Chris Hein wrote:
I would say just the opposite Mark, in fact I would say that the empty hand practice is not really empty hand practice, but in fact weapons technique.
In Aikido you really have no choice but to train weapons from the beginning, as weapons fighting is the only kind addressed in Aikido's traditional technical syllabus.
I agree with all of this. It most definitely does improve the body movement. Moving the arms but not the shoulders means moving from the centre, ie the pelvis. Tension in the arms is felt in the belly rather than the shoulders. Using your empty hands as if they were connected by the handle of a sword promotes the movement from your centre. Without this feeling the arms move independently and the tension is then felt in the shoulders. Try it, it's almost magical.