“Proponents of the theory of Aikido’s Chinese origin must provide proof.”
I received an email this morning asking my opinion of the remarks of a gentleman who states that he trained with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in the late 1960s. He makes the claim that Morihei’s aikido was directly influenced by “bagua zhang,” a Chinese internal art. Here is a quote from his article:
“The entering, turning and leading of one’s opponent, as well as the hundreds of subtle energy projections of aikido are fundamental bagua techniques that existed long before Ueshiba’s birth. Because of this, I believe that Ueshiba learned bagua while he was in Manchuria, China.”
This author’s thesis is based on his personal observation of Morihei’s art at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo during the late 1960s, the author’s analysis of “old films” of Morihei and the perceived similiarities in Ueshiba’s technique to various Chinese martial arts, and the fact that O-Sensei spent time in Manchuria during his lifetime.
I have heard this and similar theories about an “obvious” and unacknowledged Chinese connection that influenced the development of aikido repeatedly for the last 30 years or so. You will notice that that above-mentioned author provides no specifics to support his claim. In my experience, this is always the case when such a theory is advanced. Let’s take a closer look at this subject using our knowledge of Morihei’s life to consider the feasibility of such a theory.
Morihei Ueshiba did indeed spent time in Manchuria on three occasions during his life: as an infantryman during the Russo-Japanese in the 1904-1905 period; as a bodyguard to Onisaburo Deguchi on an ill-fated expedition through Manchuria and possibly Mongolia over a half-year period in 1924; as a visiting martial arts instructor during short stays in Japanese-controlled Manchukuo in 1939, 1940, and 1942.
I would like to provide some specifics about Morihei’s experiences in Manchuria to help the reader decide whether Morihei could have had an opportunity to study Chinese martial arts in any depth during these timeframes.
First of all, Morihei was an ordinary foot soldier who served in the Dalian region of Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War. Military discipline was very strict due to wartime conditions and the Japanese of that period considered themselves culturally superior to the Chinese. It doesn’t appear credible to me that he might have somehow have found an opportunity to escape from his military duties to study under some local master or masters of Chinese internal martial arts.
Morihei’s second visit to Manchuria took place in 1924. He was a member of the expedition of religious leader Onisaburo Deguchi and served as the former’s personal bodyguard. The stated objective of this secretive foray into China was the establishment of an independent utopian colony in Mongolia where members of all religions would be welcome to practice their beliefs freely. The reality was the Onisaburo was enmeshed in the politics and operations of the region and had numerous ties to ultranationalist Japanese and the Kwantung army.
Onisaburo’s group was supported by a local warlord that mounted an army of 1,000 men which declared themselves a “Mongolian Independence Army.” Members of this ragtag army were soon slaughtered by the dominant Chinese military forces who controlled the region, and Onisaburo, Morihei, and other Japanese members of the party were arrested. They narrowly escaped execution on this occasion.
His primary role was to protect and support Onisaburo. The Japanese party was constantly on the move in wilderness areas and became entangled in several dangerous skirmishes. To my way of thinking, there would have been no opportunity for Morihei to have engaged in a serious study of Chinese martial arts during this period either.
Later in his life when he was already a recognized martial arts master, Morihei traveled to Shinkyo (present-day Chanchung), the capitol of Manchukuo and headquarters of the Kwantung army, on three occasions. Having been invited by his student Kenji Tomiki, Morihei demonstrated and taught his Aiki Budo to students of Kenkoku University, built by the Japanese, in 1939, 1940, and 1942. His visits were fairly short, a few weeks in duration, and once again it is difficult to conceive of a set of circumstances that would have permitted Ueshiba to have learned from a Chinese martial arts master. Morihei himself was already a highly regarded martial artist and the Japanese completely controlled this area of China both politically and militarily.
Is it possible that Morihei may have witnessed some Chinese martial arts during his time in Manchuria? Certainly, it is possible. Could he have grasped some of the “inner secrets” of Chinese martial arts merely through observation? I will admit that being possible as well. But that is not what proponents of this Chinese theory are asserting. Their hypothesis is that Morihei had extensive training in Manchuria under Chinese masters and that the subtle ki manifestations of the founder’s aikido originate from Chinese sources. In a nutshell, their argument is this: “The subtle aspects of aikido resemble Chinese internal martial arts. Chinese martial arts predate Japanese martial arts. Morihei Ueshiba spent time in China. Therefore, aikido was heavily influenced by Chinese sources.” Where is the proof?
A further thought. Most of these theorists seem to discount the level and sophistication of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu that Morihei learned from Japanese jujutsu master Sokaku Takeda during a 15-year period starting in 1915. Sokaku taught primarily jujutsu but possessed much higher inner skills that he showed only to a few of his most talented students, Morihei being one of them. Another point worthy of mention is that Morihei was heavily involved in the Omoto religious sect co-founded by Onisaburo Deguchi. He learned many meditation and breathing techniques that he practiced assiduously and that he credited with having been responsible for much of his progress as a martial artist.
The points I have presented here have all been published, especially on this website, and can be retrieved by searching the worldwide web. I believe that writers and historians on this subject should conduct a survey of already published materials and compare them with their hypothesis before publishing their theories. If they have historical proof it should be offered and corraborated if they wish to be taken seriously.