“Why has Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei had so little impact on the development of Aikido?” by Stanley Pranin

“The art’s finest exponent, and the man who conceived of the system of ethics that underpins it, is not a major factor in discussions of aikido, be they of a technical or philosophical nature.”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI realize that the title of this blog will elicit disbelief in many quarters. Isn’t the opposite the case?

Why did I choose such a title and why do I believe this statement to be true? I’ll explain my reasoning.

By the time aikido began to spread in the postwar era in Japan and abroad, the Founder was already an anachronism. He was elderly, selfish, cantankerous, spoke at times incomprehensibly, and moved in ways that only the most astute observer could follow. He was too much trouble to deal with, and he was consequently marginalized in the dojo he had built.

So what happened? Morihei’s words were edited and “prettified,” and made to sound like a sage. When rendered into English and other languages, what we have are “free” translations that are not identified as such. We are at least two levels removed from his original words. O-Sensei’s techniques that were poorly explained and too hard to learn were eschewed in favor of the approaches of the Founder’s son, Kisshomaru and Koichi Tohei, in particular. His weapon studies were judged to be amateurish and incomplete, and thus irrelevant to the art.

Where does that leave us?

It means that the Founder of aikido, perhaps the art’s finest exponent, and the man who conceived of the system of ethics that underpins the art, is not a major factor in discussions of aikido, be they of a technical or philosophical nature. O-Sensei’s influence is akin to a far off echo, weak and distorted. As a result, aikido has been impoverished.

To end on a positive note, if Morihei Ueshiba’s ideas were ever to be understood and widely discussed, the art’s potential as a martial art and a powerful social force would be greatly magnified.

Further reading

Is O-Sensei Really the Father of Modern Aikido?, by Stanley Pranin
O-Sensei’s Spiritual Writings: Where did they really come from? by Stanley Pranin
Exploring the Founder’s Aikido by Stanley Pranin



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29s Comments

  1. To the extent that we engage in apologetics and reconciling and justifying the words and deeds of an historical figure is the extent to which we have entered the domain of religion. We are easily able to separate the mathematical and scientific work of Isaac Newton without allowing his personal interest in astrology or Biblical prophecy to stain his contribution.

    Nor do we believe that Newton must forever be held as the pinnacle of mathematical achievement when today there are many college students and probably a few high school students who surpass his mathematical understanding. Newton will always be held in high esteem, but if the mathematical world forever deferred the top seat to Newton we would stifle the advancement of science on every front.

    Perhaps we should view the person of Morihei Ueshiba more in this light lest we blunder into the murky water of religion with all its potentials for intellectual debilitation and psychological and physical abuse – which is the very lament echoing through much of the aikido world. Ueshiba’s notions of compassion, forgiveness and service to humanity are certainly not original. What was perhaps original (although I’m sure this is infinitely debatable) was his way transforming budo to express these ethical notions.

    Everyone who trains in aikido traces the steps of O Sensei in some small way just as all math students at some point follow the path of Newton/Leibniz. They blazed an important trail that remains to this day. But I don’t see these important figures as the either the bounds or the extent of our pursuit.

  2. Perhaps the Founder’s legacy is best taken as a validation of old wisdom (“The Way is in training” – Musashi ) with a somewhat modern cover. We’re all human. O Sensei, too. And if we are well intended, we do what we can. Musashi also had the bit about how the flower is given more value than the fruit. If you need to “pay the rent”, therefore, consider selling flowers. In general, martial arts offer diminishing returns in fighting skills. Somebody with a few quick and dirty tricks and in good physical condition has probably gained the most cost-effective edge in a fight. Given that, as Kano Sensei said, “On any day, anyone may win”, the additional advantage of advanced training… well, if that’s what you want to do anyway. And that comes down to it. Those of us who are in aikido for life, whether we know it right away or not, are practicing misogi. I came in to be a better fighter. In the process I probably am, but may also actually be a better person. Old lessons, again, “Today is victory over yourself of yesterday” – Musashi. Perhaps O Sensei hoped the victory would be over the whole spirit of conflict. I wonder, watching him carefully, to what extent he achieved victory and to what extent he simply harnessed the power of that spirit?

  3. “There are many college students and probably a few high school students who surpass his mathematical understanding…”

    I, for one, would be most interested in discovering the equivalent to these young mathematical geniuses in the aikido word.

