Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tomiki Kata and the Dusty Mirror

Shen-hsiu presents the following verse in his bid to demonstrate his mastery of the Dharma and become the next headmaster of Chan.

The body is the bodhi tree,
The mind is like a clear mirror.
At all times we must strive to polish it,
And must not let the dust collect.

I have begun seeing the kata, the base moves of the Tomiki system of aikido as a dusty mirror in a dusty room. With every training we remove a layer - we think we glimpse at understanding, then dust like snowflakes slowly covers up our work and impartial understanding.

Many a great teacher has promoted its intense study. "Look deep into the mirror, but you must look into it THIS way".

Many have made a standardized form in which to try to understand it and appreciate it. "You must polish the mirror exactly like this! The only way I want you to polish is the way I show you!"

Is there perfect form that springs from the 17 kata? Was Kenji Tomiki an enlightened master whose work we must closely copy in order to understand the truth? Surely if I could uncover enough of the dust I could see the mirror of Aiki and see what Tomiki Sensei saw.

Recently I have made some progress in not letting the dust collect. The intense training has made my body sore, but from below the dust I see a pair of eyes staring back at me from the depths of the mirror. Is it a dragons eyes? Is it the eyes of Tomiki Sensei himself? Yes it is becoming clearer.

I can only see myself. I was trying to uncover myself and my own Aiki the whole time.

The mirror represents not truth, or even aiki. It is a symbol of seeing self and reflection.

You see the mirror analogy of Shen-hsiu was of slightly flawed understanding. Hui-neng offers the following alternative verse that showed he has deeper understanding:

Bodhi really has no tree
Nor is clear mirror the stand
Nothing's there initially
So where can the dust motes land?

So the rabbit hole goes even deeper. The nature of aiki lies in freedom of thinking and freedom in motion. There is no mirror. There is no form, no kata, no style that contains truth...that contains aiki. It is all just a practice. The practice itself is merely the finger pointing to the moon, a finger pointing to something greater.

Hotai pointing at the Moon


  1. Don't concentrate on the finger...

  2. How about this one:

    Pull my finger.

  3. Bravo! a really splendid post -- great stuff -- wish i had come up with it! excellent! excellent!