AiShinKai - Harmonious Heart Association - Achieving Peak Performance in Daily Life
Self-Mastery - Character Development - Leadership - Team Management - Conflict Resolution - Global Citizenship

Getting Started on The Path to Self-Mastery

Self-Mastery: A Beginner's Primer

Confidence, Calmness, Coordination

What does self-mastery really look like?  We've all heard stories of a mother who lifts a car off her pinned child: in a moment of desperation, she makes a single herculean effort, unifying body and mind to achieve a specific goal.  Maybe we've been to a concert with a master violinist like Itzhak Perlman, or marveled at the sheer acrobatic athleticism of Michael Jordan.  Maybe you've even experienced a moment or two of unparalleled performance in your own field of endeavor.  What makes self-mastery different is a quality of dependability.  It's not about sustained perfection per se, but a habitual response to adversity that instinctively reaches within to apply powerful tools to achieve personal excellence.  Itzhak Perlman misses a lot of notes, yet his sheer exuberance and ability to move right along to maintain grace and elegance makes him a virtuoso.  Michael Jordan missed the basket a few times in his career, but his talents shone through every error to reveal a human being shining like the sun, in full control of his abilities.  It's all about making habits of excellence.  And that means not getting hung up on momentary slips and falls.  Like a surfer who tumbles and climbs aboard again to ride the next wave, the experience of self-mastery is one of constant resort to internal greatness, without succumbing to negativity or "the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune."

We all have moments when we have experienced the potential power of mind-body coordination.  AiShinKai self-mastery training is designed to make that experience dependable.  Self-mastery means having the ability to bring the power of a correctly coordinated mind and body to bear on every aspect of daily life, effortlessly and habitually.  We can choose to live every moment of our time in this world, continually harnessing and applying our full human potential to achieve greatness in every thought and action.  This is truly "a life worth living."  The key is in cultivating calmness, and having a great set of tools with which to refine the expression of that calmness through a correctly coordinated mind and body.  This, in turn, releases the spirit to fly free.

Let's Begin

All of AiShinKai's martial and cultural arts programs begin with an introduction to Basic Principles for Self-Mastery.  The culmination of Dr. Bannister's 30 years of study and achievement in business, competition, and social/civic service, these are a great place to begin your study of mind-body coordination. 

Four Principles to Harness the Mind and Body

Principle 1 - Create a Calm Center - A Principle of Mind
Calmness is the root of true self-mastery.  It's not enough to merely command ourselves (or anyone else) to "Calm Down!"  We need a positive tool to achieve this goal.  We must focus our attention proactively on a point that is the center of the body's mass.  While standing or sitting, our center is located in the lower abdomen, about at the level of the pelvic bone but deeper inside, a location that cannot be consciously tightened by muscle.  By making our center the focus of our attention, we do not lose the center of our balance.  Continual practice will make this centering habitual and dependable.  AiShinKai's Breathing and Meditation Exercises our invaluable in helping to identify this location.

Principle 2 - Be Comfortably Relaxed
- A Principle of Body
Excessive mental tension, or stress, is also harmful to health, invariably causes poor judgment, and - because mind controls body - leads to excessive tension in the body.
  We have two sets of voluntary muscles, extendors and contractors.  When we are tense, both sets engage, cancelling each other out.  Our net power approaches zero, and we can't accomplish any physical movement efficiently.  AiShinKai training continually challenges us to relax as much as possible without sacrificing correct form.  We continually assess how we use mind and body in specific movements called Mind-Body Coordnation Exercises.  Training partners provide Mind-Body Coordination Tests, a system of gentle resistance and balance checks to reveal our efficacy of action.

