I appreciate everyone participating in this new format and welcome to everyone coming for the first time. We are working to keep our regular class schedule going so it will be easier to return to our training together.
Please share any comments, suggestions or questions.
This difficult time; while we wish it was not going on, is an opportunity to deepen our practice by appreciating what is really important to us and what we can let go of-The Essence of Aikido John Stevens (page 22).
In our last on-line class we began a series of classes on the forging. Our practice included experience of all the basic parts of our system involved in forging: the call-off; the space; the unit and the I. We completed the class by going through the forging process itself.
Our goal with this series of classes is to deepen both our understanding and experience of the forging process and its benefits.
The forging process is designed to bring together all the parts of our system that contribute to an experience of wholeness and functionality in whatever areas of our lives we wish to focus at a given point in time.
In our class today we will go through a basic round of forging using the Aikido technique showmen-uchi irimi nage as our call-off.
Let’s bow in and start with misogi breathing and a good full warm-up.
Our tip today on the misogi breathing is to pay close attention to a quiet background that supports all parts of the breathing cycle. This quiet background results in a more meditative experience when added to the experience of the breathing itself.
Five Principles for Ki Breathing
- Breathe out with the sound of HA, don’t let your breath just leak out
- Breathe out as calmly and quietly as possible
- Breathe out the Ki of your head to the Ki of your toes
- Breathe in from the tip of your nose until your body is full of air
- Calm your mind infinitely smaller at the one point after inhaling
Forging is a practice of cleansing (misogi), balance, integration and evolution through the practice of Aikido.
One primary barrier to this integrated growth is a state of entanglement.
We all have goals and desires that motivate our short and long term choices and actions. These goals are both conscious ones that we consider important to our feelings of happiness and success and unconscious ones based on our upbringing and the challenges presented in daily life.
Aikido techniques are an effective metaphor for both our desire to perform well in all aspects of life and a source of feedback to evaluate how successfully we are achieving our goals.
When we fall short of our own standards, as well as those imposed on us, we may respond in an effort to do better. When the practice of an Aikido technique provides feedback that we did not perform it well, we often try “harder.” This can take many forms from muscular effort to overcome our partner’s resistance-to blaming our partner for the poor quality of their attack, to putting our mind elsewhere and letting the body run on automatic pilot.
These are all examples of responses that produce entanglement. Entanglement is often the result of a lack of wholeness within the “I”. For example when faced with a situation such as practicing a particular Aikido technique, if the mind of “I” separates from its experiential counterpart, the body of “I” and attempts to control the physical body’s performance of the technique it will result in a much less smooth and harmonized performance. This is because the satisfaction that the mind of “I” is seeking can only be found in the experience of wholeness within itself. Approaching any situation from a place of fragmentation rather than wholeness even with greater effort will only result in more entanglement.
A significant benefit of the forging process is to retrain the mind of “I” to move instinctively toward its counterpart, the body of “I” rather than dividing itself and trying to function from a place of internal conflict and separation.
Forging is a practice that opens and temporarily separates our system into its basic parts. Each part can be cleansed and balanced, like tuning the parts of an engine. The next step is to put the parts back together into a more integrated, functional whole.
The importance of purification (misogi); balance, and growth are all key principles in O Sensei’s writings and lectures.
“Cleanse the body and spirit by removing all malice, selfishness, and desire.” (The Essence of Aikido by John Stevens pg. 97).
We will continue our practice in a step by step process of working toward the goals and benefits O Sensei said were inherent in the practice of Aikido.
The parts referred to in forging are not meant to be a statement of “metaphysical truth” but are offered as a training framework to achieve two goals.
First, to provide a structure that can be utilized in a training process.
Second, the structure is designed to help each person get in touch with the EXPERIENCE of how their system actually works. The structure in the forging practice is a starting point and an approximation to get started in the process of forging. No external practice can exactly match the functioning experience of an individual’s system.
The underlying premise of forging is that the health (inner harmony) of our system and the way we live are an interconnected whole. Like the ingredients in a recipe if one part is not right it colors the whole.
So with this introduction let’s start the practice of forging.
