About Both Hands Clapping Aikido – Aikido and Zen Combined

Both Hands Clapping Jim RedelMy name is Jim Redel. I am the founder and chief instructor here at Both Hands Clapping Aikido. I want to tell you a little about me and a little about us. By profession, I am an electrical engineer, now retired after 30 years at Sandia Labs. I am a husband, father. I have been studying both Zen (under the late Joshu Sasaki Roshi) and Aikido (under Shizuo Imaizumi and Wade Ishimoto) since the late 80’s. This unique combination of engineering practicality, Zen training, original source Aikido instruction (Imaizumi studied briefly with the found of Aikido) and real-world application (Ishimoto was a charter member of the US Army Delta Force) all come together for you in our Both Hands Clapping Aikido and Zen classes.

Both Hands Clapping Aikido – An Independent Aikido School

Both Hands Clapping is now an independent Aikido school. It was formed in 2006, after I parted ways with Imaizumi’s Shin-Budo Kai organization. (For nearly a dozen years, I helped guide Albuquerque Shin-Budo Kai Aikido through some crazy times. But I had had my fill of craziness. … BTW, Albuquerque Shin-Budo Kai continues to exist today – a testament to the structure our team assembled over those years.) The Both Hands Clapping curriculum brings together Zen practice and Aikido training into each class. After an hour of traditional Aikido training, we will then typically sit zazen (seated Zen meditation) for another twenty minutes. After studying and practicing both Zen and Aikido for these nearly 30 years, with over 20 combined years  experience as a chief instructor, I believe the absolute mastery of Aikido requires both.

The Fact of the Matter

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, And at the highest level, to only use the attackers’ energy. To defend oneself without having to cause undue harm. And to be able to scale a response from dealing with an obnoxious drunk to a life and death situation – it is genius, pure genius.

Both Hands Clapping Zen GardenNow, to be able to defend at this level, an Aikidoist must be completely in sync with the attack. And that can only happen when the defender is able to silence his/her inner dialog. Or, as a Zen master might say – “to manifest zero”.

In the context of a self-defense situation, it is helpful to think of the ‘manifestation of zero’ simply as ‘zero thought, and so ‘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 absolute zero. (Any traditional Aikido student who tells you that he/she doesn’t think while doing Aikido doesn’t fully appreciate the true nature of thinking.) You may ask, isn’t it good enough to just make the time between attack and response pretty small? The short answer is ‘no’. And the reason that the short answer is ‘no’ is because the time between attack and response is never consistently small. Depending on the state of mind of the defender, it may be sometimes very small and sometimes very big. But zero is always zero!

Introducing Both Hands Clapping Zen Practice

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 Zen and martial arts 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.) This is not just for a select few. It is available to everyone. But it is not easy.

Zen practice can be occasionally disorienting. Questioning what you now take for granted will naturally upset things a little. There will surely be plenty of obstacles. (The mind is designed to maintain certainty and resist change.) This is a path of persistence. This is chasing every thought and question until it runs out of gas. 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.)

The Both Hands Clapping Promise

Both Hands Clapping Path up the MountainIf 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. This connection 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 Both Hands Clapping Aikido, I am happy to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or email me. Peace.

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