”The instant the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disk of the sun soared up behind his eyelids and exploded, lighting the sky for an instant.”
Recently, I was in Hellsinki re-orienting myself with Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. The study, the practice, the exploration of its philosophy, something that I count on for balance and excitement. It is a parallel-reality without deceit. It is a reality of action. Words may fail to express meaning but action is movement. I traveled to Hellsinki to train with a renegade Master. Amatsu Sensei, an ardent pupil of the revered Hisa Sensei, exuded an approach to this martial art that was so basic it changed my perspective.
Perhaps at its deepest roots, philosophy is action. Before it is words and after the words may not adequately express the meaning, philosophy is energy. An unstoppable mass that surrounds us. With the proper training we may step into this mass. We may find a different dimension to space. A bigger picture, a freedom from restraint. From little pieces there becomes a body. Efficient, directed, crushing.
”I’ve lost interest in wooden swords.” There comes a time when the pieces aren’t enough. When a body of understanding must be embraced. The practice of Soden techniques completes the Samurai. There is no throwing away of an opponent. There is no standing face to face. These waza are not beautiful, Amatsu Sensei would repeat. They are effective, they are brutal, they are simple. So simple it takes years to strip away our bloated, sluggish beliefs of what is movement. There is in and there is out. Holding on to something is what weighs us down. We think we walk but we crawl. Standing up though, there is nothing dragging us from behind.
The spirit of the Samurai is the opening up of oneself to the world. In the Samurai’s daily approach, there is a search for harmony. Art is a necessary balance for the possibility of losing one’s life in an instant. Harmony is a single moment and since a moment may mean death, other moments are necessary that mean a fullness. The experience of every moment dies with the frailty of the human body. The character from a pen, the stroke of a brush, the arrangement of one flower. Single instances of life that are born, realized and die. Art is the opportunity for everyday life to converge with action. It is the harmony of the pen and the sword. Art is an extension of oneself through the endless rehearsals of life. It is about not being a staged character. Seppuku is the final action, the literal action of the Samurai opening himself to the world. If it has been a full life, the experience will explode like the rising of a brilliant sun, behind the eyes, lighting the sky for an instant.
On a personal note I would like to thank Amatsu Sensei for tireless teaching. I would also like to thank the Finns that welcomed me without constraints. There are many,* but I will mention only three. Jyrki, Marko, and Mikko. Aside from the fact that I didn’t think it humanly possible to drink so much liquor, there was a tenderness that is so rare to encounter. No doubt, the profound nature to my experience was due, in part, to the warmth and caring of these fine gentlemen. I have been spelling the city’s name with a double l because the time was sacred. Outside of the circle of that experience is the profane. It was a kind of Hell leaving. Outside of the circle I am burned by the ordinary. Hellsinki is a state of mind. If there is nothing else that I can predict, I know I will return.
By Kenneth M. Freeman
* All quotes from Mishima