  4. Perhaps mathematics was not necessarily the right analogy. In philosophy, we often look to Socrates, as the founder of modern philosophy. When looking at arguments in philosophy, we either see agreements with his statements, with changes in emphasis (as with Plato or Aristotle) or we see contradictions (as with Machiavelli or Kant). Without Socrates having existed, none of these philosophers would have had the formalized logic used to add, subtract, or outright deny his statements. No one dared comparing a philosopher to Socrates level of intelligence for over several life times. Just as it would not only be rude but downright wrong to compare any Aikido practitioner to O’sensei’s level of skill. Training under any of O’sensei’s students will give you the same concepts he taught and, more often than naught, loosely the same technique. The only real difference is the emphasis. In the end, we should always look to O’sensei as the foundational point of reference.

  5. If you’re asking me to name names then it’s a little like asking me to step in front of a firing squad – I’m sure many in the aikido community would waste little time in pulling out their torches and pitchforks and having a stab. And please understand that I’m not suggesting that I’m anywhere near being on such a list. I’ll let others be the judge of what constitutes “genius.” Mozart was also a creative genius, but please let’s not say that his music has not been surpassed. If we up hold Mozart as the fixed standard against which the quality of all subsequent music is compared then by definition no one will ever surpass Mozart – because nobody can ever be as Mozart as Mozart was. And worse, if we exalt Mozart in this way it would effectively kill music. Go to Google Trends and type in the word “aikido” – take a look at that plummeting graph line – there you have it. Saying that nobody is better at being O Sensei than O Sensei is like saying nobody will ever be a better skater than Peggy Fleming was. That would be the death of figure skating just like the O Sensei cult is the death of aikido.

  6. I’m sure that if teaching aikido became as widespread as teaching mathematic, we would see such geniuses appear. In sports, soccer geniuses like Pelé, Zidane and Messi would appear maybe once in a century if it wasn’t a worldwide practiced sport.

  7. If I’m not mistaken Sokaku Takeda claimed his art was very easy to learn, and perhaps Morihei Ueshiba thought the same of his art and left the bulk of learning up to the student. Koichi Tohei seems to have preferred it that way as he said he paid more attention to what the founder did than to what he said.

    Further, the founder claimed to be a baby in an art that was forever changing and creating in each moment. As such maybe he was akin to Bruce Lee in that he didn’t want to crystalize aikido.

  8. Philip, we are in agreement on most points. My argument is that we remain largely ignorant as to his technique, training and teaching methods. It’s all rather vague, but can be painstakingly reconstructed using materials such as the Daito-ryu curriculum, “Budo Renshu,” “Budo,” the Noma Dojo photos, “Soden,” etc. The same with his ethical system. It’s very hard to interpret and no one has done a serious job of it so far.

    So, in my view, O-Sensei has not yet been “discovered.” Let’s shine the light on him the way we have for Plato, Aristotle, Mozart, etc. I’m saying let’s “discover” him, and see where it leads and if there is something that will be of use in our own training.

  9. Dear Mr Pranin,

    Provocative title indeed, especially if one misses out the word “development” and focuses exclusively on “Aikido” 🙂 Only by keeping up with your older, so informative and valuable posts where you write about Aikido’s history one gets the point you’re making, I think.

    Thank you very much for your excellent work in this field, we are all much obliged to you.

    Please allow me to, a sort of, hijack this entry and ask what’s your take on the issue I’ve been wondering about for quite some time now.

    Being a rooky in Aikikai Aikido of Tissier line myself, but with theoretical interest in Ki and Takemusu branches, I cannot own to any substantial knowledge in the matters Aikido. However, the little I’ve read about it, and being rather meticulous in browsing through the Aikido Journal archive, I’ve come to thinking that nowadays, there might be a tiny misunderstanding as regards Aikido’s religio-spiritual basis.

