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So after trying to teach atemi, I took a bunch of poor students at my dojo and gave them a class on atemi. I've got such a 'soft and gentle' Aikido reputation that one of our sandans actually scoffed when he heard that I'd taught a class on atemi. "THAT I'd like to see," he said.
At the end of the class I usually ask for questions. Xavier asked, "What are the points to concenrate on when doing atemi." It was a nice question because it let me sum up the points I was trying to make in the class:
Atemi should not interrupt the flow uke's movement
Atemi should be used as a check of positioning and stance
Effective atemi should not rely on the 'respect atemi' agreement between partners. Truly effective atemi commands respect
Effective atemi should not rely on hurting uke. If you can not influence your partner without hurting them then your positioning, stance, timing, or intent need work
These are easy things to say, difficult things to demonstrate, and nigh-on impossible to teach, I think.