Re: Aiki Ken and Ken justu
I have had a couple of thoughts about why aikiken exists in the brief time I have been studying koryu swordwork and I thought I might throw them out there.
First, i think the cultural significance of the sword to Ueshiba and his early students cannot be overstated. Handling bokken and treating them as though they were live blades lent a seriousness and weight to the training, it emphasized it as a matter of life or death.
Many people say that "Aikido is based on the sword" or "Aikido is based on the movements of the sword" or something like that, as though this is literally true, that all of our techniques were at one time techniques of some sword school. Well we have established that Ueshiba had broad sword knowledge but the depth of that knowledge is questionable. I think the deal is that Aikido is based on the spirit of the sword. It is not pugilism, it is not wrestling. In a sword fight, you don't allow yourself to get cut so you can get into a more advantageous position, and you don't plan a long string of feints and blocks angling towards a "checkmate" win. I don't think that's what O Sensei wanted us to be doing.
I am not sure how correct I am, but I have this belief that swordwork was sort of ambient culturally among the early Aikido community and so it was a visual / somatic "language" that could be used to demonstrate concepts easily, and that's why O Sensei would pick up a bokken to show something. Stuff on the order of "he attacks, but you are already over here doing this" or "this spacing leaves you in danger, but over here you are safe" or "you can control your partner's balance even if you are only touching swords."
And from there we have shihan stringing together kata out of things like this. Or pulling them directly from existing ryu as some of Saito's kata are.
But along the way, some kenjutsu is dropped or emphasized differently. For example, in my experience getting people to move their bodies through the kata is first, and good, powerful cutting is somewhere down the line. You need to view the bokken as a live blade, of course, but at the end of the day you don't need to know how to cut through armor or bone.
Again, speaking from relatively brief experience here but in aikiken, it is pretty neat when you and your partner are connected and flow through the kata as one, but my koryu training at the moment places a premium on not connecting with the opponent, not giving them your rhythm or timing, because they could trap you.
I have problems with Aikido taisabaki asserting itself in sword training, because it tends to put me way too deep. The aikiken I practice calls for entering and cutting the head or neck; the kenjutsu I practice calls for keeping range and cutting wrists.
And physically connecting through the sword? My school at my level tells you that you are dead.
A lot of this may be simply due to the way I train Aikido and the way I train sword and may be different for others. My koryu is very specific about foot position, maai, and timing; my Aikido training has required me to figure out more of this myself to see what works in different situations.