Saturday, March 10, 2007

Interview with Kensho Furuya Sensei Feb. 2002

In February 2002, Sensei was kind to take part in an interview for the Israeli Aikido Magazine.
Maybe it is a goot time for everyone to read, remember and enjoy his wisdom and kindness.
Ze'ev Erlich

An interview with Rev. Kensho Furuya Sensei.

The Israeli Aikido Magazine

Ze'ev Erlich: Furuya Sensei, how did you first come to aikido?
I was born just after the WWII and my parents were interned in a concentration camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. My mother was very young at the timeand never spoke about her experiences so I know that it was very tough. My father joined the US Army, the famous 442nd, and fought in Italy. After the war, it was a difficult time of transition for Japanese Americans in America who were trying to relocate and settle down once again and we, the younger generation, were forbidden to experience anything Japanese in an effort to assimilate us into American culture. Even though my grandparents immigrated to the United States in the early 1900's, I was still looked upon as the "enemy" so as much as I was obligated to assimilate and become all-American, I was continually reminded that I was different from my friends. It was a very difficult time for me. My parents were poor and we lived with my grandparents at the time. My maternal grandparents came from a very illustrious samurai family and were very conservative and "Japanese" in their outlook and my paternal grandparents were involved in many traditional Japanese arts. They all had a tremendous influence on me and although my parents did not approve, I had a strong interest in my cultural heritage very early on. I started kendo when I was about 8 years old. I started Aikido sometime after that, learning from a Japanese exchange student from Tokyo who had studied at Hombu Dojo. At that time, there are only one or two dojos in the whole West Coast and almost none throughout the country. I had read about Aikido somewhere and was so anxious to start. At that time, hardly anyone had heard of Aikido or knew what it was.

ZE: This may look like a strange question: What is Aikido?
For myself, I must say that it is a Japanese martial art created by Founder Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei. So I think that we must first understand Aikido as such - as a martial art. Of course, nowadays, Aikido means many things to many people and I think this is also very good. There are now, as you know, many kinds of Aikido today. I myself am concerned with Aikido as established by O'Sensei and his successors, the late 2nd Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and the present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba.In my own dojo, I would like to emphasize the "martial arts" aspects of Aikido more and more, as I see that this aspect is concentrated on less and less nowadays. I don't consider myself to have any special talents in Aikido although I have been in Aikido a long time. More than an innovator and interpretor of Aikido, I am more of a transmitter of Aikido as I learned it from my teachers and prefer to pass on Aikido to my students "exactly" as I have learned it from them. I hope my own students will receive the same message, meaning and benefits that I received during my youthful days of training.I think that as we interpret Aikido we, at the same time, begin to "specialize" or focus on particular aspects of the art. I think as a traditional martial art, Aikido covers a very broad spectrum of study and discovery and I would like to keep that open to my students. What is important to me is to give them Aikido as close to the Aikido I received from my teachers.

ZE: If someone calles you up on the telephone, and asks you the above question, how will you answer?
I have to admit that I am very bad at business and still have an old fashioned attitude about this. I do not have any special "sales pitch" for the prospective student and I do not try to convince him to study Aikido. I only invite him to come and observe the practice and join us if that is what he is looking for. I also instruct my students to be encouraging but not forceful and pressure the prospective student into joining. The student must make the decision to join on his own. In the old days, the student implored the teacher to receive instruction. Today, it seems to me, the teacher often must become like a merchant and treat the student like a "customer." For myself, the dojo is never a business. Perhaps this is a very old-fashioned, obsolete and naive attitude to take, but it is way the my teachers taught me and I feel this is proper for Aikido. I don't know if this applies to everyone but I still feel this way, even today.

ZE: Sensei, tell us about your approach to aikido.
My personal approach is to provide the optimum training environment to practice. I offer classes seven days a week and rarely close-only on special holidays and usually by student consent. When I was very young, there were not many dojos to practice and I had to travel all over the area to find a dojo so I could practice every day of the week. Many schools in those days shared with other martial arts and sports so it never felt like we had a dojo just for Aikido. It has always been my dream that my own students would never have to suffer like I did trying to find a place to practice so, with my Dojo, I tried to provide the ideal place for them to come and train everyday without a worry.Everything in Aikido must be seen from the perspective of his training and I aspire the student to master the correct form and understanding of how to practice Aikido. Once he understands this, he has the foundation to grow on his own. My aim is to give the student a solid foundation in Aikido so I only teach very basic techniques. Once he masters this, I believe he can grow strongly and correctly in whatever direction he chooses or is inclined.I don't travel too much as I used to many years ago and this seems to be changing again as I am getting many invitations to visit different dojos recently. Ideally, I believe I have to be there every single day, every moment, for my student and prefer to guide my students on a daily basis, watching each student's practice very carefully, guiding, correcting them every moment, each day. I want the see their progress over an extended period of time. Even the slightest mistake in teaching a student can have dire consequences later on. Teaching is very hard work and patience and demands tremendous committment and a caring heart by the teacher for the student to see that he develops correctly and properly and attains good skill and understanding in the art.

