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I started studying iaido in December. So far, training generally consists of paired kata and exercises with bokken and solo kata with shinken (real, sharp swords). Last night's class was entirely with shinken. Although I studied aiki-ken and aiki-jo (based a lot on Saito's curriculum), there was very little carry-over from my previous experience to iaido. Not being able to rely on my previous experience means it is a lot easier to approach iaido training with a fresh, open mind. As a result, I'm seeing my aikido training, and the crossover from sword to empty-hand, from a different perspective.
This gets to the difference between received wisdom -- something we learn based on others' experiences -- and earned wisdom, which our own experiences create and reinforce. Good learning requires a careful mix between the two. One needs both a teacher to demonstrate proper technique, and many thousands of repetitions of actual practice to become proficient. The interplay between received and earned wisdom happens in the constant iterations of practicing and getting corrected and then working on the corrections during practice.
With that in mind, _what_ one practices is as important as _how_ one practices. I strongly believe that there needs to be some empirical validity to one's practice, otherwise one could learn to perfectly perform techniques that don't work. This is especially true in the relationship among aikido, the sword arts, and aiki-ken.
I posted the following in response to a thread asking how aikido might have changed my life:
When I first started aikido in 1999, I read a lot about the spiritual aspects of the practice and aikido's status as a "do" or spiritual way. What I got from reading this board, Aikio Journal's web site, and books like "Budo" by O Sensei, "The Spirit of Aikido" by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and "The Magic of Conflict" by Thomas Crum was the ideal of aikido as a metaphor for conflict.
The idea of aikido presenting a third option to either fighting or running away appealed to me. I particularly liked the concept that one needs to establish a connection with an attacker in order to properly execute a technique, and that the more committed the attack and throw, the better. Conversely, if two (or more) people only tentatively engage, then true conflict resolution is very difficult.
That concept has helped me a lot. I'm 35 now, but when I was 25, I tended to be a lot more rigid in my thinking about the "right way" and "wrong way" to do things, which made personal relationships rather difficult at times. Learning to apply the idea of establishing a connection first and then being receptive to my opponent's arguments actually made it a lot easier for me to get along and stay happier. That attitude has helped me to respond to arguments with my wife, attacks from my former boss, and tantrums from my 3-year-old by saying, "I understand you're frustrated by ..." (establishing the connection)
I've been attending Weight Watchers meetings since September of 2007 -- only ever missing one weekly weigh-in. I've lost 70 pounds so far, and I'm much healthier.
What does this have to do with aikido? Two things really: (1) aikido by itself isn't necessarily a great form of exercise and (2) weight loss itself is a kind of "do" or way, much like aikido.
Point one may end up being controversial, but my experience was that, while aikido training raised my overall level of fitness and flexibility, it did nothing to help me loose weight. Part of the reason is that classes typically consist of periods of somewhat intense exercise followed by periods of rest that are long enough for me to completely catch my breath. One's level of effort is not sustained. Additionally, over time, we get better and more efficient in our movements so that doing the work takes a lot less effort.
The end result for me was better overall fitness, but not a whole bunch of calories burned during aikido practice. In almost a decade of practice, I consistently gained weight or stayed the same.
In some ways I had it backwards. A lot of people start eating better and then figure out they need to exercise. I was exercising, but figured out that I need to eat better. That's where point 2 becomes important. I've had the success I've had so far because I'm treating my weight loss (and eventual maintenance) as a lifestyle change. It is sort of a "weight loss-do." There's no way I can make long-lastin