Yoda’s Secret of Compassion


For over three decades, I read the Dalai Lama’s books on compassion, attended lectures by Thich Nhat Hanh, and even did a week long Metta meditation in Sri Lanka, yet I was unable to feel compassion on a daily basis. Looking at the state of the world today, I don’t think I was alone in this inability to practice compassion.

After countless broken relationships and on the verge of divorce at the age of 47, I finally realized what it meant to have compassion. I learned that compassion requires empathy. We can’t sympathize with the misfortune of others if we are unable to step into their shoes and understand their thoughts and feelings.

When the disciple is ready, Yoda will come

 In the search to cultivate compassion in order to save my marriage, I uncovered a practice that had been bestowed upon me in my adolescence at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) Summer Retreat.  You see, two years before The Empire Strikes Back was released, I had been a disciple of a real life Yoda.

Reverend Kusada served as the IBS Executive Director from 1968-1983. My initial impressions of Reverend Kusada were much like Luke Skywalker’s first impressions of Yoda: he was short, bald, and spoke with a heavy accent. My eyes widened, however, when I learned that he was an Aikido master.

Aikido lessons with Reverend Kusada were part of the curriculum at the IBS retreat. One of the first lessons he taught us has become my daily practice of empathy.

Facing an opponent, Kusada Sensei would wait patiently. When the attack came, or usually a second before the attack came, the small master would say “Yes” and step out of the way. He would then pivot on his front foot to face the same direction as his opponent.

Sigurd R / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

It almost looked like dancing—a kind of platonic Tango with partners touching back to back rather than face to face. Kusada Sensei even instructed us to gently put our hands on the outstretched fist of the attacker.

From this position facing in the same direction as the attacker, the aikido-ka (practitioner) is able to safely re-direct the attack and control the situation no matter how big or strong the opponent is. Reverend Kusada would often throw students twice his size and half his age.

Martial Arts become Marital Arts

After arguing for years with my wife, I finally learned to incorporate this aikido move into my rhetorical strategies. Two individuals arguing are like two opponents in a fist fight. Usually, when someone says something offensive to us, we either get defensive or we retaliate with our own sharp tongues.

Nowadays, when my wife says something I disagree with, I whisper “Yes” and step out of the way. I try to mentally pivot, so I can see her point of view. I empathize with her and try to redirect her ideas to a neutral ground or a shared concern.

I often do this physically as well as psychologically. When my 5 year old son throws a tantrum, I get down to his level and hug him cheek to cheek so we are facing the same direction. From this position, I can often see or feel what he is really upset about.

In Aikido, this technique of joining forces with your opponent is called blending. I like this term because it shades in the line between black and white, good and bad, enemy and friend. Blending allows us to act without judgment. It cultivates compassion.

May All Beings Be Happy and Well

Every week at the Buddhist Temple my family belongs to, we recite the Metta meditation. We start with loving ourselves: “May I be happy and well. May no harm or difficulties come to me. May I live in peace and harmony.” We then move through family, teachers, friends, strangers, enemies, and finish with all beings.

The enemies verse might seem counterintuitive. “May my enemies be happy and well. May no harm or difficulties come to them. May they live in peace and harmony.”

But if you really think about it, the entire Metta Meditation is Reverend Kusada’s aikido move in verse form. We start facing the enemy. Then we slowly pivot through family, friends, and strangers. By the end, we are compassionately aligned with our enemies and, therefore, all beings.

If you practice this mental aikido “exercise” every day, your marriage, parenting, and daily interactions with strangers will be filled with peace and each day will bring you closer to a visceral understanding of compassion. Compassion is an easy term to define, but it is quite difficult to realize. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect.

Thank you for reading, sharing, and/or smiling.

Have you met a real life Yoda? Please share.


35 comments on “Yoda’s Secret of Compassion

  1. […] to do so! I become anxious after a few hours offline have passed. I want to check my stats! Did Kozo and Miss Four Eyes respond to my comments yet? What if some troll took a proverbial dump in my […]

  2. KM Huber says:

    Brilliant post, Kozo! I love the word, blending, for what else is compassion, and only if we are in the mix of the emotion, the attack, do we feel as others, and when we feel, we relate, and the moment we relate, we create. If there is one and only one way to be in relationship, it is compassion. Perhaps everything else then follows. Just a truly thoughtful and beautiful post, my dear friend.

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      I couldn’t agree more, KM. I’m starting to believe that all relationships exist to cultivate compassion in our hearts. Yes, all attacks are an invitation to empathize. Brilliant.
      I feel so blessed to have you help me delve deeper into these ideas, KM. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

  3. BroadBlogs says:

    Interesting! I’ll have to try this. Thanks for all of your inspiring posts.

  4. Heart, heart dear Kozo. May the force be with you. 🙂 Thank you for the brain food today. (((hugs))). kimberly

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      Thanks, Kimberly. I’ve always wanted to meet my own personal Obi Wan Kenobi or Yoda when I saw Star Wars. The truth is I was surrounded by Obi Wans and Yodas. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

  5. Stuck Sucks says:

    I love this post. I am definitely going to try this with my son: get down to his level and hug him cheek to cheek so we are facing the same direction. From this position, I can often see or feel what he is really upset about.

    Thanks so much for this idea!