Clearing and Our Mission or the Call-Off
Before starting the forging process it is helpful to clear. This is a simple process of spending a few moments relaxing and letting the system calm and relax. You are spending a few moments breathing and relaxing, feeling the entire body, especially the back, legs and feet. It is wiping the board clean or starting with a clean canvas. Even just a few minutes of clearing will often make the practice easier and more productive.
Each and every person has a mission that they should accomplish for the sake of their nation, and then for the sake of the community of human-kind. But before that can be accomplished one must put one’s own house in order. If this is not done, accomplishment of greater missions will never occur. (The Heart of Aikido pages 75 and 76).
We can look at his statement as having two parts. First, we each have talents, abilities and interests that prepare us to accomplish a mission that benefits humanity. It could be a large world affirming mission like the creation and spreading of Aikido or a mission to help our family or local community, such as a scientist, doctor or police officer.
Second are the smaller missions that will help us to achieve the larger mission. These smaller missions may range from getting the proper education, to the routine activities of daily life that go into achieving our goals.
The practice of forging identifies both the larger and smaller missions as the “call-off.”
The call-off is a way to focus a specific practice session of forging to further our mission, whether small or big. In an Aikido class the selection of a particular technique is a call-off. For example, today we are going to practice shomen-uchi irimi nage, this is our joint call-off for class today.
The forging process can be used to focus a particular round of practice on anything large or small from improving your diet to world peace.
In general, the larger the call-off you make the more intense the energies that the practice will mobilize. A good approach to the practice of forging is to start small and develop a comfort with the practice before working on larger missions.
- Begin with a round of practice of showmen-uchi irimi nage.
- Get feedback on the technique to establish a baseline to be used for comparison as the practice progresses.
- The call-off part of the practice has two parts.
Part one is the more awareness oriented part. In this part the goal is to visualize in your mind’s eye how you will look when the technique is fully and functionally manifested.
Part two is the feeling or experiential part of the call-off. Here you are asking the question what will be your experience when the call-off is fully and functionally manifested?
It may take some practice to work with each of these parts. Often either the awareness or feeling part of the call-off comes more naturally than the other. Some people are more naturally awareness or thinking people and others more feeling people. Giving the one that is less natural more practice time will usually be enough to achieve a balance between them. Deciding when the balance is there is subjective but you are looking for a sense of about equal fullness or vividness of experience. One way to check for that fullness is to say out loud, even if you are practicing by yourself what each part of the call-off is. If one comes out clearly and easily and the other is more difficult to say, then a little more practice with that one is probably needed.
Once there a good balance between awareness and feeling you can move forward with the next part of the practice.
Practice to have the two parts of the call-off interact with each other. Awareness and feeling reach out like two people shaking hands or embracing to achieve a connection. One significant barrier to achievement in general is to try and move forward with only one of the two. Awareness alone lacks the emotional energy that feeling provides. Feeling alone lacks the directionality and perspective that awareness provides.
The term used in forging for the integrated call-off is an activated call-off. This means the call-off has the capability to wake-up/activate the parts of your system that will contribute to the full and functional manifestation of the call-off, to make it a functional reality.
- A physical movement that has worked well for some people is to stand or sit and move the hands and arms up and down. Up from the feet represents feeling and down from the head represents awareness. The idea is to achieve an integration of the awareness and feeling. Now let’s go back to the technique and see how the experience of the activated call-off enhances your performance.
- Get feedback on the experience of the activated call-off.
The next part of the system used in the forging process is called the space. If the forging process can be compared to a stage play, the space is the stage on which the actors perform. If you compare the forging process to baking a cake, the call-off is the recipe and the space is the mixing bowl.
Having a good space in which to practice the rest of the forging process, like having a balance between awareness and feeling, really helps to make the practice more beneficial.
