A life of study: from Aikido to Shiatsu, from Kototama to Waraku, Luigi Gargiulo’s curiosity has always remained alive, showing a beginner’s mentality that in martial arts is the best guarantee of an honest soul. After 47 years of tatami, Gargiulo sensei received the 7th Dan Aikikai and joined the Technical Direction of Aikikai d’Italia. Let’s follow him along his training path of yesterday, today and tomorrow
by SIMONE CHIERCHINI
Luigi Gargiulo sensei is the creator of MI ZAI Shiatsu and founder of the MI ZAI Institute. Born in Asti in 1953, he has been a connoisseur and practitioner of oriental disciplines since adolescence. A graduate in Information Sciences, a scholar and a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and a 7th Dan in Aikido, he has been practising Shiatsu since 1978. The desire to further deepen his knowledge led Gargiulo sensei to study and practice in Italy, Switzerland, England, States United and Japan. The influence of teachers such as H. Tada, W. Ohashi, Suzuki and H. Maeda, the years of teaching as part of the Ohashi Institute in New York, the studies carried out in the East, the constant practice of Aikido, Shiatsu, Waraku and his experience as a therapist, all contributed to the development and synthesis of his current purposes.
Let’s start from the end: after a long and honourable career as Dojo Teacher and Examiner, 47 years from the beginning, you recently received the 7th Dan Aikikai and joined the Technical Board of Aikikai d’Italia. Was the goal as sweet as the path?
Obviously, it is easy to interpret the above as a goal, but in my case, I’d rather call it a new beginning. Inside of me, there is still most of my beginner’s mentality, I am still amazed and aroused when I see or hear something that speaks to my heart. I keep finding study and work stimuli – Aikido is a polyhedron with many facets, some are sometimes forgotten in favour of others that are more fashionable, but without them, our practice can never get closer to that of the founder.
The fact that I am now part of the teaching direction of Aikikai in Italy allows me to share this experience with many more people and I hope to contribute to the growth of Aikido in Italy. Regarding the path, Aikido is a practice that must be chosen every day. In my life, as I believe in many, I have had a thousand opportunities to get away from the practice: work, family affairs, accidents on the tatami, moving and travelling to foreign countries. Yet I have always deeply felt that I could not get away from training, because it was part of my life. Basically, in more current words, it is a virus that I caught when I was 19 years old and from which I don’t intend to recover.
What was Luigi looking for in Aikido in the seventies?
Hard to say in hindsight, I asked myself a few times. I believed for a period that I wanted to become strong in order to defend myself, but the reality is that I have never really been afraid of being attacked and therefore having to find a solution in this regard. I have always had a peaceful and unconventional nature, in 68 I was 15 years old and I felt like a hippie, I had long hair (…) on my shoulders and I played the guitar. Martial arts were not fascinating for me. When at the age of 19 I happened to happen at the sports hall of Asti and saw an Aikido lesson I was fascinated by the mix of harmony and energy that that person with Hakama showed. Everything revolved around him and people fell and got up just as harmoniously. Two days later I was already on the tatami asking to learn. It was an image of life as I had always felt it. My parents were pleasantly impressed when I cut my hair at the request of the teacher, they never succeeded.
Your path in Aikido: three moments that changed your tatami attitude forever.
There have been many instances when I have felt irreversible changes in my path; if I have to choose three, I would say that the first big shift was in meeting Fujimoto Yoji Sensei, after a couple of years of practice. Fujimoto sensei visited Asti for a lesson followed by gradings. I realised that his teaching, the way he moved, his habit of smiling on the tatami were right for me. Since then I have tried to learn as much as possible from him by going to his Milan seminars and following him everywhere in Italy.
The second huge change occurred when I met with Tada Hiroshi sensei, our technical director – that happened in 1978 during the Italian Aikikai Summer Course in Coverciano. I was 1st kyu, I was going to take my shodan test, which I then did with Hosokawa sensei. I think that, at that point, I was ready to begin a deeper form of practice; Tada sensei revealed to me a path that included the awareness of my soul and the importance of an inner study such as Kinorenma. His technique was without too many frills but showed an impressive centering and presence. He exuded a magnetism outside the canons I experienced up to then. From that moment on Tada sensei has been my point of reference, although I also kept following Fujimoto sensei, who was closest to me.
