Due to the esoteric terms, analogies, and metaphors that Ueshiba Morihei commonly used in his lectures, many, if not most, of the individuals present at his lectures stated that they could not understand what it was he was talking about. These statements were so ubiquitous, that it became commonly assumed, or common “knowledge,” that nobody could understand Ueshiba Morihei’s lectures.
This is a rather convenient assumption, isn’t it? It allows for the re-interpretation, and translation of, his message, by all that followed afterward. If one understood his lectures and could explain them, the bar would be raised for all others that attended the lectures to show an equivalent level of understanding, or suffer loss of face. If one understood his lectures and could explain them, the die would be cast. There would be Ueshiba Morihei’s explanation of Aikido, and everyone else’s.
THE “NO ONE” THAT UNDERSTOOD
Shirata Rinjiro was a pioneer in the early days of Aikido. He taught in Ueshiba Morihei’s place at Omoto’s paramilitary branch, the Budo Senyokai. He taught in Ueshiba’s Osaka dojo, and at the Asahi Dojo in Osaka. Shirata was around for the publishing of Aiki Jujujutsu Densho, which later was renamed Budo Renshu. And, he also took ukemi for Ueshiba in the 1935 film Budo. Before being called up to become the Commander of a Division in the war, Shirata was tapped by Ueshiba to become a ‘Professor of Aikido’ at the University in Manchukuo. (Tomiki Kenji went to Manjukuo instead.) After the war, he was repatriated to Japan. And in time, he was eventually called back into Aikido service by his teacher Ueshiba Morihei. Ueshiba asked him to look after, and support, his son Kisshomaru. So, he became head of the Tohoku region, head of Yamagata prefecture, and President of the International Aikido Federation, for a time. Unlike Tomiki, Mochitsuki, and Shioda senseis, Shirata chose not to distance himself from, and continued to work in support of, his teacher Ueshiba Morihei and the Ueshiba family throughout his life.
Those that were close to Shirata sensei know that this decision was not always easy for him. In many ways, the direction that Aikido took after Ueshiba’s retirement did not accord with what Shirata sensei had been taught, and how it had been taught, and what he knew Aikido to be. Perhaps this is one reason why Shirata and, the much younger, Saito Morihiro got along as well as they did. Nevertheless, to fulfill his debt to his teacher, Shirata outwardly supported the direction set forth by Ueshiba Morihei’s successors.
It now is clear to me, that, towards the end of his life, sensei knew the end was coming. One example of this is the amount I was taught, and the rate at which I was taught it.
Initially I was shown physical basics, such as the Tandoku Dosa. When I could adequately demonstrate to sensei my performance of these, he immediately began to show technical basics, such as how the Tandoku Dosa related to foundational waza. When I could demonstrate the foundational waza, he began teaching a plethora of techniques and variations. There were so many I am afraid that I have begun to forget. I was also shown techniques that, at the time, I had no understanding of how they functioned, or what made them “tick.” I knew they worked because they worked on me. I knew what they looked like, because I could see the outer form. But I had no idea WHAT made them work. They didn’t conform to the “logic” of jujutsu. I now know that this collection of techniques functioned solely via Aiki. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to receive further instruction on these before sensei died. About this time, I was also taught things less directly physical in nature, such as the Hagurozan Yamabushi no Gyo.
In the last years of his life, Shirata sensei both wrote and taught until he could no longer do so. During this time, he finished the katas that were the summation of his study of Sho Chiku Bai Ken and Jo. He also wrote the essay that will be presented over the next several weeks.
Near the very end, when I invited him to open my dojo in Oregon, Shirata sensei replied in a letter explaining that he regretted not being able to come, but asked me to understand that it was because he was physically unable to, and that he had turned down Nidai Doshu as well.
On May 29th, 1993 Shirata Rinjiro passed away.
WHAT “NO ONE” UNDERSTOOD, Explained in an Essay
The following essay was included in a publication entitled “Misogi” in 1992 sponsored by the Yamagata Ken Aikido Renmei and Tohoku Aikido Renmei.
By and large, it is Shirata Sensei’s explanation of Ueshiba Morihei’s teaching. Many deshi testify that they did not understand Ueshiba’s lectures about Aikido. Even Shirata sensei humbled himself by saying the same at times. However, by the time that we are done reviewing his essay, I think that you will agree that Shirata Rinjiro understood very well what Ueshiba was saying, how he was saying it, and what it meant. He covers these areas in the beginning years of Ueshiba’s teaching, right up until the end of Ueshiba’s life.
I will be presenting this seminal work here in parts. The translation was completed by Mr. Douglas Walker, with me consulting. When Mr. Walker was unsure of the intended meaning of a passage, he would bring it to me. I would say what I thought sensei meant in the passage, and invariably Doug would say, “I think you are right, because Shirata says as much on the next page.” It was reassuring to me that I knew my teacher’s mind, and wasn’t misrepresenting him, which has always been my concern. I am very grateful to Mr. Walker for his hard work and effort in making this work available to English readers. When I have finished presenting all the parts of the essay, I plan to make available downloads of both the complete translation and the original in Japanese, for further educational exploration.
