A while ago I was contemplating the Kabbalah’s tree of life, and considered how its structure could be used to describe the martial art of aikido, and it seems to work quite well. For this post, I’ll start working from malkhut, through Yesod and Hod, to Netzah, working up the tree of life. You don’t have to know anything about the kabbalah, and my purpose here isn’t to explain it, but using it as a basis to reflect on aikido. In the near future I shall complete this series with two more posts.
Malkhut (the dojo) – this is the “kingdom” the physical arena in which you find yourself. This is the dojo (training hall), covered over by the tatami, or mat. Before entering the dojo we must remove our shoes out of respect. There is a lot of ettiquette about entering and leaving the dojo, and about where we enter and where we sit or stand during class. This is the place where we learn and have our abilities tested. It is a place in a sense “separated” from the outside world where we dedicate ourselves. It is guided by different rules than what we are used to in every day life. Entering the dojo isn’t just a physical action, it is psychological, and we enter into a different attitude or martial discipline with respect for the space and our companions.
Yesod (the class and ki) – the students themselves make up the body of activi ty as we practice with each other. We form a fellowship where we all learn from each other and help one another as we practice. Here we can also talk about ki or life energy. This is the vital energy that links mind and body, an important concept in aikido. Aikido is the “discipline of coordination”, which immediately becomes evident as we struggle at first to coordinate our limbs, and also to harmonise our actions with our training partner – each person presents their own challenges: stiffness or floppiness, aggressivity or timidity, these must all be dealt with as they arise. Above all, it is the harmonisation of mind and body through ki. Our lack of bodily coordination or harmony with others signifies our own disharmony between body and mind. Eventually, we must learn to unite our ki, so that there is no aperture of action between mind and body – there is fluidity, continuity and oneness.
Hod (instruction) – the students sit in a row facing the kamiza, the wall on which the portait of the master is hung (usually Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, but sometimes another master, such as Kobayashi in my school). There the sensei gives their lesson, presenting techniques and exercises with their uke (the person that “recieves” the technique). Usually they just show a technique, but occasionally will explain the finer details of each part. The sensei will ask if we have understood, if they need to show the technique again, we may nod but we’ll have to put it into practice to really see.
Netzah (practice) – we select a partner, bowing in front of each other, then we put into practice what the sensei has explained, or as close to it as we can. Each person is different, the habits and attitudes built up in our bodies interfere with the harmony of our ki. What works with one person becomes a struggle with another, but that’s good. If there were no difficulty or struggle we would learn nothing.The sensei stands by and observes his students, correcting where needed or silently nodding approval. Aikido, as a martial art, is not something you can learn quickly, it takes a lifetime of learning and discipline to perfect aikido, always something to learn. It isn’t just technical, it shows us who we are and how we relate with and react to the world, teaching us to turn conflict (inner and outer) into harmony and peace.