Like you would catch a baby

I remember that a few years ago one of our teachers, Sasun spoke about a statue of O Sensei that depicts him standing in hanmi with his arms out stretched.  The figure shows O Sensei as if he’s just finished Tai No Henko.  Tai No Henko is a fundamental exercise in Aikido.  The video below shows three different levels of the exercise:

I remember when I first started Aikido and how my Sensei described the stance.  She said, “Mark, with your arms stretched out as if you were going to catch a baby.”  I still think about how she described this and I still appreciate this exercise.

Tai No Henko embodies all principles of Aikido in the simple movement:  The wrist grab, with two partners facing each other represents conflict.The turn representing the principle of getting off the line of the attack. Finally, the blending of movement with your partner represents the principle of moving from center.

The uniqueness though, that I find particularly interesting is the stance we come to at the end of the technique.  Our arms are outstretched, we stand in hanmi but we stand upright, not in an attitude of aggression, but in a attitude of openness and welcome.  If you change the stance ever so slightly, it would a position you would hold when you see a good friend you haven’t seen in a while, a parent, a husband, or wife.

Leah and I trained with Sensei Neil Segal near Iowa City for the first time in January of this year.  We practiced Tai No Henko for a while.  After a few minutes, he asked us “Why do we tenkan (turn)?”  We gave the tactical answers, but the one answer he was looking for was this (pardon the paraphrasing)  “We turn so that we can see the attackers point of view.  So we can be aligned with our attacker and see what he’s seeing.  Up until Aikido we did not have this concept.  The concept of martial arts was to defeat, not to understand the aggression of the attacker.”

Tai No Henko is a technique O Sensei said we should practice everyday (the other two being Morote Dori Kokyu Ho, and Kokyu Dosa).   I still try to practice as i was instructed many years ago by one of my first teachers.  Hold my hands like i would catch a baby.  For me, it is important to keep this in mind.  Aikido is not about hurting, it is about gentleness and love.  It is about protecting even the person that would do you harm.  Also, I will be prepared if I ever do have to catch a baby!

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