George S. Ledyard
As foreigners studying the art of Aikido, the cultural context of which you speak is necessarily what we choose to make it, since the art has no organic context of its own in our culture.
PAG. Yes, I agree. The cultural context is there, however, as a matter of fact: it can be studied and mastered by those who want to do. Those who do not will then need to solve the contradictions posed by the essentially Japanese nature of aikido. Judo has had this problem, also kendo and karate. I know from lengthy conversations with Doshu that the Aikikai do not want aikido to go in this direction, which they fear is likely if aikido is separated unduly from its Japanese cultural context.
However, in some respects Kisshomaru Ueshiba let the genie out of the bottle by deciding to propagate aikido at home and abroad as a ‘popular’ martial art. However, I think he believed that people would accept that it was a good, beneficial, part of Japanese culture, which counterbalanced the negative aspects experienced in the Pacific War. I think that Morihei Ueshiba gradually acquiesced in Kisshomaru’s vision (really, he was not the type to stop it), but still saw himself as an avatar, fashioning ubuya on the Floating Bridge of Heaven, right till the end of his life.
Kisshomaru had a completely different cast of mind from his father’s—and there is good and bad about this. His biography details Morihei’s reaction when he broached the subject of an aikido demonstration, which was held in 1956. Since the English translation has not yet been published in the US, here is a lengthy quote:
“Up until this moment, demonstrations and lectures about aikido were given by O Sensei alone, and exclusively in the setting of existing dojos. The only exceptions were the official Budo enbu (public demonstrations of various arts) in which O Sensei had participated as a guest. He detested the idea of demonstrating for the general public. True budo involved struggle, and invoked the stakes of life and death, so he felt that its inner secrets should be transmitted only to sincere seekers. He believed that to show the secrets freely to outsiders would be immoral, a kind of devaluation or disrespect for the art.
“These feelings were perfectly understandable to us. Yet we also knew that, without greater openness, it would be difficult to propagate the art of aikido as we went forward. Shigeho Tokunaga and I worked very hard on crafting a proposal to O Sensei for a demonstration to the general public—although, to make matters worse, given the lack of appropriate venues, we had to propose that the demonstration take place on the roof of a department store. We expected to be met with thunderous yelling, but we had come to the conclusion that only such a demonstration would enable us to make a decisive leap forward, and expand the awareness and practice of aikido in a way suitable for the times. I made up my mind and went to propose this to O Sensei.
“As he listened, his face gradually turned red and his veins began to pop out with just the anger we had anticipated, and he pursed his lips in a frown. Once he had listened to what I had to say, he closed his eyes and meditated for some time. Then he slowly gave his answer. ‘Very well. Perhaps it is necessary to reach out to all levels of society. If it helps to clear the muddy stream, this old man will do his best to demonstrate the essence of aikido. I have already put you in charge. As long as you follow the path of helping society and helping humanity, I have no objection to what you propose. Make use of this old man to help you reach your goals.’
“Sometimes I think back on this moment and I can see how difficult this decision must have been for O Sensei. It gives me greatest happiness that he chose as he did, and expressed his decision in that way. A person who heard this story said, ‘Perhaps O Sensei accepted this idea because you were his son. After all, O Sensei is a parent and a parent’s love is very great.’
“The five-day demonstration on the roof of the Takashimaya store was truly spectacular.” (A Life in Aikido
Kisshomaru does not explain to what extent weapons featured in the demonstration. However, O Sensei’s main uke was Tamura Sensei and I will meet him next week and ask him. Earlier in his biography, Kisshomaru casually mentions that Shigeho Tokunaga, “helped me develop a new format for demonstrations.” I wonder (I do not know) if this was when the dreaded tachi-dori / jo-dori / tanto-dori format received official baptism.
In this respect, I give a personal anecdote. After I came to Japan, I once gave a demonstration to mark an anniversary in a neighboring prefecture. The shihan had been a deshi of Aritoshi Murashige and was noted for his rough keiko. I think I was around 3rd dan and my demonstration consisted almost entirely of koshi-waza and ganseki-otoshi, in a style beloved of Hiroshi Isoyama. My uke was an agile and flexible university student and it would never have occurred to him to be anything less than cooperative in any waza. However, I heard later that the reaction from Doshu, who saw the demonstration was that I was doing ranbo aikido (乱暴 is violent, rude, wild). So when I gave a demonstration at the big jamboree held every year in May, at the Nippon Budokan, I was required by my Dojo-cho to show only smooth, flowing, basic waza, with big circles: the type of aikido favoured by Kisshomaru Doshu. Needless to say, that was my last demonstration at this event.
In the above quotation Kisshomaru describes an encounter with his father. I will discuss the relations between Kisshomaru Ueshiba and his father in a future column, but I think we need to make a major mental leap, in order to imagine life in the Ueshiba household—or the Takeda household, for that matter. It is hard to think of a contemporary parallel. The Sopranos? Hardly. Morihei was famous for his volcanic explosions; Kisshomaru came to be noted for his glacial stare and abrupt change of subject.
George S. Ledyard
I definitely do not see this as trying to duplicate some aspect of samurai culture or an attempt to be more Japanese than the Japanese. It's simply my own belief that weapons work will yield an understanding of various principles at work in our art better than other methods. I think these principles are universal rather than cultural; we can understand them as well as any Japanese person, even though we have a different cultural context.
PAG. Yes, I agree with you here, also, but I think we need to be what kind of weapons work is in question here. I ask because one of my Dutch students spent some time studying medieval European sword forms, of the type studied by Lichtenauer and collected in various technical manuals (the sword being the straight, double sided, tsurugi type). It had zero influence on his aikido. Sugano Sensei, however, became expert in European fencing before he had his leg amputated. Morihei Ueshiba appears to have trained with the spear, naginata, bo, jo, as well as the sword, but not with the kusarigama, for example.
In my opinion, there are several crucial ingredients to aikido training (in no particular order). Some are solo; some need to be done with a partner:
(1) Training similar to the kind of individual body training practiced in sumo;
(2) Training similar to the kind of grappling practiced in sumo, or ju/aiki-jutsu;
(3) Training with weapons.