While we wait the merging of uke (attacker) and nage (defender) into one let’s explore the interactions between them.
Blend with (ki-musubi) the
Universe of Heaven and Earth (tenchi)
Stand in the center (of all)
In your heart take up the stance
Of “The Way of the Mountain Echo”
-Doka of O’Sensei
“Uke is our grinding stone to help polish ourselves. We can’t do it without uke.”
-Mary Heiny Sensei
“Yamabiko echo of the mountain. In Iwama we learned of the notion of Yamabiko, the mountain echo, that refers to the natural response in the blending in Aikido. In the dojo we train this interaction. We ‘call out’ and receive an answer. We initiate and blend with the response. Instead of waiting, for example, for a Shomen (frontal attack) (like in the old days or like in Daito Ryu) O Sensei changed it to become pro-active. So he would initiate the Shomen movement to bring out the response from the opponent. In this way we are able to stay with the opponent from early on, taking the initiative away from the attacker. This understanding is crucial in practicing awase, or blending in Aikido.
It is a natural response just as when you reach out to shake someone’s hand, they respond in kind almost automatically. It is an inherent, pre-conscious reflex of the body. Someone smiles at you and you smile back. Someone puts a fist in your face and you pull back or raise your hands.
There’s a wonderful secret in this that is deeply human and spiritual. It’s all about a relationship and being alive to the world around us. Once we are keenly aware we’ll be able to read the situation and respond or initiate appropriately. Once we’re fully awake this will come naturally to us. A perfect response in any situation. The event lending itself to a match that completes and fulfills. So when I meet you with a smile and an open hand you respond in kind. If I want to neutralize your aggression I meet you with softness. If I want you to follow, I lead. If I want you to lead, I follow. I’m with it even before the word go. I move in unison from the moment we step on the tatami. I paint the brush stroke in advance with my mind. I lead with the spirit and the body follows. Intent before motion. It works perfect in basic kihon Tai no Henko. As you present your hand, absorb his grip as he grasps your wrist, accommodating his strength. Don’t try to wrest it away, stay within his grip, allow him to feel secure in a perfect grip. Now, fill out, open your hand, extend the ki, without combating. You enter him through the arm.
In the second step, awase, present your hand and draw him in. come back, return with him, in the basic form, without contention. Step by step you learn to be very sensitive to his response to your initiative. Draw him out, call him out. Enter his territory to tempt him to leave. Bait and catch. Don’t collide, blend. Carry water, chop firewood.
Yamabiko reflects the harmony of the world in detail. It is ultimately a deeply spiritual perspective and a perfect way to engage with others.”
-Bjorn Saw Aikido Alive, London
DOKA from Secret Teachings of Aikido
Sun, earth, moon
The golden bridge sparkles
and floats amid the
Standing in the
middle of creation,
stand in the middle of your own heart,
and follow the
path of the mountain echo
I have been exploring how nage receives the energy from uke. And Yambiko fits the bill. It shows how nage can move first and not be the aggressor. This is key to Aikido for me.
Different words, same meaning. Different perspective, same action. It is so important to exchange ideas, views, thoughts, actions. This is what happens in training aikido and one of the reasons that I love it. And as we explore there is more and more.
William Blake says it well in auguries of Innocence.
“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”
Jeff Black currently holds the rank of Shodan and trains regularly at Aikido of Reno. Having trained in the art, off and on, for the last forty years or so, Jeff is a wealth of insight about the art of Aikido. This is the second of three weekly installments of his post.