ZE: What teacher had the greatest influence on you?
Of course, O'Sensei was my greatest inspiration. I met 2nd Doshu in 1962 and began training at Hombu in 1969. I think the late Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei was the greatest inspiration for me in his own quiet and humble way. I owe a great deal to the late Kisaburo Ohsawa Sensei and Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei, whose Aikido I have always aspired to. It was through Ohsawa Sensei's Aikido that led me to become a Zen priest many years later in 1988. All of these instructors were not flamboyant or ostentatious but very quiet and humble and I have always admired this. I believe Ohsawa Sensei could have been one of the most well known teachers of Aikido, I believe, but he preferred to stay by Doshu's side and advise him and never became independent. He loyally fulfilled O'Sensei's last will and testament to support 2nd Doshu. One time, I was watching Ohsawa Sensei demonstrate Aikido and I turned to a very well known, high ranking Sensei, who was standing next to me and asked, "How can Ohsawa do Aikido like that?" This great teacher simply replied, "Afterall, Ohsawa Sensei is enlightened, isn't he!" Another great teacher in the United States, I believe, is Mitsunari Kanai Sensei whom I met in 1968 while I was attending Harvard University. I have always thought his technique was so wonderful. In Aikido, these teachers have been my main inspirations.

ZE: Would you describe your teaching methods and the general attitude at your dojo?
Although I don't consider myself very strict, most people in my area consider me very strict and demanding. I think I am demanding because I am trying to squeeze the very best out of each of my students - it is the inner potential they have but don't even realize it themselves. I don't think that I am strict because I am never as strict as my own teachers were on me. I think times are changing and the atmosphere and attitude in Aikido nowadays is too informal or maybe, I should say, more "user' friendly," - because of this, I think I appear "strict" to everyone - but I haven't really changed much over the years. In fact, I am very much less strict that before. I think another reason people think I am strict is that the discipline and etiquette in the Dojo is very strictly observ ed. I believe this is an important and essential aspect of the art to develop the person as a good, upright human being.As a priest, I live a life of solitude so I am not a very sociable person and do not party at all. But everyone in the Dojo seems to be very happy and practices very well and very hard. Many of my students make tremendous progress in the Aikido and always continue to surprise and impress me with their committment, attitude and energy. I consider all these wonderful students I have a great blessing in my life.

ZE: Did you come up with any unusual training methods of your own?
My teaching is very straight forward and I teach very orthodox Aikido. Nothing strange, exotic or unique - just plain everyday Hombu Aikido. I only teach what I have confirmed in my own training and I do not "try out" any new ideas on my students. My students are human beings, not laboratory mice, I believe, and I must them my very best by all means. What may be considered different from other teachers is that I emphasize learning the very fine detail of each technique - because each and every technique has its own special characteristic and property. Sometimes, I may go into too much fine detail for each technique and the technique becomes too complex requiring more training from the student. I don't know if this is bad or good.The only other aspect of my teaching methods is that I emphasize the traditional teacher-student relationship as in a Zen temple or old time dojo for teaching, and seek out the "heart to heart" transmission of knowledge between teacher and student. I think this relationship is the basis for the transmission of knowledge in the martial arts and Aikido as well. So much in Aikido cannot be communicated by mere words so it is essential that we all work together and train together in harmony. It is through this that we can truly understand the other person and make a connection with him. It is this connection that we can create with each other that is the beginning first step to understand this concept of harmony and peace.I believe that Aikido students as part of their training must contribute to society so I do, along my all my students, much volunteer service work in the community. Students are also required to work in the Dojo keeping it in good order and immaculately clean. In addition to Aikido training on the mats, this teaches how to work together for others, this also teaches how to do things for others without thought of personal merit or reward, that we can do something merely because it is good and the right thing to do. Although we must become strong in Aikido, this strength must be well tempered with compasssion and we can only learn this by helping and caring for others.In my own personal thoughts on teaching, I often tell my students that no one can develop on his own. Everyone must develop himself as everyone around him develops. It is just as true happiness does not belong to a single person. If we achieve happiness as everyone around achieves happiness at the same time, perhaps this is true happiness.

ZE: Do you have any memorable training or teaching stories ?
I am not a great person or celebrity so I don't have many personal stories that are amazing. Everyday, however, I see miracles. And lately, in my later years, I believe there is nothing more important than faith - to have faith in one's self and others around you. I don't think that I can be here where I am without many miracles I have experienced and this never ceases to amaze me. There is much in this world that we don't know about, but through Aikido, we can peak at a world which is completely wonderful and amazing. When I came to this realization, many things changed for me all at once.

