Have you trained in other martial arts?
Are there any differences between aikido when Morihei Ueshiba was alive and aikido today?
Seiseki Abe: Before the war, there was more emphasis on technique and [use of] the bokken (wooden practice sword) and jo (staff). After the war, O-Sensei began placing more emphasis on aikido philosophy and less emphasis on weapons. When he died, some techniques were altered by some aikido masters. The difference between aikido in Japan and in the United States is this: In Japan, you are not allowed to carry a gun or a weapon. Japan has strict controls with regard to using a sword. In contrast, in the United States everyone can carry a weapon — gun, knife, club, etc. It is much easier to use a weapon against someone. Therefore, in the United States, aikido training places more emphasis on the self-defense applications.
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What are the benefits of training with the bokken and jo?
Seiseki Abe: It is important to practice with the bokken and jo because the spirit of martial arts came from the sword and swordsmanship. That is very important. On the other hand, the philosophy of aikido says to throw away the weapon. The reason we continue to practice swordsmanship is to understand the movements of the sword and the relationship to aikido movements. The weapons are not practiced to be used in a combat situation.
Is there a relationship between aikido and Zen?
Seiseki Abe: There is a similar relationship [with regard to] concentration. The way of aikido is concentrating to move your body 100 percent when performing a technique. It is to improve this concentration. In Zen, you sit down, remain calm and relax, and the concentration is 180 degrees in a different direction. There is no movement. There is a similarity, but they are also very different. Another difference is that Zen came from Buddhism, while aikido’s spiritually came from kojiki (records of ancient matters). So their original sources are different.
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What is misogi?
Seiseki Abe: Misogi is the process of pouring cold water over the body to purify it and develop concentration and breathing. It is a form of meditation which can help reduce food intake, especially animal products. It is more important to eat vegetables and grains to increase our spirituality. In the wintertime, misogi can be practiced to warm the body and maintain good health. Aikido is not only a physical technique; it also includes misogi, diet, etiquette, manners and courtesy, which can further your spiritual growth.
How can we use aikido to improve our life?
Seiseki Abe: We practice aikido as a martial art. When an opponent or enemy confronts us, we try to find his weaknesses and maintain distance between us and him. In life, it is the same thing. We try to avoid confrontation but also protect ourselves. And it is important in the practice of aikido and in life to maintain a good diet.
Twenty years from now, how do you want the world to remember you?
Seiseki Abe: I want to leave behind the same philosophy for my students as O-Sensei did for his. I put my ki on paper as calligraphy. This represents [the part of my] philosophy that will remain with my students. I am also writing and describing kojiki, which is very important. This work will be left for my students to remember me.
Bonus Content! Steven Seagal Talks About Seiseki Abe
“In order to become any true great master of the martial arts, one must first be a poet or philosopher,” Steven Seagal says. “A man must love the classics and be well-versed in literature. In understanding the relationship between fine arts and martial arts, one may glimpse into the deeper meaning of budo’s essence.
“Abe sensei is one of the few great masters I’ve met that truly embodies the classics in his deep love for the martial arts and fine arts as one.
“Abe sensei has a deep sensitivity in a frail body, leaving one to believe that his studies and teachings may have led him to the imbalance of emphasis on one side. If we could only be the embodiment of Abe sensei’s true mastery of this true balance of bun bu ryo do, the study of both martial paths: pen and sword.”
More Bonus Content! Essential Definitions
Misogi is an old Shinto purification technique that was practiced by aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. Morihei Ueshiba believed misogi would enable students to develop a more harmonious relationship with the universe. The technique is also used to develop ki and achieve peace and calmness within. It comes from the teachings of kojiki (records of ancient matters).
Misogi starts with each student dousing himself with cold water. The student wears only a loincloth and headband. He then performs ame no torifune, a simulated rowing motion used in aikido practice. The spiritual meaning is that the student is rowing through the different realms of heaven. Okorobi, a simulated technique, is then used to practice a sword-cutting movement. Next, furitama is performed, wherein the student clasps his hands and shakes them up and down, concentrating on breathing and the hara (energy center below the navel). The final phase is the reciting of norito, a Shinto prayer that helps align one’s vibrations with the universe. Once this is completed, aikido can be practiced with a positive feeling of harmony.
Kojiki is one of the greatest movements of Japanese literature. Written in the eighth century, it is a compilation of mythology, manners, language, traditions and the fundamental scriptures of Shinto. Morihei Ueshiba studied kojiki and used many of the principles to found aikido.
Shodo is the Japanese art of calligraphy. Masters claim it is much more than just writing. Many insist it is the calligrapher’s ki that ends up on the paper. This was the reason Morihei Ueshiba studied shodo under Seiseki Abe, one of the top calligraphy masters in Japan. Seiseki Abe claimed that a relationship exists between the movements of the brush while forming characters and the movements of a student practicing aikido.
Read Part 1 of this article here.