Aikido teacher and psychologist Richard Strozzi-Heckler was used to meditation retreats, but this one was different. He opened his eyes and looked over his all-male class until he noticed the black T-shirt one of his students was wearing. It bore a skull-and-crossbones insignia and the legend “82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION: DEATH FROM ABOVE.”
“I have no mental file for what I see,” Heckler recounts in his book In Search of the Warrior Spirit (North Atlantic Books). “Killing and meditation simply do not go together.”
This was one of many paradoxes faced by Heckler in the fall of 1985, when he participated in a six-month classified experiment to introduce “inner technologies” to a contingent of the Army’s Special Forces — twenty-five Green Berets. Those inner technologies included martial arts, meditation, and biofeedback. Invited into the project by a retired Marine Corps colonel, Heckler was part of a team put together by SportsMind of Seattle, Washington, which creates training programs for organizations and professional athletes.
Heckler, who taught aikido and psychological values to the soldiers, could not have been better qualified for what was called the Trojan Warrior Project. The child of a military family, Heckler grew to be an accomplished athlete, attending college on a track scholarship. He served a stint in the Marines before acquiring his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. His proficiency in various martial arts began in adolescence, “because we traveled around so much and I felt insecure on the streets. I wasn’t big. So I learned judo, jujitsu, and karate from sailors and Marines who had returned from overseas.” Heckler admits it’s a cliché, “but these martial arts really did build my self-confidence.”
In 1972 Heckler discovered aikido, the Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba, who described it not as a fighting technique but rather “a way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.” Aikido emphasizes the meditative direction and extension of ki, the universal energy within the body, and teaches students how to blend their movements with these of an attacker in such a way as to neutralize the attack, instead of overpowering or eluding it. For Heckler, aikido rapidly became “something I couldn’t not do. It was like falling in love.” He now teaches aikido in his own back yard in rural Petaluma, California, inside a barn converted into a martial arts dojo. It was there that I and my partner Laurie Fox talked to Richard Heckler.
Heckler, who has two children and is expecting a third with his wife Ariana, maintains a private practice as a psychologist and is a co-founder of the twenty-year-old Lomi School, which provides intensive seminars on mind-body training. Author of The Anatomy of Change, Heckler also edited the anthology Aikido and the New Warrior (North Atlantic Books) which contains the essay “This Isn’t Richard,” an account by writer George Leonard of Heckler’s black-belt initiation:
It was like one of those sporting events that are later memorialized, perhaps a World Series game or a bullfight, during which every last spectator realizes at some level that what is happening out on the field is more than a game, but rather something achingly beautiful and inevitable, an enactment in space and time of how the universe works, how things are. As Richard and his uke [attacker], still on their knees, glided through a series of attacks and pins as precise and formal as a tea ceremony, the silence in the dojo became deeper and more vibrant. . . . The uke rose and attacked the still-kneeling Richard, who moved in sweeping circular motions to embrace the attack. So gentle and coherent were his movements that they seemed to capture time itself and slow it to a more stately pace. Sometimes when Richard pinned his attacker with one hand, he reached out with the other in a gesture of balance. . . . It was as if Richard’s hands were reaching beyond the four walls of the dojo to a point of balance in the cosmos.
As the fascinating tales of In Search of the Warrior Spirit make clear, Heckler got more than he bargained for when he accepted an invitation to the Trojan Warrior Project, where he introduced some of the country’s best-trained soldiers to a new kind of knowledge about self-mastery.
— D. Patrick Miller
THE SUN: In the book you recount how the Green Berets referred to you as the “psycho-queer from San Francisco.” Didn’t your own military experience count with these men?
HECKLER: It didn’t count for anything. Part of it was interservice rivalry; Army men consider themselves smarter than Marines, whom they call “jar-heads.” But as far as these Green Berets were concerned, we were civilians. What could we possibly have to offer to the crème de la crème of the military? They respected my sports and martial arts background, but otherwise the attitude was: prove it to us.