ZE: Could you please tell us about your book "KODO"?
Kodo Ancient Ways: Lessons in the Spiritual Life of the Warrior, is a compliation of over 40 articles I wrote over a period of fifteen years for a column entitled "Ancient Ways." It was voted two years successfully as the "most popular" and "most widely read" column of martial arts magazines in all of the BlackBelt Pulibcations according to their annual survey of the readership. It is also one of the longest running columns in any martial arts magazine to date, I am happy to say. Most of the episodes are stories that I heard personally from my teachers. All of the stories are teachings that have helped, guided, and inspired me in my own training over the years. I never forgot one story or lesson my teacher ever taught me. Many of the stories cannot be found in other books so I thought to record them for my students and keep the honored memory of my teachers' wisdom alive. As an interesting footnote, just before Kodo went to press for publication, I took the draft to a famous psychic and healer to bless the book. As per my request, every owner of each copy of KODO receives a blessing of healing. It was very interesting experience because when I first handed him the book, he immediately said, without even opening the book or knowing what it was about, that there were many, very many ancient people surrounding the book and myself. He said this is very rare to see. Apparently, these ancient persons were all very happy and giving the book their approval, according to him. Then, the psychic told me that he saw a black spot on page four. When he sees a black spot, it means that there is something wrong or there is a mistake that must be corrected. I returned home and there was already a message on my telephone from the publisher. She said that she was making a last final perusal of the book just minutes before it went to press but she noticed a mistake everyone missed on page four and not to worry because she corrected it! I thought this was very amazing and auspicious.Anyways, it is a very simple book but so many people all over the world, beyond my wildest expectations, have read the book and sent me grateful letters and emails. I really appreciate everyone's support and glad that so many people are enjoying its reading and getting some benefit from it. KODO II is getting ready for publication. This is composed of 365 lessons, one for each day of the year.

ZE: Could you please tell us about the concept of KI ?
I think O'Sensei's idea of "ki" is difficult to understand and nowadays many people have formulated many interpretations of "ki." If we go back to study how this term was used throughout history in China and Japan in many schools of thought - there are enough books to fill a large room. "Ki" is one of the essential concepts in traditional Asian thought but must be studied carefully and thoroughly to understand it. It definition changes throughout different periods in history and according to the school of thought or particular philosopher. Much study is need here I believe. Today, we generally give "ki" a "psychic" or "mental" interpretation but it is a little different than that. "Ki" is something which exists between the physical and non-physical world - either existing in between or connecting these two levels of existence. In the East, "ki" is equated with "ri" meaning "reason" or "laws of nature." We should look at ki as the energy contained within the laws or operation of the universe. What we do in Aikido is to try to reestablish or enhance this "connection" which we call, harmony. I think this is what O'Sensei meant by "becoming One with the Universe." I think it is very important to understand how ki works as it is important to understand the technique itself. Both are integral to Aikido as O'Sensei taught it.

ZE: Is ki no nagare (flowing technique) important in your aikido?
Very important. There is no Aikido without it, I believe. We cannot "will" ki to move. If we follow the proper form and execution of the technique, ki will flow naturally. To allow ki to flow naturally within the technique is what we are trying to discover and master in our training. Without this, I think the techniques are like any other martial arts techniques. I think this is one reason I emphasize the bvasic techniques so much because it is through these techniques which O'Sensel selected that one can develop the strongest and clearest sense of this ki.

ZE: What are your thoughts on training with the sword?
I have always loved the sword ever since I can remember. I started kendo when I was about 8 years old. I bought my first sword around that time, saving lunch money from my parents and money given to me by my gradparents. My mother was very upset with me, but I was allowed to keep it. I have collected and studied swords all my life. When I was very young, my grandfather's good friend from the old country, Japan, was a kendo teacher and he taught me kendo and Itto Ryu and also started me on Iaido training as a child. Sword is very important in Aikido. O'Sensei said, "Execute the Aikido technique as if you are holding a sword." I teach sword in my Dojo but it is often very hard and my students get discouraged and stop. I have a separate Iaido Department in which I teach pure traditional Iaido. My Iaido students are doing very well, I am happy to say.I hate to comment on Aikido sword because I think my views are maybe too personal. At great risk, I just say that I am concerned that many Aikidoists study sword but do not yet understand that simple basics of sword. I would hate to see someone practice Aikido sword yet be easily defeated by the simplest sword attack by a swordsman. In addition, I often see people practicing and the basic grip for holding the sword is incorrect and basic cuts are not executed well. I believe O'Sensei taught sword at such a high level that it is difficult for normal people like us to understand. We do need to understand at the very least the rudimentary elements of sword to study Aikido sword. Generally, many Aikido students study Aikido sword to enhance their own Aikido training and not particularly to study swordsmanship itself. Also, there is a safety factor here in training, swordsmanship is very dangerous, even with a wooden practice sword. I think this is okay but I am not too comfortable with this for my own students. I would like them to learn "actual" swordmanship and apply this to their Aikido training.Finally, what a Kendo man may appreciate but many Aikidoists do not is that the sword moves very fast, faster than the eye can move in many cases. I think we go too slow in our techniques. If a real sword is coming, it is so fast that we cannot even see it coming. When I was very young, I trained under the famous Torao Mori Sensei, also nicknamed "Tiger Mori." When he took a point or hit your head or wrist, it was so fast that after he hit us he would have to tell us that we have already been hit. We didn't know ourselves because we didn't even see it coming. Training in this kind of environment, I have to see Aikido swordmanship against this kind of opponent. What this means is that we must develop our precise, exacting sense of ma-ai, timing and spacing, and our "ki" in order to deflect the opponent's sword and execute the technique. I think swordsmanship is all mental sense, awareness and ki or, at the very least, the acute and precise functioning or it. At my students' request, I am teaching more sword nowadays in my dojo, but it is very difficult to teach. Japanese swordsmanship is an extremely sophisticated art with a long history of refinement by many generations of great masters. Sometimes we oversimplify sword techniques in Aikido and there is a caution here. I apologize to everyone for my comments of sword.

