Peter A Goldsbury
Actually, I was as surprised as you are.
I suppose my main issues with Aiki Extensions are: (1) the name, and (2) the very high 'ideological' content. I will take these separately.
(1) The Name
I think Carsten had a point in asking about the 'Aiki' in Aiki Extensions. In Hiroshima people have found that if you add 'Peace' to a name, it becomes much more marketable. So a glance at the telephone directory reveals dozens of companies that use 'Peace' in their names or advertising, from bus companies to builders. Why? Because 'Hiroshima' is all about peace, isn't it?
I think you can see the specious logic here. However, with 'peace', things are reasonably clear. Everyone knows what the word means, even the Japanese. (However, there is 'peace' (the bare absence of conflict) and 'peace' (the solving of all the human problems which afflict society generally).
With 'Aiki', things are much less clear, because there is no agreed definition of the term. So people can use 'aiki' to mean whatever they want it to mean. Yes, I know about 'matching of KI', but there is no agreement about the derivations, such as the idea that 'AIKI' really means conflict resolution.
(2) The Ideology / Moral Aspects
Aiki Extensions advertises itself as a kind of trans-cultural 'good thing': something that anyone who 'seriously' or 'honestly' practises aikido would naturally embrace as an 'extension' of their dojo training. However, I do not believe that the concept of 'aiki' in itself possesses these built-in ideological or moral aspects. Nor do I believe that 'aiki' in itself has an extrinsic moral imperative (that people who believe in 'aiki' should, as a result, live in such and such a way). Nor do I believe that people who practice aikido need to 'extend' their 'aiki' activities outside the dojo, as a direct result of aikido practice. They might (want to) do this, but there is no moral or ideological imperative to do so.
By the way, have you ever talked to Saotome Sensei about aikido and ideology?
Saotome Sensei was definitely effected by the Founder's philosophy. He really believes that Aikido practice should make the world better etc. As with many of the deshi, he feels it has been his mission to take O-Sensei's message to the world. However, his take on it is a bit different than many of the folks here who use the same phrases.
Sensei had a button he wore on his hat that said "Peace through superior swordplay". He once commented on "conflict resolution" by saying "We have a conflict? Bang! Your dead. Now no more conflict". I'm not saying that he believes this is the only form of conflict resolution but as a Budo man he clearly sees this as one possibility. His other favorite is "You want to be non-violent? If you are weak, non-violence has no meaning... it's just wishful thinking."
I think that this is much more in keeping with a traditional viewpoint on what aiki is. Sensei pointed out to us very early on that "aiki" as a term was value neutral. It was not benign, or good, or warm and fuzzy as many Westerners interpreted it. He said that this was actually the reason O-Sensei did not wish just anyone to study his art. He felt that the techniques of the art should not be taught to someone of bad character because they dangerous and should not fall into the wrong hands.
The clear implication is that "aiki" is not a moral force, it is a process for connecting. I think it is more than simply a technique but it certainly isn't the synonym for holding hands and singing Kumbaya that many folks have tried to make it. The idea that connecting in this manner is necessarily "good" just isn't the case. I've done training in which there were techniques that were classified as "aiki" techniques which were total combat techniques in a system that most would consider amoral at best.
Saotome Sensei has always been big on how people apply their training off the mat. One of Sensei's students was a top heart surgeon. He routinely was able to do complex operations in a fraction of the time anyone had previously been able to accomplish. He said he used the same mindset he used in Aikido randori. That was exactly the kind if thing Sensei loves. Incidentally, when Sensei told the Nidai Doshu about this fellow, the Doshu went nuts... he loved the whole idea as well.
I don't think this is very different from what has taken place in the Zen community... When it first got here from Japan, it was about the practice. It was very monastic-ly oriented, despite the lack of actual monasteries. The first thing everybody did was found monastic training centers. Now we have had several generations of American Zen teachers and the emphasis on lay practice is far greater and there is a whole social activism taking place which strives to put the values of Buddhism into practice in society.
I think it is inevitable that this happens in Aikido. In my opinion it is an extension of what the Founder wanted for the art even though he probably never envisioned it happening quite this way. I do not think that O-Sensei really thought of Aikido as a practice for the masses that would spread widely around the world. Certainly, if you read Kisshomaru's description of his talks with his Father after the war, you can see that this vision was more from the son than the old man.
On the other hand, I think that most of what is done under the rubric of applying aiki principles on the social level, no matter how inaccurate the use of the term "aiki" might be in that context, would have had the Founder's approval. That's just my take on it.