My sensei from Japan is not very form driven. He has a way and a form he uses. He teaches that but when you are trying to copy him, he will help you if he sees you are doing it incorrectly but in the end, he will let you do it your way, right or wrong. He "shows you" and the rest is up to you. I have seen many of his students from Japan and they all look different to me. They all pick up varying things. You can see the forms and shapes that were taught but each one interprets with his or her body a different way. His older students look different form him while the younger tend to look more like him. I try to do what he does all the time but I am learning and I understand that I have to discover the movements and principles he is using. I have picked up a few new things that I am anxious to show him. Under his teaching, I feel a great freedom. Here at home, I am not afraid to learn different or new things from other teachers because I know my teacher will not censure me for it but will see how I have incorporated that into what I am doing. He is the boss and I am the student but he gives freedom in that he shows one way but he lets you work with it too. If you go wrong with it, he will tell you but that's your responsibility. That's how I understand his way.
Here are some phrases from an interview my Sensei did that appeared in a magazine published by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.
Martial arts (Budo) cannot be taught.
"Budo cannot be learned from other people. It has to be exercised by oneself." (Quoting O Sensei)
Each Aikido teacher has his own idea and way of practicing and teaching. I think it is because the founder did not really teach as if there were only one mold or pattern. Therefore, I think each individual style has developed out of his teachings.
For example, when I tell students how to take people down without using force, I demonstrate this to help people understand the sense of it. Then, I let people try it. Then, from that, learners take it from there, sensing what it feels like. After that, if they are willing to be stronger, I tell them to do it by themselves.
Master Kisshomaru, Osensei's son, was like that also. He was really a tough teacher. Especially in terms of judging students, his perception and discernment of people's integrity was very strong. Although I don't mean he was a cold person. And above all, he acknowledged teachers who had a strong individual style. That is wonderful. It is hard to acknowledge someone who is doing a different Aikido from one's own. In order to do that, it requires extreme generosity as a human being.
I was not a full-time disciple of Osensei and I had a job during that time. So, I could not spend much time with him. Therefore I had to train myself and practice it. There must be many ways to do it, for example using sword and jo (staff).
If you really establish your individual style, you should practice it alone. Practicing is like that fundamentally, isn't it? If you are young, you should practice to your physical limits. While practicing, you discover your own thoughts and world view. If you keep doing that, your experience will bring you something to tell others. You train yourself. If you train yourself, do it alone. That is my ideal in my practice and words to you.
Interviewer: An editor from "Aikido Tankyu" magazine
Interviewee: Hiroshi Kato
(Chairman of Suginami Aikikai, Eighth Dan)