (pgs. 80-82) and Essence of Aikido (pg. 27). 

Here is another perspective from Alex Bennett in his book on Kendo (pgs. xxxii-xxxiii).

Here is another perspective from Prof. Cheng Man-ching-Essays on Man and Culture (pgs. 32-33).

We need both the experience of all the basic states of consciousness and a healthy psychology for this to happen.  Ken Wilbur in his book Integral Meditation calls these two types of development waking up (refined state experience) and growing up (psychological health).  The book Zen at War is an example where waking up was not matched with growing up.  

Before we begin to work with the I, let’s bow in and start with a little bit of stretching and then misogi breathing.

Training With the I

Let’s begin with two rounds of ushiro-tori undo.  As we do it try and remember your experience so we can refer back to it as our practice progresses. We want to specifically focus on the two movements the feeling of opening the back and extending the arms and stepping forward and turning.

  • Feedback on the first round of practice.

Now we will go through a process of experiencing the two parts of the I, mind of I and body of I, and then practice ushiro-tori undo.

At each point there is a sense in which you become a different person, there is a shift in identity as we quoted Nadeau Sensei in the previous classes.

  1. Stand and move the arms and hands from the top down. Let’s now focus on an experience of awareness using the ushiro-tori undo practice as our focus.  Asking the question when you think about the ushiro-tori undo practice, what thoughts attract your attention?  This is a way to get in touch with the mind of I.  Then moving the arms and hands from the feet up, let’s work with a similar question.  What are your feelings about ushiro-tori undo?  What feelings attract your attention?  This is a way to get in touch with the body of I.
    • Repeat ushiro-tori undo and get feedback-how did the focus on the mind and body of I change your experience?


  1. Now that we have a basic experience of mind and body of I, let’s continue with a practice of interaction between them. The mind of I has the capability of mirroring.  It is aware through mirroring what is going on outside the I, and evaluates it.  Turn the mirroring capability of the mind of I inward and allow an image of the body of I form in you as the mind of I.  Then making a shift in perspective from mind of I to body of I, as body of I use your unique capability to mirror the mind of I.  We now have these two parts of the I mirroring each other.  Through this mutual experience there is a greater sense of alignment, integration and wholeness in your experience of yourself as I.  From this experience your interaction with the unit and the rest of creation comes from a place of wholeness rather than fragmentation.
    • Repeat ushiro-tori undo and get feedback-how did the interactive practice change your experience? Which movement do you identify with what part of the I?


  1. Let’s conclude the class with a practice of inner dialog between the parts of the I. Start the practice with either mind or body of I first.  Our question is, what is going well in the relationship with the other and what would you like more of?  This is a way to experience and reinforce what is going well and work to improve the areas that are not going so well.  In the areas not going so well, a moment or two of full presence will usually bring in a sense of how to resolve the issue.  Then repeat the process with the other part of the I.
    • Repeat ushiro-tori undo and get feedback-how did the inner dialog between mind and body of I change your experience?


In this class we have looked at two basic aspects of our identity, I and unit.  Today we focused on the I and experienced its two parts; how they may interact with each other and an exercise of inner dialog to help improve their relationship.  The practical benefit this kind of practice provides, is that we can  experience the root cause of inner conflict and work to resolve it.  This allows us to approach life with less fragmentation and entanglement and a greater experience of wholeness-Secret Teachings of Aikido (pg. 53)