For the third real change to happen it would take a good few years, during which I met many teachers, abroad and in Japan. My Aikido practise seemed consolidated and I had been 5th Dan for already 9 years. The constant practice of Kinorenma, breathing with sounds and overtone chanting had prepared me to perceive in a more subtle way what was the direction of my soul and what I needed. It was in 2007, a colleague of mine and friend Shiatsushi called me and invited me to a seminar with Hiramasa Maeda sensei. The topic of the seminar was the Kototama and its application in body movement and with the Bokken. Above all, I was interested in the links with Eastern healing and Shiatsu. That meeting changed, or rather, tuned, my Aikido training on another frequency. I perceived more clearly, in the correct practice of sounds, what I had only ventured until then. The dynamics of the torsion present in the universe and in Aikido manifested themselves to me in sound and movement.
There is some discussion about who is the father of Aikido in Italy. You had the good fortune to follow two instructors who can legitimately aspire to that qualification, Yoji Fujimoto and Hideki Hosokawa sensei. Do you mind to share your impressions of these sensei as teachers and individuals?
Without a doubt, the father and soul of Aikido in Italy is Tada Hiroshi shihan, who is our technical director. Compared to other European nations, in Italy we have been particularly fortunate to have two other high-level resident teachers such as Yoji Fujimoto and Hideki Hosokawa sensei. Over the years I learned not to have a judgmental attitude and to live relationships with a mind very close to the heart. I had a very close relationship with Fujimoto sensei, first as a pupil and teacher and then also as friends. I often followed him for his seminars and he often came to my dojo in Asti, Aikikai Italy n.34. When he visited Asti, he often slept at my house and after dinner we spent hours watching Aikido films, drinking wine or whiskey, and evaluating this or that technique of this or that sensei. The next morning we were fresh like roses on the tatami, ready to sweat and smile. Fujimoto sensei has shaped my basic technique, precision and perseverance. I liked him very much at a personal level and his teaching did me real good. I still wear the black belt he donated to me. I will always carry Fujimoto sensei in my heart for all this. In the last years of his life, we drifted apart, I had changed and although I appreciated his teaching, I felt that I needed something else.
As far as Hosokawa sensei is concerned, I didn’t train much with him. A few seminars in southern Italy, I then lived in Asti, Piedmont. I got to know him better when, once a year, in the winter, he started to come to my dojo in Asti to give a seminar. Hosokawa sensei was more distant, but still very attentive. His narrow and cutting technique intrigued me a lot, but at the time it didn’t fit very well with my physical and mental structure. I still lived with my parents and when he came he slept in my bed while I slept on the sofa. In the morning when I woke up to go to the dojo I always found him in the kitchen talking with my mother and having coffee (the second or third of the morning). Once I picked him up at Asti train station before his seminar. Seeing that my car was not perfectly clean he told me: “No woman will ever marry you if you present yourself like this!” Here, this was Hosokawa sensei for me.
Since 1978, when you started studying and practising Shiatsu, you have been dealing with traditional medicine: is there a contradiction between experiencing martiality and healing?
To answer fully this question would require at least a couple of episodes of a serial… Maybe we can talk about it in an analytical form on another occasion. For the moment, I will try and make a synthesis. First of all, we should define the concept of “martiality”. We superimposed our concept of martiality of Hellenic and then Roman origin (Mars, God of War) over Eastern disciplines that deal with the same topics. They partially look alike, but there are profound differences. What has always interested me is the concept of Budo. Among other things, there is an aspect of it that perfectly aligns with my profound personality: serving the development of a peaceful society and relationships based on mutual respect (that old utopia of the hippie-boy I still carry inside). Yet, to go in that direction requires achieving discipline over oneself and experiencing rigorous meditative practices to temper and together soften ourselves – mind, body and spirit. Here those two paths come together harmoniously. How much difference is there between “healing” oneself through Budo and healing others? Shiatsu, in particular, is an art of healing that employs touch and relationship as its tools. My type of Shiatsu, especially, draws on a quality of internal perception that is the same as that of the Aikido practitioner. There is no difference between my idea of Shiatsu and O Sensei’s Aikido, which seeks harmony and pacification through the creation of a strong, honest and sincere human being.
