A Few More “Politically Incorrect” Ueshiba Quotes


Ueshiba Morihei - Tohei Koichi -Tamura Nobuyoshi -Yamamoto 01-1

Morihei Ueshiba was a strongly opinionated man that came from a culture where little space was left for discussion with the elderly. Even though most of his better-known quotes relate to general good-for-all philosophy, we have hundreds of indirect citations from his students where he appears to be not just the smiling “guru” guy that the Aikido establishment has been selling us for decades

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

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

You! Insolent fellow!” [1]
We can only imagine the chill down the spine of the man caught training in Ueshiba’s dojo without having been properly introduced and authorised to join in. Nowadays we enjoy the freedom of stepping on whichever mat we like and some even manage the feat of slipping away without paying their dues. In Ueshiba sensei earlier times, showing up unannounced was unheard of and stepping onto the mats without permission was considered a serious lack of respect. The founder was the cultural product of the old koryu schools, where admission was subjected, among others, to the giving of a kishomon/keppan to the Ryu. Blood oaths were taken to protect the school’s teachings, philosophy, traditions, and to ensure loyalty and good personal behaviour in a time when secrecy often meant survival. Ueshiba’s Kobukan was a bugei dojo, no seppan was taken to be accepted, as times had already considerably changed. The attitude towards the admission of new students, however, was a similar one: each newcomer had to have the recommendation of two people of high standing, that would vouch for them. This is why most of Ueshiba prewar students were Budo specialists or personalities of some level. Japan’s defeat in WWII turned the cards around. Poverty was extreme; also nobody wanted to hear any more of those martial arts that had brought about the country’s destruction – both elements bringing about a noticeable lack of students. The process that in the ’60s finally brought Kisshomaru Ueshiba to open Aikido for everyone everywhere had started.

Ueshiba Morihei - Tohei Koichi 02

Aikido is mine, not Tohei’s. Don’t listen to what Tohei says.” [2]
The relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and his seemingly best student, Koichi Tohei, was a long and complex one. Even though it is evident from many sources that the two of them basically loved each other until the end, like in all good love stories there were hiccups along the way. It seems that the founder was not particularly fond of Tohei’s own Ki – Body and Mind Coordinated later developments, even though the Second Doshu had to take the blame for what it eventually became an open clash between two different ways of approaching Aikido training. Ueshiba sensei had dedicated his entire life to developing Aikido and it has been often described as jealous of it. Paradoxically though, it would appear that the only one doing Aikido as the founder intended was Ueshiba himself.

I understand Yin and Yang, you don’t” [3] [11]
Hold on, Yin/Yang is not just that pretty little round picture with the black and white dots that people even tattoo on their arms. Humans and their world are an expression of countless binary pairs, which together compose a unity. What Ueshiba hinted at with Henry Kono here is that Aikido practice translates into the studying of the connection between each thing and its opposite. Approaching training with an emphasis on one single viewpoint without an equivalent emphasis on the opposite aspect steers away from experiencing true Aiki, that is the balance of the energies. In Aikido we are supposed to be the instigators of an action where forces blend: Yin/Yang is to make two separate bodies move as one. To get that done practically, action has to be taken for creating a common centre that the two bodies share.

Ueshiba Morihei 46

What you people are doing is not Aikido.” [4]
Let’s pretend, for a little while, that O’Sensei would come back to check on our training today. I would not probably be wrong in guessing that 21st-century Aikido would not fascinate him in the least. Apparently, he didn’t like it a lot even in his own Hombu Dojo! It is crazy to think how all his students loved and respected him, how they kept pointing out the excellence of his art to the outside Budo world, while they were doing something entirely else within the founder’s headquarters. There is no space for doubting the meaning of Kenji Shimizu’s words: what they were doing was not what Ueshiba wanted them to do. He had shown them the proper way of training, they were consciously not following it – maybe they were not able to. It is little wonder then that we, third-generation students, have little luck in getting it right.

