Kokikai and Enlightenment

Recently, at an informal function, I was asked what it feels like to ki-test Sensei. After taking a moment or two, my reply was “tangible enlightenment.” This is the only way I can describe this unique and mesmerizing experience.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Joseph J.

One of the most inspiring features of Kokikai Aikido is the closeness and inquisitiveness of its practioners. Kokikai Aikido is as impressive on the mat as it is off. The depth and understanding Kokikai practioners have of aikido technique is equal to the deep and profound conversations we have at enjoyed at various events, parties and get-togethers. The conversations I have shared with so many wonderful people have been some of the most fascinating and revealing of my life. We discuss everything from aikido technique and application to aikido theory and reality. Fortunately for me, we sometimes discuss what it is like for me to train with Sensei as often as I do, what it is like to live in Japan, what are some of the differences between the various contingents of Kokikai around the world. Recently, at an informal function, I was asked what it feels like to ki-test Sensei. After taking a moment or two, my reply was “tangible enlightenment.” This is the only way I can describe this unique and mesmerizing experience…and no matter how often I do it (and I do it a lot!), it remains the most lucid, yet virtually indescribable feeling one can imagine. I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on this point, as the idea of “enlightenment” is vague, even opaque. Furthermore, in this brief piece, I would like to expand on what I meant by “tangible enlightenment” and its place in Sensei’s aikido.

Enlightenment is an over-used (and might I say, incorrectly used) term that is applied to people and positions that are not necessarily “enlightened.” The concept of enlightenment has strong connections with Buddhism, especially the Zen tradition. While “enlightenment” is a complicated, if not impossible, construct to articulate, Zen masters have for centuries tried to convey their experiences with enlightenment to their students. These masters have labored to explicate what enlightenment means and how it can be achieved but what is their proof? What is the proof of their own enlightenment? Should students just take their teacher’s word for it and trust that they have achieved enlightenment? How can their students be sure of their teacher’s own, genuine enlightenment? And this is what makes Sensei’s aikido so amazing: proof! Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year Sensei proves to us he has achieved something akin to enlightenment!

Sensei himself almost never uses the word “enlightenment” (or “awakening” or “self-realization” for that matter) to describe the process he has made in his aikido and his life…and he doesn’t need to. We have proof. Effortlessly, Sensei throws me every day but what is more amazing is how naturally and comfortably Sensei throws Dave, Glenn, Matt, Todd, Jason, Gary and Mikey from Australia. These are big, strong men and yet, the results are the same: they all end up on their backs with the same ferocity and velocity. Sensei does not discuss enlightenment—he proves it! He is living proof that enlightenment does indeed exist and that it can be achieved.

There are at least 2 powerful dimensions one is confronted with when ki-testing Sensei: the physical and the “spiritual”. The physical is the easier of the two to explain. Upon grabbing Sensei or pushing Sensei or whatever technique you are being asked to uke for, one will notice the gentle firmness of Sensei’s body. The best way to describe it is like squeezing memory foam! The harder we push and the more we resist the further and more delicately we sink into Sensei’s body. The feeling is incredible and the results are overwhelming. The more I resist and the harder I push the quicker and more viciously I am slammed into the tatami. It is a beautiful experience! The more remarkable experience is the spiritual aspect of being thrown by Sensei. Sensei throws me before I even grab or attack him. He is always so calm, comfortable and natural that before I attempt to attack I am already defeated. He has an aura, an atmosphere, a quality that is indescribable and it makes me feel as though there is nothing I can do. It is a feeling of almost helplessness because I my power is reduced and my confidence is unnerved before I initiate my attack. This aura of comfortable confidence is something we should all work to achieve and apply in our daily lives.

When I first realized that Sensei was defeating me before I grabbed him, I wanted to see how and to what level I can apply this in my daily life. I have been endeavoring to be strong, confident and connected in my everyday activities whether I am simply walking to work, practicing in the dojo, going to meetings, etc. Only recently have I been able get a glimpse into what Sensei is doing. I have a contemptuous and abrasive coworker (and I am being kind) who willingly or not destroys the harmony and cheerfulness of the office. Recently, I have been approaching her in a more calm, balanced and confident way…and it really works! Her attitude has changed significantly in that now she looks smaller, weaker and now instead of fighting and arguing, she asks questions and listens more attentively. I have learned to “win” before the confrontation ensues by being natural, confident and unfettered.

Sensei’s aikido is unique and it is as beautiful as it is powerful. What is more, Sensei has an aura and atmosphere that he takes everywhere, on and off the tatami. On the tatami, Sensei wins before I have the opportunity to attack or test him. Off the tatami, Sensei’s aura attracts so many interesting people and I have been truly blessed to experience as much of him as I have. Let’s work hard and cultivate our own aura and make Sensei proud of what we can do for his aikido.

Joseph J. Pielech
Kokikai Honbu Dojo