    Now that you mention the hiatus between O-Sensei’s Aikido and the post-war Aikido fueled by the Second Doshu, Tohei, Shioda, Tomiki, to name but a few, I wonder, is the up-to-date emphasis on Buddhism and more or less complete oblivion of Shintoism in Aikido a symptom of such a hiatus, too? Surely Buddhism did have an influence on the later development of Shintoism, yet as far as I could gather O-Sensei’s devotion and rituals he was so diligent in observing, were of a pure Shinto descendant, I believe. I am aware that in his youth he studied Zen Buddhism, though. In fact, I can hardly understand a word Morihei Ueshiba says if I don’t take into account Shinto animism, all those kami that help us become one with the Universe and thus transform us in kami as well. Another thing, there is an evident societal bond in O-Sensei’s Aikido. Again, I see it as a Shinto imprint and, even more so, a hallmark of Omoto. Milleniarism, so typical for the Omoto religion, has been transformed in O-Sensei’s Aikido into his novel understanding of Budo – the way to make all peoples one family. Perhaps a misunderstanding, but as far as I can tell this cannot be equated with the Buddhistic conceptions, since the unity, the family he mentiones, is a guardian of variety. Actually, the only distinct Buddhistic characteristic I recognise in O-Sensei’s Aikido is the attitude with which one executes a technic – 100% focus.

    Can’t speak of others, but if we look at Koichi Tohei and his Aikido with Ki, what we see is Aikido deprived of the spiritual flavour of its Founder and filled instead with the doctrine of Ki that came from Tempu Nakamura’s Shin Shin Toitsu Do. Nakamura was big in yoga research, coming from the so-called Western, scientific point of view (i.e. verification), but also adhering to Eastern view (moving meditation). I practiced for a while Shin Shin Toitsu Do, and as far as I could discern and from what I read about it, it is distinctly (Zen) Buddhistic, never did I hear a word about the original Japanise religion, Shintoism, less so of Omoto. We’ve learnt from your historical research that Tohei, along with Kisshomaru Ueshiba, was the main line of transmision of Aikido to the West. Also, Buddhism, as it is, has gained huge acceptance among the secular-minded people in the West, so it was a small step for those interested in Aikido to embrance its Buddhistic references and put Shinto and Omoto emphases aside.

    So what do you think, Mr Pranin, is there a hiatus in this regard as well, or is this too strong a word to use? Thank you in advance for your insights.

    Best regards,

  10. In my personal opinion: After WWII, people were tired of war and conflict. Japan was a nation who had lost a major war and whose people were in need of reinventing themselves? So too, with The Founder’s Aiki Arts, it needed to be reinvented. The physical confrontations of individuals on the battlefield, armed only with steel and bare arms were supplanted during the world war with weapons almost beyond imagination. Firearms, canons, flamethrowers, bombs, nerve gas, biological and chemical weapons in addition to atomic weapons proved too much for the antiquated dictates of a cranky old man, and a war weary world.

    Doshu and Tohei Sensei reinvented O’Sensei’s Samurai arts in a way that were not militaristic and showed a kindly sage who flourished using non-lethal traditional martial arts, wrapped in an aura of mysticism. A necessary balm for the times, which helped by the Occupation Troops spread to America and beyond. Modern Aikido used the techniques of the Founder and a philosophy more suited for the post WWII age. Americans, and the ‘beat’ and later ‘hippie’ movement enabled a devastating martial art to be clothed in pseudo pacifist philosophy and lingo. A martial art for a new age was born. This deployment of philosophy and technique brought Aikido to the forefront of ‘in’ physical activities for the culture of the post war societies, both Japanese an American. The Founder never envisioned what his art would become.

  11. As you were talking about music, I was thinking about JS Bach. Without Bach and his studies on the piano, Mozart would have been a poor boy trying to play with his family.

    What I am trying to say is that our comprehension of the art depend on the work of the elders. As for the level of a genius it’s clear that Bach was a giant and it’s difficult to find someone who can surpass his comprehension of the music. I see O Sensei a little like this. Takeda Sensei did have a lot of students, but no one could attain quite the level of Morihei.

    As a matter of fact, Takeda Sensei is the reformer of the Daito Ryu and we aikidoka profit from the technical skills he taught to Ueshiba Sensei.

    I think Corb is fully right, when he says that it’s up to the students to learn how to use the techniques they were taught. The ancient system of densho (transmission scrolls) is nothing but a listing of the techniques you were taught.

    The problem is that we changed the system to adopt the Shinbudo system of dan-rankings (in 1940 as adaptation for the requirements of the Butokukai). In the mind of O Sensei, he was still delivering the rankings according to what he believed was corresponding to the ancient system of the densho (see the conversion of the scrolls detained from Mochizuki Minoru and Tomiki Kenji in an 8th dan in 1940). So he was still giving the ranks on what he thought his students had understood from the teaching.

    Nowadays the rankings are given also according external factors like the age, the number of years of teaching, etc. It is perfectly normal, given the point that the art of aikido has hugely expanded worldwide since the time of O Sensei.

