By Régis Soavi
Nevertheless in the West the general trend is to perceive it as black and white; they are opposed to each other, divided between light and dark, categorised as positive and negative, like at school or even with sexist references. It’s very easy, we have habits and we do not even realise that.
The Tao is represented flat, to be more exact as a ball where yin and yang interpenetrate each other, but in fact each one keeps its own space: you, me, him, the other.
Philosophically we talk extensively on one or the other, but we forget the great Chinese thinkers: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Li Tzu, or Sun Tzu, to name just the most famous.
Black or white, yin or yang. And what is grey? If we keep on thinking in a dualistic way, it’s a mixture of both.
My Master Itsuo Tsuda hardly ever quoted omote or ura, besides that, he rarely gave a Japanese name for what he did or showed. Fluently bilingual, he has always preferred French for his explanations, and particularly in his books he wrote in one go, almost without correction.
He could guide our sensitivity and make us feel thanks to the practice of Katsugen undo (Regenerating Movement), yuki, and particularly through his touch or even his silent presence, this non-dualistic world that he had come to help us discovering.
Discovering with the body
Aikido is a way of discovering your own body, I mean physically, concretely feel those fluids that run following networks with a yin or yang tendency.
When during the practice omote or ura is mentioned, it usually refers to the whole movement, the tendency, possibly his ending.
The breathing can help us understand it better, feel, what it is all about. It is better to start working with a rather slow pace, if you go too fast at the beginning there is a big chance not to succeed.
The focus is on breathing, by following the inhale, then the exhale, you move focusing on the inner feeling, you can work on this kind of exercises with a partner, closing your eyes and remaining focused on the center. Arms for example open or close independently of our will, they obey to a necessity that comes from the yin or the yang.
If you want to practice Aikido as the practice of the not-doing, all the work must be about feeling, you dig, deepening more and more and gradually something will move within us; and one day you will realize that you have overcome something. The wall that was blocking us, which resulted in a stiff or uncertain technique, and therefore artificial, completely unrealistic, it has dropped. At that point you feel free, extremely free.
The research takes then a different turn. The perception of the yin/yang becomes evidence. It is something that I find difficult to express in words, because everything becomes simple: gestures, movements, there is no mental action. It comes directly from the center, and then a great sweetness naturally arises, a sweetness that can be yin or yang, but very strong in any case, a powerful sweetness which has an effect on and knows how to act in harmony with the partner or the opponent, depending on the circumstances that led the one in front of us to act like this or that.
The tendency during the inspiration is rather towards an opening and thus is yin; expiration closes the body and its tendency is yang. Already just with the breathing you can hear, if you pay attention, the yin and yang, but they are only the expression and the direction of the energy that has materialised. The visible part, the one that the physical body can finally use, is ready.
When looking at the body, the front part is yin and the back is yang, although the front leg is yang and the back of the leg is yin: this is admitted in all schools, but the passage of ki from one to the other is rarely explained in martial arts, it often remains only looked at the surface.
Meeting Itsuo Tsuda, the practice of Katsugen undo and the discovery of the Seitai by Master Haruchika Noguchi were fundamental during my research and gave me an understanding of the body and its movement that was missing until then. Some areas that had remained vague in the teaching of Aikido, as the hara, have become extremely accurate with the Seitai. One can for example verify the state of the « three points of the belly. » The first must be yin, the second one should be neutral, the third yang, positive and reactive. « The purpose of the Regenerating Movement is to regulate our body, normalize it. Regulate our body is not only necessary to make us healthy. Whatever kind of activity we practice, whether is calligraphy, or drawing or practicing martial arts, the first need is the one to start regulating our body, otherwise you miss an opportunity. »1
Non-Doing and non-dualism
In Aikido we let the ki arise from Seika Tanden, the hara (3rd point in the belly in Seitai), and its tendency is yang because it results from the strength that comes from the back, force that is not expressed in the shoulders, as we see too often, but naturally thanks to the koshi. The crossing point of this force, of ki that became yang, is the 3rd lumbar vertebra which is actually in a yin position in the spine. By visualizing the abdominal breathing one can tell that the yin inspiration inflates the abdomen and prepares the action which is going to be yang, and at the same time, ki goes down along the spine and permeate the entire body2. When the ki gets out directly from the center its tendency is yang, but depending on the circuit that it will take it will express as yin or yang. If it follows the internal circuits of the stomach and arms, the inside of the body, then it becomes yin, otherwise its expression will be yang. The resulting force will also be yang or yin depending on the moment when it is used. Of course, in a world that is not separated, time is also part of this unity. Although we can slow down or speed up the moment of an impact, for example to be precisely in the right place, at the right moment with the right breathing and the right ki, this cannot happen without the coordination happening in our « involuntary system”. This is precisely where the teaching by Itsuo Tsuda has brought decisive elements. To make us enter the world of sensation, insisting on the Non-Doing, allowing us to discover the non-dualism, he gave us the keys we can still use today, because they are within reach of all, as his books testify.
