“Death in his eyes”

“He has a killer look. He has death in his eyes.”

Aikido Tadashi Abe. Metodo Morihei Ueshiba ” is a book which recently came back to me, written a few years ago by one of the pioneers of Italian Aikido, Pier Domenico Anzalone.

An interesting reading because it offers direct testimony of the first people in Italy who came into contact with the world of Aikido.

At a Judo club in Marseille, France, managed by Jean Zin, in the 1950s Minoru Mochizuki, Tadashi Abe and Kenshiro Abbe taught and from there, through an event in Sanremo, Italy, in 1959, Aikido began to proliferate through the web of Judo clubs in Northern Italy.

Those who have been through that pioneering phase tell of very hard training sessions and anecdotes such as the one that occurred in Marseille, with Tadashi Abe.

The group of athletes who trained in boxing in Jean Zin’s gym asked that Tadashi Abe would not enter the gym because his gaze disturbed the training.

“He’s got a killer look. He’s got death in his eyes.” Precisely.

I recently witnessed an exchange of perspectives on the social network about the figures of Mochizuki and Abe. An exchange in which on the one hand people tried to witness the origins of the movement (and its martiality, whatever is meant by this term); on the other it was underlined how the mythologizing of figures from the past can be a limit for a functional transmission of tradition.

But that is not what interests us ,now.

Rather, the reflection arises from these two elements: the gaze and death.

In the practice of a martial discipline and a combat sport, one is occasionally cradled in the romantic perception of oneself as a warrior who defies death. Who accept death’s company.

In many years of tatami we have seen broken noses, sprained ankles, dislocated shoulders, and an assorted anthology of orthopedic cases. Most often generated by inattention and unawareness.

Certainly we have never, ever participated in duels to the death: whoever stands up goes back home, whoever doesn’t make it ends up under the tatami…

Even the filmography -the mythology of the contemporary era- embroiders a lot on the gaze. Rocky’s “Eye of the tiger” is iconic.

Can you train your gaze? Sure you can. Indeed, you must.

Through the senses, and therefore the gaze, our perception can expand as much as possible, connecting with what surrounds us. First of all: the practice partner.

Partner, indeed. Not an enemy to kill. Partners to grow with by exploring each other’s limits.

What is the purpose of training the gaze? To have “death in the eyes”?

A few days ago a gentle and generous person, who had practiced with us for some time, died suddenly in the arms of his wife.

This woman literally had “death in her eyes”.

Yet this woman, who also saw her life project with her husband destroyed in a few moments, knew how to have death in her eyes to give back to herself and to us who were there “to pat her back” the power of life in its realism.

In accepting a tremendous blow, which may bend you over, she chose to rise up immediately – as indeed she taught us in all these years of Aikido. And she was able to give her peace of mind to the embarrassment of those present.

We don’t write these few lines just to remember a friend or to honor the true strength of one of our senpai.

Let’s write down as a memo, here ,a few thoughts to remind us that everything we do may lead us into a dead end or to elevate and improve ourselves.

In the specific case of a martial discipline, the hours, months, years, a lifetime of training must still be of some use.

Being remembered in history because one’s gaze terrifies those present… Maybe it excites the imagination of some teenagers (even some elderly teenagers). Maybe this guarantees notoriety through some book, some writing, for a few decades after the death.

It certainly makes more noise than those who see life and death in the eyes of the people next to them, and know how to welcome and how to flourish even from a broken branch.

Katsujinken, setsunin-to, the life-giving sword, the murderous sword…

What are we training for, in the end?

Disclaimer: picture by Simone Lunghi from Pexels

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