In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Pins and Pinning Techniques

Pins – “Give Me Six”

pinsIn a sense, the art of Aikido can be sliced up in many ways. And one very basic way is to simply view Aikido is as:

  1. Throwing Techniques and
  2. Pinning Techniques

I like to use the simpler terms “Throws’ and ‘Pins’. For instance, in the basic class, we learned seven throws and three pins. This week we will take a look at pins.

Pins are those techniques in which the defending partner (nage) stays engaged with the attacking partner (uke), taking him to the ground and immobilizing him. In a multi-attacker self-defense like Aikido, pins are usually seen as secondary to throws. That is, nage can’t pin uke if there are still two or three or more attackers in the mix. In one sense, pinning techniques are a kind of baseline that one can use to compare Aikido with other martial arts. In other words, one might ask something like –

OK, so before you show me that you can defend yourself in against many attackers, show me that you can deal with just one.

The Six Elements of Pins

In Aikido, pins are the evidence that we can, in fact, deal effectively with a single attacker. And when demonstrating pins, nage is really demonstrating six required elements. And so the title of this article – “Give Me Six”.  The six elements are:


In Aikido, before nage can execute either throws and pins well, she has to evade well. (Hopefully you learned some of the wisdom of evasion in randori.) Evasion is how nage gets uke moving in a way that she can take advantage of.

Pinning Throw.

For pins, there is a fundamental technical aspect. Actually, I call this the pinning throw. In kote-kaeshi, for example, nage has a given way to compress uke’s wrist. For ikkyo, it may be how nage may use a bent elbow to her advantage. In rokyo, it may be how to use a straight elbow. Pinning throws are the tactics of nage taking uke’s balance (while keeping her own) and staying engaged.

Control of the falling body.

Once the pinning throw has been initiated, nage need to control uke on the way to the ground. It is important to know where and how uke is to land. By the time uke lands on the mat, nage must have him under control. There should be absolutely no opportunity for uke to counter or to simply roll away.

Control of the fallen body.

With uke on the ground and under nage’s initial control, nage must prove that she can maneuver him to a pinning position. Most often, this is a matter of moving uke from his back to his belly. While uke never resists very strongly in the dojo, nage must never forget that it is in uke’s best interest to stay on his back where he can use his hands, elbows, knees and feet. Nage’s control of the fallen attacker should be firm but without risking injury.


Here is the demonstration that nage can indeed immobilize uke – very often generating a submission.  (In an immobilization, uke will tap to show that he has no place to go, while in a submission uke will tap to show that he is experiencing significant discomfort.)  As you can see, the actual pin in pins comes fairly late in the process.


Finally, nage must show that she can disengage well. So many Aikidoists think that pins end with the pin. Not so. Nage must show the act of disengaging as the capstone of the pin. (Without a proper disengagement, pins fall apart.) Nage must move to a place where the uke cannot immediately grab her. Nage must to move to a place where she can assess what may happen next.


Now this list may seem overly technical, but it is really necessary for a serious Aikidoist. That is, for serious Aikidoists, there should be a notion of ‘conscious competence’. Conscious competence is the ability to see the essence of things – usually with the idea that when you do  understand the essence of something, it becomes simpler and easier to replicate, easier to fix should it break and easier to teach to someone else. You might be surprised to hear that many Aikidoists will say something like – “You know, I used to be able to do this throw so much better”. And yet, they are a completely uncertain about why the throw isn’t working so well now.

When you fully appreciate all six elements of pins, you will understand the nature of conscious competence.

In The Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Saints and Rascals

Zen as Straight-Line Buddhism: Saints and rascals

Straight-line BuddhismTo read any Zen literature, you’d get the impression it was complicated. It is not. It would be very accurate to simply say …

Zen is a loose framework for the direct transmission of the fundamental principal of Buddhism (Buddha nature) from a teacher to a student through a progression of insights. (28 words).

And we could even boil that down to:

Zen is straight-line Buddhism. (5 words)

The idea is, that with the aid of a teaching, a teacher and a practice, a Zen student always keeps moving directly from an inherent state of delusion to one of realizing his or her mind. There is no meandering. There are no side trips. A compassionate teacher stands like a signpost pointing. And by shaping the student’s experiences to address the many obstacles that a student inevitably encounters, a Zen teacher is able to, in a sense, supercharge the progression of insights that is needed to move from delusion to realization.

