I remember when I first saw Larson Sensei teach this practice:
I had practiced a similar exercise with Sugano Sensei for many years (note that I had hair in this video…):
(go to 1:10)
You really only see a little bit of this exercise, but it was very intensive once you built it up.
Sugano Sensei’s training method was completely oriented towards developing perception. If you could read the attack before it was launched, you could respond quickly and effectively. As discussed previously, if you eliminated the obstacles to the development of perception, you also eliminated the obstacles to having a posture that would give you speed, power and flexibility to respond to circumstances. I never saw Sugano Sensei explain posture explicitly, but he definitely had acquired it.
When practicing this exercise in his classes, I found strong hips were essential to the ability to respond once one could read the attack. So when I trained in his methods, I also worked to develop strong hips.
When I saw Larson sensei teach the exercise in the first video, I understood the need for strong hips and how the interplay with strong hips functioned with developing perception. I also watched Sugano Sensei develop and intensify his exercise over many years to insure safety. So this was a very natural exercise for us to develop in our dojo.
However, there is one large difference. Sugano Sensei did maintain the use of hamni in his exercise, consistent with Aikido practice. But he changed the training method. In his approach, the person “training” their partner would drop the sword to indicate an opening. Their partner had to perceive the opening and respond – ideally before the person training moved to actually create the opening. Then the person “training” their partner would first check the distance and direction to be certain the attack was sincere and effective. Once their partner was drawn in fully to the attack, the person “training” would counter and force their partner to adjust to the defensive. This script of movements tested their partner’s posture.
However, as Larson Sensei explained the escalation of this practice, there was never one person “training” their partner. It turned into something more like “anything goes.” This is a truly martial approach, consistent with the way the founder taught Aikido. Sugano Sensei’s approach was more like a sport.
In fact, I attended a Kendo class once and spoke to the instructors there. They were surprised and interested in the hamni stance – it is something they did not use. However, as far as “training” their partners, that is precisely how they practiced. The class felt so much like Sugano Sensei’s class that is was surprising. I think Morihiro Saito Sensei felt Sugano Sensei’s approach to Aikido was really Kendo. I think he focused on the sports like training methods.
For myself, I learned a great deal from Sugano Sensei’s approach. It was very helpful to study the principles in Aikido. However, I suspect Saito Sensei was correct in that it was not consistent with the way the founder taught, and those same principles could have been taught as the founder did. So I find it best to really appreciate what Sugano Sensei did, but when the opportunity to study the Iwama Style exists, take full advantage.