ZE:What plans do you have for the future?
I have no real ambitions, I just teach in my dojo everyday and continue my studies. I am committed to the few students who come to train under me. I am very happy and content with this and my students make my life complete. Over the years I have lost my ambition for fame and success. I think I will always be a poor teacher until I die. Yet, recently, I have had many requests to visit other schools so maybe it is time or destiny again to help students outside my tiny school here in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. I will go wherever I can help and be of some use. I don't want to get into the usual politics and competitiveness that exists in the world. I don't want to be "famous" or "popular." But nowadays, I have a great deal of confidence in the students who are training under me and they can help me a great deal if I begin to travel again or take care of the dojo very nicely if I am away. Because I am blessed with a strong core group of students, I feel that I can travel more freely. I have isolated myself in my own studies in my own dojo for over twenty years now, maybe it is time to get a bit of fresh air.

ZE: What is your message to the Aikidoka in Israel?
Everyone who can practice Aikido is blessed, especially to make this connection with someone like O'Sensei, even though he has passed on he is still alive in our art. As the late Ohsawa Sensei always used to say, I say to you, "Practice good Aikido!' I think more than many countries, I think, we are very concerned with peace and harmony in this world. Yet, as you also know, no country has achieved this in the history of mankind. Take a look around. We, as human beings, do no tfully understand what this "peace" means yet. I think this is why it is so hard to grasp or achieve in this world. Yet, O'Sensei's Aikido can give us a hint to what it is and how to achieve it . This is why Aikido, I believe, is so important in the world today. Please continue your Aikido training and never give up. Aikido, above all things, teaches us the value of our lives. I feel so honored that I have been asked to do this interview for you. I hope that there is something here to benefit you. That I have friends in your country is a great honor for me and I am very happy about this. I was so surprised to know that my little book, KODO, has reached your country so far away as well. I hope that you will continue to make contact with me and that we can continue to be friends and one day we can all train together. It goes without saying that you are always welcome to my Dojo for training.
Always with my best wishes and blessings,
Aikido Center of Los Angeles
Rev. Kensho Furuya

ZE: I would like to thank you very much for your time

Furuya Sensei will be remembered forever.
Furuya Sensei, you were always there for everyone. Always ready to assist and teach, reply and care.
You are the only teacher who really cared about me.
This is so sad.
All the students of Furuya Sensei, please be strong, please take care of the dojo and continue in this wonderful path he created with so much love and hard work.
I will miss you Sensei, I will miss our phone calls, e-mails, messages...
Here is a big hug for you Sensei, a last one till I see you in heaven.

Ze'ev Erlich.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Stillness in action, action in stillness

"Stillness in action, action in stillness"
Aikido & Zen,
An Interview With Rev. Kensho Furuya Sensei
By Ze’ev Erlich, Aikikan Dojo, Rehovot, Israel.
Please understand that any and all information in this website is copyrighted and the intellectual property of Rev. Kensho Furuya. It may not be used in any other publications, without exception, without the written approval of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles, LLC. For further details, please contact the ACLA Legal Department by emailing the Dojo. Thank you.

1. What is Zen?
Zen is the contemplative or meditative sect of Buddhism. In ancient times, each school of Buddhism had meditation as an important part of their training from the time of the Buddha. Around the 6th century, a new form of Buddhism was brought over to China from India which specifically emphasized meditation over all other forms of practice and ceremonies which had developed since the time of the Buddha.

Meditation is called Dhyana in Sanskrit (Dhyana means “emptiness” as in “empty mind,”) which, when it was imported into China, was pronounced as “Chan.” In Japan, this is pronounced as “Zen” The Chinese character or kanji is composed of two radicals meaning “single” and “robe” which refers to the “kesa” or cloth robe worn by Buddhists priest.
Zen means “meditation,” but today, we try to stay away from the many associations and nuances this term has picked up in its growing popularity, so we simply call it, “sitting.” With such a simple word as “sitting,” we can avoid all of the misunderstandings and confusion which has become attached to the word, “Zen” or “meditation.”

2. What Zen sect are you part of?
I was ordained as a monk of the Soto Sect of Zen. Originally, in China there were two, the Northern and Southern Schools, of Zen. Of the five main sects which developed, the three main ones in Japan are Soto, Rinzai and Obaku.

Soto Zen was brought over to Japan from China by Dogen Zenji in the mid 13th century. When he travelled to China to meet great teachers, he was very disappointed with the practice at the temples and returned to the ship to sail back to Japan.

While waiting for the return trip, he met an old priest who came to the ship to buy imported mushrooms for the meal at the temple where he lived. Dogen struck up a conversation with the old priest. “How far did you come to buy mushrooms?”

“About 14 miles,” replied the old priest.

“That is very far for an old priest like yourself, You should take it easy and let the younger priests do such a menial job as this. Why don’t you relax and have some tea with me?”

“This is my job and my practice, so I have to do it myself. I have no time for tea because I must go another 14 miles back to the temple to prepare this evening’s meal.” said the old priest.

“What do you mean ‘practice?’” asked Dogen.

