Too often translated in the West (in particular in the martial arts) as: something and its opposite, the notions of Omote and Ura are indissociable.
Omote is the part that is visible, Ura the part that is hidden.
Far from talking about opposition, we are going to talk about complementarity.
Omote (?) refers to the visible or active part of a state, action, technique or feeling. It is that which is visible or seems to be happening.
Ura (?) refers to the hidden part of the reason for the same state, action, technique or feeling. It is often the intimate relation, the reason, or the mystery reserved for the initiated.
For my assiduous readers, it will be easy to make a connection between the notion of Oku and this double notion. The road travelled and effort made, the objective and desired result…
This reading is above all linked to the insularity specific to Japan and its highly warlike culture. The Japanese habitually avoid conflict, disastrous since it is taken to an extreme. The pressure of geography (20% of the territory is habitable, volcanoes, typhoons, earthquakes) and social organisation, added to the risks of conflict, makes the Japanese particularly prudent when it comes to revealing or affirming their inner treasures.
Whence the dichotomy between their social behaviour and raisons d’être.
We cannot talk about the notion of Omote-Ura in Japanese society without talking about the notions of Tatemae and Honne:
Tatemae (???), literally, „façade“, the behaviour, habits and opinions shown in public. Tatemae is that which is expected by society (a group of people), following each person’s position and circumstances (atmosphere, general mood). And this can be in disharmony with each person’s character. It is not a choice or option, but an expectation that cannot be transgressed.
Honne (???), literally, „The True Sound“, the true desire, feelings and intentions. This can be (but not necessarily) the opposite of that which is expected by society. It is a desire often hidden and only expressed with very close friends or under the influence of alcohol (a useful excuse for enabling communication…)
In the family unit the man has the role of Tatemae and the woman that of Honne. Complementarity, combat (work, social relations, etc.) and its reason (family).
We could continue our discussion by introducing the Asian notions of Yin and Yang. However, numerous essays already exist on this subject and I recommend you read them (example of Wikipedia).
Yet, is the reading following the notions of Omote and Ura a Dualistic vision? We will return to this, but in any case, it is certainly not a Manichaean conception of reality. There is sometimes an idea of opposition in this double notion, but above all it is a relation of interdependence, transformation, mutation and even engendering.
For example, the Japanese saber (like all swords worthy of their name) is built according to this principle. The cutting edge (Omote), sharpened, which will threaten, even cut. The core (Ura), the body of the sword will give him its force and carry shocks. Two different forging techniques, two different reasons. Both are linked. The edge of a brittle steel needs a body to carry the shocks, the body is not very efficient alone and does not possess the authority of the cutting edge.
To continue along the lines of the martial arts, aikido is a Japanese art that is necessarily based on this notion. Firstly, in a didactic way, each technique can be carried out by facing up (Omote) to the adversary (in adopting an angle, introducing an unbalance, etc.) or in coming up behind the adversary (Ura) the idea being that if the opponent closes off one possibility, the other becomes easy.
Secondly, we also come across this notion in the relationship of movement to one another. If, in the middle of our movement the opponent closes up and blocks it, there is always another, complementary move which benefits from this new attitude (for example, for the connaisseurs of Kote-gashi – Irimir-nage).
Transformation and mutation
To remain with martial dances, all participants of these activities understand that the movements carried out, often supple and stretched out, are nothing other than the result of invisible and very aggressive movements. Omote is that which I see, Ura that which I perceive. It is here that we link up with the concept of Oku.
A word about the dualism. Omote Ura, two aspects of the same state, action, concept, object, idea, feeling… Really two?
„There is no such thing as facts, only interpretations.“ (Nietzsche)
Far from wanting to give into European nihilism, the Japanese have a polytheistic culture. The gods are numerous, as are the realities. Just like reasons and consequences.
There are always several Ura, which will create an Omote. An Ura has the ability to engender several Omote. A refined vision of this is to perceive the Flow of possible transformations and, if your heart tells you so, to choose one.
And what about ropes in all this?
Pub philosophy leads me to note the following obvious facts:
He who ties and his model.
The image of imprisonment and the evasion of the mind.
The roughness of the act and the softness of the ropes.
We find, as in the martal arts, the complementarity of one technique with another:
The hands locked opposite the genitals, the elbows close to the body.
The hands behind the back with the elbows above the head.
The spatial organisation of the body. If the tension of a muscle of or the body prevents a form from taking shape, there is at least a complementary movement that enables one to take advantage of this fact.
We could also talk about the course of the ropes on the partner’s body, the places where they are naturally heading, those where they are blocked and others where they lose themselves. All that clearly evolving according to the warring parties, the situations.
I would simply like to talk about these moments, in which I have sometimes been a witness, sometimes an actor.
Each is getting ready.
One comes out and organises his ropes, spreads them out in the space, organises them.
The other, perhaps, undresses or simply relaxes, breaths, readies himself for what is to come.
A pause, an instant (MA)
Something happens, something we cannot see, but which is obvious.
The approach, the making contact, the beginning of the fusion of two beings, two realities, two spheres of being.
The first rope, its importance, a choice, a decision made which closes off certain paths, but which opens an infinity of others. The bodily exchanges, mixing with emotional chaos. The discussion has begun.
Silent but deafening.
We are going to live a rare moment.
After the flow, that of the cords, the Nawashi movements. The spirit of one which drifts, carried by bodily words. The spirit of the other which enables the ideas, the tensions appear and burst like bubbles.
They are so far gone in this chimeric world.
After the games, the pauses, there is the untying, the return to reality, leaving the bubble of this world…
So many moments or states linked to the moment.
The act effaces itself before its range, that which it represents, that which it implies, that which it engenders… And above all that which words (corrosive and reductive) can never write.
Omote and Ura. A reading, a concept to construct oneself.
Of course. It is not a text which will enable us to have a clear vision of this, but rather practice, observation and humility.