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Learning a martial art means not only shaping physical behaviors, but also changing mental and emotional reactions. Apart from any kind of training, my first, most natural reaction to sudden conflict is fear; sometimes causing me to freeze, sometimes to lash out, sometimes to run away. The success of any of these reactions is mostly dependant on luck, so any martial art must also address mental and emotional condition in the first moments before contact is even made between combatants. In my experience of Aikido, two particular concepts are taught that address our need for successful resolution of conflict; evasion and blending. Evading an attack is an obvious goal to any seeking training; not getting hit is a good goal. Blending seems much riskier, even counter-intuitive. Technique-wise, it certainly takes long years of diligent training to master. So before going too far down that path, it seems a good question to consider: what is the difference between evading and blending, and is blending a superior approach?
Learning to evade an attack is not necessarily an easy thing. Being able to react without fear, flinching or panic to a weapon swinging with speed and force at your body, particularly your face, is not natural. It takes time to learn timing, to be able to judge the direction and speed of a strike. You can't move the same way to evade a round-house and a straight in punch. As for the panic factor, well, it takes more than a couple of good bruises to learn that getting hit (at least by your training partner) isn't as bad as you thought it would be; you survive and dust yourself off and get back in again. Fear gives way to determination that you won't get caught again. Panic becomes a reason to breathe and focus. The limitation of evasion as an end goal is that it leaves your opponent free to continue the attack. Odds are good that even if you manage to get out of the way for the first five minutes, eventually you will make a mistake and uke will connect. Anyone who has practiced randori knows this as a fact. This leads to the conclusion that evasion is just the beginning, not the end of our training.
"Blending" in English at least, communicates the idea of a kind of union between two separate things. I tend to think of musical metaphors, as if I am tuning my body to match uke's . Like evasion, one has to be sensitive to uke's intent, timing and the direction of her force. However, in blending, one has to take in uke's energy/intent to one's center -- grounding into a pin, or extending into a throw. This always seems to necessitate close physical contact with uke. Becoming the center of her balance, controlling her posture, supporting her balance until the time for a pin or throw comes around. If I hold nage far from my center, at arm's length so to speak, I cannot control her center. So as nage, I accept the momentum and force that uke offers in her attack. I stay close, lead uke to give up her center and substitute my own . Then when I take away my support, uke falls. In fact, the stronger the attack, the more energy is at my disposal for a hard throw.
So while evading an attack is an important skill, it is only a starting point. In fact, learning to blend involves unlearning many of the evasion reactions that have become ingrained over the initial phases of training. One may conclude that the entire evasion phase is largely a time to learn to overcome the fear and panic of being under attack. I am coming to realize that I have only very rudimentary understanding of blending. The way I touch uke in Nikkyo can be blending only if I touch in a way that is non-threatening; accepting uke, offering no threat to resist, yet taking control of the center. Every point of contact is a opportunity to instill calm. I think this is very analogous to how a parent holds a child who is in the middle of a tantrum. The child is irrational, seeking to lash out. The parent must exert control, yet not instill fear or escalate the tantrum. This is a much more subtle art. The physical technique in this case is really only a vessel, the content has to come from the heart.