There is a photograph I know of that can give you an idea of the size
of the universe. When I fist saw it, it took my breath away. It's called
the Hubble Deep Field, and it's a picture that was taken over the course
of 10 days by the Hubble space telescope.
In this photograph, you see dozens and dozens of galaxies. It is easy
to count 20 or 30 of them right off the bat. But when you realize that
even the small points of light in the photograph are galaxies, it becomes
apparent that even in this one picture there may be too many galaxies
Now it's hard to comprehend the size of even a single
galaxy. It's hundreds of millions of stars, all separated by distances
you couldn't travel in a hundred lifetimes. And in this one photograph,
there are scores of galaxies. When you look at this photograph, and think
about the scope of it, you can't believe the universe could be so huge.
But here's the clincher. This isn't a photograph of the whole night sky,
or even a significant portion of it. The Hubble Deep Field shows of section
of the sky that is just 1/30 the diameter of the full moon. You could
take a similar picturewith hundreds more galaxiesin millions
of other positions in the sky. (If you haven't seen the Hubble Deep Field,
you should really
take a look at it.)
And there's another clincher. Most scientists now believe in a hypothesis
called inflation, which says that in the initial instant after the big
bang, the universe expanded at an incredible rate. If that's the case,
the universe is way bigger than most of us have been imagining. The farthest
galaxy in the Hubble Deep Field might be 14 octillion centimeters away
(don't ask me why they're using centimeters). That's 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
(14 followed by 27 zeroes). By one theorist's estimate based on inflation,
the radius of the whole universe measured in centimeters might be one
followed by a trillion zeroes!
So now when you're imagining that your arm reaches to the end of the universe,
at least you'll know what you're getting yourself into.
When you first get a sense of the size of the universeor of your
inability to comprehend itit can give you a feeling of insignificance.
I remember when I was a kid and I would play in my mind with thoughts
about the size of the universe. I would think to myself, how could it
go on forever? But conversely, how could it ever stop? If it stopped,
what would be at the endsome kind of wall? Then what would be on
the other side of the wall? And if both of those options were impossible,
how could we even be here, in this universe that makes no sense? When
those thoughts took hold of me, I would get a feeling of panic! But since
the universe did not rip apart when I realized it couldn't exist, the
panic passed, and I went on with my playing.
In some ways, that's what happens when people feel overwhelmed in daily
life. Their world seems too big, too hard to figure out. If only they
could make it small and manageable, maybe everything would be okay. But
the way Aikido sees things, it's better to let the universe be huge, and
simply become a part of it. Stretch to the ends of it, expand into it,
hold it inside you. What's that? Scientists say the universe is getting
bigger at a rate of thousands or millions of miles per hour? So much the
So how do you catch this feeling? It's sounds somewhat childish, but the
answer is imagination. It's one of the most powerful tools we use to catch
our best feeling in Aikido. (And, in fact, it is one of the most powerful
tools cosmologists use as they reach to understand the scope of the universe.)
We imagine that one-point is in the center of the lower abdomen, itself
at the center of the universe, and we feel settled. We imagine that our
arms stretch ten, or a thousand miles, and we feel strong. We imagine
that our breath continues out to the horizon, and we feel calm. We imagine,
before an attack commences, that we have reached out and made contact
with our attacker, and we feel confident.
For some people, it is a matter of literally thinking of these things.
For others, it is more of a feeling. But with each repetition of a technique,
or a ki exercise, or meditation, we expand ourselves farther and farther,
stretching out to the shores of the universe. And as we do it, day by
day, we feel increasingly comfortable, and relaxed, and peaceful.
Sensei did some amazing things at Winter Camp. But what
I'll remember most was a very simple demonstration.
Sensei invited two strong, young black beltsDave Comi and Otto (whose
last name I don't know)to demonstrate Kokyu Dosa. The two of them
sat in seiza, facing each other. Dave offered his wrists, while Otto held.
When Dave began pushing a good-natured wrestling match ensued, with both
combatants trying valiantly to push the other overwhile avoiding
being pushed over himself. It reminded me of an Olympic wrestling match
in its final seconds.
Then Sensei traded places with Otto, and he invited Dave to push against
him just as hard. Sensei held his wrists, and Dave's eyes blazed with
resolve as he set his body up for the big push. Then, he simply fell backwards
while Sensei smiled sleepily. Dave got up and pushed again and again,
but each time he fell over as easily.
Sensei said later that he had been practicing Aikido 48 years. Those years
were clearly evident in this demonstrationand every other one. People
fell with the slightest touch, their faces lit up with surprised smiles,
and people marveled as Sensei walked away, saying, "Did you see what
he did? That was incredible!"
Camp is not a compilation of techniques. It is an opportunity to experience
an incredible feeling, to see what happens when it touches you, to be
amazed and inspired by it, and most important, to feel it grow within
As if to add a footnote to the newsletter article from
last month, Sensei surprised us once more with his chair technique at
If you read last month's newsletteror if you've ever been to campyou
will recall what the chair technique is. Sensei uses it to show how an
uke (attacker) must have real intent during practice, and not expect the
technique we are practicing. He invites a student to sit in a chair. The
student sits down carefully and unnaturally, expecting Sensei to pull
the chair away. But Sensei encourages him to sit normally, leaving the
chair unmoved to build confidence. Once the person becomes convinced the
chair will be there, Sensei pulls it out, and the student fallsdemonstrating
exactly what should happen when someone is attacking, and we suddenly
We're always expecting at least one demonstration of the "chair technique"
at camp. But this year, Sensei seemed intent on disturbing even that expectation.
While we were eating a late dinner at a restaurant after our first class,
Sensei noticed a student about to sit down and flawlessly pulled out his
chair. The young man plopped to the floor, laughing. We were surprised
the manager didn't try to throw Sensei out. (Which would have made the
evening even more interesting!)
In case you feel bad that this young man didn't have the benefit of a
mat when he fellSensei asked him to help with the demonstration
once again during practice, calling him, "Mr. Chair!"
We've had a fair amount of testing recently, both at the
dojo, and at camp. In recent dojo testing, Mike Abraham and Tim Vann tested
for 6th kyu, Nataliya Minkovska and Callid Keefe tested for 5th, and Jerry
Harrington tested for 4th. All did a fine job.
Camp gave us the opportunity for some higher rank testing.
Candy Martens, Jason Beck, and Rob Greene all tested for 2nd kyu, their
first brown belt. Mark Grey tested for 1st kyuthe final step before
shodan rank. And Mike Lewis and Steve Ridley both did a great job as they
tested for 2nd dan.
We congratulate all of these students on their promotions, and thank them
for their many contributions to our dojo.
on Winter Camp
Winter Camp had record attendance this year. Over 240
people were in Lawrenceville to learn from and be inspired by Maruyama
Sensei. What's even more amazing is that over one tenth of the people
at camp came from a dojo over six hours away, in upstate NY. Rochester,
to be exact. Want proof? Here's
a photo of the Rochester contingent with Sensei.
Misogi breathing, kiatsu, and back exercises with Judy. Thursday, April
11, from 8-9 PM.
Video Night is Thursday, April 25, starting at 9 PM.
Summer Camp with Maruyama Sensei is July 25-28.
Sensei in Rochester! August 2-4.