I liked the article. I think the current Doshu's "live and let live" philosophy is the right way to lead an organization with such diversity. Rather than focus on something specific, he represents a generic baseline and encourages everyone to find their own balance. That spirit of harmony and mutual respect is exactly what makes aikido exemplary, even if not everyone agrees or admires what everybody else is doing. The Honolulu police training group may not agree with the Hombu approach, but at least Doshu isn't going after them and telling them that what they are doing isn't aikido.
Chris, are you advocating for an aikido organization that is more focussed on martial effectiveness and not as interested in the less tangible benefits that Doshu is trying to promote?
I have long thought that the present state of aikido as practiced within the Aikikai is the result of decisions made many years ago –- with consequences probably not carefully considered or even foreseen at the time they were made, and the series of articles I am writing are an attempt to show this in a way that withstands some academic scrutiny.
I believe that Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s role is somewhat different from that of his son and even his grandson. Kisshomaru decided to make aikido a martial art that was available for everyone to practice and he was the one who resurrected the remnants of the organization in Japan that was originally part of Omoto and it was he who encouraged students like Tamura and Yamada to go overseas and spread aikido in the countries that defeated Japan in World War II. His autobiography repays careful, but critical, reading. It was Kisshomaru who assiduously created aikido organizations in Japan’s universities, armed forces, the central government and local governments, large companies like Mitsubishi -– basically in Japan’s political and military establishment. I believe the technical aspects were secondary: what mattered was to create a thriving organization in Japan. In any case, the Founder was still alive and was active as a living kami
. His disciples, too, were active and it did not really behove Kisshomaru, who was something of a kohai
compared with these disciples, to have them toe any party line other than allegiance to the Aikikai. Ever the diplomat, his only major mistakes were how he handled K Tomiki and K Tohei.
So what was allegiance to the Aikikai? Well, its creator was there and after he died, there remained a vivid collective memory. After he became Doshu, Kisshomaru increasingly took on the role of guru and became part of the collective memory, so much so that on the two occasions each year when the passing of the Founder is commemorated, Kisshomaru, also, is included. With the passing of the years Kisshomaru’s role also became more technical and his demonstrations became quite different from the Founder’s. They always including a general explanation of what aikido was about, with the important addition that what was being demonstrated was the ‘essence’ of the art as taught by the Founder.
However, the memory is fading and allegiance based purely on memories inevitably becomes increasingly fragile. This is also a problem here in Hiroshima, where awareness of the atomic bombing is based on dwindling group of living A-bomb victims who still recount these immediate experiences to those who listen. Soon there will be none left and DVDs of people talking, however animatedly, do not quite have the sharp immediacy of the original.
So Moriteru has inherited an organization that appears to be thriving, certainly in Japan. There is still the collective memory, there are the links with Japan’s establishment, there is still the emphasis on aikido as a means of personal betterment and, very important these days, as a means to world peace. However, for me the impression is of something like a Japanese driving school, or a factory turning out modestly appointed Japanese automobiles, like the Honda Fit, which will coast along on cruise control, with the driver making full use of the navigation system, avoiding accidents, and giving earnest attention to other road users. It is a good example of Japanese technology, quietly effective in its own way -- and also very popular overseas. I once asked the present Doshu what was the point of having overseas training seminars with hundreds or even thousands of participants, very few of whom could even see what he was doing. The answer was almost a matter of doctrine: it was important for people to be present, to participate in their own way, and for him to show the basics of the tradition inherited from the Founder: a bit like a Pope (definitely not the present one) celebrating Mass in St Peter’s square, surrounded by thousands of pilgrims. It does not matter that they cannot see what he is doing: it is enough for them to be present -- and the Pope never changes the ritual he performs.
One final point: For me there is a marked reluctance of the present leaders of the Aikikai to engage intellectually, on virtually any point connected with aikido and its history and training methodology. The 文 has to illuminate the 武 and vice versa -– and this is not happening.