VII:Hidden in Plain Sight:
Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei's Power
By Ellis Amdur
A Review Essay:
Part 3: Takeda Sokaku, Ueshiba Morihei and Their Students
(NOTE: This will be the final installment of this review essay, mainly because recent events in my ‘aikido life' have conspired to reduce the time I have available at present for writing such essays. The next few columns will round off discussion of Morihei Ueshiba and his times, before the 'Inheritance' parts of the series start with Kisshomaru Ueshiba.)
In the remaining chapters of HIPS
, Amdur moves on from Takeda Sokaku to focus attention on Ueshiba Morihei himself. Between the study of Ueshiba's weapons training, in Chapter Three, and the discussion of Ueshiba's own training in internal skills, in Chapter Five, there is an unusual chapter on what Ueshiba himself thought he was doing in, through, and during, aikido, based upon a detailed discussion of one small part of some lectures that Ueshiba delivered to a Japanese religious group. This part of the review will go over some of the ground covered in these chapters, but will focus more on discrete topics related to three basic issues discussed in these chapters of Amdur's book: the general relationship between weapons training and internal power/skills; the relationship between Ueshiba's internal power/skills and his view of his own cosmic role; and the general physical and mental foundation required for such training.
3. ‘Aiki' and Weapons: A Drama in Five Acts
The last column reviewed the second chapter of Amdur's book and offered some detailed scrutiny of the life and family relationships of Takeda Sokaku. In his third chapter, Amdur moves his focus more closely on to Ueshiba Morihei and his own relationship with Takeda. However, the overall focus of the chapter is training with weapons and, more especially, Ueshiba's training with weapons. We have seen that Amdur's second chapter also considered Takeda Sokaku's skill with weapons in some detail and his weapons training forms the bridge to his "Unified Field Theory" in Chapter Three. In this chapter, Amdur broadens his treatment of ‘aiki
' and weapons to include Takada Sokaku's general teaching methods (martial and otherwise), with more discussion of his relationship with Ueshiba Morihei. [I have kept the quotation marks to signal that aiki
is left relatively undefined by Amdur, though we do have a good idea of what he means by the time we reach the end of the fifth chapter.] Amdur then turns to Ueshiba's own training with weapons and also his relationships, via weapons training, with his own students, especially Sunadomari Kanshu (in Kyushu), Hikitsuchi Michio and Takaoka Sadao (in Wakayama) and Saito Morihiro (in Iwama). [The geographical areas in brackets are not without some significance, for they are outside Tokyo and the Aikikai Hombu, which had been directed by his son, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, since 1942. It was as if his father left Kisshomaru to his own concerns and concentrated more on his own martial training. Shirata Rinjiro also received some instruction in weapons from Ueshiba, but this appears to have taken place before World War II. After the war, Ueshiba appears not to have travelled north to Yamagata with the express intention of meeting Shirata, as he did with his other students. This is possibly because for a number of years after the war Shirata gave up formal aikido training.] Kisshomaru also receives some attention and Amdur's account of Ueshiba Morihei's relationship with Takeda, especially with reference to the six months that Takeda spent in Ayabe in 1922, needs to be compared with Ueshiba Kisshomaru's account of the same relationship.
Amdur's third chapter has the curious subtitle of "A Unified Field Theory" (It is curious for someone like myself, who gave up physics half a century ago after passing GCE O Level in the UK, because I am not certain that there actually is a ‘unified field theory—of everything' which is commonly accepted by physicists, but we can let this pass). Despite the curious title, I found this chapter the strongest in the book. In this chapter, Amdur moves away from speculation about Takeda Sokaku's state of mind and considers aiki
and weapons training and puts his knowledge of koryu
and aikido to great use. Here, too, we are presented with a tour de force
, a powerful speculative analysis of the roots of Ueshiba's supposed internal power and skills. The argument is complex, however, and needs to be examined with great care, otherwise the wider contours and full subtlety of what Amdur states—and does not state—will be missed. I think that Amdur's analysis of the weapons training of both Takeda and Ueshiba is of fundamental importance for the general question of the role of weapons in aikido. To my mind, he shows the origin of the concept of riai
(理合), which I think relates to Takeda as much as it does to Ueshiba. In the best sense of the word, Amdur speculates; he raises issues and makes suggestions that should force his aikido readers to question why and how they train with weapons and even to question the received opinions from ‘those who have gone before' (= ‘Senseis'), but who might never have questioned in such a searching way why they themselves train(ed).
In this part of the review, the main question will be one that Amdur does not discuss so explicitly, perhaps because the answers are not easily forthcoming. The question is the influence of weapons training on Takeda's acquisition of internal power / skills. I will discuss in turn (1) the exposure to weapons training of Takeda's teachers, Takeda himself, his students, Ueshiba Morihei (considered not as a student of Takeda, but in his own right), and Ueshiba's principal students, (2) the light that this casts on weapons and aikido training, and (3) what conclusions we can draw from this exposure about internal power/skills.
Prologue: Roots and Trees (1)
Amdur begins this chapter with a very important observation, which needs to be quoted in full:
"One of the enduring claims concerning both Daito-ryu and aikido is that each is rooted in weapons practice, particularly the sword. Yet, almost all of what we see in either art is either unarmed practice, or rather unrealistic disarming techniques." (HIPS, p. 101.)
I think this observation needs to be examined in some detail, since a superficial reading might suggest that both arts are ‘rooted' in weapons and the sword for the same reasons and in exactly the same way. Amdur makes three statements: (a) that a(n enduring) claim is made about the ‘roots' of both arts in training with weapons, especially the sword; (b) that training in both arts (most of the training that we see) consists of unarmed practice; and (c) that ‘unrealistic' disarming techniques are practiced in both arts. Points (b) and (c) are intended to be a counterpoint to (a) and Amdur is implicitly asking a very reasonable question: if both arts are so ‘rooted' in weapons practice, why is there no ‘realistic' weapons practice in either art?
The issue here involves ‘rooted' and ‘realistic'. Amdur is actually using a classical rhetorical device called enthymeme
, which is a shortened form of a full argument, but one applied to rhetoric. He makes use of an analogy between roots and weapons training in Daito-ryu and aikido, which he assumes to be clear. However, the analogy is not at all clear and also needs to be ‘unpacked'. I think we need the help of Aristotle here, for Aristotle was especially good at examining analogous relationships rather than merely analogies between items. The case in question here concerns the analogous features of the relationship between roots [&, presumably, mature trees] and between weapons/sword training & the mature martial systems of Daito-ryu and aikido. There are three relationships in question and the suggestion is made that Daito-ryu and aikido are similar because an analogy can be drawn between: (1) the relationship between weapons/sword training in Daito-ryu and the resulting ‘mature' martial art and (2) the relationship between weapons/sword training in aikido and the resulting ‘mature' art, and (3) the relationship between roots and mature trees.
It is very reasonable to draw such an analogy between Daito-ryu and aikido. A reading of the second and third chapters of Amdur's book suggests that Takeda and Ueshiba followed similar training regimes, in that they both trained with weapons, both did much empty-handed training and created what are basically empty-handed arts, and both used weapons to teach these respective arts. Given that one may draw such an analogy, is the similarity between Daito-ryu and aikido, suggested by Amdur in the quotation above, merely coincidental, or is there a more complex relationship, either based on this root/tree analogy, or one that the analogy fails to illuminate? In other words, does the root / tree analogy work? The point is especially relevant in view of the contrary claims that: (a) weapons training is essential to aikido and (b) that aikido training can be done successfully without any training with weapons. Can both claims be true, and what force does ‘realistic' add to the claims? We should also examine whether the root / tree analogy has any relevance to the view discussed in these columns, namely, that the process involved in creating an art by a founder is not necessarily the same as that involved with a student learning to master the art itself, and this is also related to the view expressed by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, that aikido is a completely different art from Daito-ryu. (We need to keep in mind here the main issue, rather than any political reasons that Kisshomaru might have had for expressing this view.)
Act 1: Takeda Sokaku and his Teachers
Amdur discusses some of the individuals who either taught Takeda Sokaku directly or had some influence on his development. They are (in reverse chronological order) Momonoi Shunzo, Sakakibara Kenkichi, Shibuya Tomo, Kurokochi Dengoro Kanenori, and his father Takeda Sokichi. It will be of value here to consider each in turn and summarize the expertise of these individuals in the combination of ‘aiki
' and weapons.
Amdur discusses Takeda Sokaku's father in some detail, as we have seen. However, the main source is Takeda Tokimune, who discusses his grandfather Sokichi only to the extent that this illuminates his father's life and achievements. As Amdur states, Sokaku mentions his father in connection with the alleged physical violence that he received at the latter's hands and so it is not really clear from these accounts either to what extent Sokichi was proficient in ‘aiki
' / internal power / skills, or what he actually taught his sons (for it has to be assumed that he also taught Sokatsu, as well as Sokaku), in terms of weapons training or internal power/skills. Amdur states clearly (HIPS
, pp. 86-87) that Kurokochi taught Sokichi Hozoin-ryu Takada-ha sojutsu and emphasizes the likelihood that he also taught him Inagami Shinmyo-ryu jujutsu.
"I believe he coupled this [sumo] with solo power training exercises, breathing coordinated with mindful attention to lines of tension and relaxation within the body that very likely were part of the Shimyo-ryu curriculum…" (HIPS, p. 87.)
Amdur notes that the teaching was ‘inchoate' [which the big Oxford English Dictionary
defines as: Just begun
; in an initial or early stage
; hence elementary
], but all this observation can really convey is that Sokichi began something that he himself did not really finish. So we cannot escape from a dilemma: on the one hand, it is reasonable to assume that Sokichi practiced with weapons and also taught his two sons how to handle weapons; on the other hand, we do not know without further evidence, at present not easily forthcoming, what he actually practiced and what he actually taught.
Kurokochi Dengoro Kanenori
Kurokochi's contribution to Takeda's bujutsu education was discussed at some length in the previous column. Kanenori was considered to be an ace martial arts expert in a domain that embodied the spirit and the letter of devotion to the Tokugawa shogun and prized martial skills very highly, but this, also, needs to be seen in context. Kurokochi was a samurai, rather higher in rank than Takeda Sokichi, and he had the leisure and the means—in fact, he had the duty—to train to an extent that would be quite impossible for those outside the samurai class in his time and even more impossible for the average aikido student today. Nevertheless, it is a valid question to what extent Kurokochi stood out among his instructor colleagues at the Nisshinkan and how he was able to become expert in such a large number of arts—and, also, whether he acquired from training in these arts an explicit knowledge of internal skills. Amdur is inclined to think that he did, on the evidence of Kurokochi's remark, quoted in the last column, that good kenjutsu
skills need a good grounding in jujutsu.
If we assume that Takeda Sokaku studied with Kurokochi Kanenori before the latter committed seppuku
in 1868, Kanenori, along with Shibuya Tomo, would have taught Sokaku when the latter was a young boy. Of course, there is no reason to doubt that Kurokochi taught Takeda's father Sokichi, but it is unclear what kind of relationship he had with Sokaku and even less clear how Kurokochi's supposed knowledge of internal skills was passed on to Sokaku.
Shibuya Tomo, Sakakibara Kenkichi, Momo(no)i Shunzo
Takeda Sokaku trained in Ono-ha Itto-ryu at Shibuya's dojo in Aizubange-cho, but there is some uncertainty as to how old he was when he did. Amdur mentions Takeda beginning training with Shibuya in his "late teens", but Tokimune has him training at the dojo during the siege of Aizu-Wakamatsu, when Takeda was eight. Sagawa, who also trained in Ono-ha Itto-ryu independently of Takeda, states that Takeda did not train "seriously". Nevertheless, Takeda knew enough to offer to teach Sato Keisuke. That Shibuya Tomo, like Kurokochi Dengoro, possessed some knowledge of internal power / skills is also a supposition based on his expertise with weapons. Along with Shibuya, Sakakibara and Momonoi were accomplished in weapons arts. Takeda spent a few years as a deshi
to the former, who furnished an introduction when Takeda visited Momonoi, on his way to Kyushu to support Saigo Takamori. Amdur suggests, however, that it was Sakakibara, at his Jikishinkage-ryu dojo in Tokyo, who provided Takeda with the chance to meet and train with the cream of martial artists in Eastern Japan.
"Sokaku had the opportunity to meet many skilled practitioners of numerous martial arts, thereby enabling him to learn, formally or informally, the complete panoply of weaponry and combative techniques extant in Meiji Japan." (HIPS, p.103.)
However, learning such a vast range of different arts might well have provided the foundations of Daito-ryu, but it would not in itself provide training explicitly in ‘aiki
' or internal power / skills. Rather than a direct transmission of ‘internal' skills from these teachers, it is more likely, as Amdur suggests, that Takeda acquired some of these skills by himself during his own musha shugyo
training, after he left Sakakibara's dojo.
We are still left with the problem of interpreting Takeda Sokaku's statements that he learned ‘aiki
' at the hands of Saigo Tanomo. As evidence against this hypothesis, Amdur cites a personal communication from Stanley Pranin to the effect that "Tanomo, unlike many other figures of the time, had a well-documented life. Even his diary has been preserved. Not only is there no third-party account of his training in hand-to-hand martial arts, there is nothing in his diary to indicate that he ever did such practice.
. p. 73.) The evidence based on a diary is very mixed. In his edition of Sei'un-ki
(栖雲記; A Record of Cobweb-Clouds
), an autobiographical memoir written by Saigo towards the end of his life, Hotta Setsuo gives a detailed account of Saigo's life and he records that he began to write a diary entitled 「故国漂白」(Kokoku Hyohaku
: Old Country Wandering
). However, this was not until 1887, when Saigo was 58 years old. The only other document written by Saigo that could count as anything like a diary is Sei'un-ki
itself, which is an 18-page handwritten essay, written in 1896, when Saigo was 67 years old, mainly dealing with the Boshin War and the fall of Aizu-Wakamatsu.
