The life of Master Ueshiba Morihei: acquiring strength
On 14 December 1883, Ueshiba Morihei was born in Tanabe, a small town near Osaka. His father was a master of swordsman ship in the Kii family, lords of the province. Until the age of 15, Ueshiba Morihei had a weak constitution. His small size and lack of physical resistance meant he could get little benefit from his father's teaching.
When he was 13, he met his first master, Tozawa Tokusaburo from the Kito ryu, who taught him jujutsu. So he very soon learnt to wield the spear and the sword. At 20, he was already recognized as an expert in these skills and received a diploma from his master Nakai Masakatsu, when he left the great ryu, Yagyu.
Ueshiba Morihei swore to himself that he would become strong and that he would spare no effort in achieving this aim. At the age of 20, he could already lift enormous weights and feared only a few opponents.
When the Russo-Japanese war broke out in Manchuria, Ueshiba was 21. He volunteered for service and was enrolled as a regular soldier. These years gave him the opportunity to strengthen his body with the toughest of tests. He withstood it so well that his exceptional con duct and his strength, which seemed indomitable, opened wide the doors to a military career.
But once the war was over, Ueshiba's aim was to resume his interrupted
studies in jujutsu, as quickly as possible. However, his health broke down and he was confined to bed for six months, suffering from a serious attack of encephalitis. On his recovery, he took up judo.
The need for a change of air, to rediscover nature, cultivate the land and above all to strengthen his body, persuaded him to move to the north of Japan, to the island of Hokkaido. He was then 27. A year later, a meeting took place which was to alter the course of his life.
The origin of aiki-do and the cost of learning
This was a meeting with Master Sokaku from the Daito jujutsu ryu.
Master Takeda was a man of small build, of great strength and immensely tough and severe. He flattered himself with belonging to an ancient ancestral line, a branch of the famous Minamoto family. As for his teaching, he traced this back, according to a distant tradition, to Prince Sadazumi 874-916 (sixth son of Emperor Seiwa), who is said to have been the founder of the first forms of aiki-jutsu at the Daito ryu. This secret teaching is said to have been passed on to Minamoto Yoshimitsu. As he lived in Takeda in the province of Kai, he took the name Takeda and henceforth, from generation to generation, the secret principles of aiki-jutsu have been passed on in the name of this family.
During the Meiji period, the head of the family, Takeda Sokaku, opened a private ryu in 1868, the Daito ryu, in distant Hokkaido. For the very first time, pupils outside the family could be accepted by the master. However, only distinguished people (members of the imperial family and some exceptional cases) were permitted the benefits of such instruction.
Takeda Sokaku was therefore above all a master conscious of both his importance and the value of what he had to impart. In Ueshiba Morihei, then aged 28, he recognized a person of exceptional skill and impressive self-control. He complimented him and accepted him as his pupil.
For all that, he did not give him an easy life. Ueshiba had to submit wholeheartedly to the extreme authoritarianism of the master to whom he had to devote body and soul, if necessary waiting on him at all hours of the day and night, preparing his meals, his baths, and even building him a new house. In addition, he had to pay the master between 300 and 500 yens for the teaching of each new technique, which was a large sum in those days.
Even so, the days spent in instruction were themselves infrequent. In five years, the master only devoted about a hundred days to it. The rest of the time, the pupil had to practise alone. Eventually, in 1916, at the age of 33, Ueshiba received the first diploma appointing him master of jujutsu at the Daito ryu.
The basic elements of modem aiki-do still stem from this teaching.
Meeting with Reverend Deguchi and death of his father
However, events gained momentum. First of all, Ueshiba Morihei, on learning that his father was dangerously ill, made a gift of all his property to his master, Takeda. Leaving behind the land he had made fertile, a village he had built and many warm friendships, he left Hokkaido for good. He was then 35.
On his return journey. Master Ueshiba heard about a man whose powers and great sense of spirituality were praised: the Reverend Deguchi Wanisaburo. He decided to change his route in order to go and visit him. Reverend Deguchi was the founder of a Shinto sect called Omoto-Kyo.
This meeting greatly influenced the life of Master Ueshiba. The centre of Omoto-Kyo was in Ayabe, in the district of Kyoto. When he arrived at his father's bedside, it was too late: his father was dead.
