What is Ura/Omote?

Remember that kanji carry concepts not meanings.  Understanding kanji, thus, requires us to open our mind to a dynamic reality.

Omote is the visible, the obvious, the given, or what is easily reachable.  It also refers to the common/basic understanding of a concept or a situation.  Ura is the hidden, the secret, the invisible, or the reverse.  And in specific situations, it also refers to the esoteric understanding of a concept or a situation.  Remember that even if concepts seem opposed on the surface (omote), they are deeply connected on another level (ura).  Omote/Ura is about Perception, not seeing with your eyes in a strict sense.  So get your Third Eye active!

In training and in life omote/ura is very present in everything you do:  remain open to the interplay of omote/ura.  You may overlook the everyday gestures in your life such as cooking, or taking a shower (omote), but the latter make you be in touch with yourself in the Now if you only open your mind (ura) – take time to relate to yourself.  In the past, they would say that the sword that a samurai carries has 2 sides:  omote, the side of the blade facing away (obvious), and ura, the side of the blade facing inward, toward the body (secret) – the samurai’s secret move is on the ura side of the blade.  During a tea ceremony, those outside the tea hut see only the gestural and the regular practice (ordinary as omote).  But those inside the hut experience a different reality as the sunlight coming in through the lattice-work windows (or dividers) creates patterns of shadow and light that enlighten the guests at the tea ceremony (hidden as ura).

In martial arts, and in the context of kata, we say that a mere observer only sees a kata as a performance of violent techniques put together (omote), while for the performer (from within), the kata is a perfect harmony of mind-body, a control of chi and strength, and a beautiful synchronization of breath and movements.  The performer of the kata strives to empty her/his mind and become One with the kata itself – pure transcendence (ura).  There is no violence in the heart of the Zen warrior but pure emptiness and peacefulness.  In sum, be aware of the ura side in your training (deeper meaning).  Do not limit your training to the omote side only (common understanding of martial arts as a sport).  In so doing, you will in time be in touch with the power and wisdom within you.  You will perceive before seeing; your mind will expand and not be limited to what is before your eyes.  Myoku is about being in touch with one’s true self.

A Zen story:  everyday, a young disciple would walk across a small garden on his way home after training.  One day, he notices a beautiful flower and thanks it for blooming in his garden.  But the flower has always been there; he simply never noticed it until the day he changed level of consciousness in his training.   The flower was “hidden” (ura) in his reality but had been there all along in the obvious (omote).