Immovable Mind

To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace. – Morihei Ueshiba

A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind. – Morihei Ueshiba

I always admired the heroes in old Westerns. The townsfolk are under threat and the sheriff, gunfighter, farmer has every reason to ride away. But something galvanizes him to action. Instead of running, he stands, fearlessly facing death. And he fights the lawless, the greedy. He stands straight and fights from his conviction.

Fudoshin translates as immovable mind or steadfast mind. I think it relates to the English word “conviction.” An immovable mind isn’t stubborn, but tenacious. It isn’t calcified, it is oriented. Fudoshin may be best understood by what it protects the warrior from. Fudoshin protects from the four sicknesses of the mind: anger, doubt, fear, and surprise (zen-buddhism.net).

I find it interesting that the “sicknesses” are all reactionary emotions. When a dog snarls and I am startled and become afraid, I lose my composure. When someone is angry at me and I respond in anger, usually my reactions are off center and focus on attacking the person rather than moving toward an outcome.

Mushin (empty mind) and Fudoshin go hand-in-hand. I do not just empty my mind of conscious thought, but also anger, doubt, fear, and surprise. Empty all that out, and then explore how much easier it is to observe. How much easier it becomes to move without doubt or fear.

When I started aikido, others taught me how to stand, how to step, how to slide, how to lift my arm. I was confused. I doubted myself. I got irritated . I got worried I looked foolish. I probably did. My balance was easy to disturb. My mind moved all over.

Now I’m becoming more aware of how my mental state affects my posture and movement. Often tenseness, leaning, and imbalance reflect my state of mind.

I have been reflecting on fudoshin and conviction for over a month (which is why this post is so late). I still haven’t reached any conclusions on what my conviction ought to be in regards to violence, what principle I will not move from. But the question itself is valuable. And, by degrees, doubts and fears fade.

 

Quotes from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Morihei_Ueshiba

Image from Nate Brush

Mushin

Coordination is a central idea in my training right now. Body coordination. Mind and body coordinating together.
Right now I am thinking a lot about mental coordination within myself. We talk about being “single minded,” usually in our focus on some activity. But all too often my mind bifurcates into conflicting thoughts.
Some of the central concepts of aikido are mental principles. I’ve mentioned shoshin (Beginner’s Mind). The other mental principles are zanshin (Remaining Mind), mushin (Mind-without-Mind), and fudoshin (Immovable Mind).
Mushin, No-mind or mind-without-mind, is odd to the Western mind. It is paradoxical to think about no-mindedness. But a curious beginner’s mind allows a person to experience it.
Every practice we begin with breathing. We settle into position, being aware of our posture, our bodies, our surroundings. Sensei says “Mokuso,” and we breathe. When thoughts enter our head, we acknowledge them and let them go. Worries from the day pop into our awareness and we let them go.
 
Mokuso means stilling or silencing thinking. We breathe to focus on breathing. Thoughts settle and still. Before aikido I was aware of my endless cycle of thought, analysis, worry, looking forward, looking back. But I struggled to interrupt the cycle. Until breathing trained me to create room for the cycle to get disrupted.
For me, letting go of thought is analogous to physically relaxing. Thoughts are like little bits of mental tension in mental posture. Thoughts cramp mental movement. Thoughts create resistance and bumps.
When I physically relax during practice, I become more perceptive of the physical interaction with my partner. The more perceptive I become, the more I become aware of the nuance of the physical dynamics.
Mokuso stills my body and mind, releasing unconscious mental and physical tension. The more I approach mushin, the more perceptive my mind becomes and the more aware I become of my surroundings. The more I become part of my surroundings.
One of my most vivid aikido memories is from my first year of practice. We were breathing before practice and, like a switch flipped, I became aware of sounds several rooms away. I could hear the clock on the wall.
It wasn’t ESP or enlightenment. It was my own barriers falling away. The mental effort of thinking suddenly stopped. And then my mind had the capacity to wake up to what was already happening.
This is a very beginner understanding, and maybe mistaken, but as Mind has less-mind, it becomes more present, relaxed and perceptive. Mushin, like relaxing completely, is not floppiness or lethargy. It is freedom to move with what is without timing or response.
Image: “Blue Bowl” by Pat Joyce is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Conditioned responses: living on autopilot

Lightning-fast reflexes make my favorite action hero look so cool on the movie screen. I’ve always wanted to be like THAT guy!

Until very recently, I always believed that conditioned responses in aikido, and in life, were a good thing. Certainly, muscle memory has an appropriate place in the dojo, and in life.

