“Towards A Reform of Aikido Technique: Background” by Stanley Pranin

“What was done instead was to de-emphasize the martial pedigree of aikido’s techniques, and eschew practice conditions that led to the cultivation of a strong martial spirit.”

Kisshomaru Ueshiba demonstrating at Aikikai Hombu Dojo c. 1962

Revival of aikido after World War II

The typical aikido practitioner — this also includes many instructors — has only the vaguest of notions of how the art took roots in Japan and abroad following World War II. This is not due to a lack of availability of information on the subject. It is possible to study about the events of this period, but the necessary information is scattered among multiple sources, which require a reading ability in Japanese, English, and other European languages.

Certainly, the Internet has facilitated this task, but it is still difficult to gain a basic perspective of how aikido reemerged, first in Japan, and then abroad, after the cataclysmic events of the Great War. There is little incentive for scholars to do the necessary research because only a relatively small number of people are interested in such historical matters pertaining to aikido.

Who were the Prime Movers?

It is a fairly simple matter to identify the main persons responsible for aikido’s emergence as a modern Japanese martial art since so few people were involved in the art’s early years. Here is my list: Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Gozo Shioda, and Kenji Tomiki. These names will be immediately recognizable to most experienced aikido practitioners. There are others who played roles of varying importance, but these four figures stand out as the key figures that shaped postwar aikido. Among the four, Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei were far and away the most influential during the 1950s and 60s. Yet neither of the two had an extensive background in martial arts prior to stepping into their leadership roles within the Aikikai.

Because it is critical to my thesis here, let me touch upon the martial arts background of each of these four individuals in turn:

Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1921-1999): Of frail constitution as a child, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, son of Founder Morihei Ueshiba, studied kendo as a boy. He began practicing Aiki Budo regularly with his father following the departure of his brother-in-law Kiyoshi Nakakura from the Ueshiba family around 1937-38. Early evidence that Kisshomaru was being groomed as the Founder’s successor is the fact that the younger Ueshiba appears in the 1938 “Budo” book as one of Morihei’s uke. By this time, the core of talented uchideshi of the prewar period had left the Kobukan Dojo mainly related to the mobilization of Japan. Kisshomaru was one of the few young men remaining at the Kobukan Dojo. Others were Gozo Shioda and Zenzaburo Akazawa.

A mere five years later, Kisshomaru became the responsible for his father’s dojo when Morihei retired to Iwama late in 1942. During and after the war, Kisshomaru’s aikido training was irregular because of the extreme conditions in Japan that were unfavorable for martial arts practice. He was employed during the day at a securities company in Tokyo and trained and taught part time in aikido as his schedule allowed. For the first few years, he lived in Iwama and commuted to Tokyo, but later moved back to Ueshiba’s dojo in Tokyo to overseee affairs and shorten the commute to work. During this time, several bombed-out families were living in the dojo.

In 1955, since the Aikikai Hombu Dojo was reviving, Kisshomaru quit his job and began devoting full-time to instruction and management of the dojo. His total combined time of training under his father in the prewar and postwar eras can be estimated at 7-8 years. From 1955 onward until the Founder’s death in 1969, Kisshomaru was kept busy with his teaching schedule and management responsibilities and so it is a guess as how to calculate the length of his study under his father.

Koichi Tohei

Koichi Tohei (1920-2011): Tohei began judo as a boy and continued training up to his university days having attained a dan grade level. Starting in 1939 while a student at Keio University, Tohei entered the Ueshiba Dojo and learned from Morihei for a period of about 18 months before entering the Imperial Japanese Army. After his repatriation at the end of the war, Tohei returned to his family home in Tochigi Preference and launched a business venture that proved unsuccessful. He found time to travel periodically to Iwama for additional training under Ueshiba during the late 1940s. Tohei would eventually begin spending more time in Tokyo starting in the early 1950s prior to his departure for Hawaii in 1953. We can estimate his time of study under Ueshiba as three to four years including his wartime studies and training in Iwama and Tokyo. Tohei himself stated that he learned under the Founder for only about two years.

Gozo Shioda

Gozo Shioda (1915-1994): Shioda enrolled in Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo in 1932 after having studied judo and kendo. He continued his training at the Kobukan Dojo during the height of its activity continuing for about eight years, part of which he spent as a live-in student. His training partners included many of the most famous students of Morihei Ueshiba from the prewar period. Although Shioda did not enter the military, he served during the war in a civilian capacity on various assignments in China and Southeast Asia. Following the war, Shioda spent one month of intensive practice in Iwama with Morihei in 1946. As Shioda lived in Tokyo, he had sporadic contact with Ueshiba thereafter during visits to Iwama, a train ride of about two hours. Shioda was among the first to begin actively teaching aikido after the war in Tokyo, and would soon establish his own school called Yoshinkan Aikido. A liberal estimate of Shioda’s total time studying under Ueshiba would be approximately nine years.

Kenji Tomiki

Kenji Tomiki (1900-1979): Tomiki learned judo as a boy continuing his practice while a student at Waseda University, his studies being interrupted by a four-year hiatus due to illness. A large man by Japanese standards, he was a top-level competitor of 5th dan level during the late 1920s and even competed before the Emperor in the 1929 Tenranjiai tournament. Tomiki was heavily influenced by the views of Judo Founder Jigoro Kano with whom he enjoyed a close relationship. Tomiki started learning Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu under Morihei Ueshiba in 1926. He trained under Ueshiba in Tokyo on and off while he worked as a school teacher in Akita prefecture. In 1936, Tomiki relocated to Japanese-controlled Manchuria where he was employed as a martial arts instructor thanks to his connections with Morihei Ueshiba. Tomiki was awarded an 8th dan from Ueshiba in 1940. Tomiki’s total time of study under Ueshiba amounted to perhaps 8-10 years.

Leaving behind Morihei’s legacy

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

Gozo Shioda was the first to begin teaching aikido publicly due to his work of providing security at various company facilities during the “Red Purge” period of the early 1950s. The Aikikai was still struggling with low class attendance and the continued presence of the war-displaced families living in the dojo. A landmark event took place in 1954 when a public martial arts demonstration sponsored by the the “Life Extension Association” attracted some 15,000 spectators. Shioda’s dynamic demonstration attracted the attention of several wealthy patrons and soon plans were being made to build a dojo. In 1955, the first Yoshinkan Aikido dojo was inaugurated and served as the base for the propagation of this style of aikido in companies and police departments. An interesting side note is the a handful of American servicemen were among the early adopters of Yoshinkan Aikido and brought the art back to the USA starting in the mid-1950s.

Shioda remained on good terms with the Aikikai but saw Morihei infrequently, He felt that Ueshiba was retired in Iwama and that it was incumbent on him and the younger generation of Morihei’s students to disseminate the art to the general public.

Tomiki’s repatriation to Japan was delayed until 1948. By the following year, he had become a professor at his alma mater, Waseda University, becoming director of the judo club in the physical education department. His activities were centered at the university although he also continued teaching at the Aikikai on a semi-regular basis. This lasted until about 1958 when Tomiki earned the ire of Morihei and the Aikikai leaders by introducing a competitive form of aikido at Waseda University, something anathema to O-Sensei’s most deeply held principles. He could have muted criticism of his action had he abandoned the use of the name “aikido,” but chose instead to keep it. From that moment forward, Tomiki became unwelcome at the Aikikai.

For Tomiki’s part, though he had profound respect for Ueshiba as a martial artist, he thought that Morihei’s teaching methods were antiquated and unscientific. He much preferred his mentor Jigoro Kano’s approach to teaching the martial arts and felt that competition was an important tool being a means of testing one’s true progress against an uncooperative opponent.

Kisshomaru’s situation was extremely complex. As the Founder’s son, he was expected to carry on in his father’s footsteps and manage the course of the development of aikido. In terms of martial ability, he was inexperienced and his temperment such that he rejected a rigorous training model in favor of gentler forms of practice that more closely resembled a cardiovascular exercise system. Simlarly, he refrained from using esoteric language in expressing his vision of the art. Moreover, he edited the writings and speeches published in his father’s name eliminating unfamiliar religious references. Kisshomaru regarded these actions as a reform and improvement of aikido making the art more suitable for postwar Japanese society, and thus easier to spread aikido internationally.

Koichi Tohei teaching in Hawaii c. 1960

Koichi Tohei was blunt in his criticism of Morihei Ueshiba. He clearly stated in published interviews that the main thing he learned from his aikido training under the Founder was the importance of “relaxation.” Tohei developed his ki-based methods incorporating elements of Tempu Nakamura’s health system and meditative practices of the Ichikukai. He created what was actually a hybrid system combining basic aikido techniques absent a martial emphasis with additional practices culled from his outside studies. Tohei too felt that Morihei’s mystical explanations of aikido replete with incomprehensible metaphors and rambling speech ran would retard the future growth of the art.

From the above remarks, it should be clear that all four of these key figures dismissed some parts of Morihei’s aikido legacy. Kisshomaru and Tohei, especially, abandoned the Founder’s martial techniques, budo theory, and teaching methodology. All of them concluded that Morihei’s arcane language and explanations of aikido’s key concepts were inappropriate for modern times. However, except for Tohei, all were careful to couch their criticisms of Morihei in diplomatic terms while displaying outward respect.

At this point, I would like to focus attention on the actions of Kisshomaru and Tohei in the 1950s and 1960s. The reason for this is that these two formed the backbone of the Aikikai organization to which the lion’s share of aikido practitioners worldwide owe allegiance even today.

In previous articles, I have advanced the thesis that Morihei’s presence and participation in the activities of the Aikikai during this period were limited and irregular, and that he did not play a role in the management of the dojo or organization. Abundant historical evidence exists to support this view. For many years, Kisshomaru and Tohei acted as a team. Married to sisters and thus sharing a blood bond, both had their followings within the Aikikai and exerted controlling influence on the key decisions taken by the headquarters.

Aikido shifts gears in tenor with the times

Kisshomaru, starting in the late 1950s, and Tohei in the early 1960s, began publishing a continuous stream of books on aikido, mostly of a technical nature. These early publications set the de facto standard for aikido pedagogy on which the Aikikai-affiliated curricula were based. The young instructors dispatched from the Aikikai to numerous parts of the world spread these same techniques and teaching methods abroad. Other senior instructors within the Aikikai of course had some influence, but none of them could rival Kisshomaru and Tohei in importance or visibility.

Koichi Tohei demonstrating a warm-up exercise

What were Kisshomaru’s and Tohei’s training methods? Boths styles of training had warmups, some of which overlapped, that included exercises inherited from Morihei. There was a core of some 50 empty-handed aikido techniques that were most commonly practiced and that were used for testing purposes. Most of the techniques were practiced in a flowing manner, and nage would seldom perform techniques from a static grab. Although sometimes mentioned in passing, practices commonly used in martial arts such as atemi and kiai fell out of favor in the Aikikai system, and were discouraged in training. The fact of the matter was that any practitioners who attempted to employ strong atemi or kiai would be scolded, or even asked to leave the dojo.

I practiced in both systems from 1963 forward and have first-hand knowledge of the training conditions that prevailed in those days. Attacks tended to be slow, sloppy and lacking in commitment. Seniors would sometimes resist juniors, which was easy to do because of uncommitted attacks. The success of the application of some techniques depended entirely on this sort of careless interaction between uke and nage. Sudden, strong attacks perceived as challenges would evoke an angry reaction in nage who would usually resort to physical strength in an attempt to force a technique to work.

The use of weapons — tanto, ken and jo — was minimal. Various weapons defenses were sometimes taught in preparation for advanced testing. Since few people had training in the use of weapons, attacks were slow and weak and poorly executed.

One might be led to believe that training was not vigorous. On the contrary, it could be very exhausting, especially in Kisshomaru’s style. However, the severity of training in such situations was due to the cardiovascular demands placed on the body due to the non-stop movement, and endless falling and standing up during practice. I found it particularly difficult to train this way in hot and humid practice conditions.

For the most part, dojo training did not stress martial integrity in technique. In fact, an attempt to display such a budo mindset during practice would have been met with resistence and derided as “contrary to aikido principles.” The lack of atemi, kiai and weapons training I allude to above is evidence of this state of affairs. We have historical footage from 1962 of both Kisshomaru and Tohei’s teaching methods that readers can consult to draw their own conclusions.

The use of the parallel training methods of Kisshomaru and Tohei within the Aikikai and affiliated schools came to an abrupt end in May 1974 when Tohei resigned from the headquarters school. I have written extensively about this pivotal event elsewhere for those wishing to learn about this important episode in aikido history.

Kisshomaru’s aikido becomes the Aikikai standard

Kisshomaru’s methods were quickly adopted as the standard for instruction at the Hombu Dojo following Tohei’s departure, although the Aikikai senior instructors continued teaching as they had previously. Kisshomaru’s son, the present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba, was groomed under his father’s tutelage, as were the junior instructors who joined the Aikikai in this period. With little modification, Kisshomaru’s system continues today as the official Aikikai curriculum.

This, in a nutshell, is a description of the beginnings of aikido in postwar Japan. Many have faulted Kisshomaru, Tohei, and other teachers of this era for propagating subpar technical standards that have made aikido into a caricature of a martial art. Such comments are common among critics of aikido from other martial arts, and can be heard even within the aikido community. Of course, the whole debate is subjective in nature, and opinions can be found across a broad spectrum.

In fairness, one must remember the circumstances in which aikido took its first, tentative steps in Japan and began to be exported to foreign lands. Japanese society rejected the militaristic spirit and radical nationalism that propelled the nation into a suicidal war. Therefore, anything associated with prewar nationalism and militarism, which of course included martial arts, was met with broad societal disapproval.

Morihei’s students who revived the art after the war had to keep a low profile, and deal with rampant poverty, occupation forces, and negative public opinion. This was true of all martial arts. One of the ways some arts attempted to overcome these limiting circumstances was to emphasize or introduce a competitive component. It could then be claimed that these arts had become sports, and were therefore not destined to be used for war propaganda as was the case prior to and during the war.

Given the art’s core principles as set forth by Morihei, the introduction of competition was of course not an option in the case of aikido. What was done instead within the Aikikai system was to de-emphasize the martial pedigree of aikido’s techniques, and eschew practice conditions that led to the cultivation of a strong martial spirit. Some 60 years later, a large number of practitioners within the Aikikai system are still being formed using this teaching approach, which is not martial in nature and does not reflect the vision of aikido conceived by the art’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei.

In my next article which will build upon the above historical background, I will discuss aspects of Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido as taught in Iwama to a small number of people in the years immediately following the war. The most significant of Morihei’s students from that era was Morihiro Saito. Saito assisted Morihei in his daily life and received a great deal of private instruction from the Founder for more than 20 years. He was also the person most knowledgeable of Ueshiba’s Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo training methods. It was Saito who organized Morihei’s Iwama curriculum, including both empty-handed and weapons techniques, and presented this vast body of material in published form starting in the mid-1970s. The Iwama Aikido system taught by Saito Sensei offered an alternative to the Aikikai syllabus and steadily gained acceptance, particularly abroad, from that time forward.

Stanley Pranin


  • Great write up. There are those that have gone as far as to conclude that if you are not doing (insert affiliation) – Aikikai style Aikido, that you are not doing Aikido at all, but something “like” it. Heaven forbid that you maintain power (not mere muscular strength) and martial integrity (not mere angry reactions to sudden and strong attacks) to your training as well. I’m looking forward to this event in March. Are you going to film it, or will it be allowed by participants?

  • Thank you so much for the deepening of understanding I have gained by reading your article. Wish I could be at your seminar, have taken seminars from Pat Sensei. She is remarkable. I studied at Sho Hei Juku dojo in Fukuoka with Sugunuma Sensei, who I heard was the last student of Osensei. Could you make any comments about that form and the connections? Many thanks.

    • Edy, Suganuma Sensei was a member of the last generation of junior instructors being trained at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo during the last years of O-Sensei’s life. I think his main influence was Kisshomaru Ueshiba and other senior students teaching at that time. He accompanied Kisshomaru Sensei on his visit to Los Angeles in 1974, and I had the pleasure of taking his ukemi at the large demonstration held on that occasion. He is a fine person!

      • Hello Edy and Stan,

        Most of the literature around states that Suganuma sensei was the last uchi deshi of O’sensei, but, I have not done the research myself. My understanding, through conversations and Q&A with with sensei is that Osawa Kisaburo shihan was his main influence and began his training with Tamura Shihan at Waseda University. This past weekend he was in Vancouver for a visit and we were celebrating his 50th year in aikido and his 70th birthday….

        Stan, I too find it a pleasure taking his ukemi…there is no escape but there is no fear either:-)



  • Hi Stan – great writing, great explorations you are involved in. You provide something for the entire Aikido community that is very unique, and very valuable.

    In examining and evaluatiing Aikido over the last 30+ years, “my” conclusion about what Aikido is and what makes it that “for me,” and what I teach is (the succinct version):

    – Every movement, every technique, every exercise and intention must be martially responsible. I evaluate this in terms of my Aikido training, but rely also on my training in Hapkido and BJJ, as well as having several yudansha in Karate, a very good BJJ black belt, a 7th dan in Japanese jujitsu, and an ex-Marine boxer, among my active students.

    – Everything about what one does must be “invisible” to the other person (or, as “invisible as possible.”) My late teacher, Don O’Bell, termed this “Kinesthetic Invisibility.” This is achieved with proper use of the body, proper movement, and very importantly this relies heavily on an understanding and embodiment of Ki and Aiki. The internal state of being that is embodied allows for Aiki such that static is no more challenging than dynamic, and strength becomes a non-issue.

    – The Process of Aikido, for me, is: musubi, tsukuri, kuzushi, and release – redefining these terms as:

    Musubi: connection to oneself, one’s partner/attacker, the environment, and the bigger presence of Universal Energy/Spirit.

    Tsukuri: proper positioning and movement that allows for tracking the unfolding movement and intention without discernable interference such that the energy of the attack is continually released and empowerment and stability are not returned to your partner/attacker.

    Kuzushi: the Allowing of the loss (not Taking) of balance as a natural conclusion of the person’s intention, movement, energy, musubi, tsukuri, and Aiki (which actually incorporates those things.)

    Release: the natural conclusion of the process, such that one doesn’t really need to throw as much as just release the person into the space that has been created for them to fall into by their own intention and one’s own participation in the above process according to the principles of internal and external Aiki.

    – One’s attempt to fully embody, be informed by, and surrender to, a connection to Universal Spirit and Highest Good.

    – That all intention is not to purposefully harm or injure, but to flow with the unfolding higher intention so that the highest good can manifest – whatever it is.

  • This article describes the vision of Stanley Pranin as a kind or reporter of Aikido once he lived in Japan, had acess to hundreds of documents, and teachers, and styles. Hardly a westerner or even a Japanese has researched so much about Aikido as Stanley did. In this regard, as a reporter and reseracher for sure he deserves all honors and congratulations. I am his admirer since long time ago and still am.

    But in the moment that he expresses his opinion about Aikido, the reader must take care to not take care his judgments and opinions as the final truth, BUT HIS VERSION the danger is to fall into wrong conclusions. It is good to hear other points. Here is one:

    Twenty years back I maybe would endorse most of the things he said in this article about the teachings methods of Doshu Kishomaru Ueshiba, but now, I cannot and I will explain my point:

    Aikido is a grandson of the Chinese martial arts that deals with ki cultivation that in China is called “CHi Kung” (Cultivation of Ki). The father of Aikido is Aikijiujitsu, that depends on completelly relaxation and flexibiity. And this has nothing to do with “hard training” on the contrary, the practitioner must not “get heated” in his body and spirit. Real “Ki” cannot be developed in a stressed situation, it requires action in calmness. But the way, this was the old way that Chinese used to write the word “KI” having a diferent original meaning of its parts. KI today is written as the “air, fluid energy of rice”. But in the old times when it was written different the kanji was written as “no heat”. Like a car, when the motor gets too heated is not good.

    Now after 43 of training, it is clear to me that without this two aspects, relaxation and flexibility, it is basically impossible to learn Aikido and do techniques effectively and without physical force. Most people are rigid due to many factors, and like Tohei said, the first thing to learn is to relax and get flexibility.

    So, it is not a bad idea to start training Aikido in the way the Doshu Kishomaru proposed, since it develops sensibility, intuiton in the spirit and flexibiliy and relaxation to the body.

    Once the practicioner has really this 4 characteristics, then… and only then, will he start to understand how aikido techniques works. Then it is the time to start doing techniques under strong resistance of UKE.

    It is useless to try to make aikido techniques efective without having this spiritual and body aspects.

    Today, I think that Doshu Kisshomaru´s methods for begginners until 6, or 8 years of training is exactly what one must train in spite it is a fact that training this way the techniques will not become effective. But the body and the spirit will develop a lot in terms of beeing prepared to understand Aiki that is the real essence to make Aikido techniques effective as a martial art.

    My present conclusion is….start with Doshu Kishomaru Methods and Saito Sensei Methods……then start thinking about what Tohei Sensei taught about relaxation and control of ki and hara. Then try to reach the level of Yamaguchi Sensei and Shioda Sensei. I am not talking about the methods of their schools or ryu but about the way this men way were doing aikido.

    When someone will be able to do techniques like Yamaguchi Sensei and Shioda Sensei were doing he will be probablly close to what O Sensei did, and could respond strongly to hard attacks without using force and take advantage of all the attacking energy.

    Then, and only then he will be able to fight using aikido techniques and “win”. Not before.

    Those who want to become good fighter in few years it is better to study boxing of UFC methods.

    The question is what this is good for..but just injuring people and maybe injuring thenselves? Aikido is something superior, to train someone for living better, it is a DO.

    In other words, Doshu Kishomaru methods were right, Tohei Methods were RIght, Saito Sensei methods were right, Yamaguchi Sensei methods were right and Shioda Sensei methods were right in tems of learning techniques…..good aikidoists must train the essence of all these teachers but each one it their time.

    Fianally ….Aikido is not just that…Aikido in the words of the Founder contains the essence of all religions…it is a “DO” (michi) , a Way of Life, a training in order one can get in ressonance with the spiritual world in order to leave in harmony with himself and with the environement…..So….I think that studying about Kanshu Sunadomari, and Hikitsuchi Sensei taught is also very important in order O Sensei can really be understood and copied to use Aikido principles and techniques in LIFE.

    OF course…to study this all it takes decades…..it is really very,,,,very difficult to learn Aikido… but the prize promised is very good……and it is nothing more and less then he possibility to reach happiness and wisdon IN THIS LIFETIME.

