The long-held Aikido party line has been that Ueshiba Morihei, after studying many martial arts and, after having an enlightenment experience, formed Aikido. It is now clear that the primary technical influence on Ueshiba Morihei was Daito Ryu. And rightfully so. Of the arts that Ueshiba dabbled in, his study of Daito Ryu, under Takeda Sokaku, was the longest, deepest, and most authenticated.
So how is it that Ueshiba, the man that Takeda Tokimune called Takeda Sokaku’s “most beloved student,” came to leave Daito Ryu and avoid his teacher? How could Ueshiba Morihei justify the claim of creating a “new art” while performing Daito Ryu waza until the day he died? How could he, in one conversation, credit Takeda Sokaku with opening his eyes to “True Budo” and claim to have “discovered” a “New Budo?”
Here I explain:
- Why, and by whom, Ueshiba was encouraged and supported to become independent of Daito Ryu
- How Ueshiba justified his actions to himself and others
- How this justification aligns with his statement that Aikido has no kata
- Why Ueshiba Morihei’s rationale for the justification of Aikido had to be changed by Ueshiba Kishomaru and Tohei Koichi for the spread of Modern Aikido
- How all this relates to Aiki
In my Asagao blog I explained the historical context in which Takeda Sokaku lived his life. Ueshiba Morihei’s historical context parallels that somewhat, but there are two marked differences.
Takeda Sokaku (1859 – 1943) lived through the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the midst of the side that lost and lot big. As a child, he experienced that one could be “sure, right, true, brave, and sincere,” and still lose! Passing in 1943, Takeda wasn’t alive to witness the Emperor of Japan declare his nation’s unconditional surrender in 1945. But he already knew even “un-ending reigns” ended.
In contrast, Ueshiba Morihei lived through the first Sino-Japanese war (1894 – 1895) when Japan proved the dominance of its modern military over the Qing Empire and occupied Korea. He took part in the Russo/Japan war (1904 – 1905.) And the Japanese Empire enjoyed complete victory over the Russian Empire.
Russia agreed to recognize Korea as part of “the Japanese sphere of influence and annexed Manchuria. Japan “colonized” Korea in 1910. After the war, discord in the region continued. The American brokered peace treaty between Russia and Japan was disdained by the Japanese populace. The Japanese had expected to gain territory and monetary reparation upon victory. They did not. The West, and America, was continuing to assert an unwelcomed and overbearing influence in the East. Growing resentment towards the West, instability in the East, coupled with increasing self-esteem prompted Japan to continue striving to become a Great Power energized by imperial and military ambitions.
While Takeda’s hard early life taught him vigilance, circumspection, and (perhaps healthy degree of) cynicism. We can see that Ueshiba Morihei matured in an era when Japan was coming into its own in the world. It was reaching beyond its borders and gaining ascendancy through military assertion. His early life taught him that grand visions, self-assurance, hard work and strength of spirit lead to victory and righteous glory.
Ueshiba stated that Aikido began in Ayabe at the compound of Omoto Kyo. To learn more about Omoto Kyo and Kotodama, I studied Seicho no Ie. I learned many things from my study including patterns of Japanese religious psychology (It matters less what one believes, and more that all believe and behave the same), and how that led to the foundation of Aikido.
