After the previous encounters with Saotome sensei, I had established a mental image of him that was very positive and otherworldly, for lack of a better word.
Once, I was visiting back home from Japan for a short time and went to observe a seminar class of Sensei at Tamalpais Aikido. I unexpectedly had the perfect vantage point for the material I saw that day, which was directly behind Sensei (or the uke once or twice when they switched positions). What was being done was, Sensei would raise his sword up while uke was cutting down. The odd thing was, uke would miss despite there being no contact between the swords. Sensei’s sword would raise up in front of him with no interruption, at a seemingly leisurely speed. For my part, I could immediately grasp, at least conceptually, what was happening, and savored the privilege of seeing this very immaculate thing happen right before my eyes. It was simply communication – very fine communication – through movement.
The other experience that I have mentally lumped in with these early experiences happened yet a few years later, upon my return to (live in) the US. I went to a seminar at Shobu Aikido in Boston, and I had one opportunity (literally only one chance to feel the technique) to take ukemi. The attack was straight punch to the head. Sensei didn’t move to reposition himself at all. In hanmi, he “rested” both of his arms over my punch arm. Time seemed to slow down a bit. I perceived the feeling of our dogis rubbing against each other, but I couldn’t really feel any sensation of pressure from his arms. My hand was still traveling toward his head but all the power was gone. Time had slowed down so I could perceive my effort to still deliver my hand to his face, and at the same time, notice that my posture was weak with my head starting to lean back (or my lower body leaving my upper body behind), my knees buckling. I actually managed to touch his mouth with my fist, just lightly. My power had disappeared and I had reached the limit of my physical reach. The sensation where our bodies were in contact had not changed at all. I remember the huge contrast between this absence of power and the simultaneous strenuous, yet empty-feeling, intention to still deliver the punch to his face.