Re: Article: An Aikido Journey: Part 10 by Peter Goldsbury
I have been away in Europe and have not had access to a computer, so apologies for the delay.
Actually, the whole matter of deshi needs a separate column, which I might write at a later date, when I have the time.
Briefly, Mr Kitahira did not mention anyone by name when he made his "caustic" remarks and my own remarks tie in with what the late Kisshomaru Ueshiba once told me in a private conversation, namely, that O Sensei had no postwar uchi-deshi and that he himself had no uchi-deshi at all. Since I had been told previously by a number of shihans who entered the Hombu after the war that they were uchi-deshi of the Founder, Doshu's remarks were surprising, to say the least.
I myself have had the good fortune to have been taught aikido almost exclusively (there is just one exception) by teachers who themselves were directly taught by the Founder. All of these persons claimed to be deshi of the Founder and some claimed to be uchi-deshi. Since all met and learned from the Founder often, I was left pondering on the special nuances implicit in the 'uchi-' prefix.
I am at home and do not have access to the extensive Japanese-language materials in my office, so I cannot say anything illuminating about the history and context of the term uchi-deshi in Japanese. However, I think that Kisshomaru Doshu was thinking about the special conditions obtaining in the prewar Kobukan, where the number of students was few and thus each had a close relationship with Morihei Ueshiba. To enter the dojo they had to be recommended and also had to pay their own way. In return they had direct access to the Founder all day and every day and they also accompanied him on his trips to Osaka, the Takeda Dojo & elsewhere and were uke efodderf, if necessary. It was thought to be a great honour to be asked to accompany O Sensei on his trips outside the Kobukan and such trips were also regarded as an important aspect of personal training. I think I do not need to explain why.
What can we conclude from all this? First the relationship was close, even more so because there were so few students (though circumstances changed somewhat with the outbreak of the Pacific War: the students were still few, but were increasingly attached to the military establishments where the Founder taught). The 'uchi' prefix indicated a special relationship that was perhaps not enjoyed by the students at the many military establishments visited by O Sensei.
Between 1942 and 1955, O Sensei stayed in Iwama and his main student was Morihiro Saito. I think you know that Saito Sensei worked for Japanese railways on a shift system and was with O Sensei on his days off. This relationship was close and long-lasting, but was not 'uchi', which suggests to me that it does not matter very much whether the postwar deshi relationship was 'uchi' or 'soto'.
After 1955, there were effectively two centers of aikido in Japan: Iwama and the Tokyo Hombu. The Founder visited Osaka, Kumamoto and elsewhere and the deshi resident in the Hombu accompanied him. However, Kisshomaru Ueshiba ran the administration and these deshi were deshi of the dojo, the ie, rather than any particular individual within the ie. Of course, O Sensei was the central figure in the ie, so a deshi living in the Hombu could claim in some sense to be an 'uchi' deshi, and an uchi-deshi of the Founder. Actually they trained largely in the Hombu under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
However, the looseness of expression here explains the quite different opinion of those who also trained very hard as deshi of the Founder, but who never lived in the Hombu. The resentment centres on the fact that 'uchi' deshi claim a special relationship with the Founder, which rather falls short when 'cashed out' in real terms.
Now I know that some postwar deshi of the Founder have sought to replicate with their own students the relationship that they supposedly enjoyed with the Founder. Why have I called this relationship 'semi-mystical'? Because it is largely based on a conviction, a faith, that some particular teacher is 'right' for you. Sometimes evidence can play a role in this, but the conviction is central. In my opinion, this kind of relationship is rather different from the relationship you have with the head of the dojo in the area where you happen to live, which was how the relationship I have with my own teacher started. I have been training at the dojo for 28 years now and so I know my teacher very well. Of course, he regards me as his student in some sense, but since I am only a few years younger, I think he conceives the relationship more as one of equals. And he insists that he has no deshi at all, in the sense he believes Kisshomaru Ueshiba intended.