Seicho no Ie was founded by Taniguchi Masaharu*, who was well placed in Omoto Kyo publishing before he began his own organization.** Seicho no Ie appealed at the time (before computers and the internet became common place) because it offered many works in English. It had information on Kotodama, Chikon Kishin and other clear connections to Omoto Kyo practices. I became involved to where I was sent to the North American Headquarters as a representative of the North West Region of the United States. This trip provided me with a unique opportunity. I got to see the interaction between the English language and Japanese language sections of the American branch of the sect. I also seized upon the opportunity to ask the Head of the English language branch Reverend Paul Kikumoto, some questions of concern. At the time I was active in Seicho no Ie, the English branch was quite liberal and the English publications, more or less, fit that approach. With my fledgling Japanese language and reading ability and with the input from a few Japanese friends, I noted that the Japanese branch was quite conservative and the Japanese language publications reflected that. I also read some of the sects wartime publications. These proved to be highly supportive of Japan’s militancy. ***
Reverend Kikumoto was enlisted and served with U.S. Military Intelligence during the occupation of Japan as a translator. I recognized he would be even more aware of Seicho no Ie’s wartime activities. I wondered how he reconciled that with his obvious allegiance to the U.S.A., and also with the pacifistic tone of the English Seicho no Ie branch. I found a time when he was alone in his office and broached the subject. Paul explained that it was while serving as a U.S. Soldier in occupied Japan that he found out that his wife in Hawaii had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Paul learned of Taniguchi Masaharu because he was a “person of interest” to the U.S. Military. He also recognized Mr. Taniguchi was famous for miraculous healings. Rev. Paul contacted Mr. Taniguchi and asked if he could help his wife. Mr. Taniguchi answered in the affirmative and told Paul to communicate home to confirm that his wife was now cancer free. Paul did. She was. And Paul owed Mr. Taniguchi a deep debt of gratitude.
That explained how Rev. Paul became devoted to Seicho no Ie. It did not explain how the reverend reconciled the war affirming rhetoric of Taniguchi with the same man’s peace promoting rhetoric.
What Rev. Kikumoto explained also made clear how individuals (including Ueshiba himself) reconciled the existence of war affirming rhetoric with peace promoting rhetoric.
Here is the rational:
Reverend Kikumoto explained that there was the “ningen” Taniguchi and the “kamisama” Taniguchi. There was the “human” Taniguchi, and the “divine” Taniguchi. For Paul Kikumoto the trick was to recognize when the “human” was speaking/writing/acting/etc. Vs when the “divine” was speaking/writing/acting/etc.****
This same combination of rationalization and religious zeal explains how Ueshiba understood himself and how others regarded (or disregarded) him similarly. It explains why faithful Omoto Kyo followers, among whom were high ranking Navy officers, business men, politicians, etc., encouraged Ueshiba to separate himself from Takeda Sokaku, who didn’t try hard to hide his disdain for Omoto Kyo, Onisaburo Deguchi, or its faithful. After Takeda’s departure from the Omoto compound in Ayabe, and after Ueshiba’s return from the catastrophic “mission” to create an Omoto led “utopia” in Mongolia, Ueshiba had his ecstatic vision of a “Budo of Love” back in Ayabe. (Curiously, he would have another similarly timed “vision” after the catastrophic surrender of Japan.) In 1926, a year after his vision and via the encouragement and support of his powerful backers, Ueshiba established himself in Tokyo. Again, due to his powerful connections, he soon became deeply involved with the events of that time. The “divine” Ueshiba and the Empire were on a roll. Each victory served as a divine affirmation of Japan’s heavenly sanctioned manifest destiny.
Ueshiba would stay in Tokyo until 1942. In 1942 it became clear, to the Japanese Imperial Naval Command at least, that after the battle of Midway and Japan’s loss of four aircraft carriers, the war was lost. (This could not be publicly admitted.) How and when it would end remained to be answered. Ueshiba moved to Iwama where he prayed for Japan.
Morihei wasn’t alone in his reflective “reckoning” upon Japan’s defeat. Japan as a whole abruptly rejected the state religion and militarism. Even though enforced by the occupational authority and the new constitution, the Japanese people had had enough. Reflecting the popular mood, almost every religious institution which had been in support of Japan’s war efforts, became pacifists over night.
For those faithful that remained there was the “human” Ueshiba and the “divine” Ueshiba. But for postwar Japan, which now included the West, anything that harkened back to the ideals, or practices associated with the war were shunned. This meant that Aikido’s war-time ideals, practices, and history had to be re-invented and re-branded. Ueshiba’s son and son-in-law Ueshiba Kishomaru and Tohei Koichi carried that load. Ueshiba, while re-assessing what Aikido and its mission was, like many others of his era never really changed his overall explanations, and privately visited his wartime acquaintances during his retirement.
