This is a continuation of my series using the kabbalah’s tree of life as a model to explain a bit about aikido, a Japanese martial art based on non-violence.
Tiferet – the sensei leads and guides the class, they are the centre of the dojo, sharing what they know through discipline and compassion. They represent the lineage of aikido and will transmit that according to the level of their own integrity and ability in aikido. They maintain the coherence of the tradition and discipline, as well as maintaining the coherence of the class with the dojo. What the sensei says goes, there can be no doubts or excuses, though there’s plenty of room for reflection later. They may be imperfect and make mistakes, but within the dojo, in the moment, they should be listened to. The sensei is a student too, still learning, though with more knowledge and experience than their students. Being a sensei is a lesson in itself with it own challenges
Gevurah – when you walk into a dojo, or even before, you will notice that there’s a lot of etiquette and protocol, as with any Japanese tradition. The goal is to maintain the discipline within the dojo, between the students and the sensei. The sensei maintains the overall discipline of the dojo, but within that the students themselves must maintain their own discipline. This has nothing to do with conformity or control, but respect. Respect for Japanese tradition and respect for the people we are working with. Aikido, as with any martial art, is a discipline, and so we must treat it as such. It’s a discipline that marks every aspect of our behaviour within the dojo, and in every respect character building. Not just a discipline to learn the techniques of aikidio, but in practicing it we better ourselves as people.
Chesed – effective aikido is about defending not just oneself but also defending one’s attacker from harm. Aikido cannot be hard, aggressive, or tense – this is where harm comes in. Instead it should be applied with gentleness, calmness and compassion, which, perhaps surprisingly, requires a good deal of discipline (we’re not used to this mode of being; we learn a lot of bad habits over the course of a lifetime, and it takes a lot to undo them). Flexibility is also an important part of it. I am learning a particular form of aikido, with a certain form and style, but each technique can be applied and adapted to a variety of situations and attackers. Within aikido, there are many schools with their own styles and emphasis on different aspects of the art, displaying its own inherent versatility and flexibility. In the end, the aikidoka has to manifest this flexibility and compassion in everything they do.