    As the music is evoluting, the art of aikido might evolute too. But the same as for learning the piano it’s better to learn first the studies of Bach, it seems that it’s also the reference to learn the basics of aikido as O Sensei did they teach them.

    Now I understand that Stanley is trying to say to us that we don’t know O Senseis teaching. For the spiritual part, it seems that John Stevens was writing a very good book on this topic. Stanley, you mentioned already the technical references, so it’s no need to recall them.
    WE have the responsibility of increasing the level of practice. It is how I see that.

  12. Yes – absolutely. I’d never make a case for ignorance. We should always strive for a more complete understanding, and I’m grateful for your painstaking work without which the aikido world would be significantly poorer.

    One good thing that inevitably comes from learning more about historical figures is that they are brought down from the clouds to become human again. We both remember from our early days in aikido how O Sensei was regarded as a nearly supernatural figure. These old stories still get peddled out even today. The stories were great for capturing the imagination of teenage boys, but remember what Joseph Campbell said: “If the myths are literally true then they are irrelevant.” If the truth of aikido hinges on the extraordinary physical or psychic abilities of a single person then it is as weak as the literalization of a virgin birth or the Garden of Eden. The truth of aikido must be a story that can be taken up by anyone with the desire to make the journey. The truth of aikido is bigger than O Sensei.

  13. I have no reason to doubt the facts of what you have said. You have presented this information many times, and your research is thorough. When I showed this to a group at our dojo, people were angry. Not denying the facts, but put off by the tone. This is a much more blunt statement than you have given in the past it seems?

  14. People have limited time. You need to catch their attention within a few seconds. Judging from the level of comments, there is considerable interest in this subject.

  15. Dear Monika,

    Thank you for bringing up an interesting point. It’s clear that O-Sensei’s Shinto antecedents are not well recognized, especially in the west. As to the success of the spread of ki through the activities of Koichi Tohei Sensei, I don’t think too much of the Buddhist roots via Shin Shin Toitsu Do are evident. Ki is definitely the focus.

    I was clearly told by Kisshomaru Sensei that O-Sensei did not particularly like Zen Buddhism. He was really devoted to the Omoto doctrine until the end of his life and maintained his links to the organization as I stressed yesterday in my post about his business card.

    You’re right to point out that some aikidoka have embraced Buddhism and attempted to couple it to aikido. There is even a book titled “Zen and Aikido” in our catalog. Of course, the general aikido population doesn’t really understand what that implies.

    In conclusion, if one really wants to get involved in a serious study of O-Sensei’s odyssey, it is obligatory to have at least an acquaintance with the history of the Omoto religion.

  16. Dear Monika,

    Thank you for bringing up an interesting point. It’s clear that O-Sensei’s Shinto antecedents are not well recognized, especially in the west. As to the success of the spread of ki through the activities of Koichi Tohei Sensei, I don’t think too much of the Buddhist roots via Shin Shin Toitsu Do are evident. Ki is definitely the focus.

    I was clearly told by Kisshomaru Sensei that O-Sensei did not particularly like Zen Buddhism. He was really devoted to the Omoto doctrine until the end of his life and maintained his links to the organization as I stressed yesterday in my post about his business card.

    You’re right to point out that some aikidoka have embraced Buddhism and attempted to couple it to aikido. There is even a book titled “Zen and Aikido” in our catalog. Of course, the general aikido population doesn’t really understand what that implies.

    In conclusion, if one really wants to get involved in a serious study of O-Sensei’s odyssey, it is obligatory to have at least an acquaintance with the history of the Omoto religion.

  17. Any Buddhist influence on O Sensei’s thought is by far most likely to come from the Shingon Buddhism that he studied in his youth, rather than Zen. Shingon is essentially Japan’s equivalent to Tibetan Buddhism, in particular Mantrayana. That is to say, a variety of Buddhism emphasizing mantra and other practices – some of that is very compatible with the practices of Omoto-kyo Shinto. For example, kototama is analogous to mantra, especially the monosyllabic ‘bija” or “seed” mantras. O Sensei certainly refers to ‘AUN’, which is the Japanese pronunciation/spelling of the paramount bija-mantra “Om” or “Aum”. Similarly, Shinto misogi practices are analogous in principle and sometimes in form to Indian ascetic purification methods known as “tapasya”. This concept is more integral to Aikido than some might suspect, because at times the Founder defined Aikido practice itself as a form of misogi.

