Interview with Mr.Hiroyuki Aoki (Part2)

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From Part 1

NM:
Would you say that if you practiced Shintaido hard, you will be able to develop such kind of body, or in other words, that the main purpose of Shintaido is to develop such kind of body? I can’t fully define “such kind of body” I’m mentioning here but…


HA:
Yes, you could define “such kind of body” in many different ways, but the most important thing is “to be such kind of body”. For that, we need to continue to flex our body on a regular basis and train it softly. We all have a self-defense instinct that tries to protect ourselves reflexively by stiffening and hardening against things that are foreign to us. But when we harden our bodies, our techniques become ineffective both in martial arts and sports. On the other hand, when we keep our bodies soft, our bodies respond more freely and produce more effective techniques.

As you know, shells, crabs and other crustacean animals have hard shells to protect themselves, and this is a kind of evidence that we need a hard body to defend ourselves from our enemies. However, stretched, expansive movements are lost when we stiffen our bodies. Even athletes, singers, and actors often stretch their bodies or meditate and release all tensions before they do their work, right? They know that they will perform better if their body is soft and relaxed.

NM:
Does this mean that we need to soften our muscles surrounding our bones?


HA:
That's right. We need to soften our muscles. However, only softening our muscles is not enough. Please touch my arm. It's soft, right? We also need to be as hard as steel if necessary. But normally, my body is soft as a konnyaku or a marshmallow! Even when I’m doing Kenbu, my muscles are in a marshmallow state.

When we carry heavy objects, of course our muscles tighten. However, when you get used to keeping your body soft, you will be able to lift up heavy objects while still keeping your body and muscles in a soft state.

NM:
Really? Is that true? I cannot imagine that soft muscles could really lift up something heavy.


HA:
Do you know Yokozuna Taiho? Some Sumo wrestlers that have fought with him mention that his body was incredibly soft, and that no matter what part of his body they pushed, they couldn't find any tight or strained parts. And because his body was always so soft and relaxed, they felt that they didn't have any chance to win against him no matter how hard they pushed. Taiho was the master of the masters of Sumo.

He had a very soft body free of stiffness. We must train our bodied as hard as possible, but at the same time, we must train it so that it becomes very soft and relaxed. In addition to developing a soft, relaxed body through warm-up exercises, we also need to have a soft and flexible mind to truly relax our muscles from the core. We really have to make ourselves extreeeeeeemely soft.

NM:
Do you ever have stiff shoulders?


HA:
Basically no. I sometimes do, but generally no, even at this age (78 years old/as of October, 2014). Here, touch my arm.

NM:
(Mr. Aoki puts his arm out for me to touch. Then I touch his arm muscles.)
Wow!!! So soft! Really soft like a marshmallow! How on earth can you have muscles like marshmallows even though you are a karate master?! My arm is so skinny, but mine is much harder than yours.


HA:
The person I’m receiving Shiatsu from now is in his 70s and is a great Shiatsu master, and he also said he has never touched such a soft, relaxed body in his experience. So even when he massaged me with deep or hard strokes or stepped on me as part of the massage, I didn't feel any pain.

NM:
Can I touch your stomach area too?


A:
My stomach area is also soft, but if I clench my stomach muscles, it turns like steel. However, as soon as I release it, it becomes soft and marshmallow, like a baby's body. My ideal body is one that could move truly soft with marshmallow muscles!

NM:
I read your books and magazine articles to learn more about you before this interview. From your teenage years you have been involved in very hard training, challenging the limits of your physical and spiritual capacities. It’s incredible how you could still maintain such marshmallow softness despite mastering such hard training that went on for hours every time.


HA: I’m sure everyone imagines that my body would be muscular and hard like steel after 60 years of martial arts practice. But no! It’s the exact opposite! I have been aiming for a soft, relaxed body for decades.

Snakes have an extremely soft, loose body. Do you know the python snake? They kill their prey by wrapping their body around animals and suffocating them. I experienced that when I visited a country in Southeast Asia and wrapped a python snake around my body too. It was like steel, and the snake didn't move at all, not even a millimeter. There was no way I could get it off of me. However, it could start moving soft the next minute. My ideal body is just like that. I want to be able to choose how I use my body—sometimes I need the marshmallow body and sometimes the hard steel body.

I also want to add here that in martial arts, students are often taught, “gather all your energy in the lower abdomen!” But this is really wrong. It’s just a worldwide superstition to believe it’s effective to gather energy in your lower abdomen and watch your opponent vigilantly. The fact that all players with martial arts background get knocked out easily proves how ineffective it is.

NM:
By the way, I heard that the reason why you started practicing martial arts was for theater, to develop your body to become an actor.


HA:
Yes, that’s right. However, while practicing both theater and martial arts, I realized I like drawing the most. Let’s say martial arts gives me 70 – 80 % satisfaction and theater 90 %. But drawing gives me 100% satisfaction. I was so happy whenever I drew. So at that time, I was thinking of becoming a painter and debating whether to work at the National Museum or Tokyo Museum.

Here are the 3 pillars I want everyone to be aware of in understanding who I am and where I’m coming from. First, I had strong faith in Christianity even before becoming a university student. Also, I was strongly drawn to art, such as theater and visual arts. So it would be difficult to understand me wholly unless you understand these 3 pillars of mine: Christianity, Karate, and Art.

What happened though was that I was recommended for the highest rank in my Karate school that I had joined to develop my body for theater. After that, my master asked me to be apprenticed to him to serve him for 1 year as assistant after I graduate from university, and I did for a year. To be honest, I wanted to study visual arts right after graduating from university, but I couldn’t say no seeing my own master making a deep bow to me. I think my master was willing to teach me a bit more, but I ended up being his assistant for 7 years. I had married right after graduating from university, but throughout the 7 years, I worked to the fullest for my master. I declined the offer to receive the highest rank with all due gratitude though.

