Aikido founder Ueshiba Morihei, affectionately called O-Sensei (Great Teacher) by students, warned, “In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung.” There are many steps. If it takes ten years to get to the first one, if will take an equal amount of time if not more to reach the second stage, and then the third, and so on. There is no end in sight. Some people, when they begin training, think that the techniques are all there is to a martial art, but in reality, everything has multiple layers of meaning. There are obviously spiritual awakenings that can occur because of hard training (shugyo), but even within the confines of physical techniques alone, there are many principles to uncover. Multiple layers exist in even a concept as seemingly straightforward as striking.
The beginner’s level is clear to anyone, even those with no training whatsoever: using the limbs or other body parts to hit an opponent. When students begin to train in a martial art, they first see this as straightforward. Then they begin to learn about the body’s pressure points, and they learn the kind of damage that can be caused by striking such points. Students learn that certain weapons are more effective for targeting certain points, and they practice to use the fists, fingers, elbows, knees, big toe, and more to utilize such targets effectively. It will take years for them to become proficient: to move correctly. Next, they have to learn how to develop power, so they perform kokyu-ryoku (breath-training) and engage in solo training to develop a more connected body. Once they have developed some power, they learn how to issue it through the hands and feet.
After all this work has been done, which takes decades, another layer is peeled away. They must know when and where to strike, so principles of combative spacing and timing must be mastered. Eventually, they will begin to question the ultimate purpose of striking within a technique, and they will train their intent. With enough intent, the physical strike might no longer be needed, as an opponent can be halted or redirected with kiai, that vocal emanation of pure spirit and intent. Even at this point, although others will look at the practitioners as masters, if they have eliminated the ego and continue to keep beginners’ minds, they will understand that there is no end. In this way, they will continue to improve without bounds. It is for this reason that O-Sensei said, “Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master. You must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together.”
By Walther G. von Krenner with Ken Jeremiah, authors of the book Aikido: The Lightning and Thunder of Aikido.