Yes! And that's the whole point. We don't look like each other on the mat because we aren't each other. Saotome Sensei must realize that teaching, in the traditional sense, can carry a student only so far. For the student to plumb the deeper levels of Aikido understanding must come from an awakening that cannot be spoon fed by an instructor.
I don't disagree that the "deeper" levels of understanding only come through individual effort and investigation... But, depth is only possible when starting with a strong foundation.
If you look at the students O-Sensei produced in the 30's they stand out as giants. Despite O-Sensei's less than systematic teaching methods, he turned out a disproportionate number of students who functioned at an extremely high level.
What produced this unique circumstance? A very small number of students, training daily with their teacher (the Founder himself), with extreme intensity (Hell Dojo). Each of them put his hands on the Founder every day, each took ukemi from him daily.
This is not the case now. How many of the students training in Aikido currently put their hands on a teacher of Shihan level caliber daily? At seminars and camps, how often do the attendees get a chance to put their hands on the Shihan teaching?
Aikido isn't like math where knowledge can be written down, codified and transmitted across generations. To preserve all of what Saotome has it would be necessary to recreate Saotome complete with all his relevant life experience. All of our teachers will take some of their knowledge to the grave with them, as will we, as will our students.
Actually, this is where I start to disagree... the principles involved in "aiki" are straight forward and teachable. The principles are the same for everyone; it is the outer form they take when manifested that varies. Aikido has an outer form which makes it Aikido. But the principles that make it work, when it right, are the same ones used in T'ai Chi, Systema, etc That why Ikeda Sensei invited Ushiro Sensei to teach at Rocky Mountain Summer Camp even though the outer form of what he does is Karate. The inner principles operating were "aiki".
Knowledge is a product of both ones experience and what is inherited from those who have gone before. The depth of knowledge attained by earlier teachers was not simply the result of their personal effort. They were given the basic material and ran with it. That's why lineage and transmission are so important. Their kind of knowledge is like and endangered species. Once it is lost, it will not evolve again. The Japanese Koryu have recognized this and have developed a systematic method for the transmission of the core elements of the style across generations. While there are isolated pockets of Aikido being taught in this manner, most Aikido is not.
The depth comes from the individual turning inward, experiencing Aikido from the inside out. I believe aikido is primarily a process of self-discovery; a pursuit of one's relationship to the universe, one's own spirit and one's fellow human beings. As such, understanding of aikido grows from within the student as a result of many years of training and contemplation. While aikido techniques can be taught relatively easily the deeper knowledge that is there for the taking must be experienced individually. The depth you are referring to cannot be ‘taught'; it must be felt, recognized it is being felt, then developed and honed via one's own training. While technique can be demonstrated and learned via repetition how is an instructor to be expected to teach his life experience? How does he teach students to experience the lifetime of learning that has gone into shaping his Aikido?
In my opinion, real depth is based on a deep understanding of the principles of the art. There is no separation between technique and character. A shallow understanding of the principles simply cannot result in deep spiritual understanding. Now some people have adjunct spiritual practices they do alongside their Aikido. These practices may be transformative. But, in my opinion, if this is not coupled with a deep understanding of the principles of aiki, this accrued personal wisdom cannot make ones Aikido deeper. You end up with a wise person whose Aikido is still shallow.
As I have said before on this forum, you know you have an essential issue when most of the people who are teaching the art of Aikido cannot adequately define the term "aiki". I don't mean agreeing on a dictionary definition as in whether "harmony" or "joining" is a better translation... I mean what does "aiki" mean when we talk about technique. How many folks can tell you what the difference would be between basic jiu jutsu and aiki? What does it mean to execute a technique using "aiki".
Until the post war period, these principles were considered "secret". They were not taught to the public. They normally weren't even shown to the public. Aikido went from an art which numbered practitioners in the hundreds, at most, to an art with a million folks training world wide in one lifetime. That necessitated the rapid development of an instructor base in mass quantity. In other words, the vast majority of folks doing Aikido, the vast majority of the folks teaching Aikido, have nothing like the level of understanding of the early practitioners. Most look at the post war generation of teachers as representing some sort of unattainable level of skill. This is a direct result of the breakdown of the transmission.
The idea that training enthusiastically will result eventually in great skill is simply wrong. That is the "50 million monkeys typing Shakespeare" idea. As I said once before, while statistically it might be true that eventually one of the monkeys will randomly reproduce what went before, the operative concept at work here is that the rest of the monkeys are all typing gibberish.
The principles involved in "aiki" have been systematically handed down over hundreds of years. As in nature, their discovery and development resulted from very specific environmental circumstances. If these principles are lost, it is highly unlikely they will be rediscovered or redeveloped through normal practice.
It's not that there aren't people still around who understand these things. It's just that they are in such a small minority that Aikido is in danger of being redefined by the vast majority of folks who simply have no real awareness of what real depth is.
The understanding of aiki principles will be kept alive by folks doing various arts in great depth, whether Chinese, Russian, Japanese; Karate, Systema, T'ai Chi, Aikijutsu... My concern is that the Aikido community will remain unaware that anything is even missing from what they are doing. As the art is further simplified to make it teachable to the masses, as instructors are trained specifically teach the new simplified curriculum, we are in danger of losing our awareness of what "high level" actually meant at one time.
As I said before, in my opinion, for any individual to take his Aikido to a deep level, there has to be a deep foundation. Endless repetition of incorrect principles will not ever result in correct principle. It simply imprints bad habits. It is the purpose of a method of transmission to prevent this. A systematic exposition of the principles at work coupled with daily practice with someone who can give immediate and direct feedback about whether what you are doing is on track or not is required to create the strong foundation upon which all of the later personal development and variation will rest. Yes, I do not look like Ikeda Sensei or Saotome Sensei. But my technique works for precisely the same reasons their technique does. They are better at it than I am, true. But I can tell you exactly what the principles are that are operating in what they are doing. I can describe them and I can teach them. So I know precisely what I need to work on, which lets me give direction to my practice. And because I can describe them, I can create a systematic teaching methodology for my students which will create the foundation for their practice after I am gone. I look at the awareness my students have of what it is that they are trying to do in their practice and it is decades ahead of my own at the same rank, literally decades.
The transmission has been broken in Aikido for some time. Fortunately, there are still places one can go to acquire the blocks of knowledge that seem to be disappearing from mainstream Aikido. Angier Sensei is still alive, Toby Threadgill will be going strong for many years, I am sure. People like Dan Hardin, Mike Sigman, and Akuzawa are working with Aikido folks to reintroduce the solo training aspect of the art which has been neglected. No one teaches the psychological aspect of aiki better than the Systema folks. Howard Popkin continues to both teach himself and bring his teacher Okamoto Sensei from Japan (he is in his 80's). It is for us to master some of this and get the knowledge back into Aikido. There simply aren't that many folks who have it... they have to create a transmission as well or it will disappear when they pass on. I've talked to a few of the folks from other arts who are teaching around the country doing open seminars... The bulk of the folks attending these events are Aikido people. That says to me that there are many folks within our community who recognize that we need outside input to get our art on track. That makes me hopeful.
What I am afraid of, and I have been seeing this happen, that people discover these veins of "lost knowledge" and simply leave Aikido to pursue others forms of training. That will condemn Aikido absolutely.
Aikido has 30 to 40 thousand people training in the US. If there is no available systematic exposition of the principles which govern "aiki", then the majority of these people are condemned to doing Aikido-lite. A lifetime of training will not make that a deep practice, period. No amount of wishful thinking will make it so.