It begins with Rei. I remember a time maybe 10-20 years back there was discussion about bowing. Bowing is arcane, its against religion... all this when I was a kid trying to learn Tae Kwon Do. Now far from the half bow we do in Tae Kwon Do, I'm actually doing kneeling bow in Aikido. That's like throwing the gauntlet to all the nay sayers out there isn't it?
Rei in itself is not important as a form. Its actually about the spirit behind it. By attuning our spirit and respect we show that we have a harmonious intention to our opponents. This develops our Kokoro the first step in our journey in Aikido. Aiki no Kokoro.
We were discussing this martial spirit late into our last night there. It seems that Sensei is concerned of this gap between his first generation students and second generation students. Generally speaking, the first generation when through a trial of fire. Sensei was progressing from a hard form to a more softer style. (We don't confuse hard with 'powering through' a technique though, keep that in mind). The second generation saw the soft, liked it and believed that Aikido is all soft and wishy washy. To make matters worst, Sensei's 'soft' Aikido really works and it looks like magic. So everyone clamoured around and tried to be 'sof't' and found that their Aikido doesn't really work that well.
The truth is, behind the softness of Aikido when Aiki is manifested, underneath is a core of strong Budo spirit. This spirit accepts death, accepts violence, accepts conflict and manifests harmony. Harmony here is often confused with the images of graceful angels on clouds and sunny sandy beaches. We forget that nature is the true harmony and that mankind is the true discord. A tidal wave is every bit harmonious with the world, notwithstanding the thousands of lives that are lost within its awesome rage. Therefore in our practice of Aikido, we are soft on the outside but our mind/spirit is strong and powerful. We send out our intention not to over power, but to harmonise. When we harmonise, our enfold our opponents center we become the point of the hurricane. Calm, centered and tranquil. Yet on our fringes, the power rages. It does not pull, shove or struggle... it cuts a swath through natures trail.
Aikido no Genri is the 2nd stage. We learn the principles here. Center, relax, feeling ki, extend ki. The core behind whatever we do must have the principles guiding it.
Aikido no Waza is the 3rd stage. We start with Kihon. We do Kihon not because this is what we will use. But we use it to train our principles. We start with Big motion, but at each movement we understand the connection, the chushin, the kuzushi, the maai and we use awase, musubi, ki no nagare to achieve this. From the Big becomes the Small. Osensei said that the power is in the spiral with no outer limits and no inner limits. As it becomes bigger and bigger, it disappears but does not end. When it coils inwards, it continues beyond the single point and even then keeps spinning. Similarly we can project ourselves to be Big so that we enfold our opponents and our surroundings, we can also become small, so small that we are a little point in ourselves that others cannot catch hold of, yet sucks them into this black hole.
Aikido no Chikara is the 4th stage. Here we develop power. The power comes at various levels. You have body power, you have power coming from technique and leverage and timing, you have positional power and etc. You also have Ki power, the power of mind and spirit. Aikido will reveal itself when you no longer wish to fight. If you want to fight, fight. Bring out the spirit of fighting. Fight for you life and others. But do not think to do Aikido. When it comes to the point where you wish to not fight anymore. You feel you need not stoke the ego anymore, and you wish fervently to not harm your opponent, your true Aikido power will manifest.
Takemusu Aiki. The last stage. Where your Aikido is the will of the universe. You will transcend Katsu no Hayabi. The technique of here and now. You will past mushin munen. You will only Be.
I've written before but it needs reminding, Aikido is to surrender yourself. To surrender your ego. To hold a spark in your heart and protect that spark from becoming a raging flame. Yet that spark defines who you are, a servant to God or as Osensei defines it, Universe/Ki/Kami.
In the last session we had, sensei compressed all the beginning stages of practising Aiki. He started with Tai Atari. Tai Atari requires nage to inflict his power into uke, or receive power from uke. Using a combination of Receiving and projecting (or bouncing), Tai Atari is used to control and take opponents balance/center. The flipside is, a sensitive person can take control of the Atari and use it against you too.
The next is Tai no Awase. Actually sensei split Awase into 3 steps. Tai no Awase, Ashi no Awase and Sabaki no Awase. With Awase it creeps very close to musubi. But Awase is body moves the mind. Whereas Musubi is mind moves the body. Awase is much softer than atari. You start with forming your contact to 'fill' uke's body. Find the exit point and bring his body and mind there. In Ashi no Awase, my most vivid moment is 'capturing' uke's center before he reaches that point in his movement. Important thing to not forget is the constant sending out of ki and connection to uke.
Musubi, we started to practice only Ki no musubi. The 1st level. The easiest exercise was sorewaza. Extend the ki first. Once we can feel the connection, extend more but do not move the hands. We can then manipulate the 8 characters of Aiki.
Obviously, there's too much to write down. But important thing to remember is that in practising Aiki we use the Right side of the brain or the creative part. Just like our Logic side will never understand the value of abstract painting, it will also never understand Aiki. Aiki is the technique of using power of Universal Harmony. Most people lump it under Internal Strength and that is why it becomes misleading. I too am often confused. After discussing with sensei and demonstrating grounding and uprooting using the earth, center and uke connection, sensei says this is not the way of Aiki. He demonstrated that DR has this technique as well and showed me the difference. When compared there and then between Aiki grounding/extension and Internal Strength grounding/extension the latter somehow feels more invasive.
The big difference is also in that IS practitioners develop and own the Ki they use onto others. Whereas, Aiki practitioners train to bring their body in harmony with Universal power. I'm only writing this down as a reminder to myself and not to judge. You will encounter people with tremendous IS and they can do wondrous things, but it is different to Aiki as we understand it. If you seek to master that, then you need to find a different training method because Aikido will not help you there. Another aspect of mastering Aiki is that it becomes truly unconscious. You do not need to be aware of opponents and direct your ki to affect him. Osensei's power was unconscious. His sense of being permeates his surroundings so much so that none of his students could find 'openings' in his defence.
The one thing I want to remind myself in practice is to continuously extend Ki. This is very very important. And to extend Ki, one needs to be relaxed. If we do not extend Ki, we cannot achieve awase, musubi or any meaningful resolution.