aikido research federation

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Michael Sheridan; September 2012


The Worst Teacher in the World


There is a general problem in attempting an elucidation of the way of fundamental truth, and this is exemplified in a story recounted by Herrigel in his Zen in the Art of Archery. In so many words Herrigel asked his Kyudo teacher what the study of Kyudo was all about, what he was supposed to be seeking and what he would find.

His teacher replied to the effect that to tell him this would be the mark of the worst teacher in the world, the implication being, perhaps, that an experiential knowledge which should depend upon the heroic efforts of the seeker of truth was too easily trivialised by misguided attempts at facilitation, and that mere verbalisation was of little value.

Thus the direct intuition of fundamental truth is not, perhaps, to be gained by the deviations and postponements of cognition.


But it may be thought equally true that to fail to point out where one should be going, what one might be expected to find and what this all means, risks falling back into an unacceptable aspect of traditional teaching.

At its worst, traditional teaching keeps the student in a world of inarticulate blind obedience to the dictates of the ferociously egotistical, in which the ‘master’ benefits from, and often exploits, unthinking trust.

It may be thought that the intuition upon which all knowledge relies is, although perhaps its own light, not failsafe, and it must be brought to the bar of dialogue and reason.

For if discussion is discouraged: who knows if anything is known; who can know what it is; how can it be known that it is correct; how can errors be rectified; how does one know that the situation is not one in which the deluded delude the deluded, in the passing on of genuine and structurally grounded stupidity though the very tradition concerned with its transmission?


There is another aspect to this problem.

 Roussier followed the path of his teacher, Maroteau, the self- proclaimed pioneer of Hakko Ryu in Europe, in going to Japan to take his Shihan examination. He recounts that he was told by a Japanese friend that foreigners were told one thing and the Japanese kept the real secret of it all to themselves.

If this were true it would go a long way towards explaining the self-evident flimsiness of our understanding of the three techniques at issue here, all from the syllabus of Hakko Ryu Ju Jitsu.

 These techniques are, Itten no Hi, Sai Ryu and Hugi.


And if this is true, how is one to break through in a situation in which one is being positively misled?


Moreover, this would bad enough if one could be confident that the Japanese themselves really knew what they were doing, and that what they were doing really were acceptable. But it may be that they themselves suffer deep delusion.

For example, and regrettably enough, the details, obtained only with the greatest of difficulty, of the deaths and horrendous injuries suffered by Aikido students at Japanese universities, have been circulated by the British Aikido Board.

They reveal deep and alarming pedagogical concerns about their practice.

They suggest, on the part of the teachers, not only tactical incompetence and strategic ignorance, but also a militaristically pitiless view of the students and an attendant abdication from the duty of care that would be considered obligatory in an enlightened universe of sociality.


Thus it is that, in broaching these issues, I intend to lay the ground for a genuinely educative interpretation of the syllabus of Hakko Ryu Ju Jitsu, which may itself have resonance with other practices and practitioners.

And in doing so I am conscious of revealing myself as the worst teacher in the world, but I think this is a price worth paying.



The particular problematic that is at issue here arises out of a long-term dissatisfaction with the understanding of the technique Itten no Hi, which occurs near the start of the Godan Syllabus of Hakko Ryu Ju Jitsu, at least as it has been passed down to us, and the possibility of its relationship with Sai Ryu and Hugi, as the undisclosed telos of the programme is revealed to reason, a telos which resides in embryonic form at the very start of the syllabus in the technique most often practised and least understood, Hakko Dori, the Technique of the Eighth Light.

The perspective adopted here is one which leans heavily upon the Taoist and Buddhist meditation techniques, at least in simplified and accessible form, and also upon a phenomenological view of the nature of reality; what there is, how this is known and what should be done about it.

I link this insight with the fulfilment of the First Pure Precept, that which enjoins us to desist from evil, and leave the relationship of this fulfilment with the second and Third Pure Precepts, to do only good and to do good for others, in the perspective of a virtue ethics.

