Well due to time constraints, and then not being able to get into the site yesterday, I'm about 40 posts behind. Most of this looks like so many other discussions I've seen, where no matter what anybody says the answer is "I already do that". And then when people actually meet up with someone it turns out to never be the case. I think most of the ki tests are some variant of "relax", and not keeping undue tension while doing various things, which is level 1 stuff. That's fine, but the degree to which these concepts can be developed is amazing. If you've felt it, you know it's so different that these, "yeah it pretty much sounds familiar" discussions just wouldn't happen. There is no question it's a completely different animal, not just a little bit different. All that can be done is to recommend people to go see that you think are representative of a given level of ability, then you can have a common point of reference.
The ki tests are unsurprisingly about "relax" just as you say, but seeing as the second basic principle is "relax completely" are you really surprised?
When you say "relax" is level one stuff, yeah I agree, but it's got to be the most important foundation stone to doing the other things, which you can't do if you're not relaxed. The ki test levels increase in sophistication and complexity from what you call level 1 stuff. I think it's likely you just haven't seen them or are perhaps dismissing them because the approach to teaching is different that what you are familiar with, even though the substance of the skill may well be the same or very similar. Unfortunately I don't think there's any way to really determine that for certain.
But, to Mike H., apart from recommending teachers that have a high level of this skill for others to go check out (have you done that? If so I may have skimmed past it) this is a discussion forum, so those who hold out hope that more can be conveyed in writing can keep struggling.
I don't count myself in that group, and due to time constraints and other factors I'm seriously hitting the "don't really care" threshold. But since you titled the thread with that hope, how does one take things to advanced levels, in your view? What specific exercises do you recommend as how-to's to develop a high level of this skill? I know what sorts of exercises Rob and Mike recommend, I know what some other practitioners do. I've never seen anyone who knows this stuff that doesn't have a *very* specific regimen to accomplish the body conditioning to do these things. To Chris, saying "it's natural" presupposes that you are talking about the same "it", so the same question. How specifically does one go from the level 1 stuff of relaxation to the storied Ueshiba levels of seemingly effortless expression of power?
I titled the thread the how to thread purely in the hopes of avoiding the does it exist? and is it important? questions, in other words in the hope that the conversation would focus on matters of substance. As you say there is no way to do these things without an instructor present to give you feedback and help. Talking about it can be at best interesting, I think.
Recommending teachers? Can't help you much outside of the UK. There are quite a few ki aikido teachers in the UK, there's actually a lot of ki aikido here but it's all fractured and not under one roof as it were. The first was Ken Williams head of the Ki Federation (of which Mark is a member I think), Ken Williams is the longest serving aikido teacher in the UK. There are various smaller independent ki aikido places too. There are few mainline Ki Society dojo left in the UK as the vast majority left with Yoshigasaki a few years ago, there is also aikido yuishinkai headed by Maruyama Sensei who was formerly the President of the Ki Soc, as of 2004 our dojo became a part of aikido yuishinkai.
It's worth mentioning that I don't have a great deal of knowledge of other ki teachers than my own teacher, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend any of them, but I would say that they are probably good places to at least start looking.
Specific exercises. There are no specific ones, they change all the time depending on circumstance. Tohei style ki development is a theory really. Like all good theories it makes predictions and is testable (ki tests). If you understand the theory (and have enough skill) then you can easily develop your own exercises to train particualr deficiencies in your self and your students IMHO. I'll give you an example of one way I try to get students to feel weight underside if you like.
One of the problems of learning weight underside is that ever since you could walk you have been moving your own body weight around so developing an awareness of how weight is transferred and shifted around within your own body is difficult as it has been quite natural to move yourself for the vast majority of your life. Once you know that this is the problem then there should be a variety of creative ways you can think of for adding weight to people's movements so they can feel it. You could simply ask them to wear a heavy backpack and practice tenkan or irimi movements. If they did so they would learn to adjust what they did to make such movements more efficient, when you do that while wear ing a heavy hiking backpack you would feel that your 'one-point' has been pulled backwards to behind your hips and lower back.
More difficult than that is to learn to feel weight underside in your hands whilst performing say kotegaeshi for example. You will not be able to feel weight underside in your hands unless and until they are 'connected' to your centre or middle or hips or whichever body part you think is the most important. It took me years to learn to feel weight underside in my hands because it's all about connection to your centre (no surprise there seeing as your one-point is also your centre of gravity). The way I find easiest to teach connection and weight underside in the hands is to start with unbendable arm. For beginners, they tend to get the elbow to not move really quickly but the arm is isolated from the rest of the body so if you apply a lot of force when testing the arm often wobbles about all over the place, quickest way to fix this is to ask them to imagine that I'm not trying to bend their arm but to lift their wrist and that their wrist is attached by a pole to their foot. If their foot doesn't move their wrist shouldn't lift. Next step is to make sure that their shoulder blade isn't poking out behind them, if it is then they are over extending with their arm muscles. I could go on into serious detail but it'd take ages.
I think, like I said that you might be confusing teaching approaches for the actual substance of the skill. Tohei ki development is a theory of mind and body unification. It has various tests to help you gain feedback and determine that you are on the correct path. There is no real specific collection of exercises that are standard like you might get elsewhere, not because there are no exercises, but because you tend to make them up to fit the situation you're in and based on what the student needs most. At least, that's how I think of it. If you still want more spcific exercises then I could probably think of many, only they wouldn't necessarily be of any help to you. You might even say "yeah, I already do that". I certainly can't sit here and say put your feet shoulder width apart, move arm like this, head like this breath in when you do this bit etc. But while I'm sitting here I'm trying to apply my knowledge of ki development to what I'm doing. In this case, I'm sitting in front of a computer typing. What happens when people sit at their desk and type in my experience (if you're in an office look around you and check, others may be doing it) is that people slouch, then their chin comes forwards increasing the pressure on the neck. This can lead to neck problems apparently (I'm not medic so don't quote me), what's happening is that the angle your neck is sitting at puts a lot of pressure on the top of your neck at the base of your skull. If someone were to hit you in the head while you were sat like this it would be bad, really bad I imagine. If you instead imagine that you are pushing up from the back of your skull and roll your shoulders back so that your shoudler blades aren't sticking out (incidentally I should mention at this point that my girlfriend had neck trouble and the physio told her to do this, I helped her out by talking to her about ki development, the physio seemed to be impressed at her rate of progress). This psoture straightens your spine and straight away you find yourself 'sitting from one-point'. Once you've learned to do this part and you've also learned how to redirect force through your body and into your one-point (which from here goes to the ground) then people can push on you while you sit in a chair that has wheels on and you won't move.
You may notice that a lot of what I just said, and a lot of what my girlfriends physio told her sound similar to some of the things that Rob has written, which is one of my reasons for thinking that a good deal of the stuff he is doing is similar and has shared skills to what I do. It is not the same by any means but I'd say it's a related skill for certain.