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Bamboo Grove, Bamboo Forest

This article was originally written July 2002 for the official Seidokan Newsletter, the Seidokan Communicator.

Seidokan Summer Camp 2002 may well be remembered as a watershed year for the future of Seidokan. The gathering this year proved to be a Cornucopia of ideas, concepts, energy, and vision. We see in front of us at this time the tentative yet irrepressible thrust of new growth, ready to burst forward.

The design theme of the for this year's Camp brochure and T-Shirts is bamboo. Although the bamboo elements in the brochure were quite beautiful, I was especially struck by the T-Shirt design. Mrs. Kobayashi herself created the image of two slanting bamboo stalks rising upward. But the real beauty comes from a hidden feature... when people stand next to each other wearing these shirts, the bamboo of each one lines up with the other, to make a continuous unbroken line of rising bamboo.

Inscribed beside the graphic element was Sensei Kobayashi's calligraphy for "hyakuman isshin," or "million/one mind," the Seidokan motto.

Together, these represent a marvelous vision for what Seidokan can be. Each bamboo plant is an independent entity, with a life and place within the grove uniquely its own. As separate individuals, we grow, learn, and contribute according to our standing.

Even so, each plant is connected to its neighbors by an underground root system. Every plant is part of a larger community. Although this network is often invisible, the overall health and vitality of the grove or forest depends on the strength of these connections.

The lesson for us all is plain, and wonderfully aiki. The community nourishes the individual, and the individual nourishes the community. In order for this to happen in our own real world, we must stay in contact with one another through whatever means are natural to us. In practising aikido, we will inevitable acquire an abundance of ki, which may be easily shared with others. We can, and certainly should do this within our own dojo. But then each of our dojo will in turn also acquire an abundance of ki. What can be more right than for dojo to send out its ki to other dojo all around, and to receive an inflow of ki from others?

After all, Sensei Kobayashi repeatedly stressed that our training should not be for ourselves alone, but for the benefit of others. When we are in balance, continually returning to one-point, our ki naturally becomes expansive. We wish to avoid being intrusive, yet we cannot fail to offer and give to the world around us. In so doing, we do not neglect ourselves or our own families, but create an economy of exchange, wherein everyone's investment can acquire interest. In this model, to give is to invest, and steadily we all become richer therefrom. In such a world of abundance, our grove can effortlessly become a forest.

This vision of a bamboo forest echoes another great insight by Kobayashi Sensei. A few years before he died, he began to speak of Seidokan being sustained by 100 Pillars. He began to insist that we should not depend on a single individual, that ki should be more widely distributed. If we rely on only one person, too much of a burden may be placed on their shoulders which would be unhealthy for them. Worse, should they fall, then we all fall with them. With 10 Pillars, 100 Pillars, the load is lighter for everyone, yet the overall structure is far stronger.

So it is with bamboo, long prized for its light weight, amazing strength, and resilience to harsh weather. Each stands upright as a strong individual, while giving and receiving through the network of connectedness. How good it is to know that we in Seidokan are free to be ourselves, and not merely extensions of one singular other!

At the end of the Camp, each of the chief instructors were presented by AIA with a living bamboo plant. Like O-Sensei before us, we must all learn agriculture. We must attend to individual plants, and we must also attend to cultivation of the grove as a whole. Only through this kind of balanced practice can ki properly flow.