Peter A Goldsbury
I think you have to be very careful with the idea of parsing a single word, even though it is a compound of several Chinese characters, in the way you would parse a Latin sentence.
... 'Aikido' does not usually appear in Japanese kanji dictionaries, because it is a made-up word... some non-Japanese try to find the 'real' meaning of the word by decomposing it into the characters, perhaps because it makes them feel good when they train. This is fine. I have no problems with this, just so long as they do not then suggest that this decomposition is the 'real' meaning of the word.
To me the issue is why the Founder chose those words.The language issues are more about what he intended to signify by using them. The connotations raised by the phrase are more important than their denotative meanings.
This is revealed in some respects explicitly by his pun on "ai" ="love" and in the Takemusu Aiki lectures, if one takes the time to understand his points of reference. One cannot understand O Sensei well unless there is an element of poetic reading.
On the poetic front, "ai-ki-do" 合 氣 道 is onyomi, meaning it is pronounced (more or less) as a Japanese pidgin of Classical Chinese. The connotations appropriate to onyomi in poetry are Chinese in origin, with whatever other gloss the Japanese have given it, not unlike Latinate words in English.
Classical Chinese was transmitted to Japan before the development of modern compounds (two characters typical per word/idea). Plural is by context, or number marker. Chinese syntax is precedential in word order: subject/predicate; modifier/modified, verb/object, and the order of sentence/clause structure, typically: topic, predicate, comment. Reading it in the Classical Chinese manner may thus give a variety of associations or connotations appropriate to poetic license.
合 氣 道 -- hé qì dào
合 hé -- n. musical note; v. to fit, join, gather
氣 qì -- n. air; weather; vital breath; (coll.) v. -- to make angry; to get angry; to be enraged)
道 dào -- n. direction; way; method; road; path; principle; truth; reason; skill; method; Tao (Taoism); a measure word; (coll.) v. to say; to speak; to talk
So variously, 合 氣 道 can be read to connote quite a few things from the onyomi connotations that O-Sensei said in other ways more expressly, elsewhere:
-- Principle of gathering vital breath
-- Joining of airy (empty) road(s) (At the empty crossroad -- i.e.- complete freedom to move)
-- Way of gathering (empty) air
-- Way of joining (empty) air
-- Method of joining to anger
-- Way of meeting spirit
and most colloquially, (and I love
-- Music for angry conversation
In no particular order, O-Sensei has spoken or written explicitly about the importance to aikido of:
-- juji (the cross-symbol ),
-- the void and joining with it;
-- ki-musubi - the spirit of connection;
-- harmonizing word-spirits (kotodama)
-- forms of breath and joining them together
... among others.
Rich imagery, well chosen -- in many facets