Thanks for working my mind here -- thanks for the reply.
You wrote: "Further, I would claim that the Founder of aikido clearly understood that aikidoka would have different levels of ability towards manifesting the ideal as evidenced by him using a ranking system. Of course, I cannot say for sure that the Founder actually held the position that an aikido should do minimal damage. However, it seems that he would have had the expectation that his students (and their students) who are not yet grandmasters would have this "do minimal damage" position as the best manifestation of the ideal that they at whatever their current level could achieve."
I cannot with confidence state that the Founder held such ideals for anyone other than himself and/or for anyone other than that "general" or "abstract" deshi instructors use as a point of reference whenever they want to generally talk about some of the more abstract elements of their art. After all, such a moral position is obviously tied to Osensei's religious worldview, and we know that most of his deshi either claim that they did not understand his view and/or that Osensei did not require that they understand it. By extension then, I think one would be hard-pressed to suggest that Osensei connected the comprehension and/or realization of such a worldview to notions of institutional rank and/or of progress. In addition, one could even argue that Osensei shows more signs of not understanding the modern ranking system than of understanding it -- as there are historical examples where he subverted such a system via things like "over-promotion," etc. Still, I can concede that it is not unreasonable to suggest that Osensei may have felt or understood that for many the notion of "minimal damage" is the closest that one could get to the ideal of "non-injuring," etc. However, and this is what I feel is important, such a concern assumes that the Founder saw his art as non-injurious -- and that my friend is the assumption that is up in the air right now. For if the Founder did not see his art as non-injurious, if his position on the oneness of Mankind is indeed seated firmly in a mystical worldview, then it is likely that the Founder's caveats against violence are not a call for us to discover a new non-lethal technology but rather to purify from our own heart/minds the will to violence and all that supports it.
You asked: "As you get better the minimum amount of damage you would need to do, you should decrease towards doing "no damage". How else do you suggest approaching our training towards doing "no damage"?"
Certainly, we can see, to do some damage, even as little as possible, cannot lead to doing no damage -- as "some damage" is always in the opposite direction from "no damage." This remains true even if it is more proximal to "no damage" than "maximum damage." That is to say, the orientation and/or direction of "minimal damage" are antithetical to the ideal of "non-injury." It can only ever remain this. So I would suggest a whole other perspective is in order -- should one truly want to hold the ideal of non-violence and/or non-injury. Moreover, I would suggest that a mystical worldview does indeed present such an alternative -- one that also remains much more practical.
How else do I suggest approaching our training towards doing "no damage"? By leaving our training lethal and by working upon ourselves along a keen martial edge so that we do not ever need to employ it. As we improve, our art should simply get more lethal, and thus more capable of honing our body/mind so that it does not require of us to act out violently. In short, I would suggest, the way to discover how we injure ourselves when we injure another is not to gain a kote-gaeshi that just lays folks down (while we support the back of their head for good measure). Rather, it is to penetrate our own being to such a depth that we realize the oneness between us all. The capacity to penetrate are own being, I would suggest, is directly proportional to how lethal one's art is and/or can be. For me, the non-lethality of our art, the idealizing of "minimal damage," is the way that we block ourselves from participating in this oneness. How? Because it forces us to preoccupy ourselves with mundane things -- as our Aikido becomes a mundane thing as well.
I have written a bit on this at our web site -- there are some video clips that go with it. Maybe you might find it interesting -- if you got some time, please check it out, and let me know what you think: