Consider ying and yang

I mentioned an 11 part series of videos featuring Henry Kono Sensei in a post the other day. In one of the videos, he mentions something that O Sensei told him years ago, which was, simply, that he (Kono) didn't understand "yin and yang."

Kono subsequently spent years, decades even, contemplating the meaning of that statement. Presumably, he figured a few things out in that time, but if he explained any of it in the video, it has since slipped my mind (it's a long video and he can be kind of tough to listen to).

Still, it's got me thinking about yin and yang myself (in and yo, I guess, in Japanese). Of course, while I have studied aikido, judo and jodo for a few years, my knowledge of Japanese culture, history, and philosophy is rather scant. (Not by choice or omission, mind you; I just don't have enough hours in the day to do everything!) I'll admit right off the bat that I'm no expert on the subject. All I know about yin and yang is what I can discern by intuition and a few off-hand references from other who presumably know better.

As I thought about aikido, and about what I wanted to talk to the morning class about before jumping into kata, an analogy formed in my mind that I think might be fairly valid.

I look at the bottom of the circle and what do I see? A large, dominant black area, seemingly overwhelming a small, thin white area. This seemed to me like the moment uke attacks. His energy is large, forward and nearly overwhelming, while I, the tori, who was just hanging out innocently, minding my own business, am still, with little to no energy.

But as things progress, as I blend with him and his center and establish kuzushi, things change. Suddenly, uke's posture is broken, he's moving backward or sideways, or someway that has become weaker or less advantageous. Meanwhile, I am moving more forward (mostly), my energy has grown, and uke is nearly overwhelmed himself until he falls. So at the end of the technique, we look more like the top of the circle, where tori is the larger white area, and uke is the thin black sliver.

All this occurred to me as I thought about offering some finer points to kote gaeshi. In one version of it that we do (which is a little different, I think, than many aikido schools), tori is moving away from uke, kind of backward and in a circular many, almost like we're playing Ring Around the Rosie or something. Centrifugal force seems to be the thing that is meant to topple uke.

But it struck me as a little too... fearful, maybe. Running, fleeing.

Well, you might say, Isn't that a good thing? Run, get away, this big bad man is trying to harm me, shouldn't I be trying to survive? Yes and no.

When a gazelle runs, it's also trying to survive. Unfortunately, the lion almost always catches him and eats him for lunch. There's no cycle, nothing changes, no blending of energy, no yin and yang. But with aikido, tori actually seems to flow from a reacting, retreating position to one of, well, dare I say it, dominance. I'm holding uke's wrist in kote gaeshi, his posture is broken, he is close to falling. I, on the other hand, am standing straight, my hand is in my center, etc.

That all could change, of course, in a flash. Uke reacts, busts out of kote gaeshi, and attacks our free hand. The cycle continues, now he is back to being the lion, and all the energy is his, and so on, until one of us collapses.

This is one of those things that comes down to mentality, I think. It's something we start to think about once we've learned the choreography of a technique.

Anyway, I don't know if any of that makes sense, and it may seem ridiculous to me tomorrow. But then again, right one day, wrong another—isn't that yin and yang, too?