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Morihei Ueshiba, Founder Of Aikido (08)

by Kanemoto Sunadomari

Aiki News #79 (January 1989)


The author, Mr. Kancmoto Sunadomari, first met Morihei Ueshiba in 1928. A devout follower of the Omoto religion, he delves deeply into the influence of this religion on the art of aikido. This, the first biography of the Founder of Aikido, was published in February 1969 and is reprinted with the permission of the Sunadomari family.

Morihei In Ayabe

I have described the circumstances of how Morihei and his family moved to Ayabe from Hokkaido in the previous chapter. The area at the foot of Mt. Mountain where Morihei’s house was located was quite different from the newly developed land in Shirataki in Hokkaido where the air was full of wild vigor. His new shrubbery-fronted house was in very quiet surroundings. Although Morihei had conquered the wilderness of Hokkaido by cultivating the land, he still was not satisfied. His search for spiritual nourishment led him to the Omoto religion.

The first thing he was required to do in Ayabe was to pray at the shrine or the Omoto Center every morning and evening. After prayers, he worked in the shrine compound to assist in the completion of its construction. In the meantime, whenever he found himself free, he studied an enormous number of volumes of Omoto-related documents. He was engaged in a grand project which a normal person could not possibly complete in a lifetime -the study of the kotodama (Shinto-based belief that sounds have an intrinsic value capable of affecting physical reality), and the reading of ancient books and literature. Furthermore, he engaged in yusai training (a method of informal prayer). This was his routine every day from morning until evening.

His diet consisted mainly of vegetables. Although he sometimes ate fish, his meals were usually very simple. Similarly, the Founder of the Omoto religion, Naoko Deguchi followed a clean and simple lifestyle during her lifetime in order to maintain the purity of her body. Life at the Omoto was spiritually oriented. Some of the goals pursued by those there were the endeavor to penetrate deep into themselves for spiritual examination and advancement of the development of their spirit. These efforts were directed toward the realization of the spiritual development of the entire society and, finally, the building of an earthly paradise. In other words, they were aimed at the materialization of the human dream. Therefore, those who rendered service to the Omoto religion were to purify and renew themselves in order to become dignified citizens. They did not have selfish ideas.

From boyhood Morihei was raised by his family in a religious atmosphere. His religously-oriented life at the Omoto must have seemed very strange to those who knew Morihei in his Hokkaido days. However, Morihei himself felt very at home there. He became accustomed to the religious life in a very short time as if it were an extension of his childhood.

Being sincere, Morihei added depth and breadth to his thinking with each passing day. In the end, he accumulated enough experience to master the very depth of the Omoto literary works which treated the past, present and future as well as the three worlds - the world of appearances, and the hidden and divine worlds.

However, one point which clearly distinguished Morihei from other Omoto believers was that he had an important lifework to accomplish. This was the search for the genuine goal and true essence or martial arts on which he spent most of his time. From the time of his childhood in Kishu, throughout his military life, and during the Hokkaido period as well, Morihei had entertained some vague questions in his mind. One of the reasons he left the abundant Hokkaido settlement to move all the way to the Omoto Center and join the religion was his urge to solve these unanswered questions. It seemed to him that the Omoto religion contained the keys to solving these long-pending problems.

Enlightenment In The Martial Arts

Bujutsu or martial techniques, which originally were used for killing and destruction from ancient times, have come to be called budo or martial ways today. There were times when the martial arts could more appropriately have been called “ways of killing”.

Although there is a term “sword of justice”, the answer to the question of what justice is, is still elusive. What is called justice based on the judgement or an individual or group seems to be justice in terms of the “self of the individual, group or nation. So-called justice in history has sometimes been beyond comprehension depending on how one conceives of the term.

Many martial artists have said that martial arts are spiritual or mental. Then what is the spirit? There is something too abstract about this notion to allow a clear understanding. Martial arts and techniques are used only in circumstances where individuals or friends fight against each other. This fact alone shows the actual ways in which bujutsu or martial techniques have been used. Of course, some historical events undoubtedly occurred for the sake of justice. But is killing other humans the right thing to do? The consequences of the idea of the spirituality of martial arts should definitely prove whether they are right or wrong or somewhere in between. An evaluation of their consequences is necessary. If the martial art spirit is indeed the starting point for this evaluation, the origin of that spirit becomes a major issue. Is justice merely a word which has been used since ancient times in a casual manner mainly out of habit? Even when the idea of justice is interpreted in a positive light, one should refrain from drawing one’s sword indiscriminately. It seems that it is generally understood only from an idealistic point of view that martial arts and weapons should not be used for evil deeds. On the other hand, such idealistic views which hold that martial arts are spiritual are never wrong. They also serve to keep people from fighting against one another to a certain extent. Basically speaking, it is of critical importance that this “martial spirit” Be clearly defined so that many persons of goodwill not only in Japan, but throughout the entire world can understand the concept clearly.

“Might makes right, and losers are always in the wrong,” was a proverb often heard until the first naif of the Meiji Period. This idea on an individual level becomes “virtue triumphs over evil”. Thus, it created the concept and belief that might always wins. It is a belief widely held not only in Japan, but all over the world.

Japan became the “rebel army” of world history in the 20th cen-ture after the Second World War ended in our defeat. As a result, senior statesmen and national leaders who were responsible for the defeat were put on international trial. Those who were war leaders were hanged as war criminals. However, with civilization still in progress, historical evaluations and judgements as to which nations were right and which were not will have to wait until historians of the future can determine the truth in a convincing manner. Still, it is also an undeniable fact that history has proven that might usually wins.

The true martial art which Morihei was trying to discover became more and more evident as he furthered his research and training over the years. Since human beings have eternal life in the triangle of the three worlds -the world of appearances, the hidden world and the divine world - judgements of rightness or wrongness in the phenomenal world that accompany human existence should not be made only to provide historical explanations of justice wherein the three worlds are discriminated. Rather, judgements should be based on the idea of the unity of the three worlds so that virtue and evil become self-evident. Viewed in this manner, the armed struggles which have been recorded for the last several thousand years up to the present reveal the above truth even more vividly as the world population increases and human exchange becomes more frequent and complex.

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