I went to one seminar that he taught in my area, and I'd like to try another. He comes here once a year I understand, so I will try again. Some of the waza I got...some I had no clue what was supposed to happen, or how to make it happen in any case!
I had a very good time. I haven't read any of his books yet. One more thing to do...
Yes, I used to train with him everytime he came here to the East Coast. I still try to go see him when he comes, but haven't been able to train with him as much. I do get to pick up some wonderfull calligraphy and art work though!
And also a yes, there is a lot of the layman's comparative lit flavor to that treatment of kotodama. I did enjoy it though...he would often start class with it, and something about the vocalization "resonates" with me. But as time has gone on, I believe I understand better the depth involved in really persuing that portion of Ueshiba's legacy...and I guess I don't have as much "faith" that if there is power there, it will all work out somehow without my understanding it.
What I particularly like about Gleason Sensei is the fact that he can give you the flavor of how the Founder thought about what he did. O-Sensei's ideas about what he was doing when he was on the mat are so completely foreign to most nodern practitioners that what they are doing is almost a separate art.
For the Founder, physical technique was a direct manifestation of kototama. In each technique you essentially recreate the universe. Each technique embodies a different balance that still adds up to the whole. Like 10 can be looked at as 9+1 or 8+2 or 7+3, etc But each is an energetic whole.
Technique as physical expression of kototama principles ends up being sort of like Tibetan sand mandalas or Hopi / Navajo sand paintings. The are created, exist only for a short time and then are destroyed. A technique in Aikido is like that. You recreate the essential wholeness and balance of the universe (which is also the wholeness and balance within you) in time and then it's gone. It will never be created exactly the same way again. You can see why O-Sensei treated technique very reverently... each is a sort of sacred work of art.
Anyway, the question remains... if you do not have an understanding of the kototama practice, and your physical Aikido practice is necessarily a separate activity due to that fact, does the practice embody the same kind of energetic / spiritual properties which were present for the Founder in his practice?
My take on this would be yes. I think that on some level the "doing" of Aikido, at least if one endeavors to get past simply physical, muscle driven waza to something resembling "aiki", the waza contain the elements of balance of energetic forces the Founder believed were the manifestation of the kototama. Not knowing anything about the kototama, you are still embodying the principles in your practice. I think that O-Sensei saw this activity as transformative in itself.
In virtually all Asian spiritual systems there is the belief that the microcosm contains the macrocosm. "Thou art that" goes back to the Upanishads in India. I think that O-Sensei created the practice of Aikido to be a way to bring the inner and the outer into harmony. But it works in two directions... you are bringing yourself into harmony with some universal balance and at the same time, your practice is helping to maintain that balance. You don't actually need to know the kototama to have your practice do this. You simply need to do your waza with the proper attitude and manifesting proper aiki principles. By doing this you change yourself and you change the world around you.
So anyway, I like Gleason Sensei because he is one of the few people you can train with who can give you this flavor. It's not exactly precisely the same understanding of kototama that O-Sensei had... I don't think anyone can duplicate that (maybe Abe and Sunadomari would be closest). But I think that the Founder was aware of this and felt it didn't matter because the principles are inherent in the waza. If you train sincerely with the proper attitude, it's all in the waza. He called them the Divine Techniques for a reason.
I think that is why O-Sensei made no real attempt to incorporate kotiotama practice into the Aikido that was spread world wide after the war. For him, it was already in there and it wasn't necessary that you understand the details, just the larger sense of the practice as something sacred. The rest takes care of itself.