Koichi Tohei was a student of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. In his own teaching, Tohei developed four principles to help guide his students:
1) Keep one point;
2) Relax completely;
3) Keep weight underside;
4) Extend Ki. (1)
I’d like to comment on his four principles, and on some of the
points he offered in connection with his principles. Let me be
clear that although I’ve taken a few Aikido classes, and even had the pleasure to be thrown by Tohei himself on one occasion, I’ll be commenting on the basis of my experience on the meditation cushion rather than on the basis of my experience with Aikido.
Gautama the Buddha described concentration by saying, “making self surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of concentration, one lays hold of one-pointedness of mind.” For
me, one-pointedness of mind is the feeling of a singular place associated with awareness, informed by the parts of the body (with no part left out), and by the sense of gravity. The eyes also have a strong influence on the location of awareness, yet when that influence is distinguished, the location of awareness may shift and move.
With regard to “keep one point”, Tohei warned his students explicitly not to feel the lower abdomen, nor the weight of the body on the feet, nor the breath. The one-pointedness of
mind I’m familiar with comes forward in a relaxed body as the natural precariousness of posture becomes evident.
Many of the Buddhist sacred texts composed after the Pali Canon focus on the “mind” (a better translation might be “heart-mind”), with no mention of the breath or the body. The Diamond Sutra, for example, has the following instruction:
Let the mind be present without an abode. (2)
The emphasis here is on the feeling of place associated with awareness (“let the mind be present”), a feeling of place that can shift and move (“without an abode”).
My guess is that Tohei’s admonitions are to insure that students are focused on the senses that coordinate to provide the feeling of place in awareness, and nothing else.
Given a relaxation that permits one-pointedness of mind, complete relaxation allows for a sense of gravity in connection with that one-pointedness, as Cheng Man-Ching outlined:
The one word, ‘relax’, is the most difficult to achieve. All the rest follows naturally. When we are able to relax completely, this is sinking. (3)
I believe Tohei’s “keep one point” and “relax completely” set up “weight underside”, or “sinking”.
Tohei cautions his students not to feel the weight of the body in their application of “weight underside”. His caution is intended to encourage an experience of the sense of gravity rather than of the object of the sense, a “sinking” wherever awareness takes place rather than an actual weight.
In discussing “weight underside”, Tohei advises his students to “let the Ki expand to its maximum”. I believe the sensation here is much like that Gautama ascribed to the second meditative state:
… imagine a pool with a spring, but no water-inlet on the east side or the west side or on the north or on the south, and suppose the (rain-) deva supply not proper rains from time to time–cool waters would still well up from that pool, and that pool would be steeped, drenched, filled and suffused with the cold water so that not a drop but would be pervaded by the cold water; in just the same way… (one) steeps (their) body with zest and ease… (4)
To me, such is the feeling of “let the Ki expand to its maximum”.
Again, Tohei cautions his students not to feel the body, even as he advises them to “feel the centrifugal force” and “keep the calmest possible position”.
A couple of weeks ago, I dreamt that I was practicing judo with Kobun (Kobun Chino Otogawa). I went in for a left-handed throw, and Kobun blocked the throw by turning his right hip into me. I was taught to do this kind of a block myself by my first judo teacher, Moon Watanabe.
The centrifugal force at the place of awareness can find an equal and opposite response from everything that surrounds the place of awareness. That response feels a lot like blocking a judo throw, and between the centrifugal force and the block, stretch is generated.
What I feel reminds me of Gautama’s analogy for the first meditative state:
… as a handy bathman or attendant might strew bath-powder in some copper basin and, gradually sprinkling water, knead it together so that the bath-ball gathered up the moisture, became enveloped in moisture and saturated both in and out, but did
not ooze moisture; even so (one) steeps, drenches, fills and suffuses this body with zest and ease, born of solitude, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this lone-born zest and ease. (4)
If I were kneading soap powder into a ball in a copper vessel, I would have one hand kneading soap and one hand on the vessel. The press of the hand kneading soap would find something of an opposite pressure from the hand holding the vessel, even if the bottom of the vessel were resting on the ground. That’s what I feel when the centrifugal force at the place of awareness finds a response from everything that surrounds the place of awareness.
By advising his students not to feel the body, Tohei is again emphasizing the exercise of the senses that coordinate to provide the feeling of location in awareness, rather than any specific location in the body.
As I sit with Tohei’s emphasis on centrifugal force, I realize that for me the exercise becomes in part the distinction of the direction of turn that I’m feeling at the location of awareness, and that distinction allows the appropriate counter from everything that surrounds the place of awareness.
As a baseball pitcher extends his target through the catcher’s mitt, or a karate practitioner extends his target through the board or brick that he or she is about to break, the balance
of centrifugal force and counterforce can depend on the inclusion of what lies beyond the senses in the stretch.
Tohei’s four points begin with the singular feeling of place associated with awareness, as something distinct from the breath, something connected with the sense of gravity but not
specifically at the soles of the feet, and something distinct from feeling in the lower abdomen.
He continues with complete relaxation, and as I have described in previous posts, the ease associated with complete relaxation lends depth to the feeling of place associated with awareness.
Cheng Man-ching equated complete relaxation with “sinking”, and I believe the experience of “sinking” as awareness takes place is the equivalent of the third of Tohei’s principles, “weight underside”.
The calm in “keep the calmest possible position”, as Tohei advises in connection with his fourth principle, allows a detachment in the location of awareness. When the location of
awareness is free to shift and move, the centrifugal force around any axis in the place of awareness can find a counterforce along the same axis.
Tohei instructs his students to “be free and clear” in the extension of ki.
Ueshiba said in an interview:
… the spirit of aikido can only be love and harmony. Aikido was born in accordance with the principles and workings of the Universe. (5)
If the mind of friendliness, of compassion, of sympathetic joy, or of equanimity is extended throughout the four quarters of the world, above and below, then the centrifugal force at the location of awareness and the counterforce can involve things that lie beyond the boundaries of the senses, and change in the balance of force and counterforce can initiate change in the carriage of the body without conscious volition.
2) Translation Venerable Master Hsing Yun, from “The Rabbit’s Horn: A Commentary on the Platform Sutra”, Buddha’s Light Publishing pg. 60
3) “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ching trans. Douglas Wile,
4) AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19