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Revealing Yourself In Aikido, Calligraphy and Kototama

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A few months ago John Stevens Sensei, a Buddhist priest, and 7th Dan visited our dojo, Bay Marin Aikido. Stevens, a foremost authority on Aikido has written over 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. At one point he demonstrated eight ways of practicing the first pillar of Aikido, Shiho-Nage, 4-directions throw, which we were then to practice. As always, when new things are introduced, there were moments of opening coupled with frustration when we were all seeking to understand from a place of not knowing.

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 drove him 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 well. 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 that place and rest there our thoughts and actions will 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 experiences manifested here as well: in the way a line was too thin or forced or broken, how we flowed, the way we began and ended a stroke, our attention, the ways we stopped ourselves or critiqued 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.

Since starting to practice Aikido, I have wanted to apply what I learned 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.

I remember Hale Dwoskin, CEO and Director of Training of Sedona Training Associates, saying, when you think of someone as a stranger they are really just a forgotten part of yourself. Aikido and PR bring those reminders to the present, to right here, right now. Everything that you do, say, are and think is your private dojo. By noticing how you respond to every given experience, you have an opportunity to practice.

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.

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