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Interview with Hideo Takahashi

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #115 (1998)

Morihei Ueshiba and his association with Masahisa Goi of the Byakko Shinko Kai

Morihei Ueshiba described his enlightenment experiences and spiritual understandings in a book called Takemusu Aiki. This work, based on a series of lectures by the founder of aikido edited and compiled by Hideo Takahashi, is an invaluable document for those seeking an understanding of the deeper meaning of the art. In this interview, Mr. Takahashi talks about takemusu aiki and his spiritual master, Masahisa Goi, the founder of the Byakko Shinko Kai and a close friend of Morihei Ueshiba.

AJ: I understand that the Byakko Shinko Kai is a third-generation descendant of the Omoto religion.

Takahashi Sensei: In historical terms, it can be said that “Seicho no Ie” was born from the Omoto religion and that the Byakko Shinko Kai was born from the Seicho no Ie. After the war, at the beginning of 1945, Goi Sensei got to know about the Seicho no Ie and involved himself in its many activities, eventually becoming a local instructor. Then, in 1949 he started a spiritual ascetic practice in order to achieve kuu (stillness). Goi Sensei said: “Kuu is not a nihilistic or negative condition. It contains nothing, yet everything. It is the life of God living vibrantly.” Goi sensei called it “the practice of freeing your mind of all thoughts,” and he practiced it without eating for three months in the middle of the town. Finally, he succeeded in no longer having any human thoughts and attained Oneness with God—one’s own true nature. At that time Goi Sensei was still an instructor of the Seicho no Ie, but what he was doing began to stray from the practices of this religion. Therefore, Goi Sensei was asked to resign from his post as instructor and this led him to start a spontaneous gathering of people. Thus, the core group of the Byakko Shinko Kai started in 1951. In 1955, it became a religious corporation, and one or two years after that, Goi Sensei became acquainted with the name of Ueshiba Sensei.

What led to the meeting between the two men?

Ashihei Hino wrote about O-Sensei in a novel called King’s Throne (Oja no Za, which was serialized in the magazine Shosetsu Shincho. This was the first instalment of the story. Goi Sensei read the novel and remarked, “He (O-Sensei) is a great man. He is not an ordinary person.” Then Mrs. Hayashi, a member of the Byakko Shinko Kai, happened to tell Goi Sensei that she knew Ueshiba Sensei. Her husband was a member of the Board of Directors of the Aikikai or some such position. Goi Sensei felt he would like to meet Ueshiba Sensei. There was only one person in all of Goi Sensei’s life that he ever wanted to get acquainted with, and that was Ueshiba Sensei. I heard that Ueshiba Sensei knew that he was going to meet some special person, and was expecting someone to introduce him to the person he was meant to meet. Therefore, when Mrs. Hayashi told O-Sensei that she wanted to introduce Goi Sensei to him, O-Sensei said, “Oh, it was you I was waiting for.” Hearing the name of Goi Sensei, O-Sensei said, “He is a wonderful human being.” Finally their meeting took place at Jinbo-cho, Kanda, in Tokyo, in October 1957.

Around 1957 or 1958, when we built an annex to the main building at the Headquarters of Byakko Shinko Kai, we laid down judo mats so that people could practice aikido. This new building was finished in November, the month of Goi Sensei’s birthday, and Ueshiba Sensei came to our dojo to give a demonstration of aikido. After then O-Sensei visited our dojo several more times and taught us aikido directly. I was also one of his students at that time.

Were you taught aikido regularly by Ueshiba Sensei?

No. What I did regularly was to listen to Ueshiba Sensei’s talks, which then became the contents of the book, Takemusu Aiki. O-Sensei said to me, “Takahashi-san, come to Iwama. I will talk to you about aikido,” so I went to Iwama every month. From April of 1958 through the beginning of 1961, I visited Iwama once a month to listen to O-Sensei’s lectures. Then I wrote them down in manuscript form at home and went back to O-Sensei again with them for review. After I obtained his approval, I published them in our publication, Byakko. On my first visit I brought a tape recorder with me, but Ueshiba Sensei did not allow me to use it. I had to take dictation while listening to O-Sensei and I had quite a hard time because there were many words I had never heard of before. Ueshiba Sensei had a notebook in his hands and read to me what he had written down. When I look back now how it was then. I realize that I truly received private lectures, face-to-face, about “Aiki.”