    Zen and Shingon are quite different in some respects – almost at opposite ends of the spectrum of Japanese Buddhism. As a very rough and imperfect analogy, it might be a little like the difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Quaker sects of Christianity, with Quaker corresponding to Zen.

    That being said, Omoto is overwhelmingly the main element in O Sensei’s esoteric teachings; some Shingon influence seems apparent, but it’s mostly Omoto. It also seems possible that when he referred to teachings of other schools of thought, he might simply have been trying to be more understandable to a wider audience, knowing that most his students were not Omoto-kyo followers – but there I can only speculate.

  18. Stan
    It’s in the training. The way we train, going back and forth all the time changing between the role of uke and tori, in each and every execution changing from aggressive/dominant to accepting/submissive and back again. And it’s in the techniques, the way they are laid out and can be done in the most basic style to the most baroque and still remain the same. This is O Sensei’s legacy. This is what changes people. Train hard and you will see.

    Robert Nadeau says: Why aren’t we seeing more O Senseis after all this time? Well, there was one Jesus, one Mohammed, one Siddhartha. People like that are extremely rare. They are catalists, capable of an extreme way of focusing energy.

    It’s not about an O Sensei cult. You don’t have to worship him. It is enough to practice his stuff. It’s also irrelevant if that came out of Daito Ryu or Gobbledygook out of the Japanese or Chinese past. History is important, but it is irrelevant for the effect the system that O Sensei designed has on humans. And it shows and remains in its effect intact in all “styles”: Soft-core Aikikai Kisshomaru Aikido as well as hardcore Yoseikan, energy-magic Aikido as well as crystal clear Iwama. It’s all just layers of the same onion. That is O Sensei’s immortal legacy.

    So it is important that students of O Sensei like his son, Koichi Tohei and Morihiro Saito sacrificed their lives to make certain aspects of O Sensei’s onion teachable. What is not ok but obviously hard to avoid is that some people take their layer of choice for the whole onion.

    Ah well. Don’t like onions? Try atoms and their building blocks or suns and planets. It’s all the same.

    Train hard!

  19. Dear Stanley,

    There is a linguistic slippage occurring here, and elsewhere that, I believe, contributes to some of the important dilemmas you are discussing. I think you may have raised this elsewhere but I notice it in these responses here as well.

    That is the area of calling all the training and teaching ‘Aikido’, when in fact, and by your accounts, it was Daito-ryu Jiu Jitsu – that is what Tomiki and the other folks learned and that is what O’Sensei was licensed to teach, and did. The renaming of the method Aikido in post-war years somehow seems to include everything that was ever taught and this is incorrect.

    The effect of this slippage is, I believe, to inadvertently unify all the diverse methods and this creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, where some things cannot be adequately assessed.

    It’s a small point but I notice the effect it has on me.

    Cheers and thanks for your work


  20. One must remember that O’Sensei was like most Japanese people -Buddhist when young but closer to Shinto when nearing death. This is how the two major religions work together for most people in Japan. So understanding O’Sensei will always be difficult if we use a single belief system.
    Yours in Aikido
    Peta Goodman

  21. Prewar aikido was one thing, and then there was “pre-internet” aikido!

    There was a time (in my memory at least) when there was a small group of sensei whose presence alone was sufficient to validate their teaching. It was understood you trained for years in the hope of eventually getting somewhere near their level, and it was never suggested they might have been wrong, or—heaven forbid—that they may have misinterpreted or perverted the founder’s teaching.

    Now many of these sensei have passed on, and the internet has exploded with opinion and comparison and contradictory theories on what aikido is and why we should or shouldn’t practise it.

    Osensei’s idiosyncracies have not escaped the digital searchlight and we are confronted with an almost schizophrenic image of the founder; “experts” have weighed in from around the world (mostly not from Japan, though) to undermine our confidence even further.

    The “culture-gap” seems to me to be of equal importance to the “evolution-versus-degeneration” argument, though it is not often discussed.

    We have the Western “scientific’ (left-brain?) arguments which prefer to discuss the practical and rational (and sometimes seem to analyse the life out of the art), and to reject the “religious” element at face value. And the Eastern unquestioning, seemingly backward approach, with an emphasis on training and not intellectualising.