“1, 2, 3, a, b, c. . . .” replied the old priest.

“I don’t understand!” queried Dogen.

“You do not understand the meaning of ‘practice.’ You better come with me and meet my teacher!”

Through this priest, Dogen was introduced to Nyojo who was a very strict teacher and taught Zen in the old, traditional ways. After four years, Dogen received a great enlightement and was acknowledged by Nyojo. Although Nyojo wanted Dogen to remain in China, Dogen decided to return to Japan and introduce the teachings of Soto Zen. Dogen wrote the Shobogenzo, (“The Treasury Of the Eye of the Law”) which is considered a National Treasure in Japan and relates in very great detail, the form of practice as Dogen learned it in China. Today, in Soto Zen temples, this method introduced in the mid-1200’s by Dogen is still practiced today as it has been for the last 800 years in Japan.

Soto Zen is rather astere and simple. One just sits in the same posture or form of Shyakamuni Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment. For Dogen, it is not important to become famous or skilled or enlightened, but it is to recover one’s “original, normal” state of mind.

3. What does the title "Rev." mean in connection with Zen?
I was ordained under the Rev. Bishop Kenko Yamashita who was the Head Priest of the North American Head- quarters of Soto Zen Buddism and the Abbot of the Zenshuji Soto Mission for over 50 years. Zenshuji is over 90 years old and is the oldest Zen temple in America. I was ordained in Yamashita Sensei’s later years because he had not taken any students during his long career. I was very much attracted to him for his great learning and wisdom. I received ordination in 1988 and worked for several years at Zenshuji until his passing at the age of 94 years.

“Reverend” refers to my title as a Zen priest. I keep my title in honor and remembrance of my late Zen master and teacher.

4. Can you please tell us about the meaning of your name, "Kensho?”When I was ordained as a priest, I received one character from my teacher’s name to be added to one character from my own Japanese name. It was decided that I become, “Kensho.” “Ken” comes from “Kenko,” my teacher’s name and the Sho” comes from my personal Japanese name. Kensho means, “proliferation” or “spreading” of “Truth.” It is a very good name, do you not think? - Maybe much too good for me! There is an old saying with my name in it by coincidence: “Haja Kensho” or “Destroy evil and spread righteousness.”

5. Can you please tell us about how your connection with Zen had started?
Although I did not have a strict religous upbringing in my family. I had always been interested in Zen since I was a child, especially as it related to martial arts. From my early years, I practiced Kendo, Iaido and later, Aikido.

I read my first book on Zen in 1957 when this little book first came out. At that time, very little was known about Zen in this country. I must have been about 9 years old at the time. I started Kendo when I was about 6 or 7 years old, Iaido when I was about 8 and Aikido when i was about 10 years old.

Since this book, I tried to read and studied everything I could about Zen. Although I was very young, I remember that I had to order books from England and Japan just to satisfy my learning because there was so little information here in America. Suzuki Daisetsu, one of the pioneers of Zen outside of Japan, had written many books in English published in England and also a monthly Journal which I was also able to find. These books today are very rare, I think. I estimate my library on books on Zen alone to be somwhere about 300-400 volumes. . . .

Later, I began to practice Zazen by myself and later at Zenshuji in the 1980’s when I moved my dojo to the Little Tokyo area. My dojo was conveniently just around the corner from the temple. After practicing for several years there, (Regretably the main temple is separate from the Zendo where we practice Zen sitting so we were segregated from the normal temple activities. I don’t know why this was.) I finally met the Head Priest of Zenshuji who turned out to be Bishop Kenko Yamashita. This was very fortunate for me and a very odd coincidence because I had met him many years before at one of my good friend’s father’s funeral where he had officiated the service.

At the reception after the funeral, I sat in front of the Bishop and was so impressed with his noble manner and wisdom that I thought to myself, “I want to be a priest like him!” It was my Karma to meet him like this, I believe.

I should also mention here that one very great influence for me to pursue Zen very strongly was Kisaburo Ohsawa Sensei, 9th Dan, at Hombu Dojo. Although he never mentioned one word of Zen to me, he, in some way, led me to the real doorstep of Zen by introducing me to the name of the great Zen master, Sawaki Kodo Roshi, who was his teacher for almost 20 years. Sawaki Roshi also had contact with many of the great martial artists of the time including O’Sensei and Nakayama Hakudo Sensei, the “father” of modern Iaido.

Although I really had no connection with Zen outside of my own personal interest, somehow, I was led to the right door to finally meet Bishop Kenko Yamashita who taught me so much. O’Sensei, of course, Doshu, Sawaki Kodo and Hakudo Sensei taught me so much and influenced me greatly.

6. Can you please tell us about your daily Zen practice?
Today, I don’t sit much because of my bad knee. I still observe the precepts of a Zen priest. I live quietly in my dojo and reflect everyday on teaching and my Life. Writing my thoughts, and teaching my students is my form of practice - I think about my practice and the way to live and teach correctly. I like to consider teaching my students as “doing good acts” in helping others. I try to practice a non-violent, peaceful life completely avoiding the arena of politics, fame, power, money and competing for prestige.

