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Morihei Ueshiba, Founder Of Aikido (02)

by Kanemoto Sunadomari

Aiki News #73 (December 1986)


The First Trip To Tokyo

In 1901, when Morihei was 18, he left his hometown for Tokyo for the first time. In Tokyo, he worked in the store of a relative during the day and in the evenings went to a local dojo to practice jujutsu. This sort of “machi” or town dojo is scarcely seen nowadays but at the time there were many.

Morihei found jujutsu very interesting and at the same time visible changes began to occur to his body. He was becoming stronger and his physique too was improving. As the saying goes, “Liking shows where one’s talent lies”. The fact that Morihei wanted to study kenjutsu in the early days is an indication of his natural affinity for martial arts.

His initial enthusiasm to become a merchant in Tokyo somehow began to fade and he began to set out on the preferred path of budo. However, as he visited many dojos over the months he could find no match and eventually began to feel a vague dissatisfaction. Then he came down with a case of beriberi. He had no choice but to abandon Tokyo and returned to his hometown of Tanabe after less than one year.

Beriberi is a strange illness and it seems to subside when one returns home. Morihei got over his beriberi soon after he began to drink the water of his hometown and walk on its soil. Nonetheless, he was in no hurry to return to Tokyo.

Back in Tanabe he helped his parents with farming, went fishing with the local fishermen, was an advisor of a youth association and engaged in various other activities. He was greatly respected by the people and at the same time his physique improved even more. Thus he did not belie his genetic endowment. He was not tall, only five feet one-and-a-haIf inches (156 cm) tall but was well built weighing around 183 pounds (83 kg.). As mentioned earlier, his paternal ancestors were all very strong and by now Morihei was no less than his great-grandfather, Kichiemon, in strength.

Thus he was often called upon as an arbitrator for disputes among fishermen and common disagreements over property and the like. It was as if nothing could be settled without Morihei. However, he was not the type of person to be content with such a daily routine.

It was during his short stay in Tokyo that he first entered the world of martial arts when he enrolled in the Kito-ryu jujutsu (actually Tenjin Shinyo-ryu Jujutsu) of Tokusaburo Tozawa. He roust have had a strong, natural liking for martial arts as later he joined the Yagyu-ryu school of Masakatsu Nakai in Sakai City near Osaka. He was small but quite skillful and well-known among the people of his area. Morihei practiced Yagyu-ryu under this teacher.

Outstanding Soldier

Japan at the time was in a state of emergency with the events leading to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. Morihei finally became 21 years old and was at last eligible for military serve. Consequently, hare underwent a conscription examination. It was very strict and the minimum height requirement was five feet two-and-a-half inches (159 cms.). One had to meet this minimum height and have a proportionate bodyweight. He was heavier than average in weight but slightly short of the height requirement. He wished so strongly to pass the examination to serve his country at such a critical moment but he could not fool the examiners. Nonetheless, men with good physiques were desperately needed at such a time and he was finally able to pass the examination. He joined the Wakayama 61th Infantry Regiment.

It was in 1903 that the dark clouds of war appeared over the skies of Manchuria. The war was about to commence.

Military training in those days was extremely severe. The academic study and physical exercise were very arduous not to mention outdoor training which resembled actual battles, something difficult to imagine today. Sometimes soldiers had to run as far as 20 to 40 kiloometers with heavy equipment. A run of 8 to 12 kilometers was normal. Of course, such severe training resulted in many drop-outs. When the training was e-specially intense Morihei would carry the equipment of the less strong to enable them to continue. He did the same many times in actual battle in Manchuria later in the midst of hails of bullets.

Space limitations do not permit me to describe his life during the war. After the war ended the 61st Regiment was for a period stationed in Hamadera, Osaka. During this period he visited the Nakai Dojo in Sakai on his off days and practiced the martial arts, something he could not do after he entered the military. After he left the army in July 1908 he received a menkyo kaiden certificate, something difficult for normal people to receive.

At that time people from many martial arts’ schools were associated with the Nakai Dojo. Prior to the Meiji Restoration, Yagyu-ryu did not accept common persons as students. Afterwards, however, when it opened its doors to everyone, many persons sought out this school. Such people as Jigoro Kano, originator of Kodokan Judo and Chubei Yokoyama, a naginata teacher, were among them.

Returning to our narrative, when Morihei finished his military service, he was enthusiastically advised by high officers to go on to a military academy. One can imagine how outstanding a soldier he was while in the military and how useful he was on the battlefields of southern Manchuria. Even after he completed his service he was continuously asked to join the academy and lead a military life by the head of his former regiment. This is a time when servicemen were treated with exceptional favor because of the victories of the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars. why did Morihei reject such enthusiastic recommendations? It was unusual for such an energetic young man like him to lead a simple ordinary life looking after his family in a conservative and changeless atmosphere. However, his hometown of Tanabe provided him with an ideal environment to train his spirit for the future.

However, probably due to the extremely calm living environment and also the fact that he worked twice as hard as other soldiers he soon became ill. He had a fever but that was all. There were no other symptoms and the cause of his fever was not known. He usually recovered soon but this strange illness remained with him even through his 70’s and 80’s. It may have been some sort of endemic disease he brought back with him from the continent.

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