Saturday, 23 March 2013

Live music and 'the soul at peace' - Sunday 24 March 2013

Only one month away from our 3rd seminar with Orban Sensei we are increasingly looking forward to the ideas, exercises, inspiration and challenges that Sensei will bring to us very soon. Quite a few people have already registered, so it is promising to be a well-attended seminar already. Still space for a few more though to fill the 120m2 mat that we have, so get in if you haven’t confirmed your place yet!

And if you need even more incentives on top of all that, we have some really cool news as well that we wanted to share with you at this stage: Whether you have registered or not, on the Saturday after training we will have a little BBQ on the upstairs deck of the Dojo and we will have a
Surprise Live-Act
playing music just for us!!!!

Won’t say more now, but the band is a great local Kiwi-trio that will surely get us moving even off the mat and it is pretty special to have them playing just for us! You can probably tell by yourselves now already, but this is bound to be an awesome event: good friends, hard work, great food AND great music – did we forget anything to make this perfect? Doesn’t seem like it..

Lastly, in preparation for the training and to put our minds in the right space, here is the interview that some of us did with Orban Sensei last time that he was here. Extremely worthwile read, so thought we’d republish it here on the new webpage:

Jikishin Dojo: Hello Philippe, it is great to see you back here in New Zealand and have you teach a seminar and summer-camp in our Dojos. Our idea was to take a slightly different approach to doing an interview and decided to collate questions from all of us as interested students that we would like to ask you. While some of our question are probably pretty usual in this context, some of these questions might be a bit more personal than the ‘standard’ Aikido questions, so we hope you don’t mind, but a number of us are really interested how you for yourself think of Aikido.

Mark Allen: We know that you have trained extensively with Christian Tissier Shihan, but could you tell us who else has influenced your aikido practice both in the past and particularly now? Can you explain what it is that interests you about these other practitioners assuming there are any?

Philippe Orban: Yes, so, as you know already, for me the teacher from which I benefit most recently is Inaba Sensei, Meiyo Shihan from the Meiji Jingu Shiseikan Budojo in Tokyo, because he does not just talk about the technique, but also offers many exercises and talks about key points to help us breathe better and also integrate the aspect of training that calms us down. The big difference between what I used to do and what I do now is, that we have always trained in tension before and in the Shiseikan the opposite is the case, that is, we train in relaxation. And I find that this aspect of training is the best way by which we can join the elements of health, self-development and spirituality and technique.

MA: Kashima Shinryu Kenjutsu training has started to have an effect on the way I practice Aikido, although I have a very long way to go before I would care to verbalize just what is going on there. Can you give us your thoughts as to why Kashima-no-Tachi seems to have a positive effect on Aikido practice?    

PO: Well, in Kashima there are various aspects that we still train in traditional Japanese Budo that we do not train anymore in modern Aikido. For me, this is the opportunity to approximate the training of Morihei Ueshiba. I have the feeling that what we learn at the Shiseikan is still a part of Aikido that is normally not so much present anymore in todays Aikido and strangely enough it feels to me as though this brings me closer to O Sensei Ueshiba’s original kind of practice. This Ki-training, Ki-power and breathing, all of these aspects that we don’t really talk about anymore in Aikido is still very present and focussed in Kashima practice. Before I have trained Kashima simply because I liked it, I always enjoyed doing sword-practice. But now it is really to continue developing and evolving in Aikido and more generally in Budo, Japanese Budo.

Filip Maric: I would like to follow-up on that Philippe, and ask what Aikido and Kenjutsu and in extension ‘Budo’ is to you, not historically, but personally?

PO: For me Budo is another Way of spirituality, outside of the grand religions that we know, and Budo for me is a possibility for spiritual development without being constrained by dogmas, concepts, etc... And, Budo is also a very complete experience of the body and mind and spirituality, and that is also very important to me.

FM: In an interview you once gave before (link to Guillaume Erard webpage) you said that Aikido is ‘the path of the free man’. Could you explain a little bit more what this means to you, to be a free man or woman and how we can get there through the practice of Aikido?

PO: Well, for me to be free does not mean that we have no more constraints, after all that is why the way of Budo is also very strenuous, consequential and in a way, strict. But through this discipline we can reach a freedom and this freedom is not a world without constraints, but where a different level of awareness and understanding of the world and our selves can give us a kind of freedom. This concept of freedom is also a concept of a spiritual freedom where we can have a greater awareness of ‘globality’, the bigger picture…

FM: Building on this, in what way do you think can we develop personal qualities in Aikido that have relevance in our lives off the mat?

