George S. Ledyard wrote:
Ted, you keep saying things that, at least to me are self evident. O-Sensei certainly did understand that what he was doing applied well beyond Japanese martial arts. He quite clearly stated that Aikido had the power to transform the world.
I also disagree that most people don't see it that way. You can find folks out there running every which way and that with the concepts they've taken from Aikido. I don't see many people at all who are caught up in the "mysticism and superstitions" of Aikido's creation... in fact it's the opposite. People have almost no understanding of O-Sensei's spiritual ideas. What passes in general for Aikido spirituality is a sort of ethical system based on the idea of "do no harm". It's simplistic. Just look at the bulk of the posts on the various Aikido forums. The number of people who have even an academic understanding of what O-Sensei about his spirituality is quite small. The number who have actually experienced training of the type he underwent is even smaller. I don't see where you can maintain that some significant number is caught up in the mysticism and I actually have no idea what you might be considering superstition...
I think that there are many people who see the "big picture" just fine. It's the little picture they don't get. The current discussion and the related threads are all about the fact that there are technical issues which Aikido practitioners need to deal with if they aspire to technique that is comparable to teachers like O-Sensei or Takeda Sensei. I see lots of ideas about how one applies Aikido principles in the world. I don't see a lot of real understanding about how Aikido principles apply martially.
It's amazing to me how various folks want to remove O-Sensei from Aikido or selectively focus on what he said in order to maintain some position. The man was the Founder of that art. The art was his unique creation. Of course it was based on elements that had gone before. Everything is based on what has gone before. But O-Sensei's structuring of the techniques, his development of the manner in which we practice, and his spiritual expression of how the physical art connected with the spiritual art was unique. It did not exist before him. Many would maintain that it may not have existed after him.
It is not an overattachment to O-Sensei's spiritual beliefs that is the problem for Aikido... It's that most people don't ever get their Aikido technique up to the level at which they can actually connect their physical technique to the spiritual concepts O-Sensei talked about. A working knowledge of O-Sensei's spiritual ideas is important for giving direction to ones practice. Without that, it commonly happens that simplistic spiritual concepts arise out of incomplete understanding of physical technique.
Everybody likes to call these folks "aiki fruities" or "aiki bunnies" or some such. The folks that refer to them as such generally pride themselves on not having much involvment in the spiritual side of the art, as if that would make their Aikido more martial. Well, they are no closer to the Aikido of O-Sensei than the "fruities"... I know that there are many folks out there who don't really care if they are doing anything like what O-Sensei had in mind. He is just some figure from ancient history as far as they are concerned. But for many of us, the connection to O-Sensei's art is important. If Aikido was limited to what goes by that name in a lot of cases, I would never have stayed in the art for thirty years. I might not even have started.
The problem I see with the spiritual side of everything is that it is open to interpretation. Technique is hard to get confused about, you can climb out on the mat and see if it works. However, with philosophy and religion, you can change and warp words to mean anything you want to mean.
Look at the church. 99% of all Christians I know pick parts of the bible that support their positions, and ignore the parts that do not. I think the same is true of aikido. They pick the part that supports their position, and ignore the things that make them uncomfortable. The problem is there is no way to really know what someone means when they same something spiritual or philosophical.
If I said "I am like the willow, dancing in the wind as the universe flows around me.", you would be hard pressed to really know what i'm talking about. Of course I'm talking about the correct mindset to have while playing nintendo wii. For combat I would say, "The sapling grows forth with infinite girth, allowing the truth of flora to be grown in its shade." Ok, even I do not know what I mean by that.
I find O Sensei's writings (The small amount I've been exposed too) to be just as cryptic and sometimes even express opposite viewpoints to his previous work. Look at how people argue about the attemi quote if you want a better handle on what I'm describing.