The Paradox of Training Aiki and the Solution

One cannot Aiki without producing Aiki. One cannot produce Aiki without having trained Aiki.

As a consequence of this being true, one often hears phrases such as, “Just use Aiki.”

This is akin to saying, “Just do things correctly. Anything other than correct is wrong.”

Of course, if one could “just use Aiki” or “just do things correctly,” they would!

The instruction coupled with the fact that the student cannot demonstrate “just using Aiki” or “just doing things correctly,” can lead the student to do nothing for fear of doing things without Aiki or wrong.

Training becomes a catch 22 because doing nothing produces no result, doing something produces the wrong result.

The saving grace is this:

Nobody doing Aiki ever started off “just doing Aiki.” And, nobody doing things correctly started of “just doing things correctly.”

Everyone that achieved something started off on the continuum of doing more wrong than correct. They then moved along the continuum doing less wrong and more correct.

Nobody is at the end of the continuum. Therefore, if we consider good training perfect training NOBODY is doing good training. However, if we consider training that moves us along the continuum to be good training, then everyone showing improvement is doing good training.

Next subject, some promote mu shin (no thought) training. Here is the catch to that. If there is truly no thought, there is no neural activity. If there is no neural activity, there is no further body activity (except maybe for decay.) If there is no neural or body activity the mind/body will not produce Aiki. This being so, we know that Mu Shin or “no thought” cannot be meant literally.

Perhaps what is meant is think only about what is necessary at the moment.

Of course assumes one knows what thoughts are “necessary.”

Of course if one “just used necessary thoughts” to produce a desired result one would likely find success.

Again we face a choice. Don’t think (be dead) or use only “necessary thoughts.” And again, we find ourselves at a dead end for those that don’t already know what thoughts are necessary.

The saving grace is this:

Nobody doing Aiki ever started off “just using necessary thoughts.” We all start on the same continuum and end on the same continuum. It is highly unlikely that anyone truly has only “necessary thoughts.” We just become more efficient with out cognition through intelligent training.

Training without work is an oxymoron. Working without progress along the continuum cannot be considered good training. Good training leads to progress along the continuum.

Nobody started in a vacuum and nobody has reached perfection. Consequently, no matter how wrong you are you can, with effort, become better. And no matter how good one is, with effort one can continue to improve.

So the solution to the paradox is train.


What does all of this say about teaching?


6 thoughts on “The Paradox of Training Aiki and the Solution

  1. Great read, which proves that less (text) is sometimes more. Especially regarding this subject. I agree with what you wrote.
    What helped me understand this concept are the words of Ueshiba Morihei: “No matter how many times you fail during your training, do not let yourself be discouraged. Your personal Kami is watching and takes great joy in your doing and will eventually teach you all you have to know. You will understand.”
    I am a beginner. And sometimes, spontaneously I realize something. Usually without intellectually knowing what it is. I just know that I learned a new thing and now I must endeavor to understand it even more. Do I make mistakes? A lot, but I still appreciate where I am, even though I do not do katas correctly. It is a building block that positively helps with the progress, if one has the beginner’s mind.
    Like the Zen teaching says: without human faults there can be no satori.


  2. Hi Allen, good post.

    I will adress the last question about teaching..

    That is I think the real problem.

    O-sensei transmitted Aiki to many of his students, Shirata, Shioda, Tomiki, Saito. etc.

    None of these I think managed to transmit Aiki to most of, if any at all, of their students.

    Which shows that they did not understand what they were taught. They used Aiki without identifying it as Aiki, Shirata excepted from what I understand of your teachings.

    Their learning proces was mainly taking Ukemi for O-sensei tens of thousands of times. presumably how O-sensei got Aiki from Takeda sensei. This transmission method is by definition limited in the numbers to which you can transmit Aiki.

    Only Tohei sensei tried to make a framework for transmitting Aiki, but as his students show this was not very succesfull.

    Shirata’s TDD can be succesfull as a transmission method, but only if you do it right, as you have pointed out.



  3. When you ride a bicycle you don’t think, when you drive a car you don’t think, when you train in the gym you don’t think, during all those and many other activities your body is moving as trained body, isn’t it: “no thoughts”?


    1. Well it can be easily argued that if there is no neural activity there could be no bicycling, no driving and no gym activity. How many corpses does one see doing these activities? Now, I think it could be argued that after much practice one uses less “conscious” neural activity to perform these actions. It could also be argued that in certain cases that “conscious” thought could be an impediment. However, consider world class bicyclists, drivers, Olympic lifters, power lifters, body builders, and gymnasts. I think one will find that they are VERY conscious during their given activities.

      Via very thoughtful training (most often involving the thoughts of a whole host of others as well) these individuals have maximized their neurological potential in their given fields. They have trained to the point of automaticity those tasks that are best handled in this manner. They have learned to sublimate neurological processes that would be an impediment to their goals. And they have thus freed their higher thought processes to those tasks that are best suited for that.

      None of this has been achieved by chance. All of this has been been achiived through a thourough and focused use of mind.

      I’m not arguing against automaticity. I think that that is essential. But here is the deal. Automaticity is already happening! What we need is a new, focused and more efficient automaticity. How does this occur? Via focused thought, not thoughtlessness.

      But mushin, mushin, mushin! Why do so many of the greats talk about it? Well, because it is a “thing.” But all it takes is a brief perusal of any of these greats (martial or spiritual greats) magnum opus written works and one will soon realize that the greats weren’t just thoughtful. They were extraordinarily thoughtful!

      I argue that their “thoughtlessness” is not the same “thoughtlessness” that others speak of, just as some individual’s “Aiki” is not the same “Aiki that others speak of. And how did they get to this “other” thoughtlessness,” “Aiki,” etc.? Shugyo! Shugyo involving extra ordinary amounts of thoughtfulness.

      It is rather famous in the Zen school of Buddhism (where mushin is highly respected) that when a student begins waxing fantastic about thoughtlessness, emptiness, etc. that that student’s teacher will often smack their student’s soft bald head with a painfully hard object. Thereby begging the question, “Where’s your emptiness now pal???”


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