Other than this, I don’t really do much as a priest that anyone can tell nor can I brag really about. Just trying to be a decent, normal person and trying to do good deeds and being a caring human being is the way my teacher taught me to live and practice Zen.

7. How does Aikido connect with Zen?
I don’t want to say that you must practice Zen in order to practice Aikido. I believe that in practice, Aikido is Aikido and that is all. Because I am a Zen priest, I do not want to become a Zen “salesman” to sell Zen to you.

I think if you like Zen and have an interest in Zen, I am sure it will help your Aikido in some way. If you have no interest in Zen and do not practice Zen, I think this is also fine and has no effect on your Aikido at all.

From my own personal point of view, I had a strong interest in Zen from a very early age - I really do not know why, I was just attracted to it like someone falls in love. I fell in love with Zen, much like Aikido. I was first very interested in Zen because I knew it had a strong connection with the spiritual side of Japanese martial arts and as I began to find out more about it, it only stirred my interest in it even more.

I think, for myself, it is important to study Zen because it has had such a strong, pervading influence on Japense Budo and the Samurai from the very beginning of Japan’s feudal history. I think another reason I find Zen very important is that the form of practice we see in Japanese martial arts today, including Aikido, was taken from the method of practice in the Zen temples. To understand why we do the things we do in the dojo and why we have these standards for our mental and physical training all stem from the methods of Zen training in the Zen temples.

Ohsawa Sensei of Hombu Dojo never mentioned Zen but you could see it in his actions and manner. This is what I like about Ohsawa Sensei and Zen. It taught without words or fancy methods and there was no complicated ceremonies or manners. To become a won-derful teacher and Aikidoist like Ohsawa Sensei, I thought that I should pursue my Zen practice more thoroughly. That is about it, no real reason to really discuss and no real reason or intention I can tell about. . . . .

8. Can one practice in a way that his Aikido training becomes Zen training?
Yes, for myself, I must emphasize again, I think there are two aspects of Zen and Aikido which are very compatible and blend nicely in one’s daily life and it is these two points I try to think about and practice all of the time in my own life and practice. The first is “Do not fight.” This is both the first principle in Zen and Aikido. Secondly, “Be a nice person and do good acts.” I think I see this in both Aikido and Zen and try to understand this from both points of view. In both Aikido and Zen, I believe, it is nothing more than to become a good person and try to be helpful and caring towards others.

9. The phrase "Moving Zen" is sometimes heard in connection to some martial arts like Kyudo or Aikido. Can you please teach us about it?
Yes, you are right, we hear this often said. They say it about Iaido as well, and recently, they like to say it about Karate and Tae Kwon Do. . . In America, they like to say it about tennis, motorcycle riding, gardening, cooking, and almost everything!

I think we like to say this because it means that we are seeking a “special state of mind” - very focused and contemplative or well centered - which we can apply to what we do such as Aikido or Iaido or any discipline or activity.

In many ways, this is very true. In Zen, there is the idea to “wake up!” your mind or “open your eyes!” or to shake the mind out of its stupor or sleeply state and become more aware and sensitive to what you are doing.

Because Zen is always from a “sitting’ position, this “applied” form of Zen is always “moving” as in Aikido.
* Image of a scroll with the words “Heijoshin Kore Do,”
From the outside looking in on Zen, we can say, “moving” Zen or moving something. . . However, from the Zen point of view looking outward, we never say such things. In Zen, everything is the “activity of the mind” whether we are moving or not. In Zen, meditation is considered the “purest form” of “being” because it represents the posture and mental state of the Buddha as he acquired his great enlightenment. However, in Zen practice, whether reading sacred texts or working at cleaning or cooking or talking with friends or doing Aikido, all of this, even when we are sleeping, should be this state of Zen, where the mind is always in its own natural, original condition. I hope this makes sense to you. In Zen, and in martial arts, we often say, “Heijoshin Kore Do,” which means, “The everyday, normal mind is the Way (“Do”) as in Aiki-Do. This is Zen.

10. What is Satori?“Satori” means “enlightenment” and refers to the enlightenment of the Buddha. In Zen, people often think that the goal is to achieve this enlightenment through practice. In Soto Zen, oddly, we never talk about satori. If we do, we are reprimanded and joked at by our teachers. Sometimes, they say, “When you get your enlightenment, what are you going to do with it?” Oh my! This is a good question! In Soto Zen, we often explain it like this: “Before practice, an apple is just an apple. When we begin to practice, the apple becomes something more than an apple. When we achieve enlightenment, the apple is just an apple again.”

Dogen Zenji said not to look for anything “special” in practice. Practice itself is the enlightenment. Whe you are practicing Aikido or Zen, you are in a state of enlightenment. As you are, you are enlightened. There is no need to chase after anything. However, we cannot understand this with our intellect or reason or small, self-centered mind. We practice and train hard to understand and refine this realization. . . This is why even though we are already enlightened, we still need to train. In this same way of thinking, everyone is already a great master of Aikido. But because we cannot understand this for ourselves, we need to practice in order to refine this understanding.

When he was alive, O’Sensei was famous for giving out 10th Dan certificate to everyone and all of his friends. I think many people thought this was very odd but from his way of thinking as I just mentioned, I am sure that O’Sensei looked at everyone he met as great Aikido master and teacher. . . . how do you reach this level of existence when you can see everyone like this? You must practice as hard as O’Sensei!

