“Politically Incorrect” Ueshiba Quotes


Ueshiba Morihei 35

Morihei Ueshiba is universally presented and thought of as a good old man, the father of all the new age/hippy stuff about universal peace and love that every Aikido teacher loves to refer to. Was the founder only a wise old man talking mystic mumbojumbo – as the official hagiography got used to present him? Here’s ten first-hand quotes, reported by direct students, that seem to suggest that there is more to the picture than a lot of people like to think

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

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—> To read each quote in its full context see relative note at the bottom of the article <—

“Forget what I used to do before, this time is over. Now, I do Aikido!” [1]
Morihei Ueshiba’s started teaching as a Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu instructor and gradually moved on to create his own art. The product of his studies constantly evolved, staying alive and changing for his entire life. He never gave birth to a definitive and systematic discipline and often argue that his art had no definite form. Some of his senior students crystallised his work as definied in the specific timespan they frequented him, and called that “tradition” of the art, in opposition to later developments. This seems to defy the entire concept of Aikido being an open art as left by his founder.

Nocquet Andre 01
Nocquet sleeping on the tatami floor of the Iwama Dojo (copyright Guillaume Erard)

“Hey, wake up!” [2]
Uchideshi life was extremely tough and required uncommon physical endurance and a single-minded dedication. Not only the live-in students underwent an extremely severe training regime, which involved several sessions per day, every day, where they would be the founder’s training partners at any time of the day and of the night. They would also accompany O Sensei during his teaching travels as otomo, taking care of every single need of their teacher, beside being assisting him during instructions. Uchideshi were expected to be always on call, make travel plans, help out with every sort of household chore, support the Ueshiba family in its farming endeavours… plus massage and bathe Morihei!

“Of course I am not going to tell you what I am doing; it is up to you to understand it” [3]
O Sensei was the kind of teacher that lead by example and that example was immensely inspiring. Morihei Ueshiba did not, however, prepare classes after having set specific goals. As a result, he was hard to interpret, often enough on purpose, since he was the product of a tradition where secrecy was the norm. As a result, one could argue that from a pedagogical point of view his factual ability to trasmit what he knew was not of top notch. The founder was en fact completely focused on walking his own path and didn’t seem to mind that most students just couldn’t follow it. Unless he intentionally decided not to try to put into words what it cannot.

Ueshiba Morihei 36

“What?!? Zen?!?” [4]
Even though we have heard a thousand times being said that “Aikido is Zen in movement”, O Sensei seemed to be quite irritated by the idea. There is no direct and explicit connection – written or oral – between Ueshiba Aikido and Zen, as esplicitly and loudly stated by the Founder. Some of his senior students have practised Zen themselves and tried to link Aikido with it, namely Kazuo Chiba, who enjoyed za-zen and mentioned it several times when interviewed. These are personal re-interpretations of Aikido cosmogony that are not originating in Morihei Ueshiba’s thought.

I can tell by the sound that your training’s no good!” [5]
Even at the time of O’Sensei, training styles in Iwama and Hombu Dojo differed quite substantially. Ueshiba didn’t reside in Tokyo since 1942 and even though he always visited Hombu on a regular basis, Doshu Kisshomaru’s and Koichi Tohei’s leadership unwillingly created a drift between the way Ueshiba was imagining and living Aikido in Iwama with his uchideshi, and how things were felt and done in Tokyo. There are many stories of Hombu senior students not understanding Morihei’s philosophical tirades. Even though O’Sensei was kept in the highest esteem, his Hombu students were looking forward to see him back to Iwama for them to go back practicing a more technical, structured and muscular version of Aikido.

Ueshiba Morihei 38

I was born with Ki! Who told you something that stupid!? Give me the names!” [6]
Japanese uchideshi would not dare to ask direct questions to the Founder about aspects of the art’s philosophy or practice, they would just train. With the arrival of the first wave of western Aikido enthusiast, however, things changed dramaticaly and O’Sensei had to face questions that often made him angry, none more of the ones about Ki. As of today questions about Ki haven’t changed much, with as many (often silly) answers about its nature as the number of aikidoka on the mats.