However, Hotta Setsuo, who appears to know little about the martial arts, records that two years later, in 1898, Saigo was visited by Takeda Sokaku and from May 12 till May 26 transmitted to him the 奥義 (okugi
) of Daito-ryu and also a 免許皆伝 (menkyo-kaiden
). It is true that there is no direct evidence in Sei'unki
that Saigo was expert in the martial arts practised in Aizu, but it is unlikely that there would have been, anyway. In his explanation of Saigo's memoir, Hotta notes that what Saigo transmitted to Takeda were 会津藩歴代の藩主や重巨たちに代々伝わる護身のための武芸の術 (Hotta, 1993, p. 25), but, as Amdur rightly suggests, there is no direct evidence (which would need to be from sources other than the diaries) that Saigo actually learned such techniques. Nor does Hotta provide any evidence of what these techniques actually were, or reveal the sources for his statement quoted above.
An even more mysterious statement appears in Transparent Power
], the reminiscences of Sagawa Yukiyoshi, edited by Kimura Tatsuo, where Sagawa states that, "Takeda Sensei once mentioned that only two people including himself had studied with Hoshina-san [Hoshina Chikanori was the name Saigo used after the defeat of Aizu], and that the other person had already died." (TP
, p. 120.) This statement was made in answer to a question put to Sagawa by Kimura and Sagawa speculates that this person might have been Saigo Shiro, whom Saigo Tanomo had adopted earlier, but it is not stated exactly when this second person actually studied with him.
Intermission: Roots and Trees (2)
To summarize, Takeda was exposed to a large number of samurai who were expert at using a wide variety of weapons. However, the main issue here is whether these teachers possessed ‘aiki
' or internal power / skills and/or taught these skills to Takeda. If we push Amdur's root / tree analogy further, it is clear that what we have been discussing here is a number of discrete roots: individual martial artists, who were ignorant, knowledgeable, or even expert, in their own ways. Amdur discusses Takeda's teachers, but does not focus especially on his precise training with weapons at the hands of these teachers. This point is of some interest, given Kisshomaru Ueshiba's comment that Takeda was a considered a ‘genius' with the sword (which is also relevant to contemporary comments made of Ueshiba, to the effect that he was considered the best swordsman in Japan at the time). However, we are not really in a position to push the root / tree analogy simply on the basis that Takeda Sokaku's teachers possessed great skill with a large variety of weapons.
Act Two: Takeda Sokaku
The first thing that must be stressed when dealing with Takeda Sokaku himself is his immense commitment to training. Though he has been called a ‘genius' with the sword, Malcolm Gladwell has argued with some strength and much finesse that even genius needs to be very well prepared beforehand, in order for its eventual flowering to occur. As we shall note with Ueshiba Morihei later, Takeda had the leisure—and the means—to devote all the time in his life to training. This is a crucial element, but the point needs to be made that it was unique neither to Takeda nor to Ueshiba. It is highly likely that a large number of young male samurai, samurai like Kurokochi and Sakakibara, mentioned in the previous section, put in the required 10,000 hours of training. Amdur suggests that with Takeda, family matters, such as wives and even children, seem to be regarded, if not as encumbrances, then as other planets, in different orbits from his own, but occasionally meeting by a coincidence in martial space. The same is true, but perhaps to a lesser extent, with Ueshiba. So they both had the commitment, but, while Kisshomaru might well have correctly stated that Takeda was a genius with the sword, the comment is not particularly illuminating for those seeking the source of his power, or seeking to follow in his footsteps. Kisshomaru might have mentioned in passing why, given that his teacher was such a genius, Ueshiba, known in his turn as one of the best swordsmen in Japan, had to learn his swordsmanship the hard way, by himself, and never taught anything called ‘Ueshiba's swordsmanship' to anyone.
Amdur's account refers back to Takeda's training in 竹刀稽古 (shinai geiko
) at the hands of Sakakibara Kenkichi and especially the general pattern of the dojo training and contests made by visiting musha shugyousha
. Although ‘running the line' is still a regular feature of sumo training, especially with visiting sumotori
, this kind of musha shugyo
described by Tokimune, has all but disappeared from postwar Japan.
Amdur's analysis of Takeda's gokui
suggests to this reviewer that he believes that Takeda's training in weapons was an essential component of, or adjunct to, something else, which may be described in general terms as training in internal/external power/skills. Amdur places more emphasis and gives more weight to the development of internal power, but, in Takeda's case, I think it is difficult to make a sharp distinction, based on the actual knowledge we have of Takeda's training and how he regarded this training. Of course, the necessity for technical mastery of the weapons system, as a first step, is taken as a given, just as it is in arts like jujutsu and aikido, and Amdur believes that Takeda acquired such technical mastery of a vast range of weapons systems.
Intermission: Roots and Trees (3)
It is not clear from Amdur's account precisely what the connection was between Daito-ryu and weapons. Or, to put it in a different way, Amdur's account in this chapter of the deep connection between Ueshiba's training with weapons and his aikido is rather more detailed than his account of a parallel deep connection between Takeda's weapons training and Daito-ryu. He has provided circumstantial evidence that Takeda achieved conspicuous mastery with the sword and other weapons, and also suggests that what became the hundreds of empty-handed techniques of Daito-ryu were acquired by Takeda, or even created spontaneously, during his musha shugyo
period, or even afterwards, when he began travelling around giving seminars. However, one might receive the impression from Amdur's discussion that he kept the two domains somehow separate and, in fact, this impression leads to the assumption quoted at the beginning of this section. So one might claim that Daito-ryu is rooted in weapons training, because this is actually how Takeda himself created the art. He spent many years traveling around training in various weapons systems, but when the time came to settle down and teach students, he taught what became known as Daito-ryu jujutsu, with some specific training in weapons given to his closer students. However, this answer does not show any intrinsic connection between, for example, weapons system A, weapons system B, or weapons system C and the corpus of Daito-ryu techniques to which they gave rise in Takeda's hands. Takeda was a genius with the sword and other weapons—and also created the formidable empty-handed art of Daito-ryu. So this development of the root analogy does not take us much further.
Act Three: Takeda Sokaku and his Students
The point that emerges from Amdur's discussion of gokui
is the very close relationship between the training methods that Takeda practiced during his musha shugyo
period and the teaching methods that he practiced later, when he had his own students. Takeda mastered a very wide range of martial systems, but he seems not to have taught any one of these weapons systems, considered as a complete system, to all of his students. He taught Tokimune Ono-ha Itto-ryu and also offered to teach Sato Keisuke, but the latter, his hands already full with Daito-ryu, declined the offer.
The principal evidence for Takeda Sokaku's relationships with his own students is to be found in the collection of interviews made by Stanley Pranin, published as Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu
, and also Transparent Power
], the reminiscences of Sagawa Yukiyoshi, edited by Kimura Tatsuo mentioned earlier. (I believe this latter work was not published until after Amdur had completed HIPS
.) However, for the purposes of this discussion, Sagawa Yukiyoshi and Ueshiba Morihei are the two students whose relationship with Takeda is of most concern. The evidence suggests that the relationship between Takeda and Ueshiba was rather less smooth than that between Takeda and Sagawa, though when reading Sagawa's reminiscences it is sometimes difficult to work whether the thoughts expressed on particular occasions are Takeda's, Sagawa's, or Kimura's own.
One of the issues is what, exactly, Takeda taught his two students. There is a famous quote from Ueshiba Morihei, in answer to a question from a newspaper reporter, to the effect that, 「武田先生には武道の目を開いていただいた，といった方がよいでしょう」, "Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Takeda Sensei opened our eyes
[Takeda taught a group of students, including Ueshiba] to the martial arts.
" (Ueshiba, p. 94, 95.) The same thing could just as easily be said of Sagawa Yukiyoshi, to judge from TP
. In fact, Sagawa appears to have acquired knowledge of aiki
at the age of seventeen, but never to have made Takeda aware of the fact. How he was able to do this is an interesting question in its own right.
"I never demonstrated Aiki in front of Takeda Sensei or his deshi, so he probably never realized that I had become so proficient in. He may have suspected that I'd become quite strong. He most likely believed that Aikihad not been transmitted to this world." (TP, p. 121.)
Earlier, Sagawa gives an explanation about 'aiki' that has clear similarities with the descriptions of Ueshiba's power, which Amdur considers in his fifth chapter.
"Aiki is not power, such as the power of concentration or the power of physical strength. That's because Aiki is a skill that allows you to neutralize your opponent's power, after which you can effortlessly use just a little bit of power. Aiki eliminates the opponent's power, so that yours is able to flow through as Transparent Power, with no resistance possible. It also makes him hold fast to you, unable to disengage himself—it's really quite difficult." (TP, p. 84.)
The cases recorded in TP
where Takeda taught with a weapon are quite few (cf. TP
, pp. 126, 194). His main teaching method was to show techniques once, and in complete silence, without ever correcting mistakes.
"It would have been hard to learn anything because Takeda Sensei never said anything. He didn't teach anything other than the external form. He absolutely never commented on whether a student was skillful or not. Now I think about it, I don't know how he was able to stand not uttering a word." (TP, p. 138.)
With respect to Ueshiba Morihei, one issue is how many days Ueshiba actually trained with Takeda in Hokkaido and afterwards. In his introduction to Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu
, Stanley Pranin gives a masterly summary of the evidence in Takeda's 英名録 (enrollment registers). He delicately talks of the history of Daito-ryu being "largely shaped by aikido historians and commentators" (Pranin, p. 9.). In this context, here is the relevant section from 『合気道開祖植芝盛平伝』:
ただし約一ヶ月間で [that is, after Ueshiba's first meeting with Takeda at the Hisada Ryokan in Engaru, in February 1915]、ひとまず開祖は白滝村帰ることになる。のちに開祖は、完爾として述懐した。「あとでわかったなんじゃが、先生は最初の一ヶ月後はあまり、新し い技はお示しにならなかった。綾部に来られてからなどは、「も稽古をつけんでもよい」といわれて、わしと相手をされたがらなかったからのう(p. 97.)
"After about a month, he decided it was time to go back to Shirataki. Much later, he recalled this time: ‘I didn't know it then, but Takeda Sensei didn't introduce new techniques after the first month. When he came to Ayabe, he would say, "I don't need to teach you any longer," and he was not interested in continuing with the training.'" (Ueshiba, A Life in Aikido, p. 97.)
An important question that arises from Kisshomaru's brief account is: why, then, did Takeda come to Ayabe with his family and how did he spend his time there, if not in training? As Amdur notes, Takeda was hardly the type of man to spend his time playing with baby Kisshomaru, or playing shogi
with Deguchi and the Omoto believers.
Stanley Pranin shows that Ueshiba in fact attended seminars taught by Takeda several times after this first month in Hokkaido and stayed in Ayabe from April to September, 1922. However, Pranin is unable to cast any more light on the circumstance of the visit to Ayabe, beyond the statement that Takeda taught Daito-ryu to Ueshiba's students, "mainly Omoto believers who had been practicing in Ueshiba's home". (Pranin, p. 27.) In his interview with Stanley Pranin, however, Takeda Tokimune gives a much more detailed account of Ueshiba's training with Takeda and the visit made to Ayabe. The account, consisting of answers to questions put by Mr Pranin, contains the following unusual exchange.
"Did Sokaku go to Ayabe on Ueshiba Sensei's invitation?
Actually, there were a number of people from the navy training in Mr Ueshiba's dojo. All of the navy members had experience in sumo wrestling and were quite strong. Since Ueshiba would have had difficulty in handling such individuals, he asked Sokaku Takeda Sensei to come. There men were huge, but Mr Ueshiba was smaller than me. I would imagine he wasn't able to pin them because he wasn't using precise techniques. After all, it would be difficult using only aiki." (Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, p. 58.)
There is much that is mysterious in Tokimune's statement, not least his use of the term aiki
. Ueshiba had practiced sumo since he was young and in Hokkaido he had defeated an ozeki
, who asked Ueshiba if he was actually Takeda himself. Yet here he was in his own dojo, unable to handle sumo amateurs. Amdur has another explanation for the episode that has some parallels with Ueshiba Kisshomaru's descriptions, quoted below, of his father's weapons training in Ayabe.
Intermission: Roots and Trees (4)
The discussion in the above section bears out the conclusions reached earlier, namely, that Takeda Sokaku's expertise in many weapons systems did not lead to the creation of a type of Daito-ryu jujutsu or aikijujutsu
in which the influence of the weapons systems is immediately transparent. Amdur states this quite clearly (HIPS
, p. 108). Both Sagawa and Ueshiba brought to their Daito-ryu training some knowledge of weapons training. With Takeda, the knowledge amounted to expertise in a large number of systems; with Sagawa, the level of expertise is not stated; with Ueshiba, the level of expertise is known more clearly—and was certainly augmented with weapons training at the hands of Takeda. Thus the evidence afforded by Amdur and Kimura suggests that the roots of Daito-ryu in weapons training, as this was done by Takeda
, are not so readily obvious as the roots of Aikido in Ueshiba's training with weapons. As always, the issue for this review essay is what light this throws on Ueshiba's own internal power / skills.
Act Four: Ueshiba Morihei
Amdur gives a very detailed and convincing account of Ueshiba Morihei's way of training with weapons and this reviewer found many similarities between Ueshiba's own personal way of training and Takeda's. Like Takeda, Ueshiba began weapons training early on in his life and this training was a complement to training in empty-handed arts like sumo. Then there is the role of Ueshiba's father, which was rather more gentle and less obtrusive than the encouragement given by Takeda Sokichi. However, though some tantalizing questions remain and important details are lacking, we have rather more evidence about Ueshiba's sword training, and its influences on his own empty-handed Daito-ryu, than for Takeda's. For a start, we have two detailed biographies of Ueshiba, written by his close students. In his biography of his father, Ueshiba Kisshomaru devotes a good deal of space to describing his father's training with weapons and its roots in aikido. Kisshomaru's account is noteworthy for what he leaves out or does not state (the two are not the same).
