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Why We Do What We Do

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #67 (May 1985)

Now that the dust has settled from the whirlwind of activities in connection with our successful “1985 Aikido Friendship Demonstration and Film Show” we are back hard at work on various research and publishing projects. On reflection, the immensely difficult task of organizing such a demonstration yielded many priceless insights into the structure of Japanese society, the dynamics of organizational relations and the subject of loyalties. The understanding we have gained will serve us in good stead in the future pursuit of our activities.

In retrospect, the “Friendship Demonstration” seems to have ruffled a few feathers in the Aikido establishment. I suspect AIKI NEWS may in the process of staging this event have developed a reputation for being somewhat impetuous and unpredictable. Impetuous? Quite possibly. Unpredictable, not in the least. There is really no mystery at all to the why and wherefore of our actions. Allow me to elucidate.

This editor is by nature an insatiably curious creature. Whether this is due to heredity and upbringing or merely to some quirk of fate I do not know. In any event, the instincts of historian, detective and “treasure seeker” are deeply ingrained within me and are ultimately responsible for the existence of the magazine you now hold in your hands. In light of the above, what is our conception of the historian’s role as applied to Aikido history?

Responsibilities of the Historian

Albeit a virtually impossible task, the historian must set aside personal likes and dislikes if he wishes to produce work of lasting value. The historian whose biases are too transparent will be discounted by future generations as will the thrust of his work. Any attempt to portray individuals and events through rose-colored lens will ultimately prove to be a disservice to the subject one desires to enhance. Accordingly, the historian is not free to neglect or delete important persons or happenings merely because they do not conform to some preconceived image of the figure or events under scrutiny. To be more specific, in our efforts to capture the essence of O-Sensei at various points in time we have to give attention to the social and martial arts setting in which he acted. We must explore and document the personalities and deeds of such figures as Sokaku Takeda, Onisaburo Deguchi, Yoichiro Inoue, Takuma Hisa, Kenji Tomiki, Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei and many more. We must understand how the Founder was regarded by his peers in other martial arts. For example, the prevailing image of O-Sensei as a kind, saintly figure held by most present-day practitioners of Aikido is only one view of him. Seen in other contexts and from outside of our art he was an upstart who thoughtlessly attempted to alter a long-standing tradition. He was at times regarded even by those close to him as a cantankerous, short-tempered old man who had a knack for getting in the way at the wrong time. Were we to neglect any unflattering perspective we encountered in an effort to congeal the image of O-Sensei into a pristine state we would be guilty of contributing to the creation and propagation of a myth. A beautiful, inspiring myth to be sure, yet still a falsified image of the man. Besides, history has shown us that myths are subject to manipulation and can be used to achieve ends quite at odds with those the individual in question actually aimed at. Morihei Ueshiba was a giant in his own right and no embellishment is required in order to ensure his stature for posterity.

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