This same “divine/human” rational was used by Ueshiba to differentiate between “divine” Budo (such as Aikido) and “human” Budo (Daito Ryu, and presumably all other budo, whether they are based on Aiki, or not.) Ueshiba explains this best himself.
What follows is how Ueshiba Morihei differentiated his pursuit of Aikido with his practice of Daito Ryu.
Ueshiba Morihei said there are no kata in Aikido. To understand what he meant by this, it is important to understand that: A) Kata means “form.” And, B) Aiki is formless. (Just as force is “formless,” yet real.) With this proper understanding, one can understand why he might say there are no kata in Aikido.
Was this verbal “sleight of hand,” perhaps to make Aikido more elusive and mysterious? Perhaps not. Ueshiba didn’t equate Aikido, or the Way of Aiki, to techniques. He said in an interview:
“…it is a martial art based on universal truth. This universe is composed of many different parts, and yet the universe as a whole is united as a family and symbolizes the ultimate state of peace. Holding such a view of the universe, Aikido cannot be anything but a martial art of love. It cannot be a martial art of violence. For this reason, Aikido can be said to be another manifestation of the Creator of the universe. In other words, Aikido is like a giant. Therefore, in Aikido, heaven and earth become the training grounds. The state of mind of the Aikidoist must be peaceful and totally nonviolent. That is to say, that special state of mind which brings violence into a state of harmony. And this I think is the true spirit of Japanese martial arts. We have been given this earth to transform into a heaven on earth. Warlike activity is totally out of place.”
In Ueshiba’s detailed explanation of what Aikido is, there is no mention of technique or execution of technique. There is no mention of anything physically observable. He mentions,
“In Aikido we utilize the power of the opponent completely. So, the more power the opponent uses, the easier it is for you.”
But “the power of the opponent” is not something seen. Only the outward physical actions of both the opponent and wielder of Aiki can be seen. Ueshiba mentions several times when asked that Aikido has nothing to do with timing either.
Ueshiba Morihei describes the of the Way of Aiki in this way. And it makes sense only when one understands and defines Aikido in terms of invisible balanced relationships (between physical/mental/ and in his view spiritual forces) rather than in terms of techniques.
But wait! Let’s get real, there are visible forms in Aikido and those forms are manifested as techniques. So how does one account for this?
In the same interview when asked how Aikido came into being Ueshiba described his meeting with Takeda Sokaku and training in Daito Ryu. When asked if he discovered Aikido while training Daito Ryu under Takeda Sokaku Ueshiba did not say, “Yes.” Nor did he answer, “No.” Rather, he said it might be more accurate to say Takeda sensei “opened his eyes” to Budo.
Okay, so Takeda opens Ueshiba’s eyes to Budo, and that has a causal relationship to the formation of Aikido. So Daito Ryu waza “opened” Ueshiba’s “eyes to Budo?”
It is easy to point out the definite similarity between Daito Ryu and Aikido. In fact, as shown by Ueshiba Morihei, the two were the same in form. Takuma Hisa further affirmed that the two were the same. So how did Ueshiba differentiate Aikido from the Daito Ryu of his teacher?
Ueshiba explained repeatedly what he saw as the difference based on his ecstatic visions:
Aikido is not a collection of techniques. It is the Way that forces interrelate or “harmonize” in the Universe. This is the Way all things naturally and optimally relate. For the betterment of all creation, humanity too should naturally and optimally follow the Way.
This definition has interesting implications. If “war like activity” is “totally out of place” to the Way of Aiki, can Aiki be used for war like activity? This question too is answered by Ueshiba candidly. While he says he discovered that “Budo is Love” in a mystical experience in 1925, he admits,
“I myself taught martial arts to be used for the purpose of killing others to soldiers during the War, I became deeply troubled after the conflict ended.”
In the interview he relates his different positions and teaching capacities during this period virtually all of them connected to war.
