Re: Real Highest Ranking
I can't speak for SR, or anyone except myself. But I can say that I understand what he was getting at, and agree with it.
Seagal Sensei began something with us in North Hollywood, in a warehouse dojo, while dating the woman who would later become his wife. That continued to a building in West Hollywood, and then the films began getting in the way. Any time Seagal Sensei showed up, there would be photographers flashing non-stop, creating a commotion and making it hard to practice. For this reason, (and others) Seagal Sensei wasn't coming to the dojo very often anymore.
During these times, Reynosa Sensei and his students would come down from Santa Barbara to visit and practice with us. It was my pleasure to learn from him and other seniors in the school, including Shawn (Sean?) and Phillip Chen.
Through it all, there was Matsuoka Sensei. It was he who led the classes most of the time. He was the one who expressed concepts to me in his improving english. It was he who indulged me when, a year or so into Aikido, I ask if it would really work on the street. (He told me to punch him. The first one got in. No other attempt to do so even came close.)
Seagal Sensei is a great teacher. He's patient, understanding... and truly was a master, in that he was in control of himself and everything around him (as need be.) He clearly knew that getting even the most basic aspects right was a years-long process... and so he was always gentle in his guidance. I can recall resenting that he wasn't available to us as much after the films started... but then realizing that we hadn't but barely tapped what Matsuoka and Reynosa Sensei had to offer, so ... I shut up and practiced my Aikido.
What was then, that is no more. After the films, people began signing up for very different reasons. Many of them never did "get" that it isn't about muscle or power. Few grasped the difference between most expedient/direct method and brutality... or the concepts of control of others as ONLY a byproduct of control of one's self. Staying Centered became a distant concept as well, because they weren't interested in developing themselves, but in being powerful, in control of others. Then came other events and differences, and Matsuoka and Seagal Sensei went their separate ways. What was then, is no more.
In the years since, I have not found any dojo which is like the energy that was going on during those years in the early/mid 80's. I've come across many places which pale in comparison, teachers who didn't even know what the Japanese expressions meant, let alone their subtext. Without those basics, how can one possibly understand what the practice itself means?
It was a special time. We were all there, each contributing our own aspect to the mix. Sean Sempai, Mark Makita (sp?) (who stopped in from time to time out of Danny Inosanto's group)... So many others, some regular, some coming and going... and all learning and practicing in a rather innocent, naive mindset that had no idea that Aikido was about to become the "in" thing. We just did it because it was the natural progression, moving away from hard styles and their brutality towards a more enlightened way of dealing with the world. Seagal-Sensei and Matsuoka Sensei would not allow us to take falls when the angles and technique weren't correct...but neither were we to fight our partners. Some of this survives in other schools... but that which was then is no more.
What was is no more. Do not try to live in the past. What you have is today and tomorrow, and you'll find life is already far too short to be wasting any part of it on what once was, but cannot ever be again. So leave it where it was, in the past.
O'Sensei taught us to not worry about what others think of Aikido, just practice tenkan every day. I'd say the same is true of ryus and teachers. Assuming you have a good one (Tamiki excepted, IMO) follow your instructors and sempeis. Practice your Aikido. Seek your own sense of Center and Balance, and practice Tenkan every day. This is the instruction of the Founder, who is the real Highest Ranking sensei in Aikido.