But in Truth, Zen Makes No Claims

There is no question that Zen is a spiritual path. And there is undoubtedly a general feeling among us that a spiritual path should inevitably turn one into a ‘good person’. But in truth, Zen makes no such claims. If Zen were to make any kind of promise, it might go something like:

straight-line buddhismYou are not exactly who (or what) you think you are and that very often creates problems for ‘you’. Throughout history, there has been a path that has reliably helped people just like you realize the essence of their own minds. That path is Zen.

That’s it! And as  you can see, nothing here about becoming a ‘good person’. So often when we see a picture of row after row of black-robed meditators, we tend to think that there is a mass indoctrination going on – a kind of dynamic cloning of both goodness and passivity. This is most certainly not the case.

In those rows of black-robed meditators sit both saints and rascals – saints by nature, rascals by nature. And if a saint awakens to the true nature of the workings of his/her mind – still the saint. And if a rascal awakens to the true nature of the workings of his/her mind – still the rascal. But there is one characteristic that a rascal and a saint will share after enlightenment: when they come to realize the essence of their minds, they both become aware of the true source of hecticity. – aware of the universal nature of hecticity. And knowing the true source and universal nature of hecticity invariably cracks the door to true compassion.

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind:
The Second Mode of Mind: Mindfulness

Three Modes of Mind

From the standpoint of an unfettered mind, there are three prominent modes of the conscious mind:

  1. Self-Centric Dreamworlds
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Complete Engagement

And we recognize that each of these modes has both conscious activities and a particular ‘self’ associated with it. Last week we discussed Self-Centric Dreamworlds. This week we want to look at the second of these modes – the most recognized one – Mindfulness.

mindfulnessThe Common Understanding of Mindfulness

It is almost impossible these days to hear the term meditation without also associating it with the term ‘mindfulness‘. But for us, mindfulness is not a process or a form of meditation. For us, an unfettered mind is the process and Zen is the form of meditation. And mindfulness is just one of the three modes of mind that we inevitably come to realize from within our Zen practice. It’s hard for me to gauge exactly how important this distinction is for you at this stage of your practice, but for long-time Zen practitioners, it is a bit of a deal-breaker. In Mindfulness Meditation, the perpetual process of being mindful is often seen as a kind of a holy grail. Practitioners want to find ‘it’ and cherish ‘it’. And from the Zen standpoint, knowing the pervasiveness of attachment and the inevitability of change, we can only shake our heads.

The Activity of Pure Attention

As a mode of mind, Mindfulness is associated with the activity of Pure Attention. It is important to realize that, for our purposes and for this mode of mind, this Pure Attention activity is non-judgemental. Unlike the Self-Centric Dreamworlds, we don’t embellish the general activity of Attention with attached thoughts, feelings and memories. And we also don’t create entire dreamworlds around the objects of our attention. To that end, it is Pure Attention. My teacher would call this non-judgemental attention subject-object-distance. The basic idea is, of course, is that there is some sense of an ‘I’ observing some object at some distance.

Some simple examples of the Pure Attention activity:

  • “I see a chair.”
  • “There is an I that is currently walking down the street, swinging my arms.”
  • “I am aware of Mary – who is aware of me.”
  • “I have a pain in my back.”

The Essential Self

We then associate Mindfulness (as a mode of mind) with something we call the Essential Self. The Essential Self is simply the conscious source of awareness in the notion of ‘subject-object-distance’. The Essential self has only one dimension – the objective awareness of some ‘thing’. You should contrast this to the discussion of last week and the notion of a Multi-Dimensional Self,   (Again, the understanding here is that for every mode of mind there is a notion of a self. And from some literature it might be tempting to infer that a self does not truly exist. My teacher made no such argument. And the notion of modes of mind with their various selves of various dimensions supports that teaching.)

The Need for a Mode of Mindfulness

We must always be aware that for us, Mindfulness is a conscious mode of mind and Pure Attention is a conscious activity. (As opposed to other unconscious modes of mind and other unconscious activities.) From the standpoint of natural selection, Mindfulness is the mechanism that allows us to ‘designate’ experiences for recording in working memory. Our minds contain both conscious memory (working memory) and unconscious memory. And while all experiences seem to be recorded in various forms in unconscious memory, not everything gets recorded in conscious memory. But because we have conscious activities, we need to have a subset of experiences placed in conscious memory. For example, the activities of Objectification and Imagination both depend exclusively on conscious memory. From a systems point of view of the mind, the mode of Mindfulness is the mechanism that selects experiences for recording in conscious memory.

