The term riai means, literally, a blending of [ movements of the mind]. By understanding Aikido through riai, one sees that the taijutsu techniques were developed from movements using the sword. Therefore training with the sword will develop taijutsu techniques.
The Founder said that a weapon should be used as an extension of your body [ – and of your ki-body, thus defining your ki-envel0pe]. However he stressed that one should not develop a dependence upon [actually having] a particular weapon. To build [this way of using your ki (kimochi)] one should practice the basic exercises of ken and jo suburi, tai no henko, and kokyu dosa consistently. A good understanding of these basic exercises will enable the practitioner to move smoothly and surely with or without weapons.
– – – Morihiro Saito Shihan (presumably), inside front flap of Traditional Aikido vol. 1
– – – by Shmuel Kahlke
Cutting practice, suburi (empty swing), is central to the sword school of Mu-To Ryuu (No-Sword School). Tesshu-Sensei, who founded Mu-To Ryuu, established the centrality of suburi with his students. This led to the school being nick-named the wood-cutting style 1). Tesshu-sensei was a master of several arts, most prominently the sword, spear, and calligraphy. He was also a zen practitioner who is notable for being one of only a few documented persons to have passed away in meditation posture. The life, work, and accomplishments of such a person provide credence that there is something inherently beneficial to the practice of suburi, if for no other reason than someone who is understood to have become enlightened focused the attention of his students to the form. However, as the sword is practised in action and not through abstract conjecture the question is: after many years of performing suburi practice, what is gained?
…now, one of the things about the standard jo-dan to chu-dan cut is that it’s connecting heaven and earth – so it has many wonderful aspects to it. It’s important, for instance, that when you’re actually striking a makiwara, or a bundle of tree branches, or whatever you’re doing… you’re cutting from Heaven to Earth: you’re not stopping: you’re not checking the strike. This is a nice understanding to have: and it’s the feeling of following through with something.
Following through with something completely changes your ukemi, because you follow through with some sense of realism. Cutting like that gives you a sense of what’s it like to truly follow through and see what happens every time: a thousand times, follow through and see what happens… …till you have bravery. Now you’re willing to follow through, but also, when when you’re in training, and you do whatever the attack is that you’re supposed to do, then – it’s real but it’s also controlled. You’ve done it lots of times, so you can check that strike if the other person could be harmed, seriously harmed. And again, if you’re moving without being able to pull back at the right moment, then you, too, could be struck: because you can’t control your motion.
– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei
– – – by Elijah Roper-Moyes
I started my practice at the beginning of the school year.
At first I felt my movements as sluggish and unfamiliar; after the first week I had grown more accustomed to the sword which I used: it became an extension of my mind and body. I felt my feet hit the ground and continued to move to each side cutting. As time moved on I felt more and more balanced and after a while the spot where I practiced was noticeably more packed down and eroded than the other areas on the hill.
I spent so much time up there that soon I could tell the time by the sun. I would lose myself in thought and come in and out of consciously making the movement of cutting. Eventually I reached a point where I could make the movement on instinct and move with the flow of everything around me.
As I practiced I began to feel beauty around me: the light through the trees after the rain, the feel of the sun on my skin… My breath, everything, was so beautiful that I longed to practice at the park and looked forward to it throughout the day.
When the majority of practitioners talk about weapons, seeing only defensive technical moves, they ignore completely the reasons why Morihei Ueshiba, a tremendously able, even fearsome exponent, advised us to practise “a thousand million times” the raising of the arm before the cut….
As we know, divinities are generally shown holding a sword, or several weapons, each of which has a precise signification. And we know: in the practice of Aiki-Budo, the practitioner is advised to use his arm and hand like a sword.
It is with this understanding that the discipline was taught by Tadashi Abe, who didn’t present the way to handle a bokken till 1959. In Aikido, Kisshomaru Ueshiba writes: “The manoeuvre of the flat, Chinese hand, appears in Aikido as the concept of the Sword-Hand [te-gatana]… of which the blade-in-the-mind shines and vibrates thanks to the Kokyu-ryoku of breathing-power visualized, which slices and separates in order to restore to order.” This single sentence sums up the whole work accomplished by anyone who wields the sword – or more properly the sword-hand – which the Breath “HA” creates with five outstretched fingers, outstretched like the five vowels, A-E-I-O-U…
– – – Shobu Aïki: la victoire selon l’art chevaleresque de Morihei Ueshiba J.-D Cauhépé and A. Kuang, pp. 31-33
in Budo Renshu – – –
the 6th doka:
Jo-Dan must be empty of self,
Then in that way
One can cut down the thrusts of spears and win.
and the very first dobun:
….Since in any technique to strike the enemy with the Tegatana the [kokyu] of the Universe and Man’s own [kokyu] must be the same, the attack should be made calling into the Tegatana both movement and the the technique of unifying Yin and Yang.
If you face an enemy who is coming to attack in this manner and always block with a broad or imposing frame of mind as if enveloping the enemy inside your Kokoro… you will be able to tell the enemy’s movement in advance….
….With this state in mind, both striking or being struck should be accomplished by means of Kokyu that is in line with the truth. When this is mastered, wisdom, benevolence and courage spring naturally from within you and make the one, true Yamato-damashii…; you are able to make your whole body become as a sword and you can enter into a spiritual state of ‘Selflessness’… All budo can build a beautiful nation of the spirit inside your body as you go from one… Satori to another.
pp. 14, 22-23 Budo Renshu, 1997 edition, tr. Larry Bieri, Seiko Mabuchi
Senseis Kenshiro Abbe and Aritomo Murashige explained to us – the one in 1959 and the other three years later – that the exercise forms with sword have no other goal than to break the mental “I-me” process perpetuated by the physical body.
For indeed, it is through the repetition of innumerable cuts or thrusts, stopping a few centimeters from the forehead, throat, or heart, that a break becomes apparent in the intellectual reasoning which we call “lunar” because our mental world is controlled by and resembles that heavenly body which creates the rhythm of our lives. Then, only, the “Intelligence of the Heart” develops, associated with the courage of the solar essence because of its persistence and longevity. This consciousness, which appears when the mental narrative is vanquished, frees the practitioner from the “nightmare of petrifying worldliness”. It allows Ki to flow and replace the incessant concatenation of sensations and discursive thought with a state of calm, and internal tranquility.
– – – Shobu Aiki: la victoire selon l’art chevaleresque de Morihei Ueshiba,
J.-D Cauhépé and A. Kuang, p. 24