Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Down here in Hiroshima, we are still very much in the rainy season and there was yet another major deluge outside as I was teaching a class: you know, several millimetres in about 30 minutes. As I was paddling my way to my car, I briefly envied you, Chris, on your impending move to Hawaii, but then dismissed the thought: 'Go ni ireba, go ni shitagai...' etc etc. Having got home and dried out, I chanced upon this thread and, of course, read Mr Gleason's all too brief article. It is all too brief because in virtually every paragraph there is a whole lot more that could be said.
With the recent passing of Saito Morihiro Sensei, the question of Iwama vs. Tokyo (= training through weapons vs. training without weapons) has again begun to be debated on Internet forums. The question has even been raised as to what will happen to Iwama (inheritance taxes etc etc), now that no one any longer has a direct commission from O Sensei to be the guardian of the shrine.
Because of the Iwama - Tokyo divide (which is simply a fact of history, brought about by WWII), a version of aikido history that has come to be accepted is that O Sensei TAUGHT weapons in Iwama and FORBADE the teaching of weapons in Tokyo. I do not believe this is true. I believe that O Sensei used weapons for his own personal training in Iwama and, obviously, taught (in his own way, by repeated practice) to disciples such as Saito Sensei what eventually emerged as kata. I do not think that the Founder ever conceived a teaching plan for weapons. This, like the names for the techniques, came from his disciples.
I think that in his post about John Stevens' reminiscences of Shirata Sensei's reminiscences of O Sensei, Bruce Baker touched upon a very important point about Morihei Ueshiba. O Sensei had a very fine sense of the relationship between Japan's kami and the world we live in. He was born in the Kii region, which is a major centre of both Shingon Buddhism and what was later known as Shinto, The Kii region is thought by most Japanese to be a major meeting point between the kami and the Japanese people. Of course, O Sensei understood very well the importance of history and ritual. He actually believed that he was the reincarnation of a whole load of deities, one of whom used a sword (a tsurugi, called Kusanagi) to slay a large dragon with several heads. O Sensei also believed that he could call down various deities to help him in his training, by performing certain rituals, such as funa-kogi and furi-tama.
If it were not for his brilliant swordwork and taijutsu, I would think we would probably dismiss O Sensei as yet another strange product of the confluence of Meiji/Taisho culture and modern attitudes to the arts of self-defence. We do not do this, because our historical sense conflicts somewhat with our devotion to his disciples. I myself have been struggling with this problem for many years. I do not believe that the essence of aikido can be summed up simply by the question: weapons or no weapons.
In my own aikido training, here is what my own direct teachers said/ did about weapons.
K. Chiba: teaches weapons from very early on. Basically Aiki-ken/aiki-jo (learned from a period in Iwama), plus much that is original.
S Yamaguchi: never studied or taught weapons; stated in private conversation that he watched sword practice and then incorporated the moves into his own aikido training.
H Tada: teaches weapons in his own dojo and abroad,the jo kata is an adaptation of kata devised by K Tohei.
S Arikawa: never teaches weapons, but sometimes uses them during practice. Once explained that O Sensei used weapons solely to explain body / mind : human / kami relationships, i.e., basic aikido techniques like 1-kyuo etc.
K Ueshiba: trained in Kashima Shinto-ryu at the suggestion of his father. Never taught weapons after the war, on the grounds the training was too personal, too much like kata, and that the whole point of weapons training is 'riai': the grasp of the relationship between weapons and tai-jutsu ( = basic techniques like 1-kyou and shiho-nage).
M Fujita: trained in weapons from his father, but has never taught weapons in aikido, on the grounds that towards the end of his life O Sensei did not think that weapons training was essential in order to grasp the essence of aikido.
Thus, to me the issues are clear. There are several ways of grasping the essence of aikido (though you always need to be clear that you are grasping the actual essence, and not what you think is the essence):
(1) In order to grasp the essence of Aikido, you re-tread, as far as possible, the path that O Sensei himself trod. Very difficult, in my opinion, even in a modern uchi-deshi training schedule.
(2) You attach yourself to a particular teacher, whom you believe transmits the essence of O Sensei's aikido, and follow his/her training schedule. Again, quite difficult. (And note that there is no consensus among O Sensei's disciples about the importance of weapons trainjng for aikido as a general postwar martial art.)
(3) You go your own way. You learn from many different teachers, read, study, train, explore the posibilities and limitations of your own body / mind and ideas about budo and come up with a training menu that satisfies you. But there is always the possibility of self-delusion, especially with sword / jo /tanto.
I myself have chosen a mixture of routes (2) and (3). So, for me, the issue of whether O Sensei actually believed that weapons training lies at the centre of aikido is really mainly historical. I can see why O Sensei believed that training in ken, jo and tanto was important for grasping the essence of aikido, but I can also understand someone who believes that the essence of aikido can be grasped without such training.
Alas, what was meant as a short pithy post has become a long lecture. Many apologies.
Best regards to all,