Mindfulness and Bliss

mindfulnessThere is a natural notion of bliss attached to the mode of Mindfulness. And occasionally, for ‘newish’ meditators, this bliss can be quite memorable and can last for an extended period (in terms of hours and days, not weeks and months). For those who truly understand the workings of the mind, this bliss is available in (just about) any moment. Like the drawings here, you’ve probably seen other caricatures of monks with big old grins on their faces. And while this residing bliss often results in little unexpected treasures throughout one’s day – especially in the midst of trying circumstances – the temptation to attach to bliss is just another source of hecticity in our already hectic lives. And that’s why most Zen teachers don’t dwell very much on either the mode of mind called Mindfulness and the Bliss that resides there.


Treat these discussions simply as a picture that is slowly coming into focus. Everything that we’ve talked about so far should be seen as small pieces of a larger puzzle. So, not to worry if it’s not all making a lot of sense, or if it seems a bit ho-hum or overly technical. The goal is to understand what we do and why we do it – with the intent that we learn who ‘we’ truly are. And at the end of this journey is the destination of an unfettered mind.

Last week:

The mode of Self-Centric Dreamworlds

Next week:

The mode of Complete Engagement

The Musings

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind are serial . You can start at the beginning.

In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Understanding the Nature of True Relaxation

The Nature of True Relaxation – It’s Not for the Faint of Heart

In our school, we are constantly searching to understand the nature of true relaxation. There is no argument that most people will go through their entire life without ever realizing it. And for good reason. Essentially everything conspires against us. We may convince ourselves that we are relaxed, thinking that true relaxation is perpetual. And we may simply tell ourselves to relax, thinking that relaxation is a conscious decision. Through practice, we may even become less tense and think that familiarity is the source of true relaxation But the fact is that most of us will never get to fully understand the nature of true relaxation. (That is not to say we don’t ever experience true relaxation – like times of absolute contentment, we just don’t understand the nature of it.)

But for those who do understand the nature of true relaxation, the manifestation of it is unmistakable. There is no thinking or wondering or doubting. There is a complete and unequivocal understanding of the nature of true relaxation. And the nature of true relaxation lies in an understanding of the mind

But why is it so hard to relax … to learn to relax … to understand the nature of relaxation?

Several reasons –

  • First, natural selection has ‘designed ‘us for dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction is the antithesis of true relaxation. How can we relax when we need to be somewhere else, doing something else? How can we relax when our status and reputation are constantly under siege? And how can we relax when we need to constantly satisfy the desire to mate? The fact is that the drive to get our genes into the next generation makes it nearly impossible to ever relax.
  • Next, natural selection has also  ‘designed’  our minds to resist change. So even the process of learning to relax has built-in hurdles. For natural selection, the mind as it is is good enough. Our ultimate happiness is not a consideration.
  • Of course, natural selection has also ‘designed’ the minds of all those around us to also resist change – even changes in others. The fact is that the minds of everyone we know also work to keep us the same as we are.
  • Last, a prominent mode of all our minds is the one that generates dreamworlds  – the fabricated realities where we spend nearly all of our lives. And when our dreamworlds rub against someone else’s dreamworlds, it creates a kind of friction that manifests as tension. And, in fact, it’s this tension that causes us to more firmly attach to our individual dreamworlds – a kind of degenerating spiral.

So what is the nature of true relaxation?

true relaxationA common metaphor for notions like true relaxation is that of a lamp and its light.The lamp and the light are inseparable. There is no one without the other. In this case, the lamp is the mode of mind that we have previously introduced: the mode of mind called Complete Engagement. (In an upcoming post, we will discuss the nature of Complete Engagement further.) And from this mode of mind (from this lamp) emanate a multitude of lights:

  • Absolute truth
  • Genuine compassion
  • True love
  • Perfect clarity
  • Spontaneity
  • Appropriateness
  • Selflessness, etc., etc.

And, as you can probably guess – true relaxation as well.

So, true relaxation is tied to the mode of mind called Complete Engagement. What do we know? Where do we go? We have discussed the three modes of mind previously and we obviously need to investigate this mode of mind called Complete Engagement further. And so, look for that discussion over the coming weeks.

