I've just watched "Aikido: The Path Beyond Thought", the new video from Steven Seagal (Steamroller Productions, available through www.stevenseagal.com).
It's a bit difficult to judge it unemotionally. Steven Seagal is a very important figure in Aikido history and I believe many people started in this path, after watching his first movie : "Above the Law" (a good film at that!). On the other side, for many years, he has been known, not for his Aikido, but as a controversial figure: arrogant, with a very confusing and confused life story. Stories have been spread by him (and not confirmed) about involvements with the Yakuza in Japan and with the CIA. The confirmed facts are:
1. he learned Aikido with Harry Ishisaka and trained occasionally with Koichi Tohei, Isoyama Sensei and Abbe Sensei;
2. The Aikikai bestowed on him(for what it's worth) a 7th Dan;
3. He married a japanese lady and received, as a gift from the girls' father, a very big dojo in Tokyo;
4. he teached in that dojo for some years (and according to some sources, was promoted to 3rd Dan, because of that); and
5. he divorced his wife and left for the States, where he married a Hollywood actress and was responsible for some big propaganda for Aikido. At the same time, he promoted his name with even greater effort.
During his movie career, his Aikido dojo was conducted by his sempai, Haruo Matsuoka Sensei, with whom he broke apart later. Later still, he became involved in a spiritual quest and was told by a tibetan Lama that he was a Tulku, that is, a reincarnation of a saint. This Lama, recently, has made a public declaration that Seagal Sensei's condition of Tulku is just that: a possibility or a potential. To go on, he would have to study very much, a thing he didn't show much interest in. In this late period, he passed the management of his dojo to Larry Reynosa Sensei, known previously as one of Bruce Tegner's high hand men.
So I came to this video, with a lot of emotions and doubts. What did I see ?
Seagal Sensei knows his Aikido. He has strong, good techniques. Perhaps a bit unrefined, a bit heavy, but definitely good techniques. But sometimes one feels that Seagal has reduced his techniques to the ones he likes and does better (Iriminage, for instance). And we see his students trying to do those techniques his way. Impossible! They function for him, not for small men or women. They'll have to find the techniques for them.
Through all the video, we feel it like an hour-long eulogy to Seagal Sensei, with many enthusiastic testimonies from his students. That's a bit tiresome.
His randori left me astounded! It's illogical, to say the least. Three people attack the defender, trying to push him. It's up to the defender to escape them and to not let them pull him to the ground. But if he goes to the ground, the fighting continues, with him trying to get up again. I find it non-technical, non practical and open to many accidents, since this randori easily becomes uncontrollably violent. I might be wrong but that's the impression I got.
None of his students in the video shows a technique equal or similar to the one displayed by Seagal Sensei. In one moment, Seagal Sensei gives a student a verbal beating that reminded me of a drill sargent. There was a permanent feeling of "machismo", even on the part of the ladies. And also the permanent statement that "Seagal's Aikido works on the streets" with its corollary that "no one else does". Maybe...But is there a need for proclaiming that?
Some older pictures of Seagal Sensei in Japan were included. That was the best part, even if he shows the same things as today, mainly his trade mark Iriminage.
Many people have pointed out problems with this video's distribution. In my case, my son picked mine with his representative, Larry Reynosa Sensei, in a seminar in Brazil.