Morihei Ueshiba & Aikido – Rendez-Vous with Adventure (1958)


Morihei Ueshiba & Aikido – Rendez-Vous with Adventure is a TV documentary realised in the US in 1958. The main characters are Lee and Herman, part of an American tv crew touring Tokyo. The two extraordinarily take a 1-week intensive Aikido program at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo under the direct supervision of the Founder Ueshiba, Dojo-cho Kisshomaru and Koichi Tohei

Video Transcription

This is my partner, adventure cameraman Lee Green. Here he’s learning about the ancient Japanese science of Aikido [Green takes ukemi for Kisshomaru Ueshiba]. I’m pitch hitting for Lee as he gave me the story by overseas telephone because at this moment he’s on assignment in Comoy [?]. With him in Tokyo was his companion and friend, Herman Jensen. Here’s Lee’s story as he would tell it to you himself – my friend and partner adventure cameraman Lee Greene.

Lee Green and Herman Jensen

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the start of a busy day for Herman and me in Tokyo. I want to look into Aikido and see if there’s an adventure show for us and at 10 o’clock we’re scheduled to film the grand opening of the new television tower. This is a 70 yen cab, which means that you ride a mile and a third for the equivalent of about 18 cents – and, incidentally, you don’t tip in Japan, you really get a ride for your money. There are three classes of cabs in Tokyo: the 60 yen, which seems to be piloted by stunt drivers; the 70 yen by racing car drivers and a few 80 yen cabs, by surviving and retired members of the first two groups. Jaywalkers in Tokyo live dangerously, but the less agile obey the traffic signals. Face masks are a common sight all over Japan. If you have a cold, you wear one. In spite of my tight schedule, I enjoy the ride.

And soon we’re watching activity of another sort. This is the exercise room of the Aikido school. The young men in white shirts and black pantaloons are instructors. The other boys are students. To Herman and me this looks like a cross between Jujitsu and tumbling. The instructors handle themselves extremely well, but I wonder how they’d do if this were a rough and tumble instead of an exercise.

Now watch these two [Nobuyoshi Tamura is tori]: everything happens too darn easily. I’m sure the fella doing the falling is cooperating with the man doing the throwing. It’s interesting enough to watch, but I don’t think it’s adventurous enough for my series. Besides, I’ve got a date with the tower.

Tokyo Tower (1958) – Copyright https://taishou-kun.tumblr.com/

On the way, I steal one shot of the entrance to Meiji Park and here’s our 60 yen cab arriving at the new TV tower. The tower has a five-story building at its base, an observation platform about 650 feet up and the top of its antenna is 150 feet above the street, 50 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Herman and I [both sporting cowboy hats] get our press passes and the dedication begins with a religious ceremony. This ceremony has a particular significance today, as the dedication of the tower is taking place on the birthday of the well-loved crown prince of Japan [Akihito, 23rd December]. They seem to have learned their lesson from Hollywood all right. Miss TV of 1959 cuts the ribbon, flashbulbs go off and tomorrow all Japan will be barraged with publicity about this great event. And it is a great event. The tower is a cooperative enterprise with two commercial television stations and one educational television station sharing the facilities.

Our press passes give us permission to photograph Tokyo from the catwalk and what a sight it is. From this tower, giant cameras will be able to bring all of Tokyo in close up to television viewers within a hundred miles. Baseball games at Tokyo Stadium 8 miles away can be photographed from here and brought into close-up range. Traffic tie-ups or special events within a 20-mile radius can be televised from cameras located on this tower. Back in the observation platform, our camera is hard at work. This is downtown Tokyo looking toward the bay. Herman and I are having a wonderful time, but I’ve got to get my pictures back to the States. So down we go.

Kisshomaru Ueshiba – Aikido (1957)

8 million people in Tokyo and I think 7 million of them are here today. Herman and I have worked crowds before and we agreed if we got separated to meet at the newsstand at the foot of the tower. When I find him there, he’s browsing in a book about Aikido. If the pictures tell the story that I think they do, we missed the whole point of Aikido this morning: we missed meeting Mr Ueshiba. The book cost 300 yen, almost a dollar, but it proved to be my passport to a real adventure. 

On his threshold was Mr Ueshiba, the patriarch of Aikido [Morihei and Kisshomaru meet with Lee and Herman, still wearing cowboy hats]. This science was founded by Yoshimitsu Minamoto in the year 1120 and was handed down in his family for generations. It was taken over then by the Takeda family and here is a legitimate successor of the art, Mr Moritaka Ueshiba [portrait of Ueshiba]. 