Stay here and practice iaido for three months.” [7]
Kazuo Chiba stayed with Michio Hikitsuchi for 3 months in his Shingu dojo to learn the basics of Iaido following direct invitation by the Founder. This seems to counterdict all we know about Ueshiba’s view on Iai. Even though most seem to think that Aikido and Iai go side by side, common roots are at best not proven. The most evident connection between the two disciplines comes from some of Ueshiba’s top students, who also excelled in Iaido – Kanai, Nishio and Chiba to mention a few. Another important suggestion is offered by the fact that before the war O’Sensei had adopted as his successor Kiyoshi Nakakura, who was a student of famous Iaido master Hakudo Nakayama. Ueshiba also showed respect for another Iai specialist, Juinichi Haga sensei. All that said, there is one major unsolvable difference between the sword of Iaido and that of Aikido: the first one, when drawn, it is in a kill or die situation. Aikido very basic principle rests instead on the fact that its outcome offers the chance for an end with two survivors. When paired, moreover, Iaido stances and postures don’t gel too well with Aikido ones, as they tend to be frontal, in opposition to the hanmi stance typical of Aikido.

Ueshiba Morihei Ayabe 1922

I have to get him before he gets me.” [8]
In this quote, taken from O’Sensei’s diary, that it came to be in Kazuo Chiba‘s possession, Morihei Ueshiba clearly makes reference to killing before getting killed. Ueshiba’s path was long and tortous. A lot of work was needed to get to the nice old man everyone today loves. We have confirmed reports of the young Ueshiba touring the country in search for challenges and we know of a few incidents where matters ended up with blood being shed. The involvement of Morihei Ueshiba with prewar Japanese nationalism is also a proven historic fact. WWII changed it all. Having to face wartime horrors, something must have broken inside him and his views of the world changed dramatically. This is when he retired from public life and teaching and retired to farm in Iwama, where he would dedicate the rest of his life to develop his new found way of the warrior.

Aikido is 95% perspiration and 5% philosophy.” [9]
Thinking Aikido, explaining its purposes, detailing its philosophy are all activities that take up a lot of time and ultimately are almost purposeless. If you believe in Aikido, its founder seems to suggest, dedicate your time to train in it. A theorethical approach does not suit traditional japanese martial arts, even though this quote seems to show that Ueshiba himself regarded non-tatami study of Budo as an integral (however minimal) part of one’s formation.

Ueshiba Morihei - Sunadomari Fukiko
Fukiko Sunadomari with Morihei Ueshiba

Nobody does Aikido here! Only women do Aikido!!” [10]
O’Sensei got constantly angered by the way his art was being misread by Aikido students of all level when he was not around. Macho-style training was common place and the founder must have felt very frustrated by this lack of understanding on the part of the general Aikido public – that at the time was almost entirely made of men. In a testosterone dominated community, Ueshiba rejoiced in women’s training style and its freedom from the strains of competitiveness.



Notes

[1] Therefore, he started from what he knew; Daito-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, and used it to develop a system of harmonious resolution of conflicts. He could have used a completely different approach though. Despite this, the martiality and the efficacy were still very present, but freed from the visible aspect of opposition. It is obvious when you compare pre- and post-war videos. O Sensei often said “forget what I used to do before, this time is over. Now, I do Aikido!”
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-henry-kono (Retrieved 15/05/2020)

[2] At the time when I was living in the dojo Sensei was still young. In those days he trained a great deal. As the number of live-in students increased, we had to sleep in the dojo. Sometimes, we would be waked up in the middle of the night by a voice saying, “Hey, wake up!” As we tried to figure out what was happening, we would look up to see O-Sensei standing in front of us. He would tell us to attack him from anywhere we wanted. He was training himself that way. Then he would do techniques which we had never learned before. He was always studying techniques like that with us.
http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-ikkusai-iwata-1/ (Retrieved 15/05/2020)