  6. Kelly Kuhn says:

    I always want to reply to your posts, and I usually do, but, to be honest, most of the time it takes real effort to find words. Because all I really want to do is sigh and be grateful for you.

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      Wow, Kelly, such kind words. Thank you. I feel the same way when I read inspirational blogs like yours. I feel the need to let you know that I have read your words and they have touched me, but I don’t really know what to say. Maybe we should have a code, like readitlovedit. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

  7. Alison says:

    Thank you again Kozo for yet another wonderful post. I think Don is my Yoda – together each of us has learned how to really listen, and then to honour what the other is saying/feeling. From that place only can we move forward to resolution and/or consensus. It really is about standing in the shoes of the other. Having become very good by now at doing this with each other, we practice more and more with doing it with others. Kindness, compassion, respect, standing in their shoes. It’s not always easy, but we’re so much better at than we used to be.

  8. 1EarthUnited says:

    Profound insights, thanks for always keeping it real. Mental Aikido is awesome, helping us reflect off each other what we need to see in ourselves. I love how you physically get down to your son’s level and relate to his experience, brilliant bonding moment created! Keep up the great compassionate healing. ☼

  9. Geo Sans says:


    for introducing this technique


    when we lost

    our stillborn son

    we learned approx. 50%

    of couples divorce

    from these




    we consulted a marriage counsellor

    and learned

    other ways

    to listen

    to reflect

    on how we’re communicating

    to each other

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      Would love to hear the other ways you learned to listen and reflect on how you were communicating sometime, Geo Sans. If you feel comfortable, can you email me a summary? everydaygurus@gmail.com
      If you don’t feel comfortable or are busy, I completely understand. {{{hugs]}} kozo

      • Geo Sans says:

        during the week
        I’ll find more time
        to give you
        a proper response
        enjoy the weekend

      • Geo Sans says:

        I listen to her
        repeat word for word
        what she said
        we often insert
        our own translation / interpretation
        that wasn’t said
        or intended
        leads to
        of our sensitivities
        our possibilities for misinterpretations
        at first
        seemed silly
        once we understood the point
        a huge revelation

      • Kozo Hattori says:

        Love this,Geo Sans. It is so simple, yet so effective. “awareness
        of our sensitivities

        I believe that this is the key to all our relationships–awareness of OURSelves and our insecurities.
        Thank you so much for your heartfelt and wise advice.
        {{{hugs}}} Kozo

      • Geo Sans says:


      • Geo Sans says:


        note I read

        in my journal

        every day


        how does this build us ?







        throughout the day

      • Kozo Hattori says:

        I hope you don’t mind if I use this phrase, Geo Sans. It is brilliant. “How does this build us?” In the face of any event, this will lead to growth and peace. Thank you so much. {{{Hugs}}}} Kozo

      • Geo Sans says:

        the question

        also works

        for multiple situations


        for example

        re: technology

        how does it




        our community


        the key

        seems to be


        moderation …

  10. diannegray says:

    What a beautiful analogy, Kozo! I’m certainly going to try this 😀

  11. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Great post Kozo, I made it my POW for this week too 🙂 Aikido is a great martial art and philosophy, very apt connection you make between stepping out of the way when in physical combat and emotional combat!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂 Hugs!


  12. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Thanks to Rohan, I found this wonderful post. Your comparisons of Aikido to life here are beautiful, easily understood and compassionate. It’s so true, without empathy, one cannot be compassionate.

    While I see that we travel in some of the same circles here on the blogosphere, somehow I had not been aware of your wonderful blog prior to today. I look forward to more!

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      Hey Cathy,
      Nice to meet you. I just heard a Brene Brown interview where she said that empathy eliminates shame as well. I guess empathy is a win-win. I’m on a blog break for July, but will come back in August. {{{Hugs}}} kozo

  13. kartikasays says:

    This is both beautiful and practical – I love the wisdom that Yoda embodies. As an archetype he has much to teach. Thank you for writing this! Best, Kartika

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      Thanks, Kartika. Also, thank for the reblog. I think Yoda and Obi Wan can be great role models for younger kids. “There are alternatives to fighting,” says Obi Wan. Yep, PEACE. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

  14. kartikasays says:

    Reblogged this on kartikasays and commented:
    A wonderful post by a Blogger for Peace, Kozo Hattori. Enjoy!

  15. […] His post this week is on compassionate, non violent communication which is something I’ve become very interested in over the past while as well. Not only this but I practiced Aikido both in Ireland and in Australia (where I was mistaken for a girl) so this post has extra significance for me. I think we could all do with learning a little compassionate communication so go ahead and check out this week’s POW: Yoda’s Secret of Compassion! […]

  16. Tracy says:

    I love the idea of blending Kozo. Many years ago I studied Stephen Coveys Seven Habits and the one that really stood out for me was ‘seek first to understand then to be understood.’ Its stayed with me since I first encountered it and although I don’t always get it right, I always revert to it when I find myself in a conflict situation. Empathy is so important for us all.

    • Kozo Hattori says:

      I’ve never read Stephen Coveys’ book, but I have been hearing about it so much lately. I love the habit of seeking to understand before we are understood. Love that. Yes, empathy is important. {{{hugs}}} kozo

  17. […] Everyday Gurus–Everyday, Everywhere We Are Guided Towards Happiness 2. The Liberated Way–Liberty, Wisdom, Creativity (love the look of the new site!) 3. Carla R. […]

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