My teacher Don O'Bell Sensei used the word "release" rather than "relax." I have further refined that idea because "relax" tends to produce what I would call withdrawn energy, ki flowing back toward source in the hara. Most people tense up when attacked because their intention produces a flow I call shield energy because it is meant to withstand or resist attack.
For aikido to take place there must be a flow of ki connecting the partners. In the book Aikido by Kisshomaru Uyeshiba under the guidance of the founder, in the "Basic Knowledge" section mentions ki no nagare as the "stream of spirit" that connects both partners.
In the same section under its own heading is Chikara No Dashikata, (Extension of Power), which describes how energy flows from hara to the partner. "Your power should not be inactive, just as standing water becomes stagnant. Rather, your power must be like a stream, flowing the energy from your body through the tips of your fingers, your toes, even from the glitter of your eyes, and going toward the subject."
In our practice, since we don't practice through technique emulation, this is the determining factor of whether aikido will manifest. Tension (shield energy) makes the manifestation of aiki impossible. What works for us, rather than using the word "relax" or even my teacher's word "release," which essentially meant "release tension without withdrawing ki," we say to send our partner flood energy, which is a flow of ki that is unconstricted by fear or limbic system response to threat.
All flow of ki into action is regulated through intention. For instance, shield energy is produced by an intention (voluntary or involuntary) to defend. We arrive at this kind of flow we call flood energy through the embodiment of beneficent intention. Any intention that the uke (or attacker in off the mat applications) benefit from our interaction will produce this positive, powerful flow that fuses with the attack and moves both partners into the spontaneous creation of aikido that may or may not look like what are typically known as aikido techniques.
What this takes is a transcendence of the lower brain, involuntary defense mechanism. In our practice students often "get stuck." Having no prescribed technique to follow, students must instead learn to immediately recognize the intention to defend, voluntary or otherwise, and then shift to a state of beneficent intention. When this state is reached it is like an electric light switch. Things go from being "stuck" to immediate and often unforeseeable aikido paths, and both partners feel resistance instantly dissolve as that path to the mat unfolds.
Often we will use, like mentioned in prior entries to this thread, the idea of giving someone water. This beneficent intention will create the flood of ki necessary to meet uke's fundamental need to connect and create an aiki resolution. In Aikido this is described as chikara o dasu (extend power).
On the other hand, this is not as easy as it sounds. Often students will use what is described in Aikido as chikara o ireru (force power), and this manifests in the distinct feeling that nage is trying to make uke take the water, or to get them to take it in a way that promotes the fall, even though there is an intellectual experience of benevolence. Practitioners easily feel the force in this kind of intention and realize that the true intention is still defense.
When the "giving of water" is understood to be beneficent to uke, that is a genuine desire that this person benefit from our giving the water, not offering water as way of benefitting the nage, the flow immediately transforms the entire interaction and aikido spontaneously, mysteriously manifests.
In this way students get a visceral experience of how the spiritual aspects of this spiritual art manifest in ways that resolve conflict without force or violence. It also makes masakatsu agatsu literally the operating principle of our aikido. Without transcendence of the lower brain responses (victory over self) our practitioners will see no attacker on the mat.
Hi Corky, thought I'd share some ideas based on what you say here.
We used to limit ourselves to just Tohei's rules and when I say limit I mean if something didn;t work the rule was one of the points were out......no excuses. I still today say this is a great method limited only by the students lack of discipline, nothing else.
However, like you I then developed my own way.
So, Relax was a major principle. Now it took us a few years but one day my friend and I were not able to 'do' the Aikido as usual. We were already quite advanced and took it as one of those points where the only way is to carry on and get through rather than change or even analyze. A couple of hours later we were laughing because we still hadn't found what the problem was. All points seemed to be in. So all that was left was admitting an understanding on one of the points must be 'incorrect' and by 'incorrect' I mean 'needing a more hightened understanding'.
Suddenly we both almost synergistic-ally hit on it, a uerika moment, the word relax had a word missing. We had thrown it away, blanked it out....and that word was "completely". The rule was "Relax Completely". We were amazed more really by how such a word could mean up to that point nothing much at all and now suddenly become the main focus like finding a piece of gold.
Unlike what you wrote above we hadn't had relax as making or leading to 'withdrawing' Ki but actually for us it was quite the opposite for it had up to that point helped and led to better extension of Ki.
However for us something greatly changed after the 'completely' recognition. The change Ki wise was two way. It led for us to the understanding and clear feeling and experiencing of a two way flow, a yin and yang flow both happening together. Thus a better reality also on centre, hara, one point, and along with it space.
Now, similar to you we found then we needed a word for what had just happened for we were now using the principle of relax completely and yet were now not satisfied with those two words. So we looked at what we had done and were now doing compared to what we had been doing and realized low and behold spiritually we had "let go". Thus one of our current principles was born.
Reading your post using your terminology then quite simply we had let go of the limbic response for now instead of an aid it had become a hindrance.