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Remembering O-Sensei

by Fukiko Sunadomari

Aiki News #87 (Winter/Spring 1991)

When Kanemoto Sunadomari began work on his biography of Morihei Ueshiba he enlisted the help of his younger sister, Fukiko, in interviewing the many people whose lives had been touched by the Master. In this interview she joins Shigeo Sakurai, who was acquainted with O-Sensei during his days at Ayabe and Hidetaro Nishimura, a talented judoka who became one of O-Sensei’s uchideshi.

Fukiko Sunadmari assisting
O-Sensei with calligraphy c. 1965

Sakurai Sensei: I first heard of Ueshiba Sensei when I was at Ayabe, in around 1921. At that time he had a dojo at the foot of Mt. Hongu, and his art was not yet called aikido. I saw Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher there once. His name was something Takeda….

Sunadomari Sensei: Sokaku Takeda Sensei.

Sakurai Sensei: That’s right. He was there. I saw him, but never spoke with him. I heard that he did some kind of martial art and was Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher. This was in 1921.

Sunadomari Sensei: I see. So that must have been when Takeda Sensei was staying temporarily in Ayabe, wasn’t it?

Sakurai Sensei: Yes. Sometime during the ’20s I was introduced to my wife, Chika, through Ueshiba Sensei. She often went to his house and she told me that she had delivered Ueshiba Sensei’s wife [Hatsu] of a child, Kisshomaru. One time I told this to Mr. Kisshomaru. Anyway, although I didn’t go to learn the art, I used to go to Ueshiba Sensei’s house. In 1924 he left for Mongolia. After he came back, he went to Takeda [a town in Hyogo Prefecture] and was involved in establishing the Budo Sen’yokai. This was before the Omoto Incident of 1935.

Nishimura Sensei: When I first met Ueshiba Sensei, he taught me that the Chinese character “bu” meant “to abolish arms.” He explained that budo was not something just to be practiced, but that the true meaning of bu was to strive to create a heaven on earth by avoiding those who might do you harm, by joining hands. He also said that the techniques of bu came from the kami. From the first, I thought that he had very interesting ideas.

Sakurai Sensei: Bu refers to the spirit of peace. In this sense, our current military preparations should be based on the spirit of peace, and should not be meant to start a war. However, this peaceful spirit is lacking these days. Ueshiba Sensei told me something to that effect.

Nishimura Sensei: From the religious point of view, Ueshiba Sensei went to Umeda [a mansion in Yotsuya, Tokyo which belonged to Kikuo Umeda, an Omoto believer, and also Nishimura’s distant relative] in order to spread his budo in Tokyo. I was also at Umeda at that time. Ueshiba Sensei came to Umeda to hew his way through the jungle with bu. This was also the reason Onisaburo Deguchi came to Tokyo, I think. I supported them then.

In 1925, naval officers from the Umeda General Staff Office came. At that time, I met men such as Admiral Isamu Takeshita, Yosuke Yamamoto, Sankichi Takahashi and Kosaburo Gejo, who was a master of Yagyu-ryu in the use of fukuroshinai (a leather or cloth-covered practice sword). It was said that he had once stabbed someone to death, and that he entered Ueshiba Sensei’s dojo at the age of 63. People who had done kendo were deeply interested in Ueshiba Sensei’s taisabaki (body movement) and came to learn from him.

When I first met Seishi [Onisaburo Deguchi], I handed him my name card. My title, “Chief Secretary of the Judo Club,” was written on this card, and since I thought this was too grand to show to Seishi I crossed the title out before I handed him the card. However, he could still read the title because it was printed. He asked me if I practiced judo and said, “We have a braggart called Ueshiba here. Why don’t you take him down a peg or two” [laughter].

When I thought about it later, I realized it was I who was the braggart. I went to Omoto because I had confidence in my judo. Without that skill, Omoto seemed a bit frightening. In one sense, it was judo which made me go to Omoto. It was also because Sakurai Sensei, one of my middle school teachers, was in Omoto.

When Seishi told me to take care of Ueshiba and get rid of his conceit, I doubted that there could be any remarkable person in the mountains of Tango [Kyoto Prefecture]. I also thought privately that I hadn’t come to Omoto to learn the art. However, since I had time and wanted to see and perhaps try it, I went to the dojo. There I found three people who appeared to be Ueshiba’s students drinking sake. I thought to myself that many martial artists like to drink.

When I first saw Ueshiba Sensei, his face looked exactly like a Korean Noh mask of a warrior with goggled eyes. Sensei said, “Today we had a festival and are having some sake. Would you like some?” I said yes, and drank. Although Ueshiba Sensei may have been a martial artist, he was very small in stature. I also found it strange that a religious group would be practicing a martial art. So I asked him why he practiced. Then he started explaining to me, as I mentioned earlier, about the meaning of bu. He told me that bu was for peace.

Then he told me about one of his spiritual experiences. One time after he had practiced very hard, he wiped the sweat from his body and went outside. Then he saw golden ki descending from Heaven. This golden ki curled upwards from the ground and Sensei was enveloped in it. Instantly, he attained a state of mind where he felt sorry even to step on an ant. I found Ueshiba Sensei very interesting because he told me this story. Sensei continued, and said, “Bu should be used for peace and for human beings through the eight powers of the kami.”

Then Sensei told me to come to see him in the afternoon and said that he would demonstrate the art for me. I thought to myself that the martial arts were originally secret arts which should never be taught or shown to outsiders… but I went to see him that afternoon.

