Okay loosen your belt. I'm feelin' chatty again...
Actually I think this sort of discussion always occurs around things that involve some sort of paradigm shift. In part this happens, at least IMHO, because of a different of vocabulary and context. Belief is a tricky topic as is knowledge. Often we have those who will fall back on the scientific method but fail to realize that the method itself exists within the context of that which is known. To give an example, early on in nutritional "science" someone decided that fat was bad for you. So fat bad, everything else (simplifying greatly here of course) relatively good. We talked about cholesterol as well, but then found that, okay, there's two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL. Then there were three (HDL, LDL, VLDL). Then there were more than that. And triglycerides. And. And. And. And then some today even question the understanding of cholesterol as itself a "bad" thing. Meaning lowering the number of the bad ones might help to some extent, but the bigger question may in fact be that the high LDL number is itself a marker of a vastly larger thing that has to be addressed in order to restore "good health". And it goes on.
But some arguing these things at every point along the line are passionate about their views. Those defending the "original" hypothesis (which itself is in flux) and those arguing the paradigm shift (no matter how small or how large). The fact is that oftentimes those arguing the original hypothesis often don't have a terminology or "space" in the theory for the new detail.
Consider the advent of relativity theory. One thing that was argued passionately was the idea of the so-called "ether wind". It was assumed it was a sort of "background" "stuff" that light passed through in otherwise "empty" space. After all, light was a wave and something has to be "transmitting" that wave. A wave in water is there because of the displacement of the water. A wave in air is there because of the energy travelling through the medium of the air. So in empty space, what was the light traveling through? Well, they assumed something called ether. And its defenders were many. Einstein and others dropped the idea and added new ideas along with many things that were, at the time, totally counter intuitive. It made for crazy talk like the light being shone from a planet being measured as traveling at the same speed as the light traveling from the nosecone of a rocket travelling at fantastic speeds. How can both be right? Then there was the twin paradox. And other things that are frankly givens today, accepted, understood, because the larger context and vocabulary now exists to allow it's understanding. And they've finally managed to drop things that were sometimes more simple or other things that were vastly too complex.
And in the end Einstein himself had trouble with quantum mechanics falling back on his comment that he didn't believe that "God played with dice". It was pretty much a settled matter when he said it which shows just how powerful that web of belief we have can be.
Today we have those doing "functional" fitness where the understanding of exercise is changing dramatically. They don't focus on individual muscles but long "chains" of connections in order to develop what they might want to call "real" strength rather than the pumped up strength of the weight lifter. Consider the weight lifting young man who had trouble moving around bales of hay with an older, thinner, lighter, wiry gentleman who had been doing it all his life (that was me years ago trying to keep up with a relative). I was "stronger" in many conventional senses. But he moved those things like they weren't there. I could bench press vastly more than him. I could squat more. But away from the weight set he could do things all day long that killed me. Because he used his body differently for the task at hand.
Some guys out there on the circuit are talking about different ways of moving, different ways of using the body, etc. Yes, in a weird cop-out sort of way you can just say it is better athleticism if you define athleticism in a totally trivial and overly general fashion. But then you just used a useless definition to avoid the reality. The point here is to to expand that conversation by developing better models.
I think there are all sorts of things going on in this training with a variety of effects. And probably vastly more than I currently can grok. I think there is a very real move towards learning to relax entire chains of connections to allow "just enough" tension and a chain-long even use of the entire chain rather than the tension in small parts overriding and unbalancing the whole thing. So in one sense it's "just" using your body more efficiently. Sure. But it is *really* hard to do. And some of these guys are offering up training exercises to help you do just that. There are exercises for developing awareness of each point along the chain so you can learn to relax or use even the smallest little thing up to the entire chain. Then there are ideas of "counter-balancing" these long connected chains to allow the person to utilize their entire body for the smallest of movement. To "punch" using virtually every part of the body. To remain solid by using the entire body in a counter-balanced, massively complex structure. And then there's muscle activation. What is "let your ki flow" really mean? And relaxation? How about considering the idea of learning to in a sense "activate" all the muscles, including counter-balancing muscles, so they're primed to move already (ki extending) yet keeping them relaxed at the same time. In other words being able to "connect" the muscles up through a sort of awareness and "feel" so they're ready to move instantaneously when you decide to move. Not through dynamic tension (one holding the other back) but through already having them in balance, activated, relaxed but "connected up".
