Aikido and the Two Faces


Aikido in general has both the seen and unseen qualities. This can be referenced to the Japanese society where it sprung from. In Japan, there is a cultural behavior so enmeshed in their collective psychology that they even have terms uniquely for it: Honne and Tatemae. In Japan, her people have two faces: the Honne ( 本音) and Tatemae (建前). Honne is a person’s true intent/feelings/desires, while Tatemae is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. Honne is what is hidden from the eyes of the society, the inner self, while Tatemae is what is shown, an ideal of a person that is publicly revealed. In western culture, this may be close to the Freudian Psychoanalytic Concept of the Id, Ego and Superego: the id being Honne and a mix of the Ego and the Superego being Tatemae, or the Jungian Archetypes of the Shadow as Honne and the Persona as Tatemae. It is close but not quite. The difference is because the concept of Honne and Tatemae is not purely a result of the psychological faculties alone, but it also encompasses, and to a greater extent, the cultural-anthropological circumstances of the Japanese people. In Japan, there is a saying:


“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”


Expounded, this means that the Japanese people function as a collective, as a group, with a group identity. The nails sticking out are criticized, looked down upon, and corrected. (Reference here: Otaku Culture and Wa Principle of Japanese culture). So for a Japanese to function in Japan, that person should act out his respective function in society as society deems it proper for him to act. This is because of the belief that group harmony is of more importance than individual desires. Hence the Tatemae is born: conformist, upright, and sensitive. and from this birth, its twin face, the Honne also comes into light: rebellious, passionate, improper and suppressed. This is truly a wonderful cultural uniqueness.  It is from this cultural trait that they have maintained unity as a people and flourished as a nation. It is because of this that the Japanese are earnest, even-tempered, and harmonious. The trick is to get to understand the Honne beneath the mask of the Tatemae.

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So it is with Aikido: What is seen is not everything. The rest is buried within the movement, unexpressed, unseen, but is vital. What is the Honne of Aikido that makes this Budo what it is? What in the technique is not being shown explicitly but implicitly? How can we focus on what we can’t see? In my opinion, ukemi may have the key to this. It is true in our art, that what cannot be seen can be felt. In the same manner, to understand Honne is to not only look at the Tatemae, but also to dig at the heart of what is really felt.

(Please also see: “Zen Fable: The Marvelous Techniques of the Old Cat (Neko no Myojutsu)“)


3 thoughts on “Aikido and the Two Faces

  1. Do you notice and feel the intent of your partner when you practice? Don’t you sometimes sense the humor of your partner, or the mood depending on the way they practice aikido with you? Just the touch alone, you get the feel of the sincerity and the kind of person you are dealing with. Practicing with a partner helps us hone this intuitive-ness. I love this post!!!


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