Aikido is more than a collection of techniques; it is a state of being. It must become an integral part of you. It cannot be left at the dojo. It must be with you throughout your daily life. In this way, you will be able to learn Aikido from everything around you, at any time. It will in turn help you to use Aikido principles to cope with the difficulties and challenges you encounter in your life.
The basic principles and techniques of Aikido are important and must be mastered. From there, you can learn to adjust them to a particular situation or body type, or to a particular attack whatever the energy used to deliver it. We all need to have a firm base upon which we will build our Aikido. The stronger the foundation, the stronger the entire structure will be.
Aikido must be learned through the slow process of teaching the body, mind and sprit. The more it is rushed and the harder it is reached for, the more difficult it will be to grasp. It is not just the techniques we must learn, but the development of ourselves as we go through this process. It makes us wiser and more appreciative of what we are able to obtain. We have to learn how to learn; how to view things with an open mind and not clutter it with pre-conceived ideas of what we think it may be. This gets in the way of our training and of our dealings with people and situations in our lives outside of the dojo. As we continue our training we must strive to keep this "beginners mind" so that we continue to learn.
Aikido requires us to start at a beginning where we are empty, without knowledge of the art. As we train, we learn and become more proficient I the techniques of the art. The more we master, the less rigid our Aikido becomes. There becomes less "form" in our techniques, until there is no longer any "form" in our execution; the state of "takemusu aiki". In essence we have gone full circle; from the beginning where there was no form with no knowledge, to the end where there is knowledge and no form.
Slide - Keeping in same hanmi, push off with the back foot to move forward and pushing off with the front foot to move backward. Keep the feet moving together. They should come together at the same distance as when they first started.
Step - Take the back foot and step forward; changing from one hanmi to another. This holds true for moving backward.
Irimi - Entering with a slide, ending off the line with your center facing uke.
Tenkan - Turning to get off the line.
Stance - Stance should not be threatening or aggressive. It should be natural and non-threatening to prevent escalation of a dangerous, volatile situation. If confrontation is unavoidable, this same stance must appear inviting to the uke. In this way, nage will be able to "invite" an attack to a specific area (this requires great skill, but is part of the concept of "control" for which we all must constantly strive).
Hanmi - Forward foot should point straight ahead. Rear foot should be at 60 to 90 degrees to the forward foot. Feet should be spaced shoulder width apart or less. Hips and shoulders should face forward. Be alert, but natural and relaxed.
Balance - Weight should be slightly forward, on the balls of the feet and off the heels. Knees should be flexed and forward; lined up over the balls of the feet (especially in wide hanmi).
Keep the feet under the body at all times, as nage and uke. As uke, when getting up from a roll or hard-fall, it allows you to propel your body with considerable force and speed. It will allow you to react more quickly to adjust or setup for whatever kind of fall your partner takes you into.
Use the toes to anchor the body to the mat. This action also helps to keep the weight forward and off the heels.
Keep the hanmi (foot position/knee position) throughout the techniques, even at the end during the throw.
Beginning students should use a exaggerated stance; deep, low and wide, to learn the concepts of base and movement from the hips.
Advanced students should use a more relaxed, natural stance; higher, with feet closer together. This will allow the student to move and turn more freely and to utilize the full power of the hips.
Grip - Grip in taijutsu is the same as gripping a weapon. The bottom three fingers and thumb grab, with the forefinger slightly forward. The wrist should be angled slightly forward.
Hands and Arms - Hands should be up and in ready/guard position and it should, at the same time, be relaxed. It should not form a threatening image to uke. As with the proper stance, this will invite grabs to "openings" which uke perceives.
Whether it's a one-hand grab or a strike, nage must use both arms to form the technique. This keeps nage's body balanced and posture erect. Using both arms helps nage to utilize the whole body in the execution of the technique.
Kokyu Extension - This is important in all techniques, although it may not seem obvious. Never extend or grab with straightened arms (locked elbows). It is weak and there is danger of breaking or hyper-extending the joints.
Execution of Techniques - Beginning students should use big, exaggerated motions to teach the mind and the body the basic, general movements of the technique. It will help students to picture the technique more clearly in their minds. It also helps reinforce the concept of extension and extending ki.
Advanced students should learn to use smaller movements which utilize the hips as the source of power. This will provide the students with more efficient use of their energies while still maintaining complete control of their uke. The time required to execute a technique becomes shorter for nage and it becomes much more difficult for uke to recover. As this is mastered, the movement will visually appear to become linear, though the blend is still there.
Awareness - Be in the present. Do not internalize to the extent of losing sight and consciousness of that is happening around you. It is necessary for successful execution of Aikido and for protecting your training partner.
Breathing - For both nage and uke, proper breathing will make control of partner, execution of technique, and extension of ki all possible.
Breathing must fill the entire lungs, not just the upper half. It must be controlled by the hara. The breath should be taken in through the nostrils and pushed out through the mouth. Breathing should be exaggerated in the beginning as with the learning of techniques; for the same reasons.
Breathing exercises are excellent training tools in the proper method of breathing.
Proper breathing will allow nage to maintain a high level of performance, physically and mentally, for an extended period.
This breathing will enable nage to control emotions and to effectively extend ki.
Breathing will enable nage to unify the body into a single entity for efficient execution of movement.
Proper breathing will allow the body to move naturally, in a relaxed state, while maintaining proper, erect posture.
It will protect the body from strikes, and will protect the body in rolls and hard-falls.
Learning when to breathe is as important as learning how to breathe.
Control - This is one of the basic principles, which applies to both nage and uke. It will mean the success or failure of the execution/application of Aikido.
Nage must control his own balance and base, as well as nage's focus, concentration, emotions and ki.
Nage must control uke's balance and base, as well as uke's focus, concentration, emotions and ki.
Control must be exercised to effectively and efficiently perform a technique. Without control, the techniques become more difficult or impossible.
Control must be maintained throughout the techniques, from the beginning to the very end. It will allow proper execution of technique, without the need for compensation with brute strength.
Without complete control, at any point during contact, nage is open for a counter by uke.
Control makes nage more flexible. Nage is able to react to different/unfavorable situations. This allows nage to begin to understand the meaning of "takemusu aiki"; where you control and execute techniques without thought. It is not just a state of mind, it is a state of being. It cannot occur if there is no control of yourself or of your uke.
Setup is the most important part of control. At the beginning of contact, whether a strike or grab, control must be obtained and maintained.
Setup is very subtle; changing uke's grip when nage is grabbed. Cause some movement to take uke out of a set position; draw or extend uke in directions different from that which his focus and base is concentrated.
Balance - There needs to be a balance in yourself as you develop. There must be both "soft" and "hard" ("yin" and "yang"). You must learn both; become both to fully understand Aikido, and more importantly, yourself. You must become both if you are to become a "balanced" person.
Hip Power/Relaxed Power - This relates to the hard and soft of Aikido. There can be proper execution of technique through effective, vigorous use of energy and ki. There can also be proper execution of technique through efficient, relaxed use of your body, energy and ki. (Think about this one) Both work, both are proper, both are powerful and both are acceptable. You must learn them equally and then mold them to fit you; in body, mind and soul. One suits the physically endowed and the young. One fits the smaller body type and the elder.
Ukemi - Proper ukemi is important for safety.
It is also important in learning techniques by allowing you to transcend the fear of falling and enabling you to focus on nage's control and execution of techniques. It will allow you to learn where opening and loss of control occur. It will also allow you to see proper execution of technique.
Execute your ukemi with the same intent and focus you use in executing your techniques as nage.
In hard-falls, attack the mat. Do not become passive and accepting, it will direct all the energy of the throw back to you instead of directing it into the mat. Learn to be proficient, but do not abuse your body.
Movement - Do not wait for uke's attack/grab. This allows uke to easily focus on a stationary target. In this position, you are at the point of his focus and his power.
Meet uke or blend; nage initiates contact. Do not wait and "react" to uke's actions, by then, it will be too late. Always meet uke at an angle advantageous to you.
Movement requires uke to divide his attention/concentration from simply attacking to tracking and catching you as well.
Movement will also cause uke to slow his attack, make him wary. This all breaks into his focus and concentration.
Move yourself to move uke. In blending and in the throw or take-down. Use the power of your movement to control uke.
Uke/Nage Relationship - There must be communication to adjust the level of training to suit the skills, attitude and present state of mind of both partners.
Take care of your partner. When bowing in to your partner and accepting your partner in training, you accept responsibility for your partner. You are accepting responsibility for your partner's safety and well being.
Learn concern and compassion, and to care for your partner.
Develop that "connection" with your partner to achieve the potential of Aikido.
Calvin Koshiyama, October 9th, 2001, Aikido North