What is a centre?’ The centre of what you may ask? Let me explain, the centre is ‘a point within a circle from which every part of the circumference is equidistant.’
When I first heard this explanation in the ritual I thought it curiously selfevident, there was more to it and I began thinking, ‘what and where is this centre?’
Before I joined Freemasonry I was teaching and practicing the martial art Aikido. In this you are taught to work from your centre which is defined as a point around two inches below your navel, depending on your stature. By working from your centre you can achieve balance and a connection to the universal energy we called Chi. After I joined the Craft I began to look at the similarities in the teachings of masonry and Aikido as I began to notice that the philosophy overlapped in many areas.
Freemasonry teaches Brotherly Love and the beauty of compassion, and that the way we think and act can bring great benefits, not only to oneself, but also to the world we live in. Within Freemasonry we have members who act as mentors to help candidates to understand the workings of masonry and to feel at ease within the lodge. In Aikido, as in masonry, each person is a mentor and you are taught to look after each new pupil. In fact, you can learn a lot from helping the beginner, you learn about looking after someone and developing their abilities.
Freemasonry is steeped in tradition and within that tradition the development of your inner being - the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science - through reflection upon yourself is one of the basic teachings; again we find the same philosophy taught by Aikido.
Freemasonry is a journey we take with each other, the office we fill within the lodge being a step on the ladder of knowledge. When you focus your mind on the ritual it energizes and relaxes the mind by taking you away from your daily thoughts and concerns. Remember to watch and listen closely to the lodge workings for there is such a lot to gain from the knowledge they contain. This again brings my mind back to my martial arts training - to look and listen to what is going on around me and to go freely in harmony with the universal energy, Chi.
Within masonry we are encouraged to steadily persevere in the study of the Liberal Arts with the aim of polishing the mind.
Furthermore, the ceremonies themselves demand our serious concentration. This focused struggle is the same as learning a technique in the dojo - the martial arts training hall. In truth, anything which takes effort to accomplish reaps many rewards, we only have to look at the Olympics to appreciate what effort and concentration can achieve.
I look at Freemasonry as a journey for knowledge, one which is never ending.
Masonry is a meeting of like minded people who enjoy life and embrace all people, no matter what their culture, colour, politics or faith, and this is something very special in this mixed up world of ours. Anyone who practices a martial art will tell you that everyone is accepted within the dojo. A few years ago I was invited to the World Martial Arts Congress in Pittsburgh in the United States where the diversity of peoples reminded me of a Grand Lodge meeting with many present from around the world, all enjoying each others company without any animosity or resentment.
People are so often pessimistic: when I tell others that I am a Freemason and very proud of the fact, most soon voice the criticism, ‘But that’s a secret society.’ My reply is, ‘We are a society with secrets, not a secret society’ and this, together with my enthusiasm towards masonry, soon shows them the light. Abig help to me in this is to tell them that I practice and teach Aikido and to explain that all martial arts have secrets, those which are passed on to students who reach a level of expertise in order to allow them to understand the meaning of what they are being taught.
So people ask me, ‘Are you saying then that a martial art is a secret society?’ This sudden insight focuses their minds and they start to think more deeply about what I am saying. Or is it perhaps the fear of upsetting a martial artist which is the important factor? Who can tell? The truth is that I will use all methods at my disposal to defend masonry.
I look at Freemasonry as a journey for knowledge, one which is never ending, and which, along with my continual Aikido training, is constantly developing. I feel lucky to have come to both these disciplines in the development of both my mind and my body and, as a result, to have gained insight into the great centre of life.
Stewart Hardacre is a sports psychologist and teacher of Aikido martial arts. He is a Past Master of the Acorn and Rose Lodge, No. 5677, Manchester and of United Companions Lodge No. 6895.