Contributed by Rafa Mithuna (Ralph Pfleger)
Arizona Aikido, Katsujinken Dojo, Prescott, AZ
This is an extraordinary time to be alive, and an extraordinary time to be training in Aikido. The context for this statement is as follows:
In the late 1980's I had the good fortune to meet a Chinese martial arts teacher from Denver by the name of Bing Lee. He was visiting a friend of mine in Phoenix who had asked me to watch a private demonstration of Chinese forms in a small parking lot downtown. After an impressive demonstration, Bing asked me about my training in Aikido. He was interested in the practices of "unbendable arm", "unliftable/immovable body" and demonstrations of "Ki". We exchanged our versions of this body skill and then he asked if I could do this. He had me hold a telephone book on my chest, and placing his fist on the book, bounced me off the wall six feet behind. I felt like I had been kicked by a horse! Could I do that? NO! I had no clue. I had the good fortune to learn some of his internal practices in the following years for which I extend to him my deepest gratitude.
At this time (early 1990's) I was thinking that further advancement in my Aikido practice was limited to better precision and timing. The idea that there was an "internal" that could be learned in a rational step by step manner was revolutionary! After all, how did O Sensei perform those extraordinary feats? I couldn't wait to ask Ikeda Sensei, who was teaching at our Fall Seminar. "Well Sensei, you know the high level Chinese martial arts are supposed to have a way to learn the source of a remarkable power. Do you think O Sensei learned something about them during his stay in China that would explain his ability?" Sensei said, "Just practice.", end of discussion.
Now here was a man who was expressing his Aikido at a really high level; in fact I would have compared grabbing him to wrapping my fingers around a fast moving train. But by then I had trained for a few years in the chi kung that Bing Lee was teaching and I was starting to see what Sensei was doing. So I just continued to practice. But this isn't about me. Over the years, Saotome Sensei and Ikeda Sensei have become increasingly willing to talk about the internal and if your eyes and ears are not wide open...
Back to the Fall Bridge Seminar of 2008. Just what is it that distinguishes these high level teachers: Ikeda Sensei, Sakaibara Sensei, Veneziano Sensei, Judith Robinson Sensei and Glen Brooks Sensei? (I leave their training histories to others) The remarkable degree to which they all have internalized their practice, can express it to others and display it so it can be seen generates such excitement and appreciation. When we re-gather what could be considered diverging traditions in one place this way we have a unique opportunity to see that the heart of these traditions is all one and has never been split. The core of the practice of Aikido has been and continues to be how we move the internal. Technique is a reflection of what and how we move on the inside. The actual field of battle if you will is inside ourselves.
So what I saw in those remarkable teachers is what I saw. Those of you who were lucky to be there saw whatever you saw. The value was in the cross reference; the clarity with which each unique practitioner explained their own perspective. What a remarkable opportunity for us to reconcile our preferences about technique and training.
I'll leave you with one final explanation given to me years ago when I asked Bing Lee if I could use these internal practices in my own Aikido training; He said, "The body of the car may differ but the engines are all the same."
You just have to learn where to look.