What was the subject of O-Sensei’s lectures?

All his talks were about spiritual matters. The book Takemusu Aiki contains what Ueshiba Sensei talked to me about face-to-face, as well as one of his talks from “Meetings With Ueshiba Sensei” which were held once a month at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo.

One can imagine how hard it must have been to follow and record O-Sensei’s lectures since their content is so difficult to understand.

I am pleased to know that I managed to produce a rather good work. When I was with O-Sensei, I was completely absorbed in listening to him and writing down his words. This was different from understanding what he was saying. I could record his words because I was meeting O-Sensei face-to-face and directly listening to his lectures. I was in such a special atmosphere. If, for example, I were to listen to a tape of O-Sensei’s lectures or something else that remains today, I wonder if I would be able to understand his words. Direct communication with a living person is different.

Did you ask Ueshiba Sensei to explain the meaning of any words that you did not understand?

No. The atmosphere was such that I could not ask him to repeat what he said or to answer any questions. Ueshiba Sensei was talking with the conviction that I knew all the names of the deities, too. Therefore I wrote wrote down what I heard, for example, in katakana (one of two Japanese phonetic alphabets), and when I got home, I looked up the words in the mythological books, such as the Kojiki, to find out the Japanese characters. When I could not locate the characters for the words anywhere, I left them in katakana.

Did Ueshiba Sensei correct and change those words into the correct kanji?

No. He left them as they were, no matter how they were written, in hiragana (the other phonetic alphabet) or katakana. However, he certainly checked my manuscripts each time, reading them through in front of me. Sometimes he corrected a few things, but usually almost everything was okay as it was written.

Does the order of O-Sensei’s talks in the book respect the order of the dates of bis lectures?

In the previous old edition, that was the case, but I altered the order in the new edition. The text was not changed, though. Ueshiba Sensei used to say, “I will tell you about such and such today,” or ” I will lecture you on this or that next time.” However, it did not happen exactly that way and he would talk about something different the following month. When there was no connection between the previous talk and the next one, I may have asked O-Sensei to talk about some specific matter. But anyway, O-Sensei directed all his lectures himself. I think those who were practicing aikido did not know about the existence of these lectures when we were publishing the series on our Byakko magazine. After we edited and published them as a book, I presented the book to the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Kisshomaru Sensei as well as other people were delighted to see the book.

How do you interpret the meaning of the word takemusu aiki?

When I think of it today, I believe it means giving birth to the true bu (martial art). The true bu means, briefly, to settle your mind. In our heart there must be no desire to fight. This is the spirit of bu. A human being has to completely extinguish conflict, hatred, and malice in his heart. Thus, takemusu aiki means giving birth to such a beautiful heart without any conflict, hatred or malice. This is my interpretation.

How did Ueshiba Sensei explain kotodama?

Ueshiba Sensei said, “Kotodama is not something to be studied.” I don’t think one can understand it only by studying it in a scholarly or superificial way. When a great man such as Ueshiba Sensei emits the vocalization of “A” or “U”, it truly becomes the kotodama of “A” or “U,” the words of the spirit, the vibrations emitting from the Universal Source (God). However, if the spirit of the person emitting the sound is of a low-level, impurities will attach to the vibrations of his voice, and, for example, if the sound is “A,” the “A” energy may become contaminated. Therefore, before we really start performing kotodama, we should purify ourselves first. I think true aikido practice is such a purification.