THE SUN: You’ve written that the central paradox of your work involved teaching values of “wholeness” to soldiers who are generally trained to regard their human enemies as abstractions. Can a Green Beret experience his full humanity and still be a good soldier?
HECKLER: The Army wanted to see mental and physical improvements and better communication. One of the officers overseeing the project used the term “wholistic soldier” in describing its objectives. But I don’t think the Army understood just how deep such training could go.
For instance, the Army wanted the Green Berets to be able to concentrate well after two nights without sleeping — as if we could reach into their heads and develop such a specific skill with meditation practice. While such powers can be developed, it requires revitalizing the whole person. That means feeling oneself more deeply, and to feel oneself more deeply means feeling others — including your enemies — more deeply. It also means developing more independence in thinking — which is antithetical to the institution of the Army, or any institution for that matter.
It’s a dilemma common to society at large. To be honest, I don’t have the answer.
THE SUN: What is the difference between the contemporary military mentality and the psychological archetype of the warrior? The traditional meaning of the latter usually has to do with self-mastery; that is, a warrior knows that the real enemy is within. Is this something you attempted to convey to the Green Berets?
HECKLER: These men regarded self-mastery as a primary virtue, in the sense of challenging themselves to learn new things and improve their performance. But the kind of work we were doing meant they had to face their character weaknesses and shadow side. Once you start confronting your own demons, it gets a lot harder.
Here’s an example. As trainers we had our own informal uniform, but sometimes I wore a pink polo shirt instead. This just drove the guys crazy; they began to see something of themselves reflected in that pink shirt, an aspect that could be both soft and powerful. That was foreign to them. They also reacted aggressively toward me because they were beginning to feel a new longing: to relax their vigilance, ease up on their psychological armor, their rigid paranoia, to accept themselves as people who were good enough just as they were.
THE SUN: You introduced a kind of self-mastery that’s difficult to measure. It’s not a matter of running faster or having better aim, but of sitting peacefully and experiencing oneself without agitation. Did the men get a better understanding of this kind of self-mastery?
HECKLER: There were three distinct groups of men in the Trojan Warrior Project. A third of the men had a real thirst for this kind of work; it was as if they had been waiting for us to show up. While they maintained their cynicism and pragmatism, they tried everything to the fullest. Another group, mostly the youngest guys, had a difficult time. They were in their early twenties, very strong and active, and they couldn’t see any virtue whatsoever in sitting still. Or if we suggested they quit smoking, a typical response was, “Hey, I can smoke a pack a day and still outrun anybody on this base.” This was a group infused with a sense of youth and immortality.
But we did plant some seeds because I’m starting to hear from some of the men now. One called recently to tell me how much the program meant to him, and to apologize for resisting it every step of the way. I asked him what he got from it, and he said, “I’m more myself now. I used to try only to be a Green Beret. Now I can just be myself.”
Then there was a third group who dug their heels in from the beginning, and had to be dragged along the way. Even though their test scores at the end of the project showed improvement like everyone else, they refused to acknowledge the benefits.
We tried to put things carefully for these soldiers. We called meditation “mental training,” a term which made more sense to them. Part of the job of the Green Berets is intelligence gathering, which means they may have to sit in a camouflaged site for three days with very little movement, watching troop maneuvers and so on. So that’s the kind of context we used to talk about learning to sit quietly.
But sitting in a room without daydreaming, actually trying to organize their attention without an external task, caused other material to come up. Like most American men, they had a tremendous amount of anger. One night in a sitting they all erupted at once, and I thought they were going to throw us out the window. It was frightening; they started raising their fists and shouting, “Attica! Attica!” We had anarchy on our hands. I asked them why they blamed us for their anger; after all, we were just telling them to sit and not talk, drink, or smoke. How could they blame us for anything?
