I tuned the radio at random and suddenly found myself listening to Peggy Lee singing the classic, “Is that all there is…?” As I was listening to this song I realized once, I had felt the same way. I was in college, exposed to and pondering great ideas, when I heard this song and connected with it so deeply. The song once summed up many of the existential questions I had in life. And yet, now the song meant nothing to me. As I pondered why this song that once connected me to all the questions I had on life, now meant simply nothing at all, an incident in Afghanistan jumped into my mind.
I was in a remote area below Kandahar close to the Pakistan border on a patrol. My work was to understand local Afghans, explain their views and needs to combat commanders, allowing them to adjust operations to reduce the cost of war on innocent civilians. I was walking from one village to another when suddenly there was a man in his late 40’s confronting me shouting and obviously imploring me. My interpreter translated, “Take me with you! Take me to America!”
I had Afghans and Iraqi’s ask the same thing in various ways but never so abruptly begging me. There was more to the conversation but in the end I had my translator tell the man that what he asked for was impossible. What the man replied stays with me-
“But I must leave this place! All I have seen for all of my life is this land and these fields! From those mountains to the border is all that I know. I must see more, I must know more than sheep, children and crops. This cannot be all there is for me. Please, please, you must help me. This cannot be all of my life!”
Thoreau said that most “lead lives of quiet desperation” and there was that man personifying this desperation all feel at times, railing against, begging to be let out from the prison his life was. I shake my head remembering his imploring me over and over to take him from that valley.
The essence of Aikido is an answer to the dilemma of living the Afghani man was railing against and Peggy Lee calls into question with her “Is that all there is…?” The Founder gave the answer with the following:
“Aikido is based on the enlightenment I obtained from my training in the arts of the sword, spear and body; I realized how these arts are derived from universal principles. Aikido is not a method to defeat others, to win battles, or to emerge victorious in war. Victory in Aikido is to complete the appointed task that has been entrusted to you by the universe.”
Morihei Ueshiba, The Secret Teachings of Aikido, Pg 84.
For the Kagami Baraki the other week I read these words from the Founder. These words go to the heart of what we are doing in Aikido. Each person at Heaven and Earth has been entrusted with some task by life to do something important, maybe something great. To lead an organization; to raise a child; to make a speech that inspires someone who changes the world; there for someone who has no one. We are all links in a chain hand to hand that extends far, far out of sight, that takes us forward to a better, larger future or a worse, smaller future. Small or big each of us has a mission that we need to accomplish if we have the strength, the will, the character. Aikido is to assist you with your challenges so you can accomplish your mission.
This is the answer to “Is that all there is…?” Aikido is an open box through the rigor of a martial path, each person can find something unique for their life. I look back at that poor trapped man. Maybe his entrusted task was in New York or Miami but I don’t think so. It was somewhere right there in his village. Likewise, our answers are closer to us than we think and Aikido is a unique tool for finding them.
I realized thinking on the Afghan man why I no longer connected with Peggy Lee’s essential and eternal question. Aikido has given me the answer. The answer is in my valley. I am doing my best, very imperfectly at times, to do great things like being a friend to someone who has none; to raise a child; to teach someone who will go into the world to do great, great things.
Some have asked on the hand print that hangs in the dojo:
This is my handprint I made when I took a vow when making the dojo, the same vow Sugano Sensei gave me when I became uchideshi at NY Aikikai. I asked Sensei if I could study with him and Sugano shook his head. “No.” I must have looked like I was poleaxed because I certainly felt that way. “If you are uchideshi this is Yamada’s school. He is your teacher.” And to this day I remain a student of Yamada Sensei. But after a pause he said, “But I will help you in any way I can.”
So for the New Year I renewed my vow to each person who comes to Heaven and Earth Aikido. I will help in any way I can.
My deepest wish to each of you in 2022, is that you progress, perhaps even find victory, on your “appointed task that has been entrusted to you.”
Heaven and Earth Aikido