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Sometimes I need to quote myself. Yesterday I wrote in a thread about what's missing in aikido:
Peter's series of articles on "Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation" (best to start at the beginning: http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?filter=Peter%20Goldsbury&t=12008) deals precisely with questions of what aikido was for O Sensei and he passed it on to his students.
From what I've read, I don't think we can assume that O Sensei was concerned about his students being able to replicate exactly what he was doing. I'm also not convinced that the ranks he gave correlated all that well with the students' ability to demonstrate a deep understanding of aikido as O Sensei saw it.
I don't doubt that his students were darned good martial artists. Nor do I doubt that many of them got an appreciation for internal skills. It's just that (based on what I've read by Ellis and Peter), O Sensei didn't have transmission of the art as his primary goal. Rather, aikido was a religious expression for O Sensei, who saw himself as a shaman dedicated to the divinity of the Japanese emperor because of his understanding of Japanese creation myths, and (at least until his move to Iwama in 1942) who was tightly associated with right-wing militarism. O Sensei saw the power of aikido coming from the kotodama -- which contains mystical word-sounds with innate power. O Sensei did not see it as his responsibility to explicitly teach what he was doing, nor did he expect his students to adopt his religious views. It was enough for them to study aikido and master what they could.
So this leads to a very fundamental question: what is aikido? Or to put it more carefully, what characteristics should an art have to be considered aikido?
O Sensei's approach seemed to result in a messy hodgepodge of "stuff" comprising aikido that really only made complete sense to him. The first thing his senior students and his son seemed to do was somehow create a system of techniques and principles for what they learned so that aikido could be taught more efficiently. That seems to be the problem. The conventional wisdom is that O Sensei's son "watered down" aikido when he developed a standard curriculum. Yet it seems that what most people consider to be "aikido" is much closer to the standard curricula developed by Tohei, Saito, or Kisshomaru Ueshiba than what O Sensei was doing.
Whatever aikido is, people seem to agree that O Sensei and his direct students had it (or some version of it), and could demonstrate powerful technique. Even generations removed, lots of people have used their training successfully in violent encounters -- I have twice.
But if we're doing some version of aikido one or more generations removed from O Sensei's aikido, are we even doing aikido? Do we even want to do O Sensei's aikido? Is it possible to do O Sensei's aikido without also adopting O Sensei's religious and cultural views? Finally, is there some sort of empirical way to know when or if we're doing O Sensei's aikido? Is it only strong, effective technique, or is there something mystical we should understand?
I've posed a lot of the questions to Peter, who implied that he'll deal with many of them in future articles. For my own part, I'm convinced that the internal strength skills are an essential part of aikido. Beyond that, even after almost ten years of study, I'm not sure what exactly makes aikido different from other arts or how to precisely define aikido. I know the definition goes beyond the form of certain techniques. But other than that, I'm somewhat stumped.