I've always enjoyed, in a sort of weird, uncomfortable way, listening to SS speak. There's no question that his, I'll just broaden them out over and out of only aikido into martial arts, skills are top-tier.
It's his manner of speaking, and the way it leads to questionable credibility that makes me cringe.
This is how I feel as well.
There was a time.. when he was newly famous and I knew nothing of him other than 'Aikido' and he makes it look very effective and that was what got me interested in starting down this path. I will always be thankful for that beginning being inspired by him. I have never met him and I wish I had to an extent, if only to thank him for the initial inspiration and more so to experience what his Aikido and general martial knowledge feels like in person.
However much I may enjoy watching his technique and martial skill in demonstrations or on the TV/movie screen... I find it difficult to watch an interview and I even feel a little *sigh* and a pang of sadness about it... I can understand and even sympathize to an extent about the allusions to his experiences and the name dropping meeting once upon a time stuff.
Simply put (without having met him at all just based on all one can watch and read on the internet and in books/magazines etc): I see a man who went to Japan with a sincere passion for martial arts and to be effective with it. Like many westerners who want to believe there is more mystical stuff than there actually is... he kept looking and possibly either got lost on that journey for the mystical stuff and is stuck searching, creating it for himself as some sort of comfort.
- I find all claims of his attitude/ego issues and counter claims to those claims to be equivocal and somewhat pointless. We all have bad days and better days. We try our best, put on our game face and try to keep those people happy who have expectations of us, family, friends, co-workers and our bosses... let alone students at the dojo. Every once in awhile we may slip or be misunderstood in our 'tone' or context or it could simply be that 'today was the wrong day to come to work/training/party at friends place and I should have just gone home and watched TV/movies or climbed a mountain..'
In regards to creating the myth: to me it 'seems like' an extension of the entire 'way' some (cliche) westerners approach eastern martial arts which is based on Hollywood movies/TV or even Hong Kong movies etc.. that portray all martial arts with a mystical aspect. 'the good guy triumphs over the bad guy because his edge lays in the mystical side of his training and the bad guy does not have that'.
And so they train while searching\ feeling\believing there must be something mystical to it.. and even if they realize one day while training that there really isn't... they still convince themselves that there is.. or must be... and they will tell others that there is a 'certain something' and perpetuate that mystique.
It has been mentioned in another thread on here elsewhere about how we essentially wrap ourselves in the trapping of the art: your training gi... why wear it over a t-shirt and sweat pants? Ranks, Hakama, coloured belts and so on... I am not saying any of that is wrong, in fact I have found it can help 'set the mood' for that learning environment of training a martial art. But last time I checked a Hakama does not give someone +3 to Aiki\Kendo\etc +5 to inner peace and so on... it just looks cool to some of us. But I digress... I simply meant we can all get 'caught up' in it in one way or another and to lesser or more degrees. My feeling is: with martial arts, you know what you do, your skill is what it is.. not your rank, belt colour, tired worn out thrashed Gi top and belt. Be happy and enjoy each moment of your life and your interaction with others. Be honest about all of it with yourself and do not fall into this trap we seem to be discussing here with Seagal. (By being honest I mean, if you think training to get your Hakama or your next dan rank is the coolest thing or what motivates you, then that is 'ok', just own that feeling and thought and do not disguise it as something else.)
With Seagal, I think he started sincerely down his path... along the way got caught up in the success of his training and then felt he needed to shroud it in a mystique to perpetuate his celebrity and perhaps to an extent, his particular 'way' of applying Aikido so others who have come to learn about it because of his movies would perhaps feel the only 'true' way to learn would be to go see him.
That all being said, I will still put myself on the mat with him to feel his technique and learn what I could if an opportunity ever presented itself. A large part of who is was and still is - is his Aikido and the rest of what he has made himself out to be would not keep away... if only because I am aware of that aspect of him.
Sorry if that is a bit of a ramble. I used to really look up to him, part of me still does. But I am not blind and I am have to be honest with myself and so that allows me to be a little sad when he says the things he does that simply cannot be true.