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Aikido and Noh.  Part 1 of several observational mini-essays on both art forms.

While I’m busy studying Noh (shimai, the dance/vocal part), it is easier for me to talk about the Aikido at the moment. Noh is so abstract and affects me very deeply.  Words come difficult to me in explaining or describing it.  Time stops. A window into another dimension seems to open up.  I see myself through a strange-looking glass, prolonged and yet a bit obliterated, slightly diffused, and reformed…nothing makes “sense” in this reality but if exposed from another kind of reality, the essence of Noh makes perfect sense, as it allows you to tap into an energy we all have but never experience, or at least not on this level.  Not in this dimension.  Well, perhaps I do have something to say about Noh, afterall.  But only a little glimpse, I’ll allow.  For now, let’s turn to Aikido.

“Ai” means harmony, the spirit of this Budo (martial art).  Instead of war, competition, winners and losers, the philosophy of Aikido is based on a Buddhist one, that of love, respect, discipline, and harmonizing oneself with life and the universe.   In Aikido one strives for a purity of mind, body, as well as for “progressive social improvements” and to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way.  Instead of being about fighting, Aikido is a way of life.  This practice has already had a profound affect on me, causing me to stop, assess, not react so quickly to my environment, and to listen with greater care to everything around me.

I study at the Aikido World Headquarters, where the founder O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba’s grandson is director.  Here I am studying in the Women’s Special class. One of the aspects I love most about Aikido is that people of all levels practice together, and everyone helps everyone.  The “hierarchy” is not one that people of the West are accustomed to because although there is a sense of veneration for the Sensei (teacher), there is a sense of great respect for each person in the room, as well as the space, the room itself… The respect trickles into a sense of veneration for the building, for the busts of the founder and his son, for the administrators, for all things and people in the building.  I noticed also, after being with some of my Aikido colleagues outside of class, that this veneration extends outside of the building… Of course here in Japan you always see people paying respect to other people, but the Aikido practitioners seem to have a kind of gratitude that I don’t often see in other people.

Between my Aikido friends and the people of my Buddhist order, the Shinnyo-en sangha, I am learning a great deal about the word, Gratitude.  There are many kinds of gratitude.  There are many layers of gratitude.  It’s when you realize that gratitude is infinite, that it is never-ending, that it falls into every cell of your being  and that the evidence of how to show your gratitude starts to take action in your every day life…

Breathing, in both Aikido and Noh must remain fluid, soft and strong.  In both Aikido and Noh, the sense of flow is INSIDE you…not so much on the outside.  On the outside, you are disciplined and strong, simple, elegant, precise and concise.  On the inside, you flow.

The softness and the hardness, interplay.  As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, you”inter-are”. I always thought I understood that… now I’m really experiencing it.

Take a look at one of my Sensei’s:  Hiroyuki Sakurai. He has the face and demeanor of a Buddha: calm, sweet, gentle, strong, determined, grateful.



  1. Hello Jane, I think that you have had a hard time trying to find the words to express all of this. Thank you for this effort. It’s always very tricky to use words to relate such experience, especially a life time experience where a lot of little pieces of intuition – the intuition of being an oscillation between the opposites – can be suddenly and for only few moments gathered.
    Cheers. Ninh. (sorry for my english)

    • Oh but you are SO right, Ninh. Thank YOU for commenting and for spreading my blog to others. This is what it’s about: trying to put into words that middle space, that wobbly, unstable area where we insist on constantly treading…It’s an honor to be exploring this fertile landscape of intuition with you and others…

  2. Thank you for this wonderful blog about your experiences in Japan with your Sensei. I received your blog via Kirstie Simson, a dancer who works with your friend Le Quan Ninh. Your words are inspiring and your practice is life affirming. I watched your Sensei on the Youtube clip, he is quite extraordinary. I look forward to reading and seeing more.


  3. Le Quan Ninh sent me your blog and as a former Aikido student I found it to be fascinating reading which reflected so much of my own experience of learning the form with a wonderful Japanese Sensei in New York City called Imaizumi Sensei. I learned abundantly through his generous care.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog
    Thank you from Kirstie Simson

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