Zen Aikido Classes in Albuquerque

Albququerque Aikido KanjiFor information on the upcoming Zen Aikido Classes Summer 2017 Session

We are a unique Albuquerque Aikido school in that we combine traditional Zen practice and classic Aikido instruction into a single curriculum. So, in every class we sit zazen (seated Zen meditation) and we train in Aikido.

Please realize that this is a working site – we use this first page blog to keep our Albuquerque students updated with class summaries, instructional material and ‘musings’. But, there is plenty for you read as well. So, feel free to poke around.

If you are new to Aikido, check out the About Aikido page. For more about the thinking behind Zen Aikido Classes, check out the About BHC page. You can read student comments here. If you are new to Albuquerque, we are located in the Northeast Heights, near Juan Tabo and Copper. We partner with a judo club. And you can find us at:

Albuquerque Judokai / Both Hands Clapping Aikido
670 Juan Tabo NE, Suite G
Albuquerque, 293-5836

Another unique part of Both Hands Clapping Aikido is that we base our Zen Aikido classes on thirteen week sessions. So, we only accept new students four times a year. For you, our next session will be the Summer 2017 Session starting in mid-May. You can follow this link for more info.

Aikido is a great martial art. And combining Zen and Aikido into every class is the ultimate. But Zen Aikido classes aren’t for everyone. So, if you can’t wait until May to start your Aikido training or you are just not interested in seeing how Zen meditation is vital to Aikido training, here are several other Albuquerque Aikido schools that you may want to look into.

Albuquerque Aikido - HakamaOther Albuquerque Aikido Schools (not all include Zen instruction)

We try to keep this list up-to-date, but if you think there may be another Aikido dojo in the area, here’s a search you can use:
AikiWeb: Aikido Information

Finally, I an always happy to answer any and all of your questions. You are most certainly welcome to come see a class, to see how we integrate Zen into Aikido – and we can talk. While it is always best in person, I do respond promptly to questions through e-mail. Last, you can subscribe here to receive notices of all upcoming classes

Thank you for your interest in Both Hands Clapping Aikido.
Jim Redel

In The Zen Aikido Dojo:
On The Role of Resistance in Normal Practice

The ultimate challenge – putting a round peg in a round hole

aikido resistanceAikido resistance during normal practice is an important topic. You must reconcile it. (Note, we will discuss the role of resistance during randori in another article. That is an entirely different animal.) In normal practice we study about 15 traditional attacks, with advanced students needing to eventually demonstrate about 400 throws and pins. And for many of these techniques, there may actually be several variations. At very least, there is often a front side version, a back side version and a seated version. The point is, over time you will learn and practice a lot of techniques.

We all know that Aikido, as a multiple attacker self-defense, is a very subtle art. The reason for the great number of techniques is that each one is generally geared for a specific attack. And this is complicated with the attacker having several different responses to a defender’s initial evasion. Lastly, there will always be a host of attack geometries. (By attack geometry, I mean how the multiple attackers position themselves with respect to the defender and to each other.) As you can see, the variables are many. And the practical goal of normal Aikido practice is to learn how to consistently put a round peg in a round hole – one technique at a time.

What’s the peg, what’s the hole?

And so, when we practice a throw or pin in class, we essentially agree in advance what the peg will look like. The peg is the exact throw or pin that we will be practicing at that time. It is then up to the attacking partner to make the proper hole. That is, the attacker creates the circumstances that make the agreed-on technique the most logical one. And, in making the proper hole – again and again, the attacker is helping the defender understand how to simply put a round peg in a round hole.

So, how does the attacker make the proper hole? First, we must realize that, for the attacker, the attack is not actually the hole. It’s the attacker’s response to the defender’s initial evasion that creates the hole. So how do we get this accomplished? For the two partners working together, it’s mostly about first seeing the technique demonstrated appropriately and then simply trying to reproduce that image. A proper demonstration of a throw or pin will fully show both the peg and the hole. Without a good demonstration, practice is basically doomed. This is why good teachers invariably use more advanced students to demonstrate techniques. Both the instructor and the attacker have equally important roles. (Understand that the attacker’s is the more demanding one. After all, the instructor is simply putting the peg into the hole created by the attacker!)

Finally, there are some teachers who will demonstrate techniques using brand new students – to show that they can execute a technique on anyone. You should now start to recognize such a mistaken view of Aikido. What makes a technique powerful is not that you can do it to any attacker, but that it is the right peg for the hole.

A Last Chance to Register for the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts this week – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind:
Hecticity – Before We Move On

Last Thoughts On Hecticity Before We Move On

hecticity thoughtsFor the last three weeks we’ve been discussing this notion of hecticity – a sense that our lives seem to be just a bit out of control, just a bit out of our control. And hopefully you get a sense that, in many ways, they are. To a great extent, mechanisms ‘designed’ into us by natural selection dictate our behaviors. These behaviors have the singular purpose of survival and reproduction They have absolutely no regard for lasting happiness. (Temporary happiness – yes, lasting happiness – no.)

But the point of all this is not about advancing a notion of inevitability or despair – quite the opposite. It is often easy these days to get a sense that we are somehow broken and need to be fixed or that our lives are somehow predetermined. We are not broken, we do not need to be fixed and even if our lives are completely predetermined, we still have to live them. We are what we are: ancestral heritage and circumstance coming together at this exact moment. And part of what we are are the capabilities to imagine and think and relate.

You Can Choose

Yes, it all comes down to this moment … a choice. You can:

  • believe you are broken and try to find some way or some one to fix you,
  • believe in a predetermined life – and so live and let live,
  • wish things were more certain

Or you can resolve to open your eyes to the reality that is you. Know that when you finally do, you will be walking with the countless saints and sages and buddhas before you – regular people, just like you, regular people determined to see clearly and who then persevered.

True clarity is within everyone’s reach. It’s a matter of choice and then a matter of tenacity.

Next week we will take a short look at the prevalent notion of the self and then on to the modes of the mind. And it is always worth noting – do not view these musings as some notion of certainty. If there were one certainty, it would be that the attachment to ideas is yet another hurdle on the path of an unfettered mind. Treat these musings as simply the shaking of a slumbering friend – “wake up, wake up!”

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

In The Zen Aikido Dojo:
The Last of Aikido’s Three Pillars – Timing

Timing

Timing is everything. For the last couple weeks we’ve discussed the three pillars of Aikido:

  1. Footwork
  2. Balance
  3. Timing

This week we will be looking at the last of them – timing In a earlier blog, we looked at the analogy of the pedestrian and the car. And timing was the idea of moving at the right time. To move too early was to risk not knowing the intentions of the driver. To move too late was to get hit.

So, how is Aikido timing manifested in a self-defense situation?

The fact is, no one can consistently keep attacking for any length of time. (Forget what you see on TV.) We all breathe. aikido three pillars timingAttacking expends energy. And we all have to catch our breaths and replace the energy that we expend. And actually, this is irrespective of whether we are attacking or defending. I like to call it ’emptying the tank and filling the tank’.

In many kick and punch arts, both participants are essentially in sync – meeting force with force – both inhaling and exhaling at about the same times. Both exhaling as one strikes and one blocks. Both inhaling, as they prepare for the next go. In Aikido , it is quite different. When an uke (attacking partner) is pressing the attack, he/she is exhaling (emptying the tank). At this same time, nage (the defending partner) is withdrawing or turning away and inhaling (filling the tank). With this particular timing, the Aikidoist is soft and yielding when initially attacked – firm and decisive when making the finishing throw. In the truest sense, nage is yin (soft) when uke is yang (hard) and vice versa. This is one of the prime factors in the ultimate undoing of a stronger attacker by a weaker defender.

Breathing IS Timing

Finally, realize that breathing is timing. The Japanese term is kokyu, which is used in the context of both breathing and timing. And so, we constantly practice coordinating our breathing with our fundamental skills – when to inhale (softness), when to exhale (firmness). Inhale as we withdraw, exhale as we advance. Inhale as we turn, exhale as we stop, inhale as we raise up, exhale as we cut down. And eventually, all Aikido techniques are simply executed in the context of normal breathing – an inhale and an exhale. But most importantly, this breathing is the opposite of our attackers. This breathing keeps us out of a natural conflict.

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

In the Zen Aikido Dojo:
Zazen – A Play in Two Acts

Zazen – Seated Zen Meditation

zazenLast week we talked briefly about the differences between mindfulness meditation and zazen (seated Zen meditation). These differences become clearer when we consider Zen practice as a ‘play in two acts’.

