Part 3 of Shirata’s essay: “Aikido as Aikido”

Short Topic Introduction (Feel free to skip this if you read last week’s)

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.

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.

: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.

The continuation of Shirata Rinjiro’s essay translated from:

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

Part 3 of Shirata’s Essay (I apologize in advance for the irregular formatting. Mr. Walker’s formatting was spot on, but somehow between transferring that, to WordPress, and then WordPress automatically formatting for computer, tablet, and phone, the formatting gets a bit rough.  It seems to read best on computer, and worst on phone.)

Aikidō as Aikidō

I am probably not the only one who feels a strange kind of ambience every time I bow before the large scroll, “Aikidō Morihei,” that hangs in the honbu dōjō.[i] When sitting in contemplation of his photograph and “aikidō,” one feels compelled to bow in worship. One experiences the rise of profound emotions in one’s heart.

[i] Main dōjō of aikidō located in Tokyo, Japan

Aikidō is…

1. The same as the reading of the characters 読んで字の如し
The way that joins Ki 気を合わせる道
The way tying Ki together 気を結び合う道
The way connecting the Ki of Heaven, Earth, Man[i] 天・地・人の気結び道
Heaven Earth Man[ii] 天地人
The way of the Spirit that Generates Ki [Kimusubi[iii]] 気産霊の道
The way unifying Heaven Earth Man[iv] 天地人一体の道
Aiki with the Universe 宇宙との合気
Self as Universe — “I am the universe.” 我即宇宙
2. The way connecting heart to heart[v] 心と心を結ぶ道
The vital union[vi] of Ki to Ki 気と気のイキ結び
The way of the Spirit that Gives Birth to Life [Ikimusubi[vii]] 生産霊の道
The consciousness possessed by living existence[viii] 生命の自覚
3. The way of unity 和合の道
The way of harmony 調和の道
The harmony of World Humanity 世界人類の調和
The way of living together 相共に生きる道
The way that is the harmony of Heaven Earth Man 天地人の調和道

[i] 気結び kimusubi, ki tied together— significant wordplay see note 14

[ii] Alternatively, a person of heaven

[iii] 気産霊 kimusubi also connecting opposing forces, see note 12

[iv] Alternatively, Heaven Earth Man in one body

[v]kokoro, heart, mind, spirit i.e. the seat of consciousness

[vi] イキ結び ikimusubi, vital/living/breath connection of ki to ki, significant wordplay see note18

[vii] Ikimusubi is the triangle i.e. Mankind—between Heaven/Earth, In/Yō

[viii] Also, awareness of life and living existing things

Allen Dean Beebe’s Commentary:

Aikido as Aikido

Here Shirata Rinjiro clearly lays out in a linear fashion the progression of, and logic behind Aikido. The jargon that Shirata uses here will be familiar to some.  I have transcribed the Japanese into Romaji for non Japanese readers to “read” the Japanese so that they might recognize jargon they may have heard before.  Even though some of the jargon may be familiar, Shirata’s  outline assumes a level of understanding connected to the jargon that most of Ueshiba’s students, self admittedly, did not acquire. Hopefully, in conjunction with Shirata’s logical presentation, my previous blogs on Aiki will be of some help connecting Aiki theory with Ueshiba’s technical jargon. Let’s dig in!:

Aikidō is…

  1. The same as the reading of the characters 読んで字の如し

The way that joins Ki 気を合わせる道

“Ki o Awaseru no michi” Awaseru is to “match,” “put together,” to “meet” so Aikido is the Way that puts together Ki. Obviously, the implication here is that more than one Ki is being matched. Later we will find references to matching the ki of Heaven, Earth, and Man, and also In/Yo or Yin/Yang.

The way tying Ki together 気を結び合う道

“Ki wo Musubi Au Michi” Musubi Awaseru means to, “tie,” or “correlate.” So, Aikido is the Way that “ties” or “correlates” Ki. I was speaking to a friend that is a native Japanese speaker/reader, and he mentioned how the word “musubu” rendered the concept of “bringing together oppositional forces” much clearer to him.  The relevant point to him was, that when tying, one “pulls” the two things tied in mutual opposition to each other. This is of course, exactly what is meant to be done within one’s self, so the term “musubu” is a very appropriate and accurately descriptive.   Next, Shirata specifies what Ki is involved here.

The way connecting the Ki of Heaven, Earth, Manx 天・地・人の気結び道

“Ten, Chi, Jin no Kimusubi Michi” Aikido is the Way that “ties,” or “correlates” the Ki of Heaven, the Ki of Earth, and the Ki of Man.

