The 間 Aida of Skipping a Stone Across Water

Michael Glenn Shares a Stone from the Santa Monica Mountains with Hatsumi Sensei
My punch at Soke left me hanging over the depths. Beneath me was the profound moment of life or death falling into darkness below. I felt I could sink with it.

Above was Hatsumi Sensei, who had just bounced me off the surface of this pond like skipping a stone across the water. I looked at him, he laughed. He wasn't going to let me sink. Not today.

Not today because he is sharing the idea of skipping a stone across the water with the whole class. Last week he used this image again and again in his classes. And right now I was the stone.

When I heard him talk about this in previous classes, I nodded my head. The concept made sense to me. It reminded me of another image he had used last year of 乗換 norikae. Changing trains, going from one track (or technique, kyusho, etc…) to another.

But now when I experienced what it felt like to be the skipped stone, I realized there was so much more. There is the stone, the person throwing, and the surface across which you fly. But there is also the entire body of water. What lies beneath?

If you've ever skipped stones across a pond, you may recall the rhythm. If you have a nice flat stone and a good throw (angle and speed), the stone will skip or bounce off the surface a few times. The first bounce is long, the second shorter, and each one after has less space between bounces. You may even get 6 or 7 before the stone sinks.

But the stone does sink. Just as the opponent is defeated. The final result is the sinking of the attacker into the depths.

Hatsumi Sensei wants us to focus on 間 aida. This is the space between, or the interval from one time the stone contacts the water to the next. During this moment, the stone flies through the air, but falls again toward the water.

Today, in this class as Hatsumi Sensei's uke, I am powerless to stop myself from hitting the surface again.

In this moment, this aida... I skim across the surface and I glimpse something that really surprises me, and that I don't know how to explain. I realize my fate is in the depths below. I am going to sink. But when I look down at the water I also see Soke's reflection, smiling at me.

When he describes to the class a stone skipping across the water, it is easy to think of a stone, of throwing, and watching it bounce across the water. But that is the training that exists above the surface. That is beginner stuff. When you pass Godan you may glimpse below the surface.

He was not just skipping a stone. He was drawing on the power of the depths below without sinking into them himself. And even more, he had decided that he was not going to let me sink either. I felt that at the end. He let me see deeply into the depths of our training by protecting me from what was beneath.

I'm sure this all sounds crazy, but describing what I felt is difficult. So I offer you the metaphor of the skipping stone that Hatsumi Sensei gave us. It is up to you if you want to pick up the stone for your own training.

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