George S. Ledyard
I think that, while this discussion is quite fascinating for many of us Aikido folks, it is also frustrating. As I have stated several times, Mike and Dan are clearly quite knowledgeable and competent. I absolutely do not debate with them that the finest Aikido practitioners have the internal energy and physical structure which they describe. I do not believe that Eric is correct that what Mike and Dan are talking about is different than what O-Sensei and his top deshi, including my own teachers, Saotome Sensei and Ikeda Sensei, have developed as PART of their essential skill set (which includes a fundamental physical change in body structure due to certain types of training methods). I absolutely agree with them that most Aikido folks do not understand this set of issues very well.
But, having said that, one notices that many of the senior Aikido folks who regularly post on this site and the other Aikido forums, have not participated in these discussions. I believe that this is because there is so much more to Aikido than what these fellows understand. As I have said before, the majority of Aikido's most incisive critics have some Aikido background. Of the group, I think that Ellis Amdur, despite the fact that he chose to leave Aikido and pursue classical martial arts training and is now engaged in the pursuit of Chinese internal arts, is the most sympathetic to what O-Sensei intended Aikido to be. This would probably be the result of his original Aikido training with Terry Dobson Sensei for whom O-Sensei's message was very important.
People who look at Aikido through the lens of straight martial application tend to believe that the Founder was at his peak in the thirties. They believe that Aikido technically peaked when it was barely evolved out of Daito Ryu (which was actually before the art was even renamed Aikido). If the point of Aikido was purely martial application this might even be true to a large extent, not completely, but largely.
But that was never the intent of O-Sensei's development of Aikido. He flat out stated that all the way back in the early days. Mochizuki Sensei, after he returned from France reported to the Founder that he was concerned that, in order to win the various challenge matches that he had to accept (very common in the early days when Aikido had to prove itself) he had to resort to tricks that came from his experience in other martial arts. O-Sensei was completely unconcerned by this and replied by asking Mochizuki Sensei "Haven't you understood the point of what I have been teaching?"
Mike and Dan are pretty outspoken about these issues. Eric is one of the very few Aikido folks who is willing to stand in the line of fire and debate them head on, which I appreciate greatly, even though in this particular discussion I think they prevail. Most Aikido folks simply find that this discussion, while interesting, has very little to do with what they see as their own training, with what they are looking to get out of the pursuit of the art.
While we all, myself included, make fun of the "aiki fruities" because they really have less than no idea how to connect their philosophical / spiritual ideas to actual waza in a way that makes sense, in terms of intent, they understand what the Founder was trying to do in creating Aikido more than Mike and Dan will ever do. They simply cannot understand Aikido because they do not do the art. They do not do the art probably because they are temperamentally unsuited to it. This in no way questions their own high level of expertise in areas that impact on Aikido practice. That is why I strongly recommend that every Aikido student who gets a chance go out of his way to get some experience with these folks.
Aikido is essentially a practice about whose purpose is to open ones heart. Teachers like Sunadomari Sensei, Anno Sensei, and others are very straightforward about this. To really appreciate how Aikido as an art can do this, one must actually practice the art and take that practice to a fairly deep level. You cannot understand it from the outside.
So what I am trying to say is that, Mike especially, has a tendency to evaluate everything from one set of criteria. He isn't much interested in something if it can't be talked about using that set of criteria. And while Dan is much the same in this regard, Mike is more apt to actively try to pull every discussion in which he participates back to these criteria. I can say, for myself, that his set of criteria for evaluating our art touches on only a small part of what I think is central to the pursuit of the art in terms of how O-Sensei intended it to be.
There are Aikido teachers out there that most of us would give our right arms to equal. It is of virtually no concern to me whether Mike thinks they are using internal energetics as defined via his pursuit Chinese martial arts. There are teachers whom I emulate in my own practice whom I think Mike would basically write off as offering nothing of interest to him. For instance, on several occasions I have mentioned Vladimir Vasiliev and Systema. Mike's response was to say that he had looked at what they do and he didn't think that what they were doing utilized the energetic concepts which he understood to be central to good martial arts. I simply do not care whether what they do can be described using those terms or not. But when I look at the results of lengthy Systema training in terms of both ability and even more especially in terms of character development and what folks would probably consider the "spiritual" side of things, I see an art that embodies exactly what I want out of my Aikido and an art that I think O-Sensei would instinctively have understood. I don't care whether Mike can describe it in his terms or not.