"The Ueshiba Dojo in Ayabe became a popular place, with many students. But for O Sensei, its real purpose was the pursuit of his own ascetic training. What really mattered to him was the practice he undertook on his own early in the morning or late at night, alone in the dojo or in the foothills, as he quietly and persistently studied the martial way. He continued training in the Daito-ryu style learned from Master Sokaku Takeda; he also worked hard at Sojutsu and Kenjutsu (spear and sword techniques). People may wonder how these relate to Aikido, but there is actually a strong resemblance. The hand and foot movements in Aikido, and basic movements like irimi, or entering, are closely related to these other arts. Of course the empty hand is fundamental to aikido. But it is also true that the power of the hand can be like that of a yari (spear) or tachi (sword). To use your hands as if holding a spear or sword, you must have some knowledge of Sojutsu or Kenjutsu techniques. In Aikido, we practice Jojutsu (staff techniques) and Tojutsu (katana, or sword, techniques), where the weapon is used as an extension of a hand. The combination of these elements forms a unique art, thanks to O Sensei's diligent study of the sword and spear.
"During the night, O Sensei would go up to the mountains to practice weapons techniques: mayari and tanpo yari spear techniques, sword practice with a shinken (live blade) or bokuto (wooden sword). This rigorous and demanding training reflected his determination to perfect the art. O Sensei was someone who always found unique and creative approaches to training. Here is one of them from this time: he would hang balls of sponge from the trees around a clearing, then practice hitting them with thrusts of a tanpo yari (a nine-feet long spear) to improve his agility and skill. Here is a doka by O Sensei which describes Aikido's characteristic technique of taninzu-gake (one against many):
A host of enemies encircle me and attack
Thinking of them as a single foe, I wage the battle.
I think the origins of this technique my have been in the spear training which I've just described. To sum up, it can truly be said that the Ueshiba Dojo in Ayabe was the birthplace of Aikido, the place where it was forged and brought into being." (Ueshiba, A Life in Aikido, pp. 136-137; Japanese original: 『合気道開祖植芝盛平伝』, pp. 131-133).
It is to his credit that Kisshomaru presents a very clear account of the influence of weapons training on his father's empty-handed techniques, as he understood it. He doffs his hat to Takeda Sokaku, but there is no reference whatever to Takeda's five-month sojourn in Ayabe, nor any admission that his father's ‘unique and creative' training with balls suspended from trees might not have been so creative at all, given Takeda's own training regime. Kisshomaru's account should be compared with Amdur's (HIPS
, pp. 130-134), which presents a different perspective. Amdur is looking for the roots of the explosive power and the crushing of the opponent's power that are the signs of internal power / skills. Of these aspects there is nothing at all in Kisshomaru's account, which could mean: either that it was hidden from him, so he never actually ‘saw' these aspects of his father's training; or that he understood, but chose to suppress this for other reasons. Amdur places the spear training firmly in the forefront of Takeda's stay in Ayabe and quotes Tokimune to the effect that Takeda bested Ueshiba with the weapon.
Later in his biography, Kisshomaru discusses the weapons training at the Kobukan dojo and acknowledges his own interest in the sword.
"One thing worth mentioning is that for a short time during these years [1937-1941] the practice of kendo was permitted in the dojo. As I mentioned earlier, O Sensei had practiced several styles of jujutsu as well as some Hozoin-ryu Sojutsu (spear), but had not officially trained in Kenjutsu (sword). Once he reached middle age, his interest in the sword began to grow, and since Aikido had begun to incorporate empty-handed techniques against weapons, he began practicing with the sword in order to understand these techniques more deeply.
"At the same time, he firmly believed that dueling with swords did not represent the true essence of Budo; for him, the sword was only an extension of the body. He still considered that the Gokui (innermost secret) of Budo was kentai icchi (検体一致 the sword becoming an extension of the body), or in other words, moving from shizentai(natural standing posture) with or without a weapon in one's hands—Aikido was the ultimate expression of such an understanding. Yet since he felt that one could not claim to have trained in Budo without knowing the proper use of the sword, he allowed the disciples to practice it." (Ueshiba, A Life in Aikido, p. 249.)
You can almost hear the eggs crunch a little, as Aikikai Doshu Kisshomaru walks over them, so delicate is his way of gently moving weapons training further towards the margins. He continues.
"Another incident around this time strengthened the Kobukan Dojo's links with Kendo. In 1932, the Ueshiba family for a short period adopted a prominent young swordsman from the Yushinkan dojo named Kiyoshi Nakamura [this is an editing mistake: the name is Nakakura]. As a result, Kobukan began to offer classes in Kendo as well as Aikido, which in turn brought to the dojo well-known people such as Jun-ichi Haga and Gorozo Nakajima, both of whom were close to Kiyoshi Nakamura. Soon, the Kendo group from Kobukan began to enter competitions near and far, and to achieve good results. In fact, the championship cup of the Kodo Gikai Kendo competition was won by the Kobukan Dojo team. This victory heightened my interest in studying the sword." (Op. cit., pp. 249-250.)
Kisshomaru mentions that among his mentors was Shioda Gozo and so one can speculate whether Shioda ever showed him how to use the sword with either hand, as Ueshiba did with Nakakura.
Intermission: Roots and Trees (5)
The evidence presented by Amdur of Ueshiba's own constant training with weapons suggests that with aikido, this training with weapons really does constitute the roots of the art. Ueshiba Morihei made weapons and his aikido into a seamless match. Even when he visited Hawaii, in his old age, the results of this training were evident, as Amdur notes. Amdur's discussion allows one to see how his weapons training molded Ueshiba's own aikido—and also how some aspects of this overall training regime molded the aikido of his closest students, as we shall see.
Act Five: Ueshiba Morihei and his Students
Amdur's picture of Ueshiba Morihei's relationships with his students, especially those to whom he taught weapons, is one of the best parts of this chapter. Amdur gives a complex account of Ueshiba Morihei's way of training and teaching weapons with close students such Shirata Rinjiro, Hikitsuchi Michio, Sunadomari Kanshu, and Saito Morihiro [even Ueshiba Kisshomaru receives some attention], and this should cause aikido students to ponder very deeply about weapons training in aikido. In particular, Amdur's account should be required reading for the many perplexed aikido students who wonder why at the same time aikido has—and does not have—weapons training as part of its core curriculum.
Ueshiba Kisshomaru gives a sketch of his own thoughts about this in an unusual place. The early volumes of the late Saito Morihiro Shihan, entitled Traditional Aikido: Sword, Stick, Body Arts
, are being republished, but the ‘Greetings', penned by Kisshomaru—and also by Shioda Gozo and Nishio Shoji, were not originally translated into English. Kisshomaru's ‘Greeting' deserves a second look here. Perhaps as a counterbalance to the immense role and influence of Iwama in aikido history and folklore, Kisshomaru is at pains to underline his own training with the sword at the hands of his father. (As usual, AikiWeb
Japanese addicts can try their hand at a translation.)
開祖は常に"剣の理合いを体に現したものが合気道の動きである。"と言われたものです。更 に"体術で基礎を体得し、然る後、剣を持つのが常道である。合気道に於いて体の基礎が出来ない者に剣を持たせる事は、生兵法という者になる。"と修行者を いましめて居られた事も記憶しています。故に合気道に於いて一般的に多数の初心稽古をする場合は、剣を用いないのが通常となっています。
最近、合気道は非常な勢いて普及しています。合気人口は90万とも言われています。其の 反面、修業者多数のため、場所其の他の制的で、剣の修業がともすればおろそかになり勝ちの現況です。その盲点を、そうであってはならずという事で、斉藤さ んの今回の出版は、修行者に対し誠に時宜を得た警鐘ともなりましょう。(Saito Morihiro, Traditional Aikido, Vol. 1, 1973, Minato Research, p. 6.)
How times change. Only the other day, during a meeting at the Hombu Dojo I was asked by a prominent Hombu shihan whether I believed that kumi-tachi
were an essential part of aikido. I was quite astonished that the shihan should even ask such a question. At the beginning of the year, an 8th dan Hombu shihan came to my dojo in Hiroshima and taught a seminar. He was a direct student of Ueshiba Morihei and recounted his experiences of O Sensei forbidding weapons training at the Hombu Dojo. The shihan used a weapon only once or twice, merely to explain an important principle concerning empty-handed training. I think that the principles he did illustrate could be summed up in the four axioms of ki
training, as set out by Tohei Koichi, even though the shihan did not mention the word ki
even once. Other aikido shihans I know have quietly developed their own weapons kata
, even those shihans who are not well known as possessing the expertise in weapons of a Nishio Shoji, or shihans who never publicly profess to use weapons. Even the shihan who has gone on public record that aikido does not have weapons training had previously become expert in the family sword art, learned at the hands of his father. Amdur's chapter should explain why this is the case—and why it is very difficult for the present Doshu to take any leadership here. Nevertheless, it is clear that Ueshiba Moriteru is indeed moving to make the weapons practice he performs in his aikido demonstrations—tachi dori
, jo dori
, tanto dori
, which are also required for Aikikai dan examinations—a kind of standard for the future. The result is the likelihood that the weapons training so rigorously pursued by his grandfather is relegated to the ‘Museum of Aikido Historical Relics'. So the wheel has turned full circle and what we see in modern aikido are solely the "rather unrealistic disarming techniques", noted by Amdur at the beginning of the chapter.
One of the problems here can be summed up as the general effects of the iemoto
system, which was discussed in detail in an earlier column. The original Aikido Iemoto
(= Doshu), who was Ueshiba Morihei, did not concern himself too much with making sure that all his close students, especially those whom he designated to succeed him by marrying into the family, received all the transmission. He might actually have believed he had done this, since he often talked of finding a way for others to follow. However, this lack of a complete and unified transmission is especially true with weapons, and for taijutsu
in the case of Nakakura Kiyoshi. In the Kobukan, Nakakura was doing as much kendo as aiki-budo
and Amdur notes that one of the reasons why his adoption into the Ueshiba family was not successful was his conviction that he could never emulate Ueshiba's jujutsu skills.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that since the iemoto
did not teach in the established central dojo, but rather traveled from place to place, as Takeda Sokaku did, teaching his closest students the weapons skills he himself believed they needed, there was no recognized center and no tradition of systematic research in the center. Ueshiba's method certainly allowed his students to blossom, and the second iemoto
, Kisshomaru, had the insight not to dismantle the fragile structure his father had created. However, the structure was indeed fragile, since the lack of a core, where constant training and research in all
the weapons is undertaken to replicate, emulate, and develop what Ueshiba himself achieved, leads to a constant centrifugal tendency. When he was firmly established as Doshu, Kisshomaru did indeed move to create some kind of core, but it did not contain any serious training and research with weapons—and the reason is that Ueshiba Morihei's own expertise with weapons was never replicated in his successor. This problem is even more acute with the third iemoto
, Ueshiba Moriteru, and the traditional Japanese tatemae / honne
distinction about 'transmission of the essence' is often resorted to, to attempt to prove that the center contains all that is necessary for martial salvation, after all. What was in plain sight is becoming hidden.
Curtain Call: Roots and Trees (6)
I think we are now in a better position to consider Amdur's statements about the roots of Daito-ryu and aikido lying in weapons training. To use an analogy that Ueshiba Morihei sometimes used about aikido (discussed by Amdur in his next chapter—see below), weapons training was clearly a kind of 産屋 (ubuya
: parturition hut, traditionally used when women were giving birth) for Daito-ryu, but what was created was somewhat different, and the parentage is not so easy to discern. In the case of aikido, on the other hand, the real roots in the various weapons practiced by Ueshiba, and also in Daito-ryu taijutsu
, are easier to see, especially as a result of Amdur's discussion in his third chapter. An important issue, to be discussed in future columns, is whether the roots have grown into one distinct tree, or into separate branches, whose connection with the tree is more notional than real.
4. Aikido? It is a kind of fruit.
The general reader of Amdur's fourth chapter is certainly not helped by the title, which is, "Aikido is Three Peaches." An alternative title could well be, "And now for something completely different…" Of course, Amdur, as always, mixes his serious intent with flashes of humor. He is certainly serious here, too, but the sense of ‘Morihei Ueshiba and the Holy Grail' never seems far away in this chapter and I sometimes expected the arrival of the police car, with the advice to, "Stop being silly." Of course, this is due as much to Ueshiba's own accounts of his place in the universe as to the way in which Amdur discusses these.
One reviewer has called this chapter of HIPS
the weakest part of the book, …
"where Ellis bravely attempts an apologia for the scattered spiritual and metaphysical perambulations of Ueshiba, justifying them as essential to Ueshiba's continuing progress in skill and power right into the final decade of his life. I was frankly surprised by the detail and extent of argument that Ellis was willing to make in support of this thesis, given his own rejection of aikido as a personal training path and the often-sardonic tone of his past writing about these aspects of aikido. But Ellis seems to find enough tidbits whilst wandering through Shingon, Shinto, Omoto-kyo and the Kuki family heritage, warbling kotodama all the while, to provide a tantalizing proposal that Chinkon-kishin and other ritual practice sets adapted by Ueshiba really did empower him. Ultimately, Ueshiba saw himself as a kind of avatar, instrumental in ushering in a golden age of redemption, the unification of Heaven, Earth, and Man. To a considerable degree, he was unconcerned about whether others became avatars like himself. He regarded aikido practitioners as living out their fate as appointed by their ‘chief guardian deity,' doing the work of the "spiritual proletariat," accumulating merit and energy through aikido practice . . ."
