Over the last few years I have been thinking about this again. More and more, I have been coming to the view that aikido is a way to limit damage. There are so many ways you can hurt an attacker, and aikido opens up many of these ways. So ikkyo is an opening for breaking an attacker’s ribs with a reverse punch. Kote gaeshi is an opening for breaking his ribs with a side kick or, a little later, with a round kick. But if you see these options and can realize them, but take the less damaging one where possible, that is aikido. Kind of like you can’t really be a pacifist unless you can kill.
This approach also has the useful aspect that you can practice aikido at close to full force. A lot of arts you have to practice as kata where you punch and kick the air, pull your punches, or wear protective equipment. Aikido, you can cut loose, and with enough training uke survives just fine.
I used to think of aikido as the “light side of the force”, and karate as the “dark side”. Now this isn’t a very oriental way of looking at things. A more oriental way might be to see the two sides as two parts of the whole. The two are complementary. I kind of saw this logically, but I am seeing it more these days in how I practice. If you practice with the intent of hurting people, but not doing so, aikido works better, and there is less conflict, not more. Now this is almost American: carry a big stick and walk softly.
Was this at all close to how O Sensei saw aikido? Most Western aikidoka relate to O Sensei as the little old man with a grin shown in the pictures on most dojo. However, there was a darker side to him. He did teach the Japanese military at the Nagano spy school. One of his most influential teachers was Sokaku Takeda. I can quite see O Sensei as having this view of aikido. A lot of our teachers learned aikido in post WW2 Japan, when Macarthur acted a lot like a shogun and martial arts training had to be under the radar. In that climate, they probably were not taught the more martial aspects of aikido.
When O Sensei opened the original Hombu in Tokyo, it was common practice to visit a new dojo and check out the teacher. If he couldn’t beat all comers, he wouldn’t last long. So O Sensei obviously was able to kick ass. So maybe my view isn’t so far from the one O Sensei had.