Ueshiba Sensei must have been highly spiritual…

Yes. He was amazingly spiritual. However, his spirituality was of a high level and beyond the dimension in which you simply see or hear something of the spiritual world. He was the kind of person who could quickly read another’s mind. It was like you could never tell a lie to him. He immediately knew what I was thinking. I can say he sensed any feeling or intention. Of course, he perceived at once if someone had a murderous intent, or if someone held him in contempt. He impressed me as a great budoka, when he said, “Never walk by someone’s bedside because you will be cut if he is a budoka.” He was also very strict in observing propriety. For example, he told me not to step on the hem of a tatami mat. Goi Sensei was a kind of person who did not care much about such things and I first thought Ueshiba Sensei would be the same. One day in summer I went to my usual meeting with Ueshiba Sensei. I was wearing a shirt open at the neck. I did not have any summer suit at that time. Then Ueshiba Sensei said to me, “Mr. Takahashi, next time you come to me, wear a suit.” I understood I made a mistake, and I bought a proper suit. When I visited Ueshiba Sensei the following time, I wore the new suit, put on a necktie and asked him, “Am I dressed properly this time?” He said, “Yes. Fine.”

Do you think that meeting with Ueshiba Sensei had some influence on Goi Sensei’s way of thinking?

Ueshiba Sensei expressed great power and energy through aikido, a form of bu or martial art, and Goi Sensei used his example in order to give explanations about prayer. I think Ueshiba Sensei had a positive influence on Goi Sensei. Goi Sensei said, “In aikido, you do not go against your opponent, but guide him toward you. I teach exactly the same thing.” He also said, “Aikido is, especially when Ueshiba Sensei executes techniques, a work of purification. When he thrusts a jo (stick), pulls it back, or whatever other movement he does, every technique is a work of purification. He is performing a great purifying work.”

I understand that Goi Sensei trained in aikido, too. I saw a picture of him in a kamae posture with a sword.

Yes. One day, I came back from an aikido class, taught by Kisshomaru Sensei, I think. Goi Sensei asked me, “What did you learn today?” I answered, “I practiced kotegaeshi.” Then he asked me, “How do you execute it?” So I taught him the kotegaeshi technique. He was very much interested in aikido. Goi Sensei wrote a poem dedicated to Ueshiba Sensei, which is titled “An Incarnation of the Deity.” You can also find it in Takemusu Aiki. Goi Sensei looked spiritually at Ueshiba Sensei’s true nature. Ueshiba Sensei responded like the budoka that he was, “Goi Sensei is the only person who can see through me.” Ueshiba Sensei was very delighted to receive the poem. No one else could see him as an incarnation of the Deity. I think he wished people could know it.

An Incarnation of the Deity: Ode to Master Morihei Ueshiba

by Masahisa Goi

He who certainly is
an incarnation of the Deity
He whose human body is
the Universe Itself has no opponent
“As I am One with the Universe,
I have no enemy,”
He says, as if it were
the most natural thing in the world.
A small body of five feet
Almost eighty years old
Still he knows with certainty
that he is extending
throughout the entire universe
No matter how many warriors
No matter how many opponents face him
He will never be defeated
As he is in a state of perfect Kuu’
Kuu is the Universal God Himself
(“Ame no minakanushi”)
Totally merged with God
He emits the power of Guardian Deities
His power has transcended
all martial arts
It is the deed of Love.
the Work of Great Energy
Piercing eyes and compassionate look
These two blend becoming one
And as manifestation of his character
Touch people’s hearts
He is truly an incarnation of the Deity
He is the messenger of Absolute Love In the depth of my heart I know the extraordinary greatness of his being

(from Prayer, a collection of poems by Masahisa Goi)

‘Kuu is a Japanese word that is sometimes translated as “stillness”, “emptiness,” or “nothingness.” It is also described as “freeing your mind of all thoughts.” Masahisa Goi explains: “Kuu is not a nihilistic or negative condition, Kuu contains nothing, yet everything. It is the Life of the Divine, Universal Source itself, as is, living vibrantly.”

On the other hand, what kind of influence did Goi Sensei have on Ueshiba Sensei?

