“Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei Electric,” by Stanley Pranin

“Although photos can only capture the essence of a fleeting moment, I have selected a few remarkable images that I feel will convey the amazing energy and electric presence of the Master!”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI sometimes am myself surprised at the fact that my interest in Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba has never once waned even after all these years of involvement in the art.

O-Sensei cut such a dashing figure… electric, mysterious, hypersensitive, compassionate, fiery, are just some of the words that come to mind.

I was hooked the first time I saw an old 8 mm film of O-Sensei at the local YMCA where I was practicing. There was such an inherent power, beauty and humanity in his movements. I had never seen a human being move like that. I wanted to become like that.

As I began to learn about the Founder’s epic life over the years, my interest in probing deeper into how he trained himself and acquired his extraordinary skills and spiritual powers only grew greater.

That search has been the overriding focus of my professional life and has been manifested in our publications, events, and now our activities on the web.

Although photos can only capture the essence of a fleeting moment, I have selected a few remarkable images that I feel will convey the amazing energy and electric presence of the Master.

A rare photo of O-Sensei partnered by Morihiro Saito Sensei from c. 1954

Night training with the bokken in Iwama, 1961


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The Morihei Ueshiba Founder’s Course is O-Sensei’s video legacy starting in 1935 and covering a span of 34 years until just before his passing in 1969. Besides the more than 30 films of the Founder, the course includes three rare audio interviews of O-Sensei with complete subtitles. These are wonderfully intimate conversations with the Founder that convey his bright personality, playfulness and sincerity. In addition, the course includes a series of video documentaries by Stanley Pranin on the life of the Founder and the spread of his art worldwide.

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15s Comments

  1. Dear Stanley,

    I’ve often wondered how O Sensei developed his uncanny skills. Was he born with it? Like a Mozart? Or was it something he developed through training? I know that many try to emulate him, but I have never met anyone who came close to the kind of skills you hear about in what seem to almost be Urban Legends. In Hawaii, I had the opportunity to be uke for most of the top instructors in Japan, including Saito Sensei, Tohei Sensei, Chiba Sensei, Inagaki Sensei, Maruyama Sensei, and many more legends of Aikido. Looking through the eyes of a child these men were all very impressive, and they all threw me around like a rag doll. But they did not read my mind and I could feel the technique and how it works as they threw me. There was nothing metaphysical about it.

    I have trained in martial arts, mostly Aikido, a good part of my life. I have acquired skills, but I still consider myself merely a technician and not even close to harnessing the “power of heaven and earth” to effect my opponent, or to have any keen ultra-awareness that allows me to move before I am attacked because I can read the other person’s intentions.

    I have studied Qi Gong for the last 9 years and my Sifu, who is a highly accomplished world renowned master, is able to see your ailments by looking into your body (without any explanations from the patient), and has an amazing ability to harness his healing power with or without touching you. He told me that I have good healing powers and encourages me to keep studying. He said that everyone can develop these skills with practice. If I can gain half the skills he has, I will consider this a miracle. But I am optimistic about his guidance he is giving me. He is one person who has such supernatural abilities as O Sensei did. There was one other Qi Gong master I met who performed a treatment on me once who also transferred his healing power into me that I could feel deep in my bones. I later saw him on Ripley’s Believe it or Not where he heated a wet paper towel with his Chi and it started to smoke. So, although I was too young to ever witness anything of the supernatural skills of O Sensei, I am nonetheless a believer that such skills do exist.

    But going back to Aikido, I am still at a big loss for bridging the gap of understanding to O Sensei’s teachings, how to train for it, and whether it is realistic to eventually have the ability to execute them as he did. Should we aspire to these heights or can we settle for being able to demonstrate effective techniques under randori conditions, which is kind of where I am at now? I am comfortable with this, and am finding much inspiration in developing further a more well rounded Sogo Budo approach where I aspire to develop skills in a multitude of disciplines blending them together as one. Hence, the transition from Judo to Karate to Aikido to weapons to newaza, etc. is seamless. This alone is proving to be quite a challenge in itself.

    I think we all share a similar Aikido quest. Part of it involves a transformation of the heart and mind. The other part is the waza and taking this to a level of the metaphysical. So I am sure we all struggle with this question.

    Warmest Regards,

    Ken Teshima

  2. When I was a teenager, I very much idolized O Sensei; I still do. But it struck me one day that when O Sensei was himself young and developing his early training, he didn’t desire to “be like O Sensei”, he had other training models and other role models. I thought about that for years until I ran across a poem by Basho that was perfect:

    Do not seek to be like those of old.
    Seek what they sought.

    A bit tangential, but I love reading this research into O Sensei and still wonder what he saw in his heart every day when he was young and would go out to train.

    I really appreciate and value all your hard work, Stanley – thank you.

