Re: Culture of Martial Mediocrity?
Echoing some ideas already mentioned…
I think the crux of the issue is not necessarily between Aikido and some other martial art(s), but more specifically between the capacity to employ Aiki as a tactic and the comparative ease with which one can employ things like raw leverage, raw muscle, and/or direct resistance, etc., inside of dojo training environments. By "raw," I mean, "these things in relative isolation from other tactical elements."
Allow me to say this:
Aiki, when employed inside of spontaneous situations involving notions of victory or defeat (some sense of combat), requires everything that one might come to experience at the level of forms training. That is to say, one expects to see issues of timing, sensitivity, body/mind control, awareness, etc. However, in regards to spontaneous training, the develop of these things, or the rate at which they must be cultivated, is often beyond even the imagination of someone that only does forms training (or has their training dominated by forms training and not by spontaneous training). Because of ego attachment, like a frog at the bottom of the well, the subjective experience is mistakenly objectified by the person who experiences this discrepancy in skill level requirements. In the end, the tactic of Aiki is faulted rather than the self and its incapacity to cultivate the components of Aiki to a sufficient degree. Yet, this can only happen when one is confronted with such a need for high degrees of skill in the components of Aiki -- within spontaneous training environments. If one's training stays centered around forms training, and/or if one's notion of "spontaneous" training is centered around three or four people all madly running at you with their arms outstretched, and/or if one's notion of resistance is some higher-ranked stronger-than-you Uke screwing with your part of the two-man set during forms training, then one isn't even going to realize that one is in a greenhouse (i.e. that one's capacity at Aiki is problematic). And this is where I come in my own mind to the fine points raised by Larry. You got two human tendencies here -- both related to ego attachment: One the one hand, you have the person that universalizes their own subjective experience ("Aiki doesn't work"), and on the other hand you have the person that is deluded from truly seeing one's own limiting subjectivity ("Aiki works perfectly" [in forms]).
Why is this here? To be sure, the human tendency to be attached to one's ego and to the delusions of one's ego is relative. However, there seems to be more involved here. Let us ask, "How does one get out of this cycle or this dichotomy?" Well, the easiest way is to be led out by another person that is already on the outside. Inversely, this also tells us why the dichotomy is so prominent in our art: There aren't that many people that have achieved this level of Aiki or that are in possession of a means to assist others with a way out of the dichotomy of delusion. Moreover, nearly every aspect of institutional Aikido lends itself to not needing or even wanting these kinds of people, and thus to having ourselves never become one of these people -- people we would say are truly skilled with Aiki and/or are excellent in their application of Aiki. The results: If you are clear-sighted, you see mediocrity all around you. If you are less clear-sighted, you start to redefine things like spontaneity, resistance, Aiki, etc., such that a forms specialist can be seen as miraculous, capable, and even excellent.
My own rant -- since this seems to be a thread for ranting.