George S. Ledyard wrote:
I'm trying to figure out who you'd be talking about in this statement... I don't know anyone who is using O-Sensei to form a "charismatic cult" ...
I actually was referring to John Stevens. He is a qualified instructor who studied under Shirata Rinjiro Sensei. Yet he sells his style as Classical Aikido
in which you use his translations to understand O Sensei. During his lifetime the founder was continually developing his aikido and he really did not have a particular style. This was a person who was constantly innovating, yet traditionalists try and teach his aikido as a particular style that fits their level of understanding.
A traditional martial artist learns by good example, therefore you find the need for high-level instructors. However you can also learn from mistakes and people usually have more mistakes than successes. The hard thing about learning this way is that you need to know why it is a mistake and what needs to be done to correct it. But once you set-up a feedback structure that recognizes and corrects mistakes, there is less reliance on an instructor.
As far as transmission goes, this might sound heretical for organized martial arts, but people can learn even if there is no one to teach them. Mushashi became a top duelist even though he never formally studied sword. Tai Chi was done by thousands when suddenly Chen Man-Ching got it and the art flowered under his practice.
Perhaps it's the different areas we live in, but I'm finding experienced instructors more and more. Maybe it's because I see everyone as carrying a piece of a puzzle I would like to solve, that is why I find myself more open to learning. While I go to seminars to learn from high-ranked instructors, I do it out of curiosity not necessity.
There is a story told in various cultures throughout history. It's about a wise man who goes into the forest and returns with a pile of gold. As the years pass, the wise man eventually dies and the gold is given to his disciples. However when they receive it, the gold turns to ashes.
Maybe a way to stop this transformation is to simply recognize it as gold and treat it as such. Or as some say, "The martial arts begins and ends with respect."