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Zen and Aikido: Penn State Students… and You Too! — Week 2 Assignments

“Zen training was part of the Samurai’s daily training and is
sewn into the fabric of Japanese culture and daily life”

Hello Aikido students. This week your assignment is to:

1. Download the book “Zen and Aikido” and read the Introduction and first chapter.

2. Watch the video “An Introduction to Aikido” by Yoshimitsu Yamada.

3. Watch the video “Yoga Warm-ups for Aikido” by Stan Pranin Sensei.

1. Zen training was part of the Samurai’s daily training and is sewn into the fabric of Japanese culture and daily life. Before each class we line our shoes up, enter and sit a certain way, and perform “Mokuso”. This is a beginning to understand Zen and the concept of “Awase” – to blend. In class we first learn to blend with ourselves and our surroundings through sitting and light exercises that include general fitness, Yoga and Aikido warm-up exercises. Then we graduate to blending with other people and the environment through Aikido techniques. Reading “Zen and Aikido” will help you to understand the role of Zen in martial arts and how “sitting Aikido” and “moving Zen” can teach you the essential Aikido concept of Awase. This reading is essential for the serious student studying any Japanese martial art and downloading it for free alone is worth the price of a 1-year membership to Aikido Journal! During the Penn State summer study abroad course Aikido in Japan that I teach with Mark Larson Sensei, one of the experiences you have is to stay as “Uchideshi” at Umezawa Sensei’s Genshin Zen Temple Dojo in Iwama. Umezawa Sensei studied Aikido directly with the Founder as well as with Morihiro Saito Shihan and is a Zen Priest as well as Aikido Master. When you sit for 50 minutes twice a day, you really appreciate the concept of “fighting with yourself” as mentioned in Zen and Aikido!

2. The timing of the video “An Introduction to Aikido” is perfect, as Yamada Sensei eloquently defines and demonstrates several of the essential principles of etiquette, terms and techniques that you have been exposed to as beginning Aikido students. Pay particular attention to the powerful execution of Ikkyo by Yamada Sensei. You first learn the Ikkyo technique as taught by Morihiro Saito Shihan in the Iwama Dojo. The differences and similarities between these forms of Ikkyo will be discussed in class.

3. Yoga is an ancient form of teaching awase within yourself using movements that coordinate mind, body and breath while challenging strength, balance and flexibility. Personally I didn’t thing much of Yoga until I moved from Japan to Northern California. Both my first teacher Shigeru Kawabe Sensei and Morihiro Saito Shihan recommended I train with Pat Hendricks Sensei. So I did. Pat Sensei begins classes with a 10-15 minute Yoga based warm-up. I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to attempt movements that looked so easy for Pat Sensei and others to perform. I was even more surprised by how much better I began to feel after doing Yoga several times a week. As my Yoga improved I believe my Aikido improved, and I know my back improved! Thanks to many years of pole vaulting and numerous martial arts and other sports my back has had its share of problems. Since nearly 80% of all Americans are predicted to have chronic or acute lower back problems, I think the comments and Yoga movements Stan Sensei provides are an excellent addition to helping your Aikido improve and maintaining life-long health and fitness.

Jim Sullivan, Ph.D.
Instructor of Kinesiology
Penn State University
266 Rec Hall
University Park, PA 16823