    Kray Van Kirk

  3. Dear Sensei Stanley Pranin,

    Before studying Aikido, I’d studied Karatedo and at University, Western Religion. One in-depth study was in the 1960’s at University of Chicago of Black Elk, a medicine man who fought at Little Big Horn, and was at Wounded Knee too. My first thought of O-Sensei was how much I thought of Black Elk every time that I considered the behavior of the Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba sensei. The Oglala Sioux believed Black Elk was born that way. Perhaps it too is so of O-Sensei.

    All the best,
    Al Bennett

  4. Ken
    I am still learning about ki – the essential bit of aikido – after 41 years of aikido practice. My teacher’s advice? “Just do it”.
    While you are trying to do” it” you are still analysing what has to be done and the moment has passed. Trust your instinct.
    Yours in Aikido
    Peta Goodman

  5. What I’d like to draw attention to is O’Sensei’s experience of being around horses – riding on horseback alone or in a group and in harness for hauling on the farm. This may have made some contribution to his developing seemingly magical powers of connectedness. Sometimes as a rider, you can let the horse take over entirely, e.g., dozing off in the saddle since it knows the way home, and sometimes you have to anticipate the terrain, e.g., an overhanging branch or override its impulse to deviate for that nice patch of green leaves. When hauling a stuck log with a team in harness, you not only have to make quick decisions about a obstacle protruding from the surface of the ground, an obstacle which is behind the horses and so they cannot see it and understand your logic; you also have to coax the horses to interact with team spirit and then you have to gauge and manipulate their willingness to make a spurt of effort so that you send your own signals at the optimal time.

    As a teenager, I used to help with ‘Riding for the Disabled’ at a local stables and had to not only match the choice of horse with the rider but constantly monitor and anticipate their interaction with each other and with the group dynamics of the horses (horses have very varied personalities and moods as I’m sure you know) Being a dreamy teenager keen on both poetry and botany was an asset because I was good at catching the twenty or so horses scattered over a hill, most of whom didn’t want to go to ‘work’ or leave their foal, etc. and were wise to the bribe of food in a bucket. (Lassos no good for several reasons such as entanglement with trees)

    Each horse required a different approach which had to arise on a daily basis because horses are quick to learn your methods! My main method was zenlike or in a state of ‘mushin’ at first and then stroll about ‘receiving the energy from any wildflowers at my feet’ (if you think this is daft there is somewhere a very lovely serene photograph of O’Sensei with his hand on a tree trunk) Because I was in a ‘receiving mode’ and had dispensed with the idea of a goal, the horses just accepted me as part of the landscape. When it came to actually being in the saddle, something I enjoyed experimenting with a lot was coming to a fork in the road and seeing either whether the horse could read my mind as to which way I was hoping to go or at what point it would realize I had abdicated authority and wanted the horse to make the choice.

    In the absence of available horses, a handy exercise is to try monitoring yourself next time you ‘give’ someone a hug and try and notice the point at which the encounter turns into you being the recipient of the hug. If you’re feeling more adventurous, then , to improve your powers of blending, stand in front of a horse that wants to strike your face with its front hooves and you’ll notice you have to track its intention very closely and start moving to get in near its shoulder the minute it starts to raise a leg. Go in too soon to the ‘safe’ zone of the shoulder and the horse can just turn its head and bite you.

  6. Forgot to say:
    And don’t forget, it must have been plenty muddy on the farm in Hokkaido. There’s nothing like slipping and sliding in muddy conditions when you’re carrying an axe for training you to keep your balance!

  7. Dear Peta,

    Thank your for sharing your thoughts. I like that advice “just do it”. My Sensei has a similar mantra that I use a lot which is “knowing is doing”. Like you say, we often get caught up in the “paralysis of analysis” or many times fear stops us from doing what it is we aspire to achieve. Overcoming these obstacles, living in the moment, and capturing the moment is Kiai; and our training helps us to develop this. Life inside the dojo emulates life outside the dojo and so like in executing a technique, the window of opportunity is fleeting, and one does not have time to think about it too much……Just do it!!!.

    Warmest Aloha,


  8. Ken: First he got his body really strong, then it’s a lot of meditation and misogi, the best teachers in many martial arts, and a special diet too. He didn’t work 9-5 and prefered to live in the country rather than the city. After doing this for years, he became enlightened (this is when your chi riseses to your crown aka kundalini rising in yoga.) It’s the same as in Qigong, you have to build the Chi/Qi and store it in your dantien and distribute it to your main chi vessels (O’Sensei said fill your body with ki.)

