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Aikido Hombu: Doshu and Moriteru Ueshiba

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #80 (April 1989)

The Aikikai Hombu is the world’s largest Aikido organization. As the process of internationalization of Aikido continues, organizational structures must expand and adjust to meet increase demands. In this interview, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Hombu Chief Instructor Moriteru Ueshiba answer questions about the policies and operation of the Aikikai Organization.

Doshu K. Ueshiba (1921-1909)
[The following is a combined version of separate interviews held recently with Kisshomaru Ueshiba Aikido Doshu and Moriteru Ueshiba, Chief Instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.]

There are frequent inquiries about this subject abroad and therefore I would like to ask you the following question. When an independent dojo in a foreign country wishes to become affiliated with the Hombu Dojo organization, what conditions and procedures are required?

Doshu: It is a matter to be handled by the office, so I’m not directly involved. Please talk to my son, the chief instructor. It seems that there are many such cases. There are some groups which have become independent whose instructors have trained at the Hombu Dojo and which wish to receive ranking from here at a later time. Since Aikido is a path of harmony, we would like them to get along with each other. If everyone were to declare himself the head of a different style, the Aikido world would consist of a number of isolated, rival schools and could not be united. The act of attempting to win recognition only for oneself is against the spirit of harmony and can only be criticized. If the Aikido world becomes united, society’s view of Aikido will become higher. It is important for us to cooperate with each other and make an effort to take a bold leap. This is democracy, isn’t it? A dictatorial approach is unsuitable. I think we should all unite under the banner of Morihei Ueshiba.

Moriteru Ueshiba: First of all, a representative of such a group is required to submit documents providing a brief description of itself including its size and the number of members in the organization to the Hombu. Then, we discuss the matter in a meeting and make a decision. For such cases, our office should be contacted. The use of English is acceptable.

Last year, a group headed by Mitsugi Saotome Sensei in the U.S. called "Aikido Schools of Ueshiba" was admitted to the Hombu Dojo organization. Many have commented that it was a fine decision on the part of Hombu Dojo to allow them back in. Was the group headed by Rod Kobayashi in Los Angeles (Seidokan Aikido previously affiliated with the Ki Society) also readmitted? Are ranks being given to them through Hombu Dojo as well?

Doshu: Although we haven’t gone that far we have contact with him. We should continue on friendly terms with them in the future.

Once a group becomes a member of the Hombu Dojo organization, their method of instruction and techniques will change. In that case, how does Hombu Dojo inform them of the instructional method to be adopted? There are instructional books in Japan, is there anything in English?

Moriteru Ueshiba: Yes. There is an English instructional book based on the books written by Doshu and there are revised editions of it as well. The contents of this book are based on the examination guidelines prepared by Aikikai Hombu. However, they cannot be immediately used abroad. Therefore, they are for reference.

How can a group wishing to become affiliated with Hombu Dojo obtain the necessary guidelines for joining? Can they ask for such information directly without going through the International Aikido Federation?

Moriteru Ueshiba: There are groups recognized by the International Aikido Federation in each country. If one wishes to join the International Federation, he has to first join the organization which is also a member of the International Federation in each country. In the past, there were groups (such as the group of Saotome Sensei) which withdrew from the Aikikai organization and then wished to rejoin. Thus, there are many cases to be considered and I think the circumstances will differ according to each situation.

Last year, the International Aikido Congress was held in Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture. When an organization is separated into two groups and each of them wishes to be admitted into the Hombu Dojo, I think that it is difficult for Honbu to accept both groups. The reason, I believe, would be that the regulations call for only one national organization per country. Were there any conclusion reached on this subject?

Moriteru Ueshiba: It was announced that the international regulations of the Hombu dojo were to be revised at this conference. Usually foreign dojos contact us through their organizations or the Federation. However, some dojos try to contact us directly. Properly speaking, the ideal situation is that all these organizations should be united into one, but it is difficult to do so uniformly.