In 1996 you started your own Shiatsu school. Why Mizai Shiatsu? What are the characteristics that differentiate it from other Shiatsu styles?
More and more I realize that I have a researcher’s spirit; since 1978, my Shiatsu practice and study has never stopped and, as in Aikido, there have been stages and great changes. After teaching in the Ohashi Institute in Italy and the USA for 8 years and in the meantime having met and learned from other masters in Europe and Japan, the moment arrived in 1996 when I realized that my Shiatsu could not identify anymore in any school that I had attended until then. Honestly, I did not feel comfortable and, despite a strong initial reticence, I realized that I would have to start my own school. I spent a month engaging full time in various meditative practices, introspection and de-programming, just to take the courage and write my first book “Mi Zai Shiatsu – The Search for the Center with the Mi Zai Method”. At the same time I organized the MI ZAI Shiatsu school. MI ZAI Shiatsu is a bodywork technique born from the synthesis between the different styles of Shiatsu that I have studied and practiced, among which, traditional Shiatsu, Zen Shiatsu and the Ohashi method.
MIZAI Shiatsu offers an effective and profound approach, capable of increasing the level of awareness and inner harmony both in those who practice it and in those who receive it. In practice I have developed a form that can be above all a health exercise for those who practice it. Technique, exercises, meditation and exposition of the philosophical concepts of Traditional Medicine are only the basis of an approach that involves the physical, mental and spiritual sphere.
“Mi Zai”, in a Japanese that is now obsolete, means “not yet”. At the heart of the MI ZAI philosophy there is the awareness that it is important to live the growth process, not to achieve a goal, but because life is the process itself. So it is an art that constantly evolves, like those who practice it. In the modern world, people have a spasmodic intent to achieve a result, an end, and often they lose the beauty of the path, which is real life. In MIZAI Shiatsu the rigour of Japanese tradition is enhanced by a new dimension of listening through the practice of Kototama. The awareness of TORSION and the spiralling tendency of the energy flow leads to the development of a special way to use one’s body. I would say that movement, fluidity and precise and effective technique allow reaching a higher quality level.
The evolution of your Aikido has motivated you to get more and more interested in Kototama. Could you explain to readers its nature and function within the daily practice?
Kototama is the study that currently inspires and amplifies all my activities, physical, mental and spiritual. My interest in this energetic and vibrational reality was born from the practice of overtone chanting and breathing with sounds that Tada H. sensei has thought with passion and which are the vibrational support of Kinorenma. In total, I have been practising Kinorenma for about forty years, but in the last 13 years I have promised myself that I wanted to understand what was INSIDE THE SOUND.
In his incredible foresight, Tada sensei made us practice these sounds and respiratory forms with sounds to make our vibrational level higher and to increase awareness of the movement of energy; this has allowed many to better penetrate the practice of Kinorenma.
As everyone knows, the basis of Tada sensei’s work in Kinorenma goes back to Nakamura Tempu and to the parallel studies that Tada sensei did at the same time as studying O Sensei’s Aikido. Certainly, Nakamura Tempu was not O Sensei and, while following Kinorenma with passion, I wondered if, in the development of Aikido, O Sensei’s personal practice as we know it, had connections with all of this.
Reading the words of O Sensei I discovered that apparently “Aikido is the realization of Kototama”. I now try to give a personal explanation on Kototama, since there is not much in literature. I hope that my motivations and experience can be of help and incentive for those who are truly interested. The word “Kototama” comes from Kotoba = word, expression and Tama = spirit, soul. We can find connections between sound (the word) and spirit (soul) in all cultures, even in the Judeo-Christian one.
It is fair to say here that if O Sensei wrote about Kototama in relation to Aikido, there must be some relationship. So slowly I understood that sound and the connected vibrational element (Kototama) are the creative foundations of our relationship and life as part of the universe. It is both the source and the creative element. It is like saying that creation (creativity) does not need a creator, the two functions are contained in the same essence. There are no observer and observed. At this point I see the consistency in Aikido, that is, how, at a certain point, O Sensei’s Aikido overcame the technique to get to the origin of the movement, that is “twisting”. Obviously by “twisting” I mean what quantum physics call “entanglement” and what the sciences of the spirit define as “etheric shaping forces”. You see, speaking of this mysterious Kototama we end up right away facing difficult and further on, incomprehensible concepts, through an ordinary form of mind.