You may have seen films of O Sensei in which he does a practice with a jo or fan, sometimes called the misogi kata. The two basic movements he does are making a circle around his body and spiraling the jo up and down in front of his spine to establish a center line
To understand Aikido, first draw a circle. When a circle is made, it creates a sphere of influence…Control the spirit within the circle and create living techniques. Birth is unlimited. The abundance and fulfillment of life is manifest in a circle…Blend matter and spirit; that creates a spiritual center-it is universal Ki. A circle allows you unlimited possibilities of control. (The Secret Teachings of Aikido translated by John Stevens pages 92-94)
In order to draw a circle you must have a firm center. That center is the point from which the circle emerges…One’s own breath; one’s own spirit derives from that circle. Freely breathe in the entire universe. . (The Secret Teachings of Aikido translated by John Stevens page 76)
As O Sensei just outlined the space consists of a circle and a center.
- Starting with the circle moving the arms around the body with arms and fingers extended trying to get a 360 degree feeling around the body. Then putting both your hands in front of the center line of your body as if you are holding a jo (staff), like the O Sensei photo above. Move the hands up and down in a spiral, both up and down and down and up.
Like the two parts of the call-off the circle or the center may feel more natural than the other at first. Give the part that feels less natural a few more turns to achieve a similar feeling of balance as you have with awareness and feeling in the call-off practice.
- Once a basic sense of balance is achieved then the circle and center interact with each other. The experience of the interaction of circle and center flowing back and forth will be unique to each person. It may feel like water or electricity or something else. I have a student who is a master engineer who said it felt like interlocking gears.
Through the interaction of center and circle the space becomes more and more full and alive. Because the space practice follows the call-off practice, the space will reflect the call-off. Each space is unique and will support the rest of the practice. Yankee stadium has different sense to it than St Patrick’s Cathedral. Each well-constructed space functions to support the activities going on inside it. Now let’s go back to the technique and see how the alive space contributes to better performance and greater satisfaction.
The aliveness of the space literally sets the stage for the rest of the practice.
The unit is that part of our system that functions in manifesting our call-offs and provides the ability to function in daily life. Unit is a convenient English term for O Sensei’s concept of the haku or corporeal soul referenced in previous classes. One analogy is to think of the unit as clothing which varies depending on the tasks at hand. We wear different clothing to work in our yard than going to a state dinner at the White House.
We adopt numerous units throughout each day. Many are simple ones such as walking to the car to drive to work or brushing our teeth in the morning. Others are more significant such as a job interview, being a parent, husband or wife.
Part of the goal of forging is to make units especially significant ones more conscious. This means being more conscious, in the sense of embodying the unit in a more intentional and complete way.
Another goal is to recognize that units are situation specific. A person who is a very successful CEO or executive at a company is good at adopting that unit, that persona. If the same person tries to take that unit home as a parent or spouse it probably won’t work out well. It is like trying to bake a cake using the ingredients in the recipe for bread. Tempers may rise or fall!
In the forging practice the unit is made up of the energies of your system that have been activated by the call-off and then are attracted into the space. What are these energies?
They are the parts of your system that will be the ingredients that make up you the unit. Depending on the call-off, the energies will vary. When you call-off and prepare a space as a doctor the energies will be different than the energies of a marathon runner. It is important to the success of the forging process that the energies that fit the call-off are allowed.
There are some basic guidelines for what these energies are.
In the forging process we use a four count. Count one is the concept of the unit. This is like the blueprint or the outline. If we are building a house, count one is the blueprint designed by the architect.
Count two is more the structure or the work done by the contractor to build the house. Count three is the spirit of the house, the work of the interior designer. It is the spirit or the poetry of the unit, the intuitive element. Count four brings all the counts together into an orderly coherent whole.
You can visualize these counts taking form as a business plan; a movie script or a marriage proposal. What is important for a successful forging is that all the needed energies are allowed in a balanced and integrated manner.
Undoubtedly, many good call-offs/ideas never get manifested because the structure or other necessary energies are not included. Ideas by themselves don’t usually function well. When supported by the other energies good ideas can come to manifestation in a full and functional way.
One comment about the second set of the four energies, counts 3 and 4-the spirit and organizing principle, is that they represent energies that are not as obvious as the first two elements of the unit. This perspective holds true not just on the energies but other parts of the system. There are obvious and not so obvious (or more subtle) parts to it.