Heaven Earth Man 天地人

“Ten Chi Jin” Aikido is “Heaven, Earth, Man”  So far we know that:  Aikido is the Way bringing Ki together, “tying” the Ki thereby unifying them, tying not just any Ki, but the Ki of Heaven, Earth, and Man.  So, when unified Aikido is Heaven/Earth/Man.

The way of the Spirit that Generates Ki [Kimusubi] 気産霊の道

“Ki Musubi no Michi” Here Shirata uses word play in the same manner that Ueshiba does. The “musubi” here has a similar meaning to the former musubi but consists of two completely different characters. 産- Giving birth, and 霊 – soul or ghost. The combination occurs in the name of a kami story relating to Izanagi and Izanami who also are commonly used by Ueshiba as referents to Yin/Yang.

So, Aikido is the “way of the soul that generates Ki.”

The way unifying Heaven Earth Manx 天地人一体の道

“Ten, Chi, Jin Ittai no Michi” 一体- Is one body. Aikido is the Way of Ten, Chi, Jin as One Body

Aiki with the Universe 宇宙との合気

“Uchuu to no Aiki” Uchuu is the Universe. Aikido is Aiki with the Universe

Self as Universe — “I am the universe.” 我即宇宙

“Wa Soku Uchuu” Wa is “self,” Soku can be “Instantly or Immediately” or “Namely.” In this case grammatically it is used in the sense of namely. But, wordplay cares little for grammar, so please keep in mind also the sense of Immediately or Instantly because this can come up later in relationship to Katsu Haya Bi. Aikido is the same as “Self as Universe” or “I am the universe.”

Are we beginning to get the picture? Ichi Rei would be the Universe. Ni – Ki, are In/Yo or Yin/Yang which constitute the universe. Ten, Chi, Jin is Heaven, Earth, Man. Ten and Chi have an In/Yo relationship that constitutes the universe, and Man in Unity with Ten, Chi, Jin IS Ten/Chi/Jin, that is Ten/Chi/Jin as one, and therefore logically one unified with One is, one as One.

  1. The way connecting heart to heartx 心と心を結ぶ道

“Kokoro to kokoro wo musubu michi” Aikido is the Way of tying or correlating heart to heart.

The vital union of Ki to Ki 気と気のイキ結び

“Ki to ki no I Ki Musubi” Here we get into Kotodama word play again. Ki and Ki are a straight forward indicator of two Ki that are going to be tied or correlated. It is the I Ki that defines the relationship of the two Ki. I Ki can be understood as breath, and understood as being symbolic of Yin Yang. Ueshiba used the term I Ki quite often. The term I Ki also sounds like another Iki which we will soon discover. Aikido is two ki, correlated or tied together as one Yin Yang, or one breath.

The way of the Spirit that Gives Birth to Life [Ikimusubi] 生産霊の道

“Ikimusubi no Michi” Iki here is “life,” so there is a correlation between the Iki of “life,” the I Ki of “breath,” and the I Ki symbolic of “Yin Yang.” Musubi here is the earlier Musubi combining the characters for birth and soul/spirit. Obviously, there is a whole lot of purposeful overlapping of symbolism going on. Let us not forget that all of this has a relationship with “Kokyu” as well! Aikido is the Way of the soul/spirit that gives birth to life (and breath, and Yin Yang.)

The consciousness possessed by living existencex 生命の自覚

“Seimei no jikaku” Seimei is life in a universal sense. Jikaku can be self-awareness or it can also carry the same meaning as “Samadhi,” or union with the transcendent. Aikido is the transcendent awareness of universal life.

Still with me? Let’s go through one more . . .

  1. The way of unity 和合の道

“Wagou no michi” Wagou as a noun is the harmonious state of things. As a verb it can also mean to conjoin as in “Tying the knot.” Aikido is the Harmonious Way (that conjoins.)

The way of harmony 調和の道

“Chiyouwa no Michi” Chiyouwa can mean “agree, accord, and/or harmonize.” Aikido is the harmonious Way (that accords or agrees.)

The harmony of World Humanity 世界人類の調和

“Seikai Jin rui no Chiyouwa” Seikai is “world,” Jinrui is “humanity.” So together, they mean the world of humanity. Aikido is the harmony of Humanity.

The way of living together 相共に生きる道

Aikido is the Way of living together.

The way that is the harmony of Heaven Earth Man 天地人の調和道

“Ten, Chi, Jin no Chiyouwa Michi” Aikido is the Way of Heaven, Earth, Man in Harmony (accordance.) Let’s look at the meaning of accord: correspond to, agree with, match up with, concur with, be consistent with, harmonize with, be in harmony with, be compatible with, chime in with, be in tune with, correlate with, dovetail with; conform to. It is important that we understand the nuanced implication here.

