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Remarkable Japanese (1): The Founder of Aikido - Mover of Mountains

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by Kazuhiko Ikeda

Aiki News #1 (April 1974)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of James Sewell of the U.S.A. and is the first in a series of seventeen articles dealing with the life of the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, which appeared in a Japanese-language newspaper a number of years ago. The journalistic style and occasional historical inaccuracies contained in these articles do not diminish their high-interest and informative value.

Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

Today aikido is a thriving art. Clubs have been established in America, France, Italy, England, Thailand, Burma, India, etc. In Japan, about 60 university clubs have been founded and prefecture branch dojos have cropped up in numerous locations. Present figures show that approximately 20,000 students are engaged in the study of aikido. At Hombu Dojo (the Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo) there are more than 1,300 persons training annually.

In Tokyo, there are two individuals, both with splendid dojos, who refer to themselves as the “Founder of Aikido”. However, the true originator of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, is to be found at The Aikikai Foundation at 102, Wakamatsu-cho, Shinjuku-ku, where construction of a new dojo of reinforced concrete is in progress. Here Ueshiba, his son Kisshomaru the Director-in-Chief of Hombu Dojo, Koichi Tohei, 10th-Dan Chief Instructor, and at least ten 5th and 6th-Dan instructors are assembled.

I learned initially of the martial art of aikido during the Second World War. My first meeting with Morihei Ueshiba was in 1947, now nearly twenty years ago. I had heard various statements about aikido such as: “In Aiki, one can simultaneously fell 20 or 30 opponents empty-handed.” Also, there were stories about the legendary exploits of Ueshiba like the following: “The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, during an Imperial tournament, seized an 8th-Dan judoka and proceeded to toss him high in the air ten times, finally causing him to lose consciousness.” Another story went as follows: “A sumo wrestler named Tenryu tried to push Ueshiba over while the latter was seated on a wooden floor. Realizing he was unable to move the aikido master, Tenryu attempted to push him again using his full body weight but, despite all his groaning, straining and perspiration, Ueshiba was still unmoved. At that point Ueshiba asked Tenryu, “How are you doing? Is that as hard as you can push?” Then, O-Sensei, his power focused in his abdomen, sent the sumo wrestler flying back about three feet, so he ended up on the ground supporting himself with his hands. The amazed Tenryu prostrated himself before Ueshiba and said, “Now, I’m thoroughly convinced”. Among the other miraculous feats heard: “Ueshiba, during the time he was linked with the Omoto sect in the Tanba region, pushed a rock weighing some 800 pounds off a hill with his bare hands,” and, “Ueshiba uprooted a 15-yr-old pine tree with his bare hands.”

Hearing so many amazing stories made me imagine I would encounter a huge man about six feet tall weighing a muscular 250 pounds who looked like a one of those fierce gods who guard temple gates. When I went to the Wakamatsu-cho dojo for the first time and stood at the entrance, the man who appeared on the wooden steps bowing to me with both hands joined was a rather old man only about five-foot-two.

“Welcome, I’m glad you’ve come, I am Ueshiba,” he said, with a Kansai accent in a gentle, unassuming manner. It was hard for me to believe that this was the “Mover of Mountains” who had founded aikido. To be quite truthful, I was somewhat disappointed. Moreover, when I found myself opposite Ueshiba in the reception room the old man appeared as innocent as a three-year-old. I thought to myself, “This is not at all what I expected.” Ironically, though, I was so attracted by his personal charm that I forgot about aikido and we ended up chatting for a long time. Perhaps we shared some things in common.

Since Ueshiba addressed me as “Sensei”, I decided to call him “O-Sensei” and since then we have enjoyed a very long association.

At the time of our first meeting O’Sensei was 68 years old. As he stood in the dojo ready to show me aikido techniques, he became a totally different person. Standing tall, eyes flashing, he performed while uttering thunderous shouts.

(Translated by Stanley A. Pranin and Katsuaki Terasawa.)