Challenging the Status Quo
Aiki News #98 (1994)
The role and direction of Aiki News has periodically shifted in the twenty years since its inception. We began our research focusing on the life of the founder and evolution of his technique. Our findings gradually steered us towards an in-depth study of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, the technical fount of aikido, and its connection with modern aikido. This effort in turn led to a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda. In a similar manner, our recent thrust has been to delve into the topic of the Omoto religion and its charismatic leader, Onisaburo Deguchi. The subject of the influence of the Omoto sect on the thinking of Morihei Ueshiba has not thus far been treated to our satisfaction and we wish to conduct a thorough exploration to further our knowledge and for the benefit of our readers.
As we have passed through these various stages, quite naturally, our understanding of the nature of aikido and its philosophy has deepened. We have found that many of the representations of the man, Ueshiba, and his art, aikido, found in books and articles prior to and coincidental with our own efforts have been superficial, misleading, and exclusionary. This has often placed us in the awkward position of publishing research whose results have stood in direct contradiction to prevailing views. This approach has brought us both accolade and condemnation, such I suppose being the lot of historical journalism.
Let me sum up our “controversial” conclusions on the founder and his art. Morihei Ueshiba was an eccentric nonconformist who pursued a highly personal path in his development of aikido. Many of the opportunities afforded him in the first half of his life were made possible by the generosity of his loving father, Yoroku, and his considerable means. Ueshiba’s creation of aikido was viewed by the Daito-ryu school as an act of rebellion and show of disrespect towards Sokaku Takeda. Ueshiba was, on the other hand, loyal in the extreme to Onisaburo Deguchi, and most of his ethical views on budo were derived from this Omoto leader’s teachings. O-Sensei expressed his visionary views on budo as a tool for the peaceful resolution of conflict largely through the metaphors and symbols of the Omoto doctrine and this message has been simplified and altered with the elimination of this religious context as aikido has been popularized.
To continue, Ueshiba’s religious and ethical views assumed greater importance in his concept of budo due to the physical and psychological devastation Japan suffered during World War II. Aikido in its modern form developed during the founder’s intensive period of study in Iwama which spanned the period of 1942 through the mid-1950s. Ueshiba’s main impact on aikido during the postwar period was in a spiritual and symbolic sense, rather than technical. The major technical influences after the war and those primarily responsible for the dissemination of the art were Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and to a lesser extent, other second-generation senior instructors.
The aikido seen commonly today differs considerably from that developed by the founder during the Iwama years in the following respects. Atemi (strikes to vital points) have been de-emphasized or eliminated. The number of techniques commonly practiced has been reduced. The focus on irimi (entering) and initiation of techniques by tori [person executing the technique] has been lost, and the distinction between omote and ura blurred. Practice of the aiki ken, jo, or other weapons is infrequent or nonexistent. Aikido, although still considered as a budo by some, retains little of its historical martial effectiveness due to the soft, casual nature of practice and as such has been transformed into what could be better called a health or exercise system.
I suppose that by boldly making the above statements I am “casting a stone into the calm waters of the aikido pond,” however, long-term readers will recognize them as logically deducible from the research that Aiki News has labored to present over the years. In this connection, Aiki News has found an unlikely bedfellow in the person of Mr. Yoshinori Kono. Mr. Kono has gained considerable recognition in Japanese martial arts circles in recent years through his theories and books. A former aikido practitioner and avid martial arts researcher, Mr. Kono has of late been a frequent contributor to Aiki News and we feel he is uniquely qualified to make observations on nuts-and-bolts technical issues and the dynamics of movement from a fresh perspective. He is the rare combination of a superb technician and deep thinker and his example of engaging in relentless experimentation and training exchanges should be an inspiration to all.
In fact, Aiki News has just completed a first-of-its-kind [Japanese-language] training manual in which Mr. Kono traces the birth and evolution of his theory of igeta jutsuri. Largely at our suggestion, Mr. Kono has presented his discoveries as they apply to the execution of aikido-like techniques and employed terms which will be familiar to aikido practitioners. I think this volume will be an outstanding contribution to the technical and theoretical literature on the art which has over the years tended to be mostly repetitive and derivative.
Inherent in several of Mr. Kono’s concepts are criticisms of the way aikido techniques are executed today and I find myself largely in agreement with his views. I know for certain that Mr. Kono has ambiguous feelings about revealing his technical findings which often imply criticism of the aikido status quo. I have found myself in a similar position and have wrestled with this same dilemma on numerous occasions. Such a stance is sure to attract criticism from some quarters in turn. Although most of our mail has been very favorable with regard to Mr. Kono’s observations, there have been a few negative reactions too. In order to stick to our open discussion policy, we have unhesitatingly published some of these counter views.
I, too, have been on the receiving end. I remember one incident several years ago when I received a long letter from a well-known senior instructor which took me to task for delving into the subject of Daito-ryu to such an extent and for publishing comments which could be construed as critical of the founder of aikido. He then accused me of being disloyal to the aikido cause by engaging in such actions. Even though it hurt to read these things, there was never any question about whether or not we would publish this “unflattering” letter. To add to the indignity, we had to translate and edit these stinging words for publication. As it turned out several readers jumped to our defense with some “unflattering words” of their own directed at this disgruntled shihan. It takes a thick hide to stay in this field and be a survivor. And to think all I really wanted to do was to hole myself up in a library stall somewhere and write a few scholarly monograms that a maximum of fifty people would ever read!
After so many years in this field my conclusion is basically as the old saying goes, “if you’re going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it!” Such critical comments from detractors, well-meaning or otherwise, can be likened to a sword thrust which should ideally be anticipated, avoided, countered with no intent to injure, and ultimately used to polish our own spirit!