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Remembering Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba

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by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #117 (1999)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Jon Aoki

Second Doshu Kisshomaru
Ueshiba (1921-1999)

In this issue we commemorate the passing of the figure many consider most responsible for the postwar development and spread of aikido. Through his long administration of the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai, his numerous books and extensive travels, Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba left his strong, personal stamp on aikido as we know it today. He believed strongly in preserving and continuing the legacy of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba and the importance of the Ueshiba family as the administrative, spiritual and technical center of the art.

Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s persona as the focal point for the evolution of aikido assumed an almost regal air during his final years of tenure as Aikido Doshu. Although his father was also referred to as “Doshu” in the waning years of his life, it was Kisshomaru who defined the nature and scope of the role of Doshu as we now conceive of it. The Doshu is not only the successor and administrator of aikido, but also an ambassador and spokesman for aikido in an international community counting several hundred thousands of practitioners in more than seventy countries. The Doshu is often consulted as mediator for the resolution of the inevitable problems arising in the growth of such a dynamic art. He guarantees the integrity and continuity of aikido according to the vision of the Ueshiba family.

As a child, Kisshomaru Ueshiba appeared an unlikely candidate to succeed his father. In fact, though known by few people today, the founder actually selected another as his successor in 1932 through the marriage of his only daughter to a famous kendoka. However, this union lasted only a few years following which the identity of O-Sensei’s successor remained an open question. Kisshomaru, who had been rather frail as a youth, began to practice the art seriously in high shool. Later in 1942, as a student at Waseda University in Tokyo, responsibility for the operation of the old Kobukan Dojo was suddenly thrust upon his shoulders as the war had taken a turn for the worse and O-Sensei had retired to Iwama. The Hombu Dojo was virtually abandoned during the war years and, at one point, nearly burned down as a result of the Allied bombings. Kisshomaru, aided by neighbors, barely managed to save the dojo from destruction by pouring buckets of water on the fire.

In 1948, after the conclusion of the World War II, Doshu assumed the post of dojo-cho of the Hombu Dojo reorganized as the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai. This was a time when the practice of the martial arts was forbidden by the GHQ and these disciplines were viewed negatively by the public as being associated with the prewar military mindset that led Japan to the brink of destruction. At this juncture, it was virtually impossible to earn a living teaching martial arts and Kisshomaru soon took a job with Osaka Shoji, a securities firm. Finally, around 1955 activity at the Hombu Dojo intensified and Doshu was able to leave his job and devote full-time to the direction of the dojo.

In 1957, Kisshomaru published his first book titled Aikido, which enjoyed an immediate success and went through several reprintings. Doshu’s activities as the author of more than twenty books on aikido would play a major role in shaping the general public’s understanding of the art. Moreover, these books introduced to the public the figure of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, and helped create an appreciation of his genius.

The years of the 1950s and 60s are regarded by some as the Golden Era of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Doshu and Koichi Tohei shared the leadership of the Aikikai and were bound together by a blood link due to their marriage to sisters. The two shared the leadership during this period of intensive growth of the art with Kisshomaru as the director of the dojo and Tohei as the technical innovator and head of the dojo teaching staff (shihan bucho). They eventually parted ways and Tohei resigned from the Aikikai in 1974.

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