Yin et Yang
If we break down a movement like ryo te dori ten chi nage in the omote form, uke comes up with a yang force. He is in the middle of the exhalation, tori receives that at the end of his yang, yin has already expanded in him, it has become in-compressible, it will still expand and will ultimately overwhelm uke. Then it’s the time for yang to expand, you notice that because the arms turn, this time it is the dividing line between yin and yang that goes from bottom to top. For uke the movement started already at the beginning of the inspiration, unable to resist it breaks off and falls, like when a fruit is ripe and falls in the hand. In the ura form, tori must wait because yang is still too powerful, he turns to deviate the force but as soon as he gets his yin force back, it can use the yang force to start in omote or let the yin force continue its work until total envelopment of uke.
Similarly in kokyu ho, there are different ways to do it: either you project immediately the yang force or you allow the yin force to expand and at the end you use the yang. Again it all depends on the condition, the moment, the partner. The yang force is more direct, more interventionist than the yin force, but can easily harden people. The authoritarian fathers know this problem with their children and a fracture is often accomplished during the adolescence. The yin force is enveloping, sweet but sometimes misused, like some mothers do. They may risk to imprison their child and he will then struggle to get out of the footprint of the family cocoon.
Ideally when yin ends it allows the radiant take off, after the “ ark » inner work of preparation during childhood, a real detachment without fracture, like the ripe fruit falls off the tree at the right moment. The radiant take off is freedom without thoughts. The ability to be the own Tao. Simply the realization of being.
The body spheres
Our body is in between others with an external surface: the skin is somehow the material sphere. But we are not limited by the skin, it only defines the internal yin from the external yang, ura and omote. This surface is a sphere that has taken the form of a human being.
Beyond this there is another sphere that everyone can instinctively feel. It occurs rather in the form of a deform-able egg as needed. This sphere is often represented in religions, it is called Mandorle or Aura. It is the visual representation of a reality experienced by everyone, and kept alive in martial arts. It is also yin internally and yang outside with an extremely precise limit, it is possible to observe that what is yang compared to the skin it is yin compared to the energy sphere.
Irimi and tenkan
When doing irimi for example, we allow uke to enter our yin sphere, he is relieved from his yang ki excess that had became hard and rigid, his terrain is normalised, we allow him to find an internal balance. Then with irimi nage we end up with a yang movement that will cause in him the desire to fall in order to avoid the worst. On the other hand with tenkan both spheres barely touch each other and only merge at the level of the hand. The Yang surfaces push, sustained by the internal yin, become strong, standing side by side, rejecting and sliding against each other.
If tori lets his elbow slide to enter the sphere of uke, then his yin movement will grow so to overwhelm uke that, once again, will fall to avoid the inconvenience of this turnaround.
In our school, the first part of the Aikido session is dedicated to a solitary practice. One of the exercise involves lifting the arms palm facing the sky to then lower them. Itsuo Tsuda told us: « Lift the sky then push the earth. « There are different ways to do this exercise. If we try to raise them using the yang the shoulders will contract, if we try to push the earth with the yin we will remain stuck in the middle of the movement. Raising the arms unifying with heaven (yin) and down in harmony with the earth (yang), it was this kind of work, the visualization that I started with my master and I still continue after forty years.
Allowing a conscious circulation of ki, improving our perception of this movement, of this sphere of energy that many speak about but only a few can perceive so clearly, this is how I intend my current work.
To allow the normalisation of the terrain of those people who come to the dojo and give them visible or invisible instruments, conscious or unconscious to enable them to achieve independence, autonomy, inner freedom.
For this the awareness about omote-ura, as an expression of the yang-yin, is in my opinion essential.
Article by Régis Soavi about Omote-Ura, published in the Dragon Magazine (Special Aikido No.11) in January 2016
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1. Abstract of the conference Regulate the body by Noguchi Haruchika sensei, translated by Tsuda Itsuo into French (trad. It. The unstable triangle, Chapter XIX).
2. Master Noguchi Haruchika, on the other hand, advocated the exercise Sekitsui Gyoki – 脊椎 行 気 法 or Breathing through the column that starts from the « second points of the head » and that allows the normalization of the terrain (the whole body, of course in a unified manner, physical, mental, etc.).
3. Photos by Régis Sirvent and Jérémie Logeay