In the pursuit of aikido, one must be very scientific.
First and foremost, a student must be observing and noticing. They should always be thinking, did I really see what I thought I saw just now? There can always be more detail and other perspectives. There should be a sense of curiosity and wonderment, particularly when presented with something one cannot do oneself. Observing may be as straightforward as observing what the teacher is putting on the “main stage”. It is more interesting when one also observes all the subtler things, such as how the main stage is being set up and what’s happening on the lesser stages. Observation should of course be with the eyes and the body, but also viscerally. When one is watching other students take uke for the teacher, one should strive to imagine how one would feel in the other students’ place. Thus, even in the observation stage, imagination has an important function.
The second piece is intellectual smarts and imagination/creativity. The observations open the way to action. In order to make any change toward progress, the student must formulate hypotheses and carry out experiments around those hypotheses. If a student is unthinking, then they are just going through the motions with no purpose i.e., they are performing the experiment as the teacher shows, but noticing or monitoring nothing, nor answering any questions. Formulating hypotheses and thinking of experiments both require imagination and creativity. Discipline is also important as a student must continue performing the experiments and not simply give up or neglect them because they are not as interesting as they were in the first few minutes. The initial interest should be connected with a drive to actually find out – being committed to finding out.
Having intellectual intelligence is important also because one must discern the variables at work. They are often extremely difficult to see in real time and rarely completely duplicated. Creativity is crucial here, too, to extrapolate what happened was because this or that variable was different, same, etc. All of this needs to be on an intuitive, not intellectual, level – it is just too much to know with one’s head. Knowing with one’s head comes after knowing intuitively/with the body. Even if the same two people replicated every interaction perfectly, there is such a variety of people in aikido that the learning curve is steep. However, learning from and making use of observation is very important.
Discipline was mentioned earlier. Discipline is also important because one cannot perform endless experiments and gather mountains of data. Discipline is necessary to do some minimum amount of experimentation, but it also controls you from doing too much. In many cases, you will have to go forward without 100% reassuring evidence. In fact, you’ll need discipline to always keep your eyes peeled for further data on a previously started study – the data keeps popping up everywhere, unexpectedly.
The noticing/attentiveness is important later in the game, too. Even when you think you have a grasp of something, you should always be on the lookout for any contradictory or inexplicable evidence. If you can notice that and reconcile it with your existing grasp, then your existing grasp will only deepen.