David Alexander Sensei spent over 10 years training in Iwama under Saito Sensei, in the old days when understanding was obtained from vigorous and rigorous practice. In an article he explains the four levels of technique in Aikido training:
1. KATAI (rigid)
Also known as Kihon (basic) it is what builds the foundation of tai-sabaki (body movement) and kokyu-rokyu (abdominal breath power).
2. YAWARAKAI (flexible)
Like bamboo bending in the wind,the Yawarakai level emphasises the principle of awase and requires the defender to give in resiliently to deflect the attack in a direction that he can merge into the movement and take control. Yawarakai technique is intermediate between Katai and Ki-no-nagare.
3. KI-NO-NAGARE (flowing)
In Ki-no-nagare technique, the defender does not wait for the attacker to obtain a grip, but begins merging into the attacker’s movement before contact is made.
4. KI (spirit)
Saito-Sensei explained in his book, Traditional Aikido Vol. 5, on page 36 that: “Aikido is generally believed to represent circular movements. Contrary to such belief, however, Aikido, in its true Ki form, is a fierce art piercing straight through the center of opposition”.
For Alexander Sensei’s full article see Levels of Technique in Aikido Training.
David Alexander Sensei was my sempai when I trained at Iwama in 1980. He had the rare experience of spending over 10 years training under Saito Sensei, in Iwama while Saito Sensei was in his prime. He also gave me my “sayonara nikkyo”, when I returned home. He explains his idea of elegance in Aikido technique:
“After training under a good teacher for several years, it is possible to develop “Kokyu ryoku” (loosely translated as “abdominal breath power”).
“Most trainees do not get Kokyu, especially if they omit “Katai” (rigid) training and practice “Ki no Nagare” (flowing style) exclusively. If many of them are grabbed with strong power, they can’t even move. On the contrary, in Iwama in the 70′s, getting Kokyu was almost a given.
For someone with good, clean technique and Kokyu Ryoku, he or she is able to perform a technique effortlessly against a strong person who is resisting with full power. This is real Aikido, and would make O-Sensei proud.
So, this is my definition of elegance in technique; “Effortless against full power”.
For more of Alexander Sensei’s interesting anecdotes, see Iwama wisdom.