The limitations caused by the restrictions on travel and meeting have led to dojo closures (in France, as well as in Italy and other parts of the world). Many students are wondering how to continue studying Budo and training
by ANDRÉ COGNARD
Most of the instructors have decided to make use of computer technology to stay in touch with their students, allowing them to continue practising. I myself sent some letters to Kobayashi Ryu Aikido practitioners to support them and offer them a form of personalized training.
In our school, even in normal times – that is, not marked by the epidemic – personal practice is actually considered standard and constitutes the norm. Thus, we are fortunate to have a large number of tools available: more than fifty per cent of our practice is dedicated to weapons. This is constant since Kobayashi Sensei began teaching in Europe. Aikishintaiso is also quite developed. The latter allows you to explore your consciousness and body through posture analysis, thus improving psychosomatic abilities.
From this point of view, while practice changes its appearance, modalities and final objectives stay the same: to free oneself and increase creativity by repairing one’s own proprioceptive field through work carried out on the body.
The main thing is to keep one’s motivations steady, without allowing to be conditioned by general sadness, which for some can border on melancholy.
Accordingly, here’s for you the first letter originally sent to all the students of Kobayashi Ryu and written on the occasion of the first lockdown last spring. Right after, I am proposing to your attention my latest letter, that I sent recently, at the end of October, when the second lockdown period was announced in France (but timing and situation in Italy were not dissimilar).
It is likely that some AIN readers, who are not Kobayashi Ryu Aikido students, are not familiar with the techniques proposed here and, in that case, I apologize if not everything is clear. Nevertheless, if a certain number of people are interested and request it, we could consider preparing one or more videos focused on an educational program dedicated to the fight against depression.
Never let your spirit sink too low
(Letter of 4th April 2020)
Your body, from its ultimate depth to its surface (where your eyes light up your face) and your consciousness, from its most subtle imagination to harsh rationality, permanently exchange information.
They reject each other in order to isolate themselves from each other. Separated, they produce, life-force for the first, thought for the latter. They contain each other to maintain your unity and keep you alive.
If one of them collapses, meaning if the energy level drops too much, it causes the other to fall. Conversely, if the energy level rises in one, it pulls the other up. We have a choice: either they destroy each other or they build each other. The normal conflict between them must be kept in balance. Disruption of this balance, as with any relationship, triggers violence and therefore destruction.
What makes humans, what differentiates them from other species, is not only their ability to adapt, but what they become thanks to their imagination. Imagination is a defining characteristic of man. When we are able to project ourselves into the future, to think about our own evolution and our ability to transform the world, then everything is fine. The mind is full of energy. To function consciousness must be spatio-temporalized. Of course, the restriction of freedom due to confinement is a restriction of living space, but internally it is also experienced as a decrease in the inner space of consciousness. There’s no more space for our consciousness to soar, the horizons are too low. A drop in the mind’s energy level is a very real risk.
Our imagination is the spearhead of our consciousness. It puts everything else into motion.
As a body wrecked by a pathology or an injury can annihilate all hope and all desire, a weakened mind can destroy one’s “being”, including its body. Fortunately, we have the power to decide and the ability to both contain and encourage growth. As an aikidoka, you have the tools that you require to create the conditions of mutual support. Raise the energy of your body and your mood will improve.
So, for those who are not familiar with the Akamon type suburi kihon, you can adopt this simple and effective program to keep or regain your spirit and good mood:
- Start with the kubi no undo kihon from Aikishintaiso and do it three times. This will heighten the sense of awareness of your body and your conscience.
- Practice sayo otoshi for five minutes. Your eyes must be directed in the opposite direction of your torso. This will increase the flow of energy towards the emotional sphere.
- Kokyu Ho three minutes will bring this energy to the conscious level.
- Then it is time to increase the power of our impulses. A wide ritsuzen with the arms horizontal and a pumping movement (increase the flexion then release, once every two seconds, without leaving the posture) to create an energy surge. Remember: Kobayashi Sensei said, “The energy that comes into our body comes from an inexhaustible source. The more you use it, the more it comes.” Do this for five minutes.
- In koshi no undo, do sets of 9 koshi no undo at 30 degrees and 1 full, for five minutes.
- Come back to seiza and do sayo otoshi 2 minutes, and finish with kokyu ho 1 minute.
With this program, there is no risk of internal collapse.
Akamon students, I believe – indeed I am convinced – that you practice daily your bokken suburi kihon: it ensures both physical and moral good form.
We also need to take care of advancing: in Budo, there is no such thing as stagnation: those who do not improve regress. Therefore, in addition to the kihon you all know well, I am proposing to you this sequence with the ken:
- Shomen uchi on the right profile, first forward and then backwards.
- Tsuki on the right profile.
- Sayo men uchi left + right, forward.
- Tsuki on the left profile while going forward.
The sequence has to be performed non-stop in all four cardinal directions, going progressively faster, for five minutes.
- After that, complete the same sequence in all eight directions – by adding intermediate points to the cardinal points as well, in the directions of an ideal eight-pointed compass rose – for another five minutes. There should be no more than ten cooldown seconds between series, if really necessary (older students only).
- Finally, repeat the kiba dachi cutting exercise at full speed for three minutes.
- For those who feel brave, at the end of this small training session add 120 cuts in great flexion.
- For those who are familiar with it, it is also possible to add obake kiri, just once, as if your life depended on it.
The objective here is not to keep your level high, but of raising it.
If anyone of you does not fully understand the techniques proposed, do not hesitate to ask a senior teacher who is familiar with the above sequences.
Living the epidemic like the Budoka you are
(Letter of 20th October 2020)
Once again we are faced with dispositions that make our activities seemingly impossible. Our dojo are closed. Restricting our movements to an hour and a kilometre brutally affects our aspirations, our desires to live and conquer our time. Not being able to project oneself into the future severely affects our integrity: even the concept of “I” always consists of balancing present and future.
Unless we enter the resistance or decide to go underground, we will have to endure what is likely to disgust us. As a consequence, the fight is going to be an internal one. Obviously, it is within the limits that the current legislation imposes on us, but above all it is within our conscience.
The first battle to face consists in not becoming demoralized: you are all aware of that energy breakdown that smothers our desires, makes our projects go away, prevents us from thinking about our future and the future in general.
To avoid suffering this energy collapse, ensure that your daily practice is part of your every day, making it an axis to strengthen every moment. We are budoka, which means that nothing external to us decides for us. Nothing that happens to us is foreign to us.
Be and stay a budoka under all circumstances. Never give up, know that every test implies turning what is potentially a harbinger of suffering into an opportunity, an occasion to become stronger. Weakness is not part of a budoka’s material, because he has the moral obligation to help others. He must be the first to lead the second battle.
The second battle consists of protecting your family members from this moral breakdown: be adequately strong and responsible to embody hope, sustain their projects with your energy, let their future shine. Help your relatives, parents, children, students, all those who could be affected and could experience this closure as a blow to their integrity. Spread the strength of budo. Covid gives you a great opportunity: to be a useful budoka.
We will overcome these difficulties. Kobayashi Ryu will survive and develop again. Your dojo will again be full of students, just don’t leave access to your body, mind and heart in the hands and words of anyone. If you strive to structure your body again, to improve your mental power, to develop your technique, in other words, to expand your psychosomatic skills, you will be the one to whom everyone is going to turn. This is because you only allow your spirit to govern you, and in doing so you make everyone’s spirit shine.
A situation like the one we are in can harm us if we allow negative emotions to take over our lives. Except that our budoka spirit is as sharp as a katana blade: forty thousand times polished by repeated martial gestures, they have created inside us an indestructible fortress whose doors can always remain open, since nothing can chip, blunt, make our blades retreat.
We know that nothing can penetrate our soul if we do not let it in ourselves. You have learned not to channel the attacker’s strength towards your centre. No katate ryote dori, no matter how powerful, can unbalance you. Likewise, the sense of existing that constitutes your psychosomatic axis is founded on your soul and never on the outside. Like all your feelings, it is the product of an interaction between your spirit and consciousness.
There are so many birds of ill omen these days. Their negative prophecies, however, cannot touch you since you do not permit anyone to enter that incorruptible space which is the seat of elaboration of your “I” and of all the emotions that express it.
Your Aikido makes you an always open fortress, where anyone can find refuge and that no one will face in combat, since the fight has already taken place within, deep inside, in the profundities of your soul, when your consciousness has carefully moved along the edge of your blade. Freedom is an immense emotion that comes from you and you alone. The hunger for the future itself depends on it. Don’t let anyone put their hands on your blade.
Here is a practice proposal for everyone, which can be usefully employed by every aikidoka (and budoka in general), regardless of the school they belong to, their background and level of experience:
Hold the bokken in front of you, the edge facing the sky. Without moving your eyes at all, without moving your head, shift your vision from the tip to the handle and vice versa, doing this exercise at least once a day for a total of five consecutive minutes. The absolute stillness of eyes and body, and conversely the mobility of the consciousness that chooses what to look at, shall be your daily meditation.
I will be happy, if the occasion presents, to continue to interact with the Free Italian Aikido Community represented by Aikido Italia Network and its numerous readers.
In the future, I am planning to write for AIN an original contribution dedicated to my Master, Kobayashi Hirokazu Sensei, and more specifically to “Why Kobayashi Sensei loved Italy”. This is a very fascinating topic, which will offer me the opportunity to present some traits of his personality little known to the public.
In the meantime, if there is any manifestation of interest on the part of AIN readers and internet users, I will be able to provide further reflections and ideas on the topic dealt with in this contribution, making available in translation other messages that I have addressed in recent months to the students of Kobayashi Ryu. They are ideally intended for all those who wish to fully experience Aikido – and more generally Budo – in this troubled period.
Copyright André Cognard ©2020
All rights reserved. Any reproduction not expressly authorized is strictly prohibited
André Cognard is one of the most authoritative contemporary voices in the field of Budo.
Born in 1954 in France, he approached the world of martial arts at a very young age, dedicating himself to the intensive practice of various traditional Japanese disciplines. He started teaching very soon, opening five dojos by the age of seventeen. In 1974 he obtained the French state diploma of qualification to teach Karate-do, Judo, Kendo and Aikido.
The meeting with Kobayashi Hirokazu Sensei, O’Sensei Ueshiba Morihei’s jikideshi, dates back to 1973, a decisive event from which derives the decision to devote himself exclusively to Aikido.
Having become a student and assistant of Kobayashi sensei, from whom he received the Hachidan degree, in 1982 he founded the Academie Autonome d’Aikido in France (now known as Academie Autonome d’Aikido Kobayashi Hirokazu, to which in France belong more than a hundred dojo). After, at the request of Kobayashi Sensei himself, he started the Kokusai Aikido Kenshukai Kobayashi Hirokazu Ha (now known as Kokusai Aikido Kenshukai Kobayashi Hirokazu Ryu – KAKKHR), an international academy of which André Cognard inherited the guide after the death of the Master, which came shortly thereafter, in 1998.
Since 2012, KAKKHR is a member of Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (DNBK), the oldest Japanese association dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional martial arts and their ethical-philosophical content. In this context, Cognard Sensei was awarded the title of Hanshi as well as Soke of Kobayashi Ryu Aikido, officially recognized as a traditional school (as well as style).