The reviewer does not give any indication as to why the chapter is weak and I wonder whether one reason might be lack of acquaintance with the complex Japanese cultural milieu in which Ueshiba Morihei operated—and which is rarely discussed in connection with his aikido. As for the alleged contrast between Ueshiba's mystic meanderings and Amdur's own "rejection of aikido as a personal training path", it seems to me that the main object of the book as a whole, is to point to crucial differences between Ueshiba's own training regime—and the concepts he used to present this, and the postwar training regime in Japan, as Amdur himself found it. So I myself am not convinced that the chapter is ‘weak', merely on the basis of the reviewer's comments.
However, the chapter might or might not be ‘weak' for other reasons, one being the rather fragile basis for Amdur's speculations. Amdur has based his entire chapter on a few translated excerpts of one set of Ueshiba's published discourses. Of course, this does not in itself invalidate the conclusions he draws, but two points should give pause: (1) Amdur has relied on a translation, not the original Japanese, and thus he has to assume that the translation is a faithful rendering of the original: with Ueshiba Morihei this is not a good precedent to follow; (2) Apart from any issues of translation, the fact remains that he has considered only a very small portion of Ueshiba's published discourses. In a footnote Amdur admits both of these points and calls his discussion an interpretation. However, even if it is merely an interpretation, it stands or falls on its own merits.
武産合気 Takemusu Aiki
Amdur explains the provenance of this book at the beginning of the chapter. Takemusu Aiki
is a set of discourses that Ueshiba Morihei delivered to members of a religious organization called the Byakko Shinkokai—an offshoot of the Omoto religion. The discourses were edited by a member of the organization, named Takahashi Hideo. The published book is a curious work. It is widely available in all the bookstores and my own copy (printed in 2008) is the nineteenth reprint. However, not one of the Japanese aikidoka with whom I have discussed the book has ever read it and so I myself suspect that it is one of the most widely purchased—and rarely read—aikido books in the Japanese language. The book's title is also a topic frequently discussed in Internet chat forums, but the book itself is read by non-Japanese aikido practitioners even more rarely than by Japanese, and the reason for this is that only a few parts of it have been translated into English. The only parts in English that were available to Amdur are the few excerpts that were published some years ago by Stanley Pranin in Aikido Journal
, which Amdur has used for his discussion in this chapter. After the excerpts appeared in Aikido Journal
, the translation project stopped. There have been dark rumors as to why, the main substance being that the Ueshiba family wished to maintain some sort of control over the translation, rather than have it done by an individual who had become completely independent. This reviewer has occasionally heard rumors of a fresh start to this translation project and one result was published very recently (May, 2010). The Heart of Aikido: The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki
, turns out to be very similar to the other collection of Ueshiba Morihei's discourses, Aiki Shinzui
, which covers much the same ground and has also been translated by John Stevens and published with the title of The Secret Teachings of Aikido
. Thus, in this discussion of Amdur's chapter in HIPS
I will also occasionally refer to this new translation.
Of course, there is another very plausible reason for the delay in producing an English translation of Takemusu Aiki
. Even a cursory glance at the contents will suffice to show the difficulty of producing a translation that is of some value to a reader who has little acquaintance with the general cultural background and the specifically religious context of the work. The newly published Heart of Aikido
downplays the importance of the religious aspects of Ueshiba's discourses, in favor of something else. This can be called ‘Ueshiba-lite
' and stresses something called the ‘universal human values' of aikido. This modern interpretation is currently quite fashionable, especially in postwar Japan. It is popular with those who do not have the time or inclination to take Ueshiba on his own terms, and struggle with the Omoto religious background, the doka, or the less welcome ultranationalist—and fanatical—political movements, which gripped Japan at the time when Ueshiba Morihei was active and of which Omoto was also a part.
The translated sections of Takemusu Aiki
cover just over 70 pages. So before examining Amdur's discussion of the translated sections of the book, we should look at the work as a whole, if only to see if there are any important parts that Amdur will have missed by focusing on only a small portion. As published, the book consists of over 200 pages, the core being nineteen discourses delivered by Ueshiba Morihei. These are preceded by a poem, composed by Byakko Founder, Goi Masahisa, and a lengthy essay, also written by Goi, entitled,「合気道と宗教」("Aikido and Religion"). Following the nineteen main discourses are four other discourses or snatches of discourses, also by Ueshiba Morihei and also transcribed by Takahashi Hideo, who, after transcribing another short piece by Goi, ends the book with his own reminiscences about Ueshiba.
Goi's essay is a collection of his reminiscences about Ueshiba, with a few remarks on the Byakko religion. I have explained elsewhere that Goi Masahisa was one of a vary large number of leaders in the Meiji / Taisho era of Japan who created ‘new' religions, usually by undergoing various experiences leading to ‘enlightenment', attracting a group of disciples, and then breaking away from an earlier group. This point is not often stressed. There was an outpouring of religious sentiment during the century spanning the decline of the Tokugawa era and the outbreak of World War II. This outpouring has been documented in great detail in Japanese sources, but relatively little has appeared in English. This is a pity, since the scarcity of detailed evidence in English about Japan's ‘new religions' [except for the renegade Aum Shinrikyo] might give the mistaken impression that the religious ideas of Goi and Ueshiba were somehow unique. In one sense Ueshiba was unique. Not many of the founders of Japan's ‘new' religions believed themselves to be reincarnations of as many deities as Ueshiba did. However, in a very real sense, Goi became what he was because he was following an established fashion—as, in fact, was Ueshiba. In these discourses Ueshiba sometimes notes that ‘Goi Sensei understands my thinking' and one suspects that they became good friends because each provided the other with a highly receptive audience: they were probably the only two who had the clearest idea of what the other was saying.
The translated discourses that were available to Amdur are the first four, which purport to describe or define aikido in four separate ways. Their respective titles and details of publication in English are given below:
, pp. 28 to 39; Aikido Journal
, #116, pp. 28-33.)
Aikido is the Way of the principle of the eternal, unchanging system of the Universe.
, pp. 43-52; Aikido Journal
, #117, pp. 18-21.)
Aikido is God-given Truth and also the Working of Takemusu Aiki.
, pp. 53-67; Aikido Journal
, #118, pp. 22-27.)
Aikido is the Great Way of Harmony and Devotion to the Way of the Universal Plan.
, pp. 68-84; Aikido Journal
, #119, pp. 24-29.)
These discourses have also been translated by John Stevens in The Heart of Aikido
(pp. 29-91) and it will be instructive to check whether his fresh translation yields similar evidence for Amdur's speculations.
There is a curious omission in both translations. The opening discourse is immediately followed by ten 道歌 (doka
: 31-syllable waka
poems, Takmusu Aiki,
p. 41), which appear to be linked together and related to the discourses, but no English translation of these doka
appeared as part of the Aikido Journal
series. (I should make clear here that, like Amdur, I am concerned here only with translations into English. I am aware of a project to translate the entire work into French, but have had no access to this translation at the time of writing this review essay.) Admittedly, in his Aikido Journal
interview Takahashi stated that he had changed the order of the discourses, but is unclear whether he changed the position of the doka
. The new translation by John Stevens also includes doka
(pp. 113-118), but these are quite different doka
from those printed in Takemusu Aiki
and it is not clear why Stevens did not translate these. Thus the Japanese text of Takemusu Aiki
—and also the new English translation—are another example of we might call Morihei's Law: No statement or discourse of Ueshiba Morihei is ever published in precisely the same form or circumstances as obtained when it was first uttered or delivered
The ten doka
that follow the first discourse in Takemusu Aiki
are transcribed below. AikiWeb
students of classical Japanese might try their hand at a translation.
If we leave aside these doka
, the translation of the discourses in Aikido Journal
stopped at this point. The fifth discourse is numbered and is clearly an expansion of the final part of the first discourse, with the four definitions announced there (Takemusu Aiki
, p. 28). For the sake of completeness, here is a brief summary.
5. 四、合気道は言霊の妙用 宇宙みそぎの大道である
Aikido is the Great Way of Marvellous Working of Word-Soul (Kotodama)
and Universe Purification (Misogi)
The discourse begins with a discussion of kotodama
, and the creation of the universe through word-sounds. (The beginning of this discourse was actually quoted in translation in Transmission, Inheritance Emulation
, Column 11.) Ueshiba continues the discourse with an analysis of the sounds スsu
. He then discusses the syllables of 高天原 (High Heaven[ly] Plain: ta-ka-a-ma-ha-ra
), again, with an explanation of each syllable. The discourse concludes with an account of the ‘vowel' syllables アa, オo, ウu, エe, イi. As I have stated elsewhere, this explanation is heavily based on the writings of Yamaguchi Shido and Deguchi Onisaburo involving kotodama-gaku
, which is the ‘science' of kotodama
The remaining discourses are unnumbered, but have individual titles, which are given below with a rough translation.
自己完成の道: Jiko Kansei no Michi
: The Way to Achieving Selfhood
祈りについて: Inori ni tsuite
: About Prayer / Praying
武のはじめ: Bu no Hajime
: Beginnings of Bu
武産合気の根源: Takemusu Aiki no Kongen
: The Roots of Takemusu Aiki
私の合気修業方法: Watashi no Aiki Shugyo Hoho
: My Method of Aiki Training
合気の錬磨方法: Aiki no Renma Hoho
: The Method of Forging Aiki
真の武: Shin/Makoto no Bu
: Real Bu
武気について: Buki ni tsuite
: About Fighting Spirit
二度目の岩戸開き: Nidome no Iwato Biraki
: The Second Opening of the Stone Door
神のたてたる道: Kami no Tateru Michi
: Method of Raising Deities
霊のみそぎ法: Tama no Misogi Ho
: Method of Purifying the Soul
祭政—致の本義: Saisei Itchi no Hongi
: Cardinal Principles of Theocracy
神の生宮: Kami no Ikimiya
: Living Palace of Deities
天の呼吸 地の呼吸: Ten no Kokyu: Chi no Kokyu
; Breath of Heaven: Breath of Earth
Unlike the first five discourses, these do not appear to be part of a series. Nor do these discourses appear in the new Stevens translation. As the title indicates, Stevens has made a new compilation of Ueshiba's discourses, some of which are to be found in Takemusu Aiki
, others not. Thus his translation-cum-paraphrase serves its purpose as an exposition of Ueshiba's philosophy (but intentionally devoid of the religious underpinnings), but it is not an accurate rendering of the Japanese text edited by Takahashi Hideo and published by the Byakko Shinkokai.
Form and Content
Even a cursory glance at the English translations of the first four discourses will show the reason for the near impossibility of summarizing the others. One of the problems here is Ueshiba's style, which Amdur compares to that of the philosopher Emanuel Levinas, whom he studied at university.
"Rather than Ueshiba presenting an incoherent archaic mysticism, he left us a clear statement of what he was trying to accomplish, something that makes aikido far more challenging and enthralling than the idea that it's watered down Daito-ryu for the masses. This is not to say that Ueshiba is easy to understand. Clarity can be difficult and complex. Ueshiba's style of exposition is quite similar to that of the French philosopher Emanuel Levinas. Neither presents a dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, nor thesis, exposition and conclusion. Instead both men speak like waves rolling on the shore—returning again and again to the same themes, embellishing and amplifying them as they go." (HIPS, p. 166.)
Levinas, on the other hand, makes very much sense as he stands and his works have engendered a vast critical literature. Moreover, Levinas, unlike Ueshiba, does not need Amdur as his interpreter, to explain what he is really saying. So I do not find Amdur's comparison entirely convincing and to explain why, I will broaden his comparison to include other major figures whose writings I am familiar with: Homer, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Levinas, Deguchi, and Ueshiba. We can first look at each in terms of form and content: what they said / wrote, and how they said / wrote it. Then we can look at the ‘logic' of discourse.
With Homer, we do not even know whether the poems were written by one person or by many. We have two epic poems written in Ionic Greek, concerning Achilles and Hector, during the siege of Troy, and the wanderings of Odysseus after the siege ended. The poems are written—and therefore ‘static'—versions of what were variations on a common theme that were originally delivered aloud by traveling bards: peripatetic ‘singers of tales', tales with which the audiences were already familiar. So the form and content completely match. Even the translations of these poems command attention in their own right and are recognized for their qualities of style, quite apart from the accuracy of the content (whether it is a faithful rendering of the Greek original). All our information about Heraclitus, including what he said or wrote, comes at least secondhand, mainly from those who quoted him in order to refute him. His style is said to be ambiguous: he exploited the resources of the Greek language in much the same way that Ueshiba Morihei exploited the resources of the Japanese language. However, apart from his ambiguity, in many cases there is simply not enough evidence to know what Heraclitus actually meant, or even might have meant. Our information about his nemesis, Parmenides, is also secondhand, but we have more evidence than for Heraclitus, including extracts from a long poem concerning revelations about truth and appearances, allegedly given to him by a goddess. With Plato, the form changes to prose, usually in a dialogue style and, despite all the arguments about dialectic and forms—with a content that became increasingly arcane as Plato grew older, there is a clear sense in his depictions of Socrates of the living person behind the arguments. So the form and the content also match quite smoothly. Aristotle was supposedly even a better exponent of the dialogue form than Plato, but none of his dialogues have survived. All we have are the dry notes of the lectures and classes he gave in the Lyceum. His immense and lasting influence is due much more to the content than the form in which it was presented. With Wittgenstein, we have two examples: the dry, precise, numbered propositions of the Tractatus
, which Wittgenstein later abandoned in favor of the dialogue style in his later writings. However, in one sense the form and the content match each other. The Tractatus
aims at the kind of logical accuracy that mirrors language considered as a set of true propositions, whereas the Philosophical Investigations
presents philosophy as the unraveling of a set of puzzles about language, which is precisely what goes on in the work (and which, incidentally, was subjected to the same heavy editing as Takemusu Aiki
). Levinas wrote books and papers on subjectivity (a very important concept which, coincidentally, is also a favorite subject with certain wartime Japanese philosophers of the Kyoto School) and both form and content are more recognizably academic, but the form Levinas uses (like waves rolling on a shore) is no major hindrance to understanding what he states.
