Akira Tohei
8th Dan, Shihan
Chief Instructor of Midwest Aikido Center (1972-1999)

Aikido Training and Introspection - Part 1

by Akira Tohei, 8th Dan, Shihan

Editors note: This article has been reprinted from the United States Aikido Federation News, volume 3, Fall 1977.
There should be no person who does not seek happiness in being born a human being. But happiness is not something that comes naturally, and I believe it is grasped through human endeavor.

A sense of spiritual attainment, materialistic gains, the realization of one's hopes, and also the feeling of sufficiency when hardship and sorrow are overcome all lie within the range of what is called happiness.

What is human happiness? It is the resultant feeling, the rejoicing of the heart after great endeavor and devotion from oneself. In contrast, if one does not put forth much effort, what is grasped is not happiness. A feeling of having been deceived or cheated arises which can by no means be called happiness, and it is like ill-gotten money being soon spent.

In present times, the tendency is to prefer "instant" and "easy" things in general. In days of old, however, when a warrior was on his way to the battlefield, he prayed to the new moon, "May the seven evils and the eight pains fall upon me."

Overcoming these hardships meant conquering his own self, and then he made a vow to vanquish the enemy. This "kokoro" is the very sentiment required of a trainee. If one's "kokoro" is not sufficiently dedicated, this becomes a case of "man turning to God only in times of distress," and the situation is reduced to one of "a drowning man catching at a straw."

People may dream of making a fortune at a single stroke without involving too much effort, and perhaps the present day trend indicates even stronger feelings towards this. Taken from the standpoint of training, however, and even more of Aikido, achievement via a "crash course" is impossible.
Introspection is influenced by the times, the moment, and means reflecting upon oneself with humble feelings. One's actions are linked with one's thoughts, and though it is possible to reflect after having acted, earnest self-examination is aligned with great development and growth and is an important requisite to achieveing anything. A person doing little introspection becomes self-complacent, and this is a factor in his personal character becoming all the more petty.

We have all heard the famous phrase, "Boys, be ambitious." If, however, one continuously entertains only ambition, nothing can be accomplished, and one loses interest in the world and becomes dejected. Only when one matches enthusiasm with earnest endeavor and when one examines himself closely will he reach closer to his cherished aspirations.

There is a difference between self-reflection and being entirely passive. Having "kokoro" for introspection leads to correct development; this is the same principle as having to draw back once before jumping forward. A state of continuous extension makes it difficult to leap beyond this, and drawing back lessens the difficulty of jumping ahead.

A dojo is a place for discipline. It is expected that one be serious while training, for if even a little negligence occurs it is possible for accidents to result. On the way home from the dojo, or while talking with other friends, or once having reached home, taking time to reflect on one's attitude of "kokoro" or one's bahevior or demeanor for this one day is to pave the path for tomorrow's development.

If one has a few weak faults and weak points, it is helpful if he would not let anything stop him from immediately starting anew. It is thought that no perfect being exists in the world; if all things became perfect then this is no longer in the realm of human beings, and there is no longer any neccesity to train as we do.

Not to criticize other's faults or shortcomings, not to boast about one's own merits, to be able to talk honestly, and to be able to feel humble - these give birth to true "kokoro" for introspection.

It is arrogant to think that only one's own thoughts are perfect, and it would seem best not to become close with one who thinks this way.

In Aikido sessions when one thinks he has learned something by himself, if he changes partners several times as he practices he comes to understand new feelings and sensations. This applies to both those who have trained many years and those who are still new students.

It is a fact that if one trains, step by step he comes closer to completion or perfection. This does not mean that perfection can be perfected, only that this should be one's goal. The human self is influenced by human thoughts and attitudes of "kokoro".

In olden times, action before words, which means not publicizing oneself even with modest feeling but carrying out one's duties silently, was considered a noble attribute.

This is, moreover, the main thread of training. Nowadays, words before deeds, that is talking and promoting precede action. The most useless is all talk and no action, to lay emphasis on talking and propagandizing but carrying out only very little. The Aikido Founder trained and taught at Hombu dojo until just before his passing, which is considered only natural for a Founder and for that matter anyone who walks the path of Aiki. In Aikido instruction or practice, explanations are of course valuable, but if sole emphasis is placed on this, there is the danger of seeing only a limited aspect of Aikido.

Mind and body - words and action - one should always strive to coordinate these, and especially Aikido instructors themselves I believe, must endeavor to set good examples.