Hello my friend and congratulations on the great accomplishment. Thus far you have proven that you can successfully accept some conditioning, learn some techniques and play nice with others.
Thus far the kata of the Tomiki system has given you some digestible bites to swallow. They are training wheels to get you going. They are like a coloring book to help you start doing art.
A warning as you progress from here though my friends, the kata system is as much of a trap as it is a way to help. Around the world people are grinding away at the kata, simply copying what their teacher taught them, rather than going ever deeper into the puzzle it is trying to help you comprehend.
The fact is we are trying to move in a way that is free and spontaneous, yet the kata tells us to move in a prescribed manner. Aikido's beauty is expressed creative movement, yet we so often are taught that there is one right way do express technique and train. In aikido the options are great yet through the kata we often learn to continually do the same thing exactly the same way.
The fact is my aikido friends, at this point of your development free thinking and freedom of movement has been trained out of you. You now have a set of rules, that work well until they fail you. You have been programmed to respond in certain ways and fall when you are told to fall. These are all important parts of the learning process.
As I develop further have come to some conclusions that acted as a major catalyst for the change in the way I train.
First, there is not a rule that can't be broken. As a young aikidoka I was bombarded with rules of motion. If you followed the rules you create aiki. if you don't it is something else. It was very eye opening to me once I started traveling around and training with many different teachers, every one of them has a different set of rules. Often one teacher's rules openly violate another teacher's. Rules vary. I highly recommend you challenge every rule you have learned and test it through the scientific method. Rules vary - principles are universal.
Second, overly structured kata gives you a very easy way to practice. It takes out everything really difficult and gives you very clean lines to play with. I urge you to remember the world is not full of pretty lines and enemies starting at correct distances. No opponent is going to give a stylized attack. We do this so the new guys don't kill each other. No longer are you a new guy. I encourage you to break down the structure in your head and find the joy and aiki in the chaos again.
Remember new yudansha something that is a common flaw in aikido training, the opponent does not explode upon hitting the ground. I see people throw a partner and end it there. The trick is that the encounter never ends. It starts the second you bow to each other to train, and never ends until you bow again to end training. The higher level you get, there should be an intensity of interconnection that never fades. Your opponent is playing the role of an aggressor, when they attack, during the technique, when they are on the ground, during the pin, when they are getting up, and when they are preparing for the next attack. They should be seen as dangerous the whole time. Attacks don't end with the person hitting the floor. The training and connection should never stop. Zanshin. Remain active and connected throughout the training. Connection and awareness is not an on and off activity.
The main thing I would like to share with the new yudansha is that aikido is just a system of play. It is a way to experiment with truth, but it is not truth itself. The simple act of training is what is important - uniforms, belts, ranks, systems, and styles are all illusory by their very nature. They are simply a game.
All that really matters is relationships with the people you surround yourself to train with. In my mind the heart of aikido is expressed in the way we treat other people. Period.
Walk In Peace,
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