I understand what O'Sensei said about competition and winning but in the 24 years since I started Aikido I have never read or heard where he said that your Aikido should not be practical or effective.
Ok. I need to clarify.
O-Sensei said that Aikido is formless. Saotome Sensei has gone out of his way to reinforce that notion in his students. So to that extent, anything I do which has "aiki" at it's heart is Aikido. So, to Saotome Sensei, if you attack me and I step in and knock you out with one blow, that is still Aikido. I agree with him. That is a practical application of principle.
However, if that were the main focus of ones practice i.e. striking in various forms, I do not think that anyone would think it was Aikido. It would be close to what Ushiro Kenji is doing if that were the case and we consider that a style of Karate.
So we have a set of forms which virtually all Aikido styles share to one extent or another. They do not look like anyone else's forms. Our essential form is large by martial arts standards. It involves more movement than most other martial art arts. (There are styles of Aikido in which this is less true. They tend to be early styles founded by teachers who trained with the Founder when the art was still Daito Ryu, they tend to have a lot of Judo in them as well.)
But the Aikido that was put forth from Saito Sensei onward was large and was characterized by a lot of movement both on the part of the nage and the uke. This is the art that most people are studying. This is the reason that we have the interminable discussions about the martial effectiveness of Aikido. People keep on trying to make a form that was not designed for fighting apply for fighting.
When folks encounter opponents not as skilled as they are, they are successful and then believe that Aikido can be effective for fighting. When they encounter people more skilled than themselves from other styles, they fail miserably and fall into the camp of folks who don't think Aikido works. So we have thousands of posts on the subject that never get anywhere because they are based on faulty premises on both sides.
If one wanted to verify that the essential set of forms we use for our Aikido training is not designed for fighting imagine a controlled experiment... Take an Aikido 5th or 6th Dan who has trained only in Aikido for the 20 to 30 years required to get to that rank. But him up against any martial artist of commensurate experience from kali, silat, jeet kun do, wing chun, chin na, karate, mixed martial arts, whatever...
Now what form do you think this will take? I don't think the Aikido practitioner would be likely to succeed in an encounter against any f these people. Why? Because the forms they use in their arts are simply not the forms that an Aikido practitioner, doing straight Aikido is likely to use. Do you think you could ever get a nikkyo on a kali practitioner? Can you imagine getting a shihonage on a mixed martial artist?
The Aikido practitioner would fare better or worse directly in proportion to how similar or how different the form of his opponent. In my view, the well trained Aikido person would fare best against a judo man or the chin na practitioner and would pretty much get eaten alive by the kali or silat practitioner.
Now all of this is dependent on how one trains. If you put a lot of emphasis on martial application in your practice then a) you will get some experience in other styles so you understand their form and b) you will have to practice your Aikido against attacks using those forms and adjust the form of your Aikido accordingly.
If this became the prime focus of your practice, in my opinion you would dispense with the standard outer forms shared by almost all Aikido styles and adjust your practice accordingly. The practice would then become something else. It would no longer have that outer form which make it recognizable as Aikido. And when that outer form is lost, the inner practice changes accordingly. The art would not then offer the same lessons for the practitioner because the form has changed.
Ellis Amdur Sensei once pointed out to us that most martial arts have basics which one studies, not in the expectation that one would actually apply them on an opponent, but simply to understand them well enough that no one could apply them on you.
Does anyone out there think that if I, for some reason I can't imagine, were stupid enough to attack Saotome Sensei with real intention, that one would see a nikkyo or a sankyo? A fight at this level would be virtually all atemi and I would almost certainly be knocked cold on the first pass. If not, the reverse might be true. If a throw or a lock were executed, it would only be after someone was seriously discomfited by one or more atemi.
Most folks doing Aikido do not train that way. Those that do are often busy devolving their art back into something that came before. It is devolution not evolution.
I was actually trained this way. Saotome Sensei put more emphasis on martial application than most. He encouraged all of us to train as broadly as possible and most of us continue to do so. In my case I have done some kali, some escrima, some classical combat arts, a bit of grappling, a bit of systema, lots of workshops in other styles with top level teachers. I have, at various times, played with how the form of my Aikido would apply in interaction with various other forms.
But the vast majority of the time Saotome Sensei's classes do not involve this side of the training. He calls it the "dark side" of the art. We have been trained ti understand it but what does Sensei focus on mosty of the time? Connection. And he uses the outer form of Aikido, recognizable to all as Aikido, to teach that.
At some point I came to the conclusion that application of "aiki" principle in any kind of real confrontation would inevitably involve going straight to the center and striking the opponent. Having come to that conclusion, if I were serious about pursuing that direction, my next step would necessarily be making acquisition of internal power my first and foremost priority. I would need to develop the kind of understanding of power that would make me capable of ending a confrontation with just one blow.
I have not chosen to make that my first priority. It is something I am working on and I intend to keep seeking out folks who can teach me, but my first priority is on investigating, developing, and teaching the art of Aikido with its incredible, beautiful, grace intact. I am uninterested in devolving my art to make it practical. I am interested in how the doing of it can serve to transform the individual in ways that make his life better. That is what the form is for. That is why O-Sensei crated the form he did for the art. The world had plenty of fighting styles, I do not think he saw himself as creating another. In fact he flat out stated he wasn't.
People are so worried about fighting, application, practicality, that they miss what is really there and unique to Aikido. Saotome Sensei always said, "If you are worried about fighting, by a gun." Training is meant for something else. If you get in touch with that, you will both attain some level of ability to defend yourself and perhaps make needing to do so less likely. Certainly, the lessons derived from your training will apply far more widely in your life than the ability to whip an iriminage on someone attacking you... I've trained for 33 years now and I have yet to apply a single technique on someone off the mat. Yet, I find my Aikido continues to change my life and my perceptions of the world around every day.