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Morihei Ueshiba Biography (2)

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by Kanemoto Sunadomari

Aiki News #73 (December 1986)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Gerald Low./p>

The following translations are from the first biography of O-Sensei written by Kanemoto Sunadomari and published in February 1969. Kanemoto Sunadomari first met Morihei Ueshiba in 1928. A devout follower of the Omoto religion, he delves deeply into the influence of this religion on the art and philosophy of aikido.

The First Trip To Tokyo

Morihei Ueshiba

In 1901, when Morihei was 18, he left his hometown for Tokyo for the first time. He worked in a relative’s store during the day and in the evenings went to a local dojo to practice jujutsu. The “machi” or “town” dojo is scarcely seen nowadays but at the time there were many.

Morihei found jujutsu very interesting and it improved his physique. The fact that Morihei wanted to study kenjutsu in those early days is an indication of his natural affinity for martial arts.

His initial enthusiasm to become a merchant in Tokyo began to fade as he set out on his preferred path of budo. However, although he visited many dojos over the ensuing months he was not satisfied with them. Then he came down with a case of beriberi and had no choice but to return to his hometown of Tanabe after less than a year.

Beriberi is a strange illness that seems to subside when one returns home, and so it was with Morihei who recovered soon after he began to drink the water of his hometown and walk on its soil. Nonetheless, he was in no hurry to return to Tokyo.

Back in Tanabe he helped his parents with farming, went fishing with the local fishermen, acted as an advisor for a youth association and engaged in various other activities. He was greatly respected by the people and continued to become physically stronger. He was only five feet one-and-a-half inches (156 cm) tall, but weighed around 183 pounds (83 kg.). His paternal ancestors were all very strong and by now Morihei was no less so than his great-grandfather, Kichiemon. Thus, he did not belie his genetic endowment.

Morihei was often called upon as an arbitrator for disputes among fishermen and in common disagreements over property and the like. It was as if nothing could be settled without him, but he was not the type of person to be content with such a daily routine.

During his short stay in Tokyo he had enrolled in the Kito-ryu jujutsu school (actually Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu) of Tokusaburo Tozawa. He must have had a strong, natural liking for martial arts as he later joined the Yagyu-ryu school of Masakatsu Nakai in Sakai City, near Osaka. Despite his small stature he was quite skillful and became well known in the area.

Outstanding Soldier

Japan at the time was in a state of emergency leading to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war. When Morihei turned 21 he was eligible for military service and underwent a conscription examination which was very strict, with a minimum height requirement of five feet two-and-a-half inches (159 cm.), and proportionate bodyweight. He was heavier than average but slightly below the height requirement and although he strongly wished to serve his country at such a critical moment, he could not fool the examiners. Nonetheless, strong men were desperately needed at such a time and he was finally allowed to join the Wakayama 61st Infantry Regimen.

It was in 1903 that the dark clouds of war appeared over the skies of Manchuria.

Military training in those days was extremely severe. Both academic study and physical exercise were very arduous, not to mention combat exercises that were so close to actual warfare they would be difficult to imagine today. Soldiers sometimes had to run as far as 20 to 40 kilometers with heavy equipment, and a run of 8 to 12 kilometers was normal. Of course, such severe training resulted in many dropouts. When the training was especially intense Morihei would carry the equipment of the less strong to enable them to continue. He did the same thing many times later while under fire in Manchuria.

Space limitations do not permit me to describe Morihei’s life during the war, but after the war ended the 61st Regiment was stationed for a period in Hamadera, Osaka. During this period Morihei visited the Nakai Dojo in Sakai on his off-duty days and practiced Yagyu-ryu swordsmanship, in a way he had not been able to do since joining the army. After he left the army in July 1908 he received a menkyo kaiden certificate from this dojo, which was difficult for ordinary people to receive.

At that time people from many martial arts were associated with the Nakai Dojo. Prior to the Meiji Restoration, Yagyu-ryu did not accept people from the general public but when it opened its doors many sought out this school, including Jigoro Kano, originator of Kodokan judo and Chubei Yokoyama, a famous naginata teacher.

Returning to our narrative, when Morihei finished his military service, he was urged by high officers to go on to a military academy. One can only imagine what an outstanding soldier he was and how useful he was on the battlefields of Southern Manchuria, so that even after he completed his service he was continuously asked by the head of his former regiment to join the academy and lead a military life.

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