Since the foundation of Aikikai in Italy, our technical director, Tada sensei has always proposed various exercises with sounds, being him aware that they have an effect on our Vibrational Awareness. This awareness is one of the conditions through which the practice of Aikido becomes an opening towards the movement of the universe. Overtone chanting, breathing practices and movements with sounds are part of that substratum of sensitization and tuning of our internal instruments suitable for the practice of Kinorenma. As many know, Kinorenma is a wonderful tool to access the understanding of the invisible part of Aikido, which obviously affects all our practice.
Kototama is essentially a “re-education” of our sound perception and communication system. The sounds that we produce in an apparently “natural” way are the sum of the conditioning that we have had since childhood listening to the sounds of others (ie the parents and the people we wanted to imitate), the energy quality expressed as part of a community (regional and national) and our general genetic constitution inherited from our ancestors. These elements have created an unconscious “automatism” in our vocal expression designed to try to make ourselves accepted by others on a social and community level. On a subtle level, it is like a PROJECTION of sounds that we have mentally coded outwards, with an enormous use of energy.
We can hardly change this automatism in speaking, and maybe we don’t even want it because we are “used” to this sound we produce, but I am sure that many times we find that the sound that comes out at a certain moment does not correspond to our depth. So, at least in our conscious practice we have to recognize and re-learn how to produce sounds that serve for internal re-modulation and re-tuning.
To give a simple example, it is like doing Yoga without knowing the movement of the joints and the correct posture.
The response, understanding and adaptation of our nervous system must be made more effective. By “response” I mean a form of internal re-modulation of our perceptual system. A quality that has been covered and muffled by the use of the automatic sound system over many years. The special path that is indicated to us, which is Kinorenma and consequently Aikido, requires special tuning and natural response of our central and peripheral nervous system. The immune system will also benefit from this perceptual improvement in our vibrational quality. To do this we must better use the tools we have, namely the body, mouth, oral cavity and teeth. We should be able to produce a sound that more specifically purifies and leads the mind-body-spirit system to a more effective response.
The masters of Kototama in Japan have handed down important indications to ensure that the sound emitted by us provokes a complete and invigorating internal response at all levels (physical, mental, spiritual).
- Sounds must be emitted with OPEN larynx, without throat modulation. Otherwise, we would go back to the projection outward mode.
- Sound is produced by the shape and modification within the oral cavity.
- This way the sound will have an important effect on our VIBRATIONAL AWARENESS system, to the point of being able to reproduce the internal micro-vibration even without sound.
Sound A – HORIZONTAL perception of mouth opening (possible visualization is a horizontal line);
Sound O – VERTICAL perception of mouth opening (possible visualization is a vertical line);
Sound U – CIRCULAR OR SPHERICAL perception of the oral cavity, use of TEETH to circulate the sound (possible visualization of a circle);
Sound E – perception of a channel within the tongue;
Sound I – perception of the thrust of sound against the front teeth.
I don’t believe that O Sensei came to this perception by a mental analysis but through a deep faith. O Sensei profound faith led him to have a quantum type heart-hara, to perceive this energetic truth viscerally and then transfer it to the “Art of Peace” or Aikido. This also explains the transformation of the form from Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu to Aiki-budo to Aikido.
To present an unsatisfactory conclusion I would say that understanding the micro-vibration created by sound in the Heart/Hara, and to do this through training designed to connect sound and movement, makes us become aware that we are vibration, we are a set of frequencies.
Probably to expand this consciousness in us we must follow the old equation:
Expansion of Consciousness = understanding (body-mind-spirit) + energy (increasing the energy level) + acceptance (heart)
The study of weapons and your practice in Aikido today: you are one of the pioneers of Waraku in Italy. How has Waraku improved your understanding of Aikido?
Waraku is a Budo born recently in the bosom of Shinto Oomoto. It has then taken on a reality of its own in the research and person of Maeda Hiramasa sensei. For me, it is fascinating the use that in this Budo is made of a bokken that does not simulate the katana but a “tsurugi”. It is a straight bokken with different facets whose use allows the tool to rotate freely (even on itself) and therefore directs the practitioner to strongly follow one’s Koshi torsions and to spread them to all the joints, up to the perception of the movement of the spiritual heart. Like most aikidoka of my generation, in the past I have been interested in various arts such as Iaido and various schools of Kenjutsu and Jodo. My research intended to find and understand the connections between the use of the sword and O Sensei’s Aikido, a research that has always been disappointing in relation to my Aikido concept. When in Japan I witnessed the tsurugi move in that special way, I realized that no bokken that simulates a katana could give the practitioner the perception of the spiral and torsion constantly present in the movements of the human being. My constant practice/study of Aikido has made me understand that its movements use the Hara/Koshi connection to achieve union with the continuous spiral of energy, up and down, uchimawari, sotomawari, and even diagonally. At this moment in my life, I believe that the use of tsurugi in the practice of Budo Waraku makes me feel a connection that I never experienced before. It is as if everything I have done for 45 years now takes on a deeper meaning. In fact, I can understand Tada sensei movements from the heart and not from the mind. This understanding is not only due to Waraku but also to my study of Kinorenma and Kototama. However, I believe that practice with that type of bokken could be useful for all Aikidoka who want to switch to an Aikido that includes a large and invisible practice that builds and manifests what we experience.
You have been a tatami professional for years. Has the economic aspect of your work ever influenced your path of personal growth?
You are touching a very delicate matter. Many years ago, given my great passion for Aikido, I thought that my practice could also become my profession, but then I changed my mind. I graduated in Information Science at Turin University and worked for a few years in that area; from the age of 25, I was also interested in Shiatsu as a hobby and practised Aikido from the age of 19. At the time, my intense Aikido practice was not affected by my other interests in life. After a few years of teaching Aikido, I realized that my IT job was no longer in line with the person I had become; that is, with IT work, I always returned home stressed and worried that the programs would not work, I felt an overload of mental tension due to an excess of analysis, I was compressed between the needs of the clients and all the problems coming out of dealing with my collaborators. At that point, I decided to make a life change and turn my hobbies into my job. I, therefore, devoted myself completely to Aikido and Shiatsu, I would say fifty-fifty. From that moment I earned my wages from my teaching of Aikido and Shiatsu. What I have learned is that even if you are a good practitioner and a good teacher, it is difficult to live only on Aikido, especially if you have children. This is why I made a balanced lifestyle choice of depending on both Aikido and Shiatsu. Thanks to this choice I have been able to live decently and continue my research in both areas. However, I realize that a radical change of perspective is needed.
Perspectives of the Aikikai d’Italia as part of a community experiencing a profound change: what is your mission as a new member of the Technical Board?
Yes, the whole world aikido community is going through a profound change, from many points of view. Almost all of O Sensei’s students of the first and second generation have now left their bodies, and their teaching, handed down by their students, on the one hand is affected by a further interpreted form and on the other by a natural loss of freshness and authenticity in the core of what O Sensei wanted to convey. On the other hand, Aikido is, like all things, a child of the time in which it is studied and practised, because people, society and needs also change. Tada Hiroshi sensei, our technical director, is perhaps the last pupil of O Sensei of the second generation still alive today. It is a great honour for us at Aikikai d’Italia to still have the teachings directed by a character of such stature.
Within this global change, I would even dare to call it evolutionary, the Italian Aikikai is responding to the times with a profound transformation and diversification of the didactic direction. Tada sensei expressly wanted to expand the number of members of the Directive Teaching Panel from 4 to 11, supporting the original 4 with teachers of high level and experience currently in the association, including myself. Seeing this group of teachers in its entirety, one cannot fail to notice an extreme variety of Aikido experiences and profiles. In the coming years, this will allow Aikikai d’Italia members to enjoy a wealth of teaching and didactics that will allow them to assimilate from various angles Tada sensei’s guidelines. Another advantage of heterogeneity is to avoid a sort of homologation, as it often happens.
As far as I am concerned, I do not feel a specific and new personal mission other than the one I have always felt in bringing my perception and study of Aikido to students. I have faith in Tada sensei who chose me even though I am not a strongly aligned character. I think he too is aware of this change taking place. I would like Aikikai d’Italia to enjoy a team of teachers who work in harmony for the common good, appreciating and respecting the differences between each of them. I will do my best.
Copyright Simone Chierchini – ©2020
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