It is said that Yip Man, the reknowned master of Wing Chun and one of Bruce Lee’s main teachers, would only very rarely practice Chi Sao (“sticky hands” which is the sparring practice in Wing Chun) with his students claiming that doing so would lessen his skill. I have done a few years of Wing Chun, but am in no way qualified to judge that decision. I also have the highest respect for Yip Man as a martial artist. But, I will say this: he did not do Aikido.
I have heard similar sentiments from fellow Aikido students of advanced rank, as well as seen behaviors indicative of this kind of belief. Aside from being a stance lacking humility in anyone who is not an actual master of an art, it’s also (in my opinion) completely inappropriate in Aikido, robs the practice of some of its central tenents, and guarantees that more advanced skills will never come to full fruition. This comes out both when practicing with students of lesser experience and skill, but also with those working with physical limitations.
I’ve written before about the four general levels of martial arts. Aikido definitely aims for the fourth level where you are attacked and the attack is dealt with ideally in such a way that both you and the attacker are kept safe. This means that the dedicated Aikido student needs to learn how to direct the full flow of a technique, from inception to conclusion. It is not simply a matter of destroying the attacker, but also seeing them relativey safely to a non-dangerous position.
When performing a technique this means being able to not only fend off the attack, but also to take control of the situation and guide the attacker to a place where they no longer threaten. One of the ideal places to practice this is when throwing a lesser skilled practitioner. Someone fairly new to the art will very likely not know how to take a good fall. They need to be safeguarded from injuring themselves. There are a bunch of details in taking a fall that are matters of choice, ability, and style, but the general flow of a fall is not. The “right way” to take a fall is a very broad thing, but it is there nonetheless. Less skilled people need to be actively guided through that. Learning how to do that while still keeping the techniques alive and dynamic, still taking the partner’s balance, and still letting the attack be real is a very high level skill in Aikido and directly address and develops many of the skills neccessary to achieving the heart of what Aikido is.
When taking falls for less experienced students we are forced to remain more aware of what we are doing. In any particular style there will be a general correct way to perform each technique. That means that there will be a generalized way to take a safe fall (assuming variations present with the vigor of practice, and the timing being used, etc.) That is an insidious trap. The student can pecome very complacent in their falls and then advancement is slowed, or halted. Working with beginners, or students whose physical capability take a partcular fall outside of it’s stylistic box means we have to be attentive and adaptive to take the fall well. That’s a good thing.
As a sidebar: training with less severe injuries in Aikido forces us to learn ways to be active in keeping ourselves safe during falls and helps us to not get stuck in a rut of doing a fall a particular “right” way.
Additionally this type of practice inhances our skills with Kaishi-waza (counter-techniques.) Kato Sensei once said during a seminar that true Aikido is developed during ukemi, taking falls. It is ukemi that develops our sensitivity to the motions of another person and helps us refine our connection. When done mindfully ukemi is the doorway to sensing openings our partners leave. Again, getting into a comfortable rut of practice robs us of this valuable opportunity. Working with junior students forces us to pay more attention, not only to watch to see if they are performing the technique well, but also to keep ourselves safe.
For these reasons I think it’s a very good idea to make sure any hint of not wanting to practice with junior students does not stay in our practice of Aikido.