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Founder of Aikido (36): The Turmoil of War

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #65 (December 1984)

The following is a chapter summary printed with the kind permission of Mr. Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Aikido Doshu based on the original Japanese text which was published in 1977.

Morihei Ueshiba c. 1940

As the war in China expanded during the late 1930’s, many young people came to the various dojos that had been started around the country by the then-suppressed Budo Sen’yokai. The founder was rarely at home, so busy was he with his teaching activities in various locations.

Vigorous newcomers like Shin Tamaoki, Toshinobu Matsumoto, and Koichi Tohei arrived to replace the men of the “Hell Dojo.” Mr. Tohei began in 1941 and at present is active with his own organization called the ‘Ki no Kenkyukai’ and his system of ‘Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido.’ The present chief instructor of the Aikikai Headquarters, Kisaburo Osawa, also joined around the same time as did Hombu Dojo Shihan, Mr. Shigenobu Okumura. Their arrival seemed to dissipate the feeling of emptiness around the Kobukan.

The founder went everywhere and dedicated everything to the young people who he thought would face tragic deaths in the war. He was also worried about the crisis confronting his homeland. One former uchideshi later commented that the only thing that saved his life at the front was O-Sensei’s teaching, especially the irimi-tenkan principle of entering which allowed him to move his body out of harm’s way.

As the founder’s son, I had been exposed to aiki since boyhood and as the proverb says: “Living near a temple, even a shop boy will chant a sutra untaught.” But until about my second or third year of middle school I had refused to train, let alone consider actually inheriting the art. The founder didn’t try to teach me and as a child I had only “played” in the dojo. I had been practicing kendo and Kashima Shinto-ryu classical sword work, though, since the later grades of elementary school. But in middle school, I began to consider the art seriously and to devote myself to aikido. Perhaps part of the delay was a teenager’s contrariness toward his parents, but I was not exactly into sword work (kenjutsu). Now he started swinging the sword frequently for his own research, especially after aikido started dealing with empty-handed techniques against weapon attacks. He remained convinced that the secret principle of the martial arts was to be found in the empty-handed natural stance and for him the sword was seen as unified with and an extension of one’s body. Aikido remained the ultimate budo. Yet, he felt that a person who did not know correct sword work was incomplete in his martial arts training so students were allowed to practice with the sword.

Swordsman Kiyoshi Nakakura was another link between kendo and the Kobukan after 1932. He was from the famous Yushinkan dojo and became an adopted son of the Ueshiba family for a time. Kendo practices were set up and other famous swordsmen frequented the dojo. They attended kendo meets as the “Kendo Division of the Kobukan Dojo,” and won a trophy. These events stimulated my interest in the sword.

The founder’s friends in the kendo world increased. The prominent Sasaburo Takano (of the Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu) was a close friend since both were on the Martial Art Promotion Committee (the Budo Shinko linkai, established in 1939). There was also Mr. Seiji Noma. The founder’s closest friend was probably Mr. Hakudo Nakayama (master of the Shindo Munen Ryu, founder of the Yushinkan dojo and originator of the Muso Shinden Ryu of modern Iaido). Their friendship started around 1931 or 32 or possibly even earlier and Mr. Nakayama was an advisor to the Budo Sen’yokai. The skillful Ms. Hideo Sonobe of the Jikishinkage-ryu of nagilnata (art of the halberd) highly respected the founder after seeing his demonstrations in Manchuria in 1942. She operated a strict, private dormitory-dojo for girls and, according to Ms. Mitsue [Fukiko] Sunadomari, who was one of Sonobe’s students, only girls going to aikido were given permission to go out.

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