How the Term “Aikido” Was Born and Why


Aikido Shodo

The average aikidoka is convinced that the word “Aikido” was created by Morihei Ueshiba or by the Aikikai Foundation to designate the set of techniques codified by the founder himself. However, there is a direct testimony that seems to unequivocally demonstrate that things happened differently: the students of Ueshiba-Ryu would have rather “appropriated” – thanks to the success of their style – a word that had been coined specifically to act as an umbrella for a variety of different styles with common origins. This fact sheds new and interesting light on how even today we should approach the world of Aikido

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

Minoru Hirai (1903-1998), a student of Morihei Ueshiba in the roaring times of the Kobukan dojo, is mainly known to posterity for having been the founder of Korindo, an Aikido style that Hirai started in 1938. In his Korindo, Hirai amalgamated his experiences in traditional jujutsu and the teachings of the first Ueshiba.

Minoru Hirai, however, should also be remembered for another role he played in support of O’Sensei, that of Kobukan’s Director of General Affairs. This is how he describes this role in a 2013 interview with Stanley Pranin: “I was the Director of General Affairs of the Kobukan beginning around 1942 and I helped out Ueshiba Sensei in daily matters”. [1]

As Kobukan’s Director of General Affairs, in 1942 Hirai was instrumental in the birth of the term “Aikido”, as revealed in the same interview. What unquestionably emerges from his words is that the term Aikido was not born as a precise indicator of the set of Morihei Ueshiba’s techniques. Aikido was instead a neologism, coined at the table in 1942, and referred to all the schools of Aiki Budo Jujutsu present under the Dai Nippon Butokukai umbrella.

Dai Nihon Butokukai

Dai Nippon Butokukai was founded on April 17, 1895 in Kyoto, with the direct endorsement of Emperor Meiji. Its mission was to support and regulate all Japanese martial systems, in order to protect Budo’s traditional ways of learning and teaching and the directly associated samurai culture. The Butokukai was the first-ever official martial arts organisation to be commissioned by the Japanese government [2]. This umbrella organisation sponsored the opening of new dojos and the registration of the existing ones across the country, thus taking a picture of the current situation in the field of Japanese martial arts. It’s function somewhat resembles that of modern government-led sport national bodies.

In the early 1940s, the need to establish a new section within Butokukai began to be felt. The situation had changed, and several new martial systems based on yawara/ju-jutsu had joined the fray. Ueshiba’s Aiki-Budo was one of them, a popular one, but one of many. The matter was brought in front of the Dai Butokukai board of directors. The undertaking was obviously not among a simple one, considering the conservative nature of the institution and the obvious reluctance of the existing members of the Butokukai before the prospect of accepting the entry of new disciplines.

Hirai Minoru
Minoru Hirai

The task of negotiating this matter on behalf of Morihei Ueshiba and his Aiki-Budo Ryu fell to Minoru Hirai as the Director of General Affairs of Kobukan then in charge (1942). As Hirai tells Stanley Pranin, there were discussions and negotiations but, in the end, the idea of recognising the yawara/ju-jutsu derivative systems within the Dai Butokukai prevailed.

Once the official acceptance of the new martial arts department was achieved, the struggle shifted to the denomination under which the various above mentioned disciplines should be included. The name to be given to those systems had to be as comprehensive as possible and above all, it had to be “harmless”, that is, not likely to arouse grievances and frictions with the martial styles already in existence, recognized and sponsored by the Butokukai. The person who pushed the most for utilising the new term “Aikido” was Tatsuo Hisatomi, Jigoro Kano‘s Kodokan representative, together with Shohei Fujinuma from the Kendo division. They were Hirai’s personal friends and supported his positions. After long negotiations, the term “Aikido” resulted to be the chosen one – the alternative one, Aiki-Budo, which was the originally proposed term and probably Ueshiba’s favourite, had a less characterised idea of michi or do.

Interestingly, not long after Minoru Hirai left his position as Kobukan Director of General Affairs and took a job at the Dai-Nihon-Butokukai: he had been appointed as the head of the new department named as “Aikido”. [3]

The most important point to emerge from Minoru Hirai’s interview, nevertheless, is that the term Aikido had been selected in cold blood as a neutral container for several different post-yawara/jujustsu styles, and that the choice had been made primarily with the aim of not upsetting the representatives of other already established martial arts such as Kendo or Judo. The Ueshiba-Ryu is therefore neither the initiator of “Aikido” nor the only recipient of the use of the word “Aikido”. Aikido is, starting from its genesis, a container in which the children of the same father coexist, as distinct individual entities.

aikido-kanji

The following success of Ueshiba’s Aikido essentially eclipsed those other Ueshiba-Ryu siblings, and today it has become common to make the Aikido = Ueshiba equation, which it is historically and documentary inaccurate. Morihei Ueshiba seemed to have liked the new “Aikido” term and consequently, he dropped the Aiki-Budo denomination. In a 1967 interview, he claimed to have picked the name “Aikido”, which we know not to be true. [4]

Conclusions

Variety and differences were an integral part of “Aikido” before the term was invented and they were a fact previous to Ueshiba’s Aikido full development and its further branching through his students. In this light, even just using the phrase “Founder of Aikido” concerning Morihei Ueshiba is somewhat misleading. Contrary to common knowledge, uniqueness of style is an alien concept in Aikido, as history and practice seem to constantly demonstrate.

Notes:

[1] Pranin Stanley, Interview with Minoru Harai, Aikido Journal, 2013

http://members.aikidojournal.com/public/interview-with-minoru-hirai/ (Retrieved 27/05/2020)

[2] Dai Nippon Butoku Kai https://dnbk.org/history.php (Retrieved 27/05/2020)

[3] Branches of Aikido http://www.martialtalk.com/threads/branches-of-aikido.840/page-3 (Retrieved 28/05/2020)

[4] Excerpt from Radio Interview with Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido

https://aikidojournal.com/2017/11/21/morihei-ueshiba-radio-interview/ (Retrieved 28/05/2020)

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©2014
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