Is O Sensei really the father of modern Aikido ? by Stanley Pranin

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Is O Sensei really the father of modern Aikido ? by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Roma Dojo Kashin
Pubblicato da Admin in Letture · 10 Marzo 2016
Riportiamo due  articoli, in inglese, relativi la diffusione dell'aikido moderno. Leggendoli crediamo di intuire sempre più le affermazioni di Endo sensei  riguardo quanto sia stata differente la "matrice" dell' Aikido e quanto lui stesso cerchi di  ispirarsi a questa.
Questo primo articolo si intitola: "Is O Sensei really the father of modern Aikido? "  by Stanley Pranin.

After practicing and researching aikido for a number of years, I  gradually arrived at a hypothesis that went against conventional wisdom  and the testimonies of numerous shihan who claimed to have spent long  years studying at the side of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. I had over  the years attended many seminars given in the USA by Japanese teachers,  and also made several trips to Japan where I had seen and trained with  many of the best known teachers. My theory was simply that aikido as we  know it today was not the art practiced and taught by O-Sensei, but  rather any one of a number of derivative forms developed by key students  who studied under the Founder for relatively short periods of time.  This would account for the considerable divergence in styles, the  relatively small number of techniques taught, and the absence of an  Omoto-like religious perspective in the modern forms of the art. This  was not meant as a criticism of these “modern” forms of the art, but  rather an observation based on historical research that ran contrary to  common perception.

When I moved permanently to Japan in August 1977, I made a personal  decision to study in Iwama under Morihiro Saito Sensei. In the final  analysis, what attracted me to Iwama was the emphasis on firmness and  precision of technique, and the inclusion of the aiki ken and aiki jo in  the training curriculum. I’m sure that the proximity of the Aiki Shrine  and the fact that training in Iwama took place in O-Sensei’s personal  dojo were also contributing factors.

At the same time, I would hasten to mention that I didn’t consider Saito  Sensei’s technique to be a faithful continuation of the aikido of the  Founder, but rather regarded him as a technical master in his own right.  Looking back, I put Saito Sensei in the same category with well-known  teachers like Koichi Tohei, Shoji Nishio, Seigo Yamaguchi, and others  who were all highly skilled and had developed original teaching styles  which, though initially inspired by Morihei Ueshiba, had evolved into  quite different directions.

I recall clearly that, even though my Japanese language skills were  rather limited at that stage, I managed to communicate to Saito Sensei  my thoughts on this subject and doubts that his aikido was essentially  the same as that of the Founder as he claimed. My perception was based  on the fact that Saito Sensei’s technique appeared to be quite different  from the aikido of the Founder that I had seen on film. Somewhat amused  at my skepticism and no doubt my cheekiness considering that I was his  student, Sensei patiently explained that the reason for my confusion was  that most of what was preserved on film of the Founder were  demonstrations. He pointed out that the public displays of technique of  the Founder were very different from what O-Sensei showed in the dojo in  Iwama. Saito Sensei continued to insist that it was his responsibility  to faithfully transmit the aikido of the Founder and that it was not his  intention to develop a “Saito-ryu Aikido.”

Despite his best efforts, I continued to have strong doubts on the  matter even though my admiration for his technical skills was never in  question. Then, one day about two years after my arrival, I was  conducting an interview with Zenzaburo Akazawa, a prewar uchideshi of  Morihei Ueshiba from the Kobukan Dojo period. Mr. Akazawa proceeded to  show me a technical manual published in 1938 titled Budo which I  had never seen before. It contained some fifty techniques demonstrated  by the Founder himself. As I slowly turned the pages of the manual, I  was amazed to see that the execution of several basics techniques such  as ikkyo, iriminage and shihonage were virtually identical to what I had  learned in Iwama under Saito Sensei. Here was the Founder himself  demonstrating what I had up until then regarded as “Iwama” style  techniques. Mr. Akazawa kindly lent me the book and I hurried to show it  to Saito Sensei.