Aiki can be used to kill others, but that is not the Way of Aiki. Nor, according to his own judgement, was the “Aiki that kills” how Ueshiba should have been training and teaching. This being so, it led to an adverse conclusion (the defeat of Japan). [One can see in in most of Ueshiba’s lectures a Universal theme well grounded in Japan. For an example, re-read his definition of Aikido.]
Still, there must be physical application of Aiki for it to be used martially. Ueshiba confirms this repeatedly. When asked, he states there are about 3,000 techniques. On other occasions he adds, “there are about 16 variations for each.”
This response, typical of Ueshiba, is interesting in that the sheer volume shares a commonality with Daito Ryu, but uncommon among both Gendai Budo and Kobudo.
When Ueshiba shows and teaches he is using the Daito Ryu techniques he learned from Takeda Sokaku. Yet he claims Aikido is different. How so?!?!
Based upon what Ueshiba Morihei said, to his mind (after the conclusion of the war – rather than during it) Aikido has nothing to do with techniques And, it has nothing to do with Daito Ryu proper (the primary source of his techniques.) Even though this may have been so, up until his death, when Ueshiba “showed” Aikido what could be seen was Daito Ryu waza. So it is understandable that both Aikido students and Daito Ryu students became confused. Aikido students conflated what they saw and had done to them, with what they assumed Aikido to be. Daito Ryu students saw Daito Ryu waza shown by Ueshiba and assumed that it was that waza which Ueshiba refered to as Aikido.
Ueshiba tried to explain what he was referring to through his esoteric lectures on Aikido, but the level of comprehension of these lectures are well noted. His efforts were further confounded by two other factors. First, as he pointed out himself, his own motivations and reasons for teaching varied and the messages he delivered reflected that. He called what he taught Daito Ryu and several other names through his career, but later referred to it all as Aikido. Second, after Ueshiba Morihei retired, his son Kisshomaru and son-in-law Tohei Koichi had a global impact upon how Aikido was understood and taught. Both Kisshomaru and Tohei simplified the curriculum, placed Morihei as more of a symbolic head than an active one, re-framed Aikido’s history (In the early years of Aikido’s expansion, both men published books mentioning Daito Ryu. But it wasn’t long before an effort was made to expunge Takeda Sokaku and Daito Ryu from Aikido history.)
Later, Tohei would repeat this same tactic downplaying Morihei’s roll in the development of his Shin Shin Toitsu Do Aikido and claiming that Ueshiba only taught him how to relax. Both men differed from their teacher, but Tohei’s “Ki-saying” still shows the spirit of his teacher’s definition of Aikido:
“Let us have a universal spirit that loves and protects all creation and helps all things grow and develop. To unify mind and body and become one with the universe is the ultimate purpose of our study.”
*Takeda Tokimune pointed out that Taniguchi Masaharu and Ueshiba Morihei’s names both appear in Takeda Sokaku’s emeiroku showing that they studied Daito Ryu Jujutusu under Takeda in Ayabe. Takeda Tokimune was present at the time and stated later that his father came due to Ueshiba struggling with the sumo trained naval officers training in Ayabe. Tokimune assumed he came to further hone Ueshiba’s technique since Aiki alone would not be enough to deal with Sumotori.
But, when Tenryu first encountered Ueshiba, it wasn’t a technique that impressed him but the touching of Ueshiba’s body. Tenryu at once planned to study with Ueshiba. When asked, Tenryu states they trained “Daito Ryu Jujutsu Aikido.”
**Two others split from Omoto Kyo to form their own religious organizations. Mokichi Okada, founder of Shinji Shumeikai.
Goi Masahisa, a supporter of Ueshiba, had studied Mokichi Okada before forming his own organization. Shumei founder Okada Mokichi was also reportedly a teacher in Omoto Kyo before his separation.
***For Seicho no Ie’s current activities in Japan: http://apjjf.org/2016/21/Mizohata.html
****This is my recollection of events as I recall them over thirty years ago.
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