January 29, 2012

Miles Kessler: Sensei, Warrior.

“The Buddha once taught there are 4 types of medicine. There is the sweet type of medicine with a bitter result. This is what we call the grandmotherly compassion or putting Band-Aid on a swore. There is the sweet medicine with a sweet result. Then there is the bitter medicine with a bitter result. And there is the bitter medicine with a sweet result. This is the medicine that doesn’t taste nice but is good for you. I give that bitter medicine” says Miles Kessler.

Miles is 48 years old, holds a 5th dan in aikido and is a lineage holder in the Vipassana tradition of U Pandita. After studying aikido for 8 years in Japan and vipassana for another 8 years in Birma he went “back to the market place” to share what he was taught. In the market place, that’s how monks call everyday life outside the monastery, he realized that he still was missing something in his development. That brought him to Integral Theory. You guessed it: he studied that intensely too.

Two years ago Miles founded The Integral Dojo in Tel Aviv, Israel. This dojo is the embodiment of the three streams of development that Miles went through. Aikido is taught with a lot of emphasis on precise form and feels very Japanese in the presentation. But there is Vipassana meditation classes too and he offers Genpo Merzel’s Big Mind/ Big Heart Process.

I studied with Miles (and I studied Miles) for a full week as an uchideshi. An uchideshi is a live in student or, literally “inside student”: a student that lives inside the dojo and gets to study his or her own inside and the insides of the others. When you pay attention you can see Miles shift into different roles all the time. On the dojo floor his presence leaves no space and has no tolerance for unmindfulness but still he moves from gentle, patient and being a buddy, to a tiny bit of a show-off and back to the authoritarian Sensei. The fluidity of his presence is reflected in the fluidity of his aikido.

I feel that the importance of this observation is not to be underestimated. When you have a beautiful message but don’t live according to your own message, you are not living your truth. In that case it is merely a projection. More concrete: if your martial arts have not refined your character and you only look smooth on the mat something important has not clicked yet. The problem is that it creates suffering. We all know many examples of these patterns in daily life: politicians who create an image of having high moral standards who turn out behave particularly sleazy too. A true warrior does not betray his soul. He is not self serving, he is serving the universe. Miles does that and he does that consciously.

Another beautiful thing to observe is Miles presence off the mat. Because the higher goal of spreading awareness trough aikido comes first long before personal needs, the dojo comes first before comfort. This means that Miles sleeps, lives and works in a small corner of the kitchen until the dojo can afford an apartment for him. He has about 4 square meters to himself. Not that there is a wall but it’s off limits to students. Which means that you can see him work, sleep, listen to music or what ever. What I saw was dignity. There is no reason to pity him because what you see is elegance. He radiates concentration, focus, humility, acceptance and non-attachment. His spot is clean, tidy and well organized. And when the uchideshi’s have class from another teacher he prepares lunch (and pretty tasty too).

My intention is to write a portrait of all the warriors I will encounter and get the chance to observe during my travels. But since I never wrote a portrait before and since Miles can be very precise when he talks, always overwhelming me with detailed descriptions of integral theoretical models I thought I needed something juicy too. I asked him for an anecdote of a turning point in his spiritual practice. As he tells the story better (and more complete) than I could, I will include it as an audio fragment. It is a pretty cool story of the master crushing the ego of young Miles for the first time (he would do it many more times after that).

Click here to hear the fragment (for some reason the audio link wouldn’t upload to EJ so this link redirects to the original article on my website where you can hear it).

To conclude the interview I asked Miles to deliver a message. Please watch the video and see that he is not always bringing the bitter medicine. Sometimes, probably more often than he realizes, he offers the sweet medicine too. Please enjoy:


Currently I’m on a spiritual quest. I’m traveling the world, searching for warriors. This article is part of a series. My previous post was about going back to my roots and the fear around that. The post written after Miles’ story is about coming to terms with present and past.

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