Interview with Curtis Sensei

Interview with Curtis Sensei


The first question is about such character
as sense of rebellion. They say that sometimes it really helps you
when you’re a student. If you are a rebellious person, you have enough strength to break
the rules to achieve your aims and create something good, make the world a better place
and change it. So, as we speak about Ki-aikido, do you think that such character is appropriate? I always say: “Don’t express it, don’t
repress it, just address it”. You know, we can easily mistake the relief we feel and
a sense of power that we feel by putting frustration and anger out on to another person or into
the public as something that is progress. But this is a big mistake.
You know, this old Chinese man, Confucius, said: “If you want to change the world,
first you must change your country. If you want to change your country, first you must
change your city. If you want to change your city, first you must change your family. If
you want to change your family, first you must change yourself”.
If you have a difficulty of some kind, with anyone or anything in society, first you fix
yourself. Once you have resolved everything with yourself, you find that you have no difficulty
with anybody or anything. The reason you have difficulty with something outside of yourself
is because you don’t know yourself. You practice aikido to learn to know yourself.
And this is the most important thing to me in my life. If I hadn’t found aikido, I
would never have come to know the nature of being human. Not as an objective teachable
fact, but as an experience of reality being human is the ultimate experience. It’s not
that It’s always joyous or always sad, it’s not that everyone always agrees with you,
even if you’re a chief instructor like me. Everyone doesn’t always agree with you.
And everyone is always testing you, that’s fine. You cannot expect that. What you can
expect is to overcome your own shortcomings. So, of course, it is difficult to teach to
someone else, it’s not fair for me to tell you: “You should do this”. If you come
to me and ask me, as you did, what is the appropriate way to practice, way to live your
life, then I tell you. And then you can practice and you can tell me, if you like it or not,
okay? We understand that while a person is practicing
Ki-aikido, he or she never stops changing oneself and learning something new about life.
The only stable thing is The One Point we keep. So, can you tell me, how a real aikidoka
should react on such situations when people judge him/her? Should he or she try to discuss
a problem or just ignore it, what reaction is more reasonable, according to Ki-aikido
philosophy? So the answer to your question is “yes”.
You cannot know. This is not a moral teaching, this is not a system of responses that I give
to you and then you know what to do, you’re an aikido person, no, no, no. I said, aikido
practice is a self-discovery. But every single moment is new and different. You cannot make
a rule, when this happens, this is what you do. Of course, in terms of society, we have
rule of law. And this keeps our society in a general sense together. But for personally
in each circumstance we cannot know what is the appropriate response, accept in that circumstance.
For instance, students often ask me questions. Sometimes I answer directly as if their question
made sense. And sometimes I don’t say anything. Sometimes I show them how to experience what
it is they are wondering about. I mean, I never know until I see the student, what it
is they need at that moment. So the same thing, when we try to make rules
about our children, you know, how to bring up our children. But you have to see a child
in the moment and then you know, whether what to do, what not to do.
Can I tell a short little story? My teacher, Koichi Tohei sensei, Master Tohei
from Japan, quite well-known it this community, right? Because he is a famous teacher all
over the world. So there was a teacher in school, teaching
the children in the community. And he believed in corporal punishment, if they got out of
line he would hit them. I think, with a ruler or something. So their parents didn’t like
it, so they went to Tohei sensei and said: “Would you speak to him, please, because
he is hitting our children? We don’t like that.” Of course, they sent the teacher
to see him, so the teacher knows, he is in trouble now, because he’s gotta go see Tohei
sensei and, probably, he’s gotta get a lecture. So he goes to see Tohei sensei and he has
a little chip on his shoulder (затаенная злоба, недовольство, лицемерное).
And Tohei sensei says: “Sensei, how are you? Come in, please, sit down! I understand
that you believe in corporal punishment, hitting children, when they get out of line.” The
man says: “Yes, I do”. And sensei says: “Good! I agree with you completely. How
can you train children when you don’t smack them once in a while!” He said: “Oh, you
agree with me, oh. Good, okay, thank you very much.” Then he shook his hand and started
to leave. And Tohei sensei said: “Excuse me, just before you leave, would you made
me a promise?” The teacher said: “Of course, anything, no problem”. And he says: “I
want you to promise me that you would never strike another child when you have any anger
in you”. He never struck another child in his life.
So, this is an example of seeing what is and responding appropriately in a moment. Of course,
everyone expected something different of Tohei sensei. They expected him to tell this person
he couldn’t do this. Well, he achieved the result by doing aikido with him. He used the
person’s own idea and strength of its own commitment to show him, to let him notice
what he was really doing, what he was like. And it changed him, changed his life. And
it certainly changed all these kids life. This is the answer to your question?
What do you think about condescension in Ki-aikido? What should you do when somebody speaks with
you impolitely, with aggression and just cannot hear you?
Well, this is kind of the same question again. I taught you, when you have a belief that
you are the superior or inferior to any other individual or group of individuals such as
women or men or homosexuals or foreigners – different country, different colored skin,
different shaped eyes, different colored hair, poor – no money, wealthy – lots of money,
all these conditions and there is infinity of them. Other things that cause some disturbance
when you see another person: you don’t like the way they look or something they say. So,
of course, I cannot tell you, as I’ve just said, what you should do in that circumstance
