Shortcuts to aikido mastery

There aren’t any!

Mastery follows from dedicated practice over a long period of time, the foundations of that practice including posture, body movement and basic technique. For the vast majority of us it is impossible to begin our aikido training by trying to emulate masters demonstrating advanced technique. Often this high level aikido is beyond basic form and seems completely effortless, but it is possible only after basic principles have been fully assimilated and basic forms have been mastered which together take years of disciplined practice.
A good comparison is golf: It is completely unreasonable to expect a novice golfer to be able to perform like a successful professional teeing off. What might seem like a simple swinging action to a layman is in fact a movement that the professional has rehearsed innumerable times, refined and further refined over many years until it is almost perfect, and almost certainly aided by advice given by experienced golf instructors. A novice would have no problem with performing a swing with a driver – it’s simply a matter of swiping at the golf ball with the club – but the resulting shot would almost certainly be woefully inferior the professional’s. Similarly iriminage, one of the most important aikido techniques, performed by an aikido shihan is entirely different from the same technique performed by a kyu grade even though the gross shape of both actions may look quite similar.

You have to be a beginner before you can become a master. And a beginner must do beginners’ stuff, which means practising keeping a good posture, moving at the right time and to the right place, keeping centred, keeping relaxed, extending ki and so on. All of these basic elements require repetition after repetition after repetition. They emerge as a direct result from practising basic movements and basic aikido techniques, particularly iriminage, shihonage and ikkyo, and it is only after the underlying principles become unified and instinctive that these aikido techniques reach their optimum effectiveness.
Golf has the advantage that its goal, of getting the golf ball into the hole, is a tangible target that can be achieved without ambiguity, whereas the degree of success of an aikido technique is much more difficult to assess. For instance, your practice partner could be deliberately and inappropriately obstructing you so that the technique appears to be ineffectual when in fact you are performing it well, or your practice partner could be too cooperative making the technique appear to be effective when it is not. Both of these possibilities makes judgement of the effectiveness of the technique subjective rather than objective. So how can we be sure that what we are doing is really effective? I think that the answer is that we can’t be absolutely certain, but if we are thoroughly schooled in basic, traditional practice then we are much more likely to be on the right track and we can have confidence that what we are doing makes good sense.

In June 2010 at Cardiff, where he conducted a weekend course attended by about 800 aikido students and teachers, the Doshu, Ueshiba Moriteru, emphasised the importance of correct body movement combined with effective kokyu. He showed that the basic movements of tenkan, irimi and irimi-tenkan form the basis of all of the major techniques. He demonstrated how these basic movements are applied to iriminage, shihonage and ikkyo and that they are almost exactly the same for a range of different attacks. His demonstrations contained all of the essential principles required for good aikido and provided a clear example for regular practice. In my opinion his mastery of aikido derives from constant practice of basics, and his example is a clear guide as to how the rest of us should proceed in our aikido training.