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O-Sensei’s Weapons Legacy

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #78 (September 1988)

This issue of AIKI NEWS contains a major announcement by Morihiro Saito Sensei concerning the inauguration of a system of examinations designed to certify instructors of the Aiki ken (sword) and jo (staff). The impact of this innovative system on the examination procedures of many dojos the world over is likely to be great and I would like here to provide background information to place the reasons for such a decision in historical perspective.

As is well-known to many practitioners of Aikido, Saito. Sensei published a series of five volumes on the art during the years 1973-1976. Although many technical books had previously been written, his was by far the most comprehensive in scope and included for the first time a systematic presentation of the two weapons most often employed in Aikido - the ken and jo.

The reasons no other high-ranking teacher had attempted to broach the subject of Aiki weapons were little understood at the time. Still today a great deal of confusion persists over what emphasis the Founder Morihei Ueshiba actually placed on weapons and when and whom he taught. In fact, many instructors and advanced students the world over practice iaido (live-sword drawing) thinking that there exists a historical relationship between Aikido and Iaido or that the use of the sword in the two arts is similar or complementary. In some dojos, proficiency in the use of the live blade is required on examinations for dan rankings.

Let’s turn back the clock for a moment and focus on Morihei Ueshiba’s whereabouts and circumstances during the war years. Having taught in Tokyo since 1925, the Founder decided to retire to Iwama in 1942 in Ibaragi Prefecture where he had property. This was during the height of World War II and he left behind a rigorous teaching schedule consisting of classes at various military schools in and around Tokyo for the peace and quiet of the countryside of Ibaragi Prefecture. For the first time in many years he had time on his hands and, although nearing 60, he immersed himself in intensive physical and spiritual training. At this juncture, one of the areas of his rapidly-evolving art on which he laid great emphasis was the practice of the Aiki ken and jo.

Readers will recall that, previously, in the late 1930s, teachers of the traditional Kashima Shinto-ryu school regularly visited the old Kobukan dojo where the present Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba and several other students were taught basic sword practices. The Founder while not directly participating in the training would watch intently. This continued for one or two years -accounts vary - and the mark of this school on Ueshiba’s later swordwork is clearly demonstrable. Prior to this, the Shinkage-ryu sword may also have had some influence on his technique as he received a certificate from Sokaku Takeda in this art in Ayabe in 1922.

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