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Founder of Aikido (09): Opening a Dojo

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #38 (July 1981)

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

Morihei Ueshiba c. 1960

O-Sensei’s late twenties (from 1906 when he left the army to 1912 when he went to Hokkaido) represent the most troubled years of his life. Since he already knew that he was not suited to be a merchant and his father Yoroku was opposed to him staying in the military, he was not sure what he should do for his lifetime work.

O-Sensei was married to Hatsu Itokawa just before he joined the army. Hatsu was born in October of 1881 and was 2 years older than O-Sensei. They were distantly related and had been friends from childhood. She was a large-built woman with a calm and persevering nature. Except for her homemade dishes, O-Sensei rarely enjoyed eating and even the best food from famous restaurants did not appeal to him. After entering middle age, he quit drinking, rarely ate meat and had only rice, vegetables and fish.

Mr. Zenzaburo Akazawa, who was senior uchideshi before the war in the “Kobukan period” and was very familiar with the inside affairs of the household, remembers those days saying, “If it had not been for Mrs. Ueshiba, O-Sensei could not have exhibited such an amazing degree of unrestrained power to the outside world”.

Not only O-Sensei, but all the most vigorous Japanese men, determined to make a success during the troubled Meiji Period, suffered from the same kind of problems. Whereas nowadays people enjoy the pleasure of their own “home, sweet home,” at that time one’s concern for the state mattered above all else.

During this period O-Sensei was beset by fretful outbursts. Late at night he would spring up from bed and pour cold water over himself beside the well outside or he would seclude himself inside a room to devote himself to prayer all day long. He would sometimes take it out on his wife Hatsu or go into deep mountains and start fasting. To people who didn’t understand the seriousness of his inner anguish and the almost manic-depressive state that was the result, he even looked a little out of his head.

O-Sensei’s father wanted to help calm his son’s irritation and divert his mind from the cares of the day by training his mind and body. So Yoroku asked Mr. Kiyoichi Takagi, a judoka (and later 9th dan at the Kodokan) who happened to visit the Tanabe area from Kansai, to stay in the south and teach judo to the local young people. Yoroku himself bought Mr. Takagi a house, paid him a high salary and built the dojo. At first the dojo was only one rebuilt corner of a shed, but after a while the number of tatami mats was increased until it turned into an established dojo.

Yoroku’s ploy of opening the dojo turned out to be a complete success and the young Ueshiba trained in judo under the instruction of Mr. Takagi whenever he could find free time. He had already learned classical jujutsu, but this was the first time he attempted Kodokan-style, modern judo.

O-Sensei was already very muscular from his military life, but he acquired even greater physical strength from the hard, daily training. He once participated in a rice cake making contest that involved pounding hot, steaming rice into a rubber-like mass. He wore out more than 10 strong young villagers who appeared one after another and then ended up breaking the pestle. After that he often went to various rice making contests and broke more pestles. In the end whenever he appeared to participate, people first served him tea and cake and then politely turned him away. Also, during rice harvesting time he would carry a bundle of harvested rice stalks four or five times bigger than usual on a shoulder pole. It was so big that he blocked the prefectural road which was quite narrow at that time.

It seems that O-Sensei’s interest in budo came into full bloom during this period. He trained at the Nakai Dojo of the Yagyu-ryu despite the great distance. His interest in budo is not surprising considering that both sides of O-Sensei’s family had a martial arts lineage. There was a system of jujutsu called “Aioi Ryu” handed down from his great-grandfather Kichiemon and Gundayu Itokawa who spread kendo was from his mother’s side of the family.

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