Act I

In Act I, the goal is to realize a quiet, non-judgemental mind. And to get here, we need to set up a consistent, determined practice. We sit and follow our breaths – again and again We sit and see our posture – again and again. There are the comings and goings of our thoughts – again and again. We simply note these thoughts and return to our breathing. And all of this will only come to pass with a consistent, determined practice. We sit when we are cranky. We sit when we are tired. In the dojo, we sit when we are cranky and tired and sweaty. We sit and sit and sit.

And now and then we get glimpses of a perfectly quiet mind. The quietness that starts with the breath, maybe the posture. And over time, the glimpses get longer and longer. Then one day, one unsuspecting moment … the bliss of a perfect connection with the present. And we are very amazed and even a little afraid and we concentrate and hold our breath and move slow and we even hesitate to go to sleep because we don’t want it to end. But it ends (whether we hold our breaths forever or never go to sleep). And in the mindfulness tradition, students will spend an untold amount of time and energy and frustration in trying to recapture that magic moment. But in the Zen tradition – if we have a kind and observant teacher to guide us –  the curtain simply rises for Act II.

Act II

In Act II we place a different emphasis on zazen. I will always remember my reaction when, during one of his lecture’s, my Zen teacher told the group to go sit zazen and think about what he had just talked about. Every Sasaki Roshi student was quite familiar with his most notable admonishment during sanzen (personal interview) – “NO THINKING!” And here he was, telling us to go sit zazen and think about stuff. Had the world turned upside down?

And, of course, what he was telling us was that  zazen had two purposes. The first was to settle ourselves to experience a quiet, non-judgemental mind. The second was to use our time sitting to also put the experience of a quiet mind into the context of the natural workings on the mind. We are thinking beings. There is big brain sitting inside our heads. It would be quite unnatural to never think. And zazen is often the perfect time to try to put things in context … to consider big questions. And the first big question often looks like –

“Do I need to be thinking every moment?”

And since you are here, your answer is probably: No. Consider:

“Is a thought the same as thinking?”
“Is there a difference between a thought and a sight or sound?”
“How does a thought start?”
“How does one end?”

And these questions will be the source of countless other questions. And we sit and quiet our minds and still try to make sense of it all … zazen in two acts.

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind:
Hecticity and the Certainty Instinct

certainty instinctHecticity and the Certainty Instinct

The last two weeks we’ve discussed primal drives and the evolutionarily novel capabilities of imagination, objectification and engagement. This week we will be discussing one last source of hecticity – the certainty instinct. (Last in the sense that after discussing it, we will be moving on to figure out what we can still hope to do in the face of all this.) You can check out the last musing here.

It is clear that humans have been selected for certainty. For our ancestors, the sense of certainty undoubtedly resulted in increased survival and status. Those who were certain of their cause and of the outcome would fight more fiercely and would be quite willing to die fighting. (In death, their family would gain in status and reputation.) Those who were certain of their decisions would persevere when others would not. Those who were certain of their beliefs dominated other uncertain tribal members, became leaders and reaped the rewards in status and reputation. As an indicator of just how prevalent and strong the certainty instinct is, realize that it has given rise to something called the certainty paradox – which goes something like:

The instinct for certainty is so strong that humans will readily accept mysterious and unverifiable explanations (i.e. the supernatural) rather than simply accept not knowing.

The problem with certainty

So the certainty instinct is strong – why is it so problematic? It’s because we search for and attach certainty to things (people, objects and ideas) in a universe where everything (everything!!) is constantly changing. And the result is something called a certainty gap. This is the difference between expectation and reality. This is where the “I” that was so certain and the object that the “I” was so certain about each only existed for a moment in time. (The movie that you first thought was so funny is later not so funny.) This certainty gap causes a countless number of problems ranging from simple bewilderment to annoyance to potentially devastating anxiety, depression and suicide. (No one ever seeks treatment for too much certainty.)

Modern May be More Hectic

And here is where we can possibly make the argument that modern life may indeed be more hectic than the lives of our ancestors. There are three main reasons why, as modern humans, we are especially affected by this innate need for certainty:

  1. The steady decline of religion.
  2. A science that hasn’t yet replaced religion as a source of certainty (perhaps never will).
  3. The constant bombardment of advertising that promises the certainty that we require but that it can never deliver.

