“One centimeter game”: Miles Kessler and a mindful practice

This year we had again the privilege of participating in an Aikido seminar led by Miles Kessler Sensei, in the splendid environment of the Aiki no Kokoro in Boves (Cuneo, Italy).

A total experience, from every point of view.

It was also the first time in all these years that a training session was dedicated to the bokken. Watching Miles live with the bokken and practicing with him is an experience that is hard to forget.

And it is precisely from one of the aspects dealt with in working with the bokken that we try to talk about this experience.

In his teaching method, Miles Kessler speaks of “one centimeter game”. An effective image to communicate to the students the importance of extension in practice – and not just in the bokken training.

Just an extra centimeter of extension and your partner’s attack is deflected.

Just an extra centimeter of extension and the tip of your bokken is in your partner’s center while your center is safe.

We had the chance to “cross the bokken” with Miles to practice go no awase. An exercise that in our school is considered a technical program for green belts (third kyu).

Absorbing Miles’ attacks is an unforgettable experience. You’re not faced with a person who relies on his decades of experience—or muscle strength, or his rank—to overcome you.

On the contrary.

You feel, even on a physical level, that you are invested by a total presence. By a totally integrated movement. Body, technique, intention, will, connection – everything is focused on that piece of wood.

With Miles Kessler you learn that a higher level of practice starts with small things, with small changes.

From an extra centimeter of extension, which is the measure that separates full awareness from a presence (on or off the mat) that is often only physical and therefore partial.

Describing Miles Kessler’s practice and teaching therefore means describing his person. And viceversa.

A practice and a didactic that are credible because the person is. And viceversa.

Miles is clear and focused yet not dogmatic, because his eight years of experience as full time Aikido student in Iwama gave him clarity and his spiritual crisis and rebirth in monastery years in Burma and Nepal pushed him beyond technical dogmatism.

He offers an integral practice because he first made that transition from the “false self” to the “authentic self” using the purposes of the discipline we practice. And not the other way around, rather using a discipline to cement a cocoon from which you will never get out. Or to create a character, yet another guru.

He gives a solid, powerful and total representation of Aikido, yet remaining fluid and soft, demonstrating a full integration and real understanding of the principles embodied in his practice.

Miles is a teacher who does not need to instill fear or underline his authority, creating distance. His authorativeness is spontaneous. You can perceive that he is what he says. And that is enough to remind students of the need for a serene but mindful practice, for a conscious presence manifested in posture and that little silence at the end of the session which helps ruminating what you’ve just learnt.

In a word, Miles is a “total” teacher. A person who has clearly decided where and why to invest his life and has made sharing his journey his mission, even before his profession.

This is why we wrote that it is a privilege to participate in such events. Not just because the pandemic has got us used to not taking anything for granted. Especially because, in an age of masks, being able to mirror yourself in genuine and credible people is good.

It’s good also and above all because it highlights our shadows: attitudinal, technical, mental, emotional ones… We thought we knew something and instead we discover we don’t know yet.

Or rather, that to transform what we know into what we can be, that effort of an inch is enough to come to light, letting go of our anchors to which we cling desperately.

Miles Kessler, VI Dan Aikikai, lives and works in Tel Aviv where he founded and directs the Integral Dojo. Married and father of two daughters, he began practicing Aikido in Dallas, Texas. He left the United States, where he was born, to spend eight years in Japan, where he studied uninterruptedly Aikido in Iwama as a student of Morihiro Saito, living also the uchideshi experience for one year. Subsequently he went on a series of retreats for eight years in Burma where he was introduced to Vipassana meditation, then refining his path in consciousness in Nepal. He therefore dedicates his life to teaching Aikido and meditation as tools to support full individual growth, awareness and mindfulness. He produced a rich set of publications of tools for training.

Promoter of different innovative educational formats, during the period spent in Iwama he met Patrick Cassidy, VI Dan Aikikai. Together they hold international events such as the Riviera Seminar. Patrick Cassidy is the founder of the Evolutionary Aikido Community. Patrick and Miles are the main references of our community of practice.

Picture: Courtesy of Gisella Re – Aiki no Kokoro ASD

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