Then finally when I was ready to concentrate on drawing, I realized that there exists a world that is Art, Martial Arts, and Faith, in and of itself, even without the actual “doing” of it—a world beyond drawing, beyond Christianity, and beyond martial arts.

You don’t necessarily have to go to church to get baptized or attend Sunday mass. By going beyond that, we can just “be with” God in our “being”, as wild flowers in the fields and birds in the sky. Similarly, in terms of martial arts, I was then able to knock down the attacker without striking or kicking them with a scary face, but by just using the same movements I would when reaching out to grab something. In terms of visual arts, if I were to think of my body as a piece of art, I came to an understanding that just the existence, presence, or “being” of it can become beauty and nature itself.
I had transcended Art, Religion, and Martial Arts, and entered the world of Ku (emptiness). I was 31 years old then. I had already gone to 3 different art schools before reaching such state of consciousness. I practiced nude drawing very hard too. Since I didn’t have much time to practice drawing, I tried to draw whenever I could, like drawing people practicing in the dojo, sketching rough drafts of passengers on the train, and so forth.
For theater training, I was a member of the inaugural class at the Volksbühne Theater Institute in Yokohama created by Mamoru Kato Sensei from Haiyuza Theater. To fulfill my responsibility as leader of my Karate group, I practiced Karate day and night uncompromisingly. And as for Christianity, I belonged to the KGK, a protestant student association.

At the same time though, I had passed through and gone beyond Art, Christianity, and Martial Arts already. I literally passed through all of them and there was nothing more.

Speaking from an arts perspective, the ultimate frame to set your painting must be a frame you made by yourself, like Rouault. The wall to hang that frame must be a wall you made. That wall has to be a part of your house. That house must be a house built totally in harmony with the rest of the town. And the town must be this and that and…you can keep on going like this. But of course, this is impossible, right?

That’s when I started to realize that it doesn’t have to be a frame I made, a wall I made, or a house I made. Just placing it here is already good as it is.

At that time, I used to go fishing a lot in Kenzaki in Miura Peninsula. Just watching the waves there was absolutely stunning. Waves too beautiful to draw, just coming and disappearing in an instant. Like that, nature generously creates and destructs, and continues to do so. Sunsets are so beautiful too, and that beauty can’t fully be expressed with paint. I really have no chance against nature. Nature has the world of beauty and a world that touches us deeply, just by its very own existence. And yet, nature ungrudgingly wipes off even the most beautiful things. When I realized this, my persistence towards art started to fade. I started thinking there must be life that is art in and of itself, just by living it.

Speaking about faith, it’s not about going to mass every week, reading the old & new testament, memorizing which phrases are written in which volume and chapter of the bible, and etc. What’s more important is to realize that God, the creator of all life, heavens, and the whole universe, is everywhere in the bible, and just to become one with God, praising and thanking the Lord, and living a happy life to our fullest. In Christianity, things that get in the way of realizing such happy life is called a sin, but we can simply get rid of them and invite the spirit of God to enter us.

What we must be careful of though is that people tend to create sects according to their beliefs, like what teaching, what religion, and what sect. As you know, currently, Muslim people are fighting against each other. In Christianity, Catholics and Protestants had a big war against each other too. However, the secret lies in how to get rid of our egos and selfish minds called sin, and simply receive the life force of this great universe and love of God. Then, we wouldn’t have to go to church or read the bible anymore out of obligation or guilt, and be able to go beyond separations of sects and religions.

We sometimes strike each other intensively in martial arts training. On the other hand, even in our daily lives, whenever we reach out to grab something, if there happened to be someone standing there, we might hit him/her hard to the point where he/she falls unconscious. It also hurts so much when you accidentally hit your elbow somewhere. If there was someone behind you then and your elbow hits that person’s face, he/she would fall on the floor. This proves how much power our bodies could generate, and this is why I realized that we can just move naturally, and be who we are.

Then, all “---ism” in art disappears, as well as all sects and religions. In terms of martial arts, whether the techniques are effective or not and even how to create force also disappears, as the opponent would be knocked down lying on the floor just by reaching my hands out. Art had disappeared, religion had disappeared, and martial arts had disappeared, leaving nothing left behind. I had entered a world of absolute Mu (nothingness).

In the beginning when I entered such world of absolute Mu, I was wondering what had happened to me. It was as if I’d entered a horrifying abyss. Yet gradually, I came to realize that this is the world of Muso (no-form, formless) and Ku (emptiness) as taught in Zen. This state continued for a very long time. I refer to this state as Zero-ka (becoming Zero), and it lasted for more than 45 years.”

NM:
45 years!?


HA:
Yes, 45 years, until last February. I was in the world of absolute Mu for 45 years. However, when I was meditating in a snowy mountain last year, the “Mu” disappeared all of a sudden. It doesn’t even make linguistic sense to say “Mu (nothingness) disappeared” since it contradicts itself, but I entered a state where I was completely covered with full-blown cherry, plum, and peach blossoms all over and everywhere around me. I could even smell the scent of flowers flowing out of me both inside and outside.

The flowers were stunning bright yellow, and I was all covered with those bright yellow flowers in a gorgeous flower garden. After being in the world of absolute Mu for 45 years, I had come out of that world and had entered a world filled with nature, with full-blown flowers. Before then, I had thought that the state of absolute Mu is the ultimate state in the walk of our Michi (Do, Tao, Way), so I was totally flabbergasted. It was really so purely beautiful and sweet.


To Part 3

by legacyofcayce | 2015-01-10 12:01 | Interview