My name is Jim Redel. I am the founder and chief instructor at Both Hands Clapping Aikido. I want to tell you a little about BHC. We are an independent martial arts school that brings together Zen practice and Aikido training. After studying and practicing both Zen and Aikido for over 25 years and teaching Aikido for over 20 years, I believe the absolute mastery of Aikido requires both.
First, Aikido is a great, great art, a great self-defense. It is powerful, graceful, beautiful. As a multiple-attacker self-defense, it is without equal, At the highest level, to only use the attackers’ energy. To defend oneself without having to cause undue harm. To be able to scale a response from dealing with an obnoxious drunk to a life and death situation – it is genius, pure genius.
The fact of the matter
To be able to defend at this level, an Aikidoist must be in tune with the attack. And that can only happen when the defender is able to completely silence his/her inner dialog. Or, as a Zen master might say – “to manifest zero”.
In the context of self-defense, it is helpful to think of the ‘manifestation of zero’ simply as ‘zero thought, and thus ‘zero hesitation’, between attack and response.
And after years and years of Aikido training, I now accept that, with only traditional Aikido training (no Zen), Aikidoists merely shorten the time between attack and response. But they can never reach ultimate zero. (Any traditional Aikido student who tells you that he/she doesn’t think while doing Aikido doesn’t fully know the true nature of thinking.)
Next, Zen practice is the most direct path to inner silence, to the ‘manifestation of zero’. In no time, zazen will have you doubting just about everything that you think you understand about yourself and your world. And doubting is the foundation of understanding. And when you have turned over every conceptual rock and set aside every attachment, then you will come to the same realization as all the great masters who have come before you. You will understand the nature of zero, and thus, the nature of complete inner silence. (And your Aikido will be magnificent.)
Zen practice can be occasionally disorienting. Questioning what you now take for granted will naturally upset things a little. In addition, there will surely be plenty of challenges, obstacles and doubts. But, it is a path of persistence – chasing every thought and question until it runs out of gas and then chasing the next one until it too fades and chasing the one that follows. (And in between all of this, don’t forget to breathe and relax.)
If you persevere, you will inevitably come to a basic realization about the nature of your mind. And you will inevitably come to a basic realization of the nature of your connection to everything around you. And for Aikido, you will understand a natural connection to your attacker – a connection that will allow you to respond appropriately – without a thought, without hesitation.
Finally, there are plenty of fine Aikido schools who will get you to a high level of skill. And a high level of skill may be enough for you. But if you are looking for the complete mastery of this beautiful, graceful, powerful art, then combining Zen practice with your Aikido training is your only option. For those of you who do choose, mastery of Aikido can be yours. You’ve got just this life and you’ve got just this time in your life. What will you do with it?
And now that you know a bit about BHC, I am happy to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or email me.