George S. Ledyard
If people have no sense of this, then they are doing the wrong art. I do not think that Aikido is for everyone. Rather than try to devolve the art to make it something it's not, why not just go do an art that better fits what you want? It's not like there aren't choices out there now. Every time I hear an Aikido person going on and on about Daito Ryu, Systema, whatever... as being superior, I ask myself why they don't simply go do those arts? Why stick around Aikido and bitch about it all the time?
I don't even disagree with the criticisms leveled at Aikido. Most Aikido being done today is almost devoid of "aiki" and that includes folks with numbers as high as 8th Dan after their names. But it is not completely true. There are some really amazing teachers and there are many people working hard to re-introduce some of the skills, both mental and physical into the art while maintaining it's identity as a distinct form with unique characteristics.
Aikido is far more than the "bad Daito Ryu" some folks seem to think it is.
That would seem to be the heart of the matter. So, in a vague attempt to keep the thread on-topic... It is that what aikido "is" is hazy enough that it allows people to imprint extremely liberal interpretations of what it "is" back onto it. It's hard to single out something people can use as a yardstick to say what exactly even a "liberal" interpretation is. Everyone has to be all the more dogmatic about theirs because every other interpretation becomes a threat to what they see is right, even if they have severed their attachments to aikido in the end. It all comes back to the "how" of transmission, not the "what".
I felt very strongly about aikido while I was practicing it more actively. Then I became disillusioned with it... why? Was it the art itself, was it the founder (O'Sensei), was it the teachers, what is how they were teaching, was it what they were teaching, etc. etc. or was it simply just me? Where was I to peg the fault?
That comes back to why I pointed out yiquan in my example - not to discuss the merit of the content of that skill set, but of the what light it shed on aikido for me and the problems of the learning process itself. When I first came to yiquan, and other Chinese martial arts, I saw the same things played out there. I had the same doubts running through my head. It was the same scenario all over again, just spread out differently, and I was pretty much ready to give up.
Then I came across just one teacher of yiquan, who I thought was slicing through all these issues. It had nothing to do with "what" he was teaching - he could have been teaching me to play golf, it wouldn't have mattered. It was exactly "how" he was teaching that made me want to learn from this guy.
It was a method built off the idea that the real problem of martial arts was not what you were doing, but how you're supposed to teach it. Not only that, but it took the standpoint that everything and anything was open to being questioned, nothing is beyond being objectively tested, nothing is beyond being thrown out, replaced, or reinvented. There was no appeal to the history of the method, there was no appeal to other people who were "greats" of their time, and there was no appeal to even the skill of this guy teaching it. Everything was expected to stand on its own, its value self-apparent - and if it wasn't, you were free to do with it as you pleased to make it so.
So I took that and looked through that lens to my aikido training - past, present, and future. I look at the little nuggets of information I was being taught. How were they being used? How were they "intended" to be used by what was being said? How were they being used in other things totally unrelated? What results could be achieved with these things?
That made it apparent that just as a matter of "what" was being taught, there were lots of ways that I could have been using all of these things - without changing the content and training tools of aikido - that would have made me far more satisfied with them.
And then I went back and I looked at my teachers. What were they able to do? How were they explaining themselves doing it? How were the students receiving it, at least as they understood it conceptually? How were they doing it in the end?
That also made it apparent to me that there was truly not enough attention being paid to just how ideas were being transmitted, let alone what was being transmitted.