I’ll always remember the scene as I called at Sensei’s door to share  with him my new discovery. To my surprise, he had never seen or heard  mention of the book before. He put on his reading glasses and leafed  through the manual, his eyes scanning the technical sequences intently. I  felt compelled then and there to apologize to him for having ever  doubted his assertion that he was making every effort to faithfully  preserve the Founder’s techniques. Saito Sensei laughed and, obviously  with great pleasure, bellowed, “See, I told you so!” From that time on  (about 1979) even up through this day, Saito Sensei always travels to  his aikido seminars with a copy of Budo to use as proof to show that a particular technique originated in the Founder’s teachings.

It goes without saying that I was forced to admit that there was at  least one instructor who was disseminating aikido in a manner faithful  to the original teachings of the Founder. But did this disprove my  general theory that the styles of aikido widely practiced today have  little to do technically and philosophically with the art of the  Founder? Consider the following. If you go to the dojos of any of the  major teachers, you will find that their students’ movements closely  resemble the teacher in question. Let’s face it, they would be poor  students if they did not make every effort to emulate their teacher’s  movements. It is often possible to identify students of a given teacher  in the context of a large demonstration in which participants from many  different dojos appear. Why is it then that there is a such a vast  difference among the major styles of aikido if all of the shihan studied  directly under the Founder?

Some have said that the Founder’s art changed greatly over the years and  that this accounts for the differences in the techniques of his  students who learned during different periods. Others state that  O-Sensei would teach different things to different students according to  their character and ability. I have never found either of these  arguments to be particularly persuasive. In fact, when I discovered the  old 1935 Asahi News film many years ago I was surprised at how “modern”  the Founder’s art was even at that early stage. Moreover, the Founder  usually taught groups of students, not individuals, and this fact does  not lend support to the theory that he adapted his instruction to the  needs of individual students.

No, I believe there is a very different explanation for this  considerable divergence of styles. I think it is due primarily to the  fact that very few of O-Sensei’s students trained under him for any  protracted length of time. With the exception of Yoichiro (Hoken) Inoue,  a nephew of Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, the Founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, and  Tsutomu Yukawa, O-Sensei’s prewar uchideshi studied a maximum of perhaps  five to six years. Certainly this was enough time to become proficient  in the art, but not enough to master the vast technical repertoire of  Aiki Budo with its many subtleties. Most of these vigorous young men who  enrolled as uchideshi were forced to prematurely end their martial arts  training to enter military service. Furthermore, only a handful of  these early deshi resumed their practice after the war.

The same can be said of the postwar period. The initiates of that  period include such well-known figures as Sadateru Arikawa, Hiroshi  Tada, Seigo Yamaguchi, Shoji Nishio, Nobuyoshi Tamura, Yasuo Kobayashi,  and later Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsunari Kanai, Kazuo Chiba, Seiichi  Sugano, Mitsugi Saotome and various others. Shigenobu Okumura, Koichi  Tohei, and Kisaburo Osawa form a somewhat unique group in that they  practiced only briefly before the war, but achieved master status after  World War II. None of these teachers spent any lengthy period studying  directly under O- Sensei. This may seem like a shocking statement, but  let’s look at the historical facts.

Before the war, Morihei Ueshiba used the Kobukan Dojo in Tokyo as his  base, but was widely active in the Kansai area as well. In fact, he even  had a house at one time in Osaka. Over the years it has become clear to  me from listening to the testimonies of the old-timers that the Founder  moved around a great deal and would spend perhaps one to two weeks a  month away from the Kobukan Dojo. Also, keep in mind that the early  uchideshi ended up being co-opted as instructors due to the burgeoning  popularity of the art and the wide-ranging activities of the  Omoto-sponsored Budo Senyokai (Society for the Promotion of Martial  Arts) headed by Ueshiba. These pioneers studied for relatively short  periods, had only limited exposure to the Founder because of his  frequent absences from the dojo, and were themselves often away from the  headquarters dojo functioning in a teaching capacity.

