Mark Murray wrote:
And if you're looking to be a "Master", then you're missing the whole point of Aikido, IMO.
The whole "Master" term is a loaded one these days with so many self-styled "Masters" all over the place. A better phrase would be to attain "mastery" of ones art.
If ones goal is to attain "mastery" of ones art I not only do not think that this misses the whole point, but rather, it is the whole point.
Aikido, as the Founder envisoned it, is a Michi, a Path. It is a form of Budo. It isn't a form of entertainment though it can be entertaining, it isn't about fighting, although it can be used for self defense, it isn't about improving your social life, although it may be the center of your social life.
The Aikido Path is about realization... concerning the nature of the universe and the nature of ourselves. These realizations arise out of reaching a certain level of "mastery" of the art. As one attains this "mastery" of the art, one should also attain "mastery" of ones self. Masakatsu Agatsu - True Victory is Self Victory. This is why the art was created.... not to give a bunch of folks all over the world a cool hobby. Certainly, there are many things one learns about oneself, simply from the doing of the art at any level. But the depth of that knowledge is directly proportional to the amount of effort one puts in to ones training.
Every student will not be a teacher, not every teacher will get to the highest levels of "mastery". But every student should be practicing "as if" some level of "mastery" were possible.
Aikido, as it has evolved today, is a very elitist affair. An extremely small group of practitioners has attained some level of "mastery" of the art. Tens of thousands of people are out there doing the art, teaching the art, spending their time and money on the art, yet they have little or no hope of attaining anything better than the most elemental understanding of the art into which they have poured so much of their time and effort.
Many people, having read my articles, think I am an "elitist". In fact, it's quite the opposite. I want everyone to do better Aikido. It is quite possible to have students do much better Aikido.... it simply requires that teachers teach much better Aikido. To do this, the teachers must be pushing themselves to be better. This is a responsibility that goes with taking on the role of teacher.
The spread of Aikido around the world has lead to thousands of dojos opening run by people who took on the role of teacher simply because no one around had trained longer than they had. The almost complete demise of the dan system actually having anything to do with some depth of skill in the art (rather than survival time) has led to a situation in which most Aikido practitioners haven't even seen someone who understands the art at a high level.
There must be a concerted effort to raise the technical level of the teachers of the art who are the means of the "transmission" from one generation to the next. We don't need more dojos and dojo heads. The focus which has been on growth for the art should be shifted to raising the level of the skill of those already in the art. If those who are teaching the art have depth of knowledge, then the growth of the art takes care of itself.
If the technical focus of the art is improved, the practitioners can actually start to experience those elements of Aikido which provide the kinds of spiritual insights which O-Sensei envisioned. I don't think this should be reserved for a small group at the top while everyone else does something else. Every practitioner of Aikido can attain at least some real depth if the art is taught better, practiced better, and the teachers of the art demand of themselves that they get better. There is way too much complacency in Aikido. If one is content with where he's at, he's not growing as he should and growth is the whole point of doing something like Aikido.