By this I mean that, in its preparatory stage, the evil learnt in the evil of learning is unlearnt in the unlearning of learning itself. The mind is cleared of the meaningfulness of its world through persistent,  repeated and focussed attention, and this release from the burden of narrow subjectivity is offered as a gift to others in the creation of a sociality in which the identification with the greater, transcendental, universal subjectivity of obedience to the given of the word of discriminative wisdom just is the practice itself, properly guided, and which sociality is carried forward to the wider areas of life outside the dojo.

The technique Itten no hi has been characterised, again, at least to us, as ‘the point between the joints’, but attempts to gain any clearer understanding from experienced round-eyed practitioners have led to no real progress.

We advance an interpretation which will be by no means uncontroversial.

This interpretation of Itten no Hi is carried forward to the problem of Sai Ryu, and then read back into a re-working of the whole syllabus, until we reach again the last technique of the Okuden Waza, Hugi, in which the practical moral dimension of the insight we have gained is disinterred.

But this, as indicated above, is by no means the end of the matter.

The bright indifferent attention to difference of our insight is to be carried forward, beyond any focus on any particular technique to a generalised bright indifferent attention to difference allowing the world to reveal itself, in the passivity at the heart of our agency, in its suchness,

This passivity allows the deep structures of the world, and the deepest structure of all, to reveal themselves in their most universally and transcendentally real appearing reality in a phenomenology of its ontological, epistemological and ethical truth.

This movement has the particularity of moving us from the narrow world of our partiality to an effacement of the small self through the habituating repetition of attention, into the revelation of the great self in the universality of its transcendental existentiality.

Thus is achieved the distance of the sameness of mind from the difference which it synthesises into its experience.


There are four elements to the nexus of concepts under consideration here, and we begin with Tanden,  the practice of natural breathing centring upon the abdominal area in Budo.

This technique can be taught by the requiring that student place two hands on the lower abdomen and to push against these hands as he breathes in, and to allow the hands to push the abdomen back in as he breathes out.

As well as the undoubted physical and emotional benefits of this practice, there is the benefit of the strengthening of the spirit through persistent and repeated concentration, revealing the mind in the existential mode of the presencing of the presented.

Mind is revealed in the structure of existence, and this structure, temporalising reflection, is the ground of the genesis of being through temporalising and temporalised reflection.

Thus the sameness of the same mind incarnated in the same material body synthesises the difference of the original chaos into the difference of the world as a world, a possible experience.

The mind is its world in the mode of not being it, it identifies as a sameness with the difference it holds together as a world.

It is able to do this as a being of a different nature from the beings over which it holds sway.

For the mind is a temporalising being, having as its mode of objectivity the three ecstatic modes of temporality, the present, the null point through which it immediately passes its future in the present and consigns it to its past in the present.

Thus the nature of the standing out of existence is as a permanent possibility of not being what one is, and this is realised in the existentialisation of desistence from one’s objective spectacle.

The mind, the enduring presencing presence that brings the upsurge of the presented to presence, is, for once, not unnoticed.

It is the transmission of the doctrine of mind.


But in the practice of Tanden, should this be not focus enough, the expansion of the abdomen takes place accompanied, in the next step, by an expansion of the lower back.

This is known as ‘making the cavity’, also as ‘bellows breathing’.


Next, within the cavity, there is the one point, Itten no Hi, in an interpretation consistent with the Seika no Itten of the great Tohei Sensei.

This point is as much made as discovered through the use of the mind to effect a counter-movement of drawing in behind and below the navel as the abdomen expands on inhalation.

This point can be revealed by a technique not dissimilar to the Kuatsu of Judo, by pinching behind and below the navel.

This merely indicated where the attention is to be focussed; the work remains to be done.


Should this focus not suffice, and it should not, for we have hardly got beyond the beginning stages of the project, the bellows type effect of the maintenance of the one point raises the mind from the one point up the inside of the body to the back of the neck and the inside of the head.

Thus, this repeated practice of mind revealing itself to itself in its experience of concentration takes on a different location, in the third eye, behind and between the eyes, in the technique of Sai Ryu.

This point can be indicated by a light tap between the eyes.

Again, the work remains to be done.

This, typically, will yield feelings of euphoria and perceptions of light, themselves of limited and merely indicative value.


It is now necessary that the factor common to these three techniques, the distancing of mind from its objective world through repeated and persistent and guided practice, be taken forward from this practice into the wider world, and this is prepared for in the formal practice of Hugi.


