Monday, January 6, 2020

Wisdom from our archives...

Copying Sensei's Mind
by Jim Lahue, 2006
Whenever I get ready to go to a seminar taught by Maruyama Sensei, there are certain essentials that go at the top of my packing list, things that I simply cannot practice without: Gi jacket. Gi pants. Belt. Hakama. And a brand new 8 1/2 x 11" notepad.
The notepad is for the copious notes I take whenever Sensei teaches. People often ask me what I write about, or ask me when I'm going to publish my book. But if they were to read through my notes, I don't think they'd be too impressed: Just my sorry attempts to write down what I saw Sensei do, so I can try to duplicate it myself.
But why? What's the point of trying to get it right? What's the point of trying to do it like Sensei?
In truth, it's really not the movements that I care most about copying. What I want to do is copy Sensei's mind.
Unfortunately, we can't open up Sensei's mind and peer inside. We can't hook him up to an EEG and understand his mind's inner workings. And we can't get Sensei to describe what's going on in there. Even if he tried, he wouldn't be able to find the words.

All you can do is examine the evidence-the evidence that is displayed every time he throws. Studying that is the only sure path I know for copying Sensei's mind.

How do I know this? I wish I had better proof, but all I can say is that I've felt it. Now and then, when doing the right technique against the right strong, challenging uke, I've felt a shift in my mind as my movements became more like Sensei's. Suddenly, it's all effortless. And I feel a strangely familiar smile creep across my face. It's not familiar because I've felt that smile before. It's familiar because it's Sensei's smile. And I realize it can only well up from a certain wonderful feeling within.
I've seen this method work many times with my students, too. Say someone's technique is on the right track. With my mind on how Sensei looks, I can offer suggestions: Stand up taller. Straighten this leg. Turn your hips like this. Gradually the adjustments become second nature. The student's posture and movements becomes more like Sensei's. The ukes start flying better. And then, the confirmation: That student's face changes, exposing a new look, a new feeling of calmness, a new manifestation of power- and an undeniable truth: For that moment, she feels what Sensei feels.

That's why it's so important to try to do things just like Sensei. The way he moves is your secret door for entering his state of mind.

Roni Burrows Sensei, one of Sensei's long-time students, prodded me with this observation recently. She said, "When I watch Sensei, I try to imagine what it feels like in his skin." What does this approach do for her? Watch her, and you'll see she looks a lot like Sensei. Be thrown by her, and she feels a lot like him, too.
It's like a great impressionist. He'll find the little gestures, the facial expressions and the quirks of the person he is imitating. He'll put those on like a costume, and begin to feel more like that person. To capture that person's mind.
So copy the body, and your mind will follow.
It would be amazing to have a record of what is actually going on in Sensei's mind, some resource to turn to when we're trying to get our Aikido-and our lives-on the right track. Unfortunately, that can never exist.

But I've got something close: A big stack of notebooks reminding me of what Sensei did. And with those, I can sometimes catch a fleeting glimpse inside an amazing mind. And now and then, begin to copy it.

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