    Take a look at the NHK video (included in the AJ Newsletter the other day) of Katori Shinto-ryu for a really stark contrast in East-West attitudes. This shows many sincere Westerners devoting their lives to a 600-yr-old mode of training: signing a blood-oath never to use the techniques outside the dojo, to stick to rules of etiquette, and so on, and training every day with hardly any verbal instruction, no ‘dan grade’ carrots, and just showing up at the dojo every day, repeating the kata millions of times. There is an interview with one Western student, who has spent 20 years in Japan living in this totally Japanese way. He is even shown praying to the Kami in his own home every morning before heading to the dojo.

    The contrast between East and West, and for that matter between modern and ancient Japan, was never more obvious.

    The internet may be the death of aikido! Or it may force us to look within for universal truths that transcend cultural boundaries.

    There are interesting times ahead.

  22. Even the Aikido world has it’s ‘talking heads’ just like the media world. Simply stated, I think that it is a good idea not to allow knowledge to stand in the way of truth. We all come to knowledge from whatever path we are taking and the position from which we are viewing reality. We come to truth, however, only through a deep and serious introspection of ourselves. And yea, my truth may not be your truth, because until ‘understanding ‘ or ‘enlightenment’ is achieved, we are all going to misinterpret knowledge and ‘truth’.

    O’Sensei may not have been able to completely articulate his understanding of his reality, and quite often, those who step in to try to make those interpretations never quite get it right. But there is a direction to follow, like the path of an explosion. It sort of goes in all directions. Right? The way I see it, the Old Man was an explosion upon the scene of inner development at his time and place of manifestation. It is a common theme, so I advise against getting too wrapped up around the axles.

  23. Stan , I took some time to understand your article , after 3 readings at different moments is that I could get its spirit. First it seems very controversial and so on but afterwards it’s said it all. There are many variables involved here, so a simple answer is just not quite possible. One great truth that i saw from your article is that O-Sensei is indeed a master. Any doubts ? Try to see what common sense did with Jesus, Budha , Gandhi , Newton, Gurdjieff , Hegel, Socrates, Osho and so many others and you’ll understand what I’m saying.

    People that simple did something that other people liked, agreed, loved or whatever and start to follow them just because they see something special and true about all those fantastic humans were doing. And if you look carefully, they did so simple things, that are so deep that you almost can’t believe. After all, it was supposed to be simple but it doesn’t mean that it should be shallow.

    The problem with all grand teaching is when institutions arise from these great masters. None of them asked to : spread my teachings via this “foundation”. Indeed no institution can kept they real philosophy alive, besides that was they were supposed to do. The focus should be always the teaching, the system, the art of the master. Just keeping ourselves loyalty to the master teachings is that we can maybe one day get to the same place as they get.

    If you follow one religion you never will reach the same level of its “supposed creator”. You will reach just the level of the heads of the institution reached. Now if you want to go beyond that if you want really to understand how the master get there, why, when, and other w’s you have to follow their teachings, not follow one institution. We are too much squared and used to give institutions a power that they did not have. The power resides inside the great teachings that all these master gave to us, by doing or building or creating a path to follow these marvelous human beings are proving that we also capable of such power and if just don’t believe in it, then you should just not try to make it.

    Everybody knows that o-sensei was a “monster” swordman, to criticize or to judge his approach, someone has at least to make the same path or get better than that. We have a lot of people talking bullshit and doing 3/4 of what o-sensei did. Sorry to Ueshiba family but none of its successors did half of what O-sensei did. So it just no possible to qualify him without have at least the same, equal abilities that he had. And if words are not enough to understand, sorry but I doubt that all his previous masters made any recipe or book teaching him how to get there. It’s a way that each of us has to search and here lies the beauty of humanity. It’s always possible to each of us to do it.

    Happy new year….

  24. Somewhere back there a thread popped up that makes me think of another dimension of comparison. My first thought was about efficacy versus advertising. This is about scientific process versus tradition.

    So, how does a tradition start? Somebody survived using a technique or set of techniques. The tradition starts of teaching that set of techniques. A problem with tradition is that it originates from a limited set of circumstances. The best swordsman is unlikely to often prevail against someone armed with a modern firearm and familiar with its use. Another problem with tradition is that whatever the original validity of the techniques, they tend to decay as they are practiced by rote. Back to my favorite, Musashi, who recommended fighting from time to time to test and solidify the lessons of daily training. In his days it was swords for two and tea for one so the modern impediment of rules wasn’t an issue.