In the years during and shortly after the war, O-Sensei was ensconced  in Iwama. Finally from the mid-1950s, he began to resume his travels  with regular visits to Tokyo and the Kansai region. By the late 1950s  his trips increased in frequency and it seemed no one ever knew where he  would be at a given point in time. He divided his time between Iwama,  Tokyo, and his favorite spots in Kansai which included Osaka, Kameoka,  Ayabe, his native Tanabe, and Shingu. He even visited Kanshu Sunadomari  in far away Kyushu. I remember hearing Michio Hikitsuchi Sensei state  that O-Sensei visited Shingu more than sixty times after the war.  Considering that this refers to a period of about twelve to fifteen  years, we see that the Founder was off in Kansai on the average of four  to six times per year.

The astute reader will see no doubt see what I am leading up to.  O-Sensei did not teach in Tokyo on a regular basis after the war. Even  when he appeared on the mat, often he would spend most of the hour  lecturing on esoteric subjects completely beyond the comprehension of  the students present. The main teachers at the Hombu in the postwar  years were Koichi Tohei Sensei and the present Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.  They were assisted by Okumura, Osawa, Arikawa, Tada, Tamura and the  subsequent generation of uchideshi mentioned above.

I want to make my point perfectly clear. What I mean to say is that  Morihei Ueshiba was NOT the main figure at the Hombu Dojo who taught on a  day-to-day basis. O-Sensei was there at unpredictable intervals and  often his instruction centered on philosophical subjects. Tohei and  Kisshomaru Ueshiba are the persons most responsible for the technical  content and development of aikido within the Aikikai Hombu system. As  before the war, the uchideshi of later years would teach outside the  Hombu Dojo in clubs and universities after only a relatively short  period of apprenticeship. Also, this period was characterized by “dan  inflation,” many of these young teachers being promoted at the rate of  one dan per year. In a number of cases, they also “skipped” ranks. But  that is the subject of another article!

What does all of this mean? It means that the common view of the spread  of aikido following the war taking place under the direct tutelage of  the Founder is fundamentally in error. Tohei and Second Doshu Kisshomaru  Ueshiba deserve the lion’s share of the credit, not the Founder. It  means further that O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba was not seriously involved  in the instruction or administration of aikido in the postwar years. He  was already long retired and very focused on his personal training,  spiritual development, travel and social activities. Also, it should be  noted that, despite his stereotyped image as a gentle, kind old man,  O-Sensei was also the possessor of piercing eyes and a heroic temper.  His presence was not always sought at the Hombu Dojo due to his critical  comments and frequent outbursts.

This is the truth of the matter as attested to by numerous first-hand  witnesses. In the past I have hinted at some of these things, but have  only recently felt confident enough to speak out because of the weighty  evidence gathered from numerous sources close to the Founder. I can’t  say necessarily that these comments will help practitioners in their  training or bring them closer to their goals, but I do sincerely hope  that by shining the light of truth on an important subject, those  committed to aikido will have a deeper understanding on which to base  their judgments. I also hope that the key figure of Koichi Tohei, who  has for many years been relegated to a peripheral role or overlooked  entirely, will be given his just due.

Postscript: This article orginally appeared in Aikido Journal #109  published in 1996. I think in retrospect there is a deeper implication  to this article that was not clearly spelled out. First, let me say that  I made no attempt to pass judgement on the content or quality of the  aikido that was disseminated in the postwar era. I was merely stating a  conclusion I arrived at after many years of research and numerous  conversations with first-hand witnesses from both the prewar and postwar  periods. That being said, here is what I think is a key observation  that follows from the thesis of this article: the techniques, history  and spiritual underpinnings of the Founder’s aikido have actually been  obscured, and consequently are poorly understood. Part of this is the  result of political considerations, and partly due to the arcane nature  of the Morihei’s world view and the terminology he used to express  himself.

Aikido practitioners today are in an entirely different situation. By  that I mean to say, they have access to a wealth of information about  the Founder’s technique, his personal and professional life, and to a  certain extent, his spiritual beliefs. I think our research has been a  contributing factor in this regard. Therefore, serious aikidoka may, if  they so choose, tap into the vast reservoir of O-Sensei’s vision of the  art to enrich their practice in the present. Perhaps it is time that  Morihei Ueshiba be given his proper place as the creator of aikido and a  great innovator. Perhaps it is time to carefully examine his creation,  and use it as a resource in charting our individual paths in aikido.

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