Updated: Apr 16, 2022
FROM EDITION 3 OF THE TRADITIONAL AIKIDO EUROPE JOURNAL – SPRING 2020
I have no idea where to start when it comes to learning the Kaeshi Waza (counter techniques) part of the system.
Kaeshi Waza are not a set of techniques to be memorised the way we learn the basics. When teaching these sets, it appears that way but the techniques are just ‘examples’ to be understood through our bodies. They depend on an advanced understanding and ability in the following domains:
a thorough understanding and skill of execution of the basic techniques.
an advanced level of awase.
This understanding of the basic techniques is not just about the forms themselves but a deeper understanding of the spirals and rhythms of application they are based on. This understanding allows us to understand where and when the techniques present potential openings – and hence vulnerabilities – where they can be countered.
Awase. At a basic level when we are in our first years of training, blending with our partner’s attacks is usually more of a hit and miss affair where we try to ‘match’ our speed and timing with our partner’s attack in order to apply a technique. We can ‘miss’, we experience lots of different kinds of difficulties in performing smooth and effortless techniques. Later as we move past learning forms and begin to concentrate on how we and our partners ‘feel’ while executing them, does the whole issue of blending begin to shift towards such component principles as ‘listening’, ‘following’, ‘joining’, ‘leading’ etc.  The ability to blend and harmonise with our partner takes on different flavours and becomes multi-dimensional. As we are able to work more on this level and Kaeshi Waza begin to make sense as it fundamentally depends on a developed ability to blend into our partners ‘rhythm’ through their technique. ‘Matching awase’ just won’t be good enough for this.
In addition to appreciating the techniques more ‘musically’ and being able to blend thoughtlessly and from feeling, Kaeshi Waza requires the following technical knowledge:
An understanding of ‘how’ to enter into a technique and counter it smoothly and seamlessly:
by entering into a ‘window’ in an imperfectly executed technique where the connection between uke and nage breaks.
by actively creating such ‘windows’ at specific points of relative weakness in the technique
So where should we begin?
By deepening our understanding, appreciation and ability in the basic techniques particularly at the Ki no Nagare level.
By deepening our ability to blend such that the connection with the other is felt as like an extension of your own self. At this level your partner’s intentions, impulses for action and their movements can be felt in your own body as sensations which direct and guide your own responses.
With the above levels ripening in one’s practice Kaeshi Waza is understood not as a new set of techniques in the repertoire to be memorised, but as a new level of complexity and challenge to further refine one’s Aikido.
So, to finally answer the question: we do not really ‘start’ with learning Kaeshi Waza but grow into them as our ability grows and matures. That is why it is not asked for in any exams until yondan level.
 See Peter Ralston’s work on this: Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power (1999)