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  • Writer's pictureTyra Leesman

Ame-no-Torifune: Aikido Spiritual Practices and the Heavenly Bird Boat

OSensei performing the Aikido Spiritual practice of Ame-no-Torifune
OSensei performing the Aikido Spiritual practice of Ame-no-Torifune

When it comes to the martial arts, few disciplines embody the fusion of physical prowess and spiritual insight as seamlessly as Aikido. Rooted in Japanese tradition, Aikido spiritual practices offer a unique approach to personal growth and self-discovery, drawing inspiration from both ancient wisdom and modern philosophy. At the heart of this holistic approach lies a concept that resonates deeply with practitioners: Ame-no-Torifune (天鳥船).

Ame-no-Torifune, or the "Heavenly Bird Rowing," encapsulates the essence of Aikido's spiritual journey. Within Japanese folklore, it symbolizes a celestial vessel guided by the deity Sarutahiko Okami, navigating the cosmic seas with grace and resilience. This mythical ship serves as a metaphor for life's journey, teaching practitioners to harmonize with the flow of the universe.

What is Ame-no-Torifune?

The folklore surrounding Ame no Torifune originates from Japanese mythology and involves the Shinto deity Sarutahiko Okami. Here's a summarized version:

Sarutahiko Okami is a prominent deity in Japanese Shinto mythology, often depicted as a tall, bearded man with a strong and commanding presence. He is known as a guardian deity and is associated with guiding travelers and aiding them in their journeys.

One of the most famous stories involving Sarutahiko Okami is his encounter with the deity Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Ninigi was sent to Earth by Amaterasu to rule over it and bring peace and prosperity to humanity.

When Ninigi descended from the heavenly realm to Earth, he was accompanied by a retinue of gods, including Sarutahiko Okami. However, Sarutahiko initially refused to guide Ninigi, questioning his divine lineage and authority.

In response, Ninigi's grandmother, Amaterasu, sent the Ame no Torifune, a celestial ship, to transport Ninigi safely to Earth. Sarutahiko relented and agreed to guide Ninigi and his retinue on their journey.

The Ame no Torifune is often depicted as a magnificent flying ship or vessel capable of traversing between the celestial realm and the earthly realm. It symbolizes the connection between the divine and the mortal worlds and serves as a means of transportation for deities and humans alike.

Overall, the folklore surrounding Ame no Torifune and Sarutahiko Okami reflects themes of guidance, journey, and the interplay between the divine and the mortal realms in Japanese mythology.

How is Ame-no-Torifune performed?

  1. Start in stance or in Seiza: Begin by standing in fighting stance or in seiza (kneeling on the floor with your knees together and your feet tucked under your buttocks). If in seiza, sit back on your heels, keeping your spine straight and your hands resting lightly on your thighs. If standing, align yourself sturdily before beginning.

  2. Engage Your Core: From the seated position, engage your core muscles to stabilize your torso. This will help you maintain balance and control throughout the movement.

  3. Initiate the Rowing Motion: Extend your arms forward, parallel to the floor, with your palms facing downward. Imagine holding onto the oars of a boat. This is your starting position.

  4. Rowing Movement: Begin the rowing motion by pushing your arms forward and downward as if you were rowing a boat. As you do so, lean slightly forward from your hips while keeping your back straight. Visualize the fluidity of rowing through water, maintaining a smooth and controlled movement.

  5. Breathe with the Movement: Coordinate your breath with the rowing motion. Inhale as you extend your arms forward, and exhale as you bring them back towards your body. Focus on deep, rhythmic breathing to promote relaxation and mindfulness.

  6. Maintain Stability: Throughout the movement, focus on maintaining stability and balance. Keep your core engaged and your posture upright to prevent unnecessary strain on your back or shoulders.

  7. Repeat: Continue the rowing motion for several repetitions, maintaining a steady pace and rhythm. Feel the connection between your breath, your movements, and the energy flowing through your body.

  8. Conclude Mindfully: After completing the desired number of repetitions, return to a relaxed position. Take a moment to observe any sensations or insights that arise from the practice.

Ame-no-Torifune in the Dojo

Ame no Torifune is not only a physical exercise but also a meditative practice that fosters mindfulness and presence. As you perform the movement, strive to cultivate a sense of inner calm and harmony, connecting with the deeper principles of Aikido and the universe.

The physical practice of Ame-no-Torifune mirrors this spiritual journey. With each movement, we attune ourselves to the rhythm of our breath and the energy of the universe. It's a meditation in motion, a means of deepening one's connection to the universe, within and without.

As martial practitioners, it is our duty to delve deeper into the teachings of Aikido, to uncover profound insights into the nature of existence and the interconnectedness of all things. We must learn to cultivate a sense of presence and mindfulness, awakening to the beauty and wonder of each moment. By performing Aikido spiritual practices like Ame-no-Torifune, we take steps to become not only skilled martial artists but also compassionate human beings, dedicated to the pursuit of peace and harmony in all aspects of life. It  offers us a more holistic approach to martial arts training, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions into a unified whole. 

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