That jogged their curiosity. I said, “If you look into this, you’ll be interested to discover where your anger is coming from. It’s not just what’s happening right now. You probably carry this anger around all the time. That much anger is debilitating to you as soldiers.” Now I’m not saying that a light went on for all these guys right then; they began to understand this point after many other talks and experiences. But a number of them did begin to experience a new battle line, as it were; something to be mastered within themselves.
I remember one young sergeant who said how much he liked the aikido training. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, I don’t beat my kids anymore.”
THE SUN: I know a family psychologist who works with Marines in San Diego; a high percentage of the men he counsels suffered physical abuse as children, and are passing it on in their families. Did you become aware of such tendencies in the men you trained?
HECKLER: Yes. I remember one young sergeant who said how much he liked the aikido training. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, I don’t beat my kids anymore.” This was about halfway through the program, and I was really struggling at that point, uncertain whether we were accomplishing anything. The sergeant told me, “Now when I’m angry and about to hit my children, the way my father hit me, I’m more aware of the rush of energy that I feel, and I know how to center that energy. Then it seems like the desire to hit goes away.” I thought to myself, “I’m a success.” Whether or not we were making better “warriors,” we were already succeeding at breaking a chain of violence.
THE SUN: That’s interesting, because psychotherapy would probably take a nonphysical approach to breaking that chain, suggesting the soldier think before he hits anybody. But for a lot of these young soldiers, thinking about it probably drives them crazy.
HECKLER: Right. They get worse. They need training in how to deal with the rush of energy, to realize that it’s not a green light to express their anger violently.
THE SUN: Do you think that soldiers who begin to understand the anger within themselves will stay in the military? Does anger have something to do with becoming a soldier in the first place?
HECKLER: The Green Berets were as genuinely dedicated to the notion of service as anyone I know. They wanted to help, and they wanted to enact loyalty to a cause. They were well-trained, strong, bright men who wanted to be put to use. They worked in a very patriotic context, meaning that the country’s policy-makers are supposed to assign them an enemy to fight. But now more than ever there’s a real chance to redefine the notion of “enemy” and the notion of “cause,” and develop a new kind of warrior for the military — or the police.
THE SUN: Senator Sam Nunn recently suggested that the military could be used for environmental restoration, but critics have replied that the military has historically been an environmental wrecking crew, so that pointing them in this direction isn’t such a neat solution. Do you think we can train soldiers to be “ecological warriors”? Could a Green Beret go from target practice to saving marshes and redwoods? Would he find it fulfilling and manly?
HECKLER: Many of the men I’ve known in the Green Berets, the Navy SEALS, and the Air Force Special Forces could. Within a generation, I think virtually all soldiers could. For one thing, most of them love being out in the bush, and they know how to be out there without a lot of impact. Of course, the Special Forces don’t use heavy equipment, and they know how to drop into places and move stealthily. They’re used to treading lightly and keeping a low profile.
The idea has also come from within the military to use them regularly in natural disasters — for medical aid, quarantines, the dispatch of rabid animals, and protection of property. As one sergeant put it, “Just use us. We don’t have to go to war. But we need to be used.”
There’s a further question, however: how do we know we’re men? If soldiers don’t go to war, will they still feel like men? Vietnam showed us that men can come back from a war still asking those questions, and much more deeply. Soldiers came back from that war with their chests full of ribbons, but still wondering if they were men. . . .
THE SUN: Or whether they were even human anymore.
HECKLER: Exactly. Traditionally, the military has been the place for our ritual of manhood to take place. For me, Marine boot camp was a tremendous initiation. But it’s becoming clear that we can no longer afford war as a ritual proving ground. We have to create rituals for men so that we have a sense of transmission from an elder to a youth — a ritual that grants full membership in the tribe, so to speak. The military could still do that, by integrating Outward Bound-type experiences, solo treks, and vision quests with meditation retreats. I feel these kinds of changes could be instituted in one generation. Whether a man works for IBM, serves in the Army, or does massage therapy, his need for ritual and initiation is pretty much the same.
