(This is long - please skip if uninteresting.)
When I speak of spontaneity, I am speaking of a reconciliation of form and non-form. I am not at all advocating a rejection of form or of forms training. Therefore, when I suggest that our generation's greatest agenda should be the cultivation of the capacity to perform Aiki spontaneously and the development of viable means by which we can bring others to such states of body/mind, again, I am not suggesting that we do away with forms and/or with forms training.
Shu, Ha, Ri is a traditional model of such a reconciliation. If we would like, we can of course use such a model to develop such a capacity and/or to discover various means to accomplish such desired-for ends. However, many of us will have to uncover this traditional model for ourselves because many of us have either not heard of it or have only heard of it in passing via some sort of descriptive discourse. In other words, for many of us, this traditional model is either unknown or at most only known intellectually. As a result, traditional or not, such a model is going to have to be reworked and/or reinterpreted as it is ultimately going to have to address a lot of personal discovery on the part of the practitioner that is attempting to use it. For example, one of my past teachers was one of the few Shihan that have actually bothered to write about Shu-Ha-Ri. Meaning, he is one of the few students of Osensei that actually related some of his training and his teaching to Shu-Ha-Ri in some sort of overt manner. However, was our training any different from other dojo that did not at all make mention of this traditional model? No -- not in my opinion. Were we by our system of transmission and practice any closer to reconciling form and non-form than any other dojo that never made mention of Ri? No -- not in my opinion. I am not mentioning this here to comment upon the capacity of various aikidoka to act spontaneously and thereby to comment upon whether they were excellent or not in the art. I am mentioning this to suggest that our generation is going to have to get imaginative and creative, even when we look to traditional resources (which we of course should attempt), because this kind of material is not readily available in the same what that technical issues are today.
Some of the things we are going to have to get imaginative and creative over are going to require that we suspend our hardcore beliefs in some of the issues that are needed to support a form for form's sake discourse. For example, there is the very common idea that spontaneity training is some sort of chaotic situation -- one that is not only not conducive to the acquiring of details but actually counter-productive toward such acquiring. While I imagine that if one were to mistake a reconciliation of form and non-form to mean "do whatever comes natural and/or at first impulse," then such a thing might prove to be true. However, since a reconciliation of form and non-form rests on the cultivation of non-attachment, which in itself would problematize habits and impulses in the very same way that it would incorrect form, any spontaneous training that is done in synch with forms training is going to always positively reflect back on that forms training. Under such conditions, when your techniques keep failing and/or being countered under spontaneous conditions, your first impulse is not necessarily to do whatever comes "naturally." Rather, it is to figure out what you are doing wrong technically. That is to say, under such conditions, one is actually more prompted than ever to return to the technical chalkboard of form. The drive that accompanies this type of interest in form, in my opinion, dwarfs the drive that normally accompanies our interest in forms (e.g. testing requirements, social status, etc.). This is quite contrary to our common sense understanding of how spontaneous training relates to form and detail.
In addition, this new drive in relation to forms training, because it acts as a practical outlet, comes to inspire and/or determine our capacity for understanding forms at a much deeper level. Things like contradictions or inconsistencies in our arsenal and/or tactical theory become more apparent (or even just apparent for the first time) through spontaneous training. (I mention inconsistency here because I think a shallow understanding of one's own art and/or one's own theories regarding that art is marked often marked by inconsistency. A depth of understanding is marked by a consistency of thought and action.) Actually, as a way of providing examples, I would like to speak about a few of these things that I have come to discover. (By "discover," I do not mean, "invent." I simply mean, "to realize for oneself.") Since I have been advocating the use of video in these forums, I will limit myself to addressing only those things I have accompanying video for.
Here are some things I have experienced that, because of the way I experienced them, I feel are relative to this discussion -- to the points made by Larry. These things may reflect upon your own training or practice, however that is not my intention with mentioning them here. Here, they are mentioned so as to demonstrate how spontaneous training can deepen one's understanding of forms by inspiring consistency in one's tactical assumptions and/or theories.