Principle 3 - Practice Dependable Posture
- A Principle of Body
This means that you assume complete control for the position in which you place your body.  You are stable, comfortably relaxed, and able to withstand any reasonable pressure applied.  We assess dependable body according to the AiShinKai Mind-Body Coordination Exercises and associated test system.  We provide stability tests in all manner of positions until the practitioner discovers the roots of dependable posture in calmness and proper body alignment.  It is important to have concrete proof of dependable posture, for it is a condition requiring elements of both mind and body, and traditional (even professional and medical) advice regarding what constitutes correct or "good" posture is patently wrong when assessed according to our goal of dependability.  Even something as apparently simple as standing is prone to misconception.  Traditional standing posture is too straight and flat on the feet.  Any pressure from the front causes catastrophic loss of balance to the rear.  No amount of physical strength can compensate for this loss of balance.  AiShinKai mind-body coordination principles teach us that correct standing posture tips the body about 2-3 degrees forward onto the balls of the feet.  When we remain calmly centered with the tail bone slightly trucked and the spine stretched upwards, this posture is stable in the face of any test, from any direction.  This is because the human, bipedal body is actually shaped like an 'L."  In order to maintain stability, we must tip slightly forward to bring the center of balance over the optimal point of contact with the floor, which is on the balls of the feet.

The optimal point of floor contact is on the ball of the foot between the first and second toes.  Traditional "good" posture relies on friction to keep the body upright: only the outer leg muscles are engaged.  AiShinKai mind-body coordination principles balance use of the inner and outer leg muscles in order to rely on body alignment to remain upright, instead of surface friction.  This requires slightly engaging the groin muscles, even in such simple positions as standing or sitting.  With practice, this becomes habitual, and the practitioner is no longer likely to lose balance even in the presence of slippery ground conditions.  Dependable posture is stable in every direction regardless of external conditions, and exemplifies the self-reliance and personal responsibility that are the hallmarks of self-mastery.

This process of physical alignment is something of a mantra in AiShinKai practice: students are continually reminded that, prior to executing any action or movement, they should (slightly) tuck their tail bones, (slightly) stretch their spines upwards, (slightly) lower their centers, (slightly) engage their groin muscles, and (slightly) tip forward onto the balls of their feet.

Principle 4 - Unify Body, Mind and Spirit - A Principle of Mind
Mind controls body, but the condition of the body influences the quality of mind.  To a large degree, our intentions determine our actions.  But when we are sick or seriously injured, we may feel sluggish or unable to concentrate.  The linkage between mind and body is very strong.  In unity, the mind and the body can wield power much in excess of the sum of their parts.  For lack of a better word, we call that spirit.  We could just as well use words such as fortitude, courage, will power, guts, or life force.  We could borrow from Japanese and say "Ki," or Chinese "Chi," or Hindi "prana." 
But we choose simplicity everywhere it is possible, so we say "spirit," not in a religious sense, but rather as in "full of spirit" or "spirited." When we combine a strong will to move coupled with a correctly coordinated and aligned physical system, we become nearly unstoppable.  AiShinKai practice develops this condidtion into a conscious and dependable lifestyle, an experience made habitual through training and the continual experience of incremental success.

Four Principles to Guide Action - Dr. Bannister's Personal Code

Principle #5 - Strive for Excellence
"Anything worth doing, is worth doing superbly."  This may be a Bannister family trait.  After all, Bannister Sensei's father was an unabashed perfectionist.  Dr. Bannister believes that this is a point of personal responsibly, even personal honor.  To do less than your best is corrosive to the spirit, and gives free rein to the inherent laziness that besets all human beings.  Giving in to the impulse to do and be less than your best will prevent the final  achievement of true self-mastery, and lead to dissolute lifestyle in which the real joy of personal achievement becomes accidental, rather than intentional. Excellence is a habit that has to be practiced, a conscious moment-by-moment choice.

Principle #6 - Be Loyal, Brave and Sincere
Dr. Bannister relates this story:

In 2005 I was working in a Japanese organization where several strong personalities were in play.  One of the executives was a personal friend and mentor, who introduced me to another, higher-ranked officer.  During a couple of years working together, my mentor negotiated on my behalf to come under this senior officer's jurisdiction.  It was really great!  I learned a great deal from him, and thoroughly enjoyed our personal relationship.

