Aikido Up Here, an aikido dojo which more closely resembles a miniature Zen temple, where one may meditate, practice the Japanese martial art of aikido or receive the healing treatment of reiki, is located at 3 Henshaw Street between Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive in Inwood (upper Manhattan). Proprietor and teacher Fuminori Onuma, sensei, teacher, known as Fumi, has been practicing martial arts and meditation for over 20 years in his native Japan and the United States. He offers meditation, aikido, and reiki by appointment.
Fuminori Onuma, whose family was originally from Saitama outside Tokyo, comes from a family whose spiritual and professional association is with the tea ceremony. Although Fumi had a practice in healing in Japan, he elected to come to America, where he felt that his chances might be better to receive training in martial arts and in healing, and to set up his own dojo. Fumi says, “In Japan, there is a rigid way of doing everything, and little room for creativity. I came to America because I had the sense that there was more freedom here.”
The dojo: After years of training in New York in aikido and reiki, Fumi decided to create his own dojo. He purchased space that was completely raw, undertaking a complete reconstruction from plumbing to whitewashing walls. He rebuilt the space from the ground up, entirely by hand, working alone for over two years. The resulting space has a gentle but functional beauty that invites contemplation as well as action. It is more like a Zen temple than a traditional dojo. The dojo is tranquil and soothing to the eyes. The walls are white; the tatami mats are light green; the altar contains a deep blue engraving of tiled rooftops in Kyoto toward which the eye is drawn. The space is perfect both for aikido and reiki.
Aikido, a Japanese spiritual discipline founded by Morihei Ueshiba, is a martial art but it is not like judo or karate. Despite the word “martial,” inflicting pain is not the object. It’s deeply spiritual, requires rigorous thought as well as practice. In appearance it is like dancing, very graceful. The goals are lofty: achieving inner peace, and achieving outer peace.
The purpose of aikido, as Fumi explains it, is to promote instinct and movement; and to enable students to find inner peace. If this sense of inner peace should be achieved at the end of each student’s session, their sensei (teacher) would be satisfied with their progress, even if their skill level had not appreciably changed.
This sense of inner peace is at the core of the Aiki Blessings, and the Blessings are at the core of aikido philosophy:
Peace is not something to be created or achieved;
Rather we can trust that it is here already
And we as individuals can let it prevail within and throughout
It is when we touch the sound of nothingness,
We start to hear, see, smell, taste and feel
Energy of peace all around and within us.
Arigatou-Gozaimasu (Thank you)
Let peace prevail within
Let peace prevail throughout
Defining the philosophy of aikido is complex; it is a bit easier to describe how it actually looks. I can call to memory one morning’s private practice—a graying, middle-aged couple in reasonably good physical condition.
The session began with morning meditation. Then the couple warmed up, going through the basic exercises– wrists, arms, neck, back, legs, feet. They began formal practice. Attack, defense– using the forward movement of the attack to bring the opponent down, without actual resistance. All in wavelike motions, smooth, unbroken– the ideal, or what they strived for. At one point in stillness, Fumi‘s body formed a perfect triangle. He alone of the practitioners attained the ideal. His movements were truly wavelike, smooth, unbroken.
The difference between the couple’s styles and that of Fumi was readily apparent—their motions were more tentative and uncertain. But they were slowly increasing in speed and facility even as I watched, working towards a state of spiritual and physical perfection. Eventually they tired. But both had moments when their movements were perfect– smooth, wavelike, unbroken. It was lovely to see. Exhaustion set in. Then it was time for the final meditation.
Aikido’s New Focus- Loving Kindness
Fumi believes that in aikido it is necessary now to move away from a focus on “martial arts” and their identification with Japan’s dark warrior past.. He wishes instead to focus on peace and the practice of “metta”- loving kindness. “All along I have taught that meditation was part of aikido but recently I have rediscovered the fact that meditation is the core of aikido. In aikido we discover the relationships between our physical practice and our inner meditation. They are interconnected.”
Fumi describes aikido as being analogous to music. He believes that the experience of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa (above) can teach us about the practice of aikido. When Ozawa came to the Orchestra twenty years ago, he felt that the Orchestra’s playing lacked passion and power. He insisted that this change. He insisted, in fact, that the Orchestra examine each piece, research it, understand it—and only then, would they be ready to play the piece. They followed his lead. Their playing was transformed! Power, vision, brilliance!
Fumi says that for the past two years he and his students have been practicing aikido in the manner of Ozawa with the orchestra—researching, examining, working to understand it. For the aikido classes, this musical analogy is a breakthrough. Meditation used to be seen as an extra, a graft onto aikido practice, a chore. Now many students have become hooked on it., especially on the peace prayer. The letting go. The loosing of the ego.
Fumi believes that meditation is a piece of music and an instrument at the same time. But it must be practiced daily to be effective. The practitioners are the musicians. They have to get used to their instruments (the body) and to playing. With daily practice, meditation will come alive. Ideally, they must continuously meditate throughout the day. They must keep awareness open throughout the day.
The New Center of Aikido: Drawing upon two powerful recent visions, Fumi describes his new central image of practicing aikido in a spirit of loving kindness:
• Cultivate an image of loving hands- work with your partner in a loving manner
• Focus on your huge and boundless heart
• Focus on the loving hands enfolding you and with which you can hold others
It seems right to end this discussion of aikido and its spirituality with the aikido peace prayer:
Arigatou-Gozaimasu (Thank you)
Let peace prevail within
Let peace prevail throughout.
Fumi’s Invitation: “All are invited to come and see this beautiful space and speak to me in person to learn more about our offerings. Please email AikidoUpHere@gmail.com or call (646) 483-8700 to schedule a visit.”