THE SUN: What were the after-effects of the Trojan Warrior Project? Were the ideas and training passed on within the Army?
HECKLER: We wrote a lengthy report after the project that showed every individual improved about 75 percent on all tested objectives — including specific physical and mental capacities, as well as communication skills. We recommended the creation of a cadre of military trainees in inner technologies, and circulated the report through the Department of the Army. The Army okayed it, but by the time it came back to the group we had worked with, there was a new commander who felt that biofeedback, meditation, and martial arts were not part of his job.
The idea is still out there. The men we trained have gone on to different places; many of them are instructors now. We get calls about meditation from some of them, so there’s been a trickle-down effect. Whether any momentum will build around it, I’m not sure. I’d like to see it happen, especially in a time when we increasingly ask, “What is the role of the military now?” Some suggest we should use soldiers to fight the drug war; that would be a terrible mistake. Latin American drug lords are not the problem; our addictive society is.
THE SUN: In the book you say that some of your pacifist friends were horrified at your involvement in the project, thinking that you were giving sacred spiritual information to “trained killers.” You seemed to suggest that the Green Berets were perhaps more honest about their physical violence than these people were about their emotional violence.
HECKLER: I was shocked by the antagonism I received from my peers about this project. Since I grew up in the military, I don’t see soldiers as different from myself or anybody else. They were like me, though fifteen to twenty years younger, and dealing with the same issues I had dealt with. But my peers made a lot of generalizations, just as the soldiers tended to generalize about people like myself.
In his book The National Defense, James Fallows argues that the further the civilian and military sectors of our society grow apart, the less contact we have with real warrior values. We need communication to keep the values of the warrior intact.
Once during the project I was at a party where a very aggressive professor was arguing for the elimination of the military altogether. He was directing his remarks toward another fellow who was saying the military was necessary. The professor’s anger was such that I felt the professor wanted him eliminated. After several months in the project, this was the truest violence I had seen.
THE SUN: I’ve always been disturbed by the emotional violence and lack of self-awareness behind a lot of leftist politics. You usually find more resistance to spiritual development on the left than anywhere else on the political spectrum. The ironic result is that you have a lot of psychological immaturity; people end up fighting over the best way to be compassionate! By contrast, the military, with all its training in violence and its conservative hierarchy, certainly knows how to get things done.
HECKLER: In either instance, the enemy is still within. My idea of a new warrior is one who takes on the challenge of facing his or her own aggression — mentally, physically, emotionally. The point is not to say that aggression is bad, but to recognize that it is within us, and to learn how to look at it and train it. Martial arts provide a great arena for this kind of learning, and aikido in particular has that crucial self-awareness built into it. It allows you to move hard and fast, but one of its aims is actually to protect your opponent while you’re engaged. Aikido recognizes that you can take a cooperative approach to aggression.
My teacher in capoeira [a Brazilian martial art] has told me that among his students, those who have also studied aikido are the most aggressive. I think aikido tends to attract people who are trying to deal with their aggression.
THE SUN: During the brief time that I studied aikido, I could never understand why so many people seemed to get injured in a martial art supposedly dedicated to nonviolence and “blending.” Just because the training is about nonviolence doesn’t mean it’s safe, I suppose.
HECKLER: Or that everyone studying it is going to be nonviolent. I have a little problem with calling aikido nonviolent. Aikido actually means “harmony with the way of nature,” and there are many aspects of nature that are violent. There is an overall harmony to nature, but not in every one of its aspects.
What distinguishes aikido from other martial arts is that you don’t gain rank by beating somebody. It repositions the very notion of competition. You’re competing with yourself — facing your own anger, and your own projections, which make you off-center. Aikido is regarded as a defensive martial art; you’re not learning to fight, or to start something so you can beat somebody up. You’re learning to blend with someone’s attack from a grounded, centered position — using the energy of the attack to neutralize aggression. This element of blending is in almost every good martial art, but it’s been buried in most. Where most martial arts teach you how to get the upper hand, aikido teaches you how to work with the situation as it is.
