Process out of Sequence
One of the problems, from the standpoint of Aikido as a martial art, is that for many, if not most, Aikidoka the process is out of sequence or by-passes certain stages.
In many arts, the highest level of skill is arrived at well after the period of peak physical performance. Usually, the late teens, the twenties and the early thirties represent the period at which the body functions optimally from the physical standpoint. In most competitive arts it is rare to find people able to compete at the top levels after this point in time. The rougher and more physical the practice, the more this is true ie. Muy Thai or Mixed Martial Arts.
Aikido is an art which people often start well into or past their physical prime. It is also an art which has a large proportion of people who have done no other martial arts training. Because there is no competition in most styles, very few participants train as if they were preparing for competition.
The normal progression of skill and knowledge starts with development of basic physical skills. The progression then proceeds to application allowing the students to develop good solid understanding of how to apply their skills in an "open skills" environment. Sparring, competition, or just freestyle practice is used to deveolp this ability. At this level one can function as a "fighter" but typically one hasn't even come close to mastering the finer points of the art.
As one continues to train the emphasis becomes takin gthese skills to the higher levels. One doesn't normally develop these skills by simply fighting or sparring. These skills are in the art's kihon waza. But at this stage of the training, with the highly developed sense of the "context" into which the kihon waza apply in reality, their understanding of the kihon waza is different. In Aikido this stage represents the point at which the deep principles of the art are discovered. Technique shifts from the physical more to the energetic having more to do with the use of aiki than the previous physical stage at which technique was largely the efficient application of physical principles.
The problem for most Aikido folks is that they've skipped the first step. Very few Aikidoka compete or even have any real practice of application in a non-traditional sense. The original uschi deshi all had substantial martial arts backgrounds. Coming out of largely judo and kendo, with a smattering of other experience, these folks didn't need to be taught how to train, how to condition themselves for competition, how to get mentally tough enough to deal with resistant partners, etc. The fact that most, if not all, engaged in fights during their young uchi deshi period to test their ability to apply what they knew. Many had to proove themselves later when they were sent to spread Aikido around the world.
The reason that these teachers got to such a high level of skill in relatively short time was 1) they trained extremly hard, as if they were world class athletes getting ready for a championship and 2) by the time they were training with the Founder they already had the "context" to view the Kihon Waza which they were taught.
This simply isn't the case today. The "average" Aikido practitioner has little or no ther martial arts experience. Many don't even start Aikido until they are at the end or are past their period of peak physicality. The vast majority do not train even as hard as a typical high school athlete. The majority of Aikido practitioners are attempting to understand and master the higher principles of the art without having gone through this basic period of intensive physicality during which they developed their bodies and their strength of spirit.
Some experience of other martial arts is important to develop the ability to apply technique oustide of the controlled "context" of traditional practice. But even if one isn't interested in martial application, it is still important to have trained out at whatever ones physical limit is, usually by taking ukemi from the teacher, in order to develop that same strength of spirit and intention which other martial artists develop through sparring or competition.
This is why there has to be so much discussion of how one trains to develop ones Aikido fully. It is not because the people intent on developing these methods are not aware of or are not interested in the higher levels of sophistication which Aikido contains. They are simply aware that there is NO WAY to access these levels by by passin the hard training that initial stage of foundational training should contain. It is possible that someone might bypass this first stage and go on, in the very contrrolled confines of the dojo, to discover various advanced principles of the art. But that person would be alomsot entirely theoretical in his knowledge and would have little or no ability to apply the principles in the real world.
If you take a look at the training exercises which David has been using to work on this aspect of Aikido or get a hold of the videos of Jason Delucia (poorly titled Combat Aikido) you can see methyodolgy which can provide the aikido practitioner a way to develop his "context" so that his dojo Aikido can get to a higher level eventually.
The problem is that people get trapped in one or the other mode... either they think its all about application and don't go beyond the physical level (this totally misses the understanding of the spiritual principles embodied in the higher level technique) or they want do the spiritual stuff without understanding the limits of the most physical technique.
This essential dichotomy has existed since people first started trying to understand the nature of reality. Is reality limited to what we can see and measure, ie essentially material, or is it really about the spirit, which tends to demean the physical, demeaning the body, the sensual... Aikido is the art which purports to contain both aspects but its practitioners continue to shape the art to their own limitations rather than try to accept the challenge of leaving behind what they know and what they are comfortable with in favor of the transformation that comes with practice.