Many people are using the words “omote-waza & ura-waza”. Especially in Aikido this is frequently used without an explanation about the real meaning of these concepts. It is maybe wise to introduce you to the meaning of omote & ura in Japan’s social life. The Nakasendo Way website is an ideal resource about culture in Japan.
The Nakasendo Way: A Journey to the Heart of Japan is a comprehensive resource on the historic highways of Japan with particular emphasis on the Nakasendo Way. Another important highway is the Tokaido Highway. Belgian Television (Canvas) broadcast a documentary about the famous Tokaido Highway, one of the five historical highways (Tokaido Highway, Nakasendo Way,….) in Japan. Director of the documentary: Luc Cuyvers – Staff Members: Tim Wolput & Kaori Sanada….
Omote-ura – Public and Private Faces
Omote (the public face) and ura (the private face) are twin concepts that are applied to almost any aspect of Japan or life in Japan.
Omote refers to the image which an individual, a company, or any institution wishes to present to outsiders or the public in general. As with any image, omote is composed of a mixture of reality, myth, and lie. A building dating back 50 or 60 years which has been given a new facade is a good example: the facade is typically ultra-modern and designed with attention to creating a positive image in the eye of the beholder, but the building inside is quite the opposite. Similarly, the Liberal-Democratic Party frequently makes statements about party unity regarding an issue, but behind that is a high level of disagreement among the party’s various factions.
Ura is the opposite of omote. It is the reality behind the omote image with the myth and lies of the image stripped away. Ura is the old, dark, falling-down building behind the facade, the factional wrangling behind closed doors, the tensions between parents and children, or the mawkish and emotional outpourings of a drunk on a late night commuter train. Ura is usually covered up by omote; when it is suddenly exposed, there is great damage or embarrassment or both because the unreality of the omote is revealed for all to see.
In the feudal period, land granted to retainers was assessed as yielding a particular amount of wealth. This was sometimes called the omotedaka or public assessment, but increases in productivity and additional land brought under cultivation often pushed the real yield far higher, making the retainer wealthier and, potentially, more powerful than he nominally was. Villages in the feudal period were left to run their internal affairs themselves without interference by the government. The villagers would present a public face of unity and order to outsiders, perhaps masking severe internal tensions, even violence, but it was important to maintain the omote for the alternative was to have the government send a flock of officials and samurai to sort the situation out. That would only lead to more trouble.
Etiquette is an area where the concepts of omote and ura can be applied to advantage. Etiquette, or manners, are omote: the public face which the individual puts forth. It is extremely important for Japanese to be able to behave in conformity with society’s expectations. Thus, a young man or woman must use deferential patterns of speech and behavior toward older people or people in superior positions. With the democratization of the post-1945 period has come a softening in the distinctions which were once required. Many complaints are heard, therefore, that the younger generation does not know how to behave properly. The omote side of etiquette is slipping.
For the ura side of etiquette, the home might be the best example. Because the home is ura, individuals at home can relax and become much more informal. Clothing and speech both relax and food is usually ordinary fare rather than formal. However, the division of omote and ura is not absolute even here. A family at home may be more relaxed in behavior than when it is in public, but a young brother is still careful to call his elder sister by that name and everyone is polite to the father although in an informal manner.
Omote & ura in Martial Arts
Omote techniques are taught to beginner and are techniques considered less effective, if the movement is not perfectly executed. The view to the outside world is important, but speaking from a strategy point of view, the efficiency is not so high. Students are learning the basic movements of the art.
Ura techniques are more effective. The techniques, in which one exposes oneself less vulnerable. These are techniques where we absorb the attack of the opponent. Strategy is an important element, besides the total control of the own body movements.
Randori no kata (Tomiki Aikido)
As we all know, randori no kata has 2 major components
- Omote waza
- Ura waza
The techniques which are allowed in a regulated randori.
There are some versions around, but most well-known are
- Basic 15
- Basic 17
Omote waza is also “the entry” to Tomiki Aikido waza.
Mostly people call this set counters to the basic techniques. This is in fact an “omote” approach and in many cases the techniques don’t work if the omote-waza is perfectly executed.
We have to start with a different mindset and this is described in the omote-ura in Japan’s social life. After all, fighting is a part of our social life and we cannot deny this.
More technical explanations on Ura-waza soon