A well-formed unit is an important part of the forging process because without it the call-off may not be fully manifested and won’t function well. When the result doesn’t meet expectations, it can call into question a good idea and make it seem like the idea was not worthy to begin with. In reality the problem may be a lack of wholeness in approach rather than a flaw with idea itself.
- Practice with the four counts of the unit showmen-uchi irimi nage, with special attention to the not so obvious counts 3 and 4. Then go back to the technique and see the now embodied functioning unit contributes to your performance.
- Get feedback on the counts and whether they feel balanced and integrated and improve your capability.
The “I” is the part of our system that is the center of our sense of personal identity. Regardless of which unit is currently in play; which call-off we are working on; or in which space-we are still “I”. One possible analogy is that the unit is the clothing and “I” is the body. The I is present regardless of the clothing currently being worn.
It is difficult to get away from describing practices in terms that don’t reference the body. But the body is not part of the “I”. The body is of the Unit. The “I” exists in a way that is independent of the Unit because it exists regardless of the unit in play or even if there is no unit at all.
In the forging practice, the “I” has two parts. One is the more awareness oriented part of the “I”. The awareness part of the “I” spends most of its time looking outward. This outward focus allows the system to be aware of activities in the creation especially those that relate to the unit.
- Shift the focus from the unit to the I. One approach to making this shift in perspective is to change the question from how can I manifest my call off to how do I feel about the call-off in its manifested form? A similar question is how satisfying is the call-off when it is manifested? We are shifting from a performance orientation to one of our sense of well-being.
- Feedback on how the I experience is different from the unit.
Now that shift from Unit to I has happened we want to give the I experience so it can improve its balance and integration. One way to approach this in the forging process is mirroring. This reflective orientation has both a physical and value oriented aspect. The physical one related to health, safety and other areas of importance to the overall system, such as detecting possible threats or desirable events. The value oriented aspect looks at outside events in terms of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. I like this; I don’t like that. I don’t want that; I want more of that. You can provide the details here with your preferences and dislikes.
A mirror is one the three parts of the Imperial Regalia, that was provided to first Japanese Emperor by the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu according to the Kojiki.
The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) is the primary creation scripture of Japan. It was compiled between 682 and 712 AD.
O Sensei was a lifelong student of the Kojiki. One of the stories he referred to the most often was when the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu retired into a cave behind an immovable rock or stone door because the Storm God Susano destroyed her rice fields. (See the Univ. of Tokyo Press translation of the Kojiki by Donald L. Philippi page 81)
This plunged the world into cold and darkness. The other gods in an effort to lure her out of the cave and return light and warmth to the world, convinced another goddess to dance in front of the cave creating a great uproar. This piqued Amaterasu’s curiosity and she moved the stone door aside a crack to see what was causing the uproar. When she moved aside the stone door she saw herself reflected in a mirror the other gods had hung from a tree. This surprising image encouraged her to open the stone door further and further so she could see more of herself. Eventually she came out of the cave as she experienced herself more fully (or saw her true self) and restored the light and warmth to the world. Below is a painting depicting her coming out of the cave.
O Sensei compared the creation of Aikido to the second opening of the stone door. Here is a poem he wrote about it.
Amid three thousand worlds
a single plum flower
the stone door will
open a second time.*
Although ideas expressed in this doka are derived from Shinto mythology (Kojiki Book One Chapter 17) and Omotokyo beliefs, in Morihei’s idiom it means:
Aikido, a rare flower now in bloom throughout the universe, gives us the means to open the stone door of darkness and ignorance; through the combined efforts of good people everywhere the polluted world of death and destruction will be bathed once more in the sunbeams of truth and beauty.” The plum blossom is a symbol of resurrection and renewal, and it blooms wherever Aikido is truly practiced. (The Essence of Aikido by John Stevens, page 59)
The forging practices uses the mirroring capability of the awareness part of the “I”, that we call the mind of “I” for short. It turns this mirroring capability inward. This is in the spirit of the story in Kojiki because what restored the light and warmth to the world was the Sun Goddess seeing her true and complete reflection.