So, let’s look at each one of these …

Religion:

For the longest time, and for many still, religion provided a firm foundation of certainty. People could always explain a violent planet (earthquakes, tornadoes, devastating fires) and the apparent cruelness of nature (disease, childhood cancers) as the will of an all-knowing and all-powerful god. But for more and more people, religion no longer provides these same answers, this same sense of certainty. For the non-religious, there is no all-compassionate god watching over them – a god with a plan for them.

Science:

Another paradox here. Many people become less religious in the face of science, and yet science cannot provide the same sense of certainty as religion. (Studies have shown that the religious are generally happier than the non-religious. Could this be the certainty instinct at work?) The nature of science is an unending march toward a progressive understanding of reality. What is taken for certain knowledge today (with what we already know and what we are able to measure) will undoubtedly change in the future. Science, as a descriptor of reality, is inherently uncertain and is, therefore, ultimately a poor replacement as a source of certainty.

Advertising:

For as long as someone had something to sell, humans have been manipulated by those who truly understand the certainty instinct. And today, we are under a never-ending barrage. And, because the ads try to manipulate us on so many different levels, we often find it very hard to resist. From guaranteed weight loss to guaranteed sex to the best vacation ever (guaranteed), advertisers tap into our primal drives, our imaginations, our pro-social tendencies and, most of all, our need for certainty. We will certainly be happier after starting this plan, taking this pill and visiting this resort. And, of course, after giving in to the advertising, we come away inevitably disappointed. We sought certainty and they promised certainty – but certainty was not theirs to give.

Summing Up

So, be aware. The certainty instinct is yet another double-edged sword – compliments of natural selection. It can provide us the power of remarkable determination. Certainty, independent of facts, has the power to overwhelm both others and ourselves and is just as likely to have us believing in things that don’t or can’t exist and attaching to things (people, objects and ideas) that are, by their very nature, impermanent. The certainty instinct yet another source of yet more hecticity.

Next week, a quick summary and in two weeks we press on to the notion of self (I think).

A final note here about the uncertainty of science. To say that science is uncertain is not to say it’s unusable. For the several hundred years, Newton’s assumptions about space and time and the laws based on them were thought to be ‘certain’. And then came Einstein. Einstein showed that space and time were not as Newton assumed. And that his ‘immutable’ laws actually only applied in certain circumstances. But the fact is that Newton’s laws were and are still plenty usable.

More Musings

The Musings represent a series of blogs. You can access the previous one here. They are also a regular part of the Midnight Archer – a weekly newsletter (free). You can subscribe to that here.

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd. This session we offer both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Location:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

In the Zen Aikido Dojo:
The Second of Aikido’s Three Pillars – Balance

Recalling that in Aikido, our three pillars are: footwork, balance and timing. Last week we covered the first of  these pillars – footwork. This week, I want to focus the concept of balance. As we practice fundamental skills during each class, I often mention the three balances:

  1. Vertical
  2. Horizontal
  3. Left-right

Vertical Balance:

For certain attacks we will naturally rise up to meet it. For others we will naturally sink down to control it. And so, we investigate the principles of vertical balance. In class, we practice the fundamental skill called raising and cutting. When raising, straighten both legs but do not lock the knee. When cutting, bend both legs. In both cases, place the front foot straight forward. When raising, the heel of the back foot can come off the ground. When sinking, both feet are flat. Think ‘shock absorber vs. hinge’. The shock absorber stays within its own volume – extended or compressed, while the hinge bends in the middle. We want to be the shock absorber.

aikido balanceHorizontal Balance:

For the majority of techniques, we finish them using horizontal balance. In class, we practice the fundamental skill called boat rowing. When rocking forward, bend the front leg and straighten the back. When rocking backward, bend the back leg and straighten the front. Place both feet flat on the ground. Turn the front foot out slightly. With an attention to these details, it is amazing how far forward and backward we can move our own center of gravity while still keeping centered. Always remember that the simple goal of Aikido is to take our partner’s balance while keeping our own. And we can best do this by ‘coupling well’ (so that when we move, our partner moves) and then moving our center of gravity to a point that unbalances him/her. (In theory, Aikido is remarkably simple.)

Left-right Balance:

There is a small set of techniques that finish using left-right balance. This is much like horizontal balance, except that instead of rocking forward and back, we rock side to side. In class, we practice the fundamental skill called left-right exercise. Straighten one leg, bend the other and place both feet firmly on the ground. (When moving left, bend the left knee and straighten the right.) And much like horizontal balance, proper technique allows us to extend well into our partner’s space – taking his/her balance while keeping our own.