  9. Dear Stanley and Dear Aikido Journal

    First off, thank you for this post and all the comments. It invites us to remember that what we do is about so much more than the physical action. Similarly, our utterances are about so much more than lexis and syntax. I am reminded of Bob Nadeau Sensei telling us about his own experience of attacking O-Sensei – and about how he has spent a lifetime since trying to capture the essence of what he experienced. He spoke of his own youthful power and passion and scepticism, about his physicality and his desire to put ‘the old man’ to the test. He described the experience as something like being absorbed into a rubbery sphere of energy, and then expelled with tremendous force and finding himself at some distance from O-Sensei flat on his back and none the more intelligent, if a little wiser, for it.

    The stories are legion, of course, and the truth that O-Sensei embodied in a sharp and vivid way the mystery of what it means to be alive is about as graspable as it gets. It is my belief that we are all made of the same stuff, but some of us are, in a non-meritocratic and strictly descriptive sense, more refined, more ‘in focus’, more ready to be close to the light and a vehicle for others to discover, or rediscover, what it feels like to be in the light. We can all train and develop our skills and sensitivity, and in a sense this is what should all do. But the purpose of this is not, in my view, in order to develop skills and sensitivity: we train, train, train because that is what we believe in, because as sentient beings that are also human we ourselves are the bridge between heaven and earth, and it is in our nature to manifest that. What really matters is that we learn to understand what we as individuals are here for, and perhaps also how we can benefit others.

    I am reminded of another person, a friend who is also a distinguished philosopher and theologian, and something he once said to me when I was an undergraduate renting a room in his house in Scotland. The existence of God, he said, is a simple matter of reasoning; the real problem is the mystery of the Incarnation. In the language of my uncultivated theism heavily influenced by a lifetime of exposure to potpourri orientalism, the heaven-and-earth question, the mystery embodied by O-Sensei, the mystery of connection (that strange alchemy that occurs when two sentient beings come into contact with each other), the Incarnation are all aspects of the same mystery, the same force that drives us to train, train, train. Training, in this sense, is a metaphor for Being.

    Hence the wisdom in Basho’s lines quoted by Kray Van Kirk above: we absolutely must look beyond the teaching to seek our own direct contact, or experience, with what it is we are seeking. There is no moment other than the now in which to look at whatever teaching we receive as a ‘packaging’, which, because of its very nature and role in the scheme of things, demands to be ‘unpackaged’ – it is a packaging, therefore it invites us to unpackage it. We might say that that is the mission each one of us is born with, and any moment in which we manifest that is our kiai moment – regardless of what we do. Hence also the value in the advice ‘just do it’. It is practical advice – it is in fact all we can do.

    Thank you also Sheila Barksdale for your story. I think it captures the essence of the practice itself, which is learning to understand the way connection works.

    Yours in aikido with all my heart


  10. My Aikido sensei in Kimiidera [Hachidan] was a long time student of O’Sensei…he once told us a story of O’Sensei sitting in seiza w/a jo under his arm…no one could pull it out from O’Sensei body then at one point after many had tried as a deshi was pulling on the jo O’Sensei released it and the deshi flew across the room.
    He has a few amazing stories of events he had witnessed during his training that began in the early 50’s and continued until O’Sensei’s passing.

  11. Dear Robert,

    Thank you for your very thoughtful and thought provoking comments. On many levels, I agree with what you have to say. Training for the purpose of developing ourselves as human beings is a life long quest. The techniques are a tool, but ultimately it is the person within that is the most important gem to polish. And like you say, perhaps no one will ever reach the level of enlightenment that O Sensei had achieved, and that is irrelevant. We are all not going to be so blessed. We should just “do it” and continue down the path to the best of our ability, helping others, and taking what we have learned out into the world to make a positive difference in society.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up your training.



  12. Reading everything I can about O Sensei is always fascinating, and I try to resist the common tendency to ascribe supernatural or paranormal powers to him, because I feel it would be one step towards finally dismissing the whole thing as fantasy. This latest post is no different in delivery of information that is so hard to parse objectively! The still from the 1935 movie that opens the series of photos is certainly dynamic — so dynamic indeed that his aura leaps out of the still screen in an effect that is so startling and over the top that it reminds me of a comic cartoon (nowadays called a graphic novel). I have seen Japanese wood-cuts that create this effect by hand-carved artistry, and I would say he demonstrates that very same effect captured in the wood-cuts, except he does it with his own “natural” body, and plain old silver emulsion film. No cartoon exaggeration, no rapid frame advance, no video editing, no stunt doubles, no hidden wires. I just have to suspend my own disbelief and accept that something is going on that I cannot fully explain.

  13. Robert Sumerset

    Do you believe that there is always someone out there that no one knows about that possess phenomenal talent and capabilities? Some one that reflects the adage that the most beautiful flower blooms unseen by anyone in the desert?
    I have always thought that the most talented aikidoka is out there somewhere, unknown to anyone by their choice because they personify the true intentions of aikido.
    Am I alone in this thinking?

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