Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sense and sensei!

One of the nicest people I know is a tiny little Bengali who makes a living from pushing people around. I’ve seen this mighty atom, a barely five feet tall featherweight, literally wipe the floor with huge occidental giants who can’t help but bow in respect and submission to this man who, having made his point, smiles as he offers his hand or a gentle pat to the still quavering object of his administrations.

Paritosh Kar is the highest ranked Aikidoka (practitioner of the gentle yet ‘persuasive’ martial art of Aikido ) in India with formidable prowess in the art, yet his dojo (studio), where he teaches a small but dedicated group of students, hardly has enough members to sustain the establishment. It’s a pity that this powerful yet beautiful art, a capital builder of courage, compassion and character isn’t as popular as it ought to be.

Sensei Kar, or his potential students might not have access to nearly a century deep treasure trove of inspirational lives and events from the brightest and darkest corners of the world but the editors at TIME surely do. And more is the pity when a media beacon such as the TIME above fails to find a place for a life as heroic and a story as stirring as that of Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the founder of Aikido, and acknowledged by many as the greatest martial artist of all time, in its list of Asian heroes from the last 60 years (13 Nov issue).

Morihei Ueshiba, or O Sensei – great teacher, as he came to be known was born into a Samurai family and began life as a sickly, premature child. Encouraged by legacy and relatives to take up the martial arts, his meetings with two conflicting yet equally charismatic teachers, Sokaku Takeda, who initiated him into the fierce martial system of Daito-ryu Aikijutsu and Deguchi Onisaburo, the mesmeric leader of the Omotokyo Sect, a religious group dedicated to world peace and disarmament, shaped his unique philosophy. A soldier himself, Morihei was devastated by the ravages of WWII. By then in his 60s, Ueshiba’s martial techniques had evolved from the merely physical to an invincible spiritual force, guided by visions and divine communions.

At this stage, realisation dawned on Morihei, whose name incidentally means abundant peace, that the purpose of Budo – the martial path of courage and enlightenment – was not to defeat or destroy the enemy but to seek universal harmony, even in the face of aggression by blending with and then guiding and controlling any destructive force, whether it surges from within or attacks from without. Thus was born Ai-ki-do (Ai – harmony, Ki – universal, do – path or way), the path of harmonising with the universal energy. Almost Gandhian, but instead of the apparent passivity of turning the other cheek, an Aikidoka is more likely to turn his opponent inside out, albeit without damaging his body and hopefully having transformed his soul. It is not for Morihei Ueshiba’s legendary, superhuman feats nor for his unconquerable martial spirit and skill or the sheer artistic brilliance of his art with brush, sword and soul but for his legacy of Aikido, techniques that not only develop the body but a philosophy that one can practice and reinforce everyday in the dojo and in life, thus building both fortitude and forbearance, crucial for surviving a world that still hasn’t figured out how not to burn the candle at both ends, that I feel that he is as much of a hero as Seiji Ozawa, Bruce Lee and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Michael Gelb, author of How to think like Leonardo da Vinci, ranks Ueshiba amongst some of the greatest creative geniuses of all time, alongside names like William Shakespeare and the great Leonardo. On his deathbed, Ueshiba had said “Aikido is for the entire world”, and at a time when that world is celebrating proof of an elephant’s self awareness, there isn’t a better mirror for mankind than the practice of Aikido, or a more opportune time to hold it up .

Warriors in harmony

Two of the greatest classics to have emerged from the orient are Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. Well, times are as violent as ever and the war zones have spread from battle grounds to boardrooms and bedrooms. These books are as popular as ever but the deceitful, confrontational ruthlessness recommended in most of the pages might be good enough to win a battle but never a war. We are more equal than we have ever been, both as nations and as individuals and both survival and success can’t help but be a function of winning friends, not wars.

Aikido is a unique martial art that, even at its reactive best, refuses to regress into a fight and holds tremendous appeal for those who believe in looking at every situation with a win-win perspective for all concerned. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, had different students who were associated with him at different stages of his development, each playing a role in the rise of a unique school of the art. Beyond the martial arena, each school has virtues that find application in life, love and litigation. Go ahead, try ‘em on for size!

Shin shin toitsu Aikido: Harnesses physical, spiritual and intellectual energy. Popular with stress ravaged corporate groups.

Hombudojo: A traditional cultural experience, a creative legacy of the master

Tomiki: Encourages competition, sport and the spirit that fuels both.

Yoshinkan: Physically, the most challenging of Aikido forms, it embodies the warrior’s philosophy and perspective.


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