The Apple Tree by Tony Sargeant

You may be old enough to remember the song ‘Underneath the Apple tree’, well it’s not really important because when I was inspired to write this I was under the shower head.

The thing about the shower head is you have a choice. You can change the heat ‘up or down.’ It’s the same in life. You can make choices - at least in the western world. That must be why my destiny sent my seed and fate to this part of the world.

What I did not know until recently was that I am free to think and act on my thoughts and rely on them.

“Why and How?” I hear you ask. Well it’s all down to my wonderful teacher Morihiro Saito Sensei 9th Dan Aikido, who has now passed away. What I am about to say makes more sense now than ever before in my life.

Before I start I would like to say something about how I feel the true way of teaching Aikido should be and was for me.

A student comes to Aikido for many reasons (that is another story). They know nothing about the full extent of the art, but wish to try it to see if what they thought is Aikido - either through being told, reading about it, seeing a class or perhaps in a film.

For the first few weeks they enjoy what they do and tell all in their path of this new great art that everyone should do; at first they are the best advert a club can get.

Then it happens! “What,” I can hear you say, “what happens?” Well they start to realise just how amazing the teacher is. It is deeper than what they have been seeing while watching him/her demonstrating a few movements before. They have just touched the new path of enlightenment and want what they have seen for themselves - and quite rightly too!

At this point the student becomes weak as a person because they realise they have nothing compared to this great person who can just throw the higher graded students at will. It’s like watching bodies being thrown as if they were as light as cigarette papers. However hard they seem to attack it seems they have no chance of penetrating the teacher. Sometimes two or more attack all at once just to find that nothing stops this amazing art.

I remember it well, thinking: ‘I want what he’s got’.

As time goes by the keen student will put more trust in their teacher and listen to every word. It is as if they cannot do anything or make a decision themselves - as far as Aikido is concerned. They just look, listen and train; in hopes of becoming the same as the great master they follow.

The teacher plays their part by telling the best students off constantly and giving them the worst time out of all the other students that train.

I remember thinking: "Why do I get into so much trouble all the time? Why does Sensei pound me when he uses me and yet lets the others down with ease? Why does he pick me for the painful techniques?"

I realise now that I wanted to be in his face. I wanted to be used night and day as uke. I wanted him to make me the best. I wanted a lot didn’t I? Perhaps I deserved the pain.

So, after a few years of you giving yourself to the teacher, they think it’s your time to go for black belt and you pass…what a relief.

At this stage it takes about six months for one to fit into the grade. What I mean by this is your mind starts to settle. You realise that you do not know everything, but you have accomplished a lot and start to feel like a person who can make decisions again.

Obviously you still think that the teacher is the great person they are, but it’s now time for the teacher to let them go and help the next hungry student that was once you. 

Your part is to help them. Help the lower grades and in turn you become the hard person that one day the up and coming student will think the same thoughts about.

Now that you are much wiser in life (due to what you yourself have been through) you need to look back, but mostly forward, on how to improve your enlightened knowledge.

Back to ‘The Apple Tree’

I had a few teachers before I met Morihiro Saito Sensei 9th Dan Aikikai in 1982, he used the same words then as he did to the day he passed away. 

First, think of an apple tree full of apples. On all trees some of the fruit is good and some bad. You never see the tree with perfect fruit all at once. If you were to pick some what would you pick?

Let’s say you are a really good person. You may pick the rotten ones. Why and what would you do with the rotting apples? Would you throw them away to leave a clean tree, free of disease? Or would you take them home and make something of them? 

There are many answers to this question, but to keep to the story, I will say that you would remove them and throw them away to save the tree.

OK there's a clear distinction between rotten apples and good ones. Now we start to be picky because as you look at the rest of the apples you see defects in many of them. So do you leave them or do you remove them?

Let us say that there are too many imperfect ones to remove and that it would be easier to just remove the good ones. You are able to have a closer look and make a clear judgment on what is the best for you to take away and digest as the fruit of you choice.

So we are back to my Sensei’s saying:

“Think of your life as an apple tree.”

Whether you train in the art of Aikido or not, the lesson is the same - once you have ‘a sound head’. For those who do train, this is his advice:

“Please go and see as many teachers as you can! Take what you need and leave what you do not!”

The Apple tree theory has been my guide for many years and I now hope it will help you. Be humble because all the teachers think they are telling you only ‘good’.

My advice to you is to remember that you do not have to tell the rotten apples you do not want to eat them or need what they wish to give. You just do not have to digest it or you will become diseased and may never find the path back to staying a ‘clean tree’.