Basic Principles

Sometimes, it amazes me just how well-thought out Kokikai Aikido is. One could, I suppose, argue whether Sensei Maruyama is a genius–certainly most of us in Kokikai Aikido think so. But even the staunchest critic would have to admit that the art form, unlike anything else I have yet to encounter, is extremely well-articulated and comprehensive.

I re-discovered this truth while on the bus this morning. I have, as of late, had something of a crisis of confidence. I have built up in my head that being an Aikido instructor, a Sensei, required charisma, a sharp wit, a great sense of humor, and an inherent ability to inspire. And yet, my efforts to exemplify these traits seem to consistently backfire. This culminated in a recent trip to the Seattle dojo. I felt as if my attempts to provide something meaningful were feeble at best; that my every movement reeked of trying to hard.

As I sat on the bus this morning, I had the opportunity to sit where a window faced me. As it was dark, I was faced with my own reflection for the length of the drive to Downtown Seattle. I sat, staring at myself, the classic Zen Koan “How do you defeat the man in the mirror” echoing in my brain. I stared, feeling defeated, trying to figure out how I could even articulate this problem. And then I realized: the problem I have can be attributed to the absence of one of our four basic principles: Positive Mind.

Positive mind is an interesting principle. It is, to me, the one I ignore the most, because it is the most difficult to put into words. Sensei Bannister has always said that it is hard to say what positive mind is, but it is very easy to say what positive mind is not. I think that I understand that better now. The absence of positive mind is different for everyone. For me, however, the lack of positive mind is illustrated by being overly critical of my efforts. I hold myself to a standard that I, nor anyone else–could ever hope to meet. If I am to improve my training, I think I could best start by focusing on developing my positive mind. Criticize myself less, and enjoy my practice more. It seems odd, but I think in my case the solution to my problem is to first stop treating it like a problem. The analogy I’m thinking of is working out. Working out is good for you. It makes you feel better and makes your body stronger. Not working out, in most cases, is not a “problem,” it is just… not working out. So it is with developing my postive mind. Doing so is good for me. It makes me feel better and makes my mind stronger. Not developing my positive mind (or reducing my negative mind) is not a “problem.” It is just… not developing my positive mind.

So, going back to why I am amazed at Kokikai. I have been thinking on this issue, having it hover in the back of my mind, for months now. And, when I finally thought it through, the answer was right in the basic principles we see every time we step onto the mat. Thank you, Sensei Maruyama, for articulating these tools. And thank you, Sensei Bannister, for pointing them out to me.

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