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Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido (04)

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by Kanemoto Sunadomari

Aiki News #75 (August 1987)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Jocelyn Dubois of Paris, France.

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

Encounter with Sokaku Takeda

Morihei was in Engaru on business, staying at the Hisada ryokan (inn), when he happened to encounter Sokaku Takeda of Daito-ryu jujutsu, in what was to be a strange turn of the wheel of fortune. Morihei first heard of Sokaku Takeda from a sumo wrestler of ozeki rank he met at the Kitami pass en route to Asahikawa and with whom he stayed at an inn in Shirushibe.

Morihei (who already had some jujutsu experience) asked Sokaku to teach him as soon as he learned that this was the famous Sokaku the sumo wrestler had told him about.

Daito-ryu did not become well known until the Meiji period. It is said that the originator of this school was Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu and the ryu was transmitted within the Aizu clan, from father to son, from olden times. After the Meiji period it spread to other parts of Japan.

Sokaku was the direct descendant of this orthodox school. He accepted Morihei as his student with the words, “I see you have some promise. You should stay here for a while and I will teach you”. Morihei stayed on at the inn and learned Daito-ryu from Sokaku for a month (1). Although he did not forget that he was there on business he devoted himself to training because he was exceedingly fond of the martial arts. His family and friends in Shirataki were quite concerned, because travellers in such an out-of-the-way place as Hokkaido seldom stayed in one place that long.

The Limitations of Physical Strength

While practicing alone (2) with Sokaku Takeda, Morihei confronted the question of strength versus technique. He realized there was something in Sokaku that he could not handle with physical strength alone. He was in peak condition and had absolute confidence in the stamina and ki power that he had developed through his experiences on the battlefield. This confidence had become unshakable since coming to Hokkaido.

Although only five-foot-one, he had tested his strength more than once against men weighing as much as 250 pounds and had never been beaten. But, despite his marvelous strength, he was never able to surpass Sokaku in technique, though Sokaku was the same height.

It was not possible for Morihei to stay at the inn forever, so he parted from Sokaku, promising they would meet again. Later Morihei invited Sokaku to stay with him in Shirataki so he could practice more. He gathered all the young people of the village as well as his servants to join in the training.

Morihei waited on Sokaku hand and foot. Even today Morihei is an early riser, but when he received Sokaku in his house he would get up at 3:00 a.m. every day to draw water from the well for Sokaku’s bath, light the stove to warm up the room, and then prepare a meal for his teacher.

Old samurai warriors were trained, as part of their upbringing, to beware of poisoning and Sokaku, who lived in the strife-torn period extending from the end of the Edo era to the Meiji era, also acquired the habit of only eating meals prepared by those he especially trusted.

This may seem very selfish to people today, but those who lived in such a turbulent time needed to be alert and to acquire such habits.

Serving a Demanding Master

Morihei served Sokaku, a fussy master, just as a student would have during the Edo period. He took care of his meals and every trifle in his personal life.

After finishing his early morning duties he devoted himself to one-on-one private training with Sokaku for two hours every morning. As the two finished their training other students would come to practice.

Morihei never imagined he would become so absorbed in martial arts training in the northernmost part of Hokkaido. He went there specifically to devote his extraordinary energy to the cultivation of the land that, in turn, would contribute to the security of Northern Japan. But as these activities bore fruit, and each year the amount of arable land increased, Morihei attained a certain measure of wealth. He reached the point where he could take some time off to practice jujutsu. He never dreamed then that one day he would distinguish himself as a martial artist. Until he developed the disciplined lifestyle of his later years, he was, after all, just a farmer who challenged the wilderness, and he did not consider himself a martial artist.

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