There is a proper way for all things to be. Aikido is the proper Way for all things to be. According to Ueshiba and Shirata, for us to follow the Way of Aiki we too must understand our role and follow along in the proper way that WE should be. This is not imposing our will upon the Universe, but our willing submission to the will of the Universe. Ueshiba saw the immediate physical manifestation of Aiki as proof of being in accordance with the will, or law, of the Universe. This may seem a bit naive, but we would do well to remember that Ueshiba also interpreted the events at the end of the Pacific War as evidence that he had acted in violation of will of the Kami and was being punished consequently.

Obviously, the focus of outline above is not jujutsu or buki waza. Although, equally obvious, jujutsu and/or buki waza can be, one of any number of, means through which one can display or express Aiki. Shirata followed Ueshiba from Micro cosmic to Macro cosmic again, but all of this is well grounded, at least initially, in physical reality. If you don’t see that anymore, please go back and re-read my first posts. The beginning is immediate and tangible even if the later implications seem a bit strained.

The “Aikido as Aikido” topic of Shirata’s essay is divided into seven sections. We have covered the first three. The first three sections are an explanation of the “essence” of Aikido, that is:

“The essence of Aikido is uniting one’s self with the movement of the universe.”

Each section, starting with section one, indicates how that is to be achieved. And, to be certain that the message wasn’t lost. Shirata sums the entire process up in the last line.

Aikido is the way that is the harmony of Heaven Earth Man 天地人の調和道

Are you beginning to see the repeating pattern? The Essence of Aikido, the Principle of Aikido, the Implication of Aikido.

Shirata opens the essay with three doka reflecting this pattern. In the second section, “Concerning Aikido,” we can understand Shirata’s criticism as an observation that these three topics must be understood, manifested, and taught in order to be a “model teacher.” In “Aikido as Aiki” Shirata again, quotes Ueshiba indicating these three topics, differentiating them from the “Aiki of the past.”

With the essence established in sections 1 – 3, in section 4 Shirata moves on to:

“Aikido is the Principle of Non-Resistance” and then sums up with “Bu as Love.”

We will cover these sections, 4 – 7 next time!


8 thoughts on “Part 3 of Shirata’s essay: “Aikido as Aikido”

  1. Hi Allen,

    great post again.

    One difficult question,

    are aikido is 1,2,3 subsequent developmental stages in the aikido as he become saware of greater depth, or simultaneous stages of understanding which the aikido starts to understand as he develops ?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Fred,

      Great question! My answer may be difficult as well. Today, because Aikido is well known, most people want to start at stage three and work backwards. In fact, most consider stage one techniques and really a superfluous metaphor for stage three.

      Ueshiba, and consequently Shirata, would consider this a false start. First, techniques have nothing to do with it. Second, stage one is not a metaphor, but rather a vital reality threshold that must be crossed for stage 2 and three to occur.

      The other popular approach is to start at stage one to become strong and victorious over ones enemies. Ueshiba, and consequently Shirata, would again consider this to be a false start. The motivation is mistaken enough that it is unlikely stage one (let alone stage 2 & 3) will be achieved even if directly taught. This is because the understanding will likely be misconstrued, and/or the teachings ignored since they “don’t relate to the subjective goal.”

      As for whether the stages are sequential or simultaneous, theoretically they are simultaneous. So stage reflects the level of development of the others.

      This, theoretically, explains Ueshiba’s post Pacific War loss change. He became “softer” (using less phisical strength, and therefore more Aiki to achieve the same result), and he stopped teaching how to kill to be “victorious,” in favor of teaching how to be “victorious” without killing.

      What he did outwardly changed little, if any. What he did inwardly was where the fundamental transformation occurred.

      This, again, is a fundamental misunderstanding based on the assumption that Aikido is either a collection of techniques or a philosophy.

      Thanks for the great question!


      Liked by 1 person

      1. { he stopped teaching how to kill to be “victorious,” in favor of teaching how to be “victorious” without killing. } You lose me here, to me this is a conundrum. Either way you train ‘day and night’ to be victorious. When you’ve reached, if you reach it, that ‘profound neutral’ and someone walks into you, bad luck for him or her?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Allen
    The major issue I see today with Aikido is the predefining of outcomes as the goal of your style of practice. A major approach to outcomes in modern Aikido (as I see it) is an always ending where the attacker, no matter the circumstances, is left unhurt and in some approaches satisfied with the outcome placed on them. It is never my intention when moving through the world to do other than leaving no tracks behind and I try to use my intent to accomplish that. In a world where large portions of it do not live in harmony with the universe how can I always expect an outcome that leaves no one hurt (physical, mental or spiritual)? I have been told that even if I approach my art with the intention of not seriously harming anyone with the understanding that circumstances may preclude this outcome…..then I am not doing true Aikido.

