JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is “Consciousness and the Martial Arts,” and my guest, George Leonard, is an Aikido teacher. In addition he is a former senior editor of Look magazine, a consulting editor to Esquire magazine, and the author of numerous books including The Transformation, The Silent Pulse, Education and Ecstasy, and The Ultimate Athlete. Welcome, George.
GEORGE LEONARD: Great to be here.
MISHLOVE: It’s a pleasure to have you here. In your work with Aikido, you pay a lot of attention to the notion of energy, and being sensitive to the energy field around the human body. Could you talk a little bit about that? It’s a notion I think a lot of people in the West particularly are not too familiar with.
LEONARD: Well, I don’t think there’s any question that there is an energy field around the body. First of all, there’s a heat field that can be seen on infrared film. You can measure the heartbeat electromagnetic field a great distance from the body. There’s an electrostatic field around the body.
We are surrounded by an olfactory bubble — we can smell each other; that’s another field. And then of course there are those putative fields of the Eastern religions, the various soul sheaths and auras and so forth. But I think that as Alan Watts once said, we are not skin-encapsulated egos.
In fact the skin is one of the lesser boundaries between the self and the universe. Close your eyes and then you can become one with the universe. Now, many of the martial arts, as you perhaps know, have had claims of the paranormal. You’ve heard the story of the ki-ai, the great shout by which a martial arts master can bring a sparrow down from a tree — “Ha!” like that. Or put your hands like that and then against the wall; you see the sizzling fingerprints and handprint against the wall.
MISHLOVE: Of course it seems that it’s always the oldest, frailest masters who are the most powerful.
LEONARD: That’s right. And actually —
MISHLOVE: At least in the movies.
LEONARD: It’s true, though. It’s really true. Aikido
— it’s probably the most recent and the most sophisticated and, according to Scientific American, the most difficult to master of the modern martial arts, of all the martial arts really. It was created, shall we say evolved, out of other martial arts, in the mid-1920s by a remarkable Japanese warrior named Morihei Ueshiba. We call him O Sensei, meaning great teacher, and others refer to him as Osensai, that’s much easier. But Aikido is a radical attempt — it really goes back to the samurai. The moves in aikido are the moves of samurai swordsmanship, basically, and jujitsu. But O Sensei, when he was a very powerful young man — and that’s when he would still use his muscle force —
MISHLOVE: It has a lot to do with balance, doesn’t it?
LEONARD: Oh yes, balance and centeredness. But he was engaged in a duel with an admiral with swords, and the admiral was injured. This was way back in the 1920s in Japan. O Sensei was filled with remorse, went on a one year’s retreat, and then in the typical enlightenment story, he was seeking some mode of martial art that would create not discord in the world but harmony.
MISHLOVE: This was before he developed Aikido.
LEONARD: Yes, he was in the process of developing it. The great moment is about to come now. You know, it’s just like the movies, really, just like the television series. He was in his back garden, and suddenly the whole world turned golden. The persimmon tree beneath which he was sitting, the well, everything turned golden, and he was enlightened. And what he found was a martial art that was really based on harmony. The word Ai in Japanese is a character, that goes like this, rather than like this. And Jeffrey, you know that most of our culture is built on this — push, push back.
MISHLOVE: You mean like a game of chess, or a football field — two teams lining up against each other pushing at each other like that.
LEONARD: I’ve given workshops to forty thousand people in the discipline I’ve developed out of Aikido, and I always ask this question: “What do you do when somebody pushes you?” The first answer invariably has been — this is forty thousand people — “Push back.” And it’s really a very stupid thing to do. Aikido is going with the flow — this is all going to make some sense about consciousness in just a minute, stay with me —
MISHLOVE: I’m with you.
LEONARD: It is really understanding — and deeper than understanding, intuiting — becoming one with the energy and intention, the intentionality of the attacker. You literally have to understand that fully as an attack comes in to you. Whatever kind of attack it is — it could be a psychological attack, a physical attack, a blow this way, a blow that way.
MISHLOVE: I heard that when I was a child about jujitsu. The idea is that you use the force of your opponent against them.
LEONARD: That’s right. But see, you still — watch your language — against them. So Aikido is more radical than that. Judo is you push, I pull; you pull, I push. Aikido is not that. You push, I blend; I become one with you. If we weren’t locked to these chairs, I’d jump up and show you. You’d come towards me, I’d make kind of a sweeping spiral-like move and come around and end up looking at the world from your viewpoint. In other words, to say it more clearly, looking at the world from the attacker’s viewpoint — “Oh, that’s how you see it.” And so from that vantage point you then have your options multiplied tremendously.
