Calligraphy, Aikido and Kototama: How our bodies reveal themselves in art, sport and chant

Aikidokas were challenged by Stevens' examples

Posted Nov 21, 2009

John Stevens Sensei and Susan HarrowJohn Stevens Sensei, a Buddhist priest, and 7th Dan visited our dojo, Bay Marin Aikido for a weekend of training. Stevens, a  foremost authority on Aikido has penned more than thirty books on Buddhism, Aikido and Asian culture. The experience brought new dimensions to our taijutsu, body skills or body arts.

Beginners and experienced Aikidokas (Aikido practitioners) were challenged by Stevens' examples of how to practice. During practice he demonstrated eight ways of doing the first pillar of Aikido, Shiho-Nage, 4-directions throw. When we began to practice there was some confusion given that training ingrains certain movements and expectations and builds in muscle memory. When learning something new there is a retraining of the brain, the mind, the spirit, the body.

Stevens kept saying, "This is training. This is practice, eh?" He has a lovely lightness to his presence and  practice. He said that, at this time in his life, because he couldn't use as much physical power in Aikido he had a much better understanding of its essence. This came through quite clearly when he demonstrated throws. The energy and lightness of his touch is something I want to emulate.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was learning Kototama, the secret sacred sounds of Aikido. These sounds evidently sunk in to my unconscious mind. My sweetie informed me that I was practicing them (loudly) in my dreams and was driven from the bedroom to the guest room so he could get some sleep!

You can hear John Stevens Sensei performing Kototama or sound meditation in a church in The Netherlands here. He said that on the first take he was too self-conscious about how he sounded so it didn't turn out. It was only when he forgot himself that he found the freedom to let the sounds come through unobstructed.

As you can hear, they came out whole and strong and clear. I find that when I media coach people this is true for them too. When we speak from a place of no-thinking our stories universally come out whole and complete. They don't need editing. If we can drop into this place and rest there our thoughts and actions serve us well.

After two hours of practice we took a break for lunch and then began several hours of calligraphy using breath, kiais (short yell before or during a strike or technique) and lots of ink and paper. Of course our practice and life experience show up here as well; In the way a line is too thin or forced or broken, how we flow, the way we begin and end a stroke, our attention, the ways we stop ourselves or critique in the middle of doing. Whether we will it or not who we are is seen clearly, in the black ink of our doing and on the white paper of possibility.

Stevens suggested we put up our Calligraphy in the dojo and live with it, and watch how it evolves. He commented on how our sensei, Hans Goto's, strokes had changed since last year. Both of them have been practicing Aikido for over 35 years. Often we don't notice the shifts that happen over time as we move through our busy lives as we do.

Since starting to practice Aikido I'll try to apply what I learn there to PR and to life. The phrase, "How you do anything is how you do everything" has truth to it. When you put yourself out in the world and connect with others everything shows up: whether you're doing calligraphy, cutting a flower, speaking to your children, or handling yourself on-camera, we see who you are.

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Susan Harrow is the author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul. She runs a Media Consultancy where she helps everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to celebrity chefs, entrepreneurs to authors grow their business through media coaching and the power of PR. For more information please contact Susan.