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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > March, 2005 - Doors and Walls
by Ross Robertson

Doors and Walls by Ross Robertson


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Be an opener of doors.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


A Couple with Their Heads Full of Clouds
Salvador Dali, 1936

Lately I've been telling my students that there really is no secret to aikido other than this:

Walk through doors, but don't walk through walls.

Now, I really believe this. It encapsulates the essence of non-resistance, it illustrates the hard and the soft of yin and yang, the balance of freedom and restriction. It addresses almost all the problems we encounter in our training, and simplifies the analytical process and corrective approach.

Let's look closer at the analogy. In aikido, both the attacker and defender are looking for openings (doorways). Both players are negotiating resistances and obstacles (walls). A doorway is any passage around a person or body part. A wall is any part of the body that blocks passage. A door is a body part that can be moved in such a way as to create an opening. Sometimes the whole body can be a door.

Specifically, the doorways that we should be aware of are the open spaces between the head and shoulders, between the extended arms and the torso, and less commonly, between the legs. Again, the whole body can be moved, creating space for flow to occur. Or, just the upper body can be tilted aside, as with koshi-nage. To escape from a hand grab, we learn to utilize the door of the thumb, and not collide with the walls of the fingers.

We often duck under our partner's arms. In kids' classes especially, I find it useful to describe this as going through the door. From katatedori, tell a kid to go through the front door and watch as ikkyo, sankyo, or even kaiten nage spontaneously emerge. Tell them to go through the back door, and shihonage practically does itself.

Once we have learned to identify the walls and doors, we can easily avoid needless resistance and move toward safe, open passage. In theory, nothing could be simpler. We open a door for our attacker and escort them safely through. We find doors within the combined form of our bodies, and we enter (irimi) or pass through (sudori). We practice tenkan and we become the door.

Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings
~ David Bowie "Golden Years"

Like I said, it's really quite simple. In practice, however, we should expect things to be a bit more challenging.

So, extending the analogy, we need to consider the following:

  • Some doors may be hidden, some doors may be traps
  • Some doors have handles and latches
  • Some doors may be stuck, or may be very heavy
  • A door that is locked will first need to be unlocked
  • Locks require keys, or lockpicks
  • A door that may not be unlocked is really a wall
  • Some rooms have no doors.

So, we seek non-resistance in our aikido. If there is an open door that we know we can safely pass through that leads to a favorable place, we should go there rather than through more difficult passages. But free passage may not always be available at every moment. So the following observations result from the above considerations:

  • Appropriate doors must be discovered or created
  • Handles may need to be turned, latches may need to be pressed
  • Stuck doors may need to be unstuck, heavy doors may require more effort
  • Locked doors will need to be unlocked
  • Not all doors can be unlocked, even with effort
  • Creating a door in a wall may require violent force.

And of course, the architecture of aikido attack and defense is often more dynamic than static. It is often the case that the doors will pass around you as you stand still. Here, the idea of moving through a door is relative.

A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.
~ Ogden Nash

My goal is to move through life as fluidly as possible. I may embrace resistance and challenge for fun and discovery, but even then I wish to eliminate all violence and wasted energy as much as possible.

But if ever trapped in a burning building, I don't want to hesitate to put a chair through a window, take a hammer to a doorknob, or a table leg to the sheetrock.

Yet neither do I want, in my panic, to overlook the fact that the fire itself may have opened a new exit for me.

And in any case, I wouldn't want to apply emergency escape measures in places where they are unnecessary and destructive. In other words, we want to know what to do in an crisis, but we don't want to make a way of life from it.

After all, it's the nature of our practice that determines the quality of our passage through life.

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors.

~ Jim Morrison


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