Re: Culture of Martial Mediocrity?
Great question Larry. There's some stuff I agree with here and some stuff I have a different take on (your characterisation of cross training - "resorting" to other techniques). A couple of points, ideas.
1. It's important to remember the raw material Ueshiba had to work with. Many of his students were highly ranked in other *fighting* arts. IOW they had already develeoped the sorts of attributes you see in seasoned fighters, Aikido was a refinement of existing martial skill. Today you see alot of Aikido lifers, who entered budo and never went anywhere else. Many of these people develop some odd ideas about how combat works. I've seen a relatively senior yudansha tell one of my guys who dabbles BJJ with me that when he hits the ground as uke, he should be trying to turn onto his stomach rahter than his back because otherwise he's too vulnerable to strikes. Insanity. But a symptom of the condition mentioned above.
2. I have seen elements in Aikido that are...well...cultlike. Particularly in terms of not being open to students looking at other things.
3. In addition, there are many people who are attracted to Aikido due to it's "gentle" reputation, and I think the art has been somewhat transformed as a result. These people would not be inclined to look at other arts, and are not inclined to reality test their own one. They will tell you they are pacifists. But you know that they beleive the way they are training Aikido will make them effective fighters, when it just will not.
I've given this alot of thought, and here's what I think. Alot of these problems occure when the art becomes too insular and inward looking without reference to what's going on in the real world and in other arts. This doesn't preserve the art so much as make the changes that *are* happening less visible, and allow for sometimes strange and unvalidated thinking to spread.
Here's a possible (and no doubt controversial) idea.
Aikido Sabbatical. What if we were to say that before you can attain a certain grade (and I'm thinking Nidan for reasons later explained), you have to have attained a certain amount of training in another art. Any other art.
Why Nidan? Well I think it's fair that up until Shodan people concentrate on Aikido. Plus as we know Aikido takes time to learn, by Shodan the student should have, if not the ability to apply it to all comers, an appreciation of how that may be possible. In other words sending them off to another art is less likely to undermine their confidence in Aikido. And by Nidan it is fair to expect people have a wider view of fighting, and of budo than just what they've experienced in Aikido.
Now I'm not suggesting we legislate to make everyone MMA fighters. Any other art is fine. In fact the more diverse the better. Some people will come back with views on striking they learned from Muay Thai, others with views on grappling from judo/bjj, others with centering from tai chi. And I'm not suggesting we tell them to go off and get black belts. I'd set the level at whatever would be reasonable for that art after a couple of years of moderate training. Moderate because it is desireable and likely that they will keep training Aikido as well.
The benefits would be threefold
1. Techniques - they'd come back with knowledge that while not being formally taught, would be interesting to all. I mean a guy that's trained for a year or two in Muay Thai isn't going to come back and start thowing low thigh kicks willy nilly, but his focus and power may well have improved. And with a variety of cross trainers, it gives us the opportunity to practice against a variety of *competant* attacks (as opposed to trying to practice kick defences against someone that struggles not to fall over when kicking even when you do nothing).
2. Outlook. Beyond the specifics of the techniques, students would begin to udnerstand that there are other viewpoints and ways of training, and that even though they are different to Aikido they are still valid. Both in person and online at various forums it seems clear to me that Aikidoka can be particularly prone to the "that's not how we do it and we do it the best way so that's inferior and wrong" syndrome. There's good reasons we train the way we do, but there's good reasons why BJJ'ers and Tai Chi players train the way they do as well. That way when we come across something new our initial instinct won't be to tell people why it's wrong but to consider it's merits and see if it fits into our paradigm before discarding or accepting it.
3. Reputation. This is a little more trivial, but Aikido takes it's share of heat in the MA community. I think it would earn us huge credibility if we said - not only do we encourage cross training - we damn well require it at a certain level. And there's good reasons why that should give us credibility - it's those reasons rather than the rep itself that are important (if that makes sense).
Some people may not want to cross train. May dig their toes in. That's fine, welcome to Shodan, make yourself comfortable you'll be there a while. Aikido is at heart about learning to fight. Part of that at higher levels is exposing yourself to other types of fighters. And in a spectrum that runs from tai chi to Muay Thai, there's gotta be something to appeal to most people. Hell we could set up exchange programmes and use it to expose people from other arts to Aikido.