Most of us grew up reading the stories, hearing the tales, and being filled with wonder in regards to Morihei Ueshiba. Some of us had the privilege of training directly with him. Some trained with direct students.
Some 40 years later, there have been none who have equalled Ueshiba. Who even has equalled some of the pre-war students like Shirata, Tomiki, Shioda, etc?
So, what then, does finding out when and where Aikido teachers have trained get us? What has 40 years of aikido training beyond the founder given us? For how many of those years were we told that the aikido of the founder was an amalgam of different martial arts? We were given codified techniques and shown films of the founder doing them. Stan's research into when and where gave us the truth about where the founder actually studied (Daito ryu). It wasn't an amalgam of martial arts. Stan's research gave us many instances of Ueshiba viewing his art as formless, not focused on techniques, and divinely inspired. All of that brought us face to face with Daito ryu aiki. 40 years later and we now have a training path towards not only equalling Ueshiba's skills, but possibly surpassing them.
Why? Because people dug into the when and where. People found out the truth. Culturally, the Japanese are ambiguous. At least in America, it's hard to understand just how far the Japanese can go and still be socially correct. Sometimes lying is the only approved action. We, as Americans, must understand this and not pass judgement for right or wrong. The Japanese have their ways, we have ours. Sometimes they are similar, sometimes not. No right or wrong, good or bad. What matters to us is to find out *how* to do what Ueshiba did.
So, yes, we are here now viewing Saotome sensei's history. Why? Not because we wish to drag him through the mud. Totally the opposite. We uphold him in such high esteem that we want to know how he got so good. Where did he study? How long? What was his training like? Because after 36 years of Saotome being in the U.S., we are still wondering how to get to his level, let alone Ueshiba's.
We can choose to either eat more rice (i.e. eagerly eat up and believe all the stories we are told) or we can delve into when and where that made these men so great in the hopes of finding a similar training path for ourselves. I think 36 years of the former is far too long and we should have been doing the latter long ago.
This isn't to diminish, in any way, the commitment and hard work of Saotome in his years of training. He is a direct link to Morihei Ueshiba, no matter how many hours of direct training he received. On the flip side, we also must realize, he is only one small piece of the totality of Ueshiba. Other students received other parts of the transmission. Those are extremely important parts of the whole that is aikido. Not the entirety, but still important.
Going back to the topic. It is interesting to note how many of the top aikido shihan came from Seigo Yamaguchi: Saotome, Endo, Gleason, Tissier. Or the fact that in Yamaguchi's private dojo, the floor was wooden. (http://www.yamaguchi-aikido.com/html/sei/seigo-e.html
If you truly want to be as good as Saotome, Ueshiba, etc, then it is required to delve into what made them great. Culturally, the Japanese can be ambiguous. It can be a minefield for research and can go against a lot of closely held and loved beliefs. It can be a very fine line to walk, but some should be doing this. And yes, they will take the heat as this thread has shown.
Aikido is an art that is larger than all of us. It has a depth to it far greater than most, from Ueshiba's aiki to Kisshomaru's aiki and everywhere in between. We really should be mining those depths, walking those fine lines, and carrying on the legacy of our teachers. We should understand the where and when and how of things so that there *can* be future Saotome's, Ueshiba's, etc.