What we need is to develop a heart that brightens the world.

~ Motomichi Anno Sensei

(from Journey to the Heart of Aikido: The Teachings of Motomichi Anno Sensei by Linda Holiday)

What I love about aikido is its focus on recognizing and redirecting energy as one works with seen and unseen motion. Rather than relying solely on our material senses, we practice aikido exercises that foster a deeper awareness with which we find openings in an instant to render aggressive movement non-threatening. I imagine that working with energy in this manner may be akin to what birds experience as they soar and shift along varying air currents.

Compassion is the other aspect I most love about aikido as we practice protecting ourselves and the attacker, emphasizing inherent worth and connectedness rather than separateness.

Aikido practice is also applicable in situations one might not expect. I knew someone who walked away from a freeway motorcycle accident because just after the car began to shove his motorcycle out from under him, his body curled, rolled in the air and over the car before he landed in a fall he’d done so many times in aikido that reflex saved his life.

I experienced something similar when riding my bike in Golden Gate Park. Another rider I’d just met urged me to ride off a cliff in a mini-Kenevil-like jump. Because I resisted, this guy playfully taunted and then demonstrated how to do it. He made it look easy and I rarely turned from a dare.

So I rode off the edge–fast.

My bike nosedived, but my body released the bike and rolled like a sowbug, head over heel, through the air before slamming, past the crumpled ten-speed, in an aikido side fall .

After catching my breath I looked up at this guy as he continued asking if I was okay though he sounded elated as he described how my body had done this thing he’d never seen anyone do, that he couldn’t figure out how I’d rolled rather than landed on my head and neck like the handlebars on my twisted bike.

Lucky for me, repetitive training turned into reflex and saved me before my brain could process what was happening. When he said that he’d gotten hurt the first time he’d done the jump because his bike also nosedived, my brain kicked in and I never returned his calls. Though I was able to make it home before my hip doubled in size, why would I want a “friend” who would knowingly put me in danger? There’s enough unavoidable danger in life.

Instead, friends are our safety, our comfort, and the ones we choose to share the joy this blink-of-an-eye-life offers so that our hearts continue to open and brighten this world.