MISHLOVE: It’s almost like telepathy in a sense, then.
LEONARD: Yeah, we’re getting there. Push, push back, there are three possible outcomes. If I push you and you push back, I can win, I can lose, or there can be a stalemate. We’ve got the cerebral cortex, the most complex entity in the known universe, and we’ve come up with a basic way of dealing with problems, out of which there are three possible outcomes, all of which are no good. Once you have blended with somebody, you retain those outcomes, but you have about ten thousand more, physically. And the same thing is true psychologically, socially, sexually, whatever.
MISHLOVE: In other words, you’re dealing with a concept of unity.
LEONARD: Exactly. Literally, in Aikido if I attacked you, you would intuit, you would tune into, sense, understand, almost an extraordinary sensing, what my intentions are. You would make a move to blend with me, join with me like two rivers coming together and joining, look at the world from my viewpoint, and then you can deal with me any number of ways. You have a whole spectrum of responses, from controlling you with a wrist lock to embracing you, to going home and leaving the fight. Wonderful solution, real black belt solution, to get out of the fight.
MISHLOVE: But it almost sounds a little too perfect, George. I mean, we’re fallible human beings.
LEONARD: It’s very hard to do; that’s why Aikido is so difficult. You don’t always blend, you know. You try to blend. But it is quite remarkable. Now, since in Aikido it’s not just simply chess — it’s not you punching me, I counter that punch, I punch you back — I have to be more sensitive than usual in order to see what you really have in mind, so I have to blend with you. I think because of that Aikido masters — I do not include myself in that category
MISHLOVE: You call yourself a teacher of Aikido.
LEONARD: Yes, I hold a third-degree black belt, but that’s still — we always say, people think, “Oh, black belt, that’s something marvelous.” I consider a black belt in martial arts a license to learn. That’s when you really start learning. So a real Aikido master literally can sense things from a distance, can feel things.
And what has happened out of Aikido is that from the very practice itself, without any conscious intention to do this, it’s almost inevitable that you will start having kinds of sensing which would be called paranormal, extraordinary, whatever. Now, you see that in our world we call that quite normal. So with that in mind, I and some other teachers of Aikido have developed practices called energy awareness, and in my case we call it Leonard Energy Training, LET.
LEONARD: L-E-T, LET, that’s pretty nice. And with this training we teach alternative ways of dealing with daily life situations — stress, conflict. Some of these are quite practical, ordinary things. We use simple movement exercises with two people, sometimes more than two people. And these are things which come out of a very powerful martial art which can be performed by ordinary people who haven’t had the training, don’t know how to fall, don’t know the very complicated coordination and so forth.
MISHLOVE: You seem to be saying, in effect, that the same skill that one might use in a martial art is really the basic skill that one might use for lovemaking.
LEONARD: Exactly. Or anything. Or dealing with somebody who’s a hostile driver. You use all the same things. So I and some other people have been going around teaching this kind of thing. This is the forty thousand people I told you about. Those are not Aikidoists. We have a school in Mill Valley, Aikido of Tamalpais. But you have about a hundred students at the most at any one time. But forty thousand people —
MISHLOVE: That’s a lot.
LEONARD: That’s a lot, for an Aikido school. But now, as we started working on this, just normally, out of the very flow of things — in other words, Jeff, we couldn’t help ourselves — we start doing very extraordinary things. For example, we start finding that we can close our eyes, and by standing like this, by becoming centered and scanning like this, we can find people anywhere in the room, and we can pick out one person from another person.
MISHLOVE: In other words, from a distance of many, many feet you can —
LEONARD: It doesn’t matter the distance. The distance seems to be irrelevant.
MISHLOVE: Like a dowser searching for oil underground, or a remote viewer.
MISHLOVE: You use your body.
LEONARD: We use the body. I often say that the hands are just induction devices. Actually, you don’t even need to use your hands, but it’s nicer to have a hand up there. In other words, my basic theory that I put forth in The Silent Pulse, which probably goes along with your thinking too, is we are all connected. You’ve talked about that with Michael Scriven and others. We’re connected. We don’t need to have a carrier wave. I think so much of the objections to psychic phenomena have to do with the inability to locate or identify, isolate a carrier wave. This conception that I have is more like the quantum physics conception or holonomy — like a hologram.
MISHLOVE: We’re already part of whatever it is we’re seeking.
LEONARD: It’s structure. I mean, I can find that other person because that’s part of my basic structure.
