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What Foreigners Want Most to Know About O-Sensei

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #31 (September 1978)

This article was prepared with the kind cooperation of Jason Wotherspoon of Australia.

In the recent Aiki Shimbun published in Japanese by Hombu Dojo, I read with interest an interview with Aikido Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and Mr. Guy Bonnefond, Chairman of the International Aikido Federation. Through Mr. Bonnefond’s comments it is possible to gain a glimpse of the Aikido organizational structure of Europe in general, and France in particular. The status of Aikido in that country, where the French government recognizes qualified teachers, authorizes promotions, etc., is quite unlike that of Japan and North America where a relatively free atmosphere exists as far as government involvement in the art is concerned. It will be interesting to observe the long-term effects of the respective systems on Aikido.

One other comment made by Mr. Bonnefond in particular caught my eye: “What Aikidoists in foreign countries most want to know about is O-Sensei.” Why is it that foreign Aikidoists especially have such a keen interest in learning about the life of Ueshiba O-Sensei? I think that one important reason is that the originality of O-Sensei’s creation may be more easily visible when seen from the outside. The Japanese people possess a long, colorful marital arts tradition with many towering figures such as Miyamoto Musashi, Yagyu Jubei, Kano Jigoro, and so on. Moreover, these famous warriors of yesteryear are kept alive, albeit in a highly fictionalized manner, through movies, books and the like. Thus, a single individual, even a martial arts genius like Morihei Ueshiba, is seen amid an array of giants and his uniqueness and contributions are apt to be easily overlooked.

Seen from an external perspective, however, the fact that O-Sensei created a new, both technically and ideologically, martial “DO” whose avowed intent is to eliminate the need for martial arts themselves is striking and indeed, quite revolutionary, in a world occupied by a collection of cultures who habitually turn to violence in an attempt to meet political and social needs. Thus, it is not surprising that Mr. Bonnefond and so many others continue to express their desire to learn more about the life and personality of the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba. It was in an attempt to at least partially fill this information void that Aiki News was established in 1974. Perhaps the fact this publication has been expanded to a trilingual format (English, Japanese and French) will enable a wider, more international readership to deepen its understanding of both the trials and triumphs experienced by O-Sensei along the long road leading to the development of Aikido.

[Note: A few issues of Aiki News did appear in French in the late 1970s but are not available.]