Thus, in our next stage, Hugi, the taking forward of the concentration occurs as a pre-emptive Sen-no-Sen.

The very point of the failure and the frustration attendant upon this technique is that if pre-emption does not occur the consequences are painful indeed. However, a proper appreciation of the methodology, the purpose and its social context, brings great understanding.

The purpose of Hugi is not, having given oneself to the Nidan Waza which initiates it, to resist, if this were possible, an achieved technique, but to be encouraged to extend the mind, under very controlled conditions, through and beyond, back from its solipsistic training, into the recycled syllabus and beyond.

And one’s partner here, in spite of appearances to the contrary, is charged with the responsibility for this facilitation.


Advancing from the practice of Hugi, just as the solipsistic enlightenment of the ninth picture of the Ten Oxherding Pictures is practically resolved in the ‘re-entry into the market place’ of the tenth picture, the common element linking the three preceding techniques is generalised in an approach to the whole of the appearance of the self-world.

This approach is a proactive regulative structure which carries forward the distance of desistence found as the link common to each of the three techniques.

This is the essence of what is known as Naga meditation, active distancing from the phenomenal in the very act of heightened attention, disclosing the ‘important matter’ of the realisation of the upsurge of the great event of mind.

Thus, to recapitulate, the common link of the mode of heightened repeated attention to the limited object of mind, giving a dissociation from the object through the habituation to and exhaustion of its meaning which clears the ground of determinations of the small artifice of the social subject, reveals its original transcendental universality, its existentiality, as the structure of mind, in the intentional unmaking of the artifice of its deluded, that is, partial, finite, being.

This allows for the identification with the universal being of a more fundamental, existentially minimal, moral universe, grounded upon the original co-responsivity of sentience, compassion, learned through the reciprocity of training.

Thus, in this perspective, the point of Hugi is to facilitate the realisation of the partner’s mind in its protentive and pre-emptive protective mode. Thus it must be handled with care and consideration, in the very mode which is correct for enlightened protection in the world of men.

It might even be that a consideration of this perspective might permit us to re-think the concept of Kaeshi waza, and take us away from the limited, dreary and interminable talk about counter-techniques, in a discourse which does little else than re-affirm the negative, partial and unenlightened aspects of Budo.

For this sensitisation is the incarnation of Kanzeon, she who listens to cries of humanity, the deity of compassion, the ground of love and wisdom.

Thus grows discriminating wisdom from delusion.


As the Cha’an Buddhists used to say, and probably still do; ‘Look into this!’


The Kyoto Budosai 2011

The Kyoto Budosai 2011


The Aikido Research Federation sent a small demonstration team with other members of the All Japan Budo Federation (UK) to Kyoto in September 2011.

The Budosai was hosted by the All Japan Budo Federation, and comprised a day's intensely interesting demonstrations by the many Japanese groups and another day during which 31 nations were invited to demonstrate to the Japanese

Our group consisted of Michael Sheridan, who acted as sensei calling the techniques, Steven Webb, Simon Ells, Mike Crump and Paul Crump, these latter actually doing the work.

Our own contribution was to simply demonstate what we do, in this case Aihanmi techniques, and the reception proved to be very favourable.

Much time wa spent on visiting the cultural beauties of Kyoto, in particular the temples and castles of this ancient region.

Some of our members proved particularly adept at retail therapy, and it was reported that Simon Ells was distressed when his credit card actually melted.

Congratulations are due to all, and thanks are due to Neil Malpas, the trip co-ordinator, and Christopher Spencer-Hicks who took overall charge of the UK section contribution and acts as link between the ARF and the AJBF.

Those interested in next years trip can contact the ARF Chairman, Michael Sheridan, who will liaise as appropriate.


Michael Sheridan ( Chairman)



John Philip Middleham

The point of my speaking here today is to celebrate the life of John Philip Middleham, and to do so I’m going to address some remarks to that part of John’s life which crossed with mine, his career in Aikido, also to the question of what it was like to be around John in those years, and to the friendship, if that is not too weak a word, unique to me, that we shared.

For I think that we should remember John at his best, in the time of his pomp, before time took him away from us so devastatingly soon.