PO: I think that comes from what I have just been explaining. I believe that the qualities that come directly from the technique have very little influence and benefit in our daily lives off the mats. That’s why I think that if we just stay on that level, people will develop very little. And I also think that that is why so many people are disappointed, for example when they see how many conflicts there are between people who have been practicing Aikido for a very long time and they have the feeling that somehow nothing is moving. And I think that this spiritual development is really where we can have a different kind of development with ourselves and also with other people. If we don’t strive for the spiritual, the quality does not develop.

Petra van Limburg: And conversely, but of just as much interest, what do you think are some of your own key qualities and how do these manifest in your Aikido?

PO: Well if we are talking about qualities of the technique, I would say that for me in Aikido it is important that people have a sense of enjoyment in their practice. It is important that I give something positive to the people, like ‘I feel well’, I manage to help people and support them develop themselves. So, that for me is a humanistic quality that I can compare with say, doctors, or other helping professions.

FM: Thanks. But, what is the place of fun or enjoyment in all this? Because, the type of development that you are alluding to, is maybe not always fun and sometimes, like you have said, this path can also be quite difficult.

PO: No no, that’s why that was not really the right word. It is a feeling of ‘happiness’ or better ‘fulfillment’. It is true, for me Budo is something very serious, because I think we are responsible when we teach and I have always been very critical with my self and others. I think that too many people just teach Aikido as a hobby and I think that that is too superficial and can at times even be dangerous.

FM: Philippe, knowing how much heart and effort you have put into the practice of Aikido & Kenjutsu and ultimately into your research into Budo, what made you embark on this path over 30 years ago, what has kept you going over all those years with such passion and intensity and what keeps you going until today?

PO: Ah, I think that in the beginning it was much like for many others. It was never really for fighting, because I think that is exactly the opposite, I have always been afraid of my own [inherent] violence. For me, I have learned martial arts to control my self and this violence. I have the feeling to know that humans can be incredibly savage and me too. I mean really brutal. And for me, this violence in us needs to be controlled or balanced with our better sides, so that was kind of my motivation. And also to build confidence. Also, Aikido was always very aesthetic and this beauty also had an influence on me to choose Aikido and not another Budo.
Then, little by little, the idea arose to live off Aikido, to become a professional and that has in a way also covered that motivation as I realized that I would have to train much more to do that.
And then, you know that I have been quite sick, now my motivation, through this experience of illness 7 or 8 years ago, is to help people to a holistic kind of health. So that has become very strong in a way that I don’t teach Aikido and Kenjutsu from a martial art perspective, but also from a broader ‘health’ and ‘spirituality’ perspective so that it helps us with our lives.

PvL: You might have touched on this before Philippe, but can you give an example of a turning point for you in your aikido?

PO: Well, I think those were the points, the illness, the right moment to meet someone else like Inaba Sensei who suggested a change in direction. I think that I was exactly ready to understand his instruction. If I had met him 10 years earlier I definitely wouldn’t have been able to take that onboard.

FM: There is this question, or number of question that I still quite haven’t been able to answer for myself, and although I have asked you this before, what is the importance of Kata practice in Aikido & Kenjutsu? And in this framework how do we attain freedom in Aikido? Is that a freedom of form or a freedom in form?

PO: So, I think the Kata in Aikido and Kenjutsu are very formal, but the difference between Aikido and Kashima is that the Kata in Kashima, as I can understand it now, are very precise. The system is very precise and very complete. And, the series or progression of the Kata through the different series is extremely intelligent. It is quite simply ingeniously developed. Before, when I have trained Kashima Shinryu there was really no substance. It was just training and training, just like that.. no explanation, no strategy. But actually the system is very intelligent and well developed. And the Kata is actually a ‘mise-en-situation’, we are in a special situation of fighting and the martial art and it is important that we don’t just learn the technique, but also beyond this, so the breathing, and the unity of body and mind in the ‘Seikai Tanden’ [our centre point, slightly below our bellybutton]. And this aspect of Budo always has to be present in the practice of Kata. Otherwise the Kata is just a technique in a formal situation and I don’t think that you can reach freedom with it like that.
And in regards to the ‘freedom of form or freedom in form’, I think that is both at the same time. Sure, freedom is an individual interpretation of the form that suits you better. But, if the principles are always the same, I believe there is also a ‘relativity’ to this interpretation and the principles that we all need to understand. So even though there are universal principles, there is also an individuality, because we are all different. It is that paradox of unity and separation I think, of sameness and difference, yes…
MA: On a slightly lighter note, how many students currently train at your new dojo? And, do you run beginner classes or do you prefer to absorb new students into the general classes?