MISHLOVE: So if I can digress for a second, some people use a dowsing rod, some people use Tarot cards, some people use a crystal ball, some people use astrology, some people use herbs or tea leaves or the I Ching. What you’re suggesting is that these are all devices to help us get back to the essential, underlying reality of it all.
MISHLOVE: And martial arts is one such device, which I suppose has the added advantage of allowing a person to really become familiar with their body, which is the basic instrument.
LEONARD: Right. I call all of these induction devices — induction, to lead into. They lead us into what we already know, as Plato said. The most that any teacher can help to do is to remind you of what you already know. So I do think the body is a good one, though. It’s a wonderful antenna, it’s fully instrumented, has thousands of feedback circuits. The feedback is instantaneous. You do not have to wait for a computer printout, it’s right there. You don’t have to carry instructions around, they’re right in your body. But we can locate people at a distance. Another thing — I also have a training in which we certify other trainers and teachers of LET, Leonard Energy Training. All of those have to be able to blindfolded on a cloudy day, outside, have to be able to find magnetic north. And they have to find it not approximately.
They’ll do like this, and I’ll take the compass, just to give them one of these so-called reality checks — we believe compasses. What I do, I say, “Now, which finger shall I put the compass on?” They’ll say, “The middle finger.” I put it on. It has to be right to the degree. Now, what I found out is that this does not take an Aikido master to do this. We can all do this.
MISHLOVE: Find magnetic north. Through the magnetic sensitivity.
LEONARD: We can find magnetic north. Or you could say it’s part of the basic structure of our culture and our environment, our world, our planet. It’s there.
MISHLOVE: Our bodies are like magnets, actually, so there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be conscious of that. But finding another person — that must be something a bit different.
LEONARD: Yeah, well — didn’t you come to our Aikido school?
MISHLOVE: I sure did.
LEONARD: And I think we did that experiment.
LEONARD: In which we go through a lot of induction. We make an energy ball between us, we talk about this representing the inner pulse, the particular pulse, and then trying to create a new energy field that is the sum of and greater than the sum of the two energy fields. We read aloud together.
MISHLOVE: You led us into it step by step.
LEONARD: Read aloud together. Your breathing is synchronized. Your subtle movements, micromovements, become synchronized, and perhaps your brain waves become synchronized. Your heartbeat does become synchronized. And then we have everybody wander around at random with the eyes soft, just looking at nothing in particular, soft eyes. I clap my hands, everybody turns and finds their partner.
OK, then we walk around with our eyes closed so you can only see people’s feet, and I clap my hands — find the partner. Then we walk around with our eyes really almost closed, where you can just barely see, and when I clap my hands you close your eyes totally, swing around as much as you want to until you find your partner.
Now, the amazing thing about that is that everybody doesn’t always get it, but when I ask afterwards — this is not scientific, because obviously it’s subjective. We don’t call it a scientific experiment, we call it an experience in connectedness. So we ask, and generally ninety-five percent at least have made a direct contact one out of three times. I normally have them do it with their eyes totally closed three times.
MISHLOVE: That would be statistically significant.
LEONARD: Well, impossible, in terms of — I mean, to be really clicked right in. One time out of three. About half of them do it two times out of three, and maybe ten percent do it three times out of three.
MISHLOVE: In your world view this is normal. This is not considered paranormal at all.
LEONARD: Right. And then we have our own way of replicating the remote viewing experiments of Puthoff and Targ at SRI, and what I add to this is I add a lot of induction, and people getting to know each other through what we call the energy dimension. You know, Jeffrey, it might simply be that nothing mysterious is going on except that we are simply reducing their disbelief.
MISHLOVE: So you don’t really have a concept of the paranormal.
LEONARD: No. It’s all normal. In other words, obviously other cultures have reinforced for that. We reinforce against this kind of sensing, because it is very frightening.
As I wrote in The Silent Pulse, I would not like to have metal bending be a very common capacity of human beings, because until we’ve all learned to be a little better people — shall I say that? — a little more centered, more balanced, less ego-driven people — you know, think of the crazies out there with guns, using metal to kill people.
MISHLOVE: And there are research reports from the Soviet Union, for example, using psychokinesis to stop the heartbeat of small animals.
MISHLOVE: Obviously this might lead to other things. But surely the martial arts traditions have cultivated these things and discovered them long ago.
LEONARD: Right, a long time ago. And the legends. And it is true that O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, lived to the age of eighty-six. He died in 1969, in April. And the last five years of his life, many films were taken of him, and videotapes and so forth that are on tape now, and you yourself can look at the film.