Sensei was there with his sleeves rolled up and he told me to attack him from any direction. This was in a room of the rice shop in Ayabe. I stayed afterwards to learn the art whenever I went over to this rice shop. Anyway, since he told me to attack him from any direction, I thought that I would throw this little man away, you know [laughter]. I approached to grab him but was instantly thrown. Such a little man as Sensei threw me by turning rapidly.

Then I tried to grab him again and this time he threw me while I was still holding on to him. Every time he threw me he tapped on my back and laughed. I had been practicing judo up until that time and I had learned to choke an enemy to death by holding his neck or to break his arm by reversing it. It was a bloody world. I did judo to cultivate my spirit, but it was bloody. However, Ueshiba Sensei would tap on my back when he threw me and laugh. I thought that the art must be quite wonderful if you could do it while laughing [laughter].

He continued to demonstrate. In the end he threw me without even touching me. It was like a dream. I had thought that in order to throw an opponent, it was necessary to use either one’s legs or hips. However, Sensei showed me a totally different world where he threw people without touching them at all.

After I studied the art for one week, I felt more calm and I practiced much less judo. When I went to the judo dojo, I would say things like, “Your training is not sufficient as long as you still throw your opponent by grabbing him!” [laughter].

There was a man called Matsugoro Okuda who taught Jigoro Kano Sensei’s judo in the Tohoku area. He liked me and said that he would teach me judo. The head of the university judo club asked me to visit Okuda to learn judo at the club’s expense so that I could teach the art to the club. I visited Omoto to show off my judo ability before I went to see Okuda and I ended up meeting a person even greater. Deguchi Seishi, the greatest person in the world, told me that Ueshiba Sensei was the greatest martial artist in the world. Although I was not particularly knowledgeable about anything, I did have good masters. In my middle school days, Kyuzo Mifune was my teacher. Mifune Sensei always bragged about me and said that I was really strong. Since he had a strong organization, he had me take the Kodokan’s first kyu promotion test when I was only third kyu.

Sunadomari Sensei: I have heard that Hidetaro Nishimura was the strongest judoka ever to belong to the Waseda club.

Nishimura Sensei: I was already teaching judo when I entered the university. I invited Mifune Sensei to Waseda to teach judo. It was Seishi who opened my eyes to judo l life.

I practiced judo to attain spiritual enlightenment. But I wasn’t finding spiritual peace. When I met Seishi and he spoke to me, I finally found a state of spiritual peace.

Sakurai Sensei: This is what Ueshiba Sensei himself also told me. he said that until he went to Mongolia his art was budo but after that trip it changed and became a true and pure art.

Sunadomari Sensei: I remember Sensei saying that he had difficulty in executing techniques because of his power.

Sakurai Sensei: That is what Seishi was worried about.

Nishimura Sensei: It is necessary to relax your shoulders. You should not rely on power from the beginning. This is what I heard from Mr. Saburo Wakuta, Tenryu [1903-1989. Former sumo wrestler of the rank of sekiwake. Entered the Kobukan in 1939 and studied for about 70 days under Ueshiba]. He said that when Ueshiba Sensei was sitting on the mat, smiling, and he tried to push against his back, it was he who slid backwards.

Mr. Kenji Tomiki, whom I introduced to Ueshiba Sensei, has been studying with Sensei for a long time. He told me, “I cannot tell when Ueshiba Sensei’s body changes position since he moves so fast. His body and spirit are united and he can move his body as his mind wishes.” He even said, “Ueshiba Sensei’s body cells move and each one of them gathered together makes up his personality.”

When practices used to be held in an outlying building at Umeda, I would sleep with Ueshiba Sensei in the same room at night. But I could never tell whether he was asleep or awake. He would often say things such as, “Mr. Ito is coming here soon.” Mr. Ito was an inspired person who could understand written codes by just looking at them. Admiral Takeshita often mentioned that Mr. Ito had mysterious powers. Anyway, he had this special inspired talent. When such a spiritual person came, Ueshiba Sensei seemed to feel it. When he said that Mr. Ito would come soon, I told him that he was not coming yet. However, after about 20 minutes, Mr. Ito opened the sliding door and came in. Ueshiba Sensei was perceptive in this way.

Once when I was taking ukemi for Ueshiba Sensei, he was using a wooden sword made of loquat wood (biwa), and I was using a new sword made of oak. Usually we conduct kirikaeshi (turning the sword) by switching the wooden sword back and forth, don’t we? But Ueshiba Sensei was not doing it that way, and was instead reversing the direction of the blade. When I went to strike him, my oak sword broke. The wooden sword I was using then was not one with knots or defects, but was very carefully made. I still do not understand how he could project such mysterious power.

Sunadomari Sensei: I heard this story for the first time from Mr. Haruji Yoshida in Ayabe. One time Sensei told him that he should come and attack him seriously with intent to kill. Sensei was said to be holding a wooden sword. According to Mr. Yoshida, Sensei sent him flying with the edge of his wooden sword. Mr. Yoshida, feeling chagrined, tried again but was again thrown away. He told me that it was a truly mysterious experience. I was impressed to know that such mysterious things really happened.

Ueshiba Sensei’s wife told me that Mr. Nishimura was present when Ueshiba Sensei received an inspiration. Something came down from Mt. Hongu with a great sound and entered into Sensei with a tapping noise. This put Sensei into a state where he could receive budo from the kami. She told me to ask you, Mr. Nishimura, about that incident.

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