[3] Shioda had to patiently interpret everything by himself without any other form of instruction than watching his master demonstrate. While I was at Hombu, O Sensei used to very often say “Of course I am not going to tell you what I am doing; it is up to you to understand it”. It is obvious that the enormous differences between what the different students of O Sensei are showing is the direct result of Ueshiba’s approach to teaching.
https://guillaumeerard.com/aikido/articles-aikido/aikido-expression-of-yin-and-yang-in-motion/ (Retrieved 15/05/2020)

[4] Omotokyo used to teach Shinto. Shinto is really based on the concept of Yin and Yang and that is why O Sensei did not like Zen because the cosmology was different. Boy did he hate Zen… When we used to say “O Sensei, we are doing Zen” he would yell “What?!? Zen?!? (laughs)” You should have seen his face (laughs). When you were dealing with O Sensei, you had to come with an open mind.
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-henry-kono (Retrieved 15/05/2020)

[5] Q. What sort of things made him angry?
A. Whenever we practiced kokyunage when he was sleeping, for example, he would suddenly appear in the dojo and say, “I can tell by the sound that your training’s no good!” So we were always careful to practice seated techniques (suwariwaza) whenever he was around. He never said anything if we were working hard on suwariwaza.
http://www.aikidojournal.com/article.php?articleID=121 (Retrieved 12/03/2015)

[6] One day, we were about to arrive in Iwama when I said to Ueshiba Sensei “Actually, someone told me that you could do what you do because of Ki” . He screamed at me the following thing: “I was born with Ki! Who told you something that stupid!? Give me the names!” At this stage I thought it was quite a bad way to start the week so I kept a low profile until our return to Tokyo (laughs). In fact, I think what he meant was that everyone of us is made of Ki rendered visible, no more, no less.
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-henry-kono (Retrieved 15/05/2020)

[7] (Chiba) A while later I was accompanying O-Sensei on a trip to the Kansai region when he suddenly said to me, “Stay here and practice iaido for three months.” “Here” was the dojo of Michio Hikitsuchi in Shingu. It was Hikitsuchi Shihan who gave me my first training in iaido. I think that was around 1960. O-Sensei had read my thoughts. He said three months would be enough time for me to get some basic knowledge.
https://aikidojournal.com/2002/11/18/interview-with-kazuo-chiba-2/ (Retrieved 17/05/2020)

[8] In O-Sensei’s diary, which I possess, written around 1942, he clearly states “I have to get him before he gets me.” You know what he meant? Get him meant kill him! Everyone understands the view of Aikido in which O-Sensei was a lovely old man, that he talked always about love, peace, unity and everything; but you must understand that he came through that earlier stage.
http://www.aikidosphere.com/kc-e-interview-pt-3 (Retrieved 17/05/2020)

[9] I think in Aikido, at the beginning, we should not really practice philosophy. Do not make it a spiritual quest. We must watch the body, and perform many movements without thinking of this spiritual quest. Master Ueshiba said, “Aikido is 95% perspiration and 5% philosophy.” By saying that, I have said everything.
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-andre-nocquet-8th-dan-pioneer-of-aikido-in-europe (Retrieved 18/05/2020)

[10] We used to apply a technique on our partner in a very competitive manner. On the other hand, O Sensei only cared about keeping the balance between the two parts of a same entity, very much like the two parts that compose the Yin and the Yang. I always wonder how he could have had the patience of seeing us all get it wrong; yet letting us do it. Of course, every now and then, he would storm into the dojo and yell “nobody does Aikido here! Only women do Aikido!!”
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-henry-kono (Retrieved 15/05/2020)

 

Read: A Few More “Politically Incorrect” Ueshiba Quotes

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