Friday, September 17, 2010

Marubashi and The Spirit of Ikkyo

In my first post, I brought up my issues with getting to class. I'd either give up before I'd even started or just stopped in my car and sat in the parking lot. While I'm confident that this is no longer a problem, it is still an issue as I discovered the last two mornings I had class.

Getting up isn't an issue anymore. I may be tired, but I'm committed to my sitting practice. However, I'd get about halfway to school and that familiar feeling would come crawling up from deep inside.

I don't think that "fear" is the right word, but I can't really think of how to put it. The devil that sits on my shoulder has gotten smaller and quieter, but it's still telling me to go back home and go to sleep or just do anything but suffer through a loss of freedom for seven hours. That fear of losing my freedom is still there.

Since this is a "battle" I'm waging with myself, this post will be more about my Aikido practice. While it is pretty easy for me to separate the physical differences between my Zen and Aikido, their impact on my day to day life are like my right and left hands. I don't need both of them, they each kind of do the same things. But when they work together, I'm twice as equipped to deal with life.

First, two terms or concepts to define: ikkyo and marubashi.

Ikkyo
literally means "first lesson." It happens to be a specific physical technique, but it has a deeper meaning that Aikido's founder Morihei Ueshiba, or O-Sensei as he is referred to, stressed as the secret to Aikido.

The technique of ikkyo involves entering into the attack (irimi) with precise timing (de-ai), distance (ma-ai), and energy (zanshin) to catch your attacker at the most advantageous moment to take their balance. This first lesson becomes the foundation for other techniques as they all require irimi for success and build upon it with added concepts. Without irimi, there is no Aikido.

Marubashi is a borrowed term from the Yagyu Style of swordsmanship and is translated as "bridge of life." Aikido is heavily based on the sword arts and employs several or their concepts. While straight blocking a weapons attack may be possible, getting out of the way is always the best option in case the block is ineffective.* Sometimes getting out of the way isn't possible and we must face an attack head on, as if facing an enemy on a narrow log bridge high over a river. There is no left, right, back or even hesitation as the sword comes charging at you.

My teacher's teacher and devoted personal student of O-Sensei, Mitsugi Saotome explains this in one of his books, Aikido and the Harmony of Nature:
Choosing life is death. The only path is the enemy's path. There must be no separation, but an exchange of time and space with the spirit of moving into the very heart of the enemy. This is the spirit of irimi (entering). When you extend your spirit into the future, the present is neutralized. Negative becomes positive; positive becomes negative. Past becomes future, and future becomes now. Only by abandoning attachment to time and space, attachment to life, will you attain the true freedom of choosing death. The bridge and life are the same. Heaven and hell are now, infinity is now. Choosing death is life. This must be practiced and become instinctive.
Alright, so this sounds all good and martial and all, but how does it relate to my issue above? Well, first of all, a lot of that probably sounds pretty familiar from a Zen perspective: opposites switching, past becomes future, infinity is now, must be practiced and become instinctive... Is it any wonder the warrior class of feudal Japan embraced Zen?

This is a guide as to how to live a good life, not how to take them. Our greatest enemy and the one that we face every moment of every day, is our self, our ego. It flaunts our desires in front of us like a carrot on a stick to lead us around. The death that we choose is the death of the ego. Choosing life for the ego is great initially but just around the corner are the karmic rewards of death, suffering.

My issue above is that of not wanting to give up the freedom of indulging the ego and its desires. I have to go to class. My ego is trying to convince me that I have a choice out of self preservation. Saotome Sensei also writes:
Giving up attachment to life and death is the refusal to be controlled by fear, the refusal to be controlled by the selfish ego, which clouds the spiritual eye. With no thought of escape, whether the threat is pain, discomfort, or death, you must continue in the Way with all of your might, not with the purposes of ego in your heart, but leaving your fate in the hands of God.
As I was driving along to school, traveling along the road of life, my ego met me holding the sword of freedom on the the bridge of life, my marubashi.

I met my ego with the Spirit of Ikkyo and abandoned my thoughts of escape and the threat of pain and discomfort (didn't have to worry about death, thank goodness).

I continued on my Way and cut down my ego.

It's far from dead, though, it is strong and persistent. The fingers of my Zen teachers and that of my Aikido teacher are only able to point me in the right direction, they can't take me there, but they are both pointing at the same thing. The ego is not going anywhere anytime soon so I'm greatful to have them all at hand to help me learn to deal with it.

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*There is no blocking in Aikido, btw. Instead attacks are met with receptive force and their energy is blended to a favorable direction by the attacked to diffuse the situation. I may go into that another time because it too has many daily life applications

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