Ikkyo-undo (the "first-exercise) is yet another way of aligning with uke's energy, matching speed and direction.
A plastic bat is roughly equivalent to the traditional bundle of bamboo. It's noisy when ikkyo is incorrect, but causes no harm — and ikkyo improves immediately.
This is the exercise that brought me into Aikido. Karate students are taught to block the most ferocious overhead blows with forearms and so students spend years with sore, injured arms. "Isn't there a better way?" they ask. "Which would you rather have," instructors retort sternly, "a broken arm? or a broken head?" (These are the choices? — not in the Japanese tradition where blocking a sword strike with an arm will leave you with more than a broken arm or head — or less.)
After spending weeks observing classes to see how these Aikido people were "faking" their throws and falls, I saw an attacker came in with a heavy stick in an overhead strike that could easily have smashed an arm. But he never reached his target; nage came gliding in, blended with the motion, threw uke and even ended up with the stick. At that point I no longer cared if it was faking — teach me how to fake like that! They did.
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