All these events deeply affected Morihei. He went to his father's tomb to pay his last respects. In a moment of intense emotion, he invoked the paternal spirit and swore that henceforth he would devote all his human and spiritual force to probing the secret of being and of budo.
A profound change took place in him. For four years, until he was about 41, he lived in solitary confinement. Faithful to tradition, Ueshiba selected a remote house in the holy mountain, at Ayabe. In Ayabe itself, he frequently met Reverend Deguchi with whom he shared great communion of spirit. For example, it is interesting to quote three of the rules laid down by Omoto-Kyo to enable its followers to get closer to God:
1. Observe the true phenomena of nature and you will be thinking of the body (substance) of the only true God.
2. Observe the impeccable working of the universe and you will be thinking of the energy of the only true God.
3. Observe the mentality of living beings and you will understand the soul of the only true God.
Reference to energy as a sign of God and creation signifies that the prime purpose of the universe is vitality and that all that exists is simply a demonstration of this vitality.
The understanding of this original and universal energy plays an essential and primordial part in aiki-do, in the form of ki.
According to the oriental concept, creation is merely the emanation of an original force or an omni-powerful energy, which, out of the chaos, progressively forms masses of dust particles or gas into planets, sun, moon, stars and galaxies. The evolution of this energy created the animal, mineral and vegetable world. If this primordial energy is called ki, all things stem from ki (qi in Chinese).
Being timeless, ki has no beginning and no end, it has no form but can assume any form. It is.
Aiki-do is defined by the way which relates man to the cosmic power, or ki. This idea of man, in harmony with the creative and original force of all things, is also at the root of life and serenity. 'He who discovers the secret of aiki-do', said Master Ueshiba, 'has the universe within him and can say "I am the universe".'
That which is, is absolute, lasting and timeless. Moreover, the master said, 'That is why, when an enemy tries to fight me, he faces the universe itself, he must break its harmony. But the very moment he thinks he has got the measure of me, he is already beaten...' Because thought, be it slow or fast, is outside the limits of time.
A philosophy and a spirituality which, through aiki-do, have attained such a high degree of application, deserve to be followed. The master himself had been seduced by the profoundly humanitarian cosmic ideas of the Reverend Deguchi.
A trip to Mongolia
Deguchi nurtured the idea of unifying the moral and religious meaning of the world. In February 1934, he revealed a highly secret plan to Master Ueshiba and a handful of friends: to go to Mongolia where the Chinese and Japanese armies were engaged in conflict, in order to set
Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aiki-do
up a Kingdom of Peace, by means of a Sino-Japanese alliance, so that the realization of the Kingdom of God could commence in Asia.
However fantastic and illusory such an ambition may have seemed, Reverend Deguchi had many advantages.
In actual fact, 'with the support of Tchang Tso-Lin (or Zang Zuolin), then master of Mukden, he raised an "Independent Army of the North West" which soon numbered ten or so units, and which he put under the command of General Lu Chan-kin (or Shangui). The sun, moon, stars and earth were all depicted on his "divine standard". Pillage was for bidden. Reverend Deguchi with his army roamed the Mongol plains heralding the Kingdom of God, healing the sick and handing out salt and rice. Unfortunately, his success disturbed Tchang Tso-Lin who withdrew his support, sent an army against him and had Lu-Chan-kin (or Lu Shangui) shot, together with the other Chinese officers'. Master Ueshiba was himself captured. As he showed unusual strength of character and willpower, his enemies subjected him to all kinds of
Ueshiba Morihei, 1961
endurance tests, chained him up and tortured him. A forceful intervention on the part of the Japanese saved the whole troop just in time. Their return to Japan was greeted as a national event. As for Ueshiba Morihei, he returned to his remote house at Ayabe.
The awakening of a Sixth Sense and the heart of the universe
It was during this journey that the famous incident occurred, when Ueshiba was suddenly threatened with death by an enemy six yards away pointing a revolver at him. The man was promptly assaulted by Ueshiba and disarmed. When asked later how he had accomplished such a feat, Ueshiba is said to have replied: a very long time elapses between the moment a man decides to pull the trigger and the moment he actually does so. This event indicates that from that time on he had the ability to anticipate an enemy's thought and actions.
This sixth sense which only a few great masters actually manage to acquire, almost always goes with a deep inner experience which is difficult to describe. It seems that for a time, maybe a fraction of a second, the veil which divides the world of normal perception from that of profound reality suddenly ceases to exist. And this indescribable reality brings about a definitive change in the being. The following testimony by the master himself is just one of many accounts of similar experiences
which enable one to sense a second imaginary level of reality beneath the surface.
This event took place one day in Spring 1925 (when he was 42), whilst the master was walking in his garden...
Near a persimmon tree, it suddenly became impossible for him either to go forward or sit down. An intense heat came over him, causing his face to perspire heavily.
The master said, T had the sensation that the universe was suddenly shaking and that a gold-coloured spiritual energy, rising from the ground, shrouded my body in a veil, turning it gold. At the same time, my body and spirit became luminous. I could understand the chattering of birds and I had a clear comprehension of the intentions of God, the creator of the universe. At that moment, I was enlightened. I under stood that the source of budo is the love of God, the spirit of loving protection of all creatures. Endless tears of joy ran down my cheeks.
Since then, I have realized that the whole earth is my home, that the sun, moon and stars are all mine. I was freed of all desire, not only for my position, fame or prosperity but also for strength. I understood that budo does not consist of bringing down the enemy by force, nor is it a means to destroy the world with weapons: the pure spirit of budo means accepting the spirit of the universe, spreading peace throughout the world, speaking correctly, protecting and honouring all nature's creatures. I understood that the purpose of budo is to accept the love of God in its true sense which protects and cultivates all living things and that it is advisable to use and assimilate it with our mind and body.'
The master also said that 'the Way of budo is to make the heart of the universe one's own heart.'
During the summer of 1927, the master left the mountain at Ayabe with his family and went to live in Tokyo. His considerable fame pre ceded him and many great names and important well-known people hurried to his home to gain the favour of his teaching. The master formed a group of 30 to 40 pupils of whom most were already masters of judo and kendo.
The master's dojo, called kobukan, became the centre of an exceptional training course. The intensity of the work which continued some times throughout the day and night, formed men of remarkable strength and character.
One of them, Shirata Rinjiro, was once challenged by two strong
armed men to measure his powers in single combat. Shirata refused, pointed out that the very essence of aiki-do is the art of non-combat. However, as he was nevertheless attacked, Shirata threw his opponent, subdued him with one hand and said to him with good humour, 'You see, can you resist a world of non-resistance?'
Many similar anecdotes illustrate the disbelief of powerful people, wrestling champions, sumotori, boxers, etc., to whom it was inconceivable that a man as small and delicate as the master could not be quickly crushed before their eyes. Inevitably, the opposite always happened: even before the blow they attempted reached its target, they were all without fail thrown by an uncontrollable force.
The secret of this power, bearing the master's words in mind, seemed inconceivable to the spirit. And yet, this force which is used precisely without force is none other than the energy of the universe. 'The movements in aiki-do,' said the master, 'are the movements of nature, whose secret is profound and infinite.' To discover even a fragment of this secret is to understand inwardly that the man is himself the expression of this universe. To discover one's own identity and that of the universe, such is the fundamental experience which is the beginning of everything.
From this point of view, the opponent is once again a mere pretext, a sort of hallucination. Any resistance is just a vision, any obstacle is only there to be overcome and penetrated, just as universal energy traverses, unifies and transforms all things. This energy actually exists; it is breath and movement; it is time and progression; it can appear in many different forms but can only really be mastered and put to one's own use if the intention is pure.
In place of a sword, Ueshiba Morihei also says, aiki-do is a means to banish the devils with the sincerity of our breathing, in other words to transform the world from the demoniac spirit into a pure world. And again, 'the spirit of aiki-do is that of amorous attack and peaceful reconciliation.'
Only practice and almost total self-commitment enable one to discover the full meaning of these words; the highest degree of effective ness is obtained at a sort of peak where the involuntary force becomes active. It is in fact obvious that the individual, freed of inner tension (fear, anguish, passion, etc.) becomes both the centre and the outlet of a fundamental energy — and that, from then on, this energy is expressed
Ueshiba: an exercise aimt at building up the "kokyu" or "concentrated power"
in many different ways, of which throwing one's opponent is, all things considered, simply one expression amongst many.