FYI, notices of all discussions are posted on our Facebook page and also tweeted. There are links at the very end of this post that will allow you to follow us in one click.

Final comments

Of course, natural selection doesn’t ‘design’ anything. Natural selection works through a combination of randomness and inheritance, where ultimately some variable traits better equip some humans for survival and reproduction within a given environment. And given enough time, these traits will dominate. The word ‘design’ is just a literary device.

In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
A Little Zen Guidance (For What It’s Worth)

Been there, done that – Zen guidance, FWIW.

Like many Zen students, early in my practice I used to love reading about all stuff Zen. But after a thirty year career as a professional skeptic (aka electrical engineer) and, coincidentally, after nearly thirty years of Zen and Aikido practice, I have to admit that most of the Zen websites, articles, interviews and videos that I come across these days just make my stomach hurt. And so I thought I’d pass along some Zen guidance for you to consider if you’re out and about in Zen land. It boils down to four reminders:

  1. Zen guidanceTime is your friend
  2. Consider the essence.
  3. Zen is always ultimately practical.
  4. It’s always about the mind.

Time is your friend:

First, reconcile yourself to the fact that there is a bucket load of crap out there, especially in the self-improvement and spiritual domains. If you are intent on reading anything Zen, make sure that it’s been around for at least a hundred years or so. If you are watching a video, make sure the teacher looks like he/she’s been living their teaching for thirty or forty years. (My teacher entered a temple at the age of 14 and was  close to 90 when I started studying with him.) Consider, that if you put the half-life of crap at about one generation – it means that even after 50 years, there’s still a significant amount of it lying around. If you do wander into some newish Zen, make sure you’re wearing a hazard suit.

Consider the essence:

In Buddhism, there is, essentially, just one teaching. (And we should understand that Zen is but one path in trying to get students to reconcile this teaching.) That teaching is about what already exists within us – it’s about helping us open our eyes to what’s already here. And, hopefully, what modern Zen teachers bring to the table is a fresh, updated perspective. Hopefully they bring a new way of presenting this same old thing.

My Zen teacher was one of the most innovative teachers of our time. In his talks he would invariably preface about a quarter of his sentences with the words “As the Buddha taught …” Everything you read must ultimately make it back around to the fundamental teaching that we all have the same nature. And this nature can only be pointed to and then ultimately realized. And if what you read doesn’t come back to this teaching, then you should run.

Zen is always ultimately practical:

It is always difficult to talk about things Zen – the same for truth and love and compassion. Without a shared experience to give us a shared vocabulary, straight talk rarely makes sense. And so, teachers naturally rely on allegory and metaphor. (Jesus used parables almost exclusively.) But the essence is, that despite the sometimes paradoxical and seemingly nonsensical stories and verses and poems, never forget that the teachings of Zen

are always ultimately practical.

My teacher would often talk of “disappearing in love”. To my engineering mind, this was just a bit too close to crystals and aroma therapy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What if, and not “disappearing in love”, he had said something like “manifesting the mode of mind where awareness is without subject or object – without self or other – ultimately resulting in a pure and candid relationship?” Would I have been more satisfied? Would I have better understood? Zen is always immensely practical, it’s just nearly impossible to talk about.

It’s always about the mind:

We’re so fortunate to be alive today. With the vocabulary of natural selection becoming a part of discourse and with the emergence of evolutionary psychology, we can better appreciate the genius of the Buddha and the Bodhidharma. (The Buddha – Buddhism. The Bodhidharma – Zen.) While they had no way of explaining why the mind creates problems for us, they did understand that it does. Make no mistake, everything you read will ultimately find its way back to the workings of the mind. Whether it’s a stone statue, the wind, bubbles on a stream or weeds and flowers … it’s always about the mind.