11. Can one reach Satori through his Aikido training?
If my student asked me this question, I have to put an angry expression on my face and say, “No!” Of course, the answer is “yes,” but the “dangerous word” here in this question is “reach.” We are always “reaching” for this and “reaching” for that. Our whole lives are “I want this” and “I want that.” We are in satori when we can escape this cycle or mental state of always “wanting” or “reaching for” something.

In Zen, we never say, “I am enlightened!” If someone does, we all laugh. It is like saying “Will I ever become a master of Aikido?” Of course, we have to say, “no!,” but in actuality, we also have to think in our hearts, “yes!”

I think it is like saying, “Will I ever get to heaven?” Who knows? No one has ever come back to confirm this but, in our hearts, we say, “Yes, I will go”

As in Aikido, many questions cannot be answered by words or logic and some things cannot be explained by what we do or think, it is just in our hearts and we have to know it. I believe, in this way, everyone reaches Satori in Aikido.

12. What is Beginner's mind? And how can one "not forgetting" it?“Beginner’s Mind:” is considered to be one of the most important ideas to grasp if you are beginning Zen practice, it is also an important principle in all martial arts training. It is very useful to apply this principle to our Aikido practice as well.

Beginner’s mind is the naive, clear, untainted mind or the excited, new, fresh mental attitude you have when you first embark on a new project or endeavor. It is the fresh spirit you have when you first start a discipline like Aikido that you must try to maintain throughout your entire career in practice. Typically, after you gain some time and experience, you begin to think about rank and prestige, about who is better of worse, or who you like or dislike, about your next promotion, or you beomce jaded and bored with practice or begin competing with others - this is all the opposute of the “Beginner’s Mind.” I think in your dojo you have the famous saying, “Shoshin Wo Wasurebekarazu.” - Or “Never forget your beginner’s mind.”
* Image of the scroll with the words “Shoshin Wo Wasurebekarazu.”

How do you not forget about this? This is the challenge and charm of our practice and what compels us to always be on your toes and constantly correcting our mental state in practice.

13. What is the difference you see in people that practice Aikido and Zen in comparison with those that practice Aikido only?
I don’t encourage or force my students to practice Zen, I only answer their question s about Zen practice if they ask me directly. Also it is not a requirement in our dojo to practice Zen, however, some students practice on their own in different Zen centers and I think some people join my dojo because I am also a Zen priest and they have an interest in both Aikido and Zen.

I should say that I don’t expect to see any difference if one practices Zen and Aikido and one only practices Aikido.

I should say however, that because Zen also emphasizes non-violence and serenity, I “feel” that those who practice Zen are more settled and centered in their outlook and movement. They are usually not as competing or aggressive. There are many scientific studies which clearly show that Zen sitting does have an effect on the mind and in Zen sitting the mind is at once more energetic and, at the same time, more settled and quiet. As you can see, this is also the ideal mental state and attitude for our Aikido practice as well.

I have studied many different Eastern disciplines and practices but I have always found Zen to be the most compatible with Aikido practice. However, it is not really fair to tell this to everyone hoping they will start Zen. Everyone should come into Zen freely and by their own will. I always have to keep this in my mind when teaching Aikido. I do talk a lot about Zen in my writings on martial arts because it is so hard to get away from Zen which has had such a wide and profound impact on the traditional Japanese martial arts.

14. Do you believe that Aikido can become a part of Zen training?
In addition to myself, I know of many teachers who have combined Aikido and Zen practice and there are many who think that they are very compatible. When I observed Ohsawa Sensei, it was obvious that he was a practitioner of Zen, yet he never spoke of Zen directly nor pushed Zen on anyone. However, I thought that if I ever wanted to be like anyone in Aikido, it would be Ohsawa Sensei because he was such a wonderful teacher with amazing technique - so calm and powerful at the same time. So, I think I would like to follow his example and only emphasize Zen in a non-verbal way. I also have a strong obligation to Doshu and Hombu Dojo so I must teach Aikido as purely as I can and I have to think about this a great deal.

Ultimately, I think it is important to keep Zen as Zen and Aikido as Aikido - and, if the student has interest in both paths, like myself, somewhere they will both come together in a natural way. I think this is the best - not the easiet - but the best way to teach both by giving each discipline its own integrity and respect.

Zen teaches to be non-violence and cultivate a calm, awake, sensitive mind, but it accomplsihes this by sitting and being still. Sometimes, the idea of this non-violence and this calmness is not clear in the Aikido techniques, because we are always moving, throwing and pinning against an opponent or partner. Of course, we are always moving dynamically and “movement” or the “activity,” both mental and physical, is the most obvious, evident sign of Life. One teaches stillness and one teaches movement. For me, it is much like the old saying in martial arts: “Do Chu no Sei, Sei Chu No Do.” which translates as: “Stillness in action, action in stillness.” This is, I believe, the perfect combination of both Aikido and Zen practice together.