I think the biggest fact was that Ueshiba Sensei found someone who appreciated him, someone who truly understood him. I wondered why Ueshiba Sensei wanted to publish this Takemusu Aiki through the Byakko Shinko Kai, rather than the Aikikai Headquarters. I think those who were practicing aikido believed that the art was only a study of martial techniques, and that it had nothing to do with the kamisama (deities). It is understandable that they did not pay attention to Ueshiba Sensei’s lectures about the deities. Moreover, when Ueshiba Sensei talked, his voice was low and hard to catch. His Wakayama accent must have been difficult to understand for people living in the Kanto (Tokyo) area, too.

Most of those who were practicing aikido, except a few special people, wanted to learn techniques and become strong rather than listen to talks about the deities. Elderly people might have been different, but I think it was natural that people preferred practice. However, we were taught by Goi Sensei that was Ueshiba Sensei was an incarnation of the Deity. It is so.

Mr. Takahashi, from your point of view, do you think Ueshiba Sensei’s aikido and ideas were original, or more of an extension of the techniques of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu and the principles of the Omoto religion?

I felt like what Ueshiba Sensei was doing was something new. He was undoubtedly influenced by the Omoto religion, but the world in which he was living was of a different nature. As far as techniques are concerned, I understand he did different ones at different ages and I know that Daito-ryu aikijujutsu influenced him, too. However, I think Ueshiba Sensei had already undergone a change when he had an enlightenment experience of Oneness with God, which was, I think, back in 1925. The Omoto religion and Daito-ryu were surely the starting points of the form, but what was gushing out from the inside of him was, if I must name it, “Ueshiba-ryu,” “The Divine Ueshiba-Ryu.” His spirituality was completely different from that of the Omoto religion or Daito-ryu. The older Ueshiba Sensei became, the more wonderfully he showed his ability. Normally, in the martial arts, when you become old you cannot avoid declining physically, but Ueshiba Sensei did not show it. He was amazing even after he became ill. Therefore, Ueshiba Sensei’s aikido was, we should say, a martial art of Kannagara, a “Divine Bu,” which was transmitted by God and flowed out through him. However, Ueshiba Sensei could not easily explain this in words and so Goi Sensei helped us to understand it by adding more clarifications.

To close our interview, please tell us about today’s international activities of the Byakko Shinko Kai.

Since people certainly tend to consider the Byakko Shinko Kai as a religious group, we carry on our activities as a movement of peace. Then we can get together with everyone no matter what they are, a Christian or an Islamite. One of our main activities is holding World Peace Prayer Ceremonies (WPPC), in which we hoist about 200 national flags while praying for the peace of each country in the world. Another activity is planting peace poles with the inscription “MAY PEACE PREVAIL ON EARTH.”

I have often seen at street corners white signs with “MAY PEACE PREVAIL ON EARTH” written on them.

Those are peace stickers. We have also erected peace poles in various aikido dojos throughout the world. We donated them to the Hombu dojo and the Aiki Shrine and I understand Yamada Sensei has one at his dojo in New York, too. We have held world peace prayer ceremonies in more than sixty countries. “MAY PEACE PREVAIL ON EARTH” is not a message of a specific religion, but a global prayer. Therefore, it transcends all religion and can be accepted by any country, Catholic or whatever other religion. Many people feel resistance to the word “religion.” It is rare to find people who can understand everything about one another as soon as they meet for the first time, but this was exactly what Ueshiba Sensei and Goi Sensei did.

We would like to start a translation of Ueshiba Sensei’s talks from Takemusu Aiki in Aikido Journal if that would be possible…

That would be very nice. I think those who are studying aikido will be delighted to read these lectures since many of them are seeking spiritual understanding. As the names of the deities and lots of other things cannot be translated into English, we may need a lot of annotations for clarification. There is one thing I want to say. The names of the deities written in the book are the Japanese names, but the dieties Ueshiba Sensei is talking about are not the ones we usually know, not the ones only for Japan. They are God, the Parent of Humanity, of all human beings. When God looks at Japan He is called by a Japanese deity’s name. Then, when He turns to Christianity, He is called, for example “Jehovah” or in Hinduism, “Krishna.” God has many faces like this. I wonder if people can understand this concept. It is not a philosophy, but that is my understanding.