I'm not so sure that I've ever searched for the definitions of aikido, but I have certainly searched for how to do it better. What I'm very curious about is understanding why there are such strange controversies in aikido. Of course, with some small understanding of human nature, I already know the answer to that question, I suppose.
Well, the phrase I quoted, "that set of fundamental things that defines aikido", was your phrase, used in one of your posts and so I thought that this was what you were searching for. I think that searching for what aikido is and searching for ways to do it better are rather different. I have never had to search for what aikido is, for it has always been shown to me as aikido. As for controversies, my own opinion, expressed in the series of columns I am writing, is that Morihei Ueshiba never cared to define the art in such a way that satisfies the logical requirements of a definition, as understood in the western (= Graeco-Roman) intellectual tradition. And so, others who have no affiliation to either Ueshiba or the organizations created by his deshi can rightly claim to be practising 'aikido', in the sense in which the name was chosen by the Dai Nippon Butokukai in 1942. I think we need to think more carefully what happened in 1942 and this has some relevance to another thread entitled ‘A New Breed of Aikido'.
In 1942 the Pacific War was moving to a climax and the Japanese military government was using the Dai Nippon Butokukai, created much earlier, to organize the martial arts on a war footing. I think that Ueshiba really had no choice but to have the art he created recognized by the military government. The assistance of Minoru Hirai was sought and I think that Hirai and Ueshiba moved for a while on parallel lines, so to speak. So Hirai became the Soumu-buchou of the Kobukai and represented the Kobukai's interests on the Dai Nippon Butokukai. Much has been made of this relationship, but I have my doubts that it was very close.
I think that it is important to understand that, based on the evidence we have, ‘aikido' was a general name applied to a certain type of art that was defined negatively: it was marked off from other arts. In other words, certain arts could be called ‘aikido' because they were not like, e.g., judo, or kendo, not because they had any positive qualities that signified the essence of aikido. It was not the name of a particular ryu, nor was it the intellectual property of one particular family. I think there is no avoiding this conclusion, based on the evidence we have, and the only way of gaining more knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the naming of aikido is to search through the military archives, if these exist. Perhaps this will be one of my post-retirement projects.
However, it has to be stated that in the public mind the name ‘aikido' after the war came to be associated with Morihei Ueshiba and Minoru Hirai became a ‘deshi' of Ueshiba. Was he really a deshi? I can think of a parallel development after the war. My predecessor as IAF General Secretary was a man named Seiichi Seko. I never saw him practise aikido, but I was told that he was a ‘deshi' of Morihei Ueshiba before the war (though his name does not appear in any dojo lists). After the war he became a strong supporter of Kisshomaru Ueshiba. Was he a deshi of Kisshomaru? In a very extended sense, Yes. But only in the sense that I, too, am a ‘grandchild' deshi of Morihei Ueshiba (whom I never met) because I practise aikido at the hands of his direct deshi.
I think it is undeniable that Minoru Hirai was pursuing his own martial interests long before he met Morihei Ueshiba and continued to pursue these interests after 1942. For a while he became associated with Ueshiba and gave crucial assistance at a time when the Kobukai needed it. Then their paths separated, but I suspect that Hirai had very good grounds to insist that the art he named after his relationship with Ueshiba largely ceased could be called ‘aikido'.
How do we know aikido when we see it? Being specific has its place, but there is certainly an implicit danger in being a fundamentalist, and that is not my intent.
I think that Morihei Ueshiba's general laxity in failing to define more exactly what he was actually doing, especially for future generations living outside Japan, has caused problems for his successors, especially the Aikikai. After World War II Ueshiba really became a kind of aikido 'Emperor', as this personage is conceived here. He largely lived in a world of his own, appeared in the dojo from time to time and on these occasions either taught or delivered lectures or pronouncements. Whenever he appeared, everything stopped and people dropped to their knees and waited to see what he would do. Whatever he said, of course, had to be of immense significance and every word was excavated to extract every last vestige of meaning. So it would never have made sense to ask him to define what he had created. It was all there anyway.
The organization he created had a problem, however, and I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the conversations between Morihei Ueshiba and Kisshomaru, especially in the immediate aftermath of Japan's defeat in 1945. There are over ten years in question here, since Ueshiba stayed in Iwama from 1942 to 1955. Morihiro Saito became his deshi in Iwama and we know that Kisshomaru Ueshiba divided his time between the Tokyo Dojo and Iwama. But nothing has come from this period except the reminiscences in Saito Sensei's earlier books and Kisshomaru's own (untranslated) autobiography. For example, Kisshomaru kept his postwar job in Tokyo a secret for as long as he could and all hell broke lose when Dad found out. For me, thinking of the relationship I had with my father (which, I think, was no different from other father-son relationships, as I have discussed these with my own schoolmates etc), this is hard to imagine. But Kisshomaru quietly stood his ground and continued working there until he became head of the Aikikai in 1955.
The fact that Kisshomaru Ueshiba took a job to make sure that he could feed the deshi whom his father had accepted speaks volumes, in my opinion, of Kisshomaru's commitment to the art. I mention Kisshomaru here because it was he who was responsible for defining the essential features of aikido, especially for non-Japanese. He had a big problem with Koichi Tohei, but both saw the need to break away from the old prewar Shinto/nationalist mindset and present aikido as a modern, efficient martial art, which could be understood and practiced by anybody, but which admitted of the same degree of commitment as its prewar predecessor aikibudo.
With respect to the defining characteristics of aikido, I would like to recount some of the issues relating to this question that I experienced on my recent trip to Malaysia and Brunei. (I hope that if any members of the Aikikai Malaysia Association who participated in my seminars read this, they will contribute, if only to make sure that my perceptions are not mistaken.)
My reason for visiting Malaysia and Brunei was to educate myself about the circumstances of an IAF member federation; it was not to give training courses as an aikido shihan. However, I have 6th dan rank and I was expected to give classes. Of course, I did so and afterwards some senior yudansha began to talk to me: they had been training for several years under the direction of a Japanese shihan, but had never before seen the waza that I was showing them (waza which I have been practicing for nearly 30 years in Hiroshima). They had been told that only certain waza were Aikikai waza and that only certain types of training were approved by the Aikikai (weapons training was specifically excluded). I could see the reason for the shihan's concern. I believe (I may be wrong) that Penchak Silat is a Malayan martial art and I know that many of the yudansha were also experienced in this art. I think the shihan, who had some knowledge of the Japanese sword, wanted to mark off very clearly the area of aikido from the indigenous art, but in doing so had deprived his senior yudansha of a way of broadening their own training horizons. The yudansha were looking for ways of testing aikido against PK and so my classes were a breath of fresh air. Was what I was doing aikido? Of course. My training lineage is very clear. Was it Aikikai? Of course, for the same reasons.
Of course, it has often been stated that the Aikikai is not a particular way of doing aikido. I this is why attempting to produce a set of defining characteristics for ‘Aikikai aikido' is doomed to fail.