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Founder of Aikido (40): This Old Man Must Still Train

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #69 (November 1985)

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

Although the basis for a new start of the dojo after the war had been laid with the Act of Endowment in favor of the Aikikai Foundation and training had recommenced, there was a long series of hardships until 1950 or 1951.

The social climate was such that people rejected martial arts as if they were an enemy of democracy. The food shortage caused a decline in our physical strength making hard training difficult. The sad state of the public transportation system created hardships for those who came for morning training. As a result, there were usually fewer than ten people attending morning practice and the average was only two or three. If the weather appeared threatening, no one would turn up. One morning, Mr. Shigenobu Okumura came to the dojo on a stormy day and woke me up so the two of us practiced alone.

Although I worked at a company during the day I made it a point to attend morning and evening practices. I made frantic efforts to manage the dojo, maintain it in a state of repair and perform the other activities required. By 1955 the financial situation improved to the point I was able to leave my job.

Even though those were difficult years several persons who even today are contributing to the development of aikido entered the dojo. To mention several names there were: Morihiro Saito, Hiroshi Tada, Sadateru Arikawa, Seigo Yamaguchi, Shoji Nishio and Shigeho Tanaka (present head of the Meiji Shrine Shiseikan Dojo). Others who have provided me with strong support entered the dojo in those years.

Dojos also were established in other areas of Japan such as Osaka, Wakayama, Kumamoto, etc. by students who had been demoblized following the war.

For example, Michio Hikitsuchi established the Kumano Juku Dojo in Shingu in Wakayama Prefecture. This was preceded by a visit of the Founder in January 1949 to the Kumano Sanzan. It is said that he encouraged Mr. Hikitsuchi to undertake the project with these words: “It is during peace time that we need true budo. MacCarthur also told us to practice the art saying that the ideology of aiki represents the universal truth for humankind. Michio, Kumano is my spiritual home. I would be pleased if you would set up a fine dojo in Shingu. The spirit of Takemusu aiki could become the basis for the creation of a new Japan. I will do my best so you do the same.”

Stirred by these words of encouragement, Mr. Hikitsuchi opened the Kumano Juku Dojo in 1952 and dedicated himself to the spread of aikido. There were many others like him who, finding that the Founder was active after the period of confusion following the war, answered the call and devoted themselves to spreading aikido everywhere.

In April 1950, I and my companions decided to publish an aikikai newsletter entitled “Aikikai Ho”. Although it was very modest indeed, five or six pages mimeographed on rough paper, I believe it was this newsletter which announced the rebirth of aikido to the general public.

The first issue contained the following three poems of the Founder:

“I stand behind the enemy who attacks brandishing his sword thinking I stand before him.”

“Even when surrounded by many enemies, think that there is only one.”

“When entering a forest of spears, know that your spirit becomes your shield.”

There was a section current events of the aikikai at the end of the newsletter. It opened with the following paragraph:

“Five years have passed since the end of the war and we have reached the point of publishing an aikido newsletter. Slow progress is being made as we are proceeding forward firmly and strongly at a snail’s pace. On February 9, 1948, we obtained authorization from the Ministry of Education to become the Aikikai Foundation. This is what those of us who had been working so hard had striven to achieve and we were spiritually uplifted by the news. At present our headquarters is located in Iwama-machi in Ibaraki Prefecture and, in addition to the Tokyo branch, there are two or three other dojos. We hope to expand the number of regional organizations all over the country in the future. The Founder as well as fellow practitioners of the Aiki Headquarters Dojo (in Iwama) are spending their daily lives combining farm work and training in the Way. The enthusiasm of the farm youth is truly amazing. Those at the Headquarters Dojo are very much immersed in the Way.”

As recorded in this paragraph, the Founder established firm roots at the Aiki En (Aiki Farm) in Iwama and spent his days engaged in the complementary activities of farming and martial arts at his leisure. Still, invitations began to come in for the Founder from all over after word was spread that he was still active. Finally he began to accept their earnest requests and travel to various locations for seminars.

However, the Founder’s real intention after the war seems to have been to immerse himself in the life of budo training and farming at the Aiki En in Iwama. At that time there were always four or five live-in students at the country dojo. The Founder would often remark: “This old man must still train.” Also, he never skipped early morning, afternoon or evening practice with his uchideshi, such sessions lasting two hours each.

In 1953, when he had already reached 70 years of age, his training was so severe as to put the young men to shame. According to those who were with the Founder a great deal in those days, he would be absorbed in reading during every free moment. I think that he mainly read the “Kojiki” (Chronicle of Ancient Events) as well as books concerning Shinto, the Kotodama (study of the spirit of language) and the study of the divine spirit.

In the pre-war years, after his experiences with Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi and the Omoto religion, he had contact with other spiritual figures as well. Following the war, he visited from time to time with several other people of divine inspiration. Yet he perhaps most opened his heart to Mr. Masahisa Goi (Founder of the Byakko Shin Kokai Sect) during the last ten years of his life. In this connection, part of his training consisted of the performance of misogi purification training and ablution practices.

The Founder would remark as follows: “I could have entered the world of philosophy or religion. If I had mastered those ways, I could have reached a certain level. But I have always regarded budo as my mission. I am not a religionist but a budo man.” There were even some indications that the Founder was not all together pleased to be frequently taken for a religious zealot or an expert on divine matters by people in general who were not well acquainted with him. His self-discipline was that of a man of budo and he expended his energies primarily in that direction.