Aikido is as Simple as Throwing and Catching a Ball
Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei (Boulder Aikikai) instructed at the third annual Summer Lights Seminar in Nashville, TN from May 31 through June 2. Much of Ikeda Sensei's teachings were demonstrated through metaphors of catching and throwing a baseball. Whether a baseball or our partner's energy, in order to make a successful catch, one must have proper timing, accepting the incoming motion into his own motion, not too early and not too late, but at just the right moment. However, unlike with an incoming ball, in Aikido, one can choose the point at which he catches his partner's motion by positioning himself appropriately. Ikeda Sensei urged everyone present to study the differences between accepting katate dori at waist level and accepting it lower down. Through positioning and timing, a partner's balance can be taken so that they she will be "light" when being thrown.
Throughout the seminar, Ikeda Sensei's lessons were aimed at accepting the partner's energy into one's own spiral and then returning that energy in a spiral. In the same manner in which a ball cannot be thrown very readily by holding it in front of oneself and pushing it forward, Ikeda Sensei emphasized that aikidoka must wind up, pivot the hips back, turn the hips back forward, and allow the arm to naturally follow the hip motion. In other words, move your partner as you move. Although a simple concept, many aikidoka attempt to throw their partner in two-steps and therefore lose the potential power of using the whole body's energy in the technique.
A third key point, emphasized throughout the seminar, dealt with cutting with the kissaki of the sword, not with the handle. Whether swinging a baseball bat, wielding a sword or practicing ikkyo, the intention of the follow through all the way up through the tip carries the power necessary to impart energy to the source of incoming motion. Stopping one's flow of energy at her hand stifles the power in the same way as the lack of a follow-through with a bat can only lead to a "bunt."
Although these lessons of catching, throwing and following through with intention seem simple, Ikeda Sensei cautioned against being dissatisfied with one's lack of grace at the outset of one's training. All smooth beautiful sculptures necessarily had to originate from long, hard work on a roughly hewed block. Likewise, Ikeda Sensei taught that aikidoka must go through the process of beginning by roughly cutting movements as if with a chisel, progress to finer tools, finish with sandpaper, and finally polish their moves to create waza such as Osensei demonstrated. One cannot start with a block and go directly to the final smooth beautiful form unless all of the large chunks of rock are removed first. Great masters of art see the beautiful statue within the block and must simply reveal it through hard work. We are very fortunate to have masters such as Ikeda Sensei who can see the beautiful smooth form within each of us and who have the patience to remove the unnecessary bits of material to help aikidoka to resemble the smoothed works of art hidden within.