They’re not just legends. He does some absolutely incredible things, and of course the legends are even more incredible. This is back when he was a young man, he actually dodged bullets. He said that a very small blue light comes out of the barrel of the gun just as the person holding the gun has the intention of firing. So when he sees the blue ball come out, he dodges. And there are witnesses to it.
I just don’t like to get into those kind of arguments and discussions, but I do know that he performed feats that have been witnessed, there are reliable witnesses, in historic time, and film. And those are truly remarkable. So I’m no longer so gaga about the whole business of paranormal. If you’ll accept it, it can become part of your life.
MISHLOVE: Well, it seems to me that one of the issues is this issue of acceptance, because in our culture, where we have two forces going at each other, it almost seems to me that people don’t want to deal with the paranormal, because if one of your enemies has it, they can read your mind, they can predict where you’re going to be, they could stop your heartbeat.
So we’ve almost entered into a kind of conspiracy, given the larger premises of this push-push culture, that we’d better all forget that we have these abilities.
LEONARD: We’d better not have them; that’s exactly what I say. I once played a game with about six people. We all got together and I said, “Now, let’s just imagine that in this room we’re just doing something, and we chance upon that particular formula, that strategic positioning of elements, that incantation or chant or whatever, by which we gain zero gravity.
Now, how do we handle it?” And we did a scenario on what happens. Of course, if we, right in this room, the two of us, if we figured out on this show how to use zero gravity — better not do it on this show.
MISHLOVE: Just sit about three feet above the chairs.
LEONARD: What it basically means is that we would have almost infinite power, because we could get great, huge pistons and just have them go up and down, and we would have absolutely entropy-free energy. In other words, anybody who owned that could rule the world.
MISHLOVE: Well, they’d be well on their way.
LEONARD: They’d have the power. I mean, you could levitate the Pentagon, anything you want to do. But what would you do with it? And so then we spent our time saying, “This group right here; so how do we proceed?” Very interesting, because these were very nice people, but within the next two hours people were in rancorous discussion, they were very angry.
MISHLOVE: It brought out the vicious side of them somehow.
LEONARD: Well, the confused side. In other words, what would you do with infinite power? It’s a terrifying question. And what would you do just with a little bit of power, which so-called psychic phenomena have? Like being able to bend metal. You know, there’s a worm gear that puts out the flaps on planes. If you just bent that the slightest bit it would not work, and maybe one flap would extend, the other would not, the plane would go into an uncontrollable spin and go into the earth. Now, I don’t want that to be, so maybe the real —
MISHLOVE: So maybe you’re using your power to keep other people from developing theirs, or somehow collectively this is what we are doing with our power.
LEONARD: Yes, but the distinction I make is, all of those powers — and don’t forget the word power came from a French and Latin root meaning to be able. It doesn’t mean power over others. I like to think of it as our ableness to achieve our potential. The kinds of powers which I call benign are basically what you would call the passive rather than active — that is, being able to find magnetic north, to sense other people at a distance, to be more sensitive to other human beings’ feelings.
One of the exercises I have in The Silent Pulse is to try to get in touch with, if you have the courage for it, someone who’s starving in Africa, and then through that kind of empathy, then to give you the energy to go ahead and create some kind of social justice — that the real challenge today is not developing extraordinary powers, but using those powers we have to create social justice.
MISHLOVE: I think it was the Buddhists who felt that empathy was really the highest of the powers or the spiritual gifts.
LEONARD: And actually, as I say, these things, which come out of the martial arts, out of Aikido, these gifts, whatever, these special siddhi or powers, are not nearly so important as the learning which has to do with balance and centeredness.
MISHLOVE: Well, it’s interesting that the martial arts did develop in the Orient and came out of the very spiritual cultures — the Buddhist traditions, and the Taoist traditions, so that they’ve always had a different attitude, really, I suppose even before Aikido, a different attitude than we would have had in the West.
LEONARD: That’s right, and there’s a very basic idea which I think is terribly needed in our culture. That is the idea of practice, of a way, a do, a tao — do in Japanese, tao in Chinese. It means —
MISHLOVE: Like in dojo?
LEONARD: Yeah, place of the way, that’s what that means. It means literally a path or road. Now, this is the path which you trod in your life. Your practice is your path. People say, “Yes, George, but what are you practicing for?” Now, in that very question lies the confusion in the West. Yes, on my path I do find a lot of marvelous things. I get conditioning, I get more confidence, I make friends, I have a social group. But those are all incidental.
