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Founder of Aikido (01): Divine Technique of No-Self

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by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #30 (August 1978)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Jason Wotherspoon of Australia.

We would like to thank Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba for his kind permission to publish these chapter summaries.

Aikido is not a martial art that was created overnight. Nor is it like a new island or a new mountain spewed forth in a single evening.

During a lifetime spanning 86 years, Morihei Ueshiba personally fashioned the lofty edifice of aikido laying the foundation stone by stone only to have it collapse, whereupon he began his work anew. Again, it collapsed. Again he resumed his labors. Truly this structure is emblematic of the personal experiences of a lifetime of austerities.

The founder’s body and spirit supplied the mortar for this task. He earnestly studied and mastered numerous old-style traditional martial arts but remained dissatisfied. He further pursued his quest for a true martial path that was more spiritually mature and fundamentally newer imposing severe hardships upon his mind and body day and night. This was the crystallization of the founder’s life efforts. This explains the striking individuality naturally expressed in aikido such as the unparalleled originality of its concepts, its warm yet keen spirituality, the verisimilitude and rationality of its movements of necessity born of actual war experience, its nature as a “Do” (way or path) starting from the perception of and leading to the unification with a grandiose entity beyond the scope of human mental capacity.

Those who merely saw the founder in an exhibition or during training in the dojo and, of course, those who were his students and were taught personally during his lifetime are, even now, unanimous in their comments. First, with regard to the awe inspired by the “piercing brilliance of the founder’s eyes” seemingly capable of penetrating an impregnable fortress; and also, the “deep impression of instantly victorious absolute strength” of spirit, mind and body; and finally, in their conclusion that his could only be described as “divine technique.”

For example, one old student who trained with O-Sensei for more than ten years offers the following comments: “I wanted to try to touch Sensei’s body just once. But always at the instant I attempted to touch him my whole body would be flying in the air. I have no idea how it happened. I couldn’t help but be convinced that this was “divine technique.” “The instant I opposed him,” confesses another disciple of O-Sensei during his later years, “I became like a grain of sand. It was as though I was sucked up by Sensei’s body along with the air. To me, Sensei was a ‘kami’ (divine being).” Also, an artist who happened to see the founder at an exhibition in a serious tone commented: “How can absolute strength assume such a pleasant and beautiful form being neither harsh nor violent: I became immersed in a fascination just as if I were worshipping an exceptionally sacred Shinto-Buddhist image.” Setting aside the matter of how he was as a human being in his daily life, I personally feel compelled to affirm that these impressions and comments about his “divine technique” indeed describe the way he was.

A ferocity that characterized the founder especially until the time he entered into his 60’s and that could only be described as a kind of violent spirit had faded leaving his body enveloped in a warm aura that could only be termed peacefulness. Moreover, this peacefulness animated by a superb spirit, if observed closely, revealed an extreme quality of weightlessness, a powerful force of attraction, and the suction power of a vacuum causing one to imagine that the so-called “black hole,” also described as one of the mysteries of the universe, must be similar to this. One could feel some mysterious power beyond normal human understanding. In short, I dare say the founder attained the lofty height of “divine technique.”

Of course, the founder’s “divine technique” did not come into being the moment he set out along the martial path. As I mentioned above, it was only the result of long years of continuous austerities. It was the crystallization of a life of the most determined self-denial. Again, it was not something of which the founder himself was conscious nor was there any intention on his part. It must be understood as a divine fruit gained through fervent discipline. Therein lies the human value of the founder who devoted his life single-mindedly to martial arts. The founder challenged the limits of human achievement. In the final analysis, the process of training itself that led naturally to the attainment of divine technique is a precious thing. It is a mistake to worship the founder elevating him on a pedestal without thinking of the austerities that led to his divine technique. It is pointless to treat the founder as though he were born a demi-god.

Reverend Genyu Sogabe of the famous Kozan Temple (the Ueshiba family temple and the site of a monument to the founder and of his grave) in Tanabe, Kii Province, who first received personal instruction from the founder shortly after the war, began his remarks in the following manner:

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