I envision a new type of warrior who makes himself or herself secure without making others insecure. This is congruous with the teachings of aikido. I like to think that this ideal can be applied to our military and police.
THE SUN: I understand that aikido regards an attacker as off balance by definition. The classic aikido tale is one in which the mere presence of the master dissolves conflict. Did you discuss such ideas explicitly with the Green Berets?
HECKLER: Yes, and they said we were crazy. But we could demonstrate the principles on the mat, and that was the more powerful teaching. Aikido was the one thing that we did every day in the Trojan Warrior Project, and it became the common thread uniting the rest of the physical and mental training. The soldiers liked it because it was physical and fast. And when I could move guys who were bigger and stronger than I, in ways they couldn’t move me, that demonstrated the power of aikido. They wondered, “Why can’t I knock this guy who’s half a foot shorter off balance?” or, “How did this guy who’s twenty-five pounds lighter just throw me?”
Everything came down to the idea of “show me.” They’re very practical men. I’d say to them, “Grab my wrist and don’t let go” — and no matter how much they tensed up and used their muscles, I would slip out of their grip. They wanted to know, “How did that happen?” They didn’t assume they’d been fooled or tricked; they wanted to know how to do it.
When I showed them how to do it and they succeeded, they would soften. Then they would say, “Now wait a minute. This is not the Green Beret that I know,” or, “I feel too vulnerable.” At that point I would suggest that to experience more vulnerability is to experience more of life, more options in life. I had to introduce vulnerability as something other than weakness. For many, it was their first experience with the quality of openness.
In a later project with the Navy SEALS, I came across a young man who was very tough and strong, who responded to everything I did by putting his hands up in an “on guard” position, always ready to punch like a boxer. In aikido our hands are generally at our sides, relaxed. He would always say to me, “What if somebody comes up and tries to hurt you?” I’d reply, “Nobody’s trying to hurt you here in the dojo. You can relax and take a different position.” Then he would say, “What if you’re walking around in the mall and somebody comes up and tries to hurt you?” He could spin out scenario after scenario. His worst enemy was the mind-set that someone was always out to get him. When I asked him when was the last time somebody really did get him, it turned out to be when he was ten years old. But now this guy was six-foot-three and 230 pounds. How many people were going to try to attack him?
Whether a man works for IBM, serves in the Army, or does massage therapy, his need for ritual and initiation is pretty much the same.
THE SUN: Aikido seems rather choreographed. There are certain techniques of defense by which you respond to specific kinds of attack. I used to wonder, what if somebody attacks me in a way they don’t teach in the dojo?
HECKLER: One of the challenges of teaching aikido to the Green Berets was that I was the only aikidoist there. In an established dojo, you’ll see people who have trained for years together, and when they call out an attack to the stomach you will see a classic, well-rehearsed attack. But when I called out an attack to the stomach, I got what these guys used in the beer hall! If I said to go for my head, they would deliver a right hook. I tried to teach the aikido form because it’s part of the dignity of the art, but I didn’t push them. I felt their style of attack was a wonderful challenge for me, and I wanted to work with it. But the principles of grounding and centering really do work with any kind of attack.
On the other hand, if someone comes to me and describes a tough situation in which they need to learn to defend themselves in a short period of time, I’ll say, “Learn to box, or kick-box, or do karate.” These are arts in which you can learn to take somebody out right away. If that’s what you’re looking for, aikido’s not the best way to do it. It takes too long, and it’s not really about fighting; it’s about not fighting. People who are in it for a long time will become exemplary martial artists, able to take care of themselves in any kind of conflict; but it doesn’t happen right away.
Everyone always wants to know, “Does it work?” I think it’s natural to want to know how you’ll stand up against other people who have trained in the same physical discipline, whether it’s track or football or a martial art. There is a Darwinian instinct here, wanting to know if you can survive among the fittest. I once asked a Special Forces medic if he regretted not being in a war, and he said, “Not at all. But I’m always curious to know how I would perform under fire. Would what I’ve learned really work out on the battlefield?” This man had no blood-lust, but he still wanted to be tested. That desire runs deep in us and has to be addressed.