- Suwari Waza Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote: We all know what Shomenuchi is. We all know what a real strike is. We all know what Aiki is -- or at least we can say, we all know Aiki is not a clashing of energies. However, throughout my own training and in a lot of training I have witnessed, these facts are often warped and twisted into a falsehood that simultaneously supports and hides an abundance of inconsistency. For example, I have been taught, practiced, and witnessed Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote as a meeting of Uke's downward energy at the elbow with Nage's upward energy. Yet, this is a clash and thus a violation of Aiki. I have been taught, practiced, and witnessed Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote as Nage making contact with Uke at his/her elbow and wrist. Yet, if Uke is actually striking with Shomenuchi, the wrist cannot be made contact with until the strike is already coming down -- making this also a clash and a violation of Aiki. Alternatively, if Uke is not striking but simply sticking their hand out, and/or up and out, then this is not a strike and/or Shomenuchi and again I am not demonstrating Aiki in relation to the downward strike prescribed by the techniques idealized architecture. And I have been taught, practiced, and witnessed Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote as Nage striking at Uke's face first, Uke then responding with the opening for Ikkyo, and then Nage completing the technique as described. Yet, in doing this, while I may have completed the ending of the technique, I certainly robbed myself of the opportunity to practice Aiki against the downward strike. In all of these variations, which I imagine we have all seen and/or even practiced, we are either inconsistent with what we know as a real strike, or we are inconsistent with what we know as Aiki, or we are inconsistent with what we claim one can do with Aiki regarding the downward strike of Shomenuchi.
If one stays within forms training, none of this is very problematic. There are ample distractions along the way to veer us off course from discovering these very easy to see inconsistencies. For example, there is the usual case that we were shown "this" way by a "great teacher" -- a "student of the founder" -- a "person who's been practicing 40 years," etc. If we are doing the "strike-first" method of this technique, we can be distracted by either a sense of aggressiveness and/or the need to get more aggressive. If we are doing the no-striking version, we can preoccupy ourselves with a sense of being smooth, gentle, fluid and of blending. If a clash gets too great, we can preoccupy ourselves with getting stronger. My point is that a culture of mediocrity that is basing itself upon a form for form's sake discourse is going to have a lot of things that an agent can use to not see the inconsistencies of his/her own position and thus its (the culture's) own right to authority (i.e. to determine reality). Spontaneous training environments aimed at reconciling form and non-form are one way out of such a quagmire of inconsistent thought and action.
When you try these variations on Shomenuchi Ikkyo inside a spontaneous environment, you start to notice something, long before you even realize these plain to see inconsistencies. You start to notice that you can never pull off Ikkyo -- the very form you have likely practiced the most. Your technique is subverted, countered, or even ignored, or worse, you cannot even access the beginning of the form spontaneously. Here is where some folks, those that bother to train under such conditions, say, "Man, Aikido sucks. I need to either train in another art or I need to bring in some other stuff that actually works." I do not want to be hard on these folks because they are really up against an entire culture. I mean, what else can one really say when you got a whole fallacy of authority, notions of aggressiveness, blending, fluidity, strength, etc., telling you these variations should work? Perhaps, at the beginning, you can tell yourself that you are just not in line enough with the given authority, or you just aren't blending enough, or you aren't fluid enough, or you are not strong enough, etc. However, if you keep up this training, and you do not fall prey to the egocentric mistake of universalizing your own subjective experience, sooner or later, you are going to stumble across the awareness necessary to see that part of the problem is how inconsistent these variations are with the art's ultimate positions (which do indeed make sense).
You are going to see that there is only one way to employ Aiki in the technique of Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote: You must enter (yang) when the strike is going up (yin) -- making contact at the elbow region (since this is the only point of contact on the arm relative to this position and conducive to the rest of the technique). When Yang and Yin are matched, energy is harmonized, and Aiki is manifested. Once you start practicing this you start to realize how freaking difficult it is to do. Why? Because you realize it is only partly an architectural matter. You realize that a huge part of it has to do with both contact-sensitivity and non-contact-sensitivity. More than that, as for non-contact-sensitivity, you start realizing that you are dealing with human sensory skills that though perfectly natural are simply not natural to you and/or to nearly anyone else you know. You also start to see how there are 10,000 things in you and around you that get in the way of you cultivating this perception/sensitivity and thus work to having you fail at this technique. However, you keep going. You keep going, even passed your likely suspicions that all these other methods you tried to learn before were partly supported by tradition but also partly supported by the fact that this other way is so damn difficult to learn. You keep going, and next thing you know, the technique is coming out left and right under any spontaneous conditions that present themselves relative to its architecture. In this way, spontaneous training and forms relate to each other. However, they not only reflect upon each other. Spontaneous training brings clarity to forms that often cannot be brought about in any other way.
