Mindfulness and aikido in Ōsensei's writings

This is my attempt at translating excerpts from 合気神髄 Aiki Shinzui (The Essence of Aiki) by the founder of aikidō Ueshiba Morihei. As far as I know, the whole book has not been translated yet. Some excerpts of Aiki Shinzui have been translated to English by Nishina Daniel in the bilingual book Vibration and Connection by Endō Seishirō shihan. You may also know The Secret Teachings of Aikido, translated by John Stevens, which is heavily abridged and edited version of Aiki Shinzui1.

If you move your mouse cursor over words with a dashed underline (or touch them on a mobile device), the original Japanese term should display (sometimes with a short comment), e.g. bu, ai, or mindfulness. Enjoy!

Unification of mind and body through “the sublime use of ki

“The sublime use of ki” is the vital progenitor of the subtle change of breathing. This is the origin of bu (ai). If we perform aikidō with mind and body unified by “the sublime use of ki”, we gain a subtle change of breathing, and the techniques happen in a truly free2 way. This change of breathing causes kimusubi, ikumusubi and also omusubi with the universe.3

Also, as the subtle change of breathing deeply penetrates and permeates the five limbs, it can make the function of the five limbs more lively, showing how the divine transformation into infinite variety works. This is different from the change.

[pp. 85–86, beginning of a chapter]

Correct mindfulness4 connects the ki with the universe

The five limbs are the inert soul and body5 of the creator of the universe, they absorb the miraculous spirit, become one with the universe, and guide the correct path of the human life.

Also, a human has to accept the principle of the great way of creation of the universe, protect and purify this world. This means that it is necessary to devote oneself to first training one’s inner mind, then honing the faculties of one’s mindfulness, and striving to unify one’s mind and body.

As we progress in the unification of mind and body, it becomes the foundation for development of our actions; through our mindfulness, our actions develop boundlessly.

It is necessary to merge the actions with the truth of the universe. To this end we have to remind ourselves of correct mindfulness. It is then necessary to practice correct budō with this mindfulness.

There is no progress or improvement in the practice of budō, as long as the consciousness of oneself is connected to self-interest. That would be a budō gone astray, and in the end, by thinking of oneself, would be bound to bring misfortune.

Mindfulness shall not be captured by the apparent forms of victories and defeats, it must correctly make a kimusubi with the universe. If consciousness is limited to the five limbs, one does not transform6. First comes connection, then creation.

This way, mindfulness surely develops into a divine power and each and every thing becomes clear.

Moreover, when we make a kimusubi of mindfulness from the five limbs to the universe, the five limbs and the universe become one, and we can indeed stand in the center of the universe, which transcends life and death. This is the secret of budō.

Also, our consciousness must not fight with the universe. The reason is that ki would break that way. It is unthinkable that the mindfulness of the five limbs would be cut off from the universe. If one develops a consciousness that fights with the universe, he surely brings himself to ruin. Polishing the mindfulness means not being conscious of oneself, and merging with the universe.

Furthermore, when connected to “the sublime use of ki”, the left side of the five limbs becomes the basis of bu, and the right side becomes the foundation, which embodies the kimusubi accepting the universe. If we realize this kimusubi of left and right, only then can we act in a truly free way.

When we make the whole left side the root of the foundation of bu, and enter the state of mind free from compulsions, we gain miraculous lightness of body. Guided by the left side, the right side can produce the main force. Also, when the left side acts as a guard, the right side is the foundation for doing a technique. Such are the laws of nature. It is necessary to take these principles into your hara, and do what the situation calls for, moving free from compulsions.

The whole left side can bring forth an infinite amount of ki. The right side has the role of accepting kimusubi, so it can control all of the ki. Therefore when the fluttering of the soul7 arises, one can command life and death with the left hand, and bring to a halt with the right hand.8 This is divine action.

[pp. 104–106, whole chapter]

Please, give me feedback!

I am studying Ōsensei’s writings as a part of my own shugyō. Based on reader’s feedback I may publish more excerpts. As the work is under copyright I of course cannot publish larger portions than this.

I will be grateful for any comments! Please let me know too, if I use ungrammatical constructions, clumsy wording etc. I am not a native English speaker, so pointing out mistakes or weak points in my writing will help me lot! If a choice of words seems curious to you, it might be because the original words were peculiar, but it’s worth telling me nonetheless!

  1. As I do not know what text Stevens worked with, I do not want to imply anything about his work. Stevens, the Ueshiba family, and the publisher may all have contributed to the result. If you want to compare my translation to the text of The Secret Teachings of Aikido, here is the first paragraph of the first chapter on this page as it appears in the book. Note for instance how the last sentence has been simplified. This is actually one of the less edited parts.

  2. 自由自在 jiyūjizai, a phrase originating in Zen Buddhism, which means free from compulsions (i.e. free from defilements of mind; enlightened). In modern Japanese, 自由 jiyū has been equated with the Western concept of freedom, and jiyūjizai (or just jizai) has come to mean “perfect command, doing as one pleases”. Needless to say, the original, deeper meaning is in a way the exact opposite of “doing as one pleases”. I try to convey this meaning with the words “truly free”.

  3. 気結び kimusubi, 生く産び ikumusubi and then 緒結び omusubi are in short: “ki connection”, “life-giving connection”, and then “thread connection”. All three are connections with the universe. In more details: 気結び kimusubi, ki connection: The ki can be understood both as one of the objects, and the medium of the connection. Musubu means to tie, to connect, and at the same time musu in classical Japanese means “to beget”, this wordplay is used in the next term. 生く産び ikumusubi, life giving (connection): musubi is spelled with a character that means “to produce”. 緒結び omusubi:o is a thread or a string, musubi uses standard spelling, thus “tying a thread”, this “thread” for Ōsensei is what connects as with all beings (and gods) of the universe, and it is closely linked to breathing (緒 o, a thread, may be used as a poetic metaphor for life in Japanese).

  4. 正しい念 tadashii nen, correct consciousness/mindfulness, hints to 正念 , a sino-japanese Buddhist term equivalent to the Pali term sammā-sati. The Japanese word 念 nen can be understood very broadly as “mind”. I translate it as “consciousness”, when used in a broader sense, and as “mindfulness”, when “correct consciousness/mindfulness” is implied.

  5. 凝体身魂 (gyōtaishinkon), first part 凝体 means “inert, still, frozen”, 身魂 means “body and spirit”. I am not certain where this term comes from. Cf. Zen Buddhism (“stillness in action”, “this body is Buddha”).

  6. 転生 tensei/tenshō, literally “be reborn”, originally in the Buddhist sense, but here it obviously does not mean rebirth in samsara.

  7. 魂の比礼振り (ひれふり) kon/tamashii no hirefuri seems to be one of the important terms, or perhaps metaphors. Taken literally hirefuri means simply flutter or waving, literally “cloth-waving”. But what might a “soul fluttering like a cloth” be? I think there is a good reason Ōsensei used figurative speech often, and I would do his ideas a disservice trying to explain such terms using either my limited understanding or repeating explanations that have been put forward by others.

  8. As contradictory as it may seem, the functions assigned to the two sides are as follows: bu, and kimusubi accepting the universe; guiding, and producing the main power; guard, and technique; bringing forth an infinite amount of ki, and controlling all of the ki; commanding life and death, and bringing to a halt (assigned in this order to the left side, and to the right side, respectively).