My friendship with John dates from the early 70s, and came about through our mutual interest in Aikido.

John was a very gifted Aikidoka.

He began his career in Aikido when he first entered the Hachi Shin Kai off Hockley Flyover to run the café.

John’s incredible enthusiasm for life dictated that he rather neglected the café side of things and he plunged unhesitatingly into his training.

And I shared with John many years of the hardships of training in the pleasure of his company, for as we know, John was extremely good company.

He was a Founder and life-time Honorary Member of the Aikido Research Federation, serving at times to represent the Federation on the then Martial Arts Commission, through the British Aikido Board.

He is remembered there to this day, as the message of condolance from the long-time Secretary of the Board, Shirley Timms, testifies.

I have also received other expressions of condolence from far and near since I contacted people in the Aikido world about John’s demise.

They include messages from Soke Terence Bayliss of the Seijitsu Aikido Ryu, Soke Roy Hobbs, Colonel (Retired) USAAF, Head of Dentokan International, Christopher Spencer-Hicks, Shidoin of the All Japan Budo Federation, Simon Morris, Secretary of the Aikido Research Federation, Sensei Neil Brown, Regional Director ARF for Scotland, and Sensei Chris Norburn.

These expressions of condolance all mark John’s mark upon us, certainly upon me.


 John, on and off the mat, was, quite simply, indomitable. The power, beauty and technical excellence of his Aikido was legendary.

He was possessed of an acute practical intelligence and perception, always immaculately turned out, demanding, dynamic, rigorous, protective, mercurial, and full of a positivity of the moment which acted as a kind of spiritual transfusion.

As an example of this, I can cite what appeared to me the oddity of his logic when he spoke to me of my own weakness, my lameness, my disability.

 For John it was quite straightforward, I should make my weakness my strength.

This is how John thought.

I learned another way of thinking, of being, and John, a man among men, very much a man’s man, made men of many of us through his example.


What was it like to know John?

It was surprising, challenging, amusing, and run through with a warm supportive good humour, as many a tale could tell.

And there are many who will understand me when I say that you would learn more about life in one hour of John’s company that you would if you listened to ten wise men for a year.


I will recount just a few of the more personal and paler memories I have, those which do not normally surface among his old students and friends.

So, a few memories of John.

He insisted upon eating some whelks in Scarborough, in spite of my pointing out to him that their considerable size, (they were a big as a man’s fist), was due to them feeding on the untreated sewerage that flowed straight into Scarborough Bay.

Eating them as one would an apple, he asserted that they were ‘splendid’.

He was ill for days.

He once broke the heel off a stylish shoe he was wearing, and when we went for a fish supper that evening the dear lady in charge, at John’s behest, took over the cooking duties from the chef while he kindly repaired the shoe.

John did not find it remarkable to have his shoe repaired in a chip shop.

 It was just the way things happened with him.

John and I shared a meal in Paris on the morning after a hard day’s training and an even harder evening’s entertainment. It was sardines, bread, tomatoes and wine, and John often referred to this in later years. It was a mark of John’s appreciation of the simple, essential, pleasures of life. He was straightforward, unsentimental and sincere.

John introduced me to the coruscatingly hot delights of the Paris Sweet Shop, a deservedly famous curry shop on the Alum Rock Road. There were no plates, no cutlery, just dishes of delicious but dubious meat, and enormous nan breads.

And also, there was John’s unremitting good humour, vibrant discourse and tales, among others, of his life in the forces.


That was a little of what it was like to be around John, caught up in his vitality, his energy, his immediate contact with his fellow human beings, his continual celebration of life and living.


There was another side to John that I wish to mention.

John was an informal and instinctive spiritualist, holding to the existence of the soul and of personal survival after death.

If his beliefs are true, and in the sprit of sure and certain hope, I hope they are, I confidently expect John to greet me, when my time comes, with the words he spoke when I last heard from him on the phone, ‘We’ll go for a quiet drink,’ he said, adding portentously, ‘like we used to.’

I don’t know whether quiet drinks are permitted in the place in which John finds himself now, but if they are not, knowing John, I’m sure he will find a way, and I look forward to it.


In conclusion, I wish to refer to the words of a man who wrote over four hundred years ago, on the friendship he had shared with his own recently departed friend.