ahead of time. But every time that you feel disturbed this causes tension in your body,
and when you have tension it your body, then your natural loving open-hearted condition
is held back. It prevents us from functioning effectively and openly with a connection between
us and other people. So, once again, Confucius said: “If you
want to change the world, you change yourself first”. If something is disturbing you outside
of yourself or that you see is outside of you…This is a mirror Universe, folks! The
Universe is a mirror to you. What you see you don’t like – that’s you, forget
them, don’t blame them. It’s you, if it disturbs you, that’s your problem, that’s
your emotion, that’s not their emotion, that’s your emotion that you feel. There
are your thoughts you’re feeling, not theirs. You cannot blame them. Yeah, they may be monsters,
I’m not saying, excusing anyone. I’m just saying, if you feel disturbed, sit down and
shut up and address it in yourself. Don’t go after someone else. This is a beginning
of war when you do this. And you tell me, what you like, war or peace? I think, everyone
says, peace. Very controversial question from one of the
members of Russian Ki-aikido society: Imagine the situation when you have been practicing
aikido and following the only one tutor for many years. So you can say he is your true
Sensei and a person you respect and can trust not only in dojo but outside: when you just
get together and discuss everything that happens in the world, including politics. So, when
there is so unstable situation in the world and many people are arguing, suddenly you
realize that you no longer have common thoughts and ideas with your tutor. Moreover, you see
that his positions in real life differ from Ki-aikido principles a lot. And then you cannot
respect him anymore, but you need to continue practicing, also it’s not so easy to find
another sensei to follow. What should you do then?
First of all, I know these people, you are talking about. They are good people, so not
bad people. These are people, who devoted their lives to Shinshin Toitsu Aikido and
I have to give them a lot of respect for that. Of course, you are free as a student to train
with anybody you want to, or not at all. No one says that teacher owns the student. If
you want to train somewhere else, go train somewhere else, when you don’t like the
instruction you’re getting. If you think, there is some change, that isn’t appropriate,
that doesn’t fit well with you, of course, you’re free to go.
You know, once, when I was a young man, from 26 to 29 yo, I was in a retreat, I went to
a three-year retreat, when you always sit every day. And there was a guy in this retreat,
who was a real jerk, he was disturbing me. So, disturbing to me, I didn’t like him,
I talked to my teacher, who was running a retreat, I said: “Hey, we gotta get rid
of this guy, because he is disturbing me! Either that or I’m outta here, I’m going,
because he is disturbing me!” And the teacher said: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear, you don’t
understand, this is your opportunity to earn your fortune and self-realization! And you’re
willing to throw that away?” So this was a big surprise for me, because
I was used to not putting up with somebody disturbing me, and it was really as way before
I ever trained aikido and it was the first time I really was forced to take a look what,
wait a minute, maybe the feelings I’m having are my feelings, not somebody else’s. That
was a complete shock. We in our societies, it’s same in America
as in Russia, we believe, that if you disturb me, that it’s something wrong with you.
I’m not saying that there aren’t people who are totally crazy out there, there are.
And there are people that are misguided in there these ways. Usually there is some good
news about them as well. But hardly ever you find someone is 100% nuts. But in any case,
you can say: “God bless those god damn bastards!” Because they will teach you. Do you want to
sit on the couch and drink beer the rest of your life? This is not heaven, this is Earth,
and there’s crisis, there’s conflict, there’re things that go against you, go
against us that polish us so that our sword of a will inside of our character becomes
sharp, so that crystal ball becomes polished, so it’s clear and you can see they are penetrate
into it. So it’s a big mistake to think that something is wrong when it doesn’t
go your way. I’m not saying it’s right. It’s just what it is. So deal with it.
My personal question is about an essential problem of choice and how Ki-aikido can help
you (me) with that. When you are good at several things but one day you have to choose the
one for your future career. As a wise and very smart person, how do you cope with such
a problem and what is your advice? Well, first of all, I’m not a very smart
person, I just happen to be here doing this and I happen to be doing it because I’ve
done it for a long, long time and everybody else died, okay. So I’m what’s left what
you stuck with. Choice is a very interesting question. In
my view we’re conditioned to like beer rather than wine, blonde women rather than brunettes
or men, we’re conditioned to like certain kinds of clothing, certain colors. No matter
what you choose, what profession you’re going to, these things are conditioned into
us from when we’re very young by our parents, our teachers, a society in general. We develop
a system of values or a structure that is our personality, some people call it Ego.
It is who we are, it doesn’t name, my name is Christopher Curtis, that’s the name of
the structure that who I think I am. And structures are made up of all these little
choices, we call them “choices”. But I think, it’s just a response or reaction
to a conditioned or practiced or habitual way of seeing things. On the other hand, there
is free choice. You have a choice, whether to notice and be aware and awake in this moment,
no matter what is happening, or step away from it, react to it and fight against it.
Or try to take it for yourself, if you like it a lot. You have a choice, in aikido we
say “keep One Point”, that means “be in a state of equanimity” which is even
mindedness, state of no particular preference. So you choose this state of no preference
over a state of preference, which is being conditioned into you. Then, you know, this
is a kind of a bondage, it’s a kind of a misunderstanding. You think, you’re making
a choice, but you’re just reacting the way that everybody else taught to react. That’s
not freedom, I don’t call it free choice. Free choice is to be present and aware or
not.

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