That’s why you can’t train and fund an army with the idea of “keeping the peace.” They’ll always want to use their training, and they’ll start flexing their muscles in one way or another. I think a lot of coups in militarized countries arise largely from the desire of soldiers to see if their training will work. During the Tokegawa period in Japan, encompassing four hundred years of peace in a martial country, the samurai trained in calligraphy and flower arrangement. The training was martially disciplined but the output was in a different direction. It was an instance of real cultural genius. Our military is increasingly going to have to address the question of what a peacetime army does.
THE SUN: It’s probably going to be a while before the Green Berets take up calligraphy and flower arranging.
HECKLER: Yes, that would be a real stretch for them. At the same time, there is a noble precedent for such a thing. A true warrior is oriented toward life and creativity, not death and destruction.
One day after my meeting with Richard Heckler, Iraq invaded Kuwait. American forces were deployed in the Middle East soon after. In late September, I talked to Heckler again by telephone, asking further questions about how an “aikido consciousness” might change the American military, both in the present crisis and in general.
HECKLER: One of the goals of aikido is to protect your opponent. Not only do you neutralize his aggression, you end up protecting him. One aim of aikido is to bring people together, making a “one-world family.” This introduces the notions of service and compassion, as well as ahimsa — nonviolence.
When I teach students in a crowded dojo, I tell them to train as if they’re responsible for the safety of everyone on the mat — not as a burden, but as a means for expanding one’s awareness. The context of awareness extends beyond you and your partner. Introducing such ideas to each and every soldier would result in fewer civilian casualties during times of conflict; fewer abuses in the treatment and interrogation of prisoners of war; increased respect for all warriors. Eventually, this would lead to a military system with a strong defensive orientation; it would have an offensive capacity, but the motivation would be protection. This could include protection of nations and people affected by natural disasters.
THE SUN: There’s some of that sensibility now, in that we have at least a nostalgic expectation that a young man in a uniform is upright, dependable, strong — a “serviceman.”
HECKLER: I can imagine the protests of people who think of soldiers only as beer-guzzlers, but I think if we take the high ground in terms of our imagination, the form may emerge.
THE SUN: No one would say that we’re now deployed in the Middle East in order to protect our opponents. But if that were our attitude, how might our stance and tactics differ?
HECKLER: That’s a tough question. Clearly, it’s easier to take an aggressive stance by regarding the enemy as subhuman; they become gooks, fanatics, dogs. That makes hurting them more acceptable. With aikido, soldiers would feel they could do their duty without making their opponents less than human.
Besides protecting our opponent, we also empower him. By attempting to deprive someone of power, you instill the motivation for revenge. That’s very clear in the Middle East, where conflicts have been renewed for generations. If we could make Hussein feel respected and understood, that would empower him, in the aikido sense of the word. The greatest way to disarm any attacker is to call him “sir.” To be respected can be totally disarming.
THE SUN: A Marine commander recently addressed morale problems among troops in the Middle East by telling them, “There will be no morale problems. There will be no boredom.” He addressed the fact of human vulnerability by ordering his men not to be vulnerable.
HECKLER: That’s like telling somebody, “Don’t think of elephants.” It’s not going to work. Ultimately, boredom comes from not paying attention; with a practice of paying attention, boredom is less likely to happen. Chronic boredom also has a pathological dimension. The present scenario of all these young men in the desert with nothing to do provides an excellent opportunity to begin teaching the warrior virtue of self-mastery.
THE SUN: If you were a Marine commander, how would you handle the morale problem?
