Body and word

by Antonio Ricci - Translation by Angela Cervera

I have often been asked how my psycho-educational practice may include martial arts and meditation. Before answering let me say this: a real integration of meaning and experience cannot be forced nor improvised and it can never be considered as the consequence of mere theoretical thoughts.

Moreover, we always talk about personal and subjective processes which are never to be considered general nor ideological. So, in my case, this integration has become a need I naturally have come to after many years of commitment on both sides: on the one hand educational and psychological studies, on the other hand the practice of meditation and martial arts, which the latter I started as a child thanks to a strong attraction to the sporting and competition spirit as I was participating myself to an educational experience.

Martial arts and meditation are, in many ways, two  similar paths of knowledge, though, at the same time, they seem to be also very different because of  the aims they pursue and the tools they use, which might as such also be in contradiction to each other. So I mean integration as a series of answers given to specific questions which arise from experience and are totally focused both on an educational and a clinical dimension.

Our body is intelligent and knows much more than we are able to detect. It gets the meaning of  things long before our brain manages to elaborate and express them with words. We have to let our body educate us by listening to it carefully and making it arise from its silence. That means that deep experiences have to be summed up and that, in order to be turned into words, they  have to become conscious, as well as we should let the body speak its own language which is quite often difficult to understand.

A mere action of the body might not be enough to get a changing process started because actions are speechless, ambiguous similar to raw material, still too heavy and incomplete. Similarly a word, if not connected  to the body, is bound to slip away as it appears to be ethereal, ghostly, shadowless and with no roots. Word and action together create awareness and support change, which means identification.

It is certainly difficult to learn from experience, it is no easy matter to transform experience by starting from mechanized actions which bear an analogical, sensorial and often unconscious meaning  to reach a level of understanding and acting which has cognitive, emotional and relational features. Nevertheless, without this challenge which often appears to be quite frustrating, there could not be any evolution, nor awareness, nor culture, but instead only nature, that is we would just be like animals.

A body in  motion shows concretely what is occurring in the deepest levels of conscience there where the symbols and the signs lie which are able to give a sense and meaning both to our actions and experience.

Maurice Blondel in his essay “Action” describes the relationship between body and knowledge as follows:

“ Nothing can be known which has not already been acted, nothing enters our soul which has not already been suffered, no body education may be kept away from the education of our will and mind”.      

We are both a mystery to ourselves and architects of a continuous unraveling action.

This being said, there are five relational principles which I apply as psycho-pedagogist, principles which are rooted in the practice of judo, kendo and meditation:  ukemi, sutemi, kuzushi, randori e zanshin.

I will give here a brief description.

受身 – ukemi, verbatim: receptive, passive attitude. The action of falling.

We need to accept that we might fall and we need to learn it. Between resistance and surrender there is a sophisticated process which evaluates and distinguishes things, which usually comes up against the different forces it faces wondering how to redirect and convert them. Those who are not able to fall live with the fear that it might happen and so they never risk an imbalanced motion. Being able to fall means to accept the existence of a stronger force without fighting it back, it means being capable to transform it while yielding without breaking and it finally means to learn how to get back on feet with minimal damage. There is a paradoxical Japanese quote which explains it very well: “ falling seven times, get up eight” which has not to be misunderstood with a quite different and common attitude which intends: “always land on your feet”. You know, between words and deeds….    

捨身 – sutemi : at the risk of life. The sacrifice.

This implies using the whole of you, getting involved into the relationship and being ready to loose something in order to win something else at a higher level. It is the moment when you loose balance to break a tenacious inaction abandoning a powerful position to become vulnerable and break through. It means to risk a fall in order to gain a new perspective. True sacrifice means donating yourself to someone else so as to create an encounter and openness.

崩し – kuzushi : to destroy causing a transformation. The balance.

It is the ability to examine with utmost care the forces regulating balance in order to create, handle and break them. It is about relations and relations of other relations, about complex systems and balance of power. A balance which is continuously changing because of curing and destroying  forces. It means finally to be willing to get out of the illusion of a perfect, indissoluble and permanent centre of balance, so as to experience stability within the changeable and dynamic nature of polarities.

乱取 – randori: bringing order into the chaos. The exchange.

It is taking action at the right time. Learning how to read  experiences and relationships while they are taking place. Being capable to act in the present trying all the time to apply the principles by vetting their suitability as well as by measuring their applicability. It means  trying to change a static and repeating  balance in order to see what happens taking the risk of new definitions and suggesting new solutions within the relationship by following intuition, intention, willpower without expecting neither victory nor defeat. It means, in the end, to bring order into the chaos step by step.

残心 – zanshin: the spirit which does not change. Stability in mutability.

Being capable of following the float of ordinary attention moving from what happens to yourself and to the other concerning body, emotion and mind. That means shifting the scope of the relationship to different levels which imply yourself, the other and the others. It refers to total attentiveness, pursued and created in a rhythmic continuum where thought, word and action become intertwined and combined while seeking for coherence and unity also considering the other and the context. Extraordinary attention.

Meditation indicates focused attentiveness which is able to recognise the mutability of phenomena as well as emotions, feelings and thoughts in the search of a spirit which participates and of an unfazed conscience which observes and does not judge.

This latter field of research is the soil where all the above mentioned principles grow.