One of the realizations I came to fairly early in my career of researching the origins of aikido is the fact that few teachers of aikido today are aware of the specifics of the Founder’s art. More so than Morihei Ueshiba, aikido pioneers in the postwar era such as Kenji Tomiki, Gozo Shioda, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Morihiro Saito, Seigo Yamaguchi, Michio Hikitsuchi and others are the key figures that have left the strongest imprint on the way the art is practiced today.
Morihei Ueshiba’s teaching methodology that was out of synch with postwar Japanese society, his strong religious orientation, his frequent travels and irregular schedule made it difficult for most of his students to receive in-depth instruction from the Founder. To this can be added the fact that aikido developed and spread in Japan during an era of peace that later blossomed into a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. In such a societal setting devoid of the constant specter of war and a sense of physical danger, aikido training in a period of peace lacked the intensity and focus of the uneasy times of the prewar era. Also, the practice of judo and kendo was widespread before the war and taught in school. This meant that those students who learned from O-Sensei in the prewar era had a much better level of physical and mental preparation when embarking on their training compared to those after the war.
To be sure, there have been some excellent technicians and inspiring teachers during aikido’s early years of growth starting in the 1950s. There have been those, too, who have spoken of the moral dimension of aikido and its role as a vehicle for the betterment of individuals and society. Nonetheless, the hyperawareness, sharpness, and unbridled exuberance displayed by the Founder while demonstrating his art can hardly be seen anywhere. In a similar vein, the Founder’s religious perspective and view of himself as an instrument of the “kami” whose purpose is to realize peace and brotherhood on earth is too grandiose a vision for most aikido teachers who see themselves mainly as providing self-defense and exercise training for the public.