Rodrigo san is one of the most dedicated aikido practitioners I know. His depth of understanding of aiki principles goes far beyond his years.

I asked Rodrigo about his background

My name is Rodrigo Castellanos. I began practicing aikido almost 20 years ago in my late teens in Mexico under the direction of Michael Moreno Sensei, 6th Dan, and the Mexican Federation of Aikido. In 2002 I travelled to Japan where I lived for nearly one year exclusively training in aikido and was graded shodan at Hombu Dojo.

In 2005 after some time living on a permaculture community in Mexico I moved to Melbourne with my Australian wife (Irena) and joined Aikikai Australia. Irena and I met on the aikido mat while I was studying permaculture in Australia in 2000, she is also a black belt.

I am currently a 4th Dan and I oversee the Warrandyte aikido dojo in Victoria although I also train regularly at the central dojo in Clifton Hill. I am fortunate to have trained uninterrupted over all these years.

Q.. You have a very strong relationship with your teacher Moreno Sensei. Can you describe this relationship and what it means to you?

I would like to first explain my understanding of the term Sensei. Although it is true that its generally understood western meaning is simply “teacher”, its literal meaning is “one who has lived before”. This does not necessarily mean in a previous life but rather as someone who has walked a path for long enough and therefore can point the way to others. Although I have many teachers from whom I draw inspiration and learning, my relationship to people that I call and relate as Sensei is somehow different from someone whom I simply learn from.

In that sense I am very fortunate that during all my time training aikido I have been able to maintain a very close relationship with Michael Moreno Sensei. My relationship with Moreno Sensei has evolved over the years. Because I managed to practice almost on a daily basis with him when I was in Mexico. Moreno Sensei’s style of teaching is known around the world to be very intense, almost severe. I was lucky enough to start this journey as a young man so I didn’t mind the severity of his teaching. I would say that I actually even needed it to straighten out my own life! Moreno Sensei follows a very traditional way of teaching students. He trains many people but only the ones who he sees as committed enough to both training and to him will he select as his “ukes” (person who receives the techniques). I see this is a great privilege because aikido is a somatic art – it is expressed through the body. This is one of the reasons why a direct relationship with a teacher is important. We need to “feel” the teaching, not simply see it, hear it, think about it or read about it. Many great teachers who studied directly under the Founder of Aikido (O’Sensei) will recall his “touch”. The feeling they got when they received techniques directly from him. That type of learning is impossible to replace.

One time when I was particularly struggling to receive Moreno Sensei’s techniques he said to me “You have to trust more…..not in yourself, but in me”. I guess my relationship with him can be summarised in that word – Trust. Every time that I have had a doubt either technical or other with regards to aikido (and sometimes life in general) I have asked him directly and he has been kind enough to give me his guidance. But here is another important difference: I have actively sought his guidance. A student must do that.

Q.. You are now a Sensei in your own right, what of those who train under your guidance? Can you describe you relationship with your students ?

I appreciate every single person from the Warrandyte Dojo for what they bring to the mat. Each of them is a unique individual and aikido is richer because of that diversity. “But I have to say that since I am passing on what I learn from my teachers, in this case Aikikai Australia, and not my own interpretations or ideas of Aikido, in this regard they are not “my” students. As for being a “Sensei”, let say that in the simplest western meaning of the word probably I am, but in the deeper and much more important meaning I described before it is not up to me to call myself like that”. My relationship with those who come and train in the Warrandyte Dojo is to pass on what I have learned from many teachers including Moreno Sensei and Sugano Sensei (founder of Aikikai Australia): to help each person to become an individual, not a copy of something or someone. For this reason I endeavour to treat those under my guidance as individuals. And once again trust is an essential element to nourish. Aikido is also an art of relationships, of communication, and relationships can only flourish under trust.

Q.. What do you see as a traditional relationship between sensei and student and how close do you feel you come to this as both student and sensei ?

Traditionally a student will actively seek to be close to the teacher not only on the mat to “learn” techniques but also in daily life. That was the original role of the live-in students (uchi deshis) like Sugano Sensei and others. Students understood that anything that is worth learning cannot be taught but has to be directly absorbed by being present and attentive. Students would spend time with their teacher to hear his/her insights into the art but also to learn and be in rhythm with the teachers routine. As I said before, aikido is a somatic art and an art of communication, so the only way of refining the sensitivity required to fully embrace the art is to be fully present and attentive to the needs of the “other” (in this case the teacher). In my case for example, Moreno Sensei stays in my house when he visits Australia. This allows me that time to “sink” into his rhythms and needs and therefore be more connected with him. I believe that this connection then translates to the mat and that is the reason why I can receive his techniques.

This is somewhat difficult to explain and also to accept by most western people. It is sometimes seen as being a “servant” (which as the virtue of “service” would have nothing bad about it) or even worse a “slave” (that one brings nastier connotations) but the exercise and training to be attentive to your teacher’s needs and actions is an important learning process

Q.. What do you see as the responsibilities and obligations for both student and sensei ?

As with any relationship, commitment, freedom and trust are essential elements for both sides.

Q.. What do you see as the benefits or drawbacks of this relationship?

I personally don’t see any drawback in having somebody that you trust who can point the way and who you can refer to in times of doubt. If the relationship is honoured by the three qualities commitment, freedom and trust – then it has no drawbacks. However the world is not perfect and humans are even more imperfect. This relationship allows us to explore the value and challenges of these and many other virtues but obviously each virtue also has its shadow side and exploring those sides is sometimes inevitable.

Q.. Is there a case for studying under many teachers & if so does this change the sensei/student relationship?

There is an interview with Sugano Sensei where he is asked who was the teacher who influenced him the most during his early years. He replied that although there were many teachers in the Dojo in those days (big names of Aikido in the present time), his training was always geared towards O’Sensei. He was his model and his “zenith” as he said it.

Q.. Is there a case for studying multiple arts? If so do we need a ‘home’ art?

For me these two questions are somehow linked. By my limited experience I would say that one teacher/art will give you roots, many teachers/arts will give you branches. I would think that as any healthy tree it is important to grow strong and solid roots before exploring too much in the branches. As I said before because of my current life in Australia I have many teachers who inspire me and show me different aspects of the way on daily basis, however I feel my relationship and trust with Moreno Sensei is not affected because of this. I don’t think it is an “either-or” scenario. Part of my study and commitment today is to honour the teachings of Aikikai Australia and I do it to the best of my abilities but I think that the strong foundations that I received from Moreno Sensei help me to honour that commitment even more today. Human beings are naturally curious and of course this is a good thing. We love seeing other people’s approaches to thing and interpretations. Again, this is a healthy thing but the relationship with a teacher or Sensei in this sense is more than just learning other interpretations of a technique. It is much deeper than that.

I know many people who train in multiple martial arts and are wonderful individuals at a personal and technical level. I have done cross training in several arts myself and I enjoy it deeply, however when I reflect on the enormity of the path of aikido and the fact that an entire lifetime won’t be enough to truly study all that this art has to offer I feel as if I should go back, wear my hakama and do more swari waza techniques!

Q.. Many students nowadays do not have a committed relationship to one teacher, do you see this as a future trend or has it always been the case?

The lack of commitment towards anything seems THE trend these days! I think that many options have always existed. I mentioned the example of Sugano Sensei before and his relationship and influence with other aikido teachers but even outside of aikido, when O’Sensei was alive, Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo), Gichin Funakoski (founder of Shotokan Karate) and many other incredible martial artist were still alive, however aikido students chose O’Sensei as their teacher. It is true that many students cross-trained in many arts and that gave wonderful insights into aikido (Tomiki, Nishio, etc.), but even they recognised and honoured (mostly) their relationship with O’Sensei as their main teacher (Nishio Sensie would be an example of that). Having many teachers in many martial arts however didn’t happened of course with the uchi-deshis since you can only be live-in student of one teacher at the time.

How does the old saying goes? The teacher will arrive when the student is ready.

Q.. Does a committed relationship add to or detract from the study of aikido? (training with one sensei could limit a students experience, training with many teachers can limit the depth of advice offered)

As mentioned before. I don’t think that is a matter of “either-or”. One gives you roots, the other gives you branches. Equally, I don’t think that is only a matter of “advice”.

Your teacher gives you more than that. He/She has something that you want to emulate and has something that you can’t grasp with only “advice”. It is not only about technique and even if it was only about technique we must remember that technique is two fold: visible and invisible.

The visible elements can be copied (although they still require deep and thorough attentiveness). The invisible things (e.g. kokyu) can not be copied by watching, they have to be passed somatically. It is also about what each individual wants to get from the art. In that sense is a very individual choice. Some people will like to deeply immerse themselves in the great ocean of the arts, others are happy with swimming in the surface and enjoy the sun. But if the idea is to go deep, maybe it would be better to be guided by someone who has been there before. The next questions are about farming and permaculture. Having many teachers would be like having many gardens. If we had one garden in Tasmania, one in Alice Spring and one in Cairns would that be a good or a bad thing in terms of our knowledge of gardening. Well, it depends doesn’t it? If ever four months we move from one garden to the other we would never be able to see the evolution of each garden through out the seasons and through out the longer patches of drought and rain. We will know and appreciate its diversity but it would be

difficult to truly “connect” with the cycles and rhythms of one garden unless we spent years tendering that garden. Only then could we truly be in communication with that garden. But it all depends what we want.

Q.. O’sensei was a great believer in the relationship between farming & aikido. As a student of permaculture what do you see as the basis of this relationship?

This is one of those phrases that great people left behind without any explanation and that are a wonderful opportunity for endless amounts of interpretation. I believe that the actual phrase didn’t refer exclusively to Aikido but to Budo in general (Bu-No-Ichiyo, Budo and Farming are one). Of course O’Sensei saw aikido as the highest expression of Budo but not its only expression.

Given that O’Sensei didn’t leave any explanation on this phrase the best thing we can do is to speculate what he meant. I will attempt to do that from a historical point of view and try to give a context to what “farming” meant for O’Sensei. I believe that it is recorded that O’Sensei farmed in three relevant occasions during his lifetime (he may have done so more often although the majority of his lifetime he was a famous martial artist giving demonstrations and teaching all over Japan, so not much time for long term farming I believe). The fist time was as a young man leading a new settlement in the harsh landscape of northern Japan (Hokkaido). The second time was years later in the spiritual community of Omoto Kyo which relied heavily in self sufficiency and farming. The third time was later in his life in Iwama during and after the Second World War. It is important then to notice that in these three occasions farming

It is also about what each individual wants to get from the art. In that sense is a very individual choice. Some people will like to deeply immerse themselves in the great ocean of the arts, others are happy with swimming in the surface and enjoy the sun. But if the idea is to go deep, maybe it would be better to be guided by someone who has been there before. The next questions are about farming and permaculture. Having many teachers would be like having many gardens. If we had one garden in Tasmania, one in Alice Spring and one in Cairns would that be a good or a bad thing in terms of our knowledge of gardening. Well, it depends doesn’t it? If ever four months we move from one garden to the other we would never be able to see the evolution of each garden through out the seasons and through out the longer patches of drought and rain. We will know and appreciate its diversity but it would be

difficult to truly “connect” with the cycles and rhythms of one garden unless we spent years tendering that garden. Only then could we truly be in communication with that garden. But it all depends what we want.

Q.. O’sensei was a great believer in the relationship between farming & aikido. As a student of permaculture what do you see as the basis of this relationship?

This is one of those phrases that great people left behind without any explanation and that are a wonderful opportunity for endless amounts of interpretation. I believe that the actual phrase didn’t refer exclusively to Aikido but to Budo in general (Bu-No-Ichiyo, Budo and Farming are one). Of course O’Sensei saw aikido as the highest expression of Budo but not its only expression.

Given that O’Sensei didn’t leave any explanation on this phrase the best thing we can do is to speculate what he meant. I will attempt to do that from a historical point of view and try to give a context to what “farming” meant for O’Sensei. I believe that it is recorded that O’Sensei farmed in three relevant occasions during his lifetime (he may have done so more often although the majority of his lifetime he was a famous martial artist giving demonstrations and teaching all over Japan, so not much time for long term farming I believe). The fist time was as a young man leading a new settlement in the harsh landscape of northern Japan (Hokkaido). The second time was years later in the spiritual community of Omoto Kyo which relied heavily in self sufficiency and farming. The third time was later in his life in Iwama during and after the Second World War. It is important then to notice that in these three occasions farming was not a “hobby” but a “necessity”. Life depended on the success of the farm. No possibility of going down to the supermarket to get the vegies if the crop didn’t go well. Not many supermarkets in remote Hokkaido in early 1900 or in an isolated spiritual community or during the World War in rural Japan. Budo (which deals with life and death matters) and farming were one indeed. Aikido is a martial art and some people have defined martial arts as arts of restriction and consequence. If there is no restriction and people can move however or do whatever they want then the “martial aspect” of the art is questioned. Equally if there are no consequences (i.e. I throw a punch and you don’ move but I didn’t hit you) then there is no “martial aspect” either. Farming is a lot about understanding the restrictions that nature provides (e.g. we can not grow the same type of plant all year around, we need to know and be aware of rain, frost, sunlight, etc) as well as its consequences (pests, disease, lack or excess of fertility in the soil, etc).Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture, wrote in the introduction of his book the basic philosophy of permaculture “its a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating elements as a single- product system. I have spoken, on a more mundane level, of using aikido on the landscape, of rolling with the blows, turning adversity into strength, and using everything positively. The other approach is to karate the landscape, to try to make it yield by using our strength, and striking many hard blows. But if we attack nature we attack (and ultimately destroy) ourselves.”

Although I don’t agree with Mollison’s definition of Karate (which is a Budo too of course), you get the idea of the relationship between Aikido and Permaculture. It is not about fighting the restrictions and consequences that nature provides but about learning from them, observing them, working with them and hence finding nature’s ultimate promise: abundance (takemusu aiki).

Curiously enough, the only other instructor that I know is openly outspoken about O’Sensei’s vision of farming and Budo as one is Kazuo Chiba Sensei. If farming is as severe as Chiba Sensei’s aikido, then you get the idea of what O’Sensei really meant with Bu-No-Ichiyo.

Thank you Rodrigo for sharing your insights and understanding.

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