The mirroring ability of the mind of “I” in the forging practice is turned inward on its other half, the more feeling part of the “I” we call the body of “I”. At this point in the practice the goal is to allow an image of the body of “I” to form in the mirroring mind of “I”. The clearer this mental image is the more successful the rest of the practice will be.
- Practice the first part of mirroring as the mind of I mirrors the body of I. What is the mirrored image of the body of I?
- Get feedback before moving on the body of I part of the practice.
Once a clear image of the more experiential part of the “I”, the body of “I” has formed, the practice continues by shifting the focus to the body of “I”.
It is a good idea to take a moment or two to allow this shift to occur. It is fundamentally a shift in perspective from thinking or awareness to feeling, both of which are key parts of our system necessary for healthy functionality. Healthy in the sense we can go through our lives with less internal conflict. It also helps us get better at noticing internal conflict and working to resolve it more effectively.
One way to determine that the shift from the mind of “I” to the body of “I” has occurred is to notice the difference in feeling. Usually the body of “I” is quieter, with less mental background notice and a more steady grounded experience.
- Next is to follow the same process as with the mind of “I”, by having the body of “I” mirror the mind of “I”. The experience of the body of “I” mirroring the mind of “I” may be different than the mind of “I” mirroring its counterpart. This is due to the inherent difference between awareness or thinking and feeling or more direct experiencing.
- Get feedback on the body of I experience and how it is different from the mind of I.
The two parts of the “I” are reaching out to each other achieving greater alignment, integration and wholeness. This wholeness of the “I” is crucial because it helps to reduce the level of internal conflict within the system.
If there is difficulty in bringing the thinking and feeling parts of our system together highlighting that problem to a more conscious awareness is very valuable because we can work to address the split in our system between thinking and feeling. This split can be a source of frustration because it inhibits healthy functionality and enjoyment of life.
Practicing wholeness of the “I” is similar to bringing together the two parts of the call-off described earlier. A physical movement can be as simple as moving the hands and arms up and down. Down from the mind of “I” and up from the body of “I”.
- Complete the I part of forging by experiencing the more whole I and how that is different than when you started with the I. Then go back to the technique and see what the more whole I adds to your experience.
- Get feedback on the experience of the more whole I.
From this state of an activated call-off, an alive space, a functional unit and a more whole “I”, the forging process can move on to its conclusion.
Birthing of the Forged One of Your Call-off
The forging process is completed with each part of the system (the call –off, the space, the unit and the “I”) having received individual attention to relax, open and balance. This has created a greater readiness to bring the system back together in a more, integrated and unified manner.
- The completion of the forging process is a visualization that starts by placing the hands in front of the hara, with one hand on top of the other. This is the position of furitama as shown in this photo of O Sensei.
- The visualization starts with the acknowledging the lineage or focus of the particular practice session identified and activated by the call-off.
- Then acknowledging the space as a place for the practice to go on inside of.
- Next is bringing the unit and “I” together at hara. One becomes fire and one becomes water.
- Shake the hands up and down in front of the hara and visualize one as fire and one as water.
- Through the interaction of fire and water a very finely refined energy is created which fills the entire system with a healing enlivening energy.
- The metaphorical heat generated by this energy softens the system and brings all the parts (the call-off, space, unit and “I”) together birthing you as the forged one of your call-off. The go back to the technique. What is your experience of doing the technique as the forged one?
- Get feedback on the experience of birthing the forged one of each person’s call-off.
This is the completion of the forging process. It is an opportunity to reflect on your experience, the changes in your system as a result of the practice you have just completed. Do you feel more whole, relaxed and balanced? Specifically do you have greater insight and a feeling of enhanced capability to manifest your call-off? If your experience doesn’t feel quite complete, one option is to repeat one or more parts of the forging process. Usually a second or third repetition will be enough to bring you to that experience of fullness and readiness of manifesting your call-off.
Here is a flow chart which illustrates the steps in the forging process created by Sasun Torikian, Instructor at Aikido of Petaluma.
Feedback and discussion on this series of classes.
Practice before next class: select a call-off and go through the forging process.
Dzogchen The Self-Perfected State Chogyal Namkhai Norbu (pg. 24).
Finish with misogi breathing and bowing out.