Unfortunately, in 2006, the relationship between my mentor and my new boss went sour.  They had a series of irreconcilable conflicts that culminated in my mentor asking me to back him at the expense of my new boss.  Although the situation was highly regrettable and uncomfortable for me, I instantly offered support to my old friend.  A little while later, my boss asked me to follow him into a new endeavor.  I carefully explained that despite my deep regret and personal sorrow, because I owed a prior obligation to my old friend, I could not comply.  To do so would render me an unfit character to be his protege.

He understood, and conveyed his respects through an intermediary.  We didn't see each other again until 2010, when following the passing of my old mentor, my obligation to him was fulfilled.  My old boss contacted me again, and to our mutual delight I have joined his organization.  When he introduced me to his co-officers, they expressed amazement that a foreigner would so clearly understand Japanese ways.  My standing went way up in their eyes because, in spite of my personal feelings in the matter and the great difficuluties I had faced in consequence, I had acted with scrupulous loyalty and honor to my mentor.  They knew That I was someone they could trust.

Principle #7 - Seek the Simplest Solution
George Bernard Shaw once wrote to a friend "If I had more time, I would write you a shorter letter."  Masterful solutions are invariably elegant and refined, stripped of every nonessential.  As our skills grow, even techniques learned as a beginning continue to be refined.  By committing to simplicity, we remove unnecessary stresses in body and mind.  Just as efficiency is a watchword in business and civic leadership, so minimalism in martial arts is highly desirable.  There simply isn't time to dawdle.  Eliminating waste, corruption, and inefficiency in government is ethical and prudent, even though that should not be used as an excuse to neglect the role of good government to responsibly care for those elements and people in society under its charge.  In similar fashion, effectiveness in martial arts technique is not an excuse for ugliness in character or execution.

Principle #8 - Smile and Be Natural
It's hard to be stiff when smiling.  Even an internal smile will lift the spirit, relax mind and body, and result in greater efficiency and beauty of execution.  It does matter whether we engage in social interaction, business, or play, a person who is light in heart yet strong in will and body will over out-perform the person who is stiff from frowning.

Being natural means to appreciate the elegance, balance, and rhythms in Nature.  From seasonal changes to the role of gravity in natural timing, a close observation of Nature is essential to realizing full human potential and our place in the world. 
The natural deceleration and acceleration of a ball thrown in the air, the way water flows around rocks in a stream, the regular shift of the seasons, . . . these illustrate more profoundly than any words the natural rhythms to which we must adhere if we are to achieve our full potential as human beings.  We are bound to this world, yet free to observe and learn, and achieve the greatness promised to us by Nature.

Self-Mastery in Daily Life

AiShinKai encourages its members to actively seek opportunities to help others achieve self-mastery.  AiShinKai is a founding member of the non-profit Pacific Northwest Budo Association, an 501c3 educational organization that has contributed more than $1.2 million in grants, scholarships and in-kind donations to artists and arts organizations, schools, business, and community groups.  We encourage AiShinKai members to be active in supporting the
Pacific Northwest Budo AssociationAiShinKai participates in a multitude of PNBA demonstration opportunities, public outreach and education programs, and fund raising for worthy causes, especially the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington.  Find more information about the PNBA and its charitable social work on our Membership/Service/Links page

Each November and December, AiShinKai holds an annual food drive to generate donations to our local food banks.  This is an exercise in personal and community leadership: by working together we are able to make large contributions to help those in need.  Members are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to each class, special event, and private lesson.  We typically contribute over 200 pounds to area food banks in time for the holidays.  This is one tangible way that AiShinKai members who are actively engaged in self-mastery training can express leadership in the community.

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The non-profit Pacific Northwest Budo Association
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Aishinkai maintains a drug- and alcohol-free environment.  We do not discriminate in the administration of our programs based on race, creed, color, religious affiliation, gender, or in any other way prohibited by law or common sense.

Offering local and nation-wide education in Self-Mastery, Mind-Body Coodination, Leadership Development, Conflict Resolution, and Team Management, as well as the Japanese martial and cultural arts of AiShin-Ryu Aikido, Iaido, Aiki-ken, Aiki-jo, Kyudo, Kiatsu Ryoho, Bonsai, Shodo, and Ikebana.  Locally serving the communities of Seattle, Everett, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, and Edmonds, WA.
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