by Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros

Techniques employ four qualities that reflect the nature of our world. Depending on the circumstance, you should be: hard as a diamond, flexible as a willow, smooth-flowing like water, or as empty as space.

– Morihei Ueshiba

We can understand the above poem as descriptive of four levels of practice as follows:

  1. katai keiko (hard solid training) – diamond
  2. yawarakai keiko (soft training) – willow
  3. nagare no keiko (flowing training) – water
  4. ki no nagare no keiko (flow of energy training) – space

O Sensei’s poem presents a spiral or progression of levels of learning and ability in Aikido and yet notice that in the poem there is no hierarchy of value as such. The four qualities are presented as four qualities that reflect the nature of our world (four corners) and are thus not seen as being contrived but as given in nature. Thus while qualitatively different, none is inher-ently superior or inferior to any other. Likewise in having them play freely in our Aikido, which one comes to the fore in any encounter will be dictated by circumstances and our appropriate engagement with them (as the poem itself emphasises).

To briefly return to the one of the issues and questions that gave rise to this essay, individuals by temperament and body type find themselves more drawn to one level than another and will generally develop that quality more fully as it feels more natural for them. However, ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, then you will treat everything as a nail’.

In Aikido sometimes we stand our ground immovably like a rock and at other times become as fluid as water. Sometimes we receive and bend and at other times we step aside and let things pass. The point is not to take a position, but to respond appropriately and change accordingly.

So depending on our perspective, these four qualities can either be seen as ‘levels or corners’. In our training there is an apparent progression from coarse to subtle, from what is easily seen to what is not, but the point eventually is to be free in all situations without choosing this or that. The ultimate strategy in Aikido is ‘no-strategy’.

Ultimately you must forget about technique.

The further you progress, the fewer teachings there are.

The Great Path is really No Path.

– Morihei Ueshiba

This writing was extracted from a larger essay written by Lewis Bernalod de Quiros: an exploration of the various levels of waza and ukemi from a qualitative perspective, Feb 2007. For the full essay click here: