The more we train, the more we become familiar with the various aspects of the technical and finite requirements of each technique. This is the way to move forward with training in the martial arts, or is it?
Certainly when one practices form, kata and repeated movements, then the progression and development of muscle memory serves to give you a continual baseline for progress as movements become memorised, techniques become refined and we can see a light at the end of the tunnel with regard to that ‘perfection’ that we believe we should strive for. Without fail, there is an end point to kata where we do reach the very pinnacle of what we as individuals are capable of, but that should never truly signify the end-game of our development – why? Simply because that ‘perfect’ example of technique is only applicable in that moment, and for that purpose. A few seconds later both you, and your environment have changed.
Mere acknowledgement of success changes the nature and manner in which you view that success, and therefore may be used as either a bridge to improvement, or a prison for stagnation. What you choose to do with the knowledge of your success paves the direction of how you will develop from that moment forward, and your understanding of the relationship and differences between fixed and formless training.
Many martial arts are fixed in learning, foot here, hand here, this angle, that angle, hand stops here, etc. The student is required to adapt to progress and to reshape their movements to the demands of either execution, style, or effectiveness. That does not detract from those arts and is in effect the strength inherent in the execution of them. The power in striking arts must be driven from the feet to the hips and shoulders then into the hand or else it is not effective. Only by applying the formula can a student understand and eventually make it their own.
Alternatively, In Aikido, almost everything is formless, shapeless and steeped in fluid motion and interchangeability of relationship between Uke and Tori. All techniques are dependent upon the body, mind and spirit of the individual, and the manner in which both they, and the partner engage. There is no fixed pattern that can be applied beyond starting movements and it is up to the student to shape the techniques to suit their body. This is why it is important to not merely follow and mimic what is shown, but to fully embrace all aspects of the technique, ensuring that you not only know why, but how, where and when these techniques will work. Blindly following what you are shown invariably does not work unless you feel the development of the movement throughout, from conception to completion.
Because of this, progress in Aikido is never-ending. Each and every situation, moment, partner, application, technique, exchange and resolution becomes unique. Nothing is ever repeated and even the smallest change in attitude or expectation alters the end result. Progress therefore is dependent not on how well we execute a movement, but on how we perceive we have improved as a result of doing it. Progress is shown in our increase in understanding and in greater understanding comes the knowledge of greater potential.
To challenge progress in Aikido is to challenge oneself to understand what is required to complete each movement, working from a sense of both the intuitive and the practical. It is not to seek perfection of form and mastery of technique, but to refine and control your own understanding and capacity for application.
Progress is measured not in how we control and dominate others but in how we are able to control ourselves and, through our actions and continuous work for personal improvement in our art, extend that control to our partner and our environment alike. It is this application of self-control that makes Aikido look effortless from the outside, it is a visual display of the self control and the development that has developed on the inside, manifested fully.