Balance is one of the three pillars of Aikido. Understand it, embrace it, practice it. (And don’t forget to relax.)

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

The Midnight Archer

The Midnight Archer Explained

The Midnight Archer is the name of Both Hands Clapping Aikido’s weekly newsletter. Here’s a bit of a discussion behind the notion of realization.

Midnight ArcherRealization (or enlightenment or understanding or relaxation) is one of those things that is just about impossible to describe, to discuss, to relate. There are no words that would make sense. In the same vein, how would you describe vision to a blind person?

Could you describe root beer to someone who has only ever tasted water? If you did describe root beer to a group and then gave them cola, would they know beyond any doubt that they had not tasted root beer? Plato, in his allegory of the cave, likens this to explaining reality to prisoners who have only known a life of viewing shadows. Words are simply insufficient, as they can only invoke an acknowledged, common experience. In a very real sense, you must have experienced realization to truly understand a description of it. And so, serious talk of realization just sounds like gibberish, is generally not helpful and is mostly avoided.

But yet, who wouldn’t want to see their world more clearly, to move more freely, to fully appreciate the notions of ‘absolute truth’, ‘true love’ and ‘genuine compassion’?

We believe realization is real because so many for so long have talked about it and written about it. But because we can never really know up front what it looks like or feels like or ‘tastes’ like or how it comes about, it is like trying to hit a target – with an arrow – at midnight. A nearly impossible task. And yet, for millennia, so many have tried. And many are trying today or would be willing to try – if they just knew what to do.

Seeing the World More Clearly

So, what would it take for you to see your world most clearly? What would it take for you to shoot an arrow into a target in the dead of night? A serious question – and if you give it serious consideration, you must come to only one conclusion. You will need exactly three things:

  1. Some instruction (like the direction and distance to the target).
  2. To shoot a lot of arrows.
  3. Feedback (how close your shots are landing).

Convince yourself that you realistically could not hit a target somewhere in the night with any less than these three things. And, convince yourself that you actually only need these three things. Finally, convince yourself that attaining realization is indeed like trying to shoot an arrow into a target in the dead of night.

And so, it is now midnight. You are standing with a bow in an open field. One has to presume that you want to hit the target – after all, why are you standing with a bow in an open field at midnight? Will you:

  • Seek the instruction you need?
  • Commit to shooting arrows relentlessly?
  • Accept a guide and his/her reaction?

If so, you are a Midnight Archer.

The Tale of the Buddha – A Midnight Archer Without a Guide

In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is so revered because he ended up hitting the target by only shooting arrows – a lot of arrows. Midnight Archer - BuddhaThere was no one to tell him where and how far away the target was, no one to give feedback on his attempts. He fired arrow after arrow after arrow after arrow – in every direction possible. And one day he fired yet another arrow. But this time a sound … a sound he had never heard before. And he fired another arrow and another and another – all with the same sound. And he knew he had hit the target.

There would be no more random shots. The Buddha had found the understanding he sought. The Buddha is not a god – the Buddha was just a man so determined to understand that he was willing to continue shooting arrows until he hit the target or died trying. He did indeed hit the target … and spent the rest of his life pointing in the direction of the target, convincing others to pick up the bow and then providing feedback.

But you have an advantage over the Buddha. Decent instruction is just about everywhere. You will need a way to get and recognize and embrace honest feedback. And you will need to continue shooting arrows until your strength gives out. Wake up and do it again. You can hit the target – so many before you have, people just like you. But, you will never hit the target if you never shoot. And you will never hit the target if you ever stop shooting.

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to the Midnight Archer and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

In the Zen Aikido Dojo:
Zazen and Mindfulness Meditation

Rinzai Style of Zazen

mindfulness meditationYou’ve probably read or heard about styles of meditation. It seems that the most popular style these days is mindfulness meditation. And you may eventually come to realize that there are actually many forms. And you should know about the form that we practice at here at BHC. We practice traditional zazen (seated Zen meditation). Also, realize that zazen actually comes in a couple of flavors. We practice the Rinzai style. A couple of characteristics of Rinzai zazen are:

  • We meditate seated.
  • While meditating, we always keep our eyes open.
  • We hold our hands in mudra (hands overlapped and held near the navel).
  • We always follow our breath (no counting).
  • While meditating, we always face toward other meditators (as opposed to facing the wall).