In trying to explain their friendship he found that he could say no more than something like this. ‘At the end of the day, all I can say is that he was he, and I was I, and that we were friends’.

I can put it no better than that.

And I can call up an image of John approving this sentiment, setting his shoulders and neck as he did, underlining the finality of his own words with a gesture of his whole arm, proclaiming, ‘And that’s a fact!’


And that, for me, is John.


What a man! What an influence on so many! What a friend!


So rest in peace, John, our time is run, yours just before mine.

Your task is done, and you did it well.


Thank you, John Philip Middleham, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, my friend.

We mourn your death, but we must not forget to celebrate your life.


ARF National Course 18-19 May 2013

This year’s ARF National Course held at Whittington dojo saw friends gathering from as far north as Aberdeen and the Grampians and as far south as Ipswich (with all points in-between) for the annual week-end of training, exchange of ideas, catching-up and drinking a bit.

The course took a different format this year with the opportunity for everyone to benefit from longer teaching sessions where themes and ideas were given more time to be explored and developed.

Senseis, both old friends and new, all freely gave the benefit of their knowledge. Saturday saw Sensei Terry Bayliss concentrate on the minimum use of effort with the maximum amount of power in the control of the performance of technique. Sensei  Richard Power looked at the connection of Aikido, Tai Sabaki and Buki Waza whilst Sensei Mick Sheridan delivered part one of his insight into itten no hi and the philosophy behind it.

Sunday saw Sensei Chris Norburn explore Morete Dori Kokyu Nage, Sensei Paul Love look at ken tai ken and ken tia jo and Sensei Mick Sheridan give an introduction to the budo application of itten no hi.

All sensei’s, through their wide-ranging knowledge of budo, emphasised the themes of centre, utilising the single point of a technique and the symbiotic relationship between weapons and tai-jutsu. The week-end also managed to encompass the consideration of the philosophical ideas that underpined aiki, the martial arts and the aikidoka’s relationship with the Universe. The concept of true compassion with (limited) infliction of pain was also experienced!

The course truly demonstrated the ARF philosophy of continuous research and development both in the terms one’s understanding of Aikido and the effective transmission of that knowledge to others.

Credit should be given to all attendees for their unfailing commitment and excellent use of zanshin in the limited space. Thanks to all senseis and their students for helping make the event so enjoyable, to Sensei Neil Brown for his pedagogical insights and to Sensei Mick Sheridan and Lady Jayne for their excellent organisation of the course. The 2014 National Course has a hard act to follow!




Ten Shin Kan in Kyoto September 2013

The Ten Shin Kan of the Aikido Research Federation paid its second visit to the SoBuRen Budosai in Kyoto over the weekend of 14th 15th September, 2013.

Sensei Norburn of the Aiido Seishin Kai was a welcome fellow traveller.

On Saturday the Japanese groups demonstrated a wide variety of Budo with some opportunities for audience participation.

On Sunday almost thirty nations demonstrated before a panel of high-ranking Japanese.

Our demonstration focussed upon third echelon keiko in Ryote Mochitori, Sodetori, and Suwariwaza.

We received an extremely warm reception and at the subsequent Shihan meeting, Uchiyama Sensei, whose dedicated work was noted by our team, was fulsome in his praise for our efforts.

We just demonstrated what we do, the perpetual practice of Nihon Aikido.

Sheridan Kyoshi received Full Membership Menjo on behalf of Bayliss Kyoshi of the Seijitsu Aikido Ryo, and Webb Kyoshi of the Aikido Research Federation.

Norburn Renshi  was pleased to receive his Menjo from Kancho Kawano himself.

Our group was also warmly welcomed to a hard training session in the heat and humidity of Kyoto by an Aikikai group on the Friday morning.

The rest of our time was devoted to sight-seeing and sharing restaurant meals with our excellent hosts and friends, the luminaries of SoBuRen.

Just before we were to leave Kyoto was struck by violent weather, during which, if the press is to be believed, 240000 people had to be evacuated from the centre of the city!

Those interested in next year’s visit should contact Sheridan Kyoshi, for membership and other details.



Aikido Research Federation, Staffordshire - part of the British Aikido Board