Dialectics and Logics
All the above examples are towering figures in the world of ideas and all are accessible to English-language readers via reliable translations, which enable those who cannot read the original to judge the quality of both form and content. With Deguchi Onisaburo, on the other hand, major problems arise. No translations of Deguchi's major work, Reikai Monogatari
, (which Ueshiba Morihei is known to have read and studied) have ever been attempted. The work was dictated after the first Omoto Suppression and the Japanese original is currently in print—in 81 volumes. The scale is Homeric, as, to some extent, are the contents (except that Deguchi himself is always the main hero), but I very much doubt that Reikai Monogatari
will ever have the same monumental stature—in any culture—as the Iliad
and the Odyssey
have. Deguchi makes too many demands on his readers and Reikai Monogatari
stands as a counterexample to Amdur's statement in HIPS
that clarity can be difficult and complex. Ueshiba, on the other hand, did not write anything at all; he delivered discourses, which were edited and published by others, clearly with the intention of putting them into a readable form. Even so, major problems also arise. An additional problem with Ueshiba Morihei is that he has not been well served by his translators. Leaving aside the issues of translation as such, the translations of Ueshiba's discourses that have so far been published are really a mixture of summary or paraphrase: an effort to present Ueshiba as he might have sounded to a modern western reader. (The introductions and explanations in Budo Renshu
are somewhat different; they are eminently technical, and with relatively little of the kotodama-gaku
that pervades the ‘religious' discourses.) The translations that have been published by Stanley Pranin and Sonoko Tanaka in Aikido Journal
are also different. They are real translations, not paraphrases or summaries, and have some critical apparatus, but this does not go far enough to explain to the committed reader what Ueshiba himself meant and probably took for granted. Until serious attempts are made to examine the discourses in terms of kotodama-gaku
and also to place the 道歌 doka
in their cultural and historical context as waka
poetry (with full account taken of Chinese antecedents and Japanese parallels), Takemusu Aiki
is likely to remain a closed book.
Amdur notes that both Levinas and Ueshiba present their respective discourses like the waves of the sea washing against the shore [like waves rolling on the shore—returning again and again to the same themes, embellishing and amplifying them as they go
]. This might well be a fine analogy, but the reason why I spent time discussing form, content, and the way other thinkers deal with this, is that it must still be possible to make a dispassionate judgment about the quality of content, the quality of form, and the quality of the melding together of both. This is as true for discourse as waves as it is for discourse using dialectic. Another point is that Amdur's argument from the wave analogy relies on volume—the fact that the rolling is a continuous process discernible in all waves. His argument based on this metaphor would be stronger if he considered Ueshiba's entire corpus and not one very small part of it. If he did this, the rolling of the waves would be depicted rather more sharply.
Amdur gives a minute analysis of parts of the translated discourses. Even from the small amount of material studied, the picture of Ueshiba that emerges could never be called Ueshiba-lite
. To see this, we need to consider a few topics.
First, aikido is a ‘spiritual activity' and by this notorious phrase is meant activity as a sword, harmonizing Heaven, Earth and Humanity. This is Amdur's way of describing the three worlds. The Kojiki
account is somewhat different, as the following account, published in 1938, shows.
"The oldest Shinto mythology presents merely s particular form of the ordinary tripartite division of the visible universe into the upper world of the firmament where the gods and goddesses dwell and where they settle their affairs in tribal council under the authority of the great deities of the upper sky, the middle world of men on the surface of the earth, and the lower world of darkness where live evil and violent spirits ruled over by the great earth mother. The lower world is called Yomotsu-kuni or Yomi-no-kuni, with a probably meaning of ‘The Night Land.' The domain of living men is Utsushi-yo, ‘The Manifest World.' The upper world of everlasting felicity is called Takama-ga-hara, meaning ‘The Plain of the High Sky.'" (D C Holtom, The National Faith of Japan, p. 21.)
Amdur actually glosses over something that was exceedingly controversial and to see this we need to restate some essential background information that was first given in TIE Column 8.
One central issue for these Kokugaku
scholars concerned the interpretation of Japan's ancient myths. Masa-katsu-a-katsu-kachi-hayabi, the rather wimpish son of the Sun Goddess Ama-terasu-O-Mikami—and one of O Sensei's favorite deities, had been designated to descend from Heaven to rule Japan. Masa-katsu-a-katsu declined the request, since producing his son demanded his full attention, and this newborn son, Ame-Nigishi-kuni-nigishi-Ama-tsu-hiko Hiko-ho-no-Ninigi-no-mikoto (thankfully called the Heavenly Grandchild
, for short), was commissioned to go in his place. This deity had to wait a while, however, until the ‘unruly earthly deities' had been subdued. When this had been done, the Sun Goddess Ama-terasu-O-Mikami dispatched various divine messengers to request O-Kuni-nushi-no-kami [a son of Take-Haya-Susa-no-o and the deity who ruled over the earth] to surrender the land. This deity eventually responded that, provided they built him a shrine ‘equal in splendor to the palace of the emperors', he would withdraw and ‘conceal myself and wait upon you…' The Nihongi
adds that the heavenly messenger told O-Kuni-nushi that thereafter the latter would administer ‘kami
matters', or ‘concealed matters'.
There was a major discussion over the meaning of these ‘concealed matters'. Kokugaku doyen
Motoori Norinaga thought that the "kami
matters" referred to the Land of Yomi
, the land where deities like Izanami and also humans went after death. Motoori's disciple Hirata Atsutane disagreed and maintained that the kami
actually lived alongside humans, but were ‘concealed' from ordinary affairs. Since O-Kuni-nushi-no-kami was a deity from Izumo, Hirata argued that Ama-terasu's Imperial Shrine at Ise was the center of the rule of visible, worldly affairs (and therefore that Japan's emperors had a higher status than other rulers—Japan being the center of the visible world), whereas Izumo was the center of the rule for invisible kami
matters—Japan being the center of this world, also. The two worlds co-existed, but the influence of the ‘concealed' kami
world was felt everywhere in the visible world. Thomas Nadolski notes that Hirata's arguments about the kami
world and the Emperor's relationship to it became one of the ideological foundations of the restored emperor system.
Ueda Kisaburo [a.k.a. Deguchi Onisaburo] borrowed Hirata's teachings and took them several steps further. He argued that the kami
world was actually in utter confusion, and for two reasons. One reason for the disorder stemmed from the collapse of the rule of Kuni-no-toko-tachi-no-kami, the primary deity created at the very beginning of the creative process, but who, after his brief mention at the beginning of the Kojiki
, is never referred to again. Ueda argued that this deity had actually been charged by the Buddha Miroku (Maitreya) with establishing ‘just rule' over the world. Using an interesting blend of Buddhism and Shinto, Ueda argued that Miroku was the ultimate deity of the universe and that Kuni-no-toko-tachi-no-kami was the ruler of the divine world. Since Kuni-toko-tachi was pure spirit, Ueda maintained that his rule was too severe for ‘the eight hundred myriad deities' and they complained to Miroku. On hearing of the complaints, Kuni-toko-tachi went into voluntary retirement and Miroku allowed Bankojin
, a Chinese creation deity (a.k.a. P'an ku), to establish his rule over the land of the kami
. The rule of Bankojin represented the subjugation of the spirit to matter and, consequently, the world was thrown into a state of chaos, with wars, famines and plagues. According to Ueda, in 1892 Kuni-no-toko-tachi-no-kami decided to return to a particular part of the land of the kami
that touched the earthly world, namely, the center at Ayabe, and restore his true rule. He used Neo Deguchi as his mouthpiece and this return was the main focus of the revelations in Nao Deguchi's Ofudesaki
The second reason for the disorder related to Take-Haya-Susa-no-o-no-Mikoto, the brother of Ama-terasu. Susa-no-o had been expelled from heaven for unruly behavior (which had caused Ama-terasu to retreat into a cave and perpetual night to fall). O-kuni-nushi-no-kami, mentioned above as the ruling earthly deity, was a descendant of Susa-no-o, however, and when he retired in favor of the Heavenly Grandchild, this upset the original order of the universe. The reason for this was that Susa-no-o had originally been given command over the "Ocean Plain", which clearly included the visible world, and until his rule was restored, there would be continued chaos. Ever one for the eclectic, Kisaburo Ueda argued that it was Miroku who had sent Susa-no-o to earth, in order to help in the restoration of the reign of Kuni-toko-tachi. Together they would re-establish the dominance of spirit over matter and of order over chaos. Ueda himself was ordained to play a major role in this. Since Kisaburo had been told by his chinkon kishin
teacher, Katsutate Nagasawa, that Susa no o was his personal spirit, Kisaburo believed that he himself was the incarnation of this deity.
Accordingly, the mission of Omoto was to unite all visible earthly matters with "concealed things" and this was the base of the Omoto doctrine that called for yo-naoshi
: the restoration of a just order (which, incidentally, the Meiji Restoration clearly was not) and the destruction of all evil. In 1903, Kisaburo Ueda took the name Onisaburo (王仁三郎), with Chinese characters more appropriate to the name of an emperor, and in 1910, Ueda was adopted by Nao into the Deguchi family and finally became Onisaburo Deguchi.It should be clear from this ‘mission statement' just why Omoto was considered such a threat by the government and why the religion was suppressed in 1921. (Mainly quoted from Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation
, Column 8.)
End of Essential Digression
The arguments of nativists like Motoori Norinaga and Hirata Atsutane about the precise meaning of the three worlds had not stopped when Deguchi Onisaburo was spreading the Omoto religion. As has been mentioned above, Deguchi initially stated that the three worlds would not be back in balance until Take-Haya-Susa-no-o-no-Mikoto (the unruly brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu O Mikami) had resumed rule over the human world. He, Deguchi, was the reincarnation of this deity, who would restore his rule initially at Ayabe, in Japan. It was Susa-no-o-no-Mikoto, after all, who slew the eight-headed dragon and received from its tail the kusanagi no shinken
, the sword that became one of the Japanese imperial regalia (and which is mentioned by Ueshiba Morihei in the sentence following those quoted by Amdur, below). After the First Suppression in 1921, Deguchi changed this doctrine and made the Divine Grandchild (of Susa-no-o's sister, Amaterasu-O-Mikami and the offspring of the deity Masakatsu Agatsu) the rightful ruler of the human world, through his descendant the Japanese emperor. Just before the First Suppression in 1920, Ueshiba Morihei became one of Deguchi's closest disciples. In Takemusu Aiki
, Ueshiba is far less controversial than Deguchi and does not mention the Japanese emperor, but he does mention Kuni-toko-tachi-no-kami, in a passage that Amdur does not reproduce in full. However, it is reasonable to assume that Ueshiba accepted Deguchi's theology, especially his belief in the important place of Take-Haya-Susa-no-o-no-Mikoto in the cosmic scheme of things.
The passage quoted by Amdur appears on p.162 of HIPS
"Ueshiba beautifully states, ‘The Earth has already been perfected… Only humanity has not yet completed itself. This is because sins and impurities have penetrated into us. The forms of aikido techniques are preparation to unlock and soften all joints of our body.' This remarkable passage defines how and why he created his method of training, distilled from his previous martial arts studies, why he selected out the techniques he did, and why he excluded others."
The Japanese original can be found in Takemusu Aiki
, on p. 38. For those who wish to improve their skills in reading Japanese, here is the text. The parts that Amdur has quoted are printed in bold type.
「大地はすでに完成され、国常立命が表にあらわれてき たのです。まだ人のみが完成されていない。罪けがれが身にしみこんでからです。合気道の技の形は体の節々をときほぐすための準備です。 これから六根の罪けがれをみそぎ浄めていなければなりません。
Next follows Sono Tanaka's translation, with the parts that Amdur omitted.
"The Earth has already been perfected and Kuni Toko Tachi no Mikoto has begun to appear on its surface. Only humanity has not yet completed itself. This is because sins and impurities have penetrated into us. The forms of aikido techniques are preparation to unlock and soften all joints of our body. Beginning now on we must purify more and more sins and impurities of our rokkon.
Aikido was born for this purification. It is movement with the Divine Sword—Kusanagi no Shinken.It purifies sins and impurities, clarifies the principle of Truth existing in all nature, and takes care of everything."
Tanaka adds three notes. One explains that Kuni-Toko-Tachi-no-Mikoto was a creating deity in the Kojiki
. The second explains the meaning of 六根 rokkon
. (These are six organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, flesh and mind, giving rise to the six senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thinking. Tanaka adds that purifying the senses means ‘purifying our body and mind by cutting off all relationships associated with any illusion of the six senses.) The third note explains kusanagi-no-shinken and briefly recounts the story of Susa-no-o-no-Mikoto slaying the eight-headed dragon.
Finally, here is the new translation by John Stevens.
"Earth came into being as divine energy made manifest. However, creation is not yet complete because sins and impurities still continue to taint our spirits. Aikido techniques make the joints of our bodies more flexible and pliant [and that softens our spirits as well]. Next our six sense organs [eyes ears, nose, tongue, skin and mind] must be purified.
Aikido came into being for the purpose of misogi [purification of body and mind]. It is a divine sword, a magic blade that cuts to the heart of things and slices through all entanglements. It clears the path for us so we can find the truth." (Stevens, The Heart of Aikido, p. 38.)