Mindfulness Meditation

As we mentioned earlier, mindfulness meditation seems to be the style of the day. It is usually seen as a kind of secular practice. (As a point of fact, there is nothing religious about zazen.) Some characteristics of mindfulness practice are:

  • Meditators can sit or lie down.
  • While practicing mindfulness meditation, practitioners very often close their eyes.
  • Mindfulness does not generally specify hand placement.
  • Meditator focus awareness on different parts of the body, often creating a kind of cycle. For example, the meditator may move awareness from the head, past the abdomen and down to the feet – and back.
  • Mindfulness meditation is generally a solo practice.

So, the obvious question is – “Is there a difference between zazen and mindfulness meditation?”

And the answer is – yes there is a very key difference between the two. And it deals with the fundamental goal of understanding ourselves. Mindfulness meditation makes no effort to come to terms with the workings of the mind or of the notion of a self. There is never any question about this thing that I call ‘me’. On the other hand, Zen’s primary concern is the thorough understanding of the workings of the mind and of the self. And for Zen, it is crucial to eventually come to see that we are actually composed of many notions of a self. And finally, for Zen, not fully appreciating our inherent complexity creates most of the problems in our lives.

A headache makes a good analogy. We can treat the symptoms or we can address the cause. Mindfulness meditation would be the aspirin approach. Meditate twenty minutes every other day to deal with life’s hectic pace. On the other hand, zazen tries to understand the true source of hecticity.

And there are those who are plenty happy with the aspirin approach – and there are those who are not.

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

Musings on the Path of an Unfettered Mind:
Hecticity and Complex Social Navigation

The Nature of Hecticity in Social Groups

HecticityAround seventy thousand years ago, the climate deteriorated so rapidly and so completely that the human race nearly disappeared. In order to survive, humans started to band together in ever-larger groups. (More precisely, natural selection ‘rewarded’ those who exhibited pro-social behavior.)

This created a dilemma for our ancestors – a dilemma that we still live with today. In banding together in these ever-larger social groups, one’s day-to-day survival suddenly depended on the same people who one competed with for resources and mates. How is it that our ancestors could cooperate so completely and still compete so fiercely with the members of their own tribes? (It’s no wonder that the human brain advanced so rapidly during this time.)

Clearly, ‘winner takes all’ modes of competition would not work. Injuries as the result of competition jeopardized the survival of all. (Natural selection would weed out this kind of behavior.) There had to be a better way. And so it was within these complex social groups that status and reputation became an increasingly valuable determiner in the competition for resources and mates … good for the individual, by ultimately also being good for the group. So then, how did our ancestors ultimately gain the status and reputation needed in the competition for resources and mates … all within a cooperative group?

Winning the Status and Reputation Competition

Clearly, having

  • the most experience,
  • the most knowledge and
  • the greatest number of strong alliances (relationships)

would decide who in the tribe would lead and teach and heal and protect and then command the most status … and whose genes would most likely make it into the next generation. But, for everyone living in the same social group and for those of the same lifespan, all three of these status generators would have been just about the same – the same number of experiences, about the same knowledge and the same number of relationships. So, what did natural selection ‘come up with’ in order to be able to successfully stratify social groups? Ultimately, status and reputation would be enhanced for those who could actually …

  • imagine new experiences,
  • generate new knowledge through abstract thought and
  • develop more and stronger alliances through complete engagement.

Increased Brain Function – Yet Another Source of Hecticity

And so we can understand the great advancements in brain functionality associated with living in complex social groups. Natural selection ‘rewarded’ those whose brains could consistently win the status and reputation fight – those who could imagine and think and relate. But as you can guess, while these great new capabilities increased the chances of individual survival and reproduction, there is nothing here that can guarantee a life of lasting happiness.The reality is that our daily lives are some combination of time spent imagining, thinking and relating – the unique balance of which is pretty much determined by factors well beyond our control. And, of course, the exact balance of these modes is yet another potential source of stress in our lives. To see how, let’s isolate each one and see the impacts.

  • Imagination: Too much imagination means that one spends too much time in self-made dreamworlds. These individuals are seen as disconnected from reality.
  • Objectification: Too much thinking means that one spends too much time in the world of abstract mental constructs. These individuals are seen as insensitive.
  • Engagement: Too much engagement means that one completely engages in each moment. These individuals suffer from a lack of both abstracted knowledge and imagined experience. These individuals are seen as unsophisticated.

