Learn it, then forget about it
Ueshiba Sensei’s way of teaching was quite different from the instructional methods used today. In those days, Sensei would first demonstrate the technique we were to practise, simply giving us an idea of the movements. By no means did he ever explain to us how to do something.
By watching Sensei’s example we tried to work the techniques out for ourselves. But to no matter what we did, Sensei would be on the sidelines saying only: “Ah! That’s good! That’s good!” This was extremely frustrating, however, since we had no idea of just what it was that was good! You may think that this was an unkind way of teaching, but Sensei always felt that this is what budo was about.
“Learn it, then forget about it”, was an expression Sensei always used. Let’s take for example using a shiho nage to throw your partner who attacks with a front strike. The first time you try it, it works fine, and so you try to throw him in exactly the same way the second time. However, this time the force and position of his body, as well as the way he uses his power has changed subtly. So, if you try to move just as you did the first time your technique will be ineffective.
Ultimately, “learn it, then forget about it”is not about trying to repeat what you have done before. Rather, it has to do with totally putting preconceptions out of your mind and facing each circumstance as a completely new one, and in this way coming to terms with the technique. Then you can develop the feeling of “seizing the moment” without relying on set procedures. Paradoxically, the way we try to do things now, with our detailed way of setting the feet in just this position and the hands in that position, is somewhat removed from the true nature of budo.