In Budo, it is commonly understood that sincerity, Kokoro or Spirit is the highest human virtue for practice. Beyond skill beyond smarts even beyond mastery, sincerity stands on its own as the pinnacle of human virtues within the martial arts path. The word Shoshin means beginners mind but here again, the Shin part of the word means spirit and not mind in its western sense. The term Shoshin is commonly used in relation to correct training path and life path for that matter and is to my senses pretty much the same as sincerity. I believe it was during the question and answer period I was having with the students at the Aikido of London summer school recently that something began to open up inside of me in relation to all of this.
Probably this was due in some large part to the fact that all the London students had an extremely high level of Shoshin themselves. Normally when one says everyone it is a generalization to either accommodate or express an overall sense of a situation, not in this case though. During the course of the practice all weekend, I never once heard bad dead or dull sounds out of peoples weapons. Also, I had the extreme pleasure of being able to literally use anyone I glanced at all weekend long for Ukemi. No matter what their appearance or skill level they were all totally present awake and connected. This is the basics of Budo, this is Shoshin.
Of course, I can’t help but feel that a lot of this is due to the level of Quality and particular blend of elements that is consistently put out by Ismail Hasan Sensei. My observation of his methods were that he 1. Cares a lot about his students and 2. Yanks them out of their comfort zone consistently enough for them to expect the unexpected and remain open to whatever the moment brings. This made my job very easy, in fact, it made it into not a job but rather into an extremely pleasurable experience.
What really made me stop and take a closer look was when one of the students asked me about my sense of Aikido practice and it’s relationship to daily life. In other words how much of one blends and infuses into the other. It’s a pertinent question possibly the pertinent question in relation to our practice. Aikido is a spiritual or life path much is all of the Japanese path or “Do” paths that are born of the Buddhist spiritual influence in the Asian and Japanese culture. I’ll be honest as well. I lived in Japan for several years and have seen firsthand how basically all endeavours are stretched into this arena as well. Even a company job is basically seen as a spiritual path,a fact that is so commonly understood that it’s never even particularly spelt out. Again the flavour is different from our connotation of spiritual, but that is only because the culture is different as well.
This being the case my first answer was and still is I don’t really know how we are to do this, it’s something we all have to sort out on our own. We have no unified idea and culture like the Japanese. Yet let’s take a further look at this as best we can. A “Do” path denotes walking forward on a course. When seen linearly the implication is that today you are here at this lower spot and tomorrow or several days or weeks later you have gained something and progressed or moved forward and maybe even achieved something which is fine. Achievements are good we all need them. Yet I don’t feel we can really look at the sense of Path through these type of eyes is all I am saying. The basic notion of Zen Buddhism is that the first step equals the last step. This is the last step the final step and only this one step exists, only now as all else is a dream an illusion. Then I began to think about all the times I sort of let myself off the hook on encountering a situation or making a good decision that could be painful nonetheless. All the times I slip off my Shoshin and stop paying attention to the little details and actions that envelop the absolute beautiful radiance of what life naturally is. When I think of this I feel extremely encouraged as there is always there is always the next moment, and this moment-this one-moment is-always has been, and always will be everything.
By Yahe Solomon
Originally written in Sept 17 2015.