From gross to subtle and beyond. Miles Kessler’s perspective

Last weekend we participated in an intense seminar led by Miles Kessler Sensei. Perfectly organized by Aiki no Kokoro of Boves , it is one of the events we look forward to most, every year, regarding our personal and technical development.

Miles Kessler doesn’t need much introduction. He is a guy who thinks what he says, teaches what he knows and lives what he believes. This normality, so rare in the times we live in, makes Miles Kessler’s teaching clear and solid. The integration of values into experience makes the person credible.

Even though he could afford that, he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal, on the contrary, both on the tatami and outside, he reduces distances. An attitude which is already in itself a huge example for those who not only practice but teach this discipline.

During the intense hours of training, we followed a path based on the four main states into which the spectrum of consciousness can be divided: gross, subtle, formless and non-dual.

We focused on the first two, because they are those of which we have direct experience, not only in personal practice, but also when we have the opportunity to visit other realities, different from ours.

It is a rather common experience to live or see dimensions of practice that are totally either in the physical or in the emotional and mental domain. The classic approach to a Martial Arts course, in the past at least, was based on “technique and sweat”. Other instances were simply not contemplated. This size is defined as gross, not in a negative sense, just as it is not derogatory to define a diamond that has not yet been worked as gross.

A certain social change, also due to globalization, has brought other needs and perspectives onto the mat. It is not uncommon to find practice groups that have greatly reduced the physical effort and are dedicated to the more subtle, speculative perspective.

The problem begins to arise when -as Miles Kessler stated- you are unable to have access to move from one state to another. Remaining in technique alone leads to problems, as does remaining exclusively in the subtle dimension.

Such reflections, supported by practice, have allowed us to grasp new dimensions of what is called “tradition“.

Certainly Miles Kessler, more than many teachers over there, is a person who grew up in the martial and eastern spiritual tradition in the most original sense. Studying for years with Morihiro Saito Sensei whose only mission was to pass on what he had seen and experienced with Morihei Ueshiba; being his translator for three years in various training sessions; being trained and educated in meditation in Burma… These are not experiences that many can say they have lived in such a total and immersive way.

Therefore, in the gross, physical dimension, there is a way to make tradition shine: the setting of the technique is based on principles, sharp lines and movements that tradition hands down in a very clear way. But why?

It’s not just a question of effectiveness. Correctly understanding and cocreating the techniques with your partner is the essential requirement for developing the grammar with which you can express yourself on a more subtle level.

The comparison with tradition does not in itself reveal how many techniques we know and how many we still have to study compared to a hypothetical list. It highlights what we have internalized about the movements and the principles that compose them.

Having the fortune of being able to learn with people who in turn have received this knowledge directly from the source, makes us feel that often on the one hand our movements are partial. On the other hand they are excessive. That in something we are now fluid and in something else we get lost.

The gross dimension is therefore an important prerequisite on which instead -due to our limitations, that of the teachers, due to the anxiety of wanting to go further- we make cuts, often choosing the shortcuts of more reassuring mentalisms, confining ourselves in the subtle dimension with sterile lucubrations.

Yet it is clear -and Miles Kessler underlined it well- that the gross dimension vanishes with the decline in energy and physical condition that the progression of the years brings with it.

Therefore, if a discipline is something that has a significant physical impact like sport but stimulates an internal, spiritual dimension that sport does not necessarily cultivate, then we need to find a way to osmotically work on the gross and the subtle, at the same time.

A pendulum movement that allows the person to flourish and develop more and more, because the body declines but the spirit is not called to the same fate, on the contrary.

Also in this case, the cultivation of the subtle dimension is a process in which we have been able to notice how at the basis of a clear teaching there is a great work carried out on the track of tradition.

What do you practice, what do you follow? Who did you learn from? Where did tour teachers know what they repeat -with respect to technique or with respect to more subtle dimensions, such as meditation?

Reflecting on this, helps to greatly demystify the dimension in which, as practitioners of disciplines born in the East, we risk losing ourselves. Fascinated by evocative practices, attracted by the prospect of developing who knows what power, we often run the risk of forgetting the concrete daily work and progressively making ourselves blind and deaf. We forget the gross part in its value and think we are nourishing our spirit with baseless speculation, when on the contrary we have simply found new food for our ego.

These and other reflections arise while we are there, hearing and seeing Miles Kessler. During the practice with him and the seminar participants, the mind and body feel that this practice approach is good because it is true, simple, universal.

Total technical clarity but no rigidity. A clean spiritual depth, without the need for induced or imposed any kind of “gurism”. Who knows, to appreciate all this perhaps we had to go through the hundreds of tatamis where our body was told – as well as our ears – that the techniques had to be exclusively precise and therefore brutally insensitive. In which sometimes our spirit was told that if we had not done this or that practice we would never have understood the technique. That in order to get along with this or that teacher you had to somehow put him on a pedestal.

If Aikido, as it is, is a school of freedom, Miles Kessler is certainly one of its greatest teachers, in the highest sense. It is up to us to patiently work daily to slowly follow his example.

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