Up front, I agree with many of the positions stated thus far -- more of them on the "competition" side of things. Additionally, I played sports all my life -- at national and international levels, being invited to the Olympic Training camp in two different sports. Yet, in the end, I come down on the side that there is a distinction between Budo (i.e. Aikido) and Sport -- that there should be.
Mr. Wilson asked, "I'd be very interested if anyone else thinks they have a clearer distinction between sport and budo?"
An answer was given, one I fully agree with, but it seems the discussion has gone on to other things. I wanted to bring some attention back to it, please/thanks.
Mr. Threadgill stated: "Budo performed only as sport is not evolution in my opinion, but degeneration. It reduces the dignity and moral conscience of budo to insignificance, resulting in the competitive element of training becoming an end unto itself instead of a means towards a greater end. To paraphrase a common idiom, competition sometimes becomes the tail wagging the budo dog. With the loss of a greater duty to the moral objectives associated with budo, ego gratification frequently becomes the driving force of the training experience, with all the problems that entails."
For me, what is important to note is the difference being mentioned between "means" and "ends." It is not that one can look at sports or budo and not see every single element that makes each one up being shared between the two. One does. This is why each one can benefit from the other one, should an element be missing for some strange reason. In other words, as was stated, a budoka can make great gains by introducing competitive elements into his/her training, as an athlete can make great gains by pursuing his/her sport via the full investment or application of the heart/mind and/or spirit. Attempting to define and/or redefine what constitutes a "gain" is not going to take us away from the fact that all elements are capable of being shared and are shared at the highest level of each endeavor.
Historically, there is a reason for this, in my opinion -- why there is so much in common between the two. At the turn of the 20th century, folks in the modern world (which included Japan), facing the difficulties of urbanization, industrialization, colonialism, and imperialism, started to take the old political discourse of the Same and the Other to new levels and toward new directions. In particular, folks needed to find a "Same" that functioned according to the emerging international abstractions at the same time that they needed the proposed dominance over the Other, to justify things like national security "naturally." One of the most influential discourses that set out to do this was that of Muscular Christianity. In short, everyone was talking about the role that physical training played not only in the overall wellness of the individual but also in the wellness of the modern state in a growing global economy. From this point on, folks had to start talking like this -- like we are now.
However, while everyone started talking about fixing things through physical activity, discourses like Muscular Christianity, via the uses they could bring to colonialism and imperialism, also started talking about the vitality of competition. The Modern Olympiad was born out of this in fact. Up to this point, in my opinion, while a great many folks could talk about the importance of physical conditioning in regards to the wellness of the individual (since that has had an ancient history), some folks seriously questioned that competition could achieve this as well. Looking at this, Osenei seems to have been one of these people. Debates, both within and outside of sports, were waged -- for example, the professional/amateur dichotomy not really reaching reconciliation until a century later.
In my opinion, the nature of the debates centered on what Mr. Threadgill noted already. While no one was denying that physical training could be part of a technology of the self, folks felt that competition ultimately led things in the wrong direction. In particular, in competition, the spirit is used to gain victory over another, to compete better. In the end, it is the performance of oneself within competition that measures how much spirit or at what level the spirit was involved. Because one only knows the spirit by how well one defeats another with it, for example, folks were heavily skeptical that this indeed could bring individual or international wellness. Folks like Osensei, folks that were into "victory over the self" and "peace and unity on Earth" had an entirely different agenda when it came to the cultivation of the spirit. For them, the spirit was not the means to the ends. It was the end, and all the woes and ills of Modernity could only be addressed by this position.
As it turns out, folks in the know are finally beginning to realize that the losing side at the turn of the 20th century -- folks like Osensei -- were right.
To see what this might mean:
(On how youth sports are setting prescriptions to address the downside of seeing competition/victory as an end. From the National Association of Youth Sports
(On the down side of what happens to the spirit when competition is the end and not the means. From the Department of Education
So, one might want to ask what training with the spirit as the end looks like... Well, while it might include competitive elements, it does not require competition as any sort of defining conclusion. Training with the spirit as the end does not require competition to demarcate the spirit into existence. In other words, the virtues gained come without the need to be contrasted or measured against the lack of virtue in another. For example, one is confident without having to defeat another before knowing that that is true; one is brave without having to defeat another before knowing that that is true. Etc. From this point of view, while facing one's fears in the ring says a lot, especially in light of someone who cannot face such fears, it does not mean that such facing does not present a lessor virtue in light of the person who needs no such contrast.