The truth of Aikido could be caught in a very short moment of time. If you catch the secret, you can do what I do in three months.” [5]
Aikido is not its techniques. There are thousands of techniques in Aikido, and if one’s study were based on trying to learn them one by one (as most Aikido schools seem intent on proposing to their members), it would take decades to learn them – and that it is exactly what happens. A technique-based teaching style suits the need for Aikido organisations to keep members within their books for a very prolonged time. It also feeds the grading system through which they survive and thrive, thanks to the emission of grade certificates. Ueshiba’s statement here – and common sense – would instead suggest that principles should be the object of any study, not the details that those principles are meant to be applied upon. Once clear on what the principles of Aikido are, to learn them it would take a skilled budoka no more than 3 months. Word of the Lord!

Ueshiba Morihei in Hokkaido

Where, when, with what to kill the opponent” [6]
Any experienced martial artist when looking at Aikido in action is capable of perceiving the armed techniques that are hidden behind its empty hand practice. Armed techniques mean techniques designed to kill an opponent, there are no two ways about it. This is the way Ueshiba learned from Takeda Sensei, an old-school man for whom anyone was potentially an enemy. It is quite probable that Ueshiba himself killed several bandits at the time of his Mongolian colony adventure. He had also been a soldier, and soldiers do not preach peace, they fight and kill not to be killed. WWII disaster opened the founder’s eyes and he experienced kokoro no tenkan, a “change of heart”. He realised to have been part of the problem, as he bravely admits in his 1957 interview: “Since I myself taught martial arts to be used for the purpose of killing others to soldiers during the War, I became deeply troubled after the conflict ended.” The result of this personal crisis is the development of that true spirit of Aikido that we all share today. Ueshiba moved from Budo seen as aiuchi, where both parties can be potentially killed, to ainuke, in which the outcome of the confrontation allows each party to escape harm. Ueshiba’s Aikido became an ainuke art where one doesn’t hurt the other, while no harm comes to yourself either.

If you have never been to Iwama, why are you using a bokken then?” [7]
O’Sensei did not admit people cross-training in armed arts in his dojo and made it very clear. His Buki-waza was specifically designed for Aikido training and thought to work in conjunction with empty-handed techniques (Taijutsu). This is what he was teaching in Iwama and he had reiterated that just like the old jujutsu was a thing of the past and not acceptable in his school, none of his students should dare to propose non-Aikiken/Aikijo practices in Aikikai dojos (starting with the Hombu). This is why nobody was authorised to teach weapons at the Hombu Dojo before Morihiro Saito had been appointed to do so: the founder didn’t trust that anyone else had a sufficient understanding of the Aikido weapons work as developed in Iwama. He was adamant that Iaido or Ken-jutsu derived approaches would not do at all, being them based on technical and philosophical approaches other than those by him developed as part of his Art of Peace, besides not being good at all to build basic Aikido postures and stances.

Ueshiba Morihei - Noquet Andre

No, no, no, Mr. Nocquet, do not read, you have to practice more with your body, you do not practice enough. There is no meaning for an Aikidoka to talk about being tired, tiredness does not exist.” [8]
We could expand on this quote by using another – more famous – quote from Morihei Ueshiba: “Progress comes to those who train and train; reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere”. Knowledge cannot be equated to secret teachings, however Ueshiba’s message here – a message given to Nocquet sensei, who at the time was not a beginner! – is not to spend too much time searching for information about Aikido. Nocquet probably appeared a bit too intellectual and lazy to the eyes of a man whose physical feats had been legendary. The founder advised him to focus on constantly training and then on training some more. In the words of the founder, there is no tiredness, unless we allow it to sneak into our brain. Reading about Aikido puts the non-initiate at risk of forming pre-concepts that could later hinder the spontaneous discoveries that only a practical and personal approach to our practice may provide.

This is not a Judo dojo.” [9]
I bet you all had some first-hand experience of being bullied on an Aikido mat someplace. Unfortunately, it would seem that a lot of dojos host one or a few resident “bone breakers”, customarily male students and senior ones, if not the teacher himself. Although Aikido is known and praised for being a non-competitive and non-violent martial art, the famous “Art of Peace” everyone is proud of, the truth is that there is an awful lot of competing and bullying going on behind the scene. Not many stand up to bullies on the mats, and often this fake masculinity even commands deference: who dares to complain or resist would experience an immediate and often painful retaliation. We see no medals assigned after these hidden competitions, but they are nonetheless designed to create an invisible dojo Aikido hierarchy with winners and losers, just like in any other sport. This thirst for power makes many fall into the trap of narcissism and Aikido training with his co-operative uke is the perfect breeding ground for it. Funny thing is that it is not uncommon for this sort of people to make a career in Aikido over the years, becoming instructors, and then scaling into the technical-administrative ranks of their respective associations – perfect places from where to further expand their narcissism.

Ueshiba Morihei - Tohei Koichi - Saito Morihiro - Kisshomaru Ueshiba Families

Koichi-chan, is that you? I want to ask you to please do what you can for my son.” [10]
Fatherly love is universal. On his deathbed, Ueshiba sensei asks his best student, the one everybody thought should be succeeding him as the new Guide of Aikido, to support his son. The suffix –chan with whom the founder addresses Tohei, also called by his first name (unusual in Japanese society outside of family and close friends), speaks loudly of the sentiments of the teacher for his favourite follower. All in all, this quote leaves us with a tender feeling for the great old man – he was just like any of us. History tells how Koichi and Kisshomaru would only last 5 years managing together Ueshiba’s legacy before they parted ways.


Notes

[1] Then suddenly a short man with intense eyes appeared from a back room and shouted, “You! Insolent fellow!” I wondered who was being scolded, but he told me that he meant me. I was surprised because I had no intention of being insolent to anybody. “Do you mean, me?” I asked, and he nodded and asked who had given me permission to practice at the dojo. I told him that in fact nobody had given me permission but explained that I came with Mr. Mori, which I thought was all right. He said “That is what I call insolence.” I asked him what I should do in order to receive instruction. He told me that I should bring him a letter of introduction from a “certain” person.
http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-ikkusai-iwata-1/ (Retrieved on 24/05/2020)

[2] Q. What was O-Sensei’s attitude when you started basing your teaching around the principles of ki?
A. He was jealous and told people not to listen to me. He would say, “Aikido is mine, not Tohei’s. Don’t listen to what Tohei says.” He would peer into the dojo and say things like that, especially when I was teaching a group of women. In that respect he was quite child-like in his directness and lack of sophistication—very spontaneous and innocent.
https://aikidojournal.com/2015/07/07/interview-with-koichi-tohei-1/ (Retrieved on 24/05/2020)

[3]  “O Sensei, how come we are not doing what you are doing?” He just smiled and replied: “I understand Yin and Yang, you don’t”. Like if it was nothing, he just gave me the secret of Aikido.
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-henry-kono (Retrieved on 15/05/2020)

[4] When he showed up everyone immediately sat down. At first, I thought that people were being courteous toward him. However, it wasn’t only that. It was also that the practices we were doing were different from what O-Sensei expected us to do. Once he lost his temper at us. No one realized that he had come and he shouted: “What you people are doing is not aikido.” His shout was so powerful it felt like the earth was trembling. He was then in his seventies but his voice nearly pierced our eardrums. Everybody just became quiet and looked gloomy.
http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-kenji-shimizu/ (Retrieved on 24/05/2020)

[5] Practice doesn’t mean anything. What O’Sensei was thinking is important. He was basing his moves on an unseeable matrix we can’t comprehend. Everybody thought he could do these things because he had 65 years of practice. I didn’t look at it that way. For me, what he knew was important. Not everybody looked look at it that way. [Henry shows me a quote from Sugano Sensei, which says: “It was as if O-Sensei was doing Aikido while everyone else was doing something else.”] So what were we doing?! What we were doing on the mat wasn’t what he was doing.” Showing me another quote from Bob Nadeau’s article in Aikido Today Magazine, which says: “O’Sensei told me one day clearly and emphatically that the truth of Aikido could be caught in a very short moment of time. If you catch the secret,” he said. “You can do what I do in three months.”
http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-henry-kono/ (Retrieved on 15/05/2020)

