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Interview with Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1983), Part 2

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #57 (August 1983)

The following is the second and final part of an interview with Mr. Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Aikido Doshu held in Hombu Dojo on May 23, 1983.

Would you describe the first international activities of Hombu Dojo?

2nd Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba from 1962 film

For one reason or another, people with varying viewpoints regarding Aikido were the first to go abroad… The first thing I thought of was the fact that just after the war Japanese students who went to foreign countries were very miserable. This was because Japan lost the war. They walked timidly. When Americans appoached them they avoided their path with hunched shoulders. That was a problem. I thought we should encourage young people so as to avoid Japan going downhill in the future. I felt we should send students abroad to study while feeling proud to be Japanese. I thought Japan would deteriorate if people were only good in terms of knowledge but not in humanity. That’s why I encouraged people who came to this dojo to go abroad. Japan has this fine budo as a one of its traditions. If one learned Aikido well and went abroad one could tell that although foreign nations might have some aspects superior to Japan, we had this fine budo we could be proud of. If foreigners wished to study it, we could teach them. I felt that if we proceeded in this manner our youth would feel confident of its humanity. Also, I set my mind to training students for the benefit of the Japanese people. At the beginning I didn’t think of becoming a martial artist or anything of the sort. Just after the war I reflected upon how I should live my life. The idea closest to my heart was to spread the Aikido developed by ray father throughout the world. It would benefit not only Japan but also people abroad. Also, it would be a positive factor in the development of human beings. In the old days, it was said that Japan was the most ethically advanced monarchy of the East. I thought our future task would be to raise Japan to the level where there would be no other country as advanced spiritually. I encouraged young people to take the initiative in travelling abroad. I felt that although there was no free cultural exchange between Japan and foreign countries, if we actively approached countries abroad some would send inquiries. As a result, some Aikidoists went abroad. I think Aikido is highly regarded as a Japanese budo in the sense that, although Aikido is very new historically in comparison to Judo, Kendo and Karate, it is relatively unified and widespread. Around 1952 or 1953, Mr. Mochizuki went to Europe in connection with Nyoichi Sakurazawa (George Oshawa of the Macrobiotic Diet system). At about that time, we sent Mr. Tohei to Hawaii around 1953 through the introduction of Mr, Fujioka who was a professor at the University of Hawaii for Aikido and western cultural studies. He was the first one Hombu sent as an official shihan. Then, we sent Mr. Murashige and Mr. Kuroishi from Kyushu to Burma around 1950’s… I took Mr. Kuroishi at his word that he would come back with a tiger skin. (Laughter) At that time I believe he could really have brought one back.

What about your own trips abroad?

In the beginning I didn’t travel abroad very much. I left everything to Mr. Tohei. It was around 1963 when I first travelled abroad. I went to Hawaii, Los Angeles and San Francisco in California and stayed for about three months. After that I travelled abroad many times. I forget exactly where.

I remember it well. There was a small YMCA south of Los Angeles where I saw you for the first time.

Mr. Akira Tohei was along too, wasn’t he?

There was also Mariye Yano (Takahashi) and Isao Takahashi from Los Angeles.

Yes, Yes. Mr. Takahashi… At that time there were many other people including Mr. Hirata and Mr. Sekishiro. He was from San Diego, wasn’t he? Had you already started?

I have been practicing for twenty-one years.

That’s greatl Well done! That’s history. (Laughter)

Since this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Founder I am sure that everyone expects that Aikido will continue to develop. Would you describe your views about the future of the art?

I think that the main feature of Aikido is that there is no victory and no defeat. The day before yesterday when the demonstration was held in the Budokan, Minoru Genda Sensei was present. He said: “Aikido created a monistic philosophy where you are one with your opponent and where victory and defeat are determined in an instant. I think this is splendid!” Aikido is not training to fight with your opponent. By harmonizing with him, you can unify the mind and body transforming them into one entity and create a monistic world by becoming one with nature. Thus, there are no shiai (matches) in this budo. In this respect, there might be some aspects which are lacking in interest for young people, but the more you try it, the more you come to like it (lit., “like dried cuttle-fish, the more you chew it, the tastier it becomes”). In this respect, there are some people who call it moving “zen”. It really has religious and artistic aspects. It possesses beauty of harmony or nature -a natural beauty which is exuded from the body as a result of being in harmony with the flow of nature. People like Kiku Goro or Enosuke, Kabuki actors or Sumi Hanayagi, a Japanese dancer, understood their professions in an artistic sense. At present, frontier technology or scientific technology have been greatly developed, but our spiritual selves have been deteriorating. In this respect, I am sure that the way of Aikido will be accepted by the public in the 21st century. Aikido is not something where you speak of strength or weakness. People who studied old budo always talk about strength and weakness, about who is stronger or who is weaker. Honestly speaking, the attitudes of these people present a problem. I suppose that’s okay, but if you don’t appreciate the higher levels of this art, Aikido won’t develop. Things are progrossing, you see. Spiritual techniques of human beings must develop, too. Like the “Warring States” (Sengoku) period, if there is someone who says: “I am strong! I am the best Aikidoist in Japan!” That’s not right. He is a vulgar type. How we raise the hearts of humanity to higher level is the most important thing. We really must think about how to create and run an organization which suits this higher level. The movements of Aikido are in perfect accord with the movements of the spirit. If one talks about spiritual matters or throwing his opponent without harming him after having struck and kicked him, it’s not convincing. In the case of Aikido, we strengthen the body and mind through soft movements which are in harmony with nature. If we proceed in this manner, it will still continue to develop. In order to continue to progress we cannot avoid contradictions in terms of administrative matters. Always keeping this in mind, if we think about progressing, there will be future development. Aikido has its own way of thinking and an advanced philosophy which are different from those of other budo - I don’t mean that other budo don’t have advanced philosophies - Aikido has its own unique philosophy. Thus, I think it will assume an extremely valuable role in the coming new generation.

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