But almost 18 months into my aikido training, I’m beginning to recognize some of the ways that conditioned responses in my life are acting as barriers to my happiness. Becoming impatient. Losing my temper. Wanting to “correct” others or change things in my exterior world in order to preserve my concept of comfort and safety.

Rather than urging me to simply memorize techniques “automatically” then forget them, my sempai remind me time and time again to do something very different: return to the present moment. They tell me that in this fresh, ever unfolding present exists the only “place” I can ever respond to what is actually happening right now. They tell me this is related to body-mind unification.

“The Founder realized that it was necessary to unify mind, body, and ki. From that individual integration, one had to link oneself to the universe as a whole, and manifest the tremendous power of the life force. Ultimately, that harmonization (between ki, mind, and body) will result in true enlightenment. This is the purpose of Aikido.” (schoolforthemind.com)

 

Katate kosa tori kokyu nage tobi komi is the technique we are practicing. Uke attacks with a cross-hand grab to my wrist.

Will I pattern this kokyu nage on my memories of past kokyu nages I have initiated, with the expectation that since it worked before, all I have to do is repeat the same precise movement and I’m guaranteed success now?

Or will I connect as deeply as possible with uke and respond to the attack that is actually taking place now? To the pressure of her grasp on my wrist? To her posture? To the present extension of her ki?

In this way, I am learning to recognize my conditioned responses before they actually take over and run their course as I shift into auto pilot yet again. Taking a breath and pausing before saying the words, “I know.” Keeping my mouth closed and hesitating before responding to someone with indignation. Noticing anger and frustration as they arise, and simply experiencing the sensations involved without making a sound with my voice.

Which begs the question, how much of my life have I been living on “auto pilot” mode? Disengaged from the present moment? And can that actually be called “living” at all?

How often can I interrupt automaticity in the next 60 minutes? How often can I recognize urges… desires… fears… before conditioned responses take over and dictate my behavior?

How can I become more present on the mat and off, so that I might bring the full spectrum of my being to the moment?

As a beginner, the best I can come up with right now is to keep practicing a return to right now. Again and again.

Which way is down?

Which Way Is Down?

I’ve always been a bit clumsy. From bumping into walls to drawing surprised glances when I dance in public, I have always felt challenged by my lack of physical grace.

But even so, I’ve always believed I knew which way was down. It’s just right there; look at the floor. Toward the center of the earth. Gravity is pulling me there all the time. Easy, right?

Well, on this fresh new journey into the world of Aikido, I’m beginning to realize that locating “down” may be simple, but it’s not always easy. Not for me, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: when I am serving as Uke, my sempai clearly show me where “down” is. I am led down again and again, so it would seem that my intellect would understand instantly.

And yet over the past inaugural year’s training, countless times I have been under the impression that I was leading my uke “down,” only to be shown that I was actually leading them in any number of other directions. Currently, in the process of learning katate tori ikkyo hantai tenkan, a technique requiring Nage to lead Uke around and down simultaneously in a corkscrew-like path, I am surprised how easily I forget where “down” is. I lead Uke toward this wall, that wall… across the room… or even at some cockeyed angle approaching the ceiling. But not down.

The challenge I’m facing, I believe, is my habitual tendency to run all teachings up into my head and through my intellect before committing to movement.

I am graciously reminded by my sempai that the body often knows how to do a technique, but the intellect wants to “check it out and make sure it’s correct” before allowing the body to move. The result: confusion, leading to breaks in flow and continuity. Or, more recently, leading me to stare at my own hand as if I had never seen it before. A few of us shared a good laugh over that one.

All of this became clearer to me the other day as I was participating in our dojo’s Kids Class. A new boy about 5 or 6 years old attended for the very first time with a big smile on his face, occasionally glancing back at his father for reassurance. I asked the kiddo to roll over backwards, and he immediately did a very impressive back roll without even thinking about it.

I offered what I thought would be helpful corrections, pointing out that whichever knee is up shows us which shoulder we roll back over.

After my feedback, the poor kid could no longer do a backward roll. In fact, all I had truly done was brought the boy’s awareness up into his head where his intellect tried to “make it perfect,” resulting in a partial back roll turning mid-way into a front roll/barrel roll flop.

Turns out this is all good news, because it’s leading me toward some key questions:

In this moment, how aware of my body’s position in space am I? Where are my arms? Where are my legs? Where are my hands and feet? In which direction(s) are they moving?

And, in the bigger picture: What intention am I setting today? How am I feeling? How will I respond to perceived challenges, conflict, and friction?

As I come back to the present moment, time and again throughout the day, perhaps the best question I can ask myself truly is, “which way is down?”