    It seems to me that if my intention applied through intent driven actions coming from a positive reasonable awareness of self may well have any number of outcomes…….many of which will be unexpected.

    Keep up the good work…..I think we need to talk sometime in person as I would like feel what you relating and your personal inclusion of this……

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Gary and Patrick,

    I think both of you may be making a mistake. This essay is Shirata’s presentation of Ueshiba’s Aikido. After reading first hand sources both pre and post-war, I think it accurately reflects Ueshiba’s understanding and explication of Aikido.

    Mr. Douglas Walker translated the essay. This does not mean he necessarily believes it word for word. He is just a messenger. I further translated it based upon my knowledge of Ueshiba’s history and the, most accurate records of his lectures, and my knowledge of Shirata sensei and his teaching and thought.

    This is not my opinion, belief, or even experience. I haven’t experienced oneness with the universe! And quite frankly, judging by Ueshiba’s history, I doubt he did in his life time. Shirata most assuredly would deny such an achievement.

    Nevertheless, this is what was taught, and how it was taught, changing over time.

    It has its own internal logic. The, more or less, empirical bits, also align with recorded history and first hand accounts.

    Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not asking anybody to “believe” the message. I’m just trying to deliver it. My blog is trying to help folks “test drive” it for themselves. (At least the more mundane parts.) As is always the case in our subjective reality YMMV!

    Keep those cards and letters coming!

    Kind Regards,


  4. Allen
    Not questioning your delivery of the message or the message itself, rather lamenting where I see modern Aikido going. In my 40+ years in the process I have had my hands on a number of the initial teachers we were exposed to along with some unexplained moments that could not be directly answered. I don’t see answers coming from todays mainstream Aikido…..though outside pressures are starting to force some review/renew of the how and whats of essential training.

    As for talking with you directly… would be like getting my “hands” on you… grabbing your wrist to see what is really there. Talking up close provides input from many senses and provides a presense/presence that sharpens and helps fill out the message. If I have it wrong I need to know that….talking directly helps. Understand that when I talk about being wrong I am only talking about my path.

    I see your time with Shirata Sensei as a treasure, one that you are now sharing with the rest of us… is a gift we need to receive.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thank you for the clarification. I strongly agree with you that communication takes place best face to face. This is doubly true for Aiki, I think.

    This isn’t true in your case, but people keep asking to “see Aiki” or, “where can I SEE Aiki.” I think this happens for a couple of reasons. 1) People have been “shown” Aikido as a bunch of techniques for so many years, and people have been rewarded for “mastering” techniques which can bee seen for so long, that it is naturally assumed that Aiki is an external thing that can be seen. 2) Some people really want to learn “true” Aiki (actually there is only Aiki and other than Aiki) so they seek a means to do so, externally.

    The big problem here though is: 1) Aiki cannot be seen, only the results of Aiki can be seen. (The results can be mimicked, which we SEE a lot. However, the results of Aiki cannot be mimicked face to face, body to body. If one has developed the ability to Aiki to an appreciable degree the results body to body are self evident. Even this can be confused though in the context of technique. Masterful techniques feel like “magic.” I think this may be why Ueshiba would hold a jo or bokken out and have people push on it, or any of his other (not frequently replicated) feats. He was demonstrating that Aiki isn’t a technique AND that it isn’t ordinary . . . it is uniquely Aiki.

    2) Good teaching of Aiki doesn’t start with visual form. Good teaching starts with visceral experience of Aiki. Then moves on to replication of visceral experience in the learner. And only then, comes outer physical form.

    This explains why Aiki training is different from the normal Koryu model of training. First, it must be felt. That part is easy for someone with Aiki. One’s partner doesn’t need to be “receptive” or “cooperative” at all. The second part is where most teaching fails. Teachers fail to figure out ways to replicate experiences for their students. Instead, most jump to outer form leaving the student to guess, (some call it steal) what should be happening within their own bodies. Most just flounder around with outer form for years, or worse, pressed to “teach,” they figure out ways to mimic the visual results of Aiki (accompanied with a good story) or teach their partners to mimic the visual results of Aiki (accompanied with a good story.)

    Reading is good, thinking is good. Comparing historical records and anecdotes to present experience looking for congruence. “Gravity” in the past ought to be like “gravity” in the present. All of these can be helpful.

    However, physical contact with one who can do, is vital. I would equate the likelihood of an individual singularly “figuring out” how to make Aiki to the likelihood of a caveman “figuring out” how to make a laptop.

    So, i agree with you Gary! ;-D


    Liked by 1 person

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