    Wagner Bull

    • Wagner,

      Thank you very much for your in-depth reply. A few observations. To say that Chinese martial arts are the father of Aikijujutsu is like saying that Chinese cultural heavily influenced Japanese culture. The thing is, I think it will be difficult to pinpoint what the Chinese influences may be on Aikijujutsu by providing historical evidence. If you have such documentation, please release it for the benefit of the aikido community.

      My opinion about the lack of martial integrity in the Aikikai’s system has somehow been transformed into an advocacy of “hard training.” As I recall, I did not mention hard training at all in the article. I don’t think that hard, rough training is a good way to develop martial intelligence or body/mind sensitivity. On the contrary, I think it can be an impediment. Morihei’s idea of aikido being a budo was not to resort to raw physical strength.

      My thesis is simply that the Aikikai, Tohei and others rejected O-Sensei’s theories and much of his technique, especially his employment of weapons. Please point out the historical errors in my article. That someone may draw a different opinion is quite possible, but it would be interesting to follow the chain of reasoning others have used to draw their conclusions.

      Another approach is to “shoot the messanger.”

      All I have to offer here on this website are opinions, mine of course included. It is up to each individual to reject, accept or disregard anything said here.

      In any event, thank you for your input and support over the years.


      • Stanley

        In my humble opinion, some may disagree with the who, the when and the where … but there can be no disagreement on the state of training today. While again some may not be familiar with or have never known the names and places, common sense allows us to determine what is practical. Some could see it and some couldn’t. There are those that have trained for years and have never put their skills to any sort of test. Others have tried their art (a friendly confrontation or otherwise) and afterwards changed their training methods entirely. In any event many of us have arrived at the exact same conclusions you have and began to train and teach accordingly years ago.

        Historically … I can only repeat things I’ve read through the years. However, what is practical … can be proved within seconds! Once again, in my humble opinion, I have never thought your assessments of training to be off base.

        Then again … what do I know … my techniques are only “Aikido like” !

        Thanks for continuing to share your knowledge and understanding.


      • Shooting the messenger is a time honored tradition (2 Samuel 1:14).

        O Sensei said that to do what he did was the result of decades of hard training. Producing a semblance of aikido with a cooperative uke is a lot easier. It is also a time honored tradition that the semblance is easier to sell (Musashi, Book of 5 Rings, Ground Book, ‘The Way of Strategy’).

        There are two elements in propagating a martial art: physical survival and economic survival. The two were congruent in pre-war Japan. Otherwise they rarely are.

        So, for some of us, our karma has led us on a path of martial training even though it has little application in our everyday lives. At least I can say that in my own regard. Few stay with martial practice as a way of life (do, michi), but that’s as may be. Those who stay or leave have their reasons. O Sensei was rare in a favorable political-economic environment. How much more rare will that mastery be in an unfavorable one?

  • Old arguments never die.

    Dr Karl Friday, in his excellent book, “Legacies of the Sword”, makes the point (relevant to aikido, IMHO) that controversy over the effectiveness of different forms of training has raged ever since swordsmen moved from the battlefield to the dojo.

    To quote Dr Friday: “By the end of the 17th Century, experts were already bemoaning the decline of martial training…

    “Proponents of sparring, and the competitions that developed concomitantly, argued that pattern practice (kata) alone cannot develop the seriousness of purpose, the courage, decisiveness, aggressiveness, and forbearance vital to true mastery of combat…

    “Kata purists, on the other hand, retorted that competitive sparring does not produce the same state of mind as real combat and is not, therefore, any more realistic a method of training than pattern practice.”

    I don’t suppose an argument hundreds of years old is going to be solved any time soon.

    Personally, I think “martial integrity” is important only to the degree it may be necessary to encourage a change of consciousness, from our daily state of semi-sleep into something closer to Osensei’s view of the world.

    Presumably pre-war Japanese had plenty of martially effective training available to them, but it would be reasonable to question whether it did them much good?

    I am not sure one can measure one teacher against another purely on the basis of years spent directly learning from Osensei, who himself spent relatively short periods under various teachers before developing his art. Indeed, a friend of mine was told by a leading Daito-ryu sensei, now dead, that Morihei Ueshiba “unfortunately didn’t stay long enough with Sokaku Takeda to really understand ‘aiki’”! (Obviously an opinion not shared by the aikido community.)

    The claim that postwar senseis watered down aikido questions their personal integrity, not just the “martial integrity” of their teachings, and I am not at all sure we can accurately guess at their motivation if this was a deliberate act, even allowing for the postwar social pressures towards a less martial approach.

    Like the paradox inherent in a “martial art of peace” there seem to me to be more questions than answers in any theory of the degeneration of aikido in modern times, and more aspects of the art to be taken into account when measuring its value to the individual and society.

    • Thank you, David, for your input. Many people who have practiced aikido over the years have rejected various aspects of Morihei’s aikido. Followers of Koichi Tohei, Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki, etc. who use the name “aikido” consider as the starting point their own “Founder,” and not Morihei. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      It’s just that there are those that think that what Morihei created was original in many ways, that he was a fine martial artist, and had very interesting ideas about the transformation of budo into something that is constructive to society rather than an implement of warfare. Such people are interested in learning about Morihei and the way he practiced and thought. I just happen to be one of them as might be guessed from my writings on this website.

      • “Followers of Koichi Tohei, Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki, etc. who use the name “aikido” consider as the starting point their own “Founder,” and not Morihei. ” I’ve never studied in Aikikai or Ki Socity so I can’i really comment on how accurate this statement is with regards to them. After a little over a year in Takemusu Aikido Association I can safely state that there are those who regard their art as starting with Saito Sensei instead of Morihei Ueshiba. I can’t comment directly on true Yoshinkan either but in my current studies, with an independent dojo that is heavily influenced by Yoshinkan, we frequently reference Ueshiba and his Budo book; probably more so than we do Shioda Sensei.

  • I hope I am not lumped in with those who have “rejected aspects of Morihei’s aikido”. I wouldn’t dare to do so and I am with you in wishing to learn more of what he taught and thought.

    I suppose only time will tell whether his aikido was “constructive to society”.

    Individuals have obviously interpreted his teaching differently and I suppose comparing what he taught (or what we know of what he taught) with what others teach is useful although there is a limit to what can be learned from doing so, just as there are problems comparing the characters and personalities of individual teachers.

    It may be that the truth Osensei discovered is not transferrable and it is up to the individual to find the truth for himself. Following others, no matter how wise, is not the way to self realisation.

  • I appreciate all of your research and hard work. I’m learning a lot from these articles. I did have one question which perhaps you’ll address it in coming articles: where do you see the position of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan in this history?

    • Saotome Sensei is among the last generation of uchideshi from the late 1950s and 60s. He has always gone his own way and supplemented his aikido with studies of outside disciplines and a great deal of reflection. I think his knowledge of and use of the sword suggests that he has deeply analyzed the martial side of aikido. I am not his student but have admired his unique approach from a distance for over 40 years. He was kind enough to participate in the 1985 Aikido Friendship Demonstration Demonstration in Tokyo I organized.

  • While certain aspects of this historical narrative are simply fact, I believe that there is an alternative interpretation of the relative place the Iwama, Tokyo, and other centers, like Shingu, have in the overall Aikido scheme of things.

    It is quite clear that a feeling of competition existed between the rural centers of Aikido development and the big city. Each group tended towards believing that they alone understood the Founder’s Aikido and everyone else was missing it. This was not just about the martial aspect of the practice but also included the spiritual side. Only a few teachers like Hikitsuchi or Sundamori really tried to develop an Aikido which had the elements of martial application and spiritual underpinning which characterized the Founder’s art.

    Where I depart from this analysis is in characterizing the practice at the Tokyo Aikikai dojo as compared to the Iwama dojo as less martial or effective. I have had extensive training with a number of post war students who were uchi deshi in Tokyo. My own teacher is Mitsugi Saotome. I have also had direct experience with Imaizumi Sensei and Chiba Sensei. The idea that these teachers were somehow less effective or less “authentic” than the practitioners at Iwama, I believe is completely untenable.

    I have personally heard accounts from the Tokyo uchi deshi of what it was like to accompany O-Sensei to Iwama. The “competition” between the two groups resulted in very hard practice between the two groups which each looking to “represent”. The desire to hold ones own was at times taken to the point of injury. The visiting Tokyo deshi had to be able to stand up to the host practitioners or they would have been put off the mat. Anyway, the wimpy Tokyo Aikido narrative always centers on the Aikido of Kisshomaru and Tohei. It totally ignores the fact that you had folks like Arikawa, Nishio, Chiba, Saotome, Tamura, etc actively teaching and training at the Aikikai.

    Let’s for a moment accept the idea that the students at the Aikikai in the post war period were really students of Tohei and Kisshomaru rather than students of the Founder (which I do not actually agree with). There’s no doubt that the students at Iwama were students of Saito Sensei. So, when comparing the results of training at the two centers as measured by how many teachers of world class quality can out of each system, I would have to say the Tokyo comes out ahead. Who are the top students Saito Sensei created? We could point to his son, and teachers like Isoyama. But I don’t see a host of teachers coming out of Iwama of the quality of Nishio, Saotome, Imaizumi, Chiba, Tamura, Arikawa, etc. What I do see is a center that was extremely foreigner friendly and did an excellent job of turning out future teachers world wide. But, despite the structured methodology, I don’t see a huge number of folks who look to be as good as Saito Sensei.

    I think a good subject for comparison is more pre-war aiki budo and the training methodology those deshi pursued and how that differed from the post war. Then, as we understand that issue better I think that looking at the various teachers who came out of the post war period and looking at who had some sense of “aiki” and who was just physically strong, well, that would be interesting. But I really think that the Iwama / non-Iwama issue is not framed in a way that I find compelling. This is absolutely nothing against Saito Sensei or the various excellent teachers around the world he produced. I just get a bit feisty when the debate gets framed as the Iwama training was more Orthodox, more authentic, more effective, more O-Sensei, than the training at the Aiki or anywhere else for that matter.

    • George,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a detailed reply. In reading your comments, I kept wondering if you were going to address the points I raised in my article. To summarize, my thesis is very simple. My opinion is that Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei were the two individuals who had the most impact on the development of aikido in the 1950s and 60s. My research suggests the two were the main decision-makers at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, the world’s largest aikido organization.

      I further advanced the view that Kisshomaru and Tohei rejected major parts of the Founder’s technical approach (especially weapons training), his pedagogy, and philosophical views. Am I in error on these points?

      I interviewed Kisshomaru more than 10 times, and Tohei Sensei about 5 times. I published all of these interviews, so they are a matter of public record. Certainly, Kisshomaru was the more circumspect in voicing his views about his father’s methods, but he did feel that the Founder’s approach was not appropriate for the times. Moriteru Ueshiba has stated the same thing in no uncertain terms. Tohei, on the other hand, was very direct and there can be no denying his critical views of Morihei.

      I took my shodan and nidan tests in front of Tohei Sensei and received ranking from him in 1965 and 1967. I am very familiar with his early methods. I first saw Kisshomaru in 1963 in California. I spent a summer in Japan in 1969 were I trained with Kisshomaru, Tohei, and most of the other instructors. Though my later training at the Aikikai was irregular I visited often through 1996. I saw first-hand how things changed after Tohei left the organization, and Kisshomaru rose to take sole control of things.

      I have interviewed all of the teachers you mention — Nishio, Saotome, Imaizumi, Chiba, Tamura, Arikawa, etc. Except for one, all of them supplemented their aikido training with the study of weapons and/or koryu arts, some of them surreptitiously. I did not compare their martial abilities with the students of Saito Sensei of the 1960s because there were few people training in Iwama at that time, and the Tokyo deshi had little contact with them. I did not even talk about the teachers that Saito Sensei developed from the 1970s forward because they are of a later generation and not part of the scope of my focus in this article.

      In summary, I did not imply that the 1950-60 deshi at the Aikikai were weak and wimpy. What I have said was that their exposure to the Founder’s aikido was limited because of his rather erratic schedule. These deshi were taught mainly according to the soft-styles of Kisshomaru and Tohei who rejected the methods employed by the Founder. O-Sensei would often shout his displeasure at the kind of technique being taught at the Aikikai at inopportune moments in front of everyone. The Aikikai staff would sometimes arrange for him to go back to Iwama because he would make such a nuisance of himself.

      If you feel any of this is historically wrong or that my conclusion is flawed, then I would like to hear why. But I would appreciate it if you would speak to the points I raise in this article. I will continue with some of the topics you mention in a future article. Let’s save that discussion for then.

      • Stan,
        It would never occur to me to debate you on matters of Aikido history. You are clearly the best informed person I know in this area. But, often I find that I arrive at different conclusions when looking at identical facts.

        Since your article was entitled “towards a reform of Aikido” and knowing that you are engaged in putting on some seminars which are devoted to expounding on Saito Sensei’s Aikido I may have imputed meaning to your post that wasn’t intended.

        To be clear, I do not dispute what you have said about either Kisshomaru Ueshiba or Tohei Sensei as the two most influential figures in forming what has now become Aikikai Aikido as it is understood world wide. I also do not debate that each took his own path in his Aikido and did not try to duplicate the Founder’s Aikido. What I do debate is that, despite the fact that the deshi in the post war period had varying amounts of face time and mat time with the Founder, that this necessarily means that these two teachers were the major influence on their Aikido.

        It is my understanding that the Founder himself was responsible for arranging weapons training from certain unspecified koryu teachers for the deshi on an optional basis. It is clear that some took advantage of these classes and some did not. I think it was clearly the Founder’s intention that the deshi take what they learned from these classes and incorporate that material into their own Aikido. That was what he himself had done. I do not think that this makes the Tokyo deshi’s weapons work more or less authentically Aikido weapons than anyone else’s.

        I am happy to wait until later articles to discuss these issues further. I don’t mean to get ahead or off topic by jumping to conclusions. I watched a video recently of Pat Hendricks Sensei taking ukemi back in the day and was struck by how frequently Saito Sensei would tell the class that this way is how a technique is done and this other way is how the folks in Tokyo were doing it with the evident assumption that the Tokyo was inferior.

        Anyway, I am the first one to agree that somewhere along the line Aikido started to get screwed up and what passes for Aikido these days is not very deep martially or spiritually so I’ll wait for future articles to see how your exposition proceeds.

        • Thanks, George, for your clarifications. I will definitely address some of the areas you bring up in later articles.

          I think all of this boils down to whose technique and teaching methods you like the most. In this sense, there is no “best” style or “strongest” style but simply the one you have chosen to study, and the people you choose to associate with.

          I would be very curious what you’re referring to about the Founder arranging weapons practice with koryu teachers for his students. The only thing I can think of is the Kashima Shinto-ryu training at the Kobukan Dojo arranged by Morihei in the 1937-38 period. That was prewar. Do you know of anything like this that took place in the postwar era arranged by O-Sensei? I’m not aware of this but would like to hear more.



          • I’d like to thank both of you for your comments. This has been an absolutely fascinating read.

          • Concerning weapons training arranged for the deshi. This is solid conjecture, but not verifiable fat, unless someone decides to spill the beans… But it’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

            My assistant Chief Instructor is Kevin Lam, a senior student of Imaizumi Sensei. He has a binder that is absolutely full of Ito Ryu sword forms and Jodo forms as well. He was never a member of any koryu…

            Saotome Sensei’s sword work is a mish mash of Yagyu, Ito Ryu, and Kashima derived techniques and principles. Chiba Sensei also has an extensive weapons corpus. While he did do Iaido officially with Mitsuzuki Sensei, he was also never a member of any koryu nor was Saotome Sensei.

            Normally, when you talk to any of these teachers about their years training with O-Sensei and Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Tohei Sensei, they are quite lucid, having many stories, not seeming to have any memory issues. But whenever they were asked about where they got their weapons work… all of them suddenly get very murky, downright evasive.

            I had suspected for many years that something had gone on but couldn’t find out what. I even asked you years ago and figured if you didn’t know, then no one else I knew would. But the fact remains that these teachers have a huge amount of koryu derived material in the repertoires and none of them actually did any koryu.

            Then, a slight break through, of sorts… At an Aikido event in which a fair amount of alcohol had been consumed (I know, hard to believe) one of them admitted that there had been private training offered to the deshi at hombu that they were sworn not to talk about.

            My theory on this is that the Founder, as someone of very high repute in the martial arts community, knew all of the headmasters of the various koryu personally. I believe he asked these teachers to send someone along to give his deshi some classes. Since no one is even supposed to show the techniques of a koryu outside the ryu, I believe that all of the participants were sworn not to ever say who had done the training.

            It’s all rather like looking for a black hole… No one says anything, no one will normally even admit the training took place, yet the fact is that these teachers have a huge amount of koryu derived material in their sword work especially. This is before videos and before YouTube… You wanted to see this stuff, you had to train with someone. So, this is my only explanation for where it all came from.

            Now we know for a fact that O-Sensei did something like this for himself, having instructors come and work with Kisshomaru while he observed, then later working on the material with his son after the instructor had left. But in the case of his Kashima Ryu instruction, O-Sensei did actually sign up. Meik Skoss has written about seeing the Founder’s name on the rolls.

            Whatever instruction was provided to the deshi, it was not done in this manner as no one has seen any of their names on a koryu scroll anywhere I have ever heard of. So, where all of this actually came from is still a mystery. The Founder was certainly familiar with much of this work but, especially when it came to whole sets of forms out of some koryu, I have a hard time believing that the uchi deshi did much in the way of forms work with the Founder… it wasn’t how he taught by the time the post war period came about. Anyway, that’s mt take on it and I’m sticking with it in the face of no better explanation for where it all came from.

          • Well, it’s an interesting theory, but I think if it were anything organized, involving multiple uchideshi, and lengthy, I would have heard something. I did over 200 interviews including almost everyone from that era and this did not come out. Also, I can’t see O-Sensei organizing this. Much of this training was done surreptitiously anyway. Many of the deshi felt a need to get outside training in order to round out their skills. They realized the importance of weapons but weren’t getting that kind of training at the Aikikai.

            I know for a fact that after Chiba Sensei was already in England, he would sometimes refer to Saito Sensei’s newly published books to study the ken and jo suburi and kata. Have you ever heard that? I think that the uchideshi continued studying after they had gone abroad and may have had some input from other people. Another interesting thing, if you can find it, is to watch film of some of the uchideshi from back in the 60s or 70s and you will see that their skill set at that stage was not exceptional by today’s standards. I can think of one who gave a demonstration around 1966 and it was an embarrassment. That man is a 9th dan now.

  • Very interesting article…

    My own take after 20 odd years is that martial integrity is dependent on the Uke.

    Most instructors with sufficient experience can teach aikido adequately, but it is the way in which the Uke’s are trained to attack that counts. On this note, I find myself pretty critical of most dojo’s and styles. In Aikikai and Ki-society people constantly give up their balance when they shouldn’t leading to sloppy form. In Iwama people keep their feet glued on the ground constantly leading to unrealistic rigidity and a lack of martial validity.

    I think we need to train uke’s to be the following; Balanced, light on their feet and precise in their attacks. To not telegraph their intent by starting the strike at the wrong distance. To be able to hold their center strongly when training statically. To be able to get their center back at all points within a technique when something goes wrong for the Nage. To be alert to all opportunities to reverse the technique. To be alert to all opportunities to change the attack mid way through the technique.

    The last point above is the one I see least of. Aikido becomes very loose when uke’s passively allow the technique to unfold ignoring opportunities to change things up. In contrast we can truly study aikido with greater intensity when we receive in this way. We become more present in the moment…

    I’ve trained in many different styles of aikido and the one constant is a mental rigidity in the way people receive.
    Just some thoughts…

    Thanks for your fantastic site here.

    • Hundred percent agree with that. It’s in teaching uke how to attack that tori can learn how to defend. Many oldtimers understood that and incorporated that teaching into their method. Mochizuki Sensei comes to my mind.

    • With only 9 years of training, I would not dare to call myself even an apprentice, but I also would like to state that I strongly agree with these comments.

      What I witness in Aikido training (Aikikai) is that there is ‘complete surrender and submission’ at the instance the technique is applied. The Uke almost never looks for openings, or weaknesses for gaeshi-waza (I hope this was the correct term for counter-technique) I have some friends training Iwama Ryu Aikido, and their regular training -in many instances- turn into a demonstration of ‘who is better at not letting the Nage to do anything at all’ so I feel a lot of tension and force struggle there..

      There has to be a place in between two, where both Nage and Uke are forced to STAY in a state of awareness until the very moment either the Uke or the Nage is immobilized or thrown.

      There are many discussions regarding the practicality of Aikido, especially in life threatening situations that one might encounter in real life, and I humbly believe that a proper Uke reaction might be the KEY to prepare ourselves for such instances, which we hope will never occur.

      Thank you very much Stan and all fellow authors who contributed to this post. This kind of reading is especially very useful for beginners like myself..

      Domo Arigato Gozaimashta

    • Thank you, Mr. Wakeman, for the detail and specificity of your suggestions/criticisms, and for keeping the tone of your comments constructive. I am a RANK beginner in aikido, still awaiting my first test, and yet, I still have a very specific idea of what I’m trying to accomplish, particularly in regards to martial technique.

      Already I’ve been made broadly aware of some of your points: proper ma-ai in attacks, and showing “proper” resistance as an uke (I’m actually finding that if I don’t resist, the moves don’t work right!). I’m also having quite a time becoming, and staying, aware of the use of atemi, on both sides of the technique. But I’m not sure how to start overcoming it. Your list of technical suggestions should be very helpful, allowing me to remove these bad habits early in my training, before they become ingrained.

      If you or anyone else here has further, constructive suggestions of this type, I’d be grateful to hear them.

      • Dear Mr. Hentschel,

        I am just a third kyu holder in the Iwama style. Sometimes I got the feeling that the atemi in Aikido is used just for distraction of the uke (I may be wrong due to limited knowledge of Aikido) and it is alien to my thinking. I have trained in Isshinryu karate, Uechiryu karate, Taichi Praying Mantis and we were taught everything coming out has to disrupt uke physically and mentally or the next technique will have no chance to success. When we use atemi to distract uke that hand or arm is never connected to the body, the intended technique will have no momentum to start with.
        Have a good evening.

        Regards, Nga

  • First, thank you so much for being a historian and ‘unifier’ of aikido for all us. It is something that has been sorely needed from my point of view and continues the spirit of ‘aiki’. I would have thought Hombu would be leading the charge more in this area but am aware that Japanaese politics and turf battles are problematic. I would have expected more from aikido and its ‘spirit,” but we are all human.:)

    My guess, whether accurate or not, was Osensei’s martial art as a young man was more martial and became more ‘flowing’ softer as an older man. At least it would make sense in view of the life cycle.

    So I worry about getting caught in ‘either/or’ thinking hard vs soft styles. Both work depending on the situation what is loyal to the spirit of the art.

    I think the challenge for aikido has been its epistemology. We have mistaken the ‘map for the territory,” techniques as real fighting, so we cooperate too much as uke and in the Japanese system of being respectful to the teacher. So we see guys flying through the air when they weren’t touched and this makes it look phony. (Though I did have such an experience with Tohei). We need to adapt our maps to the territories of context rather than a combat ideal of what we would like to happen in a fight. I love the weapons and don’t mind training in them but those maps are from another territroy of time and culture…..anyway…sorry if I got on a run. Whatever we do
    let us continue to discuss what the word ‘aikido’ means and how it translates into practice. Thanks again for leading the charge.

  • Thanks for the comments Stanley.

    I do not have historical proofs about the fact the Chinese martial arts derived from “Chikung” are the father of Daito Ryu, but there are so many clues indicating that, sufficient to make me become convinced and express this as a fact.

    Basically most things that are said as having Japanese origin , has its roots in China. Medicine, construction, philosophy, religion writing, drawing, cooking, etc. See how tai chi chuan deals with ki, compare twisting techniques of Aikido with internal Chinese martial arts like Chi Na and general Kung Fu and the coincidence and influence in Daito Ryu will be a natural conclusion. I do not believe that all those things could be created simultaneouslly in China in Japan, the probability is too low.

    China since thousants of years ago was the center of knowledge of Japan and sorrounding countries, where many Japanese had gone to study and bring it to Japan. The Chinese I Ching book was used by the Tokugawa scholars and politicians even to decide about economic yearly plans in the Tokugawa governement. There are plenty of record of this influence….and above all if such similar martial strategies of Daito Ryu existed in China 1000 thousant years before, and if Japanese copied from China so many things, it is not reasonable conclude that the Japanese family that taught oshikiushi to Takeda Sokaku had not learned the principles some generations back also in China?

    Well, I bought this version.

    Of course, Japanese are famous to import ideas from outside and introduce pratical and interesting things…so, the same can be happened with Daito Ryu, but the DNA commes from China, that is why I stabilished the “fatherhood”. Remember that in the 50s it was not even mentioned that Daito Ryu had influenced Aikido so much. But O sensei said clearly that Takeda Sokaku opened his eyes to Budo.

    Recentelly, I watched a dvd done by George Ledyard Sensei, it taught and explained about “conection”, and I was suprised because in spite I have never met him personally before, many things he explained and demonstrated in the film aligned exactly with the same conclusions I have had doing experiences with all sort of aikido styles, teachers and methods of training since when I started practicing Aikido. I saw Ikeda Sensei talk about the same thing in a seminar.

    In the present moment I am hundred percent convinced that what is really important in Aikido training and practice is “connection”. The drama is that few teachers in the world really grasped what connection really is and how to train and hwo to get if rapidly.

    If one have good posture and conection, basically any Aikido technique will be effective, but if there is not connection, then nothing will work against a person with experience in fighting or even someone that practices sports and has good conditioning and have rapid reflexes.

    Is conection taught correctelly in most dojos?

    Unfortunately, the answer is no from what I could observe visiting many and seeing films!!

    And why??? Because it is very difficult to the teachers learn it specially if they do not have someone that is able to do it and they can see and feel when receiving techniques to serve as reference. Besides, it is difficult to “see conection” , but one can feel. When one feels conection then he can see it aftewards. But if he can not feel it , he will not see, it cause his eyes will not grasp what is happening. Conection depends on the inner movement of Ki a talk from hara to hara and “ki” is the link.

    Most teachers are focusing too much in forms, that it is ok in the beginning but not all the time.

    There is a worlwide trend of practice just doing soft movements like a choreographic ballet that is good for health, that is beautiful when the uke is good and follows nagues movements. Others trying to run from this kind of model, start training using muscles , leverage, and doing atemi all the time, but also without connection. Other created sequencial kata, like when training karate. This kind of way of training creates a “distance”, a “separation” between nage and uke, going against the strategy and spirit of Aiki (connection) that is the essence of Aikido. I had make this mistake during decades..and this is what have happened to many too in my judgement. This view is what must change in AIkido.

    If there is no conection, all the aikido martial and spiritual essence is lost once it not possible to train and develop the intuition and feeling in order the practicioner can link with the energies of the universe, no matter how beautifull the forms looks from the outside.

    I do not think it is necessary to do a reform to Aikido technique, as the title of this article states, BUT YOU ARE RIGHT..SOMETHING MUST BE REFORMULATED AND in my view, THIS IS THE WAY TO TRAIN ANY TECHNIQUE introducing conection in its performace.

    I believe that what it is really very important to the future of Aikido as a Budo is a reform of how to train the existing Aikido techniques of all styles. It is not a matter of teacher, or school, but of training with the correct aikido spirit and aproach, it is necessary to go after conection, “aiki”. Focusing less in techniques, is spite training and repeating then many times, but seen techniques just as instruments to develop conection , the “aiki feeling”. Once it is got, techniques are not necessary they can be created in the moment of the attack. I think this stage was what O Sensei called Takemusu AIki and kami waza using a shinto language.

    People that are able to do aikido techniques with conection can be seen in all schools, but they are few.
    Basically all top masters famous of the past students of O Sensei did Aikido with “conection”.

    Regarding the context of your article, Stanley, explaining my thought better is saying : Yes a reform is necessary in the way of training and teachers must become aware to reformulate in the dojos and make then alerted specially to those that had not yet saw this problem. It is very important that this main aspect in the training should be focused as a priority in daily practice, specially after some years of training.

    The word for the future in the dojos in my view to be in writen in the front door of all aikido dojos in the future should be “connection”…or…. to those that understands Japanese focus in the two first kanji of the word Aikido that are in most kamiza, unfortunately to many students just seen as “Japanese letters” without grasping the deep meaning of then.

    Wagner Bull

    • Hi all,
      I have studied Aikido from the age of 15, I turned 33 last Tuesday, and I for one until very recently (Saturday night) would disagree with anyone who would try and say Daito Ryu & Aikido were hugely influenced by chinese methods.

      However, on saturday, I watched a video on you tube from a traditional shoalin temple in china.
      Teacher and student faced each other to demonstrate the basics of there school, the reason a friend of mine and I were watching this was because my friend loves chinese martial arts (i also teach him Aikido privately), neither of us had watched this video before and I for one was stunned literally.

      The reason why I was stunned, is that there was no kicking and punching or overtly big ariel display, all the attacks in the hour or so video were grabs to wrists clothing, shoulders elbows, grabs from behind choke holds and the person demonstrating performed almost entirely joint locking pins, or join lock and throw`s, and they were very very similar to that of Aikido, albeit with a much wider stance and more emphasis on deep direct atemi waza. I would never have believed this to be possible, he even performed irimi nage from a rear collar hold almost exactly the same way saito sensei does it.
      This teacher was doing everything from Ikkyo, Nikyo pinning techniques to the more complex kokyu nage techniques from rear attacks.

      I will find the video and post it here for you all to see, I honestly could not believe it.
      One confused Aikidoka 😉

      Great article, and I have very much enjoyed reading all replies.

      In Budo
      Andy B

      • Andy,

        By all means. Just a thought. Is it possible that there is some cross-influence with China receiving some input from Japan the way Hapkido has an aikido/Daito-ryu connection?

        Information flows both ways. Another thing. Look at all the aiki-like things that go on in Systema. I think there are some universals in play.

      • I believe what you are referring to is Shaolin Chin Na ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elrub1Wwc7E) , termed as Juho ( soft techniques ) in Shorinji Kempo (founded by Japanese Doshin So who became the inheritor of one of the Shaolin temples) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3ZGiM73oes

        Most eastern martial arts techniques come from Shaolin where the legendary Indian monk, Bodhidharma ( also the founder of Zen Buddhism ), started everything: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Wtk4D7E6do

      • Hey, let’s not be racists here! 😉

        There may be some differences between Chinese and Japanese bodies, and others between Asians and Europeans, Africans, whatever. But the similarities are much greater allowing things like medicine, and martial arts, to be effective. I propose, for the examination of any who are interested, that there is a finite number of effective techniques. The number of subtly effective techniques is, I suggest, a smaller finite number. Further, the number of techniques which are ineffective because of national borders or spoken languages are few or none. So, if these assertions prove out, there is likely to be some commonality between any subtly effective techniques taught in any school or country.

        My inspiration of the last few years is to look at energy, kinetic and potential kinetic energy, as a measure of techniques. My ideal technique is effective with the parties each contributing a minimum of kinetic energy which triggers release of the potential energy implicit in an upright stance. In plain language, I’m looking for stuff that gives a maximum result, loss of balance, for a minimum input, energy put into the technique. May the force, gravity, be with you.

  • One thing that I have learned from my practice of Kali that I have started to pick up on in my practice of Aikido and Aiki Budo techniques is that there is a clear difference between the training method and the fighting method of most martial arts. This is hinted at, or sometimes stated explicitly by those in the know.

    Saito Sensei tells us that atemi is for actual fighting. I believe that this is common sense when facing multiple attackers. It’s easier to strike multiple attackers and maintain your balance and mobility than it is to control them. All the more so for one on one combat.

    Nishio Sensei alludes to this in his taijutsu presentations. He always starts and enters to a position where he can strike and not be struck. Isn’t this the keynote feature of hanmi/hitoemi? How many of us are adding this facet to our everyday training? In his weapons, his uses otonashi no ken/jo – he doesn’t touch the opponents weapon. That means that he does not parry, but enters and strikes. At every moment, he shows that he controls the encounter. My own belief is that these practices are advanced articulations of Saito Sensei’s ki musubi no tachi.

    Saito Sensei’s bukiwaza does use parries from the awase form, but each motion is decisive. This goes back to the old koryu, where “blocks” were really strikes to the opponent’s limbs, head, or body. Katori Shinto Ryu calls this “kuzushi” interestingly enough. Kali uses this as a training method, to substitute the weapon as sort of a “focus mitt” to strike at – not as an attack that is blocked.

    It seems like Aikido, at least as I have experienced it, is a lot of unlearning things that are deeply ingrained as a kyu. That may be the the fault of the student, but I still see yudansha doing things that simply would not work against a resisting partner, even less so in actual fighting.

    It seems that we forget that that majority of O’Sensei’s students were already experienced martial artists. They came to him, he invited them to attack them however they wish, and then “something happened” and they found themselves thrown or pinned. These people were given training methods. They either understood how to create the applications for fighting methods, or researched it to discover it on their own.

    If Aikido is to be understood as a martial art, we have to learn a clear distinction between training and fighting methods. In the Lost Seminars series, Saito Sensei goes over the levels of training in depth. The ki no nagare forms come closest to a fighting method, given the rhythm that they employ. But the attributes required to perform effective fighting techniques come from the kihon forms. This is clear from his demonstrations.

    In regard to Ledyard Sensei’s comments about koryu weapons training for the deshi – hard to prove, but I accept it wholeheartedly. His series, Principles of Aiki, is excellent, by the way.

    As a final note, weapons have to be the core of our practice. At my dojo we practice traditional forms of Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo. We also practice forms of stick and knife, borrowed from Kali, but adapted to explain and demonstrate Aiki movement. I find that the two-handed weapons establish footwork, hip positions, and distance ideally, while the shorter one-handed weapons articulate exactly the way the hands move.

    More later.

  • I guess the question is the goal: Can Aikido be regarded as a fighting art, in and of itself? Boxing, for example, is regarded as a fighting art and sport. When the worst boxer, the laziest boxer, the person who just goes to the fitness center and does “cardio boxing” or what have you does boxing, and does it poorly, boxing is still understood to be a fighting art. The art lives on with its reputation regardless of the man. Aikido seems to have this need to be championed as a fighting method. From what I can see, the smart ones are addressing this by reforming the training method.

    • I’m an Aikido newbie, however, from my reading so far, my understanding is that Aikido is supposed to be the art of not fighting.

      • Well, Aikido is the art of peace inside of the fight. In the lower level aikido techniques starts after the intention of attack begins to become a physical menace. In the higher level, by the way, the attack disapears in the moment it starts. This O sensei called “Katsuhayabi”.

        To be able to avoid fights like Aikido proposes, it is necessary to learn how to fight, but with a different strategy,: “stopping the fight”. ´To the begginer It seems a paradox, but it is not, this only can be understood practicing. In a certain way, this is what “Bu” is…..”stoping he halberd” proposes. I believe, it is literally the meaning of the Kanjis with what Bu” is composed. What it is necessary in Aikido is that people after some years of training starts trying to grasp this “intention of attack”, when this is got, simultaneouslly to the moment of its origin, the result is peace. So , Aikido is the art of peace. In this moment in doing apparentelly nothing all is done.

        Far from the truth are that one that things that it is possible to bring peace without beeing able to win any batlle if necessary but without injuring the attacker on the contrary . Aikido on a high level is the power of dissuation after agression starts. I do believe O sensei could do this kind of art.

        The key is train “ki” conection, and to be able to do that the top masters says, it is necessary not think, just feel grasp and react creating harmony.

        • The key to understanding ki is a simple one, but not easy.
          First if an attack comes……move out the way, anything else is a bonus.
          Second when an attack comes…. dont be there at the end of it.
          Last when an attacks begins……..DONT BE THERE!!!
          if you are not there you cannot get hurt, if you are in front of it, you will get hurt.
          Simple enough, but not easy.

          Andy B

          Sorry, I could not resist. please forgive me 😉

  • Thank you, Mr. Pranin, for what appears to be a detailed an ambitious approach to addressing the martial, technical content of aikido, a subject that is of a high priority for me as an aikidoka. But before I give my review, let me philosophize a little (as it will explain what I have to say, to a large degree).

    As I’m coming to see it, aikido increasingly seems less like a strict curriculum or “Checklist,” than it is a broad principle, a spirit even, that Ueshiba-Kaiso sought to impart to his students. Each of his senior students, being an individual, received and expressed this “spirit of aikido” much differently. I am FINE with this. But what I do find to be a problem, is the setting up of any one interpretation as orthodoxy. All of the many aikido schools, regardless of stated intent, seem vulnerable to this. And it’s something that we should all be on guard against, authors and readers alike, in the course of this discussion.

    While Mr. Pranin’s historically-sourced data is indeed valid, it’s *interpretation* where we start to say, “Ay, there’s the rub!” Specifically, Mr. Pranin’s perspective is clearly influenced by the Iwama school and his experiences with it. I’m plenty open to this point of view, I assure you, and many of my thoughts have gone in a similar direction. But others present on this thread do not necessarily agree. Mr. Ledyard quite rightly points out that different conclusions can be drawn from the same facts, and also throws a unique wrinkle into the article’s account of aikido history, with his tale of the Tokyo-Iwama rivalry.

    Kisshomaru-doshu’s extensive re-imagining of his father’s art cannot be attributed, I don’t think, to any one or two simple causes, like “changing with the times” or “compromising integrity.” Rather, I think it’s a detailed expression of his own personality, which differed a great deal from his father’s, just as Shioda comes through in Yoshinkan, and Tomiki in Shobukan, etc. All these great masters were very different people (it’s amazing that Kaiso was able to assemble, much less teach them all), and had very different intentions gifts, and things to offer as individuals. These differences and merits show through in the styles they created, and to experience these styles is to know, in a way, the people who created them.

    The critical folly of setting up any one style as “orthodox,” is to exalt one creative spirit over the others, arbitrarily. And it is this folly that may potentially diminish our art, both in spirit and technique, not be steering it in a way that is “wrong,” but by closing aikidoka off to the *many* directions in which they can travel.

    I look forward to the next installment of this series, but above is the spirit in which I will read it.

  • Of course that there are as many Aikido as people that practices it, so all aikido versions can be seen as interpretations.

    But I believe there is one thing that is absolute and cannot be seen as relative, that is common in any Aikido move or action, and this is what the “kanji” “AI” and the Kanji “KI” together express that is the need of blending of ki perfectelly among the parts in conflict.

    So, to my jugdgement the main question to be done, the main factor to be taken into account in the moment to distinguish if something is Aikido of the FOUNDER or not, ir order to say if what one person is done is Aikido or Not in technical and spiritual, terms is to pay attention if Nage is being able or at least is trying do reach complete “blending”, “connections” with the attacker (aiki).

    In one DVD of Saito Sensei sold by Stanley Pranin about one semminar in Italy, Saito Sensei said clearly;

    Without “kokyu”, there is not Aikido…”kokyu” is the essencial part of the art in technical terms. Most top masters said the same.

    Kokyu is another way to say “aiki” it is the same idea with different word…..and in this case one is talking about blending and connection.

    To practice Aikido in technical terms is training things that allow us to blend perfetelly with all the parts of our bodies and with the ones of our attackers in order that everything becomes a unity.

    When this is done anything that nage will do it will work and this includes effectiviness in performing self defense tecniques.

    And there is one important point , this complete union (mussubi), is possible only during a certain span of time that varies from individual to individual. This is also very important in terms of effectiviness , the “timing” . It is not possible to keep “conection” all the time , because the mind inferferes and cuts the ki link.

    These are the main points.

    If there is this feeling, of connetion here and now and in a certain span of time which durations varies according to the parts envolved, the rest is secondary and can be different

    Like for example, training with weapons or not, training first “ki”, then after do movements, or doing movements and training “ki” at the same time, and maybe even doing also competitons if this done with the spirit to test uke ability can be tolerable. In a certain way, like that famous fight if people must rest on Sundays and the Catholics says or in the Saturdays as the Jews say. The fact what is important is to rest one day in the week, so there is no reason to fight because of this secondary stuff.

    What absolutelly cannot be tolerated is start giving “punches” or “kicks” in the attacker to substitute the ability to reach kokyu, or start introduction “ju jutsu ” strategies of the ones of other martial arts, as unfortuntely each day some “aikido masters” are started to advocate each month see in the internet, distorting Aikido practice. Aikido practice demands the search for Aiki essentially , because without this the spiritual final goals of Aikido as a “Do” (Michi-Way of Life) that means reaching harmony with Big Nature and love for all beings and things creating a big family will never be attained and after all this is what in fact the AIkido of the Founder, in other words ; LOVE.

    That is why he said

    Aikido AI Nari (Aikido is love) .

  • Dear “Pranin” and All,
    It’s been a rich and informative Discussion here,
    I couldn’t leave it without at least expressing my gratitude for you all.
    So” Pranin”, thank you sooooooooo much for the education and mission you are up holding.
    For All commenters and masters here, Please don’t deprive us from your valuable inputs anytime as we all share the same goal.
    Thanks again to “Pranin” open mined character and his tremendous effort exerted through his wealthy history and in this full of treasures web site.

    Best regards,
    Mohamed Baghdady
    AIKIDO Way Academy – Egypt.

  • As a side note to a comment by Wagner Bull. He mentioned the etyomology of the 武 ‘bu’ kanji. The stopping the Halberd is a poetic and often used, but incorrect.

    Etymology of the character ‘bu’武.

    In old Chinese 止 did not mean stop. Originally it meant ‘foot’. Added with this – 戈 – Remnant Primitive, A long handled non descript instrument – usually a hoe or ax.

    to walk 止 with a weapon 戈 = 武 martial

    Here is my research


  • Dear Eric:

    Thanks for your note about the meaning of the chinese kanji that the Japanese spell “BU”.
    You are right, in the past it was like that this is the information I have too.

    But maybe you are wrong when you said :

    “As a side note to a comment by Wagner Bull. He mentioned the etyomology of the 武 ‘bu’ kanji. The stopping the Halberd is a poetic and often used, but incorrect.”

    You must consider that words and simbols with time they change their meanings. For example, the swastica has a long history as a religious simbol as well in Europe reaching back to antiquity following a brief surge of popularity as a good luck symbol . With Hitler the swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi Party of Germany in 1920, who used it as a symbol of the Aryan race. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, a right-facing and rotated swastika was incorporated into the Nazi party flag, which was made the state flag of Germany during Nazism. Hence, the swastika has become strongly associated with Nazism and related ideologies such as fascism and white supremacism in the Western world, and is now largely stigmatized there due to the changed connotations of the symbol.
    The original meaning of the Chinese character used to write “bu” that you mentioned alsi changend in China when it came to be interpreted by Confucian scholars after the Sengoku period as meaning “stoping the weapon,”, “stopping the violence”.

    In Japan the transition from a meaning of violence to one of peace was facilitated largely by Neo-Confucian scholars during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) and epoch of social stabilty.
    The Bafuku , the military governement of the time, ought to encourage a balance between military preparedness and duty among its warriors, and so martial (bu) and civil virtues were combined to form a phylosophy of personal development and martial virtue for the greater good and came to be expressed with teachings like “katsujinken” and “Satsujinken” the swords that” gives life” and the one that” takes life”.

    So, this was the new concept of BU during that times and the one adopted by Aikido Founder.
    To be short, now Budo has a multi-faceted meaning and it includes sports, physical education , and the term is beeing employed as means of educating the masses in traditional ideals of martial virtue.

    Bu in fact meaned to the Founder, from everyting he said a idea similar to : “stop the allabard”, “stop the violence”. That is why Aikido techniques were designed to not hurt the attacker but to “protect him” and in this way is how we practiced then on the mat.

    There are many sources to confirm what I said above, anyway, you can find this information I passed over in the book “Budo,–The Martial Arts of Japan”, edited by NIPPON BUDOKAN FOUNDATION. This organization was founded in october, 1964 with the blessing of the Japanese governement encouraging japanese people , particulary youth do study the tradiontal martial arts of Japan. They would not give such a wrong information to the public and readers about a subject that is part of the name of the organization.

    I do not know if this book is for sale, once mine volume, was giving to me personally by Mr. Matsunaga Hikaru then the Nippon Budokan President when he came to Brazil as a gift to our organization due to fact that we represented Aikido in the comemorations and public demonstration we gave to the public and to the “prince of Japan”, in the ocasion of the 100 years of Japanese imigration colony 3 years back.

    So, in spite I am not a japanese or chinese ideograms specialist, but considering the good quality of many sources I have ,but specially the one from Budokan I am convinced that the statement of yours that the meaning of Bu I gave was “incorrect” maybe should be reviewed to avoid that the readers remains with wrong information in their minds.

    Wagner Bull

    • Etymology (of a word)” means the origin of a particular word. That is what I was writing about. If you read my article, I noted the usefulness of changing the meanings to fit with poetic and artistic philosophies. But as far as what the etymology of the character, it has nothing to do with stopping violence.

      As fat as I know the Nippon Budokan has not published much about kanji etymology (that I can find). As a scholarly source it is probably useful for some things, and not others.

      I merely point out word origin. So I stand by my words, “As a side note to a comment by Wagner Bull. He mentioned the etymology (the origin of the word) of the 武 ‘bu’ kanji. The stopping the Halberd is a poetic and often used, but incorrect.” I will edit it. though. “Wagner Bull noted Aikido teacher, and respected authority on classical martial arts and the Nippon Budokan prefer the modern reinvention of the meaning behind the word – to stop the halberd or stop violence. Though it is not a historically accurate etymology, it is what the spirit and character of modern budo practice is.”

      Thank you sir.

      • Dear Eric:

        My mother language is Portuguese, so I took a look in the Webster´s dictionary of the English language to be sure that the meaning of the word was the same that we have the root of the word means in Portuguese. Not always English and Portuguese words with the same latin root as modern has the same meaning , and I found two sentences:

        1)Modern: adj. Of or pertaining to present and recent time not ancient and remote.
        2)Modern : Of or pertaining to the historical period following the Middle Ages.

        If one would take number 1, I would say that the meaning of “Budo” as “stopping the violence”, or “stopping the halberd”, is not modern.

        But if we take number 2 then it depends:

        a) Considering that the Middle Ages is the period of European history encompassing the 5th to the 15th centuries, normally marked from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

        b) Considering that the original meaning of the Chinese character used to write “bu” that you mentioned also changed in China when it came to be interpreted by Confucian scholars after the Sengoku period as meaning “stopping the weapon,”, “stopping the violence” and that Confucius lived probably during 551 BC to 479 BC).

        c) Considering that in Japan the transition from a meaning of violence to one of peace was facilitated largely by Neo-Confucian scholars during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868).

        Once can conclude that in this case it is acceptable that the concept of “Bu” as “stopping the violence” can be considered modern having Japan as a reference as you said.

        But if we take China as the reference , then definitively this concept is not modern, but a ancient one.

        As a curiosity, another famous change in the meaning of a famous word in the martial arts world involving “Chinese Ideograms” is about the one : “Karate”.
        Originally Kara meant: “China” and T^: “hand”. Because this art reached Okinawa coming from China. Then around Funakoshi´s Time (The founder of Karate born in 1868), he decided to change the ideogram of “kara” to “empty”, then the meaning of the art changed to “Empty Hand”, more related to the Zen thought of “emptiness” and more close to the ideal of Karate as a “Do” (way of life) more fitting to those times.

        Morihei Ueshiba, O sensei, himself also said that Aiki with the meaning of “Blending and adjusting ki” was a old concept, but that his “AIKI” in Aikido was something deep much more profound as we aikidoists know.

        Wagner Bull

        • Sorry Wagner but your conclusion that by taking China as reference then the concept of “stopping the halberd” is not modern does not follow from your premises.

          a) Middle Ages in Japan is not the same as Middle Ages in Europe so modern as pertaining to the historical period after the (Europe) Middle Ages cannot be applied to Japan.

          b) The fact that Confucian scholars have interpreted bu as “stopping the halberd/violence” after the Sengoku period does not imply that Confucius himself (that lived 1000 years before in a completely different historical setting) was also giving the same meaning to it. After the Sengoku period everyone was like “let’s stop this bloody madness” and backing up Tokugawa to bring peace and order was something that many wished to do. Trying to justify this wish was a priority, hence the shift in behaviour had to be backed up by some “new” philosophy.

          Given that the halberd had long lost its status as a preferred weapon among the warrior class (katana has replaced both the halberd and the bow), having a kanji with a halberd and attaching it the meaning of stopping that weapon might have been more acceptable at that point.

          The Funakoshi example is another error. Funakoshi did not change the meaning of a word, it changed the kanji entirely (maintaining the pronounciation) so to change (as you correclty stated) the meaning of the art, the concept. This is very different to what has been done to ‘bu’ where the meaning of the word has been re-interpreted. What happened to bu is the same as what happened to the english word ‘gay’ in recent times. The interpreted meaning has radically changed.

  • 1) The “Webster´s ” is a dictionary of English, so this language and culture is being used as the reference to explain the meaning of the words it contains.
    So, to the context of the discussion the word “Modern” was being used in English to define a time after the European middle ages , of course.
    Consequentely , it is irrelevant to know when happened the “Middle Ages in Japan”. The reference in the discussion was the english culture and consequentelly its division of time and historical periods is the one that must be considered.
    Besides, the is no doubt that presentely, Japan, USA, and China live in “modern times” and in these countries the Japanese word “BU” is understood and “stopping the violence”.

    2) If this is clear to the readers, then, as Mr. Eric pointed out, it is interesting anyway, to include in our Budo Culture to enlarge it, that in the past the kanji “bu”, originally , meant just a “warrior”, and that this idea was represented by the ideograms of a men with a gun. It was a good contribution to the discussion in this blog when thinking about a “reform in Aikido technique”.

    3) I have no idea why English people started calling homesexuals as: “gay”. I see no funny , or happy thing in their condition as I think the word originally meant, on the contrary, I see it is a big challenge one has to surpass, under this situation, in order to be able to live with dignity respected and be accepted in society without preconceptions.

    Wagner Bull

  • I read the original blog entry as a fan of Aikido, inspired by the life of founder Morihei Ueshiba, but have never been an Aikido practitioner myself. I am intrigued by Stanley Pranin and others’ reference to your founder’s strong spiritual practice as a martial master. Had more of the old-timers retained more of the founder’s spirituality (presuming from the essay that they did not), what might Aikido practice look like today? How would martial spirituality be taught and practiced in the 21st Century in Japan and the West? Would it look ‘religiously organized’ or would it appear more organic? Would it be tied closely to Aikido, or would it be accessible by people studying other martial arts? Would there be any parallels to it in other world spiritual practices, or would it be uniquely Japanese? These are respectful questions from an old martial arts practitioner who has spent decades seeking the spiritual experience of the warrior disciplines, and are not meant to be presumptuous or mocking in any way. Perhaps a suggestion for a future article on the spiritual depths that your founder experienced and worked to transmit as part of his legacy?

  • I enjoyed this article. The history of our art appears not merely unstudied but almost suppressed. I remember a student once asking my Sensei how one got to be as good as O Sensei. Sensei became very angry and gave a lengthy answer in his broken English that put work, training and prayer almost equal in importance. In Chinese arts (and others) meditation and standing meditation is a huge part of developing physical skills. In discarding the “religious” practices, I wonder how much mental and spiritual practices for martial skills were discarded because they looked too esoteric or religious.

  • Thanks to all that contribute to this topics, specially Stanley Sensei for opening the space and all the research done.

    I believe in Aikido because I believe that O’Sensei was in the right path, since he enjoyed good heath and could still do Aikido as an older man.

    I believe in Aikido’s philosophy, because love, compassion and tolerance is a way towards happiness and realization for human beings.

    I believe in Aikido as an effective martial art, but I don’t think it can be as effective as it could be the way is been trained and thought today.

    I train and research other combat arts to improve my Aikido, and I hope to find the correct way of training and teaching Aikido in a way that can be a mental and spiritual path and also effective and realistic when needed in real combat.

  • Goodness. Stan, I agree with you. The fundamental problem, as I see it anyway, is that it is easier to err on the side of “do no harm” in training, at the cost of “do no good” in a real situation. It is very difficult to push the limits of real conflict in the dojo without getting into the mindset of violence, destruction or at least competition. To err on that side would be to turn out strong fighters, knowing that, as Kano Sensei said, ‘On any day, anyone may win.” The paradox of aikido, again, as I see it, is that while it deals with combat, it isn’t strictly speaking a method of fighting. Fighting implies contest with winning as the desired end. Aikido seems to transcend that.

    It being Sunday, let me propose Jesus as a practitioner of aikido. He accepted and blended with His adversary to the point of dying, then reversed the technique by Resurrection. In His mind, as unpleasant and undesirable as the situation was, the outcome was never in doubt. Keep this in mind next time you’re working kaeshi waza from nikyo. Launch too early and it would have, keeping the analogy, the flavor of Jesus and disciples fighting their way through the arresting officers to escape.

  • I recently watched two video clips of students testing, a young man for third kyu, a female taking her dan test. During randori the young man couldn’t perform a single take down or throw. The young lady had three uke, the sensei told each what attack to use (one using shomenuchi, one yokomenuchi and one munetsuki). They attacked slow and soft yet she was struck several times and once was almost knocked to the ground. We are supposed to be teaching a martial art, our students should be learning skills to help them survive an altercation on the street (an uncontrolled environment), yet they can’t survive an attack on the mat at a slow, soft pace (a controlled environment).

    • Craig,
      What style of aikido were these students from? Can you provide the links to the video clips please…

  • Stan,

    Thanks for the great work. Without the, as you so precisely put it, “… the vision of Aikido conceived by the art’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei..,” it is not Aikido, it is nothing much! Or worse, deception. A Budo that cannot be utilized to protect something and augment life itself is a sham and a shameful one at that. Budo, particularly Aiki Budo, exists to add value into the world. If you fail in thusly expressing, you are not practicing Morihei Ueshiba’s Aikido. In order that any measure of authenticity be in place, the walk has to match the talk. “Styles” are nothing more than limited methodologies for teaching, a bridge that MUST be left behind once the principles have become absorbed and understood. Otherwise, they become a millstone around the necks of those who cling to them. The safest training is the most dangerous in application. “Hard”, the use of force is not Aikido, especially in training where it serves no learning purpose. However there is no “spirituality” unless it has APPLICATION. If you do not grasp this you have not begun. The Laws of the Universe are ever present, ready to be discovered. Aikido is such a path of discovery. Autrelle Holland correctly points out, “Aikido is to be understood as a martial art, we have to learn a clear distinction between training and fighting methods.”

    The essence of Aikido is extant in and all around us all the time, Kannagara no Michi, if you will. No individual should ever be placed on a pedestal, lest a cult arise and the degradation and downfall that is the ultimate fate of all cults. Anyone who has trodden the Way can inspire, and share some worth however and must be listened to with both incisive and also critical mind. And we should ever be mindful and never forget what Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei admonished on his deathbed. “I have taken this as far as I possibly could. Please continue to improve what I have started.” Unless you adhere totally to this precept you are no Aikidoka but something else.

    Thank you,


  • Kia ora Stan,

    Over the years, I have always loved reading your words and have enjoyed the dvd’s that I have used as part of my visual library in my walk with Aikido. Thank you for speaking your truth… that takes courage… I have found that some men in positions of esteem in Aikido are not tested and begin to talk and not walk the talk… That to me is dangerous because they can lack the empathy to teach hitting online with real intent so real learning can occur…Tto me Aikido has indigenous qualities like the Systema that are potent and give real options… A mate of mine Shayne Mason always said words to the effect that “saying you choose peace and you have no other real option is really not a choice”… By giving the historical Kaupapa (founding concepts and ideas) and whakapapa (important historical leaders) that has helped me understand the holes I feel… the ‘Randori’ that you express is what helps my life… My mates love Aikido as we work with youth, whether in the classroom, on the street or visiting the whanau (family)… Aikido gives us glasses to see and unlock each phenomena, redirecting volatile situations and bringing it to a humane conclusion… When we train regardless of the speed or weapon we as uke give everything we got with intent and allow Tori to make mistakes and truly develop their senses so when they are out in the world with their families the make choices so at all levels they have tools…
    Just one more thing, Stan, to me Aikido was a gift in its fullness and men having their own disposition attempt to give their spin on it now that the author is gone… My mates are proficient in the indigenous Maori martial long/short/jade arts who are still held within their whanau (family) or iwi (tribe) and we feel the Kaupapa and see what a peril of immense price Aikido is… The Japanese have the katana and Maori have the Taiaha each weapon revered by their families handed down from one generation to the next … My mates and I understand the importance of keeping true to the essence of Aikido… We understand that physically and mentally we stand or fall by the tools and techniques we use… So Stan keep up the good work especially in this dangerous time 2 to 3 generations away from the founder… the potential ‘animal farm’ experience… Thank you ka kite anoe

    p.s. Over the years I loved the 2005 Aiki Expo, Systema and Nishio dvds. I felt that even down in New Zealand I was connected…

  • Hi Stan,
    Wow! Great article and lots of articles after the article.

