Re: Unifying the theories
In my experience, there are 2 routes to mastery. There is the long way and the short way.
Specific to aikido:
1. Typically we do endless repetitions until we "get it". The human body is an amazing machine. With countless repetitions, mastery of an art/competency is not a steady incline leading to higher competency but a series of steps and bursts similar to stairs where one plateaus a long time and competency suddenly bursts at the end of the plateau. (IMHO this is the reason why you should not quit when you are plateauing, you don't know that you will suddenly have a step up). The amazing thing is that you do not know how you suddenly got more competent, you just know you had a step up but you don't understand how you got there. You then move on to the next plateau and step up until you get it completely. I think 99% of practitioners take this approach (just guessing of course).
2. The intellectual approach. I believe every art (no matter what it is) has it's own unique set of theories and these are seen in what we call principles. In dance for example, you know tango when you see one and you know the difference between ballet and tango. Understand the principles behind the art and it'll be a shorter (but not necessarily easier) path to mastery. For me, I formulate these theories and validate them in practice. I no longer need to do blind repetitions or do lesser of them before I get it since doing repetitions without thinking mean you are hoping that "something" will give you a hint about what you are looking for. It's mostly a hit and miss approach. The perfect example of these are techniques. Techniques are there only to offer the practitioner a glimpse of aikido principles but in itself is not aikido. IMHO 1% go through this path.
Actually there is the 3rd path which is first go through the long route and realize that there is a shorter route.