Okay, I've gone on long enough. I've even avoided the very popular notion of fascia (which I think might be a red herring of sorts). And I've avoided bigger pictures of breath (can that help you become aware and connected in the large muscles especially in the chest and stomach/back and control more of that?). I've also avoiding a very large part of the notion of "reading" the attacker's structure and movement through a relaxed connection and how that might be aided by a relaxed, connected internal body.
All these things could be "waved away" as simply "good athletics". But I think this is a cop out as it misses the point that if it's not being trained directly, are you really doing it? And to say "we already do it" misses the point that maybe you do, but you have only tapped in to a tiny bit of it. The question then becomes if this stuff does work, is valuable, and adds, then maybe there is more there than some expect. And frankly it's all abstract and even if you accept some of it of course there issues of degrees. So many can say "I already do that!" and be correct in some sense of degree. But then what if you meet up with someone on the mat who greatly expands your understanding of the higher limit by moving so quickly and so powerfully that it seems to defy experience?
So I do think discussion is good. But the problem is that both sides tend to want to discuss it in context of their own existing "web of belief" (look up W.V. Quine for this reference). That web can be robust all the way to very fragile. Sometimes it's good for it to be robust, sometimes, not so good. And things get shoehorned in to the existing web because too many other things depend on the existing structure. Then add in to this that in order to understand whether the power is there or not requires actually feeling it. Video is deceptive. Photos don't really help. But once you're there in person you can decide if there's something there beyond what you've felt before. And you can try to counter it, try to get over it, try to do it yourself. And you find out in a second whether you're really "already doing that".
I personally think more will come of this as "athletics" has been slowly looking more and more at these things. Runners being taught to rotate their hands slightly at the top of the arc to better connect to the back leg to help it "spring" forward more. Pilates training emphasizing longer chains. Functional fitness doing the same. And given the acceptance of "functional" fitness (fitness training that is tied to specific tasks or for generalized, overall fitness) might also be relevant to certain types of martial arts (learning to use the body differently to allow you to more easily unbalance an attacker rather than just toss a bale of hay).
Now all that said there is also the point that some of this is likely totally irrelevant to many people. Aikido itself is loosely defined as the various directions, off-shoots, etc. all went in their own directions. And whatever the training is today is what it is today. And there are those who rather like and enjoy exactly where it is today whether it has these things or not. In other words, the meta question of whether this stuff *should* be there is yet another issue to get passionate about. And frankly that issue reminds me of the old saw about trying to teach a pig to sing. And no insult is intended as I'll put myself in the role of the pig. Things have evolved and maybe this stuff really is totally irrelevant to many people. And maybe it is totally and completely critical to others. So be it. Tis why I often shrug and walk away from guys who insist on reframing what I've told them of my experiences to fit their understandings then waving it away. Different web, different experiences. And if that person isn't willing to get out there and actually experience and instead just wants to discuss it from a position of ignorance, well, fine, but much of this will be lost on those who've not experienced it at the higher levels. Of course maybe it is all smoke and mirrors as well. But too often the discussions are like talking to a 12-year-old Nascar fanatic about how to drive a car. Yeah, well, Junior, you've read lots of books. Let's see how you do when you finally get behind the wheel.
For those interested, get on the mat with those who apparently can do. If you find value, great, pursue it. For those not interested, well, what's the big deal? Yeah, there's going to be enthusiastic folk out there saying "this is the bestest stuff evvvvver!". Ignore them because they're talking about themselves. For those wondering somewhere in between, well, if you get a chance take a look. If not, that's fine too. Make the judgement yourself.
I think this stuff is going to invariably influence a lot of people. Just like the warm, fuzzy new age stuff influenced a lot of Aikido in the 60's and 70's (for better or worse). And Aikido is going to become even more varied as a result. It's okay, that's how things go.
So get used to it.
End of sermon for the day. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Oh, and I didn't bother proofreading this. I just started typing. All apologies for any mistakes and silliness.