by Ea Murphy
One out of many of the things planned for 2020 was hosting Thierry Diagana Sensei and his family from California for a summer seminar at Tacoma Aikikai. When we finally did see the Diagana family over winter break, we were speechless when they gave us the calligraphy that now hangs above the kamiza.
Zanshin. Literally translated as continuing mind, zanshin describes the relaxed state of awareness before, during, and after every action, which allows for a natural, spontaneous reaction. How appropriate for this year. With plans, routines, livelihoods, and cultures
turned upside down and an inability to plan next week, let alone next month, the pandemic has emboldened us to live entirely in the present. To adapt, what choice do we have but to be present for what is and respond accordingly. Zanshin.
Our culture is filled with landmines that sabotage zanshin in our daily life. Our phones, social media accounts, television, advertising, desk jobs, and traffic can even outcompete hunger or thirst on the level of distraction. Yet the great pause of this past year fills the air with a collective breath as we are forced to Be. In. The. Moment. If daily life takes us away from the present moment, then in some ways, training is the antidote. We feel our feet on the mat. Our differences diminish with our single uniform. Our sore muscles, the grip on our partner’s wrist, and the sweat of exertion bring us back into our bodies, right here, right now. But training without zanshin is an empty form. Why throw someone down if our back is turned when they get back up? Why move into the gap without feeling the opening? Why join with our partner’s center only to retreat back intoourselves?
Zanshin is the flame of the unexpected that ignites our training. It is the live sword of our attention. It is the expansion of our consciousness past ourselves and into the world. The partner who attacks more quickly than we expected, the crowded mat during a seminar, the stranger who walks into the dojo, or the glance calling us up for demonstration are all moments to practice zanshin, responding to what is as effortlessly as breathing.
We were humbled once again over the winter, when another piece of calligraphy came in the mail from Kyoto. Hanging to the right of the kamiza, its brushstrokes offer a clear, elegant reminder of why we are here. Aiki.
However we have reached this door, when we step into the dojo we all come to practice the way of aiki. English translations are numerous, and maybe not one does it justice. Harmonious spirit. Blending energy. Peace. And somewhere in there lies joy too.
We harmonize with our partner and with the movements of our teacher. We harmonize with the ways of the dojo, and the rhythms of the community. We practice blending with the world. Our jobs and our families. Our passions and our circumstances. This pandemic. Before long, we see aiki in the crushing waves on the beach and the sweet wind in the trees, in the churning volcanos and the mountain meadows. And if we are lucky, following the natural path, with awareness in the present, we may get out of the way just long enough to glimpse our true aiki as well.
Deep thanks to the Diagana family and Aikido Kyoto for their gifts and inspiration.