PO: So at the moment I have about 100 members in my Dojo in Leipzig,, around 60 adults and 40 children. For training, like I just told you it is very important to me that the central things in Budo are a part of the training from the very beginning, so with beginners. So, generally I run the beginners classes because I think that is most important and I am still enjoying it.

FM: I do know some of this from training with you over the years, but what kinds of things do you train in such a beginner’s class?

PO: Well, not so much before, but now I focus on breathing exercises, to help connect the body and mind, different kinds of stretching, or Aiki-Taiso exercises that prepare the body very well for Aikido. I really think these exercises are very important. Also, some basic techniques of Ikkyo and Kokyu nage that I teach regularly, because in these Katas, we practice intensely but very simply these aspects of breathing and unification of the body and mind. I think there is a couple of techniques, or forms that fit especially well for this, and which beginners can train right away. And, beginners can join the other group from the moment that they can roll, so as an aspect of safety, other than that there are no restrictions.

FM: So this sounds much like in the Kihon Dachi of Kashima in which all the principles are already to be found..

PO: Exactly, and we will also practice these forms of ikkyo and (ushiro ryote dori) kokyu nage during the seminar so you can try for yourselves.             

FM: So drawing on all of which you have said before, what advice can you give to us students and teachers, beginners and advanced, in regards to the practice in our Dojos? What should we strive towards or pay particular attention to?

PO: I think that it is normal that we all have different motivations, but it is very important that from very early on, we all try to know what kind of goal we have in Budo. If we have this goal or light in front of us very clearly, so how can we get to this goal, it means that we need to have a Sensei who for me fits this direction. Then, the training that goes with this and secondly, it is also very important not to confuse the means with the goals. So, that people clearly differentiate between the goal and the means to get to it, like for example the technique. It is very important not to have the technique as the goal because, I believe, it will quickly become a dead end.

FM: Hmm.. I sometimes make the experience that I am fighting exactly with this aspect of motivation. When I started Aikido, I have initially read about Aikido and Zen and it was the philosophical and spiritual ideas of Budo that drew me to the practice. But sometimes I feel that that is difficult as so many people are interested in the fighting or sport aspect of the martial arts. I mean, I do see the ‘Bu’ part as crucial, but I definitely don’t see it as a sport. And like you said, it is also not because of the fighting. And then I ask myself, and I think I’m actually looking for your advice or opinion here: Sometimes I have the feeling that to attract people to Aikido I have to make compromises, but I actually don’t want to. I don’t want to offer fighting-tricks, or sport, because that is just not my primary interest, but it is actually the Budo component. Now, my impression of you was always that you have not made many compromises in regards to that and that due to that you have also gone through considerable difficulties at times. Not sure if my perception is possibly wrong, but what is your experience with this?

PO: Yes, I think that it is possible to make a lot of compromises for other people, but you cannot make compromises for yourself. I mean, if for example I offer an Aikido a la carte, or I try to make everyone happy catering to all kinds of motivations that have nothing to do anymore with Budo and present Aikido as self-defense, or sport or something like that, I don’t think that is good. It is not good for me, and it is also not good for the others because anyhow they will be disappointed in the end. The most important thing is to be authentic. If you are not authentic, you are wasting your time and the time of your students. And our time in life, like Inaba Sensei always points out, is very short and we must not waste it. And especially other people’s time. So, compromises for the sake of our developments, ok, but compromises for commercial reasons or ego reasons make no sense.

FM: To end with, do you have a future vision for your own Aikido and/or Aikido in general?

PO: Well, I would like to see that if we follow the path of Budo, if the path is right, we can stay healthy. Also that through this path we can develop spiritually, meaning that we can live in peace. And, we have talked about relaxation before, but after that comes letting-go and that is yet another level… to really manage to let go. And I think that is an important point to reach that. Letting go is not being preoccupied with the past, or other things that clutter our mind. To be at peace we have to be at peace in our mind and our soul. That is actually… well, I can’t really talk about a goal there, but that would be my wish. Yes, the soul at peace…

Jikishin Dojo: Thank you so much Philippe, I have nothing to add to that and would just like to let it sink in for a while. Domo arigato…

And if you still can’t get enough, here’s a video of Orban Sensei teaching Kashima-no-Tachi, and a video of him teaching Aikido, both on his last visit here in 2012.

See you in a month then!
Peace out,
The Jikishin Crew