The other day, one of my aiki-betters made the comment on an online forum, "You can't learn to do soft till you know how to do hard." And although that's pretty much how I developed as a martial artist, the statement of it that way struck me as interesting and unique. The first question that sprang to mind was, "WHY does it have to be that way?" and upon further consideration, I think I can answer my own question.
It seems to me that you have to start with go (hard) before you can get ju (yielding) because "ju" means something different to everyone you ask. You tell a group of newbies to "be soft" and some become flaccid while others remain hard. Some try to do the "when pushed, pull" thing and others try to do the "no be there" thing. Some are working on tactile invisibility while others are working in slow motion. Then you have some guys in the corner "closing the waki" isometrically so you cant see them applying strength and still others stare into space and chant, "ommmmm."
But then you tell someone, "be strong." and you jostle them a time or two or slap them on the chest or shoulder and they make a pretty good approximation of the kind of stance and posture and body management and mindset youre talking about.
Reminds me of a training paradigm that Nick Lowry posted a while back for jodo (but it applies elsewhere too). Basically, Nick says you start out with big, all-inclusive motion, then after you get the hang of it, you make it strong, and from there you move to fast, then light.
"Big-Strong-Fast-Light" appears to me to address the same ideas as "you can't do soft until you know how to do hard."
Win, or maybe lose. It just doesn't matter. - The best advice I can give a martial arts student is to find small incremental ways to make their selves a little bit tougher than they were five years ago...