    It’s clear that a lot of people don’t recognize what Saito Sensei was teaching. It was exactly what he stated. He was trying his best to maintain O’Sensei’s techniques as exactly as he could. I had the pleasure of practicing with some old people who practiced with O’Sensei and when I called something Iwama Style they were adamant that it wasn’t Iwama-ryu. It was O’Sensei’s-ryu, O’Sensei’s Style. I wanted to get as close to O’Sensei as I could and they verified it.

    About the weapons in Aikido. Nishio Sensei in some of the interviews of him stated that O’Sensei and other senior students would state that this of that came from the weapons but couldn’t adequately show it, so he went to the weapons masters and studied with them with the intent of learning how to use the weapons to execute Aiki techniques. His weapons are totally different from the Iwama Style weapons both in philosophical application and physical application.

    What I see from most physical applications are people whacking up other people which is normal for weapons. I tell people Nishio Sensei’s sword work is different. He was making sushi!. Much of his movements are slicing with few overt movements to cut through the body. The hand work is probably not unique, but still it’s vastly different from the common movements of most sword styles. Even now I’m seeing videos of people showing his weapons and they are not moving like Nishio Sensei. They are going back to the common Iaido movements which are made up of full cuts and loosing the lightning speed of the slicing movements. The key is in the wrist movements.

    I recently underwent prostate surgery to remove cancer, so I’m watching my students teach from the edge of the mat. There is so much that they are missing. That’s exactly what has happened to Aikido. Too few of his students could put it all together and get all the thoughts O’Sensei was teaching.

    I think that you are just right in pointing out that some of the changes were deliberate and watered down the techniques. Now so much time has passed that people don’t remember for sure what O’Sensei was really teaching. Those thoughts have been pretty much purged from the Aikikai. I think the Iwama people are closest to O’Sensei, but even there, some things missing for them.

    You have recently had some interviews from Henry Kono. He states that O’Sensei told him (Henry) that he didn’t understand “In Yo” (Yin and Yang). That has been such a HUGE CLUE! I’ve been looking for it and it’s everywhere! Yet nobody that I know of (other than Henry Kono) has ever said boo about it. When I got to Japan for the Nishio Sensei Remembrance Seminar, in October, I asked a number of the sempai if Nishio Sensei ever talked about “In Yo”. The answers were all the same and immediate, “No, never.” Did you ever hear Saito Sensei talk about “In Yo”? I never did. I’m not claiming that I got to spend a whole lot of time with him, like I got with Nishio Sensei.

    I haven’t been back through “Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere” for at least a decade, so I don’t remember if Ratti or Westbrook wrote about it. I think they didn’t, yet that’s what the sphere is. I also see that it’s not just one big sphere. There can be multiple spheres and pieces of the sphere at various points within the techniques.

    These thoughts about “In Yo” can be seen in the weapons as well. I see things clearly in the Nishio weapons, a little less so in the Iwama weapons.

    That’s enough for now. This string of comments is already huge.

    Tom Huffman

  • Still one of my favorite articles. I believe I read elsewhere that Tohei Sensei was made a Godan when he left for the military? Here it says 18 months of training before he left. Of course, if we had quantifiable skill requirements for each rank as formal education does, then this is possible. i.e. I had a psychology degree before I studied nursing, and I was not required to take psychology classes again. The criteria should not be merely time in training, but I am not aware of objective criteria that spell out what is deserving of rank, especially senior ranks.

    There are video clips of Saito Sensei and O Sensei using weapons against trees and targets. Lately, just to try it, I’ve been experimenting with this. I have spent years erratically practicing some suburi at home or in an apartment, with no resistance. Having the weapon make contact every time, feeling the shock of impact going through my wrists, forearms, shoulders, feeling my torso brace and my hips needing to settle, feeling when I am slightly off balance from the contact; feeling very different muscles getting worked out (stopping a weapon being swung without resistance means I need to fight motion with muscle, instead of bracing muscle behind the impact), seeing how poorly I was able to hit the exact same spot every time, seeing larger tree limbs getting broken…Iwama if it used this practice often had a great conditioning regime that Aikikai as I was taught it did not. I can do this living in the country now, I would have been evicted doing this in the city as it is noisy.

    Growing up in a small rural town myself, I could exercise but I was never as powerful as the school kids who were rock picking or heaving bails on their own parent’s property. I don’t doubt this different life experience played a role between the city and country schools in Japan too.

    In terms of teachers learning from other sources in Aikikai – a Sandan was Uchi deschi for his vacations with Kawahara Sensei. Other students were there and verified the story to me, but I never experienced it. Anyway, the Sandan also studied kenjitsu on the side, and had been for years and was quite senior. Initially quiet, Sensei joined in the practices for a week and said he didn’t know this stuff and was interested. The guys telling me the story got pale when they talked about how fast he learned, “scary fast!” After less than a week, Sensei was making comments that maybe the kenjitsu student was doing something wrong, or had misunderstood this, and he was giving corrections. Moreover, the students told me his comments were absolutely right. They couldn’t keep up with him in practice, despite being much younger. I had my own examples, but nothing like this. A friend comments on Filipino martial arts, and Sensei would say, “oh, good stuff. I know a tenth Dan.” And change the subject.

    I guess, in a round-about way, when you and Leynard Sensei were discussing having other teachers come in, I remembered this story. At least in Kawahara Sensei’s case, he could demonstrate an amazing capacity to absorb, retain, and dissect huge quantities of information and physical skill. He knew how to learn. I wish I had a 10th of his ability to learn. I wish I had a clue how to teach students to learn.

  • Sensei Pranin, Kudos to you. You have put it on the line. You have through this newsletter put your beliefs about aikido and you sincere concerns regarding its present direction out there for all to read, think about and offer their thoughts and criticisms. No small task considering the importance of each style of aikido to its practitioners and how any criticisms towards any particular style are taken very seriously indeed. I’m new to the news letter and not overly desirous of putting myself into the public sphere but i thought I would offer my own thoughts and experiences on this very emotional subject of “Aikido” and its validity. I trained in two aikido dojos intensely but intermittently over a period of approximately 10 years. 1st. There is a big difference between ‘self’ defense and fighting. The issue of self defense can be solved very simply by carrying a lethal weapon. Where it gets sticky is when a person deems it unethical, for a whole variety of reasons probably worthy of another article in and of itself, to be armed with a lethal or nonlethal weapon (mace, pepper spray, baton, etc.) For such a person Aikido seems to be the perfect answer. What more could you want than a noncombative, nonagressive, noncompetitive, system of unarmed self defense? I believe this is probably the reason most people choose it. It was for me. That being the case your concerns as to whether, if the martial aspects of it are removed are people being misled? i.e. does it work as it is purported to? I hope I have read you right about your concerns and not put words in your mouth. Anyway those concerns you have expressed are very pertinent to me.

    I was taught in a system of aikido whose core principles were extending ki and connecting with uke and vice versa. This is all well and good in the dojo but when asking the question how can you connect ki with a bully who knows nothing about it and whose sole goal is to pummel you to the ground? The issue would be sidestepped by references to building the spirit. To try and make it clearer. In the sample videos for your ‘Zone Aikido’ course you have what appears to be a very large uke standing in front of you with his arms spread wide. Very menacing. But! That is the attack! Have him move at you from that position with lightening speed, turning the arms into a bear hug or tackle and take you down and begin hammering on your face. Could a 125 lb. nage do an atemi that could even make that uke blink? Your demonstration of how to then get behind uke and from there how easy it is to throw him off balance and down was practiced almost by rote in my dojo. It was called Shikaku or ‘the dead man’s angle. you put the blade of your hand on uke’s clavicle at the point where it disappears behind the deltoid and extend through to the opposite back corner and down goes uke. But as you so rightly point out sometimes uke just goes ahead and falls. All this rambling is getting to my point and that is would it happen that way in an uncontrolled environment on the “street’, ‘woods’, paths in parks’? There never was a definitive answer from my senseis except to say ‘hone your spirit! A person exhibiting that kind of self confidence won’t be attacked.’ Most of the time that’s probably true. Don’t look like a victim and you won’t become one. If you’re of average size or bigger and male. Quite honestly I feel what one must do to follow their conscience and not carry arms or weapons of any sort is to first investigate violence. Who commits the acts? Who is the victim and why? There are books and videos concerning these topics by a gentleman named Rory Miller on Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming’s YMAA site. I’m not trying to turn people away from Aikido which I truly love, or toot somebody else’s horn it’s just that Dr Yang, Jwing Ming is facing the same problem in Tai Chi-i.e. the martial aspects are almost entirely unknown and his goal is to get the martial aspect of Tai Chi out there before it is lost as Tai Chi makes no sense without it. And I feel – the same goes for aikido. I have had someone come at me from the identical posture of your uke in the sample video previously mentioned. A very large man, from a short distance away, completely unexpected and very quick leaving me well pummeled indeed. So I have a very real frustration in the dojo when something made absolutely no sense to me but my questioning many times made me feel as if I was somehow being profane.

    To close this long-winded tome of my thoughts and fears in my aikido experiences I will just reiterate it is necessary to understand violence, who its perpetrators are, who they pick for victims so a person can develop a strategy of life of some sort and see if the aikido fits into this. If they are after honing the spirit they can then search for the dojo that emphasizes that and be under no illusions or confusion about whether or not it ‘works’.

    I’ll leave with this anecdote. Unfortunately it is true. It happened in my small hometown. Two black belt Karateka were leaving the dojo late at night when they were confronted by two assailants armed with a 2×4 and a lead pipe. Instead of screaming and running away they took the assailants on and ended up beaten senseless laying in a ditch. To me this really illustrates the difference between fighting and self defense. Instructors need to emphasize what it is they teach and what they don’t. Fighting is a mindset that is not always conducive to defending one’s self, but rather gets you into the hole the assailant’s in and that is usually not a good thing. If you read or view my recommendations above you’ll see that ‘defending yourself’ is most often against an ambush. You never see it coming unless you you steep yourself in the art of ‘self’ defense.

    Thank you all for bearing with me, I hope I have not offended anyone. Aikido brings me immense joy just in my home- I tenkan all over the living room. I high fall (used to when my bones weren’t so brittle) on any beckoning open field of grass.

    Peace and joy,

    • Hi Ron, very good comments. I hear you about being treated as profane. I went through it working in corrections and mental health, and now living in the USA I can find florists or architects who are ex-military. I did not like having my genuine needs disparaged, and I try not to. OTOH, some of the loudest people I come across talking about the dreaded street and the “real world” violence; they love to say things that my own experiences do not agree with, and when I probe about their backgrounds I find little combat. I have only met a few teachers who can say what they do and do not know and practice with no trace of shame or condescension.