Dojo: vermont aikido
Join Date: Feb 2004
Re: Article: Henry's Kitchen by Ross Robertson
Neat article. I was in "Henry's kitchen" two weeks ago, and a friend of mine forwarded me the link to your article. I've been practicing with Henry and talking to him on the phone for about 7 years, so I thought that I could share a bit of what I've got from the yin/yang study. What has been repeated to me about this is that Yin and Yang are a balance. Left side = Right side, A=B, both are are two equal sides of the whole. It's always this way. It's only our minds that make us think that we are separate. What's important to understand is the line that separates the two sides. If the yang side moves the line foreword, the yin side moves back from the line just as much. But the yin side stays the same size. Yin does not collapse on itself because the mid-line moves foreword.
Ross, I like the arrow charts that you drew in your article, but I interpret it differently. You called the two arrows facing or pushing towards each other "conflict". My experience with Henry leads me to believe that the two arrows pushing towards each other represent balance. Now pay close attention here, because it's easy to confuse. What is unseen is that the two arrows are pushing to that line in the middle, or that line where A meets B, and not trying to push way past the line into the other side.
To take this into our aikido practice, it's like when you put your hands on the wall. You don't start thinking that you are going to push the wall down. You just know that where you push stops at the wall. Once you have a partner, your mind starts wanting you to push past that line and influence the other side. That's conflict. When we practice, both uke and nage push out to where they touch. Your job as an uke, and as a nage, is just to stay the same size. A=B.
It's hard to put into words why you need to put both hands straight out in front of you, and why you need to move your center to the spot that is half way between your fingers, but I'll give it a shot. In Henry's classes, he is always saying that the real center is the midpoint between your two hands and that this point is what tells you where to move your feet. What he is telling us is how to balance your half of the equation. The theory is that if your half is balanced, the other half will have to be balanced too. I should add here that Henry believes that true aikido happens because of a true balance, and he does not believe that the true nature of yin and yang is to think you can off-balance your partner. A spiral does occur in aikido, but both sides of yin and yang are moving to the center line, and your partner is still in balance with you all the way to the ground as long as you are both touching the center line. Now you might ask Henry why you need to put both hands in front of you? The last time I was in Toronto he started yelling at me "how do you know that you are balanced?" What he was trying to say is that the left and right sides of my body need to be moving together. With just one hand up, only that half of your body seems to engage. It's really important to learn to get all of your body to move in balance and unison in order to balance your half. If don't move as one by yourself, how do you expect to do it with a partner holding on to you?
The second part of why you put your hands straight out in front can also be explained with the arrows. When the two arrows push towards the middle, the arrows stay the same length. Most of the time when we get off-balanced when practicing it's because we get compressed by the other side. This is like the yang line pushing towards the yin line and making the yin line shorter. But the yin line doesn't want to be compressed, and neither do we when practicing. It's like allowing yourself to be impaled. So, the real issue in learning how to be a balance is how to stay the same size while the other half is moving that embarkation line towards you. What's really difficult is knowing where that line is when you are practicing. For example, if uke grabs you on your left arm, all of your thought goes to that side and you become left-side-centric with your movements. In essence, you aren't really balanced, and so your body doesn't quite move right and you have to push past the line and try to control the other person.
I'm going to tell you how to do this, and why, but, like Henry says, it's not something that you'll be able to do right away. You have to think a lot about it. Put both hands in front of you at a distance that is balanced and comfortable. Preferably about the length that your arms are when they are rested at your side. Make sure that when you stand you are upright. If you reach out too far, you will notice how the weight goes to your toes. This is off-balance. Now, look at the location of the spot that is approximately half way between the finger tips of your two hands. You don't have to obsess over the exact location. What you are trying to see is a distance from where you are (your body) to that spot between your hands. Your body already knows this distance. It's just where you are comfortable. If an uke moves your arm, you will notice that you need to move the other hand in order to find that spot. Now move yourself away in order to keep that spot the same distance from you. If you push out too far, you will fall into the front, or you may start pushing past the line to move the other person. If you let the spot come in too much, you will feel like you are being compressed. Just move your feet to leave that point between your hands out at that distance. Sometimes you will have to walk foreword to keep it there, and sometimes you will have to move back. It depends on uke. Remember, you do push into the line, but not so much as to move the other person. Just match how much they seem to be pushing out, and if they push more, you move more. There are many ways to move yourself to stay the same size to this point in front of you. You can drop your center, tenkan, walk backwards, and the reverse of all of these movements. It's hard to believe, but all of the movements in aikido can come out of this one thing. The person just starts to turn over, and Henry says he doesn't even know why. It just happens.
Hope to meet you in the kitchen some time.