If one compares the translations with the Japanese original, it will be clear that all three are the result of choices. Amdur ignores the reference to Kuni-toko-tachi-no-Mikoto (which places Ueshiba fully in the tradition of Omoto political theology), because he wants to concentrate on aikido as a preparation for unlocking and softening the joints. Actually he quotes the same passage again (HIPS
. p. 172), where he associates another of Ueshiba's metaphors, kasutori
[滓, 粕, or 糟-- 取り: removing kasu
or sediment, especially during the production of alcohol], with softening the joints. However, it is unusual in view of the large amount of space he devotes to the topic later, that Amdur ignores all the references to misogi
, which is precisely what Ueshiba claimed he was doing when he practiced kasutori
on his deshi
Tanaka supplies some explanatory details in the notes, but also ignores the significance of misogi
. Stevens cleverly includes Kuni-toki-tachi-no-Mikoto implicitly in his first sentence and mentions misogi
specifically, but is more concerned to expand on the virtues of the sword. However, misogi
occupies a central place in Ueshiba's discourse and I think Amdur would have done well to consider this in more detail here.
All You Need is Love…
The background is in HIPS
, in Amdur's discussion of love. This is curious, for the whole discussion centers on the significance of ubuya
(産屋), normally translated as ‘parturition hut'. However, the significance of the episode for Ueshiba's own conception of love is not clear from Amdur's discussion. Ubuya
are mentioned elsewhere in the Kojiki
and do not have the negative connotations that Amdur has given them here. This is one place where Amdur needs to follow the example of Levinas and make more use of Ueshiba's discourses as waves on the shore. Thus the mention of love here needs to be compared with Ueshiba's other discourses on the same subject, especially in the second section of 『合気神髄』Aiki Shinzui
(English translation by John Stevens entitled The Secret Teachings of Aikido
). Ueshiba gives ten discourses, under the general heading of ‘Aikido is the Spirit of Love', without mentioning ubuya
feature in the curious ritual undertaken by Izanagi and Izanami after the former's visit to Yomotsu-kuni
. Amdur notes the long explanatory footnote (written by Takahashi and in fact translated by Tanaka Sonoko) after the first discourse, but the footnote essentially summarizes the story and notes that Ueshiba stated that aikido was the three peaches, cast by Izanagi, which caused all his pursuers to flee. Izanami then pursues her husband and the two come face to face over a huge boulder. Then, as the Japanese text has it, the two 事戸を度す. (The text reads kotodo wo watasu
, but the characters are meaningless as they stand.) They make statements to the effect that, "If you act thus (action unspecified), I will each day strangle to death one thousand of the human grass of your country" [this is the first mention of human beings in the Kojiki
], which is met with, "If you act thus (action unspecified), I will each day build one thousand five hundred parturition huts." And nothing else happens. The story ends rather lamely with the general statement that, "This is the reason why one thousand people inevitably die and one thousand five hundred people are inevitably born every day." Scholars take this as a popular account of the rapid population increase accompanying the development of agricultural production after the third and fourth centuries (details in Donald Philippi, Kojiki
, p. 66).
Now Amdur explains the episode as showing a total lack of compassion on the part of Izanagi to his wife. These supposedly negative aspects of Izanagi's behavior are intended as illustrations of Ueshiba's conception of aikido as love, but in the true sense (as compared with any ‘aiki-bunny' interpretation of ‘aikido love' as Martial Agape—or even Martial Eros). On the other hand, the opening of the story has Izanami slaying the fire deity for killing his wife and then going to visit her in Yomotsu-kuni to request her to come back, since the work of creation is a joint activity, involving male and female, and it is not yet finished. Amdur sees male grandiosity in the threat to build the ubuya
, alone, but, in view of the original emphasis on joint creation, another interpretation is quite possible. This is that there is no other option possible, but for Izanagi to carry on alone—and this is actually what happens: he produces the two most important deities in the entire Kojiki
myth sequence during his misogi
ritual. Readers will need to study Amdur's points here and, especially, read the entire Izanagi / Izanami sequences, either in Japanese or in a reliable English translation (Philippi's is really the only one). It is not my intention here to give any support whatever for any ‘aiki-bunny' interpretation of ‘aikido love' as Martial Agape—or even Martial Eros. However, the one thing that the episode does not illuminate is Ueshiba's ideas about Aikido as love.
Izanagi in the River
After returning from the Land of Yomi, Izanagi undertakes a complex misogi
ritual and it is important to place this in some cultural context and abandon any idea that pollution and ritual purification has anything to do with sin and guilt, as these are understood in Christianity. This becomes clear from a comparison between the creation myths in the early chapters of Genesis
and those in the Kojiki
A preliminary point needs to be made that the editors / compilers of both accounts made an extensive trawl through contemporary myths to produce their own versions. Thus, the Chinese influences on the Kojiki
are too obvious to be ignored and are even more obvious in the other compilation, the Nihon shoki
, which appeared a few years after the Kojiki
. A personal god, personal sin, guilt, and punishment are placed firmly at the forefront of the Genesis
accounts of the creation of man and of the first fratricide. Even though God walks in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening, he severely questions Adam about his nakedness and expels Adam and his wife from the Garden, on the grounds that they might eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and make themselves as gods, like Lucifer and his fellow angels did. Though Philippi notes that some scholars have attempted to see a kind of Original Sin in Izanagi's descent to the Land of Yomi, the world of the Kojiki
is quite different from that of Genesis
. There is no hint of any attempt on the part of humans to be like deities, no fall from grace and no hint whatever of any personal offence in the conduct of Izanagi or his wife, or of any of the other deities who appear in the early sections of the work. In fact, the very names of the many deities are more like descriptions of what they are supposed to be or do. Izanagi's killing of the fire god presented no moral problems whatever, even for Morihei Ueshiba, and Susan-no-o's victory over Amatersau and the subsequent acts that led to his heavenly mura-hachibu
were never seen as personal sins against the goddess or transgressions of moral rules applicable in all circumstances. More importantly, nor is there any hint of sin, guilt and punishment in Deguchi's magnum opus, Reikai Monogatari
, from which Ueshiba Morihei took the inspiration for his discourses—and his theology. Instead, we have pollution, shame and ritual purification—with many kotodama
battles between competing deities / avatars thrown in for good measure. There are some Christian influences in Reikai Monogatari
, but these do not extend to theories of universal ethics or a personal sense of sin.
The importance of correct ritual is underlined by two other episodes in the Kojiki
. When Izanami and Izanagi dance round the pillar and eventually produce a child, the ‘leech-child' that is produced is the result of incorrect procedure. The deities hold a meeting and instruct the pair to perform the dance again, this time correctly. The result is the creation of Japanese islands and many other deities. Secondly, after Amaterasu-O-Mikami has retreated into her cave and the Central Land of Reed Plains is visited with various calamities, a very careful ritual is prepared in order to entice her out again and the Kojiki
goes into great detail about this. The ritual was successful, and is still reenacted in the kagura
dance. Goi Masamichi placed great emphasis on the significance of the Opening of the Stone Door and this is also discussed by Ueshiba Morihei elsewhere in Takemusu Aiki
A corollary of the lack of any ethical element in the accounts of misogi
in the Kojiki
or in Ueshiba's discourses is that Ueshiba is able to identify misogi
with aikido training: the kind of training that removes the kaku
from the joints, but this is not training done in a ‘moral' way or with a ‘good' intention. So Ueshiba did not become soft in his aikido training because he believed that aikido has a mission to promote world peace and love in a Christian or charismatic sense. Even if he did believe this, it would have made no difference whatever to the martial aspects of his aikido. With misogi
, it is the correctness of the ritual that matters, not any super-ordinate moral intention regarding the purpose of the ritual, other than a general intention to become ‘pure', which is what the ritual is intended to achieve. So Ueshiba's aikido is like norito
, the ancient ritual prayers that had to be intoned correctly, done with the correct gestures and with the kind of intent that Kukai explained in his discussions about shugyo
. If not, the power of kotodama
could not arise—and Ueshiba also stated in many places in Takemusu Aiki
that practicing aikido was practicing kotodama
The question for contemporary non-Japanese aikido practitioners and also for those Japanese aikidoka [probably the vast majority] do not know about the origins of misogi
as a training concept is: how to practice aikido as misogi
? In answer to this question, there is an ambiguity about the concept as used by Ueshiba Morihei that would enable both Abe Seiseki and Ueshiba Kisshomaru to claim on his authority that they are practicing misogi
in their aikido. Amdur explains in great detail the series of Misogi no gyo
exercises performed by Abe, and it is quite likely that Ueshiba used these training exercises, from Kawatsura Bonji via Futaki Kenzo, to systematize his own discrete trainings that he had begun in Hokkaido. However, Ueshiba is also very clear in Takemusu Aiki
(as clear, at least, as he ever is in this work) that his aikido, everything practiced on the tatami
, including the waza
, are misogi
training, not solely the exercises he performed before and after training in waza
. The fact that this is the case has some important consequences, for it allows an interpretation of aikido as misogi
, based solely on practicing waza
, understood as techniques. The ‘internal training' exercises can then be repackaged as ‘warming up' exercises, ‘always performed by O Sensei' before the main business of training in waza
begins—and all the references to removing kasu
through training can be interpreted in this context.
For reasons of space, it is impossible to discuss all of Amdur's insights in this chapter. I believe that Amdur is absolutely right to stress the crucial importance of the religious component of Ueshiba Morihei's thinking and that the modern translations put out by Kodansha, purporting to place Ueshiba with the context of ‘universal human values' do not present a completely true picture of the man and his art. However, to do what Amdur intends to do in this chapter, it is necessary to examine with care the entire corpus of Ueshiba's discourses. We have here at best a compelling account of what Ueshiba might have meant, on the basis of a small selection of his output—if he is translated in a certain way. However, I believe that Amdur is largely correct in his general explanation of how Ueshiba saw aikido and so this chapter is one of the most important in the book.
5. Training the Body—to See what is Hidden…
The fifth chapter in Amdur's book is concerned more with the nitty-gritty of training.
In a section entitled "Natural Strength", Amdur begins with the reasonable observation that someone involved in heavy physical labor willy-nilly learns quite subtle principles involving the use of body weight and physical strength.
"Internal strength probably developed as an extrapolation and refinement from the skills and efficiency that a person naturally develops to accomplish hard tasks of daily life. That understanding integrated with increasing sophistication over the centuries within the "unnatural" process of martial arts training and technique." (HIPS, p. 178.)
Amdur's first example is farming and he cites "farmer's strength", but this is something of a red herring as far as Takeda is concerned and at least initially in the case of Ueshiba. Takeda was brought up in a temple and does not seem to have worked at all. Ueshiba Morihei's father was a wealthy farmer, but Ueshiba himself seems to have been shielded from the "hard tasks of daily life" until he settled in Hokkaido. Sagawa had a private income. Of course, they all did intense personal training, each after his own fashion, and after Ueshiba arrived in Hokkaido, he had little choice but to get down to the hard tasks. I have argued elsewhere that Ueshiba's apparent joy at the bucolicism of budo was part of Ueshiba's own spiritualization of budo. The link between agricultural labor and budo is accidental and owes much to the nativist Hirata Atsutane's purported ‘rediscovery' of so-called ‘traditional' Japanese values. Ueshiba's joy was not shared by Takeda, who never allowed himself the time to settle down and pursue such a mundane and ‘un-samurai' activity as farming.
Of course, there is an issue here, which is of some relevance to those who wish to acquire internal power / skill in ‘aiki
', but who have families to support—with no acquired wealth. In a footnote, Amdur cites David P Willoughby's The Super Athletes
and a glance at Amazon.com
will reveal a whole raft of books devoted to super athletes, many of which purport to explain to the buyer how he/she can become one. The issue is the role played by Nature and Nurture, respectively. The underlying message of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers
is that Nurture is by far the most important factor and that if people put in the required amount of training—10,000 hours is the minimum, the potential, at least, for the flowering of ‘genius' will be there. The catch is that this is best done earlier in one's life, rather than later. A slightly different message is conveyed by books like Christopher McDougall's Born to Run
, which deals with a tribe of runners in Mexico, who are similar to the Amazonian hunters described by Amdur (HIPS
, p. 179). McDougall himself was taught to run by a dropout who learned to run with the Tarahumara Indians and he cured himself of various physical problems—especially severe knee problems—along the way. McDougall's is a ‘return-to-nature' book, in which he argues, for example, that bare feet are better than the advanced products that Adidas and Nike regularly bring out, but he also includes detailed accounts of how he and others put in the 10,000 hours of training required.
So it is the solo training that is important, rather than a return to the primitive conditions of an Amazonian tribe, to the working conditions of an un-mechanized farm or of a nineteenth century coal mine. In fact, Amdur never argues that ‘natural strength' and internal power are the same. He notes that the latter requires "incredibly sophisticated and specialized training".
"Solo training seems to be a common link among Daito-ryu practitioners and the various methods of this training develop different types of internal strength. Such training can include: a) wringing / twisting / coiling of the body to develop the connective tissue; b) methods of breathing to generate "pressure", which builds power from the inside out; c) mental imagery and focused attention that causes subtle micro-adjustments of the nervous system that, in essence, "rewire" the body, so that it functions at increasing levels of efficiency, without unnecessary conflicts between extensor and flexor muscles, for example. Different practitioners of Daito-ryu, including Ueshiba, probably used different exercises and also probably trained in these aspects in different proportions. In this way, their abilities would have developed in different spheres." (HIPS, pp. 181-182.)‘Aiki'
Amdur then turns to Ueshiba Morihei more specifically and notes what he thinks is a progress in what we might call the expression of this training. The progress is from ‘lightning' to ‘void'. However, the important point for this reviewer is that both are different ways of showing internal power. During the Kenkoku University demonstration in Manchuria in 1942, according to Tada Hiroshi's cousin Ueshiba's uke acted "as if they were being shocked by high-voltage electricity
". In the 1960s, on the other hand, the uke
had no clue at all how he fell. "When somebody else did it you knew they were ‘doing it' to you, they were unbalancing you no matter how lightly they did it. When O Sensei did it, ‘Bang' you were down. Why are you down? You had no clue.