So, any true master can restore internal calm, heal the body, prevent certain illnesses, act on the body and soul as a whole and harmonize them.
In 1938, Master Ueshiba built a dojo and a Shinto temple at Iwama, 93 miles (150 Km) north of Tokyo, and began to teach aiki-do. Those who were fortunate enough to be admitted as pupils cultivated the land and served the master with total devotion.
The greatest masters of martial arts in Japan went to Iwama. Amongst them. Master Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, who later sent Master Ueshiba a number of his pupils. To be allowed into, the dojo merely as a spectator was in itself a great privilege. Any internal distraction or any form of behaviour which was not in keeping with the spirit of the dojo was noticed immediately by the master who stopped the session and made the visitor leave.
This way of life continued until the end of the last war, when the
Americans restricted the teaching of martial arts in all forms. Aiki-do was organized on new lines and in 1948 the Tokyo Aikikai opened. From then on, aiki-do was to spread throughout the world.
On 26 April 1969, Master Ueshiba Morihei died in Tokyo, aged 86, at the end of a long illness. The aiki-do taught by Master Ueshiba was aiki do without form, an expression of the Void. 'Aiki-do', he would say, 'is not that which is expressed in movements but what comes well before the form is born, for aiki-do is a part of the psychical world of the Void.'
from Michel Random, The Martial Arts, Peerage Books,
59 Grosvenor Street, London W1.
From the symbol to cosmic energy
The master liked to repeat the words maru, sankaku, shikaku, meaning circles, triangles and squares; three words expressing an image and producing an energy.
The circle is none other than the cosmic universe, the square is the earth and the triangle, man. Through respiration or rather by ki, the circle, the square and the triangle, or sky, man and earth, are united.
The esoteric understanding of aiki-do is extremely profound. Master Ueshiba devoted his life to it. One of the essential aspects of his research concerned the symbolic and the power of sounds. The five sounds of the creating are I, followed by E, A, O, U — I being the original sound corresponding to the Word of the Evangelist according to St John: 'In the beginning was the Word, the Word was God'. E A O U represent the four stages of the creation. These four stages are symbolic of the respiration rhythm of the universe. These four rhythms generate eight forces which are also the eight colours and the eight sounds. The figure eight in Japan and the East is the figure of infinity (8,64,512,4096, up to infinity).
The four stages, U O A E, develop the original energy, and create the subjective and formal world. Each letter represents an aspect of being, the sounds represent the tangible universe. Beyond, only the rhythms exist (in other words, the intangible universe, the non-being, devoid of colours and sounds).
Each stage has its own vibrations, joining the spiritual essence to the physical body. By studying, not the causality but the relationship between the stages, one can comprehend the Way (michi), that is to say, that which unites I — the intangible — to WI — the tangible.
The four stages of the creation, multiplied by the eight forces, generate the 32 states of reality.
This very summary explanation, which is therefore open to criticism, is only given as an indication to make one aware of the complex and profound understanding on which aiki-do actually rests.
Thoughts of Master Ueshiba
Do not look at the eyes of your opponent or your spirit will be lured into his eyes. Do not look at his sword or you will be killed by his sword. Do not look at him or your mind will be distracted. True budo is the culture of the attraction by which you draw the opponent towards you, as a complete entity. All I have to do is preserve this Way.
There is no opponent or enemy in true budo. True budo is at one with the universe which means being united with the centre of the universe. True budo is a labour of love. It involves giving life to all that exists and not killing or opposing one another. Love is the guardian angel of all things. Nothing exists without it. Aiki-do is the realization of love., In aiki-do, we control the opponent's mind before confronting him. In other words, we draw him inside us. We progress in life with this strength of spirit and we strive to maintain a global view of the world.
We pray incessantly that the fight will not take place. For this reason, we strictly forbid aiki-do contests. Such contests still take place, however. The spirit of aiki-do is that of a loving attack and a peaceful reconciliation. With this aim in mind, we join and unite opponents with the ultimate power of love. We are able to purify others through love.