It seems there is no right answer. Once again natural selection has ‘given’ us tools for survival and reproduction. And yet, these same tools are just as likely to be sources of unhappiness and hecticity.

So, where do we go next? Simple, we observe and recognize and learn and choose, using these same tools – imagination and thought and engagement – to thoroughly understand the complexities of the human condition … using the mind to realize the workings of the mind. And when we truly understand the workings of the mind, we can then choose the path of an unfettered mind – the path of lasting happiness.

Final Thoughts

Finally, it seems appropriate to mention that natural selection is never ‘concerned’ with the survival of anything more than the individual. Natural selection has no sense of a group or a culture or a society or even a species. We don’t have to look much past humans to realize that nature has selected us for individual traits that may eventually prove fatal to our species. Certainly, these traits have proven quite fatal to countless other species. At some point, we must realize that we just need a better understanding of ourselves. And this understanding will provide the opportunity for choice. And it will take conscious choice to see to the survival of our species. (The planet will survive, we may not.) My hope is that we will all one day see that the martial art of Aikido is indeed one of those choices.

More Musings

The Musings represent a series of blogs. You can access the previous one here. They are also a regular part of the Midnight Archer – a weekly newsletter (free). You can subscribe to that here.

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here. And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

Both noon and evening sessions will be held at:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque
293-5836

In The Zen Aikido Dojo:
The First of Aikido’s Three Pillars – Footwork

Last week we covered the notion of ‘pillars’ in many martial arts. In Aikido, our three pillars are:

  1. Footwork
  2. Balance
  3. Timing

Footwork

footworkThis week, we want to look at footwork. The basic Japanese term is ashi sabaki – with a host of more specific terms usually taken from traditional swordsmanship – ayumi ashi, okuri ashi, hiraki ashi, tsugi ashi, etc. The actual names are not that important – it’s more that the tradition of the sword valued footwork so highly as to define it so rigorously. And another anecdote … as I understand it, the boxer Muhammad Ali’s last words to his grandson were something to the effect: “Practice your footwork!”

Like so many martial arts, footwork in Aikido is so, so important … and, at the same time, it is so, so unimportant. The difference is a matter of where you are in your training. Proper footwork is vital when you are first learning this great art. But it must ultimately be completely forgotten. The founder of Aikido had a saying – “Learn and forget”. Think of the mastery of footwork in Aikido as like hiking and carrying a canoe that you will need to cross a river. Once you have reached and crossed the river, you have no more need of the canoe. You simply put it down and move on. (And, of course, there will be many who will become attached to the canoe and will be unable to ever put it down – they will not forget! It’s the same with footwork.)

But first, realize that footwork is simply a matter of

  • placement and
  • movement.

Foot Placement

In a short while of Aikido practice, you will realize that mastery is truly about the little things. And one of the little things is the reason behind our starting stance – hanmi.  When anticipating an attack, our weight is equally distributed over both feet – one forward and one back, both turned out about forty-five degrees. And when you stand in hanmi and lift either foot, you will naturally ‘fall’ forward on an angle. This is so, so important. In Aikido, nearly every technique requires you to quickly get off the line of the attack, and as you can see, proper foot placement automatically gets you moving in these safe directions.

Likewise with finishing stances. Proper foot placement allows you to effectively extend your balance well into your partner’s space – taking their balance while keeping your own balance (and energy). You should recall that proper finishing foot.placement is the body’s natural brake – allowing you to extend your balance further and further forward without ever reaching some dreaded point of no return – the point where your strength gives out and you lose your balance.

Foot Movement

footwork

Second, we have foot movement. Let’s face it, there are only a handful of things you can do with your feet. And you must get very comfortable hearing and recognizing these following terms … and being able to mix and match sequences of the actual movements. For Aikido, there are six basic foot movements:

  • sliding,
  • stepping
  • opening,
  • pivoting,
  • back pivoting (tenkan), and
  • two-step turning.

We don’t spend much class time with the first three movements, but you will, once you start working with weapons. But in every class, without fail, we practice the last three as part of our fundamental skills development. These footwork skills are all so very important! (And at the same time, of course, unimportant.) I can’t urge you enough to practice them at home, at odd moments – like waiting for the microwave. When I was first learning Aikido, and when I had enough TV and when my daughter was in bed, I would go in the back yard and play with footwork. You can too.