Michael Gallagher wrote:
Who determines what is an "objective" standard? By what criteria? If the instructors in question have met their organizations requirements for being an instructor, then what else is required?
Sounds like I'm fudging, but I think it can be a trick question: If I say "Yes" and then you set a standard almost nobody can reach, what does that prove?
I understand your point Michael and it's one that concerns many when asking themselves serious questions on excellence.
Personally I think the Aiki concept is subject to interpretation to a point. As such I don't think any monolithic hard and fast rule will apply to all people and all situations. There are a lot of different expressions of Aiki and Aikido out there and not many people (if any) are in a position to state categorically what is wrong or right (I am surely not in that list).
When it comes down to martial spontaneity I truly believe that you are your best rule setter since you will know your strengths and weaknesses the best if your are being honest with yourself. As such it's not so much about trying to achieve some amorphous, God-like powers of martial interpersonal coordination, but instead, a string of identifiable, obtainable, achievable short-term goals that goes on until you find your own highest manifestation of spontaneous Aiki. As a white belt a Shodan may appear to be a God, not so much so when you are Ikkyu about to test for Shodan.
Relating to my last post, I see it as a step by step process. Evaluate yourself and your practice with a clear, humble mind to see yourself and your training as it exists today, then imagine the end goal (in your own definition) of truly spontaneous and applied aiki (whether it be an idealised image of Ueshiba M., water flowing down a mountain or whatever you need), and then set a chain of small, achievable step by step goals to get you there. In time these goals may change as you get a better, clearer understanding of yourself and the Aiki concept as you walk the honest, humble path towards achieving a level of spontaneous Aiki. There will come a point where you may find revelations that make you feel like a beginner all over again, but it is part of the evolutionary process. In the end I think each person's manifestation of Aiki at their own highest level is, like Aiki waza, flavoured by their personality, character, mindset, spirit etc. etc. and as such is a very personal thing, being the best manifestation for you. Sort of like - why is a bubble round?
Even though the above subjectivity exists however, there is objectivity since the goal is no longer defined by a particular testing syllabus, a cooperative uke who makes you look good or any sort of assistance that exists outside yourself and your embodiment of Aiki. You no longer need the political belt systems to show your proficiency in Aiki because you now embody the concept and it becomes a way of expression for you, like speaking or walking. In fact, relying on the political grading syllabi as your only means of measuring an understanding of the art reminds me of the old Gracie saying: "The belt only covers 2 inches of your a$$, the rest you have to back up with skill." The syllabus is merely a guide, but when we begin to understand the thing properly it's value as "a guide" and not "the dogma" may be truly seen. So it depends on what you want to see as real. Regardless of what belt you wear you will know inside how much you truly understand and how far you may be from achieving true excellence. Remember a belt only shows that you have passed a test for a set requirement of movements, that is all, it does not necessarily denote skill in spontaneously applying these concepts or movements.
Michael Gallagher wrote:
I don't know if you're right or wrong. The key question is if Aiki happens only at the outset of a situation, or if the opportunity can come and go at any point. My personal feeling leans towards the latter, based mainly on the experience of a pushing hands practice in Tai Chi where my partner put himself in nikkyo and I took advantage of it. If I hadn't, I would have been in trouble in the next second -- he was probably going for his own trap. I knew that hand position from Aikido -- it didn't come from anywhere else. So was it Aiki, or wasn't it?
Actually, I never said "Aiki happens only at the outset of a situation"
I said that the opportunity to apply it effectively is lost when one loses the initiative among other things. There are at least 3 levels of Sen (initiative) in Japanese Budo - Sensen no Sen, Sen and Go no Sen.
As far as your Tai Chi push hands experience goes, if it truly felt like Aiki to you then it probably was. Didn't the "old man" say that anything that is forced is not Aikido? Sounds like your partner walked into that technique. Sounds like Aiki to me at a basic level. But it does not necessarily mean that this can be repeated had your partner been seriously attacking (not doing push hands to give you an initial comfortable touch point of reference), resisting (negating every movement you make) and counter attacking with intent. What David and I are getting at I believe is that many of us stop at the level of achieving Aiki in a very basic, cooperative setting (a mediocre level???) and think that we have reached the peak of the mountain so to speak (the level of excellence). Sometimes when at what we think is the "peak" it may be good to see if one can reach up and touch the moon itself. Just in case.