2017/02/01.Wed. 0:00

Honing the Sixth Sense to Express the Underwater Miracle of Life Vol.2

Underwater Artist

Ai Futaki

Born in Ishikawa, Japan in 1980. Ai’s unique presence as an “underwater artist” has garnered much recognition around the world. Her “expressions” are born entirely through the act of free diving, as she shines light on the underwater world as filmmaker, model and presenter. She holds the 2011 Guinness World Record for the “Longest Distance Swam in a Cave with One Breath”, in which she became the first woman globally to swim with fins for 100 meters and without fins for 90 meters. She is a presenter for the NHK television program “Precious Blue” and numerous media programs, and also gives lectures and free-diving tours.


It Begins with Taking Notice
Ai Futaki

@Tim Rock

The photo of you facing the shark head-on is stunning

People see photos of me swimming with whales and other large animals and they ask, “Aren’t you afraid?”

Cats and dogs don’t go near people when they sense fear, and they hiss or bark when they feel a person’s distaste for them. It’s the same underwater. If you respect the animals, they will respect you back.

We humans tend to put up walls and gates in order to protect the pure, naïve soul from outside influence or attack. Those walls and gates can take the form of egotism and righteous thinking. But animals don’t have these ‘protective’ layers, making them open and straightforward.

In order to meet the animals where they are and gain their acceptance, we too have to learn to be open. Otherwise they sense the discomfort and keep from getting too close.

Take this photo where I’m facing the shark, for example. There are countless creatures in the sea, and it is not as if the shark (depending on the species) bites at any and every living creature it encounters. When I’m among the sharks swimming round and round, I give off the air that I’m just a resident of the environment, that it’s completely natural for me to be there.

Vibrations travel at four times the speed underwater as on land. One’s excitement, nervous energy and fear travel faster than the mind can interpret. So it’s important to calm the nerves and stay relaxed, and just “be” part of their daily lives.

By doing so, you make yourself available to unbelievable moments of wonder and surprise. When I’m free-diving, I feel like I’m in that drowsy state of near-sleep. I’m free from all thought, my breath slowly repeats itself, and the busy mind is momentarily at rest. And that’s when the five senses come alive.
Ai Futaki

What are your thoughts on the five human senses?

When you try too hard to use your senses, when you think, “I have to smell!” or “I have to listen!”, the senses tend to become dull. It ends up being the opposite of what lies in the subconscious.

Underwater, if you think before you act, it’s too late. That’s why it’s so important to sharpen your senses and leave all thoughts aside. There’s no need to shoo those thoughts away. They exist like background music, and you’re not necessarily focused on them. The brain’s oxygen consumption level is about 20% of the whole body. In order not to use up any excess energy, I keep my mind clear of all thought when holding my breath underwater.

That helps to sharpen all of the senses, including the sixth sense, making me aware of any danger that surrounds me. It allows me to escape danger, or if an animal is near, to capture a magnificent moment on film.

We as humans are evolving at lightning speed, but the more time I spend in the water, the more I’m convinced we’re losing our capacity to use our five senses.

When I’m in the same underwater space as an animal and its offspring, when I’m swimming side-by-side with them, I can’t help but wonder if we humans are really communicating with each other on land. Even with all the “communication tools” we have, like e-mail, phones, and social media.
kansei projects

We hear you give free-diving tours too.

Yes, I teach free-diving as part of my work. It’s taught retreat-style, meaning we step away from our daily lives to connect with ourselves.

Free-diving is perfect for retreats because in a matter of about ten seconds, you’re forced to face the fear of “I can’t do this” or “I might die”. If you were diving alone, you’d probably stop right there. But as an instructor I’m there to support you, to help you break through that wall safely.

What’s most important to note is that you’re the only person who can actually tear down that wall. You can’t expect someone to do it for you. Actually doing it is the only way you’ll understand, the only way you can create change.

Some people are afraid to put their faces in the water. Others are afraid at one meter deep, and others can dive freely ten meters into the ocean. Everyone has their own limit. When you’ve reached what you believe to be your limit, what do you do? Do you try and tear down that wall? That’s the experience students have in my free-diving lessons, in my retreats.

Changing means that something in your heart has shifted. Change doesn’t happen because someone says so. It only comes when you yourself have realized something. Your problems can be resolved only when you notice the problem in the first place. That issue comes up instantly when you’re free-diving, and you’re able to make a change in a short span of time, like today or tomorrow.

Through free-diving, you learn the things you think you “can’t do” are simply beliefs you’ve created in your head. If in your everyday life you come across a situation where you think, “I can’t do this”, think back to your diving experience and remember, “I thought I’d die underwater but I didn’t. Maybe it’s the same right now.” It helps bring about a positive outlook.

The experience of free-diving can also help with your focus and mindset once you’re back on land.

You’ll be teaching elementary school age and older students at our November event.

I feel the Japanese education system isn’t about honing and developing the potential of each child, but instead teaches kids not to stand out from the crowd, and is based on what they need to know to get into a good college. I’d love for children to know that they may differ from other kids and that’s okay, that that’s something to be proud of.

With motivation, you can achieve anything.
When you feel you want to do something, I believe it’s important to keep going, no matter what people say.

At the same time, with the digitization of our lives, everything can be done now with a click, and I think we’re forgetting how to give our full effort toward something. Life’s not that easy, and staying on one’s path takes will, effort and persistance. I hope to relay that those are the important things in life.

You can use your head all you want, but if your heart doesn’t scream “Yes!”, nothing will change. Through my work, I hope to get people “feeling” as much as possible. It gives me tremendous joy to help people stop and take notice, to help plant those seeds. From there, every person begins to write his or her story, with the hope of one day blossoming into a great flower. That’s my motivation in moving forward with my own work.
Ai Futaki

« Editor’s Note »
When we shared our surprise at how much more petite Ms. Futaki is in real-life compared to the images on her website, she replied matter-of-factly, “It’s because of the fins.” Ms. Futaki is a woman with a mission, whether it is performing underwater in an effort to show us the beauty of a world we do not know, or speaking, lecturing and devising new creative projects. She places no limits on what she can achieve and does it in her natural, strong and radiant way. She is trilingual, often hiring local staff in her diving expeditions around the world. “If you’re going to express something, it might as well be fun and beautiful,” she says. We were taken by her charm and how she expresses the beauty of which she speaks, both with and without words. Ms. Futaki’s message carries with it a powerful energy that seems to be transmitted directly from the underwater world.