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Founder of Aikido (11): King of Shirataki

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #40 (September 1981)

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

Shirataki Village is located in Monbetsu County, Hokkaido. Today it is a thriving town due to profits from its forestry, agriculture, stock and dairy farming, and lumber industry. However, it was not always so.

O-Sensei and his Kishu group first settled in Hokkaido some 60 years ago. From that time he left a note which says, “In the first years, we engaged in, forest clearing. Since we did not know the method of potato cultivation, we tried to raise grain and had a poor crop. We were forced to purchase rice and wheat with the money we got from lumbering. Other than that, we ate wild mountain burdocks, butterburs, bracken, flowering ferns and the sesame seeds that were probably carried to the camp on the tails of the horses and now grew there wild. We also ate river fish like trout and char. In 1913 we had another poor crop and were in great distress. And 1914 saw yet another disappointing season.”

The group probably didn’t expect good crops right from the beginning, but having bad crops continuously for the first three years made the beginning of their venture very difficult. The newly arrived immigrants were reduced to living in make-shift shacks and had little protection from the elements. They had no grains, no clothing and had no domesticated animals to sell so they had to go into the mountains and gather wild grasses, leaves and whatever edible nuts and fruits they could find. O-Sensei could be seen at this time riding his horse here and there helping wherever he could. Eventually, he went to Monbetsu to request help from the government and was successful in getting it.

During this busy period, he still found time to organize the clearing and opening of new land, a task where his tremendous strength allowed him to do the work of several regular workers. The virgin forests were made up of huge trees, over a meter in diameter, and easily swinging a 4 kg “kintoki Masa-kari” axe or another equally heavy implement, he felled over 500 of them in one year. In his later years, he would reply to his deshi’s remarks about his great arm strength by saying that since his arms were trained by cutting great trees, it was natural that they were stronger than wood. Actually, his iron-like arms, which were capable of restraining several grown men, probably only had their power further increased by the logging work. His great strength was possible only as the result of the terribly hard training and labor of his younger days.

This period of his life abounds with tales of his courage and boldness. For example, there is one story that tells of him pushing a horse and wagon up a long hill after the animal had lost its footing on the icy winter road and fell, cart and all, into a ravine. Another one tells of how, while on a trip to Engaru Town for provisions, he was caught in a snow storm and forced to put up in a small, deserted shed. During the night a hungry bear also sought shelter in the shed. O-Sensei calmly welcomed the animal and fed it his leftovers from dinner, after which they were fast friends. Innumerable other stories tell of feats of strength or the catching of thieves.

Mr. Kanemoto Sunadomari, author of the book entitled “Ueshiba Morihei: Founder of Aikido” and an early deshi of O-Sensei’s, relates this episode: “One day while returning from a provision buying expedition laden with bales of rice, he was intercepted by 3 “Tobbicho” (run-aways from among the indentured laborers who were brought in and used to open new roads and other public works). These 3 had escaped from their common cell and were making the rounds of other camps stealing whatever they could. They demanded that he hand over the rice as a gift and “loan” them whatever cash he had, as well. O-Sensei effortlessly threw them all down in the snow and proceeded on home.”

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