The mirror is crystal clear among the snow flowers

Stage with Yasuno Sensei

The international stage with Yasuno Masatoshi Sensei took place the 5h November, in Pavia, Italy.

Practitioners coming from different aikido federations worldwide took part in the stage. At  the beginning many of them found it very difficult to grasp the martial philosophy and the movements of Yasuno Sensei. However as the time went by many participants started understanding something more and the end they managed to take with them small treasures made of life experiences and a new approach to the practice of aikido, especially in Italy.

This interview is a tool to understand better the principles behind aikido, from the perspective of Yasuno Sensei and the nature of his teachings.

Sensei, during the seminar in Italy you used the Japanese term Mu (vacuity, emptyness) in your explanations. What is “Mu”? What does “Mu” mean in the Japanese culture and what are the implications in the martial arts?

“Mu, mu ni shite atare!” (nothing, hit without thinking about anything!). “Munashiku shite atare!” (continue to strive, even in vain, but hit): these were the sentences that Yamaguchi Sensei used to say during his lessons. My interpretation of his words is as follows: eliminate, remove all our certainties, prejudices, preconceptions, become “empty”. Train in this physical and mental state. Practice again and again till your intention disappears and it makes way for waza which spontaneously arises and develops according to attack and situation. “Men are born from nothing and they die in nothing”; practice the zazen without considering the theological stand. The zen is seishigedatsu, release from any earthly bond, resolution of the separation between life and death. Budo is seishigedatsu too.

When doubt, perplexity, suspect, lack of trust, embarrassment, fear are difficult to remove, the thought gets stagnant and it makes desynchronize judgement and action. This disorientation in the reaction is directly connected to death.

By forgetting one’s own body and letting one’s own nature arise, “mu” can start acting. When I don’t exist, you don’t exist and the separation between life and death doesn’t exist.

Annihilating oneself and becoming one with nature and the essence of zen is the ultimate goal of martial arts.

Sensei in your lessons you refer to “Chuushin” (centre) and “Juushin” (centre of gravity). Can you explain the difference between the two?

Chuushin is the middle point of the body. The head and the heaviest organs are in the highest part of the body, for this reason juushin is situated a little bit higher than chuushin. The fact that they’re separate creates instability, the higher the centre of gravity is the more distant it will be from the middle point and the more difficult it would be to control the body.

According to Akiyama Saneyuki the effects of the union of chuushin and juushin are as follow:

  • it moves mind and ki to the tanden (abdomen), and it prevents from beeing in a rage and it increases the spontaneous expression of the intellectual abilities;
  • it focuses the energy in the abdomen area so that the strength in arms and legs increases significantly;
  • it makes the breathing easier and more spontaneous and it eliminates shortness of breath;
  • the body becomes lighter and the agility increases.

Accoording to you Sensei, what do teaching means to you?

Teaching? I don’t intend to teach. I do not teach. On the contrary, depending to whom I’m dealing with, I adapt my keiko in order to train myself. If, doing so, my students learn, this could be considered “teaching”. If I can say it, to me my job as a teacher is to instill doubt and a condition of uncertainty and make my students think. If I manage to do so, I feel satisfied.

Sensei, you always exhort your students to move their intention to the abdomen. In practice what do we have to do?

What? Intention, abdomen? I say often “to move with the abdomen”, “generate the movement from the abdomen”. This means moving completely our body using all the characteristics and all the abilities we have. Practice, commitment, training. We and we only can grasp and have a good command of this ability (moving with the abdomen). There’s no other way than to experience something in first person and commit oneself.

Sensei, many people think that your teachings are addressed especially to high-rank aikidoka. However when you teach to beginners what kind of basic principles would you like to transmit?

Like in every subject, the influence of one’s first teacher is fundamental. In the zen philosophy there’s the following way of saying:  “instead of training incessantly for three years it’s better to look incessantly for a teacher for three years”.

To my beginners I try to instill the habit to think and ask themselves questions in a specific way, for instance: “Why am I moving this way? Why am I doing this?” This is what I propose to my students.

The level doesn’t matter, the teachings to advanced people and beginners are the same: to make them think and reveal uncertainties.

However, especially to beginners, we have to succeed In making them think to themselves: “Interesting!”, “I’d like to know more about it!”, “I can do it as well!” or even: “How can I train with this person e what can improve of myself?”. In order to answer to this questions though, first I have to become mature and responsible, in other words an adult!

This is how I teach to my beginners, without forcing the technique and damaging their body.