“Heart Palm,” pastel & photo by Elizabeth

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)

Though I no longer have a physical aikido practice, its essence is always alive in me. I love aikido’s focus on recognizing and redirecting energy. Rather than relying solely on our material senses, aikido exercises 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 along air currents.

Compassion is another aspect I love about aikido. Of course we protect ourselves, yet, if possible, we also protect the attacker, thus respecting each person, that we are connected rather than separate.

How we learn to roll and protect our bodies is applicable to other situations as well. I know 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 so I rode off the edge – fast.

My bike dropped, nose first, while my body released 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 at this guy as he continued asking if I was okay though he sounded elated as he described how my body had rolled in the air rather than landing 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, my brain kicked in and I never returned his calls. Why would I want a “friend” who would knowingly put me in danger? There’s enough danger in the world that we can’t avoid.

I look to friends for safety, comfort and to share all the joy we can in this blink-of-an-eye life. Which is how Aikido is like a friend, something that ever reminds me that though I may need to protect myself and others at times, I can do so with an open heart.