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The Four-Chambered Heart
The Four-Chambered Heart
by Ross Robertson
The Four-Chambered Heart

Aikido's spirit is that of loving attack and that of peaceful reconciliation. ~Morihei Ueshiba

I have long considered aikido principally as the discipline of love. Love is the art of giving and receiving. We may experience love as a powerful feeling, but unless there is giving and receiving, love is not realized.

In aikido, we speak of kokyu, or "breath," as an essential aspect of our art. In its literal sense, the quality of our breathing affects the nature of our performance, our experience and perception. While this is important, the more general understanding is that of any dual flow: wherever energy flows outward and inward, like inhalation and exhalation, there is kokyu.

We must learn to take an attack as if inhaling it naturally. We must process the energy received, then let it pass from our body. As with any breathing, there may be the occasional cough, hiccough, or sneeze. Circumstances may require that we even hold our breath for a time, but this is not normal. Our life depends on being able to breath deeply, naturally, and effortlessly.

In this way we can see giving and receiving as kokyu. Attack and defense are kokyu.

Giving is any outward extension of energy. It can be generous or it can be self-serving. Receiving is the intake of energy. It can be gracious or it can be greedy.

Giving and receiving are each bicameral in nature. The gift can be an offering, or it can be an imposition. It can respect the recipient, or reflect the giver. Receiving can be an opening and an acceptance, or it may be gain from taking forcibly.

When in love, we want to give and receive. We want to honor the beloved, and we want to give of our own true self. We'd like to freely give love in the manner which most accurately reflects who we are. If we are honest, we want to receive love in the way that is most suitable to our own needs and desires.

If all parties are doing this (many can sit at love's table, but for simplicity's sake we will speak of what passes between couples), there is likely to be conflict even where there is the purest of intent. If I only love you my way, you may not be loved your way. If you only love me in the way the works the very best for me, then you may not get to express your own truth in love. So it is that the act of loving invites conflict, in all but the happiest confluence of compatibilities.

Compromises may be made. I could agree to receive the love you offer however you offer it. I could vow to learn to love you in only the ways that are right for you, thereby sacrificing my own self-expression. Or vice-versa.

We could take turns. I will love you my way for a time, then love you your way for a time; I will accept your love your way for a time, but then you must take me into account if you want to truly love me. We could meet in a middle ground, with a love that is modulated somewhere in between giver and receiver.

A variety of solutions to this dilemma are possible, but any which leave out the truth of one party is less than satisfactory. If I only give and take love my way, then you are diminished. Mostly I am only loving myself. I may be giving very generously of what I have to offer, but I risk merely projecting me onto you.

It is for this very reason that the Golden Rule breaks down, and a new rule is called for.

Let us accept that for our hearts to communicate, the chambers they contain must be aligned with the proper flow. One chamber must exist that accommodates the shape of the love that enters it. Another chamber must exist that remains firm, and admits only that which fits its shape.

If we have consent to penetrate the heart of another, we must extend our true presence into them fully in order for there to be a real transmission. At the same time, we enter them to discover the interior contours of their being. We are transformed by being inside the other, and allow their shape to become our own.

If you give a loving attack in aikido, you give your whole being and trust your partner to help keep you safe. Enter in fully. At the same time, a loving attack allows for the limitations and needs of the receiver. This requires some adjusting and accommodating and perhaps even some holding back.

If you receive your attacker in the spirit of a joyful reconciliation, you must let the attack unfold as it will, and you must not seek to alter its course. You must do nothing to the attacker -- aikido is not for the correction of others, but for the correction of the self. At the same time, you must be fully present, an equal and active partner.

Let the bottle and the glass retain their shapes. The wine will fit and fill the glass, if the pouring is good.

Let the wet clay open to the nib of the stylus.The tablet is impressed if the writing is good.

Love is kokyu. What one vessel extends, another receives. In the Four-Chambered Heart, there is a room that gives solidly and a room that gives fluidly; a room that receives fluidly and a room that receives firmly.

Only when these are in balance is the heart healthy, and love complete.

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

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Old 03-21-2014, 12:39 PM   #2
Katie Parsoneault
Dojo: Still Point
Location: Austin, TX
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 9
Re: The Four-Chambered Heart

Thank you for this model of exchange. I'm finding it very useful both on and off the mat, in considering how I offer and offer to receive, and how I determine what I offer and what I am willing to receive. A powerful metaphor for much of our practice, and quite appropriate for February, and your 35th aiki-versary. Congratulations!
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