Members of Aikido Yoshinkai Canada who have been with Kimeda Sensei over the years know that until 2017 one of the hallmarks of his teaching was his weekly Kenshu class. Kenshu are intensive study and training classes and while we did not always leave these classes sweating from physical exertion, we did leave them mentally exhausted.
Kimeda Sensei’s lectures in these classes always offered something “more” — more than a simple physical explanation or application of technique. They provided us with additional historical, philosophical or cultural insights that gave us a more complete understanding of our art. In this way, Sensei gave us a way to contextualize our Aikido, a way to better comprehend the practice of Aikido in the modern world.
Over the last few weeks at the Shindokan we have had a particular focus on jiyu-waza training and throughout this time one of Kimeda Sensei’s teachings from his Kenshu classes has repeatedly come to mind — Heijoshin.
This term refers to a mind that is in a natural, calm state — a mind unperturbed by the goings-on that swirl around it. We would say that someone who had achieved Heijoshin had a certain “presence of mind.”
Literally translated Hei-jo-shin means “peaceful-ordinary-mind.” Takuan Soho referred to it as “Fudoshin,” meaning “immoveable mind.” Miyamoto Musashi called this state “Iwa no Mi,” to have a mind (body) like an immoveable rock. Finally, Yagyu Munenori used the term “Suigetsu,” to refer to a state in which the mind is as calm as the still water which reflects the moon.
From a developmental perspective, one can be said to have achieved Hei-jo-shin when they have overcome the 4 Sicknesses (shi-kai) of the martial arts. These are: surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation (kyo-ku-gi-waku). It is not a far stretch to realize how falling into any one of these states of mind could cause turmoil, confusion and an inability to interact effectively with one’s surroundings..
While at first the idea of Heijoshin seems simple enough, at least in terms of daily living, it is a far more difficult concept to achieve in practice and even more so under pressure. In the dojo, one way we add this pressure is in through jiyu-waza training.
In Yohsinkan Aikido practice, jiyu-waza presents shite with a unique experience from at least two perspectives. The first is in the application of their technique and the second is in the experience of their art.
In terms of application, jiyu-waza is unlike any other practice that we do. In performing kihon waza, for example, shite and uke interact in a mutually agreed upon manner, each performing movements known to the other. This style of training is called kata-geiko — the practice of forms. While we can, and do, attempt to mimic the application of jiyu-waza techniques through various renzoku (continuation) drills, these do not really approximate the intensity of actual jiyu-waza. These renzoku waza are certainly beneficial, but jiyu-waza includes an element of randomness that frustrates any effort at pre-planning.
From the perspective of experience as well, jiyu-waza is unlike anything else in our training. In jiyu-waza, the comfort zone provided by the “prior knowledge” of our kata-geiko is no longer present. And while the manner of attack is generally known, little else is. Shite has no knowledge of other key variables such as speed, intensity or direction. Add to this the fact that there may be multiple attackers and you have what amounts to a pressure cooker for many practitioners.
So, in this way, jiyu-waza propels shite into new and unfamiliar situations and asks them to deal with unknown variables. The result? Typically? Confusion.
Here we can start to gain insight into the often quoted adage by Gozo Shioda, the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido. He said: “Aiki soku seikatsu.” Aikido and life are one. Aikido training mimics experiences in life and it is through our practice that we can acquire the skills to deal with similar experiences in our daily lives.
Learning to cope with confusion on the mats through the practice of jiyu-waza is extremely useful to us. Most of us are confronted by confusion in varying degrees of intensity everyday, in both our personal and our professional lives. Staying calm, understanding the variables and responding appropriately are competencies we gain through jiyu-waza. Born of our training, these skills can help us to become more stable in our approach to potentially disruptive people and situations.
So the real question then, is; How do we acquire Heijoshin — that unperturbed always calm state of mind? Well, fortunately, there are no shortcuts. Shortcuts rob us of experience. They rob us of the very quality and depth of learning we are seeking. So get ready to work. You certainly will not achieve Hei-jo-shin by philosophizing over your tea or joining a book club. Achieving Hei-jo-shin in Aikido requires that you get on the mats. Practice. Sweat. Find out who you are. Learn to welcome the unfamiliar. Overcome the 4 sicknesses. Maintain control of your ‘self.’ When the world slows down around you, you will have it.
Chief Instructor, Shindokan Dojo
Aikido Yoshinkai Canada
This blog post is part of a shared series. For more insights into a variety of aikido-related topics please visit the other Aikido Yoshinkai Canada websites: