I hear a lot about different styles - and how different they are. In fact, it is almost an aikidoka's favorite pastime to praise his/her own style and trashtalk every other. Between Yoshinkan and Aikikai, if you didn't know better you would think it is an all-out war.
Let's be clear about a couple of things. First of all, there is only one source - Ueshiba Morihei.
Yes, many interpretations, but that is just what they are - INTERPRETATIONS. Aikido, like most martial arts, has grown and evolved since its creation, and even O-Sensei grew and evolved throughout his life, which means that those deshi who trained with him at different times would have had differences in the aikido they experienced from him. Does it make any style better than any other? I think not.
Rather, I think it is of critical importance to focus not on what makes us different, but on what makes us similar. Aikido, irrespective of style, has central principles and movements, even if they are called by slightly different names. I do believe that exposure to different styles strengthens our knowledge of our own style.
At the same time, I meet many people (actually I have the same experience) who have studied a wide variety of styles. This is not a bad thing, but I do think at some point you must commit to a style long enough to go deep and understand the more advanced portions that each style has to offer. It is a critical failing of many "concepts"-based systems that they teach generalities without giving students the proper foundations and background to be able to apply those concepts properly. be sure you train with someone whose knowledge and experience go beyond just "concepts".
I am a strong advocate of purity - meaning that study of any martial art should be done in such a way as to preserve its unique tradition and culture. When doing aikido, I do Yoshinkan - not because I believe Yoshinkan is inherently better than any other aikido style (sorry guys), but because that is what I have studied and I should make my best efforts when training to do it properly (at least when I am in a Yoshinkan school). If I visit another system, I have no problem doing the techniques the way they show me. Some people take great offense to their techniques being corrected or called "wrong" in another style. I think this is a problem of semantics. "Wrong" for a technique in a Yoshinkan school should simply mean "different" to an Aikikai practitioner, not "worse". An Aikikai technique in a Yoshinkan technique is "incorrect" not because it is flawed or does not work, but because Yoshinkan schools are for studying Yoshinkan. The fact is, in Yoshinkan schools, just as in Aikikai schools, great effort is made to preserve the purity of the style and its techniques.
I have lived my whole life believing that the martial arts are a powerful vehicle for personal development (hence this blog). I also think there is no one best path in the martial arts - all proper styles have merit for those who study them diligently. I support a global community of like-minded martial artists who can openly share with one another and not place ridicule or scorn on others. The blessing of the martial arts is the blessing of understanding.
See you soon at a dojo near you.