Capturing the Absolute Moment
by Okabayashi Shogen
It is very hard to express aikijujutsu in words, but I will give it my best effort. I expect that all of you reading this want to become stronger, but have you ever considered exactly how strong is strong enough? Is it enough to be the strongest in your neighborhood? Or would you like to be the strongest in your city or state? Perhaps strongest in the country?
This type of goal is what I call a “relative” desire — it will disappear at the same time (and only when) the “relative” existence does.
At the Daito-ryu Hakuho Kai branch dojo in Fukuoka, Japan, there are people ranging from age two to 83 who are training diligently. Along the “relative” lines mentioned above, if there were a competitive arena sanctioning fighters in their 80’s, our 83-year-old would definitely be among the top 50 fighters in his age group in Japan. He’d certainly be Number One in the prefecture.
However, in reality, this has nothing to do with the reasons we train. This is because aikijujutsu requires we have the idea of capturing the single, “absolute moment” in time and space that exists for just a split second in any relative situation.
Everyone has probably experienced at one time or another the recognition of just how prevalent these concepts of relativity are in everything we do. Aikijujutsu is fundamentally different from other martial arts because of the very fact that it doesn’t put its main emphasis in relative principles, but rather it puts its focus on how to benefit from capturing the absolute instant of time and space created somewhere during the period of engagement between you and your opponent.
Understanding the concept that aikijujutsu is not a thing that requires you to have “relative” strength should be your first priority. How strong you are in relation to your opponent is not important — so long as your opponent lives in the world of relativity, no matter how strong he is, you will prevail. This is a very difficult way of thinking, but without gaining an understanding of the real truths contained therein, aikijujutsu is impossible. In fact, you could say that this is the true principle of aiki.
The purpose of our training is to capture (or try to capture) this absolute interval of time and space — an interval created and extinguished in a single instant. As an end result, the opponent may be thrown or taken down, but completing a throw or pinning someone is not the goal, and relying on strength is something that, although necessary in practice at the jûjutsu level, only becomes a hindrance at the level of aikijujutsu practice.
If you were able to use the two levels of practice interchangeably, you could probably become very strong in competition. This is a vitally important point: the shoden (basic teachings) of the Daito-ryu are jujutsu, and therefore touch on things that are recognizable to the competitive world of the strong; i.e., the “relative world.”
The chuden (middle-level teachings) of aiki-no-jutsu are something that enter into an area that goes beyond the relative. To teach aiki to a youth whose body is not yet trained and whose spirit is still soft and weak will not amount to anything useful. Simple jujutsu is much easier to understand, and still has great utility for gaining control of one or two unreasonable people. Students who are young and have the strength of youth quickly become enchanted with the competitive aspects of jujutsu, but it will be of no use for them to try to go further in their training while remaining at the relative level.
While training to a certain level in the relative world, it is necessary for students to begin their quest for the absolute world.
Older practitioners, because they have an abundance of life experiences to draw from, are at a point where they can understand the idea of incorporating this created “absolute world,” and this created “absolute moment” of time and space to their jujutsu. This is the practice of aikijujutsu.
The flexibility of the technical makeup of the Daito-ryu is a magnificent thing. Even though we say that the shoden techniques are jujutsu, they are designed in such a way that by adding or reducing power, moving faster or slower, drilling with or without putting in aiki, many types of practice are possible.
From the time someone enters the Hakuho Kai, we explain the idea of aiki in an easy to understand way, make clear the fundamental principles of kobudo (old-style martial arts), and incorporate the concept of aiki into our jujutsu to train in aikijûjutsu. But even this does not seem to prevent people from being stiff and using strength, and consequently they forget other important elements such as angles, touch sensitivity, and breathing.
Trying to steal techniques from things like video tapes is almost the same — you cannot understand anything deeper than the physical aspects of the technique displayed. However, even if you practice at this lowest level, by using only the physical form and your own strength, you can become very strong in the relative world. If you were to practice just one hour per day, every day for three years, you would become quite strong. If you consider the fact that various rules exist in the relative world of sporting competition, you could probably reach a level high enough to make a living in the ring.
You can train yourself to be quite formidable using the shoden of the Daito-ryu. No matter how well you develop techniques based on physical strength, however, it is of little value when it comes to using aiki. This is because aiki is a system designed to negate physical strength — therefore, it is impossible to remain in the world of relative strength and do aiki.
Also, in order for you to understand aiki it is necessary for you to transcend winning and losing. While fully acknowledging this, however, practitioners still have a tendency to dwell on winning and losing. In reality, it is this dwelling on winning and losing that forms an unnecessary barrier to progress.
I would like everyone to direct their consciousness away from this idea of who is number one, two, or whatever, and toward trying to capture the phenomena of the absolute moment. It is a pursuit that is very different from the fighting arts that compete to determine who is number one or two; number 5,000 or 5,001.
