Well here are my personal thoughts about my aikido and the value to having a path. Everything I think seems to relate very well to everything Gleason sensei has taught me. Which is why I believe he was also so interested in this approach. I asked him to come with me because I was concerned that otherwise I would have to figure out on my own how to take things to the next level in terms of what aikido is and what is non-aikido.
As I understand it, the first degree blackbelt in aikido represents a concept called aratama (fire energy). This basically means having an undefeatable spirit. (You are also supposed to know basic waza from a technical perspective to defeat "external strength" in the symbolic attacks and be able to take ukemi from all basic waza.) The term "undefeatable" doesn't means you can beat anyone up (although I'm starting to redefine that in my mind these days) it means that if you get thrown to the ground 100 times you get up 100 times and are ready to do some more.
Taking ukemi from people who can throw you in random ways enough encourages physical "listening skills". This was super valuable because it became important to me to start really listening with my body. I felt people's emotions through that contact. I learned that my emotions were obviously being felt by my partner when I was uke. I discovered that if I were working out with a nage having who was having a bad day that I could just concentrate my joy as uke and within 3 throws or so the nage would be laughing. I could even do it to big shot senseis (any who actually listen with their bodies) and I could do it 100% of the time. I though wow I am a master!
Then I discovered that such communication (opening up the body and listening) when both people were doing it, made the communication bi-directional. (It's just that joy has a way of winning out over fear/insecurity or maybe just more plainly termed "lack of joy"). This was a problem for me as I was teaching everyone how to do this on both sides. I realized that I had to face myself. I could no longer be outwardly civil to someone and inwardly not like them - because they would feel it. I realized this and therefore I realized "I have to change". The intimacy made me face the differences between being civil and being respectful, between apologizing and being sorry, and between thanking someone and being grateful.
Luckily, having such "physical confidence" that I would always get up again, gave me the confidence to make the logical leap to the emotional level where I became willing to take emotional chances. I knew I would be able to pick myself up again. It was a tremendously valuable source of confidence to help me continue to make positive personal changes.
To me that is the shodan level of aikido and aikido's initial "special" value.
For nidan the lesson was nigitama (water energy). Basically this is getting very smooth transitions from technique to technique which just required a depth of understanding in applying the techniques. (The even levels of blackbelts seem to represent better usage of the power skills developed on the previous odd number ranks.) At nidan I was really trying to apply that kind of smoothness to my life in general. I also decided that I needed to change my eating habits so I wouldn't be having such sugar highs and lows (to keep things smoother).
For sandan the lesson was sakitama (growth energy). This is supposed to be the whole mind-body unification concept. (In sandan level we are just happy if you can get your mind and body doing the same thing as opposed to yondan level where they can be used separately to achieve an overall goal.) I pretty much blew it on that one. I had learned to hide my weaknesses in posture and stance so well in the nidan stage that I just then took advantage of knowing how to mess up other people's structural weaknesses in their attacks, and used my mental focus to add power to my external muscle movement to take further advantage of those situations. The only thing I really developed any internal power on at that rank was that I could remove all of the slack out of my forearm from elbow to the back of my hand. I had the idea that I needed to learn how to remove more slack but I thought I was going to do that learning the Alexander Method a bit in terms of extending and relaxing but not enough for me to understand how to really use mental intention and move within myself. I did decide that I had to start regulating my sleeping more. That was helpful.
For yondan the lesson was kushitama (perfect wisdom). While this is my current ranking, I would not claim perfect wisdom as one of my characteristics just yet! Here is where I started learning to really use my mind and body separately to achieve an overall goal. And I'm learning by training primarily with Dan these days. (Although I will ALWAYS look to Gleason sensei for aikido especially now that I think I will have a chance to one day really understand the hard work he put into studying the kotodama.) I also started stretching using Forrest yoga, Tai massage, active isolated stretching, and fasting. I got off of all pharma products. I started practicing non-violent communication. I learned to look for people’s feelings and in so doing become able to bypass my ego stuff and relate directly to people on my feeling level. (Still working on that one.)
I still have a long way to go. The interesting problem I have is that I am learning much more efficient ways of using my mind and body to the absurd degree that I am confident that I will be able to jump most of my students (and all new students) straight to yondan/godan aikido ability within 5 years or so (maybe faster as I have some really helpful insights in how to shorten the learning curve more using some stretching). The question is, am I cheating them out of the growth experiences I went through on my MUCH LONGER road to this skill level?
I think I won't, but I also think I need to get to the level of using these skills in ground fighting so people can further have to opportunity to work out their deeply rooted emotional insecurities in a physical way – and encourage that over just building bravado. This direction seems to take me out of "aikido proper" as it is taught today. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but I'm concerned non-the-less.
There is a value to having aikido as a path. I don't want to lose any value while I try to improve things for the next generation.