This is an important point Doshu Sensei mentioned in an earlier interview. Traditionally Japanese martial arts have basically a vertical structure (such as relationship between a student and a teacher or a senior and a junior). However, the horizontal lines of the present organization have become stronger due to the tendency to adopt democratic structures. I think that it is necessary to mix the vertical and horizontal structure in order to spread Aikido broadly as a martial art. What is your view on this?

Moriteru Ueshiba: The vertical structure [of Aikido] is a product of the Japanese social structure. Today, all countries are internationalizing and so horizontal communications have become necessary. Our organization and our Path exists in such a time. Therefore, individual action is not possible. Although it is a very difficult situation, we are now coming to understand it and wish to continue to do so in the future.

About 13 years ago the International Aikido Federation was started. How does the Aikikai Hombu Dojo regard this International Aikido Federation within the framework of Aikido? Do you, Moriteru Sensei, consider that it has been a success?

Moriteru Ueshiba: At that time, the basic purpose of establishing the International Federation was to create channels of horizontal communication. However, I cannot give any really detailed ans-wer without checking the records. Since this Federation was started in compliance with many wishes of Aikido people, I think that in one sense, it has been a success. Still I think we need to deal with various problems whenever we encounter them in the future.

Would you tell us how the Aikikai organization determines the fukushidoin (assistant instructor), shidoin (instructor) and shihan (master instructor) titles? This is an example, but the following incident recently occurred. Frank Doran,William Witt and Robert Nadeau have recently received 6th dan ranking from Hombu Dojo. When Mr. Doran conducted a seminar in Southern California, the sponsor mistakenly used the title of shihan to refer to Mr. Doran and there was a complaint that one does not automatically become a shihan when receiving the 6th dan rank. Those three instructors are not shihan now. Is there any way for them to become shihan?

Moriteru Ueshiba: This situation is covered in our regulations which also are available in English. However, these regulations are not given to individuals, but only to the representatives of each country. In the case of the United States, we have sent them to the organization in Northern California. Those who are 6th dan and above and belong to a recognized organization and practice regularly can be qualified as shihan, but that is to be decided through a meeting at Hombu.

For example, in the case of Mr. Nadeau, he studied more than two years at Hombu Dojo and Mr. Doran for two or three weeks and Mr. Witt for several months. Can these people become shihan?

Moriteru Ueshiba: Since they have the 6th dan and have been practicing for a long time, if they wish to be shihan, the matter can be discussed. It is possible for one to become a shihan through the recommendation of an advanced teacher.

How many shihan are there among foreigners?

Doshu: I don’t know unless I check. I don’t know for sure even in the case of Japanese. There are some people who think too highly of themselves and are boastful. Some people never met Morihei Sensei and claim that they practiced directly with him. However, they practiced under me. They may say such things to further their careers, but the improper use of titles is not good in a social sense. One must be careful. Please, Stanley, be careful about any unusual circumstances and use common sense and ask me if you find anything strange.

Yes, I will. I consider it very important historically to check and verify things. We try not to publish anything too extreme. There is a way to check exaggerated stories and I have become able to judge to some extent.

Doshu: You have to keep in mind that very often older people tend to make up stories about themselves. There are many cases where one says things he wishes had happened as if they really did. Especially, in the Aikido world there are many people with big egos.

In this issue we will be publishing an essay on the subject of accidents in Aikido by Mr. Fumiaki Shishida of Waseda University. Would you tell us what the most frequent injuries in Aikido are and their causes based on your experience?

Doshu: There aren’t many injuries in Aikido. According to Mr. Shishida, statistically speaking, there are many injuries in Aikido. However, I wonder what were the basic criteria for his study? There seems to be some prejudice that there are more injuries in Aikido than other martial arts. But this is not true, there are no injuries in Aikido. It is true that there have been deaths during Aikido practice. However, those accidents occurred among students training in the absence of shihan. In Aikido, it is a rule that one practice under the instruction of a shihan. However, if one practices disregarding this rule, such accidents can occur.

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