I will be providing commentary after Shirata Rinjiro’s translated text is presented. I hope that this commentary will help lead to further understanding of the text.
Ueshiba’s writing is typically multi-layered in meaning and symbolism. Shirata’s writing is a bit more systematic and easily followed. Nevertheless, he too, at times, delivers his message via oblique implication rather direct statement. This is particularly true when his message is critical.
As previously stated, it will take many posts to complete the entire essay. We will need to be patient. It will be well worth the wait!
So, we start at the beginning:
Renewal Through Keiko
Create A New Self With Daily Keiko[i]
Shirata Rinjirō, Kaichō, Tōhoku Aikidō Renmei
Misogi ©1992 Yamagata Ken Aikidō Renmaei and Tōhoku Aikidō Renmei
True victory. Self victory. With loving concern
I do aiki and salvation, my soul is revived!
正勝 吾勝 御親心に 合気して 救い 生かすは 己が御魂ぞ
A sword is brandished. The opponent thinks I am in front of them
The attack comes and I am behind them
太刀振るい 前にあるかと 襲い来る 敵の後に 我は立ちけり
The way of the gods from ancient times. Oh polished sword,
Become transparent! Shine brightly! In divine love
惟神 錬り上りたる 御剣は 澄めよ 光れよ 神の愛に
[ii] 道歌 dōka, songs or poems of the way. The dōka in this essay are taken from the writings of Ueshiba Morihei, founder of aikidō.
Allen Dean Beebe’s Commentary:
Doka (Songs of the Way)
The phrase “Masa Katsu A Katsu” is well known among Aikidoists. It takes on a whole new relevance to those developing the ability to Aiki. To be able to Aiki one must reprogram one’s inherent mental programs and rebuild one’s body to align with and support the new program. This takes time, patience and care. Aiki is something that one does, in that one balances dual opposing forces in a specific manner. The manner is such that there is no-resistance, as opposed to resistance or avoidance. Many individuals that have undergone this self-reprogramming / re-building process have found it to be transformative. Their way of BEING in the world is fundamentally changed.
“A sword is brandished,” the mind of opposition arises. The mentality that, “Sees an opponent!” engenders a mind/body of resistance or avoidance. It is not an Aiki mind/body. “The opponent (there is now an adversarial relationship in the attacker’s mind so opponents are created.) thinks I am in front of them.” For one who is “one with the universe,” that is one who brings Ni Ki (Yin Yang) into balance, there is no front or back. There is unity. “The attack comes” (the physical manifestation of the mind that opposes), “and I am already behind them. This is the perception of the “attacker.” And, it is a very nice description of the outcome of Aiki #2. The oncoming force is met (not opposed or avoided) orthogonally. There is a resultant force vector and path for the “attacker.” For the one manifesting Aiki, there is no opposition, therefore no resistance feedback or diminishment of power, only continuation of Aiki. The attacker will perceive that the “opponent” is behind him. But for the one manifesting Aiki, there is only a continuity of centered balance.
“The sword of the gods of ancient times” is the Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi sword written of in the Kojiki. (Although this same sword predates the Kojiki considerably, by its presence in Mikkyo symbolism.) This sword is double edged symbolizing the unity of opposites. “Oh polished sword, Become transparent! Shine brightly!” “Polished” is related to the cleaning of a mirror. It is a symbolic representation of Misogi purification. It is “transparent” in the sense that it reflects reality without distortion with no hint of “self,” only “thusness.” “Shine brightly” is a referent to enlightenment. In fact, one can see a similar referent in the word “enlightenment” itself.
Shirata sensei begins his essay with three of Ueshiba’s doka. They foreshadow much of what is to come and how it is to be approached. In the essay, sensei explains how Ueshiba taught in the early years, and how his teaching changed over time. It wasn’t that the essence of WHAT he taught changed so much. It really didn’t. But HOW he taught it, and to what end, changed considerably. The basic pattern is as follows: Parochial (limited or narrow outlook or scope), to Broader, to Universal.
Shirata sensei both understood this, having lived through all the phases of Ueshiba’s teaching, and also having lived through the events that prompted the transformation. Shirata recognized how the essential content being taught (Aiki), and the message accompanying its delivery, became separated over time. Therefore, he also witnessed the growing misunderstanding by so many, over time.
Consequently, as one of his last acts, he wrote this essay.
And so it begins!
The next section is entitled: “Concerning Aikido” and is broken into two sections; “As Aiki,” and “As Aikido”
Beginning with “As Aiki” we begin to hear Shirata sensei’s voice directly. Fear not! This essay isn’t just a collection of Ueshiba quotes. There are are quite a few quotes in the essay, but there is much, much more!!
But that is for next week.
In the post after that Shirata “breaks it down and lays it out.” It is here where we really begin to see the depth and breadth of his knowledge and understanding. (I can hardly wait!!!)