" (Henry Kono, cited by Amdur on HIPS
, p. 183.) Amdur strongly suggests that this is the transition from lightning to void, but also reveals what seems to be a flaw in Kono's explanation.
"Kono: ‘If you look at the yin and yang symbol, it depends on the perspective you are dealing with it. If you isolate the black and white side you can say they have their own center, which is obvious. But when they join up as a symbol, the center is represented where each side comes together. There is no other place where the center could be but where they meet, both sides being identical in value and weight. No thinking is needed. It's straight mathematics.'
Interviewer: ‘Isn't conversation about aikido the same?'
Kono: ‘No. Most of it comes down to unbalancing the other. In yin and yang, nobody is trying to unbalance anybody, or even control: it can only flow together.'"
Amdur adds the following comment:
"One practitioner of internal strength training noted to me that it would be superficial to regard the ‘meeting' of yin and yang, represented by the line in the middle, as merely the joining of the two practitioners. He stated that the line represents the spine, and yin and yang are forces within the body of the person skilled in aiki, used to dominate the disorganized power of the other person." (HIPS, ibid.)
Two points are worth making here. First, both lightning and void seem to be expressions of the meeting of yin
within the individual, not between one practitioner and the other. So, what is at issue here is the expression of the internal power. As someone who has taken ukemi
from Tada Hiroshi for almost thirty years, I think the expression of his power, like that of Shioda Gozo, can be described more as a shock of electricity than as an invitation into a void. You have entered a whirlwind, but Tada has done hardly anything to adjust his posture to take account of you as his uke
. With Tada especially, much more than with any other of the shihans currently affiliated to the Aikikai Hombu, the impression is given that the waza
are expressions of something else, more important, that is going on. Of course, as stated above, Tada joined the Tenpukai and the Ichikukai when he was a student at Waseda and still practises the ki no renma
exercises he fashioned as a result. Always ramrod straight in posture, he is still going strong at the age of 82.
Whether Tada Hiroshi's solo kokyu
training is training to acquire internal power, however, is certainly moot—and depends to some extent on how training to acquire 呼吸力 (kokyu ryoku
: breathing power) is regarded as internal training. Tada no longer wanders round the mat throwing all and sundry, as he used to do when he was younger. His ukes are usually from a certain group of Tokyo University students and I suspect that, like the famous Japanese sakura
[cherry blossoms], their skills bloom for the short time they are students—and have the leisure to train hard—and then die away, as they write their graduation theses and enter the ‘real' world of earning a living, raising families etc. I think that Tada realizes this, for in a private conversation, which took place after the end of a two-day training session, in which he had spent several hours teaching the full range of breathing and moving exercises, he commented that it was such a pity that (a) the students had the time to train hard and get to understood these exercises well, but they could never become a lifetime commitment, and that (b) because the ordinary members of the dojo could not put in the time required, they would find it much, much more difficult to understand these matters.
Tada Hiroshi's training has been intense but he has a very precise idea of what his training is intended to achieve and he certainly meets Gladwell's conditions in terms of hours put in, as he himself suggests in these extracts from the Aikido Journal
"Personal training is important no matter what art you practice. You should create your own training program, starting with running. In my twenties and into my thirties I used to get up at 5:30 every morning and run about fifteen kilometers. When I finished that I went home and practiced striking a bundle of sticks with a bokken (wooden sword). In those days the houses in Jiyugaoka were much further apart, so I could make as much noise as I pleased. I trained using the method of Jigen-ryu, which I had learned from O-Sensei at Iwama. It's said that in the old days the warriors of the Satsuma domain [in Kyushu] would strike a bundle of brushwood ten thousand times every day, but I could only manage about five hundred at best. At first it made my hands go numb, but after a while I was able to strike a large tree with no problem. I've had my students at Waseda University and Gakushuin University train in this way. I find it to be one of the best training methods for aikido.
"It is very important to observe your teacher's personal training method very closely and learn it well; otherwise you may draw hasty and wrong conclusions and end up doing meaningless or mistaken training. In any case, you need to review what your teacher has taught you and attempt to discern something that represents the basic lines of it; then practice that over and over until you can do it. In this way you create your personal training method.
"I think if you want to become an expert at what you do - whether it's martial arts, sports, some kind of art, or whatever - then you need to train at least two thousand hours a year while in your twenties and thirties. That's five to six hours a day. It probably depends on the person, but most of that time will be spent in personal training. After training on your own you can come to the dojo to confirm, try out, and work through whatever you've gained. (Interview with Hiroshi Tada, Aikido Journal, #101,)
Secondly, the demonstration in the year 1942 marks the end of one period and the beginning of another. Ueshiba withdrew to Iwama in 1942 (the Tenkoku demonstration took place before this) and began his intensive training with weapons a few years later, which issued in the early books by Saito Morihiro. Ueshiba had already broken with Takeda a few years earlier and also had already begun misogi
training, as he states in his accounts of the ‘mystical' experiences he had. In fact it is highly likely that the misogi
training had begun much earlier. Thus the complex discussion about ‘aiki
' and weapons in Chapter Three needs to be kept in mind as Amdur discusses Ueshiba's training methods here.
Amdur moves on to discuss Ueshiba's power in more detail. One important point he makes is that it is difficult (i.e., impossible) to achieve the kind of explosive power from the kind of ukemi
training commonly seen in aikido dojos, with uke gracefully executing flying all over the dojo.
"The result of such practice, done well, should be the development of an individual who is athletic, supple, and quickly responsive to dealing with force, from whatever angle it comes. This, however, cannot be considered the heart of Ueshiba's development of skill." (HIPS. p. 184.)
Amdur actually identifies Ueshiba's ‘aiki
' with the two aspects identified in the previous section: the explosive power, and the ability to cause the opponent to fall without him knowing what happened. Amdur has little time for those who suggest that Ueshiba actually weakened his aikido as a result of his spiritual pursuits, or for those who believe that it is possible to achieve the divine takemusu aiki
) directly, without going through the training that could lead to this. What we have, suggests Amdur, is a Ueshiba who, like good wine, matured as he grew older, but still possessed the explosive power shown in 1942. To someone who has such skills, the execution of techniques becomes a secondary matter.
The issue for Amdur then becomes one of distinguishing Ueshiba's power / skill from that of the other students of Takeda Sokaku. As stated earlier, each of Takeda's close students appears to have developed differently and Amdur spends much of his third chapter attempting to show that in Ueshiba's aikido, these skills "are part of the expression of a larger system of ethics, religion and a way of understanding the one's place in this world." Technically, there is not much to choose and one eminent aikido shihan told me privately that he did not think that the technical aspects of his aikido changed very much after his meeting with Deguchi Onisaburo. (I think he told me privately because it was contrary to the official line at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, namely, that Ueshiba created a completely new art and not merely a softer variation of Daito-ryu.) There is a touch of irony about Amdur quoting a statement from Ueshiba Kisshomaru, who most ardently argued that his father had created something entirely new, to show that "Ueshiba's aikido, real aikido
," was "pure Daito-ryu (irimi-issoku) and then, that accomplished, rounded out, the opponent projected away rather than crushed or folded close in.
, pp. 191-192.) Whilst generally agreeing with this, I believe that there is also quite a large variation between aikido as taught at the Aikikai Hombu, especially after Kisshomaru became Doshu and imposed his own mold on the training there, and elsewhere in Japan. This tendency has been continued under the present Doshu, even to the point where certain types of practice, which were certainly pursued by Ueshiba Morihei himself, are receiving censure as not expressing the essential ‘spirit' of aikido (合気道の精神). However, there are still a large number of senior instructors (Kato Hiroshi is one and my own teacher Kitahira Masakazu is another, both 8th dan holders) who have worked out their own way of executing waza
that are not confined within the Hombu patterns.
Amdur concludes this chapter with a discussion of two important topics: (1) whether and how Ueshiba passed on his knowledge to his students; and (2) whether and how Ueshiba's misogi
training evolved into a coherent system and built upon his Daito-ryu skills and his natural strength. I have discussed the first topic above, in the section dealing with weapons training. However the point that Amdur's stresses here is that Ueshiba was able to teach his skills in a relatively short time—to those who were in a condition to receive such teaching. The classic example is the sumo wrestler Tenryu. Tenryu had achieved the rank of sekiwake
, but went to Manchuria in 1938 as a physical education instructor. He encountered Ueshiba Morihei in 1939 and entered the Kobukan Dojo in April the same year. He stayed for three months and at the end of this time, when on a trip to Osaka with Shioda Gozo, was told by Ueshiba, "I have nothing else to teach you. Don't worry. You will be able to handle anyone who comes to attack you, wherever you go.
" (Quoted by Amdur in HIPS
, pp. 193-194; Original interview in Pranin, Aikido Masters
, pp. 274-283, Aikido Pioneers -- Prewar Era
, pp. 214-221.)
The fact that Tenryu had to obtain leave of absence from his university and the possibility that three months was the maximum time possible should not detract from the fact that Ueshiba believed that he could acquire the skills within the time allotted. However, Tenryu appears to have been the only deshi
to whom Ueshiba imparted such a belief. The other deshi
in the Kobukan stayed for much longer periods and appear to have left the dojo only because they were drafted into the Japanese armed forces, as the war increased in scale. So the question inevitably arises how exceptional Tenryu was. Of course, it is not insignificant that he had trained in sumo and had achieved serious rank in the art. Given the precedent set by Takeda Sokichi, Takeda Sokaku and by Ueshiba Morihei himself, it is reasonable that sumo provided Tenryu with a high level of skill to begin with. Amdur notes that teaching the information
needed to learn such skills (which must be done explicitly) need not take much time, even if mastery of the skills takes much longer. There are two aspects to this teaching. One is the IHTBF paradigm, since the information needed has to be shown and cannot be conveyed merely by talking about it, but the other is the choice of metaphors to describe the information, for, as well as being experienced directly, it does have to be talked about, even if this is done in metaphors.
(2) The second topic is the evolution of Ueshiba's misogi
training, from its beginnings in Hokkaido and Ayabe to a coherent system of breath exercises, at the hands of Futaki Kenzo of the Misogi no Renseikai
(禊の錬成会). Amdur's elegant survey of the exercises done by the Misogikai leads to an important question, which I touched upon before, when discussing Amdur's treatment of Takemusu Aiki
. When did Ueshiba do these exercises and why, out of all the deshi
, were Abe Seiseki and Sunadomari Kanshu in Kyushu the only ones to practice them? Is it that he showed them in such detail only to Abe, or practiced them generally but in private, or practiced them as an essential core of what are nowadays called ‘warming up' exercises, but never expected his deshi
to do them to the same degree or with the same intensity? Apart from Abe himself, the only shihan affiliated to the Aikikai who spent any length of time on such exercises were the late Okumura Shigenobu and also Tada Hiroshi, who appears to have devised his own. Amdur also notes that Ueshiba's metaphor of kasutori
, discussed above, struck a major chord with Sunadomari Kanshu, but no one else appears to have heard the comment, or have been impressed with it.
By way of a conclusion, we can profitably reconsider the set of ten questions suggested at the beginning of this essay, concerning the cluster of skills involved, and consider the answers that Amdur has provided.
1. What, exactly, do these skills consist of?
We receive many hints and incidental explanations throughout the book and the cumulative weight of these explanations is impressive, but the original working definition set out in the Forward is never expanded upon and I personally think that this is one of the biggest shortcomings of the book. Of course, I can well understand the reasons why Amdur might have avoided doing this. Discussing internal skills, especially in Internet forums, is like crossing a minefield, with empiricists, behaviorists, rationalists and ki-mystics, all claiming to give accurate definitions or descriptions of the same elephant. Of course, Amdur has never claimed any expertise; like many others, he is actively pursuing the training he discusses in the book. However, right from the very beginning, Amdur indicates to the reader that he is going to focus on internal skills and I think the book would have been improved by collecting all the loose ends together, with an extended discussion about the precise nature of the internal skills that he believes both Takeda and Ueshiba to possess. I think the best place to have done this would be a more serious section in the chapter entitled, "Circle, Square, Triangle: How to be O Sensei in Sixteen Easy Steps." I believe that this is all the more important because many aikido practitioners will read the book and will want to place internal skills / training in the context of their own training in aikido waza
. Since both Takeda and Ueshiba taught or showed waza
—and therefore, on the surface at least, showed such skills through the medium of waza
, the problem for aikido practitioners who want to study internal training as such is to place this training in a suitable context.
2. Did Takeda Sokaku possess these skills?
Amdur certainly believes so and the cumulative evidence he reviews in HIPS
3. If so, how did Takeda Sokaku acquire these skills?
The core appears to have been the sumo training undergone at the hands of his father. This was supplemented by the extensive training in weapons and body arts that he undertook especially from the time he entered the dojo of Sakakibara Kenkichi. However, Amdur does not give much indication of how the ‘10,000' hours training done at an early age, regarded by Gladwell as so crucial for accumulating the skills that flower as ‘genius', actually translates into specifically ‘internal' skills. I think that the main reason for this is probably lack of precise information.
4. Did Takeda Sokaku teach these skills to all his disciples?
Takeda Sokaku appears to have ‘played' with most of the people he taught, by using them for a work-in-progress: the ingredients of what became the jujutsu waza
of Daito-ryu. However, closer students such as Sagawa and Ueshiba received something more intensive, being shown much more subtle skills and in greater depth.