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind:
Self-Centric Dreamworlds

Modes of Mind: Self-Centric Dreamworlds

From the standpoint of an unfettered mind, there are three prominent modes of the conscious mind:

  1. dreamworldsSelf-Centric Dreamworlds
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Complete Engagement

Each of these modes has both conscious activities and a particular ‘self’ associated with it. This week we want to look at the first of these modes – the most dominant one – Self-Centric Dreamworlds. But first, some groundwork. When viewed from the standpoint of natural selection, the mind has four fundamental conscious activities – activities which will naturally map to the three prominent modes of mind. Note, there are many, many unconscious activities that we will not be concerned with. The four fundamental conscious activities are:

  1. Objectification
  2. Imagination
  3. Attention
  4. Relation

And of course, we will want to look at each of these …

Objectification …

‘Designed’ by natural selection for the accumulation of the knowledge. And knowledge is necessary for increased status and reputation – not through experience, but through internal mental constructs. But it’s more than just thinking. It’s about the slicing and dicing of sensory experience to create a dreamworld of objects and ideas, of correlations and causalities and agencies. We also create dreamworlds of things and concepts that we like and don’t like, of things that like and don’t like us. And these are truly worlds that exists only in our minds.

Imagination …

‘Designed’ by natural selection for the accumulation of the experience. And experience is necessary for increased status and reputation – not through actual experiences, but through imagined ones. Rather than being restricted to actual experience, the mind generates its own experiences from memories of the past usually projected into the future – again, worlds that exist only in our minds.

Attention …

‘Designed’ by natural selection to place selected experiences into conscious memory, where they can then be used by objectification and imagination. My teacher would very often call this activity ‘subject-object-distance’. Unlike objectification, where we often generate embellished realities around what we see, this activity simply acknowledges the self, the object and the distance between. (“I see a chair.”) In a very common variation, the object will actually be the self. (“I see that I just inhaled.”) Attention maps to the Mindfulness mode of mind. We will look at Mindfulness more thoroughly next week.

Relation …

Is the activity of direct experience. In a certain sense, it’s what we’re doing when we’re not doing any of the other three activities. We are of the world of true reality, but without an awareness of a self or of others or of a distance between. This activity is commonly called no-self. This is the activity that the Buddha had observed in others, had experienced himself as an ascetic and sought so hard to understand and make permanent (which, of course, was the source of the Buddha’s suffering before his enlightenment.). Relation maps to the mode of mind called Complete Engagement. We will look at this mode more thoroughly in two weeks.

Self-Centric Dreamworlds

The Self-Centric Dreamworlds mode of mind is composed of the activities of objectification and imagination. It is here that most of us spend most of our time. Truly, time spent in this mode is time spent in dreamworlds – worlds that don’t exist and won’t ever exist. They are worlds of the mind – worlds where some notion of ‘we’ are the center of gravity. The worlds that we create revolve around us – around the delusion of a free and persistent CEO self.

And in a previous musing, we discussed how natural selection has ‘designed’ the activities of objectification and imagination into us. So, if you were born of human parents, you objectify and you imagine. Period. (And again, the reason we are interested in this natural selection perspective is that it means that the effects of these designs are universal. No one – not even the Buddha – can pick and choose. No one has been, ever or will be, (for the foreseeable future) immune to the mode of Self-Centric Dreamworlds!)

Are dreamworlds so ‘evil’?

And this is a reasonable question. For a few – those who have adequate resources to sustain them (money or power) – dreamworlds are great places to live. It’s a world of your design, with you at the center. And with enough resources, you can convince others to join you and to abide by the physics of your world. But most of us don’t have such power or money. And so, while we continue to live in our dreamworlds, others that we deal with continue live in theirs. And so, we are inevitably frustrated when others don’t abide by the laws of our dreamworlds – unique laws that we created and that no one else could ever understand. So yes, for the great majority of us, dreamworlds are indeed pretty ‘evil’ (are reliable sources of hecticity).

Finally, the Multi-Dimensional Self …

Each mode of mind has a ‘self’ associated with it. For Self-Centric Dreamworlds there is the Multi-Dimensional Self. My teacher would call this the “I am” self:

“I am a man, I am a woman, I am happy, I am hungry,.

Using the term Multi-Dimensional Self brings together the idea that each “I am” is really a dimension of the current self. And, as you can imagine, at any given moment we are some crazy combination of “I am” dimensions all competing for time, space and attention.

“I like the way she looks, but I am bashful, but I am aware my friends are watching,, but I am not good with words, but I am going to talk to her, but I am afraid of rejection, yada, yada, yada”.

As you can see, when it is time for action, the Multi-Dimensional Self is not who you would want making decisions. Just keep this idea of a Multi-Dimensional Self in mind as we walk through the other selves associated with the other modes of mind and hopefully it will all come together in a couple of weeks.

