yes, aikido attacks look unrealistic and ineffective during normal practice but IMHO they are only that for nage and uke to understand the forms, techniques and principles of aikido. Most important are timing, entry and intent.
Initially, the focus is on uke's external manifestation of intent of an attack until a point that nage reaches a higher plane that he already would anticipate uke's intention even before the attack has begun (internal intent).
So I think we should worry about the intent and not the attack per se. I think as beginners we focus too much on the external forms of an attack but as we go higher we need to focus on uke's internal intent.
This progression from external to internal focus holds true for both nage and uke.
Mr. Tobias, this was well said, and I could not agree with you more.
It is because of this phenomenon that I have developed a way to teach both established aikidoka and beginners from their first time on the mat how intention produces form.
However, in my teaching model, it is not a progression, as I understood the term from your message. The shift of focus takes place as soon as the relatively few physical elements of movement inherent in aikido are learned.
Instead of learning techniques to throw, our beginners start by learning pairs of movement sets which I call "stretches" and "spots." The reason I called them that instead of "attacks" and "techniques" is because the words have different effects on a neurolinguistic level. An attack is something to defend against, and the idea of an attack stimulates the lower brain to take over with a reflexive response to threat. A technique, in the common use of the word in aikido, often means a fixed set of movements with no gross variance from a preconceived path ending with uke on the ground no matter what uke does or doesn't do.
When most aikidoka trained in the traditional technique-emulation model visit our dojo for the first time and feel authentic attack energy from uke with no defined technique to execute, they usually try initially to force uke into the first technique that comes to mind or emerges out of their training. No matter how effortlessly they have executed the technique they have chosen thousands of times before, when their nervous system picks up the authenticity of the attack intention, no matter how low the intensity, they react with their default reflexive response somewhere on a spectrum between fight (defense resistance or counter attack), flight (escape or withdrawal) or freeze (withdrawing inside of resistance).
A stretch, on the other hand, is something a person can quite naturally "spot" (as in weightlifting or gymnastics), because the idea of someone stretching with your help does not trigger defense reflexes, but in the context of our definition of spot: With the intention to protect, to be involved in your partner's action without interfering with it
, it actually begins to train the student's neurology to respond to the movements of attack with beneficent intention. For instance, when working on a balance beam, the "spotter" insures that the gymnast is moving through the routine with support so that he or she is not harmed.
The two-fold purpose of these movement sets are to set up a beneficent intention in nage while training both partners to understand the physical dynamics of attack, where the aikidoist has to be physically in space to lend support to the attacker, how to get there, and when.
Thus, while uke learns how to give genuine committed attack energy, nage learns the relatively short list of movements that make up even the longest, most convoluted techniques. When you look at the list of movement pairs in the beginner curriculum you will see what you would refer to, aikidoka readers, as techniques
you learned as techniques
, but where we go from there makes all the difference.
After beginners learn to call up and perform the first group of stretches in their "cookie-cutter" form and have also learned how to spot their partners doing the same stretches, we begin to incorporate variations in the stretch. There are several specific points in each stretch in which uke can fundamentally change the stretch into a different stretch. Since we do not pre-orchestrate at which point the stretch may change or to what stretch it may turn into, for aiki to manifest in this situation, nage can't be committed to a technique but must be committed to an outcome beneficial to all.
With the introduction of variables, it becomes clear why one would not want to be committed to a specific technique and why in the context of Patrick Auge's interview with Minoru Mochizuki, M. Mochizuki recounted "Uyeshiba Sensei's teaching pushed me a lot to think. He could never show again what he did in randori. I would say "What was that?" and he would reply "I got that from God suddenly. I don't remember." To Uyeshiba Sensei, ki (internal energy) was inspiration from God."
) (Thanks to Demetrio Cereijo)
If you operate under the notion that God is Love (to me, an idea supported by Osensei's spiritual teachings) then you can see directly from this kind of practice why beneficent intention toward one's attacker can provide all that is necessary for aikido to manifest in un-repeatable ways as long as a few basic trained movements are there as a framework for the takemusu aiki to become aikido.
When uke, in this method, offers authentic attack energy instead of collusion with a technique, we are instantly made aware of the truth in ourselves, because uke will not fall until we transcend our illusion and become authentic in our state of being. In our dojo, unless we can be victorious over our reflexive responses of defend or withdraw, and transcend our lower brain to access the higher consciousness that allows us to embody the qualities of selflessness each time
, we will see no one on the mat. In this way Masakatsu Agatsu becomes the literal operating principle
of our aikido.