What Distinguishes Aikido from Daito Ryu?
On another thread, I floated the idea that examining the differences between Aikido and Daito Ryu might help us learn something about ourselves. Christopher Lee called me on it, inviting me to elaborate. Here are a few thoughts. Can't wait to see what you do with them.
1) Fewer Techniques, More Structure
O Sensei, pruned Daito Ryu techniques way back; Aikido has only a fraction of the number that its parent art does. This makes great sense if what one wants to do is impart principles: you provide only as much detail as you need to in order show how the principles might manifest, but you concentrate on the foundations. I don't know if this is what Ueshiba had in mind, and there certainly are enough techniques to keep me dazzled for a few more decades, but there's little danger of getting lost in minutiae.
2) Uke Has a Way Out
In brief first-hand experience, and from video's and other sources, it seems that Daito Ryu is all about crushing uke, which makes great sense martially, for why would you want to give your attacker a break? Ueshiba appears to answer that question by asking in turn, " Why hurt somebody if you don't need to?" Tactically, uke might be almost as likely to leave you alone after a survivable throw as after a nasty one. Strategically, uke's relatives and buddies might be less likely to come after you. And at least as important, I believe that human beings have a need, all-to-rarely-expressed, to be kind to one another. Aikido potentially, at least, gives us the opportunity, because its throws tend to allow for less torturous falls. Which brings us to
Don't worry, I'm not going to go all Aiki-bunny on you here. I know that O Sensei was not what Westerners think of as a pacifist, I know that he hurt people when he thought it appropriate, appeared to condone injurious behavior in his dojo's, etc. But by and large, he seems to have taken all the flowery words about gentleness and compassion that martial arts masters have been spouting for centuries, and try to walk that particular talk. His followers and successors have certainly taken this to be so; I have rarely been in a dojo where the topic of being kind to one's attacker didn't come up at some point. Maybe we are utterly misunderstanding some crazy old Japanese man. Actually, it is almost certain that to some extent we are. But for whatever reasons, Aikidoists at least seek to put gentleness and forgiveness and kindness at the center of their Art.
The trouble, of course, is that it is a lot harder to defeat someone gently than it is to do so by thrashing them. It takes a level of skill that only thorough, rigorous, and effective training has even a chance of providing, and most of us aren't willing or able to put in the effort, even if we are lucky enough to find a dojo that isn't teaching yoga with hakamas. Hence our all-too-often-deserved reputation for being toothless do-gooders, useless in a fight.
Daito Ryu appears to stay with the much more sensible notion that if someone wants to hurt me, I want to use the most efficient, certain method I can find to hurt them first. I might not have a kumbaya endorphin release when the fight is over, but I'll still be upright.
At times, over the years, I've looked longingly over the fence at Daito Ryu, and I can certainly understand why some Aikido practitioners have jumped that fence. But for myself, Aikido is an opportunity to give form to my aspirations to humaneness, and its principles and techniques have gotten me through a blessedly few martial encounters. I think I'll stay with it.