    “Scientific process” can help to address the rote aspect, but has its own limitations. I came in the door looking for workable martial techniques so that has been my focus. Workable must, in the dojo context, be survivable for the other guy. In practical application that’s not a bad idea either. Where I live self defense is often punishable by law. So far, so good. But your own survival comes first. That great American martial artist, Nathan Bedford Forrest, explained the secret to victory, “Be there fustest with the mostest.” A little taught aspect of US history is how he won the Civil War (in 1876 – His KKK had worn down the patience of the Union, just as N Vietnam and the Iraqis have done in our times.) In the 20th century John Boyd advanced the notion of asymmetric warfare. Our present travails exemplify asymmetry. We have the drones, the stealth bombers, tanks… They have they guys who shoot up newspaper offices, theaters and night clubs. Aikido, imo, exemplifies asymmetry at the mano-a-mano level. If you accept that, it becomes obvious why getting into contests of strength exemplifies failure. Of course even success in asymmetry is hard to market. How many people reading this already knew of Forrest? Boyd had his own asymmetric success, but is also generally unknown. So, without the trophies the problem is “paying the rent”. Saito Sensei is reported to have said that question is bad for your art. He thought it a good idea to make your living some other way than teaching aikido. Without the dojo, however, your success is yours alone… It has to be continuously and individually reinvented.

    Oh. Another dimension is the spiritual versus the physical. My present take on that is when the dust settles after an engagement there comes a time for reflection. In the heat of the moment there are all sorts of things that overwhelm the conscious mind. That overwhelmed state of mind is inherently inexplicable. Now, you can spend a lot of time trying to “get there” without the pressure of conflict. Or you can just train hard and appreciate the inexplicable when you experience it.

  25. The more I have “Searched for O-Sensei,” through training and travels in Japan, contact with his family and students, the more I see there are two O-Senseis. Elderly O-Sensei of the 1960’s became the symbol and mythological figure of modern aikido. By then he had left his dojo in Iwama, and largely ended his martial teaching, totally focused on God. His aikido demonstrations were almost exclusively a presentation of religious belief. This was the exposure Aikikai Hombu teachers and most dojos had to him.

    The other O-Sensei, who remains largely hidden and ignored, is the fierce, demanding, ruthlessly intense budo master. This O-Sensei, at his remote dojo in Iwama, for twenty years taught an aikido that was difficult, dangerous, uncomfortable, and far too demanding to become popular. And his intensity was not only physical – routinely rising at 4 am for hours of chanting, meditation, prayer, followed by several hours of hard labor – all required components of his aiki budo. If we embody even a little of THIS O-SENSEI in our practice we are considered eccentric, more than a little nutty.

    So it is not hard to understand why only elderly O-Sensei is embraced by modern aikido. A pleasantly simplistic image, without any contradictions, without the physical hardship, spiritual struggle, sacrifice or lifestyle change.

    It is much easier to BOW to a photo on the wall, rather than train and live as the Founder did. Is it any wonder we choose the myth over the man?

  26. Dear Stan,

    I am reading every day about, around and into Aikido. My background is being a disappointed judoka, too much violence and fighting no dancing, no meeting, no respect for the opponent.

    Why Aikido is so important for me? Because I find important Life questions answered in a practical way.

    In the eighties I found a teacher/friend. His way of teaching was showing things, no words. Everyone of his students picked up the things that were important and/or digestible for that particular person.

    At a certain time it was decided to have evening classes with esoteric topics. Those evenings were recorded on tape and at the end of the evening copies could be bought for study at home. After about a year my teacher decided that the result among the students was chaos and the material on tape was destroyed. . .

    I did not attend those meetings. About 5 years after his death a small group collected all the tapes. The recordings were digitized, cleaned and distributed among the remaining clan of students. So I have these recordings in my possession for 9 years now. I am half way through. And in my feeling it will take another few lifetimes to get the full understanding of the lessons offered.

    Now your opening remarks at the start of the comments:

    “There are many college students and probably a few high school students who surpass his mathematical understanding…”

    I, for one, would be most interested in discovering the equivalent to these young mathematical geniuses in the aikido world.”

    Stan, in my opinion the total sum of all students of Aikido all together come close to the knowledge and expertise of the founder. Some are so understandable for me in English. The transmission of Aikido is by doing, demonstrating. Talking about Aiki one needs to hit the right tone, so it meaning vibrates within the other. Aikidoka talking about the internal martial arts vibrates with me.

    Kind regards,


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