[6] Technically, what I teach to my students is the three W’s: when, where, with what. This is O-Sensei’s teaching also. “Where” is distancing, space, dealing with space. “When” is timing. “What” is the individual technique. You have to learn, you have to polish, educate, discipline your full body with these three principles through the learning of forms, and assimilate through this what we call awareness, martial awareness. If I say the exact words of O-Sensei, “where, when, with what to kill the opponent”. The Founder said this. He also said, however, that Aikido chooses not to kill, but to lead. There is everything there, as far as I’m concerned. There is a profound technical martial principle. There is a profound spiritual principle in his words, in that teaching of the three elements, the three W’s.
http://www.aikidosphere.com/kc-e-interview-pt-3 (Retrieved on 15/05/2020)

[7] “When O’Sensei went to teach at the Hombu Dojo he would take the sword and say to someone: “Attack me” and show techniques. He demonstrated techniques, but then he didn’t let anyone use the bokken and let them try it. When he saw that students of the Hombu Dojo took the bokken and performed techniques, techniques that he had never explained, he said: “You are crazy! Who taught you to do this? Who told you to do this?” and he got very angry. The Founder was very proud of his thought and therefore did not tolerate that someone else “reinterpreted” it. (…) If he saw someone at the Hombu Dojo with a bokken in his hand, he would say to him: “If you have never been to Iwama, why are you using a bokken then?” So, perhaps, the students of the Hombu Dojo, misunderstanding his intentions, thought that it was forbidden to touch the bokken there, since O’Sensei got angry if he saw such a thing. His idea was that those who wanted to do Iaido should go and do it in a Iaido dojo, or Jodo in a Muso ryu dojo”
https://simonechierchini.com/2011/09/21/interview-with-hitohira-saito/ (Retrieved on
25/05/2020)

[8] It means that it takes a lot practice, and once you have reached a third or fourth Dan grade in Aikido, you can begin to address the spiritual aspect. Often, at Ueshiba’s dojo, I was reading, but the master told me, “No, no, no, Mr. Nocquet, do not read, you have to practice more with your body, you do not practice enough.” I told him that I was tired, and he said, “there is no meaning for an Aikidoka to talk about being tired, tiredness does not exist.”
http://www.guillaumeerard.com/aikido/interviews/interview-with-andre-nocquet-8th-dan-pioneer-of-aikido-in-europe (Retrieved 14/05/2020)

[9]  Sometimes I was forced down hard even though I didn’t resist my partner’s techniques. It was so painful that I was left seeing stars. I tried to do the same thing to him but I didn’t know how. So I sometimes threw my partners a lot using judo techniques. Then O-Sensei scolded me by saying: “This is not a judo dojo.” (Laughter) It is not right to force someone who is not resisting down hard. There were rough people. The cartilage in my arm still sticks out because of one rough guy.
http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-kenji-shimizu/ (Retrieved on 24/05/2020)

[10] I was privileged to be at Sensei’s side during his last hours. He said to me, “Koichi-chan, is that you? I want to ask you to please do what you can for my son.” I replied that as long as I had anything to do with it he had nothing to worry about. “That’s good… I ask it of you,” he said and closed his eyes. Shortly thereafter he drew his last breath. Mr. Sonoda suggested many times that I should become Doshu, but I was determined to keep my promise. To allow Kisshomaru to assume a stable role I pushed the idea that he should be both Doshu and managing director. He expressed his gratitude for my efforts then, but about a year later, his attitude changed.
http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-koichi-tohei-1/ (Retrieved on 17/05/2020)

[11] I received this comment from Ellis Amdur in https://www.facebook.com/groups/aikido/ and I gladly share it. “The quote about yin-yang from Kono is a little problematic – Ueshiba actually said that he understood Izanagi and Izanami. These are two Shinto deities, male and female, regarded as the generative forces that created the Japanese archipelago. Of course, there is a clear connection with yin-yang doctrine, but Kono changed the ‘translation,’ believing it would be more understandable. The problem is that there are a lot of nuances in Ueshiba using these deities, that are lost in Kono’s change. For one thing, the myths describe a radical break between the two deities – a murderous break – and Ueshiba saw his task as reuniting the universe that is out of balance. This is definitely not yin-yang doctrine, and places Ueshiba (and aikido) in a different relationship to humanity and to the cosmos than the classic Chinese doctrine. See HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, “Aikido is three peaches” for a detailed discussion on this: https://edgeworkbooks.com/hidden-in-plain-sight/

Read: “Politically Incorrect” Ueshiba Quotes

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