This thread doesn't need more long posts, and I'll try to keep mine short, but there are some issues that have banging around in my head for a couple of days and I wanted to share them.
Mostly I want to say that I'm not sure if I really understood what Eugene was trying to explain about the importance of tradition. If I understood him properly (and I'm really not sure I did), then the idea is that O'Sensei created something of intrinsic worth and that we, as AiKiDoka should have a commitment to it because of its intrinsic worth or beauty or completeness. The question of its relevance to each of us as individuals or as a community of aikidoka is secondary.
So, maybe that's not quite right. Maybe Eugene meant more (I'm thinking out loud here) that we will have more to gain from it if we preserve it in its pristine state than if we try to learn take from it what we, individually, are interested in. Leaving Paul Smith's "loss of self at the feet of the master" ideas aside for a second (I'm going to say something about them in a bit), I wonder how we would know or who would assure us that the idealized pristine AiKiDo we can not have access to is any better than the AiKiDo that we learn from and that helps us here and now? All we really have to go on for this is the stories of others, who are imperfect and nostalgic and sentimental and looking for inspiration and flawed in all of the ways that we are.
Maybe AiKiDo at some particular time was perfect, but we'll never kknow. All we have is what we have, and our responsiblity (at least as I understand it) is to get the most out of it to the best of our understanding. This would inevitably involve some ongoing balance between believing what we are told and experimenting and finding out for ourselves. How do we strike that balance? Well, each of us may have a different balance, and even within that some of us will balance the way we are told to balance and others will balance in the way that makes sense to them. Some people choose to become replicas of their senseis as much as possible although the sensei specifically teaches finding your own style. Other people will insist on experimenting despite their sensei's insistence on a well defined and rigorously trained style.
Ultimately, we answer to no one for our training except to ourselves. Nothing gives it value except the value we give it. This is a simple truism. The really interesting thing, Eugene, is what your attitude towards tradition and training says about you, and not what it says about 'what AiKiDoka should do.'
Paul Smith wrote:
I see a deeply truthful power and kiai in stillness from these Shihan that cannot come, I truly believe, but by the path they followed.
I believe that what you see is their, but I (obstinately?) refuse to understand why this needs to be the only true path. Or, maybe we can look at it differently: maybe their path is the only way to become them and to have their particular stilness and kiai. Still, so many of us are not them. So many of the things that they are, that they liked and disliked, that they had difficulty learning and that came easily to them will be different for some people. Is it so hard to believe that these people will, by giving themselves over completely to wherever their path takes them, achieve a stillness and kiai that is at once completely differen and also essentially the same as these people who impressed you so strongly?