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Hard and Soft
Hard and Soft
by Ross Robertson
Hard and Soft

Soft and hard.

It's a poem in three words.

Aikido is a soft art. Aikido is a hard art.

Aikido is hard because it's difficult. Aikido is hard because it's durable. It's hard because it has to create appropriately rigid structures necessary for equilibrium. It's hard because it has to appropriately destroy or dismantle inappropriately rigid structures. It's hard because it's vigorous.

Aikido is soft because it's easy. Aikido is soft because quiet sounds often signify it being performed well. It's soft because it has to be appropriately yielding to facilitate flow. It's soft because it has to touch that which is rigid, melt it, meld with it, until there is flow. It's soft, because it's gentle.

Where the soft meets the hard, aikido is sensuous. Where hard meets soft, aikido is practical, pragmatic, no-nonsense. Soft and hard may argue with one another, each undermining and co-opting its opposite for its own agenda -- but not in aikido. Here, soft and hard meet as lovers.

"Except for blending with the void there is no way to understand The Way of Aiki." If you want to know Emptiness, know it in the Biblical sense. Fit yourself in. If you want to become empty, open your gates and let the world in. Blend, and be blended.

What makes something hard? A hard substance is a fluid which has settled down, and surrendered its impulse to move. The fluid which has given away its heat becomes hard. Then again, some hard things are made so by hydraulics or pneumatics -- an object is hard when filled by a fluid, if the fluid is held within a tight membrane.

What makes something soft? Letting go, and letting go, and letting go of letting go. If a substance receives enough energy, takes it in, then movement begins. Where there is movement, there is pliability. Some soft things become so by violent encounter with a hard thing -- a hammer or a tenderizer -- but if not broken, the softened substance may receive blow after blow, and though moved, remain unperturbed. Unperturbed, we flow. Alive with movement, we soften.

Some soft things are not things. The infinitely soft is space without substance, nor even vacuum. Aikido thrives there.

"Abyssus abyssum invocat." The part of you that is not you is attracted to a world that is not you. Let yourself be drawn, one restless yet implacable sea calling to another. Ocean yearns for water, atmosphere for air, and each attracts the other.

The part of you that is you stands like a lighthouse upon a rock, penetrating the night. Soft/hard light probes the stillness and the tumult, illuminating the way for fellow travelers -- travelers who journey hard over a soft road.

Like an un-milked cow is the spirit of Aiki. The few who come and drink bring relief for both cow and drinker. Have mercy, and be greedy.

As ever, tension moves into release, and this is how we learn aikido. The hard is relieved of its hardness in emptiness, the empty becomes full and swells with tumescence.

Soft and hard are playing see-saw on my head, and as the wheel of the world careens I'm drunk and sick and dizzy. I don't mind the carnival ride, as long as it's with you. And besides, there's a fulcrum or an axle where it's quiet. Let's hide in there for a minute, then go back outside to dance with the Dervishes.

This aikido is a discipline of love and intercourse, but is it preservation or annihilation I'm feeling? How is it just when I find myself I see that I am not? These are hard questions... can you give me a soft answer?

"Loving protection of all things" must be the hardest path of all, demanding the softest of hearts. What choice is there but to preserve the Destroyer? And then, how to protect anything, when we're all so temporary? Answer: by taking the lifeboat when the ship is gone, by taking the camel when the lifeboat is useless, by taking to foot where camels can't go, because the Way is eternal though its forms and vehicles are not.

So we tread softly while our muscles become hard.

My lovers, we cry sometimes in sadness and in joy, and sometimes in confusion for not knowing the difference.

We cry, and sometimes we cry out. Be a voyeur and put your ear against the door of this Aiki bedroom, and listen to the sounds.

O! O! O! says Izanami. Sssss! she softly cries.

There is your kotodama.

And Izanagi? He hardly minds at all.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

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Old 03-01-2012, 04:36 AM   #2
graham christian
Dojo: golden center aikido-highgate
Location: london
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 2,697
Re: Hard and Soft

Hi Ross.

Once again you put things in a poetic and wonderful manner. Hard with truths yet soft with perspective and spiced up with neutral questions.

A very Buddhist orientated piece, love it.

Thank for sharing.

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Old 03-10-2012, 12:03 AM   #3
  AikiWeb Forums Contributing Member
niall's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 394
Re: Hard and Soft

Wow Ross, this is very wide-ranging, almost like a stream of consciousness. Do you think hard and soft is an eternal dichotomy? In aikido we strive for softness. But for example in Goju-ryu (hard-soft style) karate they believe that you cannot have soft without hard and there is a deliberate and continual flowing from hard to soft or soft to hard.

Thanks for the interesting column.


we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
w b yeats

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Old 03-23-2012, 01:50 PM   #4
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 346
Re: Hard and Soft

Hi Niall,

I don't think of soft and hard as a dichotomy. I think most opposites are also potentially complements. Soft and hard may be opposite poles of a continuum, but as such, they are also vectors along that continuum.

Also, they are relative, rather than absolute. Liquid water seems soft until you jump into it from a high cliff. The water we bath in is softer than the water we swim in, and the water we swim in is softer than the water we fall into from on high. And of course, the water we fall into is softer still than if we fell onto rock.

I try to make my aikido as tori as soft as possible, but sometimes this becomes dangerous to uke, so I may have to become more substantial for their safety (it's better in many ways to catch uke as they fall, rather than throw them, or even allow them to throw themselves).

I want my aikido as uke to be hard as practicable. But I prefer the hardness of a firehose than that of a piledriver. And at the moment of the turn, I may need to melt completely or turn to smoke to keep myself safe.

So yes, I would say that aikido is the way of nature, and nature is hard and soft. The deliberate and continual flowing (notice that word) between hard and soft is, I think, characteristic of good adaptability, good aiki, and right living.
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