There are an array of Aikido teachers who I think have taken their Aikido to an extremely deep level. Mike would look at each of them and consider whether they were doing what he understands. If not, he would be uninterested in pursuing any further investigation. It is clear what he is interested in knowing and it is clear that he will go far out of his way to find folks who can better his understanding in that area. But there are folks in Aikido that I would train with at every opportunity whom Mike and Dan and the folks with similar approaches would write off in an instant, I think. For instance, it would surprise me greatly if either of these folks would spend ten minutes of their time looking at Endo Sensei. I could be wrong, but it would seem to me that what Endo Sensei is doing and the intent with which he is doing it would pretty much be irrelevant to the concerns of these folks. On the other hand, what he is doing is absolutely central to what I am trying to do with my own Aikido.
The failure to understand what Aikido is and could be is not limited to outsiders. There were plenty of Aikido folks of great achievement who simply couldn't go the distance with the Founder as he kept developing the art. Most of the thirties deshi would be in this category. It is my opinion that we do not have to be apologetic about our art when we deal with folks like Dan and Mike etc. We can acknowledge their great expertise and their ability to articulate it while at the same time seeing that they do not understand what we are doing, what we aspire to make out of our art, why we love the art so much, etc.
It is quite fascinating to me that a couple of guys who clearly believe that most Aikido folks are incompetent and have nothing to teach them will spend the huge amount of time they have communicating with all of us.I think that the fact that most of the very senior Aikido folks who post here don't participate in these discussions much, if at all, simply speaks to the fact that on a fundamental level what Mike and Dan are expressing, while it may be an important set of issues technically for all of us, is not central in our concerns. And the issues which are central to our concerns are simply not very important to these fellows.
So, I repeat, I know that both Dan and Mike are experts in what they do and are to be regarded with great respect. What they know could make all of our Aikido practices better. But I do not believe that either of them really "gets it" either when it comes to what we do and why we do it. Neither of them does it and Mike actually used to and walked away from it. That's fine. Aikido isn't for everyone, no art is. You find your art and you find your teacher. Perhaps as one grows one even changes these over time. But someone who is temperamentally unsuited for a given art will never really understand it, period. I am the first one to say that we in Aikido should be better at what we do. But I am certainly unwilling to concede that folks from outside can speak to the central issues of what Aikido should be and we do not need to let outsiders define the parameters for evaluating our art. They fundamentally do not "get it" nor do they particularly wish to.
I know that for every person posting there are hundreds who browse but never express themselves. Many of these folks are at the beginning of their Aikido careers and I think often find these discussions a bit confusing. Reading these discussions would often give someone new an impression that we don't know as Aikido practitioners who we are and what we do. So there is a lot of discussion about sources for practice outside our art. But for most of us, this is simply to get more understanding to bring back into our own art of Aikido and make it better. It isn't an expression of loss of focus or dissatisfaction with the art. It is folks who have trained a very long time talking about where they go to keep their training and ideas fresh; how we keep growing in our practice.
Aikido is a very alive and evolving art. The intention is completely different than koryu in which the intent is to preserve something intact from the past and keep it going. Aikido is new, it has very little past. The evolving nature of the practice is both its strength and a weakness. We have a tendency to charge forth and walk away from important elements of the practice. There is not set system to keep this from happening so it relies on the sincerity of the practitioners themselves that they do not let this happen. When we stray it is important to look at where we have become deficient and reacquire those skills and get them back into the art.
At the same time, no art can be all things. There will be things our art isn't well designed for. I do not think that we need to worry terribly about that. It is not important, I think whether an Aikido guy can be in the UFC and prevail. If I wanted to do that, I would do mixed martial arts. Integrity on our practice comes from paying attention to what we are trying to do and why and making sure we develop our practice honestly along that path. This forum has many many folks who have substantial backgrounds in other martial arts and have found what they were looking for in their Aikido practice. Introspection is good for our art but we don't need to have an inferiority complex about it either. As important as a thread like this is in defining many important technical issues for us as aikidoka, it also doesn't even touch on areas which I think are central to defining Aikido as Aikido and not aikijutsu or some other soft or internal style. I just wanted those folks with only a little experience to understand that point so they don't get confused by thee discussions.