“Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through forging, it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion.”
Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei
Zen, Ken, Ukemi is a unique experience in the martial arts. While it has a slight influence from Stickes Shihan’s Sit, Cut, Throw (itself a unique and different experience), nothing like it exists in the Midwest. Not only is it a fusion of practices, it is also two and a half classes held simultaneously and seamlessly in one core class. The combination of meditation, iaido, and aikido create a distinctive training environment allowing participants to explore themselves and their training in ways a normal class doesn’t afford.
Calm, Centered Foundation
“The secret of Aikido is not how you use your feet. It is how you use your mind.”
Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei
Every Zen, Ken, Ukemi starts with meditation. Japanese martial and meditative cultures have long been linked to each other. Both teach us to be in the present moment, here and now. It is the internal war we all fight with ourselves that ultimately is our greatest enemy. Sitting in meditation allows the individual a chance to silence the battlefield of their own mind in a moment of peace. Even if for only five seconds. We use this time to center and stabilize ourselves, bringing our minds to this very moment. Types of mediation will very, but is most often zen meditation.
Integrated Vertical Posture
“A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.”
Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei
With a calm, centered base we move to meditation in motion. The class will quickly and silently transition to one of two (and a half) options.
1) At Sensei’s direction participants will quietly place their iaito in their obi. Sensei will then lead everyone through Mae and 5 other Seishinkan waza from the Seiza set (excluding kaishaku & oikaze). Each waza will be done three times, slow, precise, and deliberate. This is a practice – sensei will not be teaching any waza. If a waza comes up that you do not know, simply do Mae in it’s place. Therefore, all participants in this group must know Mae.
2) Participants not familiar with iaido will step to the side of the dojo. There a designated sempai will lead everyone through bokken kata, kumitachi, and/or bokken awase. Each one will be done three times slow, precise, and deliberate. As with option 1, sempai will be leading the practice, not teaching.
2.5) Newer participants not familiar with either iaido or the bokken kata will move to the back of the dojo and practice suburi (basic bokken motions). This group will either be lead by a sempai, or overseen by the sempai of group 2 (hence the half group). The focus is to develop smooth, precise cuts and stances. As with the other options, there is no teaching here (though a sempai may come along side a student and silently guide them in better motions).
The purpose of each of these is not just to hone a skill, but to develop good posture, being grounded and in the moment even when moving, as well as flowing and balanced movement. The physical conditioning is then carried into the next session.
Connected, Horizontal Expansiveness
“Techniques employ four qualities that reflect the nature of our world. Depending on the circumstance, you should be: hard as a diamond, flexible as a willow, smooth-flowing like water, or as empty as space.”
Morihaei Ueshiba, O-Sensei
Putting the mind and body into the proper structure are the most important parts of Aikido, and we use the first two parts of the training to help participants take a step toward that goal. Now open-hand techniques are explored. For the remainder of the training you will be with one partner, so pick well. Like the other sections, sensei will not be teaching. Instead, he will demonstrate a technique for everyone to perform. Stay on the technique demonstrated. You will work with your partner, mostly in silence, developing and refining your own body and mind as you execute the technique. Sensei will move around the room and assist students, but most of this training will be between your partner and your own mind. Sensei will, instead, spend much of the time joining groups and training with them like everyone else. Your focus should not only be on the technique you are doing, it should be more focused on your ukemi and your own development.
What to Wear and What to Bring
For Zen, Ken, Ukemi we wear our regular aikido gi, with the aikido obi – whether or not you are doing iaido. Taking ukemi later in the iaido obi will be uncomfortable at best, but can be potentially harmful. A hard fall on the back with the large clam knot can dislocate vertebrae. Participants that will be practicing iai during the Ken portion are required to also wear a hakama. If the participant wears a hakama for regular aikido practice (nikyu and above), they will wear it as they do for aikido. Otherwise, participants will wear it in the iaido fashion and take it off during the transition between Ken and Ukemi. (lay it neatly beside your iaito off the mats). All other participants working with bokken wear just their aikido gi.
If you are practicing iaido for the Ken portion, bring your iaito or arrange to borrow one before class. If you will be working with a bokken and own one, bring it. This will ensure that those that don’t own a bokken will be able to use one of the dojo bokken.