I study this frail old man and think how he must miss the strength and vigour of his youth. As he talks [Lee politely ask questions to Morihei Ueshiba, with Koichi Tohei acting as his interpreter], I realize that Aikido is more than an exercise, a sport: it is a religion, a way of life. [Lee asks Ueshiba when Aikido was started (about 50 years ago), about his age (80 years old), the number of students he instructed (100.000) and an explanation of the meaning of the circle] While he explains to me the circle, I realize that he is explaining a philosophy that is equally true for the East and the West; that truth and moral principle have neither beginning nor end and always retain their position in the centre of man’s life. 

“I wonder if at this time you could ask Mr Ueshiba to give us the word or a demonstration of his action during the time so that we can get the sound of the word for Aikido”.

The symbolism is the same too. The cross that Mr Ueshiba makes demonstrates the oneness of the earth: East, West North, South. Man, created in the image of God, should make a shrine of his body and by doing so absorb within his soul the truth of the Universe.

Mr Ueshiba demonstrates how man’s mind can control his body by this long sustained note [Ueshiba chanting Kototama].

We go back to the exercise room but this time we go back under the guidance of a great artist, a great teacher. We salute the participants in the exercises. Mr Ueshiba explains to me that there are 2664 separate techniques in Aikido and that Aikido is based on the art of gentleness of having your enemy use his own power and physical violence to overcome himself. Aikido means making your spirit fit in with your opponents, bringing your movements into accord with his. Aikido is the application of the principle of gentleness. As I watch the exercises, I see that it is always the attacker who is thrown. I see that the instructors are gentle in their demonstrations and use only the amount of skill necessary to upset their opponents. It is as I thought earlier an application of skill and knowledge and this is the reason it looks easy. Aikido is a sport of the mind as well as the body and I’m going to see if Mr Ueshiba will accept Herman and me as students.

Mr Ueshiba agrees to accept us as students and our training begins the next morning [Lee and Herman, wearing a keikogi, enter the dojo with Kisshomaru and Tohei]. We salute our teacher and as the students have done for centuries sit at his feet to learn [the four and Ueshiba sitting at the kamiza bow to each other]. We begin with meditation and the prayer that we shall use our newfound wisdom and strength wisely [Gassho, Torifune, Furutama]. Aikido involves total control of every muscle and thought. These exercises loosen our muscles and prepare us mentally for the lessons to come. Many days of such simple exercises as these are needed before you’re introduced to the simplest of the Aikido techniques. 

These exercises with their undercurrent of religious significance under the watchful eye of Mr Ueshiba make me realize that there is a relationship between the mind the soul and the body, and that the mysticism underlying Aikido does serve a useful purpose [Brief Aikitaiso session and then everyone bows to Morihei Ueshiba].

Herman and I have been studying 7 hours a day for the past 10 days and now it is time for us to begin our training in the techniques. This is known as training in kata or form. I’m told to attack my instructor [Lee attacks Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Tohei and Herman watch]. He uses an application of the forearm turn [Iriminage]. Although I outweigh him by 50 pounds, I find myself on the mat, thrown without force.

Now it’s my turn and I enjoy it, but it doesn’t last for long. This time it’s a reverse handhold that upsets my apple-cart. He shows me how easily this is done and what an important part balance plays in the whole operation. If someone grabs your wrist you’ll know what to do. I start in one way and then being off-balance down he goes. Now I suggest you don’t practice any of this at home without an instructor too forceful an application of pressures will snap an arm a wrist or a leg. He makes it look so easy.

Herman is still sceptical about Aikido in a rough and tumble [Herman and Koichi Tohei stand in front of each other, bow and get going]. His instructor agrees to operate on the principle of gentleness. Weighing 126 pounds to Herman’s 190, this could be fun. Somehow or other Herman can’t get his hands on him. And down he goes. In spite of the weight advantage and the disinclination of the instructor to use the more deadly techniques, Herman can’t handle him. Notice the perfect balance of the instructor and how he forces Herman always to be the aggressor.

now he decides the time has come to exercise control and he does. Herman is totally helpless, held there by the pressures of a single thumb. Herman is convinced.

Mr Ueshiba has graciously consented to show us some of the fine points of Aikido [Ueshiba shows his Aikijo]. He asked that this deck be used only for his protection and not to injure anyone. These are the more advanced exercises and I doubt very much that I will ever learn them.

Now he salutes his instructors and prepares for the demonstration and what a demonstration it is. Now two [Nobuyoshi Tamura and Yasuo Kobayashi take ukemi]. This is what I call balance [Ueshiba does the head-push and throws 3 opponents by sweeping a knee]. Now the stick. This is our frail old man. His strength is truly as the strength of ten. 

Mr Ueshiba does me the honour of climaxing my apprenticeship in Aikido by demonstrating his technique with me. This is the master at work and I wish Herman weren’t enjoying it quite so much. I’m sure that the training I’m getting here will someday come in handy on another Rendez-Vous with Adventure.


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