Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.
I thought it would be a good idea to say something about my personal view of some of the progress I see/saw in Aikido recently, if nothing else to promote further discussion.
I just did two workshops on back-to-back weekends, on in DC and one at the Itten Dojo in Pennsylvania. Generally I don't do many workshops at all (I don't do this stuff for a living and there's not a lot of money in it anyway), but I enjoyed these last two. The workshop in DC had people from karate, Aikido, Taiji, Bagua, etc., and I enjoy a very generic approach that I can do in these workshops. There was a very good atmosphere. It was interesting to watch some of the first-time Aikido people versus some Aikido people who had more experience. Seeing how much improvement people can make (sometimes in only a few months) actually quashed a lot of the pessimist in me. Often I see so few results from people that I meet later on that I get the feeling only few people will ever really progress... the DC workshop is giving me reason to re-think that perspective.
I went to the Itten Dojo as a follow-up to a beginner's workshop a year ago, ostensibly to teach more advanced things (which I did, of course), but in reality I mainly wanted to see what would happen when a full dojo under the leadership of the sensei (Bob Wolfe, in this case) worked together for a year, trying to meld internal-strength skills into an Aikido curriculum. Frankly, I expected one guy to have a fair amount of stuff, maybe a limited amount from one or two others, and then "not so much" from the rest. I was wrong. The whole dojo had moved forward to the point that I was impressed. So after one year, it's possible for an Aikido dojo to move forward (if they do it as a group) dramatically. That's worth noting and archiving.
I told Sensei Wolfe that I don't see any logical reason for me to come back to the dojo after this because I think they have the principles of how to do these things (sure, they need a lot more work and I'll be happy to advise long-distance on physical development, etc.), but from here on out they'll be trying to get these things back into Aikido and I can't help them since I have no real expertise in Aikido. So I'm out of the picture on this one.... but other people in the Aikido community should meet up with and keep in touch with the people in Itten Dojo. Have discussions about progress, problems, perceived issues, and so on.
From a personal perspective, I have a curiosity about how various western takes on Japanese martial-arts are going to ever recover these skills. In the cases of many arts from Japan, these skills have "fallen into disuse", as Shioda so diplomatically put it. If westerners train at Japanese dojos where information was restricted to only a few or if the skills had already "fallen into disuse", then it's going to be very hard to convince people to try to recover these skills, in many cases. But for the ones who want to make the effort to see the "jewel" of Aiki that Ueshiba was talking about, I'd have to say that it's still possible to do it, using Itten Dojo as a reference for my observation.