I was asked by a good friend of mine to add my own meager comments as they relate to this very complicated discussion. Let me begin by apologizing in advance for anything that I write that may offend or possibly contradict a truth that another aikidoka holds dear. I have been training faithfully for over five years now, and I regret that I am no closer to mastery of aikido than I was when I f fumbled around to tie on my obi for the first time. So with that being said, I will offer a few thoughts that I have had concerning the question at hand: Is aikido becoming diluted?
I believe that quite a bit of excellent discussion has already taken place, and so I will not attempt to refute or support anything that has been previously presented here in this thread, but rather offer up something of my own. I agree with Eugene, that the aikido we practice to day is a distillation of what was once a much more comprehensive budo. As a caveat...let me interject that aikido is what each individual chooses to make it.
Take, for instance, the training at our dojo. Many consider ours a very martial dojo that places great emphasis on traditional training and efficacy of technique...but take a moment to recollect a time when you observed everyone in class performing the techniques differently. Certain individuals (who shall remain nameless) choose to simply do the technique the way that they are comfortable with...right or wrong. Every individual in the dojo witnessed Sensei demonstrating the same irimi-nage, yet you inevitably end up with a dozen variations as the class attempts to duplicate what they THINK they saw happen. What it boils down to is a matter of perception. A student can sit at the feet of the world's most talented martial artist, and after years of practice glean practically nothing of martial value. How is this?? This phenomenon can be witnessed more often in America given our existing cultural tendencies, conceptions, and misconceptions. We tend to crave instant gratification and demand to be shown "how to do" things...NOW. I show up to class; now teach me aikido! How many times have you heard that the public schools in a particular area are woefully inadequate in their performance with standardized testing? The administration immediately begins to look at the teaching staff and how to improve their methods of instruction and curriculum.
What about the students, I ask???? Is it not their responsibility to learn...to hunger for knowledge? Do they even care about becoming educated at all? I believe that a large part of the responsibility is often not shouldered be those who would wish to learn. We must train to develop and refine our powers of perception in conjunction with the physical and spiritual facets of our training. I have often heard it noted that a truly great teacher forces his/her students to steal the technique from them...intentionally veiling certain crucial elements that proceed revelation & letting a student discover it for themselves.
In summation, the purpose of my rambling here is to say that an exemplary martial artist is not created simply by studying at the feet of a true master. This can certainly contribute to dilution of an art in itself. I am hungry enough, and I love what I have found in aikido enough to not get bothered anymore with the dilution that I have seen & the B.S. that I find so often (the egos, the contradictions, the endless argument over who's way is the "right" way). I simply forge on in my own pursuit to understand all I possibly can through training until I can train no longer.
I agree with Sean that you are certainly bound for additional disappointment as well, Gene, but I challenge you not to let it change what you have burning in your heart. I believe that much of the reason that we do not have something comparable to O-Sensei today is that no one deserves to have attained that level but Morihei Ueshiba. No one else has walked the walk COMPLETELY to understand the things that he just kind of knew. How many of us are prepared to dedicate everything to get there...train in multiple koryus, study swordsmanship, spearmanship, bayonet, & various schools of Ju-jitsu, devote ourselves to Omoto-kyo, perform excruciating exercises in misogi, train three to four times everyday...waking early and going to bed each night drained spiritually, mentally, & physically. Sadly, I am certainly not surprised that no one else can do what O-Sensei could. I pray that one day I will be able to understand some of what he did after a lifetime of training, but I do not expect to ever reach his level. That does not discourage me because I love the art, and I will put together what pieces of the puzzle that I can in the time allowed.
Who knows, Gene, you may be the very one someday who can come back after you find what you are looking for and explain it all to me! Give it your everything though, and if it is your destiny...perhaps you will understand what we have ALL been striving to understand all these years...ever since O-Sensei stopped trying to tell us. Just don't forget your friends at home who will have your back & a place to come home to no matter what. Keep your eyes on the instructors out there that are on fire with the spirit of true budo (you know who they are) - like Doshu, and just KEEP ON TRAINING, my friend. The dilution can continue around us, but we will refuse to let it affect us and what we wish to accomplish through our training...
Tidewater Aikikai / Okinawa Aikikai