Last week:

The Three Modes of Mind

Next week:

The mode of Mindfulness

The Musings

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind are serial . You can start at the beginning.

In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Practicing Well

Practice Well

Freestyle practice – the Japanese term is randori. Randori often brings to my mind the words of the Zen Master Guishan and his “Encouraging Words”. The first couple lines go like this.

Some day you will die.
Lying on your sick-bed about to breathe your last, you will be assailed by every kind of pain, your mind will be filled with fears and anxieties and you will not know where to go or what to do, only then you will realize you have not practiced well.

Of course, for our purposes, dying becomes doing randori practice and instead of lying on a sick-bed and assailed by pain, we are confronted by multiple attackers and we get …

Soon you will do randori.
Looking out, you will be confronted by one, then two, then three attackers. Your mind will be filled with scheming and planning and you will end up not knowing where to go or what to do. Only then you will realize you did not practice well.

Randori in the Zen Aikido Dojo

Always remember that, before randori we spend nine weeks as a group, all learning a set of ten techniques just so that we can do it safely, yet energetically. And we do randori safely, yet energetically just so that we can get real feedback on our current understanding of Aikido – our current understanding of true relaxation. And if you are doing randori practice and you are scheming and planning and fretting and freezing up and running out of breath and wondering why the attackers are doing what they’re doing and why they’re not doing what you want them to do …. then you should know that you have not yet realized the meaning Aikido – the meaning of true relaxation.

Only then you will realize that you did not practice well.

On the surface it sounds like a perfectly reasonable notion. Who would even try to argue  the difference between success and the status quo as anything but the matter of practice – of practicing well?

But what is the nature of practicing well?

So, one day, growing up,  you see a neighborhood friend wiggle her ears – and you think

“Gosh, I wish I could do that!”

You ask your friend how to do it and she says

“Well, you just wiggle your ears”

and she demonstrates. And you try and she says


And you get discouraged. But your friend wiggles her ears again and says

“You can do it, it just takes practice”.

And you try again, something different this time … and your friend says


You are now convinced you will never, ever wiggle your ears. And your friend wiggles her ears again and encourages you to try again. And you do try again – something different this time. Nothing. And this happens again and again and again with your friend demonstrating and encouraging you and you trying over and over and over – each time something different. Until that moment when you somehow twist up your whole face and your ears actually move.


And you slowly, slowly refine your twisted face until only your ears move.

“Total victory!”

Practice and the AERV Loop


What just happened? What did we just witness? This is the process of practicing well! And this is what the Zen Master Guishan was talking about. This is what it takes to understand Aikido, to understand relaxation, to understand the essence of your mind. And, believe it or not, this is a repeatable process. I call it the AERV Loop.

First, we have to recognize that we are talking about a process for a success that cannot be measured in degrees. It’s not like weighing yourself or seeing how many pushups you can do. You can wiggle your ears or you can’t. You have an understanding of relaxation or you don’t. And you are either standing on the 100 foot pole or you have stepped off. There is simply no in-between.

So, what is the AERV Loop? First, it is indeed a loop. In no uncertain terms, ‘practicing well’ is an iterative process. Each attempt goes from beginning to end and invariably loops back to the start – again and again and again. If we are looping, we are progressing. (Unfortunately this is really a matter of faith and usually of only some comfort to those now in the loop.) But there is a different kind of certainty here – the certainty that if we are not in the loop, there is absolutely no chance of success.

So, here we go … AERV stands for

  • Affirm
  • Expand
  • Reconcile
  • Validate

Again, the idea here is that there is something we want to be able to do or a concept that we want to understand – but it’s something that only we can realize – no one can really teach us and certainly no one can do it for us. And it is not realized by degrees, but only in a flash. We can be pointed in a direction, but only we can walk the path. (Who would have guessed that the path was a loop?)


To affirm means that we have to remind ourselves what exactly we want and why we want it. Depending on what we are trying to carry out, the entire process can often be lengthy and frustrating. And when the goal is like a light (either off or on), it is very hard to see progress and so we are easily discouraged. Again and again you have to affirm what you want and why you want it and you have to take some comfort in the fact that each time through the loop is indeed progress. And occasionally, we can take some encouragement from others and we should always accept it when it’s offered.


To expand means to open ourselves up to new possibilities. In expanding, we acknowledge what isn’t working. In expanding we become willing  to turn over every rock. And in expanding we become willing to turn all those rocks back. In expanding we become willing to try to see with  our ears, to try to hear with our belly button, to try to taste with our toes. And lastly, in expanding we become willing to try it ‘their way’. If we simply approach the problem as we always have … well, we know where that leads. Expand, expand, expand!


After affirming and expanding, to reconcile means to give something very specific a try. This something new is a concrete, conscious decision. If expanding is a kind of general attitude, reconciling is very specific. We may base it on what we’ve learned from a previous reconciling. It can come from what we’ve observed or what we’ve read or what we’ve heard. If we don’t have an exact idea of something new to try, then we have not reconciled and we are not practicing well.


Validation is the feedback process. In reconciling, we’ve come up with something we want to try. In validating, we give this idea a test drive. To reconcile but not validate is to live in a dreamworld of our own making. (Sound familiar?) To validate is to take our idea with us into the real world. Does it work? Is it working? And if it’s not working we move on. There is nothing gained in rationalizing – either it works or it doesn’t. And to move on means to go back through the loop!


The AERV loop is simple, often arduous – but necessary. We know the cliché – that nothing special comes easy. We may be tempted to give up. And we may convince ourselves that we must be the only one in history that cannot do what we are attempting. But where do these notions come from? A baby learning to walk rips through this loop again and again and again – with equal amounts of smiling and crying – without nary a thought of giving up If she has a thought of giving up, it must last less than a second or two. And, inevitably, one day she makes it across the room from dad to mom – and with the biggest smile of all.

In The Aikido and Zen Dojo:
The Inertial Mind

Natural Selection and the Inertial Mind

inertial mindOne universal characteristic of the mind is the notion of inertia. Inertia is the property of an object continuing on its current path. Therefore, an inertial mind would be one that keeps us on our current path.

The simple fact is that the mind is designed to resist change. And this makes sense. What’s the saying? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The fact that the mind is now up and running is the perfect justification for not changing anything. Even if we are now unhappy – even seriously unhappy, the mind will resist change. From the standpoint of natural selection, from the standpoint of getting genes into the next generation, unhappiness is not an obstacle. In fact it’s often a great motivator. Surprisingly, it is actually fairly straightforward to make the argument that depression and even suicide are often genetically advantageous. (The forces driving the propagation of our genes or those of close relatives are relentless and often insidious.)

The Inertial Mind in Action

The point here is that you may run into some serious rationalizations on why Zen Aikido practice may not be for you. That’s to be expected – because your mind is resisting the change in your life. In a previous article, we discussed the rather evolutionarily novel concepts of imagination, objectification and relation. And in a sense, it will be the first two capabilities that will create the vivid narratives and logical arguments that will try to keep you from pursuing your new path …

  • “This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”
  • “I’m not sure I’ll ever got these Aikido throws.”
  • “I feel like I have two left feet.”
  • “You know I could be home watching TV.”
  • “This zazen posture sure can sometimes be uncomfortable.”

But at the same time, imagination, objectification and relation can also allow us to consciously recognize the signs and arguments of the inertial mind. We can then choose to ignore them and perhaps to just override them. You can make counter arguments for Zen Aikido training. And you can imagine yourself in one year, three years, twenty years. And lastly, you can use the power of relationship to see the commonality between yourself and the other students in class.

In any case, when sitting zazen, whether it’s these inertial thoughts that arise – or others, remember to just acknowledge them and return to your breath. Realize that thoughts are just thoughts and they don’t need to be fed. Understanding the very natural sources of inertial thoughts may allow you to keep from judging them, to keep from feeding them, to keep from fighting them.

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind:
Three Modes of Mind

Hecticity, Zazen and the Three Modes of Mind

A quick musing, highlighting some things to look for in your sitting practice. As we know, hecticity is the notion that modern living is especially hectic. And recall that the path of the unfettered mind tells us that some of this hecticity is simply unavoidable – after all, we are the products of natural selection which has a ‘vested interest’ in ‘keeping us’ perpetually unsatisfied. But we can reduce hecticity by a great degree by coming to a better understanding of the connection between hecticity, natural selection and nature of our minds. To that end, it is very helpful to see our minds as comprising three modes:

  1. three modes of mindThe mode of Self-Centric Dreamworlds
  2. Mindfulness
  3. The mode of Complete Engagement (my teacher would often call this mode ‘true love’)