- Tachi Waza Yokomenuchi Irimi Nage Omote/Tenkan: Again, we all know what Yokomenuchi is. We all know what a real strike is. We all know what Aiki is -- or at least we can say, we all know Aiki is not a clashing of energies. However, throughout my own training and in a lot of training I have witnessed, these facts are often warped and twisted into a falsehood that simultaneously supports and hides an abundance of inconsistency. For example, I have been taught, practiced, and witnessed Yokomenuchi Irimi Nage as a meeting of Uke's inward energy at the forearm with Nage's outward energy (whether this be at a place of zero-pressure or at a place of maximum-pressure). For a system that in many places claims not to block and/or to allow energy to continue upon its intended path of action -- boom! -- all of sudden, you got this thing. No matter how you look at this, it is a clash and thus a violation of Aiki. I have been taught, practiced, and witnessed Yokomenuchi Irimi Nage as Nage entering behind Uke and then pulling him/her into Kuzushi with the tenkan. Yet, if Uke is actually striking he or she has enough inertia on their body that such a step into tenkan by Nage is actually a clash of reverse energies. Again, this is a violation of Aiki. And I have been taught, practiced, and witnessed Yokomenuchi Irimi Nage as after generating Kuzushi, Nage should be looking in the opposite direction of Uke prior to the final throw. Again, this is another clash of opposite energies, not to mention that it clearly flies in the face of the most basic rules of tenkan-ashi (i.e. you should be looking in the same direction as Uke).
So here you go again, armed with these versions you step into some spontaneous training conditions. Again, they fail, and again you are left with the choices of faulting the art, yourself, or your understanding of the art. You opt for the third option. You start noticing that you are indeed clashing with your opponent at the initial te-sabaki -- that combatants do not leave their hand up there for you to parry it; that if you stop their hand like that they just hit you with the other one real fast or transition to some other strike from some other part of their body. If you go against bigger people, you notice that you are not strong enough to stop any of their strikes in that way. You reflect back on your experience in forms and you realize that a huge part of your "success" had to do with Uke not really trying to strike you -- but rather with having them meet your "block" in a blending-like fashion. At this point you realize not only are you being inconsistent with Aiki you are also being inconsistent in your claim to practice the technique against a strike. So you keep going, back to the spontaneous training conditions. Maybe you have figured out how to address a inward-angled strike with Aiki now, or maybe you are just trying to work Irimi Nage from any time you are actually able to get behind Uke. You try the Kuzushi from the tenkan -- geesh! -- the resistance to your maneuver is amazingly different from what you experienced in your forms training. At this point, you are likely to suspect that something artificial, like the Yokomenuchi substitute, was silently providing much of the ease you were used to feeling in this particular Angle of Disturbance. You go back to forms training and sure enough, you notice that your Uke often stops him/herself in attempt to prepare themselves for the Kuzushi. As a result, you realize you are not actually pulling them (clashing) in forms training the way you are in spontaneous training (where Uke has no idea what you are trying nor any agreement to attempt to figure out what you are trying). The pull or clash is not present in forms training not because you are blending better there but because Uke has no attacking inertia (i.e. there is really no energy here to have to blend with). Now, let us say you either figure out how to generate Kuzushi via tenkan without clashing with Uke's attacking inertia and/or without requiring them to actually have no attacking inertia, or let us say you are just strong enough to pull Uke into the Angle of Disturbance with the strength of your grip and/or your arms. Now -- Uke is staring right at you. Only they aren't there "waiting to get up so you can do the throw." Nor are they just running forward around you so that they can go flying under your arm like it is some sort of an electric fence. No, they, like any other time someone is looking right at you and is that close and is trying to gain victory over you, are striking right at you ready to keep the fight going, ready to take advantage of this latest clash. None of this changes under spontaneous conditions until you learn how to be consistent with your own theory and practice of Aiki. None of these things change in regards to this technique until you learn how to go from the inside to the outside of inward-downward-diagonal strike without stopping it (how to not clash and employ Aiki). None of these things change until you learn how to tenkan so as to push Uke into Kuzushi and not tenkan so as to pull against their attacking inertia (how to not clash and employ Aiki). None of these things change until you consistently follow the most elementary rules of tenkan-ashi and turn your hips that extra 180 degrees so that you are again facing the same direction as Uke prior to the throw (how to not clash and employ Aiki). When you get all this, low and behold, the next thing you know, the technique is coming out left and right under any spontaneous conditions that present themselves relative to its architecture. Just like in the previous example, in this way, spontaneous training and forms relate to each other. However, they not only reflect upon each other. Spontaneous training brings clarity to forms that often cannot be brought about in any other way.
A call for a reconciliation of form and non-form is not advocating a rejection of form. Rather, as such a thing relates to form, it is advocating even deeper understandings of all things technical -- such that an overall consistency regarding one's own tactical theories can be generated.