One of the things that attracted me to the art of Aikido early on was the metaphor it used to conflict resolution. In aiki terms we talk about getting off the line of an attack, this was expressed with the example of someone on a train track. While it would be foolish to either run toward the train to stop it, or run away from the train to escape it, the most simple thing to do would be to jump off the track so that the train goes by.
Recently, one of our students very earnestly asked the reason we practice tai no henko. The teacher offered his answer and I have thought a bit more about this. It was one of the first things I learned, not just the actual technique but the “why” as well, that attracted me.
For people that may not be familiar, tai no henko is a basic practice where you and your partner stand facing each other. Your partner as the attacker (uke) reaches out to grab your wrist. When your wrist is grabbed, you (nage) step slightly to the side, turn and extend your arms out in the direction your partner is facing. Your partner holds on, keeping the connection throughout the technique.
For me, tai no henko is a beautiful practice. Metaphorically, it encompasses all we know about Aikido in the exercise. Standing face to face with your partner represents conflict. The wrist grab represents intention. Stepping off the line of the attack shows the willingness not to fight back but to let the attack go by, and the turning of the body represents the harmonious blending with your partner.
A while ago, Sensei talked about Aikido being the “third option”, the other opportunity to express besides the fight or flight modes we find ourselves in sometimes with work, our personal lives, etc. I see that tai no henko is a wonderful expression of this. It is a basic building block of our art for this reason and in our training, we should look at this exercise as a time to practice Aiki just as seriously as any other technique. It is not “that thing you do till you get to the good stuff.” it’s all good stuff!