15. How can one bring Zen practice to his daily Aikido training at the Dojo?
* Image of a scroll with the words : “Shoaku Makusa”
The famous Zen priest, Ikkyu once wrote two sayings which I think express Zen very well. One scroll says, “Shoaku Makusa” or “Don’t do bad deeds.” The second scroll says, “Shuzen Bugyo,” or “Practice goodness.” if you can understand these simple words and bring them into your practice and your Life, I think I can say that you have mastered the Zen spirit. When O’Sensei talked about non-fighting and peace and one family of man, I think that he was trying to tell us this very same idea but in slightly different words.

How to practice Zen in your Aikido? Become a caring person and treasure and respect all of those around you and treat people with goodness. For yourself, always look at Aikido training as a part of your normal daily life - like brushing your teeth or having tea, - it is nothing special but, at the same time, something very important and essential to your Life.

On a more practice level, Zen deals with “attachment.” As an example, we often have the habit to grab at the hand in Shomenuchi when we know we should guide in downwards with a hand-blade. Sometimes this notion is hard to break because our logic says, “grab” rather than “guide downwards.”
This is a kind of “attachment” to an old idea. Zen teaches that we shouldn’t be hung-up but act freely, without such hinderances. In another sense, we do not focus or hang on so hard to ideas, but let them flow freely and naturally. We do not become stuck on the attacking hand but allow it to flow away from ourselves.
You do not have to worry about doing meditation sitting or chanting Zen scriptures and acting like a priest in order to apply Zen to our Aikido practice, as long as you are a caring, loving person. We do not fight, nor are we attached to the enemy or idea of an enemy. We are mentally free and unfettered, thinking only to harmonize with the other person, not harm or destroy him.

*Image of a scroll with the words :“Shuzen Bugyo,”
16. Do you have a message for us here in Israel?
When I first met Ze’ev Sensei, he had invited me on several occasions to come to Israel to teach a class or two. When I first heard this, I was quite surprised. From what I read in American newspapers, it thought it must be a dangerous, war-torn country filled with violence. After getting to know Ze’ev Sensei much more, I found that the information in our newspapers here is inaccurate and Israel is also a very lovely country with many good people. When I asked my students, “What if I went to Israel?” To my surprise, so many of my black belts and students wanted to go with me, so many people in my dojo want to see and visit your country.

I don’t know much about your religion and life in Israel but there is a movie which I found very interesting and I like this movie very much. Of course, this is only a movie so probably it is not all correct information. . . . so please forgive me for mentioning this. It is about a female detective who must live in a Jewish Hassidic community in New York in order to solve her case. It is a story about the culture shock of suddenly being transplanted into this Hassidic lifestyle which is so different from the life of a young woman of this modern age. What was very interesting to me is that so much of the religion is intermeshed with one’s daily life. For me, I thought this is very similar to the Zen life where there is no border between what is religious and spiritual and what is our normal lifestyle.

I think for you in your country you may find this an unsual remark but if you have ever lived in the United States you will know what I mean. Here in this country, we have the principle of “separation of church and state.” Although this refers only to our civil rights and laws in society and really has no bearing on our personal beliefs, today, many people here mis-interpret this to mean that our religion or spiritual practice must be completely separate from our normal life style. . . Of course, in my personal life or among my students, I have never run across such an idea that one’s beliefs or religion cannot enter our personal lives but a few years back when I was participating in an Aikido website, I was severaly reprimanded for answering an inquiry about clapping hands in the dojo which was interpreted as a “religious” question. I was so surprised and shocked when this happened because it was only an answer to a question and in no way a sales pitch for religion. I think Ze’ev Sensei remembers this incident which caused me so much grief. It was so funny to me! Indeed, sometimes our thinking can become too stiff and narrow-minded.

I think that although the world changes so much and so quickly, you must hold on to your customs and beliefs very strongly no matter what. Aikido or Zen does not contradict or reject any belief system or other religion or philsophy and is very comfortable wherever it is. In both Aikido and Zen, we must practice hard and enjoy the virtue and benefits of practice. And, - just to be a good person trying to do good for others - for me, this is the essence of my practice and this is how I try to understand both my Aikido and Zen together.

I realize that you have such a very good teacher and many good students of Aikido where you are. Maybe someday I will get to I know my good friend and senior, Mastake Fujita Sensei recently visited you and I heard that he enjoyed his trip very much. Of course, he read a great deal about you and Ze’ev Sensei from our dojo newsletter here in my dojo and wanted to see you. I see this as a kind of karma where is are all interconnected and interdependent on each other. Although this is a principle of Zen, I think it is also O’Sensei’s One Family of Man all getting together in harmony through Aikido.

I hope I have been able to answer all of Ze’ev Sensei’s questions on Zen clearly. Because Zen and Aikido are not “officially” joined together, I have to present this as all my own personal views and if I have offended anyone, it is due to my lack of experience and wisdom

I wish you all of the best, and hope O’Sensei’s spirit of Peace will touch all of you and your country. I also pray for you as I pray for Peace and Harmony in this world everyday. Please continue to practice hard and support your teacher and your dojo. With all my best wishes,

Rev. Kensho Furuya,
Aikido Center of Los Angeles

Thank you so much for your time.
Ze’ev Erlich, Aikikan, Rehovot, Israel

Friday, March 11, 2005

our dojo web site

Masatake Dojo (Aikikai)
Israeli Aikido Organization