HECKLER: First, I’d acknowledge that there is a morale problem; soldiers are trained for fighting but they’re just sitting there. The worst part for them is not knowing when it will end. Out-and-out torture is better endured if the victims know there will be an end to it. I would trade on the Marines’ sense of esprit and pose the crisis of boredom as an opportunity for self-mastery. I’d provide classes of direct relevance to the soldiers, perhaps even for college credit, as well as classes in meditation. I would suggest that the soldiers use their time on sentry posts to study their own mindfulness, to explore what mindfulness in a warrior means. And I would hold martial arts drills to give continuous training in martial wisdom.
THE SUN: What are the qualities of martial wisdom? What comes to mind for me are discipline, regimentation, orderliness. . . .
HECKLER: Integrity, service, selflessness, and moral courage. It takes courage just to sit in the desert not knowing when you’ll come back.
The kind of integrity I’m talking about is illustrated by a Zen story about a samurai whose lord was killed. When he found the man who ordered the killing, he drew his sword to avenge the murder. The other man, in a moment of panic, spit in the samurai’s face. The samurai sheathed his sword and walked away. The question is, why did the samurai walk away? He did so because he felt tremendous anger when he was spat upon, and remembered that part of his ethic was never to kill in anger — to kill only in service. Rather than shame the memory of his lord by corrupting this ethic, the samurai walked away. Integrity in that sense is less concerned with “getting the job done” than with how you get it done.
If we could make Hussein feel respected and understood, that would empower him, in the aikido sense of the word. The greatest way to disarm any attacker is to call him “sir.”
THE SUN: If you could translate the actions of Saddam Hussein into an attack on the mat, can you imagine what the aikido response would be?
HECKLER: I see an individual who is strongly intentioned, but off balance. The feeling on the mat would be to continually move out of the way, and let him see that his forward motion, his wrong intention, is going to trip him up.
You never corner a frightened man. It’s absolutely essential that Hussein be given a way out, especially considering his Islamic values. Hussein has to get out of this without looking too bad. We need that kind of strategic subtlety.
THE SUN: What do you think has been missing in our response, whether in our military deployment or in the words of President Bush? There seems to be a contradiction between our adamant, strong-jaw stance and the widespread recognition that we might not win a confrontation — and certainly not without great cost. Would it actually be more sensible to admit our vulnerability? What would our aikido response be?
HECKLER: The rallying of nations behind Bush’s strategy made us a little euphoric, convincing us that we are entirely on the side of the right and the good. Some analogies were drawn to Europe in 1936, and I think those analogies are correct. Nonetheless, I think President Bush should have turned to the American people and said, “This is our opportunity to look at our use of oil, and to imagine what we would do if it dried up. We can be the first nation in the world to break our dependence on oil.” He could have used the crisis to rally us around that cause, too.
The difference between vulnerability and weakness is that vulnerability really means being open. If one develops a strong center — as an individual, a military force, or a nation — then it’s possible to be open to more possibilities and ideas. Without a strong center, we are more easily penetrated; our ethics and values begin to disintegrate. When you have no question about your values, you can be much more open. The samurai in the story could walk away without being weak; this action actually strengthened him because he was reinforcing his values. That’s how he avenged his lord’s death, by demonstrating the strength of his center. He was open to a different turn of events than he’d planned.
I’ve known men who have been great fighters, capable of beating anybody, but as they get older it becomes clear they’re weak in spirit. That’s because they’ve never empowered anyone else. In aikido, you can throw people around without taking anything from them; you actually give them more by throwing them.
THE SUN: That makes me think of what happens to boxers as they get older. Most of them are physically and mentally destroyed.
HECKLER: That’s true; there’s often something pathetic about them. The whole notion of the sport is to destroy somebody, and the destruction of many boxers is evident by their early thirties. In aikido, when the uke attacks you, he’s really giving himself to you. You could really hurt him, but the whole notion is not to hurt him in receiving the attack. Doing it that way empowers both of you.
Richard Heckler’s In Search of the Warrior Spirit may be ordered from North Atlantic Books, 2800 Woolsey Street, Berkeley, CA 94705 for $14.95, postpaid.