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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > February, 2005 - Penetrating the Heart of Aikido
by Ross Robertson

Penetrating the Heart of Aikido by Ross Robertson


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February 14th is the day that many people in the world celebrate Saint Valentine's Day. Ah, romance! On this day especially, people are encouraged to give precedence to fondness, friendship, affection, passion, and of course, sex. But in its broadest interpretation, Valentine's Day is the Day of Love, the Day of the Heart.

As for me, I've always been one of those hopeless romantics. I am forever drawn to the beautiful, the exotic, the erotic, the heartbreak, the ache, and the infinite ecstatic joy. And so Valentine's Day seems to me the one day of the year when people regain sanity and focus on what really matters. And for all my adult life February 14th has had another layer of significance.

I began my aikido training in Bill Sosa's dojo in Dallas on Valentine's Day, 1979. The first time I saw aikido, it was as if an arrow went straight into my heart. I was in love, and I knew this was where I belonged. In those days we didn't talk so much about the heart -- the emphasis was forever on the center, the "one point" around which all things revolve. Even so, training was consuming, beautiful, and left us breathless for more.

Years later I had the realization that the heart really is the best place from which to do and receive aikido after all. When we are full of fear, when we are focusing on primitive expressions of power, we tend to close in on ourselves. Posture folds, and our shoulders roll forward, the head drops. We protect our heart. But when we open up and embrace our surroundings and circumstances as if greeting a lover, then everything changes. Our awareness expands, posture is restored, and all encounters are meetings with the Beloved. For sure, the heart is tender and vulnerable (though, I have come to believe that only hard hearts can be broken). It needs a stable and secure base from which to operate. If the lower center, the seat of power, has not been developed, the heart cannot take root and unfold its flower. But sooner or later the opening is necessary and inevitable if we are to ever engage the world as a lover.

For aikido is about sex. No... Aikido is sex.

Sadly it is not normally permissible to speak of such things. We usually have to resort to euphemism and allegory (but even these may have their appeal, like well-chosen adornments whose design will simultaneously conceal and reveal). I was having a conversation recently with Henry Kono about O-Sensei's fascination with the Kojiki, the Japanese creation myth, and I asked if this wasn't really about sex? Aren't the movements of aikido and the interplay of yin and yang just expressions of sex on a universal scale? Henry smiled and nodded as if sharing a secret. He said that he usually has to describe aikido in mechanical terms, for instance, a rod in a bushing, but really, we're talking about... you know. He said that if he were to really say what he meant, people would, you know... "run me out of town or something." Yeah, we know, Henry.

But today the curtains are parted. The gates are opened, and the veils slip from the body and fall to the ground like dew on warm grass. For you see, if you want to understand aikido, yin and yang, or the rest of the universe for that matter, then look no further. The secret is nothing more than the male and female, the concave and the convex, the container and the contained, the attraction, the dating, the mating, the dance of separating and uniting.

We are all female when we let the world into us. Light and sound enter our eyes and ears, and the seeds of the universe are planted within our minds. We are impregnated with ideas and impressions, which we later birth through our actions. We take in a breath, our lungs are filled with air, the atmosphere now inside us, creating life. We are all female, but not always awake.

We are all male when we insert ourselves into the world. We speak and act, and extend our being into others who may then carry us with them. We probe and we penetrate, and life or death depend on whether we enter as an invader or a welcome guest. We exhale, and our breath mingles with the air, alchemically changed. We are all male, but not always awake.

In aikido we learn to recognize the hard and the solid, and we make a receptive opening wherever it extends. We learn to see where we may safely enter, and there we go. And if all is well, then there is the enfolding, the embrace, the right fit, the good match. The conjoining. And yes, out of this there may also be the glad tumble, and a bit of soreness in the morning.

We are all male and female when we do aikido. These are not genders, they are capacities and expressions. There is no secret to aikido other than filling openings (yours or theirs... or both) and never forcing a fit that isn't right. We may be predominantly male as we extend, predominantly female as we receive. But at the moment of joining, we exchange qualities, we may become hermaphroditic, this part going with that part, here, there. We open, merge, ground, release. We seek, seize, secure, return, again and again and again. Aikido is about balance and the interplay of complimentary elements. Soft and hard, firm and hollow, assertive and receptive, rough and gentle, dominant and submissive, giving and receiving, holding and beholding. In and out, in and out, in and out. We are all doing aikido, all the time, but not always awake.

We all arrive in this world through the same door. We were given the key at conception. Everything else is just a succession of entrances, passages, and rooms. The action of our breathing, and the beating of our heart, the look of your eye, the smell of you in my blood, and the honey colored sun shining inside my chest... just these things are the meaning of life. It moves in us from one chamber to the next, our mischievous child in the night, but it is also our mother and father. Conceive and give birth, every moment, waking, dreaming. What else is there to protect, nurture, and defend?


Look at Love

Look at Love...
how it tangles
with the one fallen in love

look at spirit
how it fuses with earth
giving it new life

why are you so busy
with this or that or good or bad
pay attention to how things blend

why talk about all
the known and the unknown
see how unknown merges into the known

why think separately
of this life and the next
when one is born from the last

look at your heart and tongue
one feels but deaf and dumb
the other speaks in words and signs

look at water and fire
earth and wind
enemies and friends all at once

the wolf and the lamb
the lion and the deer
far away yet together

look at the unity of this
spring and winter
manifested in the equinox

you too must mingle my friends
since the earth and the sky
are mingled just for you and me

be like sugarcane
sweet yet silent
don't get mixed up with bitter words

my beloved grows
right out of my own heart
how much more union can there be

Credits: "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa" by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; "Le GuÍpier" by William Bouguereau; "Look at Love" by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Nader Khalili


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