To better understand these modes let’s consider the conscious activities associated with each of them:

  1. For Self-Centric Dreamworlds there are the activities of Imagination  and Objectification.
  2. Mindfulness has the associated activity of Attention
  3. Complete Engagement has the associated activity of Relation

Lastly, we must reconcile that fact that natural selection has created an array of ‘selves’ associated with these modes. Realize that the notion of a self is absolutely vital in driving us to pursue the resources and mates that will make sure our genes make it into the next generation. (And that is all that natural selection ‘cares’ about.) These three ‘selves’ are:

  1. For Self-Centric Dreamworlds the is  the Multi-dimensional Self
  2. Mindfulness has an associated Essential Self
  3. Complete Engagement has an associated Transcendent Self

And over the next three weeks we will take a look at each of these modes, their associated activities and the selves that are linked to them.

But why is this important?

Understanding the three modes of mind is important because each of these modes represents a potential for attachment. That is, we …

  • invariably believe that dreamworlds actually exist – and attach to them.
  • readily attach to the bliss that so often accompanies mindfulness.
  • are constantly seduced by the mode of complete engagement (true love).

It is important to recognize the nature of these impermanent modes – how they manifest and how we readily attach to them. And it is important to  realize that we all have essentially the same mind – this mind of three distinct, impermanent modes. It is also important to acknowledge the pervasive instinct to attach to each mode as it manifests. And lastly, it is important to understand that impermanence combined with attachment is the perfect recipe for the kind of hecticity that we can, in fact, do something about.

Last week:

The Delusion of a Free and Persistent Self

Next week:

The mode of Self-Centric Dreamworlds

The Musings

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind is rather serial in nature. You can start at the beginning.

In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Stances and the Four Dimensions of Aikido Space

Aikido Space

Early on in learning Aikido techniques, the big picture is just a blur. But slowly, slowly, slowly within each technique we must start to get a fuller appreciation of Aikido space. In a very real sense, Aikido space has four dimensions – four degrees of freedom. They are:

  1. aikido spaceDistance (from attacker to defender)
  2. Movement (stopped vs. moving)
  3. Balance (well-balanced vs. fairly balanced vs. unbalanced)
  4. Breath (inhaling vs. exhaling)

And within each technique, we must also appreciate the importance of stance. The proper stances through the progression of an Aikido technique ensures the proper management of Aikido space. There are three stances we need to fully appreciate:

  1. Starting stance
  2. Intermediate stance
  3. Finishing stance

And from here, we will want to look at the structure of these three stances and how they align with the four dimensions of Aikido space.

Starting stance:

As the name implies, this is how we accept an attack. In the starting stance, feet are turned out at 45 degrees, weight is about equal on both feet. And, as we don’t know where we will be moving – front, back, left, right, we are equally ready to go in any. Last, we are naturally exhaling. Therefore, from the perspective of Aikido space, we are:

  • Distance: Well away from the attacker
  • Movement: Completely still
  • Balance: Fairly balanced (able to go in any direction)
  • Breath: Exhaling

Intermediate stance:

The first response to every attack, is to simply evade. And for many, many techniques, after evading we often seem to be in yet another starting stance. Realize that the mindset here is about the same – that we still really don’t  know what direction we will go next. However, the distance to the attacker has closed and we have just finished inhaling. Therefore, from the perspective of Aikido space, we are:

  • Distance: Much, closer to the attacker, possibly in direct contact
  • Movement: Momentarily still, paused between the movement of evasion and a finishing move
  • Balance: Fairly balanced (still able to go in any direction)
  • Breath: Momentarily not breathing, paused between an inhale and an exhale

Finishing stance:

There are two basic finishing stances – the forward horizontal stance and left-right stance. And we practice these every single class. Both stances have this in common: One leg bent, one leg straight, exhaling nicely and extremely well-balanced. Therefore, from the perspective of Aikido space, we are:

  • Distance: Completely disengaged (for a throw) or fully engaged (for a pin)
  • Movement: Completely still
  • Balance: Extremely balanced – like the mountain
  • Breath: Exhaling

It may take a while, but when you can fully see distance, movement and balance all interacting – and when you are naturally coordinating your breath with each technique, you can then say you that are a true student of Aikido space. And when you are consistently mindful of Aikido space within the three stances, you can say that you are then a true student of Aikido.

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