The first priority is self-defense. There is no room for the entry of relative matters of strong or weak in self-defense situations. Rather, no matter how weak an opponent may seem or how strong he makes himself out to be, you must gain mastery over the opponent in the same way.
Along these same lines, in olden times students were not permitted to show even one part of a technique to someone outside the circle of their immediate school. The reason is obvious: Why give a potential enemy the ability to even imagine what type of technique you might use in defense? If an opponent were to know a technique of yours, he could imagine the ways in which you might respond, and from this determine the most advantageous way to attack you.
In order for you to be able to defend yourself against any type of opponent, you must capture the absolute moment. This absolute moment is not the same thing as a suki, or opening, in your opponent. In response to the opponent’s attack, you must create this moment by causing an effect in the attacker. This effect has no form, leaves nothing remaining after it passes, and is something that should disappear in an instant. Nevertheless, the moment is something that is definitely created; it is a work of art that appears in a flash.
The second priority for you should be acquiring the fine art of finding a way to create the absolute moment.
Recognition and development of the principles of aiki occurred only in Japan, perhaps because of the way our ancestors lived in accordance with — rather than in conflict with — nature. Arts that contain the same, traditional roots, and follow the same path, are what we should call kobudo.
Should Daito-ryu groups that inappropriately combine one technique with another or move with modern, sports-like twisting of the body really call themselves Daito-ryu? At the very least, we must not confuse ourselves with those people who copy only the outer layer of a technique. To know only the form of the technique is not sufficient. You should try to get to the bottom of the very roots that form the basis of the technique, and then begin your study from there.
I said before that you can become strong with just jujutsu, but it is also necessary for you to gain an understanding of the reasons why the techniques have the effects they do on an attacker. Failing to do so will block your path to understanding aiki.
You must continue to reduce the amount of strength you use in technique. In direct proportion to the strength you use, your ability to discern such critical factors as angles and direction from touch alone is reduced, and this will prevent you from understanding the principles of the technique.
There is a very old saying, “In winning, there is a mysterious victory.” This is to say that when you win with aiki by capturing the absolute moment, there appears to be no obvious reason for your victory. To the onlooker who sees only relative differences such as weak or strong, the outcome is inexplicable. When you capture the absolute moment, it goes beyond time and space and cannot therefore be measured by the brevity of a single instant in the world of relativity.
It could also be said that this is the point at which you cross into the sphere of the supernatural: the aiki which creates and disperses the absolute moment is like a vision or phantom that has no real substance to grab hold of. There is no place to grab hold of because it is such a mysterious place in time and space.
Of course, there are levels within this aiki, ranging from the artless and immature, low level, to the extremely complex, high level. In this sense, training is really the striving of every individual practitioner to master the next-higher level of aiki. This is not an endeavor about which you can say, just because you’ve received an explanation, that you’ve reached the “third level of aiki,” or the “fifth...”
Considering the physical nature of jujutsu, it might be better to say that aiki is an expression of the effect on the spirit of the individuals involved. This aiki comes not from initiating an attack, but only from waiting and intercepting an attack. When you initiate an attack, you are unable to manifest this idea of interception (which is also the heart of self-defense).
Finding a way to manifest this “absolute victory” depends solely on the creation and extinguishing of aiki at the time you receive an attack.
We call aikijujutsu the practice of physical jujutsu with the incorporation of aiki. As I said before, there are various levels within aiki. Since students must master each of them, one at a time, the things particular students can or can’t use will vary between individuals. However, sooner or later, you will get closer to the concept of aiki, and your jujutsu will become aikijujutsu.
Because this is self-defense, you become conscious of the fact that aiki is absolutely unforgiving. The very act of developing an unforgiving attitude toward unreasonableness helps to make acquiring aiki easier. Because we are talking about actualizing a phenomenon that has no real shape or form, you must realize you will probably never be able to truly understand aiki until you fully transcend your own set ideas and way of thinking. It is of no use to analyze techniques created by people if you are trying to transcend techniques created by people.
After establishing a strong foundation in the basics, I would like us to train together in this deep, traditional Japanese martial art of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu.
Okabayashi Shogen studied Daito-ryu under both Hisa Takuma and Takeda Tokimune, receiving from the former a kyoju-dairi (teaching license) and from the latter a shihan-level license, as well as a menkyo in Ono-ha Itto-ryu (Sokaku-den). Believing that modern schools of the Daito-ryu go astray by incorporating present-day body mechanics to ancient techniques, Okabayashi Sensei founded the Hakuho Kai in order to research and preserve the classical forms of the Daito-ryu.
This article is reprinted from the Hakuho Kai Journal, Volume 1, Number 5, by permission of the author.