5. In particular, did Takeda Sokaku pass on these skills to Ueshiba Morihei?
Compared with the previous question, the thrust of this question is the extent to which a student can acquire internal power and skills not specifically taught by the teacher. So the best answer to this question is probably ‘Not especially'. There is conflicting evidence. For example, Takeda claimed he was in Osaka to teach aiki
skills to Hisa Takuma, a claim that Hisa never denied (the implication being that he had not taught these skills to Ueshiba). However, Kisshomaru Ueshiba states that his father Morihei acquired these skills in Hokkaido, much earlier.
6. If not, how did Ueshiba Morihei acquire these skills?
In much the same way as Takeda's own teachers and his other students: by stealing and working things out for himself, the latter also by means of a rigorous and long-lasting personal training regime that was analogous in may respects to Takeda's.
7. Did Ueshiba Morihei teach these skills, as part of his training methodology?
Whereas Ueshiba did not really ‘play' with the people he taught (cf. Amdur's references to Takeda's "really perverse sense of humor", pretzels and human origami
, pp. 98, 108, 186]—he had fewer family demons to deal with), he had the same general attitude as Takeda: students were expected to see and ‘steal' what he offered, but what was offered was offered on his own terms. Amdur does regard some of Ueshiba's students as akin to ‘crash-test dummies', in the sense that he passed on skills that he considered appropriate to their interests and abilities (Hikitsuchi in Shingu), or used students as partners for working on his own training at a particular point in his life (Saito in Iwama).
8. Did Ueshiba Morihei pass on these skills to all his disciples?
The choice of terms ‘teach' and ‘pass on' is intended to be significant. Ueshiba might have shown things to individual students, whom he believed might understand what he showed, but the internal skills were part of his training
methodology, not his teaching
methodology. That is, insofar as he actually used a teaching methodology: Amdur seems unclear here. Ueshiba had no problem with his students continuing their outside training activities, such as training with the Tempukai, Misogi no Renseikai and the Ichikukai, which students like Hiroshi Tada had joined at the same time as they entered the Hombu Dojo. Thus Ueshiba built on what his deshi
had already acquired and so it is quite likely that he could tell Tenryu, who, like Takeda Sokichi, had already done some serious internal training in sumo and had the rank of sekiwake
, that he could acquire the skills that Ueshiba had to offer in a few months. The younger postwar deshi
of Kisshomaru did not have this advantage—and it is a moot point to what extent Kisshomaru himself put in the amount of solo training necessary for the acquisition of such skills. (Tenryu makes some telling points in his Aiki News
interview.) So I think the answer to the question has to be ‘No.'
9. Did Ueshiba Morihei pass on these skills to those who claim succession from him: the heads of the schools displaying the various ‘flavors' of aikido?
10. Does the acquisition of these skills form part of the teaching/training methodology of postwar aikido?
Finally, despite the seemingly adverse comments I have made in this essay, I think that Amdur has produced a superb piece of work—and one that I would like to have written myself. (Alas, I have not had the breadth of martial experience that Ellis Amdur has had, even though I have lived here for much longer, and have had less exposure to training in internal skills than Amdur has had.) In my opinion, Amdur has put his finger on a whole cluster of issues affecting postwar aikido and I am not sure whether people in authority, like Doshus and Sokes and Kanchos—even many of the Japanese Senseis whose exploits are extolled in the AikiWeb
forums, are really even aware of these issues. Thus the biggest problem is that Amdur's work is available only in English and not, especially, in Japanese. HIPS
, like DOS
, would have a somewhat deeper impact on a potentially important audience (which, notoriously, is conspicuously conservative and even more conspicuously lacking in overt English skills) if reliable Japanese translations were available.
A few minor grumbles: The list given in Appendix A is excellent, but would be more useful to the serious researcher if the names were also given in Chinese characters. Secondly, I know from experience how difficult it is to proof and edit one's own writing, but there are a fair number of typing mistakes and other stylistic infelicities, which need to be corrected if a second printing is ever contemplated.
Essay on Reading & Further Research
Though I have already written a conclusion, this section is the real conclusion to this review essay. As usual, the following suggestions (of books, rather than articles, written mainly in English) are intended as a way to fill out some of the discussion in the various chapters. However, I have given the above title to this section because I believe that much more than reading is desirable for those who wish to take Amdur's research a stage further.
NOTE: Amdur's book can be obtained only from Edgework. Purchasing details can be found at www.edgework/info
There are two sets of items that are absolutely essential reading concerning Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu.
(a) Important items in the first set are the biographical essays written by Takeda Tokimune and published by Stanley Pranin in the earlier issues of Aiki News
. Tokimune was also interviewed by Stanley Pranin on a number of occasions and these interviews have been published by Aiki-News in Japanese and English: 『竹田惣角と大東流合気柔術』, 1992; Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu: Conversations with Daito-ryu Masters
, 1996, Aiki-News. In fact, the entire archive of articles and interviews created by Stanley Pranin at Aikido Journal
merits deep and repeated study. All the back issues of Aiki News
and Aikido Journal
are available on a CD-ROM that comes with a subscription to Aikido Journal
. This is one of the best bargains in the martial arts.
However, people will need to read each interview very carefully and bear in mind that these are translations from Japanese originals. I think it is also important to be aware of the biases of Takeda's Daito-ryu students. In my opinion, the biases of Tokimune can best be seen in contrast with the equally strong biases of Sagawa Yukiyoshi (see below).
(b) The second set of items are the interviews and other material made by Kimura Tatsuo relating to Sagawa Yukiyoshi, another of Takeda's top students: 『透明な力 不世出の武術家 佐川幸義』, 1995, 講談社; Transparent Power: A Secret Teaching Revealed: The Extraordinary Martial Artist Yukiyoshi Sagawa
, 2009, MAAT Press; 『合気修得への道 佐川幸義先生に就いた二十年』: Discovering Aiki: My 20 Years with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei
, 1995, Aiki News. Another student, Takahashi Masaru, has produced an account of Sagawa and his training: 『高橋賢, 佐川幸義先生伝 大東流合気の真実』, 2007, 福昌堂.
3 Aiki and Weapons
With respect to Takeda Sokaku, the two Japanese works cited earlier are fundamental for the general evidence of weapons training in the Aizu-Wakamatsu domain: 小川渉(Ogawa Wataru), 『会津藩教育考』(Thoughts on Education in the Aizu Domain
), 1930, 東京大学出版会; 笠井助治(Kasai Suteji), 『近世藩校の綜合的研究』(Studies of Domain Schools in the Early Modern Period
), 1965, 吉川弘文館.
Hotta Setsuo has produced a facsimile edition of Sei'un-ki
, the handwritten autobiographical memoir of Saigo Tanomo, with a printed version and extensive annotations. (掘田節夫,『会津藩老・西郷頼母自叙伝「栖雲記」私注』, 1993, 東京書籍.)
With respect to Takeda Sokaku's alleged ‘genius' with a sword, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers
is essential reading. I have some reservations about the uses Gladwell makes of the research of Geert Hofstede (works cited in earlier columns) and I also believe it is difficult to apply his conclusions to Takeda Sokaku or Ueshiba Morihei without qualification, but Outliers
remains an important speculative study of the alleged antecedent conditions for the display of genius. (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
, 2008, Little Brown.)
The biographies of Ueshiba Morihei are essential reading here, as also are the technical and (auto)biographical studies of (or by) Shioda, Shirata and Saito. The recent English translation of Ueshiba Kisshomaru's『合気道開祖植芝盛平伝』, entitled A Life in Aikido
, is especially important
4. Aikido as Fruit
It is not sufficiently realized that Ueshiba Morihei practiced Daito-ryu right up until the early 1940s. At least, this is what one of his students understood. In fact, the transformation of Daito-ryu, as Takeda invented it and Ueshiba practiced it, into aikido, as his son Kisshomaru practiced and disseminated it worldwide, provides a kind of backdrop to all the issues discussed in Amdur's book. Again, Stanley Pranin has interviewed many of Ueshiba's students and has published some of these in English: Stanley Pranin, Ed, Aikido Masters: Prewar Students of Morihei Ueshiba
, 1993, Aiki-News. A republication of these interviews has been made, entitled, Aikido Pioneers: Prewar Era
. Unfortunately, Pranin was never able to interview Admiral Isamu Takeshita, who was a bridge between Ueshiba and Takeda Sokaku. Takeshita kept diaries for much of his life and some portions of these relate directly to his budo training. A few individuals possess copies of portions of these diaries, but originals are kept in the National Diet Library in Tokyo. The sections dealing with Takeshita's bujutsu
training have not, to my knowledge, been published.
Kodansha International has published an English translation of some parts of Takemusu Aiki
. The translator of this work is John Stevens, who also translated Aiki Shinzui
, the collected discourses by Ueshiba Morihei. Having read this new translation and insofar as Prof Stevens has set something of a precedent with Aiki Shinzui
, I still stand by the remarks I made about translating Takemusu Aiki
, despite the appearance of this translation (Morihei Ueshiba, The Heart of Aikido: The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki
, 2010, Kodansha International).
5. Seeing what is Hidden
A fair amount has been written about the issue of nature vs. nurture concerning innate physical strength and skill and the training required to maintain it, or achieve something similar. Amdur himself cites David Willoughby's The Super Athletes
[about Amazonian hunters] and this can be supplemented by a vast number of ‘super-athlete' books, such as McDougall's Born to Run
[about a hidden tribe of Mexican super-runners]. (David P Willoughby, The Super Athletes: A Record of the Limits of Human Strength, Speed and Stamina
, 1970, Barnes; Christopher McDougall, Born to Run
, 2009, Knopf.) There are even philosophical treatments of the issues involved (Colin McGinn, Sport, 2008, Acumen; Michael W Austin, Running & Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind
, 2007, Blackwell).
The main focus of Amdur's discussion of the roots of Ueshiba's power is on ‘internal power / skills' and it is quite clear from Amdur's discussion that Ueshiba possessed such power and skills; it is less clear whether he taught such skills to his students, or, if he did, whether they were able to reproduce them, or to manifest analogous skills in their own practice. Consequently, if they have any interest at all in such skills, aikido practitioners in particular will need to do a very stringent reality check and find out whether the skills they have mastered through their aikido training are really ‘internal' and, if they are not, whether this matters to them. (Amdur has occasionally described such training as a ‘rewiring' of the body and if this is the case, it is highly likely that it will involve much unlearning or relearning.) If it does matter to them, I suspect that this reality check will be rather more painful for higher-ranked aikido practitioners, or for those who make a living from teaching aikido, than for beginners or for those professionals who are at the start of their aikido careers. Apart from texts, for example, the discourses and doka
of Ueshiba Morihei, or the much older texts relating to the core concepts of Chinese martial arts (all of which need to be interpreted), there is little of value on internal arts as applied to aikido. Here is an excerpt from a discussion in the AikiWeb
forums. The topic is the definition of ‘aiki
"When I go back over this thread and look at it objectively, I see that there are essentially two types of groups posting—those that have some hands on experience in IS/IP [internal skills/internal power]… and those that have not. Those that have not want to see videos with explanations of how to do this and what it looks like so they can believe it's real. On the other side, there are those with first hand knowledge saying that videos are not the way to teach nor train IS/IP, and that at best, a video could only provide a minor glimpse into what is going on. So, their preferred method of transmission is in person; which is pretty traditional for most (if not all) JMA [Japanese martial arts]and CMA [Chinese martial arts]. What I find interesting is that no one from the experienced group has ever said what these people are doing is not real, and that most of the people in the experienced group are very accomplished within their own arts and some are very senior ranking members of their arts—and they all are saying the same thing. So, that just begs the question, how can all these people be wrong in exactly the same way? The laws of probability tell me that they are not and that it would be wise to listen them. If those in the other group keep insisting that these people in the know just hand deliver their knowledge to their doorstep because they are part of the ‘I want' generation, the experienced people will just fade away and all that would be left is a bunch of people jabbering on the net about what ever happened to those aiki folks? I wish they would come back because I want to learn more … "
Much can be learned from specialized websites, but, ultimately, in the absence of a robust and recognized vocabulary and training methodology, the only way forward is for individuals who have the time, commitment and skills to do what Takeda and Ueshiba themselves did: seek out those ‘outliers' who are generally believed to possess this power / skills and train for and by themselves. An optimistic view is that at some point, a general reassessment of aikido training takes place, which places far more importance on personal training in addition to training in Daito-ryu or aikido waza
, which is a combination that comes closer to what Takeda and Ueshiba actually undertook.
However, a note of caution needs to be made here—and Amdur himself makes it in HIPS
, especially when dealing with the contribution of Ueshiba Kisshomaru to postwar aikido. ‘Outliers' is a well-chosen term, for those who will excel in internal power / skills are those who have had the time and commitment to put in the training and Gladwell himself notes that these are very few. However, this is also true in the case of aikido, which is not in itself thought to involve internal power / skills—especially in the way it is taught nowadays, and where the super-shihans who truly excel technically are also very few in number and are the products of similarly long and arduous training regimes. Hence the 10,000 hours is not really an issue, compared with the type and quality of the training actually undertaken.
Peter Goldsbury (b. 28 April 1944). Aikido 6th dan Aikikai, Emeritus Professor at Hiroshima University, teaching philosophy and comparative culture. B. in UK. Began aikido as a student and practiced at various dojo. Became a student of Mitsunari Kanai at the New England Aikikai in 1973. After moving back to the UK in 1975, trained in the Ryushinkan Dojo under Minoru Kanetsuka. Also trained with K Chiba on his frequent visits to the UK. Moved to Hiroshima, Japan, in 1980 and continued training with the resident Shihan, Mazakazu Kitahira, 7th dan Also trained regularly with Seigo Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Tada, Sadateru Arikawa and Masatake Fujita, both in Hiroshima and at the Aikikai Hombu. Was elected Chairman of the IAF in 1998. With two German colleagues, opened a small dojo in Higashi-Hiroshima City in 2001. Instructed at Aiki Expo 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada.