How many practitioners of Aikido see a movement or technique and relate to and practice it purely physically. It is true that a beginner will only see, initially, the physical movements, but also, Aikidoists of some years can fall into a similar rut of seeing a technique and interpreting it purely physically and may also think of another technique they already know and do the same. This is a danger; your physical is being constrained because of your mental. Your mental being part of your outlook on what Aikido is and your approach to it. If your physical is thus constrained then your progress will be painfully slow. This might be one of the reasons why Aikido has only a small following and loses a fair proportion of its beginners.
Whilst Ki, breathing exercises and mental training is given in various forms, their linking to techniques and practice is for students to make and experiment for themselves. Aikido is taught as the way and hence my Aiki is different to that of others. This is because of physical differences of size, height, weight etc., and mental approach, together with spirit. So I cannot enforce you to do techniques this way, like me, but I must teach you the 'way'. (DO)
Once you allow variations within the 'way' you must appreciate immediately that it must be dynamic and each technique, even on the same person, will be different. I believe that Aiki techniques contain a generality of movement, which can only be arrived at through practice of the basic techniques. These Basic methods only being a tool to arrive at this generality of movement.
Hence when my students ask me whether this technique is right that way or some other way, they rarely get corrected because they must think, experiment and thus learn. It is probable that the techniques they have shown me are both right and wrong at the same time, but of course it depends from which viewpoint. Tohei makes this point in one of his books. A beginner who asks what is wrong with this technique could probably be told everything but would not understand or comprehend all the failings. His brain can probably assimilate perhaps just one correction, i.e. his main fault Similarly around 3rd or 4th Kyu, students can be disappointed to re-learn more correctly a technique they thought they had mastered. Its not that they have been taught wrongly; they have, when beginners, assimilated what they thought the technique was, but now they can view the technique with more understanding.
I have recently read "Awareness Through Movement" by Moshe Feldenkrais (Penguin ISB O 14046.420 4). Although very wordy in part, and not directly connected to Aikido, it is an interesting viewpoint. (Thanks to Peter for lending it to me). It contained an interesting Tibetan parable:-
"A man without awareness is like a carriage whose passengers are the desires, with the muscles for horses, while the carriage itself is the skeleton; awareness is the sleeping coachman. As long as the coachman remains asleep the carriage will be dragged aimlessly here and there. Each passenger seeks a different destination and the horses pull different ways. But when the coachman is wide awake and holds the reins the horses pull the carriage and bring every passenger to his or her proper destination".
Contrast this parable with my opening paragraph and draw your own conclusions. I recommend you mentally visualize techniques after practices and at other times and examine critically the images you project. Go over also what you have been taught and consider the theme of the class as usually the techniques and practices are linked in some way.
You must appreciate Aiki is difficult to master quickly and that one shouldn't get disheartened on the way. Usually a student is his own worst critic, concentrating on perhaps a small part of the techniques rather than the whole and the flow and generality of Aikido through co-ordination of mind and body.
Ask yourself questions about Aiki and probe and examine. Open your mind and think.
Andrew Baird. Published 1984