While starting to write my follow-up post here (the second promised reply), I came across this relevant article over at AikidoJournal.com. I am opting to post a link to that article here, and my own (forum) reply (pasted below), because I feel it is relevant to this discussion. In particular, for me, it raises the issue of how form and non-form must be reconciled -- not opposed to each other -- which is something I am attempting to put into words in the promised reply on the meaning of "spontaneous training."
An interesting perspective on what has been said in the article and my reply can be achieved if one takes the time to look at how both the author and myself actually practice within the spontaneous training environments we are attempting to generate. Both of our web sites have video of such training. I came across the author's video because I was inspired to learn more about him due to the polite manners and the kindness he offered at the end of our short thread.
You can see the author's (of the article) video at http://www.roleystoneaiki.com
and clicking on the "video" link on the left side of the homepage.
Our own videos regarding such training can be found here:
I do not want to hold up the author's video (nor my own) as great pieces of "proof" to this discussion -- as I am sure they were not made for the sole purposes of addressing these issues here. Undoubtedly, for both the author and myself, it should be noted that more pointed videos could have been made if one really wanted to address this topic more directly. So please allow for some distance or leeway concerning relevance. Nevertheless, in such video, I think the viewer is inspired to reflect upon some of the differences that arise. Though some of what we say may sound very much alike, I would suggest that it is the small differences between what we saying that is supporting the large differences between what we are doing. I do not here want to necessarily comment on what those differences may be and/or even to comment upon the quality of those differences. However, I think it is important to note how one's conceptualization of both form and non-form training does come to greatly influence what one does and/or does not do in regards to both types of training.
The relationship between one's conceptual understanding and one's actual practice is very much at the heart of this discussion. Up to now, we have been satisfied with discussing the issues related to the conceptualization of "form training." We have been discussing what we think, what we do not think, what we should think, what we should not think, what we can think, and what we cannot think -- all in relation to "form." We have been doing this because these things relate exactly to what we practice and/or do not practice and this, it has been said, plays a role in the culture of mediocrity we are attempting to delineate. Here however, we can see that the same conceptual issues remain relevant even when we are discussing spontaneous training. This has a lot to do with my efforts to better delineate what I mean by "spontaneous training." Moreover, this is the very reason why earlier I suggested that the ultimate "proof" or "measure" of one's capacity to cultivate spontaneity is going to be twofold. Allowing for the fact that folks are going to have different means to different ends, one's spontaneity (i.e. the reconciliation of the subject/object dichotomy or one's experience of "emptiness" -- as the author states things) can be measured by its quality to sustain non-attachment (or the absence of cultural reliance) in various environments of application (both martial and non-martial, both training and actual), and by the degree to which others (i.e. deshi) are cultivated to embody this spontaneity.
Before I complete my promised reply, I thought this "detour" would prove most fruitful toward deepening this discussion.
Here is the link to the article in question -- it is a good read even outside of this discussion:
Here, pasted below, is my posted (forum) response to the article:
(Start of my post)
Quote from article:
"What is the 'path of Aiki'? The first thing we must achieve in our training in order to comprehend Aiki is to 'link ourself to true emptiness'. If this has not been realised and experienced then true Aiki will not be manifested.
If Nage and Uke both work together and fulfil their respective roles and work in harmony, is the feeling that they experience Aiki? No. It is choreographed practice at a high level. However, Aiki will not be achieved within this training environment because it does not require us to 'link to true emptiness'. If whilst in the role of Nage you ‘tell' your partner what attack you desire and you have already selected the ‘technique' you are going to do you are not empty. You have predetermined the future and the technique will be placed on top of the movement to create an unreal pseudo reality. Aiki is not possible when you have already decided what to do before the encounter has started. Uke also knows what technique is being applied and fits his body into the pattern of movement and thereby completes the intended outcome."
In my opinion, it would go against the logic of emptiness if it were to be barred 100% from all levels of kihon waza training. I would suggest, much more could be detailed and/or considered concerning how the concept of emptiness might relate to our training overall. For example, outside of constructed realities that are choreographed purely in a training culture, there does lay a type of forms training that rest firmly within the present moment of measuring one's proximity to an ideal.
In such a case, regardless of what an Uke might do, a Nage must be "in the moment," or "empty of all expectations," in order to be able to take what Uke has provided (by accident, by chance, by a given set of circumstances, by design, etc.) and through his/her own "in the moment responses" come achieve the ideal ending. If one is attached to the form and/or to one's subjective experience of the form, a Nage's proximity to the ideal is indeed dependent upon what Uke might do. However, if a Nage can experience the form without being attached to it, such a Nage will be able to take whatever Uke has done and act to reconcile that with the ideal - such that no matter what comes in, it will lend itself to the form.
In this latter case, you have difference on Uke's part and instant and constant adaptation on Nage's part. Under such conditions, a Nage that cannot touch upon such an understanding of "emptiness" will demonstrate a different version of the ideal technique each time it is performed. Alternately, under such conditions, a Nage that can touch upon such an understanding of "emptiness" will be able to take any difference that came in and make it look, every time, as if it was always the ideal initiating action. In the end, no matter how many times the technique is performed, and no matter how many differences Uke might bring to the engagement, a Nage's technique always looks the same (always reaches the same proximity to the ideal being sought for). In many ways, this level of experiencing "emptiness" is more profound than "doing whatever against whatever" because in such a case a Nage is being asked to reconcile the unknown and the known simultaneously. (Noting here that the reconciliation of such dualism is central to the experience of emptiness.) That is to say, a Nage is being asked to face the in-the-moment actions of Uke and respond to them in such a way (not just a "do anything" kind of way) that they nevertheless add up to the same ideal objective. When a Nage is good at this, a spectator may never come to see all the micro-adjustments that must be made in the moment. The only clue that such a thing is occurring is the strange feeling that one is looking at a replay of a single (past) rep repeatedly.
On the other side of the issue: I would suggest we should probably also note that it is one thing to work within a fully choreographed universe, one thing to not know what attack may be coming in and/or not predetermining what response we may apply (neither ultimately or along the way), and another thing to train under truly spontaneous conditions -- where the unknown remains dynamic throughout the engagement. For example, many forms of so-called spontaneous training may not possess the initial or predetermined constructs of a beginning (e.g. Katate-dori) and an ending (e.g. Ikkyo), but this is not to say that one is not operating within a prescribed culture nevertheless -- where one is still facing the expected and not the unknown.
In particular, often what remains is a cultured sense of timing and of space. Potently, these things often function at a subconscious level. This makes it extremely difficult to reconcile our attachment to such things. Under such conditions, an Uke may enter with whatever, but he or she often does so with the predetermined intent to fall at a certain time and along a certain path. There are a few big clues that this is going on, and so we should always have a keen eye toward such things if we truly want to create spontaneous training environments: FIRST, we should note anytime our Uke demonstrates a rhythm or a pattern; SECOND, we should note anytime our Uke enters Kuzushi, falls, or flips, when we have not even done anything to physically inspire such a response; And, THIRD, we should always be able to see the science behind every one of Uke's bodily responses. If there is no science capable of explaining our physical geometries and/or their related effects, or if Uke is violating scientific principles in order to (physically) provide the cultural expectation, one is not dealing with the true "unknown." One is still in the realm of delusion, attachment, and cultural dependency - regardless of the fact that Katate-dori or Ikkyo was not predetermined.
(End of my post)
Okay -- that is it for now. I am still working on that promised post. However, please feel free to continue in regards to new issues and/or in regards to what was just discussed above. Hope to be done with that post soon.