The important thing is simply the practice itself. O Sensei of Aikido said, “Where there is no Buddha, where there is no way, the nations perish.” And I think in this culture, where anybody who’s thirty-five years and younger has been brought up in a media world which shows us a view of reality in which there are nothing but a series of climactic moments —
MISHLOVE: It’s a cacophony of different competing pluralistic impulses, unrelated to each other.
LEONARD: But there’s one very related, one very coherent idea, and that is that reality consists of a series of climactic moments.
MISHLOVE: Climactic moments.
LEONARD: Look at your commercials next time you go. Every one of them is a little epiphany, little climax, almost all of them. Just check how many of them do. A half-hour show — at the end something happens, always something. Then we’re told that winning is what counts. It doesn’t matter how you get across the goal. Just get across the goal; I don’t want to know what happened in between. Don’t tell me how you sold that ad, just sell it.
MISHLOVE: Winning isn’t the only thing, it’s everything, right?
LEONARD: So the truth of the matter is that the winning and the little spurts upward in your practice, they’re incidental. Mainly you’re on a plateau. Now, this is a very difficult concept for our culture to grasp, to get its mind around.
MISHLOVE: I’m having a little trouble with it myself.
LEONARD: You know what the learning curve is like?
LEONARD: The learning curve goes like this, then you have a little apparent growth in learning, a spurt upward. And then it levels off and goes down slightly, and you have another plateau, just like that. What we seem to want in our culture is an endless series of upward spurts. That’s just not possible.
MISHLOVE: Onward and upward.
LEONARD: That’s not possible. Most of life is on a plateau. Because while you’re on the plateau, the essential, delightful, wonderful learning is taking place. It just doesn’t show. At the end there’s a little spurt of apparent learning, when what you have learned takes effect and that stage is over and then it’s released —
MISHLOVE: So staying on the path for you involves being with that process, rather than looking for the next thrill so that you can move onward and upward quickly.
LEONARD: Exactly. And what would be the only way that people could apparently for a while stay on that series of climactic moments? What would it be?
MISHLOVE: By jumping around from one thing to another.
LEONARD: That’s one. The dabbler goes from one thing to another.
MISHLOVE: I mean sexually, for example, it’s the thrill of a new romance always.
LEONARD: But there’s one way, especially for people in the ghetto, people who don’t have too many advantages — drugs. Things like cocaine or speed, anything like that. You can have the illusion of being on a quick high, another quick high, and of course pretty soon you crash.
But this all really applies to these extraordinary powers, because I think that before we start really trying to develop those, make that our primary national or international priority, the important thing is to learn how to live on a path, to live without those illusory climaxes and thrills, just to really stay on the path, to be balanced, to be centered, to strive for social justice, to develop empathy and greater sensitivity to other people. Those things are really so much more important than developing special powers.
MISHLOVE: It’s sort of a holistic sense of things, or the warnings that we’ve always had from the Oriental traditions, that you get lost in these powers. If they become an end unto themselves, you’re missing out on something.
LEONARD: The Hindu saying, “Moksha before siddhi,” meaning awakening before powers. We don’t want to totally renounce the power; they’re a lot of fun too. But the really important thing is balance, center, empathy and feeling for others, and the ongoing struggle for justice in the world. Now how the hell did we get on that?
MISHLOVE: I don’t know, but it sounds beautiful in all of that. It’s really a marvelous thing to be able to integrate all of that into one’s lifetime, and it’s not easy. Not everybody can be a martial artist.
LEONARD: No, but you don’t have to be a martial artist. You see, I think in a sense we’re all warriors. We can take the warrior ideal — I mean, not the kind of warrior who goes to war, but Castaneda’s warrior.
MISHLOVE: What is that, briefly? We’re running out of time.
LEONARD: Well, it’s briefly someone who lives for service. The idea of service is really right there. Someone who lives intensely in the moment, and often it’s someone who lives in full awareness of his own death.
MISHLOVE: Full awareness of his own death.
LEONARD: Because with that awareness you really don’t have time to be sullen, or to be depressed, or to go around preening your ego. To live clearly and cleanly in the moment, to develop your powers fully and your potential, and to achieve your bestowed mission on this planet.
MISHLOVE: Well, George, I think in some way you’re able to demonstrate that to me just in speaking. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you. We’ve really been able to cover a lot of ground, ranging from the paranormal to really the philosophical underpinnings of this work that you’re doing, George. Thank you for being with me.
LEONARD: Thank you.