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Response to George Ledyard’s Letter

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #75 (August 1987)

If you have not already done so please read George Ledyard’s letter on page 60 of this issue. I would like to respond to several points he raises since his views may be shared by a certain percentage of readers.

I would like to list what I understand to be Mr. Ledyard’s basic assumptions. First, the study of history is a “backward-oriented” process. Also, O-Sensei created his “new Aikido” during his last years and this art was superior to earlier forms of Aikido. The essence of Aikido is essentially spiritual in contrast to physical. Daito-ryu is a combative art and exemplifies the type of martial thinking which invariably leads to “nuclear standoffs, star wars, and mass destruction”. 0-Sensei in his middle years was primarily concerned with Daito-ryu-like, physical techniques. Aikido has continued to progress and hence its present form is superior to what existed before and therefore more worthy of study than precursor forms. The activities and views of some of the “mavericks” of the Aikido world should merit equal attention in the pages of AIKI NEWS.

Allow me to comment on these views point by point. First, there are many reasons for studying history beyond a tunnel-vision approach where one figuratively “lives” in the past. For instance, one might be in order to commune with the finest examples of human excellence to glean insights which are useful in your own life. If you were deeply interested in religion and spiritual areas it would be perfectly natural to seek out the teacher you regarded as the most enlightened or spiritually advanced for study. But you might equally focus on the lives and teachings of “past” masters for this type of stimulation. In this fundamental sense, whether a master teacher is living or dead is almost incidental in terms of his or her potential to stimulate personal growth. What recourse would you have if you could not find the teacher you were seeking among living masters?

What about the assumption that Aikido is essentially spiritual rather than physical. Neither of these terms is very clearly defined. The partition is one suggested by language but I submit that techniques cannot be neatly compartmentalized into “spiritual” and “physical” dimensions. I would further suggest that no one would be persuaded by a “spiritual” master of Aikido who could not perform high-level techniques manifested on the physical plane. This is a sort of “reality test” we apply to all of our teachers whether consciously or unconsciously.

Daito-ryu certainly developed for use as a combat system and as such its historical applications involved warfare. However, my personal experience with practitioners of Daito-ryu today is that their mentality and motives are quite similar to those training in Aikido. Besides, the level of violence in certain Aikido dojos and acts committed by some of the most advanced and prominent teachers in our own art are certainly deplorable. A re-reading of Ellis Amdur’s letter in AIKI NEWS No. 74 would perhaps be timely. Here we must make a clear distinction between the theory and practice of Aikido.

Next I would like to dispute the viewpoint that the Aiki Budo practiced by Morihei Ueshiba in the 1930s was physically oriented and not concerned with spiritual matters. Readers will recall that 0-Sensei first had contact with 0nisaburo Deguchi Sensei when he was 37 years old in December 1919. Everything written by and about him after this encounter reflects a constant concern with spiritual subjects and ethics even though his ideas were different from those he held later in life.

Another important point to note is that it is not all together clear that the Founder had reached his peak during his final years. In fact it has become very clear in our conversations with numerous persons close to him that he exhibited behavior during his final years which clearly showed signs of senility. I recall seeing a 16mm sound film taken at the 1964 All-Japan Aikido demonstration where this is quite obvious. Is it really surprising that a man in his 80s suffering from liver cancer should shows signs of physical and mental deterioration?

As to the assumption that Aikido as an art has continued to progress, if this is indeed what is implied in Mr. Ledyard’s letter, I would be very interested in meeting any individuals who have taken Aikido to new heights. We at AIKI NEWS are certainly open to “mavericks” in the Aikido world. In fact we ourselves are sometimes described in similar terms. Some of the other “mavericks” here in Japan have, it would seen, perfected the art of “no-touch” Aikido and are capable of throwing their partners with no physical contact from a distance of several yards through their ability to central their partner’s “ki”. I know of similar phenomena in the U.S. and France. If these individuals are indeed capable of these feats they have far exceeded Morihei Ueshiba in their mastery of the art. Is this the approach to Aikido you would like to see in AIKI NEWS? There are other magazines which deal with these topics and teachers regularly in their pages for those interested.

l would ask readers to keep in mind that AIKI NEWS is produced by a staff of three and that we are physically located in Tokyo, Japan. We will certainly expand the scope of this magazine as resources permit. In the meantime there are some concrete things that readers can do to assist us. Encourage your Aikido friends and students to subscribe and purchase our products. Submit articles concerning subjects which interest you and take an active part in shaping the content of the magazine. In closing I would like to sincerely thank George for writing and all of you please keep the letters coming!